Category Archives: social and anti

Peace on Earth

So the kid arrived home with her little new dog and this is what happened in the first forty minutes.

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And no, this dog came from the shelter and so far as anyone knows has never socialized with a cat before. And yes, this is our most difficult cat of four, who chummed with no one but his old, and most sadly now deceased friend Porthos, a feral black cat.  This golden tabby cat is Daft Wee Willie Wilberforce and we’ve had him thorough terrible health problems, mainly genetic. We’ve had WWW since he was seven weeks, so we know no dogs were in his past. He was a bullying sort of little friend to Porthos who was older and doted upon him and excused his vagaries. Porthos was a wonderful fellow, he would gaze with melting affection in his big green eyes upon this little kitten in his care and wash the little rascal with tenderness. When Porthos died, WWW became very depressed, so we acquired a five year old male cat, then some months later two bonded kittens.

Willie had difficulties accommodating our new three cats and so when he walked right into the lap that held this little new dog, we held our breaths and wondered if we ought to interfere! Guess not. It’s been about ten days and for all we can fantasize, WWW imagines that the little black dog is some oddly mis-made reincarnation of his dear old friend Porthos. After all, we excuse our dear friends a lot of oddities. Coming back as a dog is okay– the point is you came back….

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An Extra Note: Compostables and Not

Warning– this is a post that includes cleaning, garbage, purity, diapers and a rant. It’s not about Ramsey Canyon and what we saw… I will get to that after the clean up.

We hosted our Earth Sciences Department party yesterday and about seventy people attended. We prepared and cooked racks of ribs, slabs of salmon, fresh breads and vegetarian beans while our guests provided all kinds of vegetable and salad dishes, plus plenty of drinkables. I baked nine pies– apples from our orchard, grapes from our vines for the grape pies, boysenberries from the neighbor’s baked into a pie, and one huge four layer boysenberry filled cake with a cream cheese frosting. I probably should not tell how many packages of cream cheese I peeled for that job!

On such occasions we try to do our bit for sustainability, with designated bins for recyclables, and bins lined with the right type of compostable bag to take the compostable plates and utensils plus food waste, which we will later deliver to the processing center. A separate batch of bins stand ready for the non-compostables– paper napkins and waxed paper goods or whatever plastics people wrapped their contributions in.

So, this is a group of people who have spent their lives being students. Yet despite clear labeling on these bins, every year, the morning after finds me in my much-reused latex gloves sorting the garbage because somehow people can’t read those labels. But this year brought an even more disturbing variant.

I met single-serving squeezable plastic/foil baby food units. All “pure”, “organic” food in plasticized squeeze containers, one serving each. To be precise, plastic-covered foil pouches none of which is recyclable. The plastic lids are very large, and recyclable. I found two of these with their lids deep in our bin labeled ‘Compostables’. If you detect a hint of offense in my tone, you are so correct. I am worried about the parent who chooses to buy pure organic food for his or her baby in such a package. That you might absentmindedly throw it in exactly the wrong container is one of those things that can easily happen by mistake. But you do not choose single serving disposable aluminum and plastic pouches without shelling out a good bit of cash and having some time to select and think. So you want organic purity for your baby? Great. But what’s the impact of this choice? How could this company not have thought further in producing these expensive and wasteful items? Pure, organic and plastic present me with a serious disconnect.

I went to the website for this product and they claim that their containers have recyclable lids– well that’s just great! Indeed, they made the lids bigger in order to make them recyclable! Next, they say the production of one of their containers has a smaller environmental footprint than that of a glass bottle– but you often have the option to choose multiple serving sized glass bottles, which could change that equation. More, I am not sure if they are saying that only the original processing to produce a glass jar is more costly and if they have calculated the incalculable recycling in the lifetime of the glass jar? Or do they mean that the environmental cost of recycling the glass is greater than the environmental cost of production for each of their one-use pouches? With foil involved? This, I doubt. I also note that a glass bottle is composed of the third most common element on our planet — silica makes up ~15% of Earth. If the glass ends up back in the soil, it changes none of the chemistry of that soil. Plastics are manufactured materials that do not readily decompose, and have consequences in their smaller particulate form after years of disaggregation, for all animals, including us.

