16 December 2008

Possibly Ill-Advised Thrift

Okay, so I stayed in a hotel room last night, and I don't like using all the throw-away stuff plus I don't like drinking out of styrofoam, so I mixed up my Emergen-C vitamin drink in my coffee cup.

That was after I started the coffee brewing, measuring the amount of water going into the pot with that same coffee cup, because I don't like using extra energy to heat extra water.

So there I am, drinking my vitamin drink and otherwise getting ready to face the day ... and my coffee finishes brewing. And I start pouring.

And for some reason the coffee cup is full, but the coffee pot isn't empty.

I take a little sip. Warm coffee ... flavored with Emergen-C. But I didn't want to waste the vitamin drink or the coffee ... so I drank the whole thing.


Fear and Loathing on the Island of the Terminally Ill

Dana Jennings writes in the New York Times today what it's like to be, as he puts it, "Person, Patient, Statistic." It's a fine meditation on illness and its cures, the problems with the cures, the medical professionals who see patients as (again in Jennings' word) "meat."

It hits home hard for me this week. Over the protests of its manufacturers, the FDA voted recently to take Serevent, a long-acting bronchodilator, off the market, because they say it's masking worsening