Yes, I understand that caring for a baby is a lot of work. I did it too, cloth diapers (and a diaper service as much as possible because at the end of the equation – sterilizing and washing all your own is more costly to the environment than using a diaper service.) I made baby food at home, except for times we travelled and I had to use bottled baby food. But the bottles and lids of what I bought were all recyclable. The glass meant a stable container with no risk of container molecules separating into the food, even acidic food.

I know a majority of my audience here is not having babies right now, but this isn’t just about baby food. It’s about thinking. I think that what I want to ask is that we try not to have that single serving plastic disposable choice be every day’s choice. No one likes a sermon much, especially when it asks for something, so I’ll return to my soggy gloves and my garbage sort.

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Listen, and you may hear

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Do I have a tale to tell? Yes I do. But I will vex you with being slow in telling, a quilt pattern rather than a cogent solid story. Teasers, rather than complete essays.

My husband and I picked up the kid in Phoenix where she is in grad school and headed to our first vacation in over twenty years– Ramsey Canyon. I here post a couple of photos, but bear with me… there is more to tell. I have a dinner to cook for October 1 (between 70 and 100 guests and yeah, yet again, I don’t hire caterers.) So be patient, there’s more to come.

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A Brief Episode

We were in a store in the little city when we heard car horns tooting, as though more than one driver might be angry. One of the shop clerks, a skinny young man, hurried outside. When we went out we found three people in the stream of traffic, (and this is a four-lane section of divided city street,) trying to reach and comfort a scared white poodle-type dog. He finally came to ground between the legs of one woman in the street– she and our clerk brought him to the shore, and thence into the store where he could be kept safe until arrangements might be made. Scared middle-sized dog, a couple years old I’d guess, but apparently no collar or identifying materials which makes me fear he was discarded by someone not worthy of the name ‘human’. But the people who stepped into a dangerous situation and controlled it with authority and compassion, and reassured a frightened animal full of panic, deserve all the praise I can give.

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How to Choose your College

Two Trees Los Banos copy

Having just returned from a couple of recruitment events on behalf of the University of California, Santa Barbara, I am full of the delight of talking with bright motivated candidates for admission to the fall quarter. But I am also mindful of errors in education I have seen, and made myself, and I have a couple of ideas to offer about how a young person, with a handful of congratulatory admissions in hand, might think about where to go for four years of challenge, before responding to those delicious offers.

First of all, remember that it doesn’t make that much difference which one you attend. The university name isn’t going to bring you glory, not as an undergraduate. (As a graduate student where you go becomes far more important.) It depends on how you attend. Are you getting a degree to check a box in your projected career or are you off on a voyage of discovery and adventure? Don’t miss the long view because the ivy blinded you.

You want a community, a place that you feel will help you grow as a person and a scholar. Go see the possibilities, smell the air, see if folk are friendly. Ask about competition in the classroom, in research, in politics and popularity. You can actually find a campus that’s just like high school, alas. A place where everyone postures to seem more blasé and sophisticated than everyone else, surprised at nothing, assuming that means some kind of win. In my estimation, that is not what college is supposed to be about. Or you can find institutions that don’t look to give the student a broad experience, that narrow down the choices to a safe unchallenging world view with nice walls firm on their foundations. I object to that too.

Undergraduate experience is personal, it matters that the fit is right. If you love a cut-throat atmosphere and it makes you thrive, go for it. If you would rather spend less time watching your back and more time pushing the boundaries of science or art or writing to create the future we all can share, go somewhere that has an emphasis on the fact that we can work together to thrust back the forces of ignorance. If you are driven, excited about possibilities, we’ll all meet up at the end.

A lot goes in to that sense of a good fit, because after all, a college or university should make you uncomfortable. It should make you stretch, far beyond your comfort zone. You should experience failure there, as well as triumph. You should go hungry for fresh thoughts and ideas, concepts and explorations. You go to be challenged in your assumptions, in your conclusions, in your accumulated wisdom. You go to college or university to find out what you don’t know, and all the questions that no one has answers to,  material that unsettles and roils the mind. To plant a field, you need to harrow it first, and that’s a big part of what college needs to do with you. So when you look remember that you want a diverse student body who do not all believe the same things. You want this diversity in faculty and staff as well, an institution that allows these disparate ideas to be heard, and you want to listen to all the voices, even though they may upset and anger you. An education will teach you about things you might prefer to ignore or deny, but that is the point. You should never have to believe everything you hear or are taught, but you do need to know what those things are. I have never seen ignorance protect a single soul from anything. Not in the plowed field, nor in a musty library, nor yet in the streets of the city.

Don’t go to college to look good. Don’t aim low. Go willing to look foolish, to ask dumb questions– because at the end of the day you may have a graying professor scratching her head and saying–“I never thought about it that way before– you just opened a real can of worms.” Go to class–yeah, many big classes don’t take attendance so you can skip lectures. Many kids do. But if you do, you will be like the fellow who goes in to an expensive restaurant and pays for the meal, but walks out without eating it. Such a person is by any measure a fool.

I hope you don’t have to work while in college. Work will expect you to give it your all. Trouble is, so will the university. It is like being married to two people at the same time and trying to uphold the needs of two households, children included. Daycare, parent conferences, doctor’s appointments, quarrels, peace-making, holidays that conflict. It is brutal trying to make both things succeed as each deserves. Better if you can pick the less expensive school if that might allow you to do the learning with a whole soul. An education isn’t a trivial entertainment, it’s hard work, done right, and why would you want to waste your time doing it less than the right?

Go to office hours– there’s no one more desperate for company than the lonely professor waiting in his or her or their office waiting for office hours to be over. Ask professors what they’re working on. All of them have research projects ongoing, and those projects are things they love. You may not yet know, looking at colleges now, that half, or even more, of what professors do isn’t  focused on teaching, nor should it be. They are daily fighting on the frontiers of knowledge and understanding through their research, and that struggle is where the power of their teaching gains its edge to cut deep. Maybe you’ll catch this enthusiasm– the greatest gift of all. But if that doesn’t happen, when it comes time that you need a recommendation for your future job or graduate school, those professors with whom you sat and talked will actually remember who you were, out of the sea of faces in lecture, and be able to write an insightful recommendation because you bothered to go and meet them face to face, and let them know who you really are. Too many times a professor is faced with a young person saying “I need a recommendation for med school and I just loved your class. I got an ‘A’ in it.” The professor looks at the stranger’s face and lamely says, “Well, let me see. Can you tell me something about yourself…?”

And here’s one more thought. When you arrive on your campus, remember that no one knows you. Yes, that’s intimidating, but it also means that this is one of those magical opportunities to rewrite your script. If the first thing you do is a face plant in the flower bed with everyone watching, you’re free to spring up with a laugh because no one at this new school knows you’re not the funniest, friendliest, kindest, happiest soul in the world. You can choose to be that person you always wished to become. Leave all accidents of pretension behind, (haven’t we all memories like that which make us cringe,) forget arrogance, and be inviting, be generous. Open your doors to the finest in others, too, and pick companions, fellow musketeers who make you learn and grow and try harder, because the prize isn’t the degree, but the self you make in these years, that self which is the only company you are guaranteed for life. Create your highest self, allow yourself some of the wonderful things you never felt you could express before.

Bon voyage, friends.

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On Locke in the Bathroom, Bacon and Giants

I have for much of my life only vaguely been aware of Francis Bacon. His works gain reference in the movie Amazing Grace when Toby the butler tells his master “I don’t just dust your books…” and there’s an Abba song I heard in a store recently that I insist sounds like they are making some comment on Francis Bacon (my daughter says it’s my ears.)

But common culture has its points, and pricked by my ignorance I picked up an elderly volume of Francis Bacon’s essays and placed it in the bathroom bookbin, where almost anything can obtain at least a cursory perusal. It joined a miscellany of magazines, a 1960’s paperback on Goethe by Ancelet-Hustache, that charming gentle book In the Company of Mushrooms by Elio Schaechter, Fish’s How to Write a Sentence (tedious,) Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (provocative,) Millard’s The River of Doubt (fraught, fascinating,) and The Remedy by Thomas Goetz, a tale of Robert Koch, Conan Doyle and the quest to treat tuberculosis (un-engaging somehow but I shall try again). Usually I have at least one Stephen King in there, but I just checked and there isn’t. I used to have Locke’s Two Treatises on Government but I seem to have moved him somewhere, maybe to the studio. That’s a risk of bathroom books– when you become engaged you take them away with you, and then you can’t find them.

I must digress for a moment, I obtained a neat little copy of The Federalist Papers last year, and for an excellent read in this year of political change I can hardly recommend browsing in it too highly. Readable, entertaining. All these works– Locke, Bacon and the Federalist Papers are as clarifying as those ‘gets the red out’ eye-drops, when you are looking at the nature of governance.

But let’s get back to Francis Bacon, which is where I started. Try this excerpt, and by the way remember as you read it that Bacon was born in 1561 and died in 1626.

“It were better to have no opinion of God at all, than such an opinion as is unworthy of him. For the one is unbelief, the other is contumely; and certainly superstition is the reproach of the Deity. Plutarch saith well to that purpose: Surely (saith he) I had rather a great deal men should say there was no such man at all as Plutarch, than that they should say that there was one Plutarch that would eat his children as soon as they were born; as the poets speak of Saturn.”

Further he notes that philosophy, laws, the regard for opinion that can all bring a man to at least an outward moral virtue, can be utterly derailed by superstition–

“…superstition dismounts all these, and erecteth an absolute monarchy in the minds of men. Therefore atheism did never perturb states; for it makes men wary of themselves, as looking no further: and we see the times inclined to atheism (as the time of Augustus Cæsar) were civil times. But superstition hath been the confusion of many states, and bringeth in a new primum mobile, that ravisheth all the spheres of government. The master of superstition is the people; and in all superstition wise men follow fools; and arguments are fitted to practice, in a reversed order.”

Again, in a slight digression, there has been much discussion of whether Francis Bacon was himself an atheist, or was his argument focused here on an argument that the whims of superstitious thought did not belong in governance or muddying the social contract. You can look this up for yourself, though I believe the answer is clear that he was profoundly religious and therefore anxious about the misuse of religion in public life and governance.

…..

I look at the news, the abounding sound-bites and sensationalist quotations and I cannot help but wonder, how much are we fitted to our times? If we indeed build our understanding and knowledge, upon the shoulders of giants1, as Newton said in his letter of 1676, why do we in every generation persist in hopping down and insisting the view is better from the gutter? We could do worse than to go back to Locke-ing ourselves in the bathroom and chewing over some Bacon.

 

1.) Standing on the shoulders of giants (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

nanos gigantum humeris insidentes) expresses the meaning of “discovering truth by building on previous discoveries”

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Chapter Nine is up but here’s also something on Domestic Violence Counseling class

Here’s the next chapter of A Stranger’s Blood at this link–  Chapter Nine

But in the meantime, why am I so late in putting this chapter out– well, errors happen, but I have a better reason. I just finished completing my certificate (a forty-hour class,) in Domestic Violence counseling, so that I now have met the “requirements of a “domestic violence counselor” pursuant to evidence code 1037.1 (a) (1).”

Why did I chase down this course? Well I have tutored a number of students and listened to a few families, and so I have had a little awareness of some situations that worried me. Then a family of a past student I tutored (is that a tutee?) asked me for advice about an abusive relationship their teenager had entered, bad enough that the police had been involved. I felt like an idiot. My first violent response was clearly totally inappropriate and destructive, so I figured that since I hate being ignorant, the solution was to call the Domestic Violence hotline and learn. But the hotline wasn’t enough and I ended up at this fascinating course.

Any of you who may be interested in doing so as well, will find similar courses available where you are. I was fascinated to learn that among other details a person who wants to get information on options may call even from another country (if they are sure that their abuser does not have the ability to track their calls.) Domestic Violence counseling has evolved into a far less judgmental approach than I had realized and I was struck by how much there was offered in resources to those who may be in a dangerous or simply difficult situation. Options, but not direction, support but no pushing. The individual who calls is in charge of what he or she chooses to take and decides to reject. Every situation is different, with complex interplay between risks and losses. The fact that the greatest danger to a client is after they have left the situation, shocked me. I had not thought. Now it makes sense.

I am stuffed with information right now but will restrain myself and only add that on average it takes seven attempts for a person to be able to successfully leave a negative or threatening intimate situation. Do, please, even if you are the least affected person on the planet, find out what you can about this issue– it is surprising and troubling how widespread the problem is, and how it crosses all lines of identity, education and income.

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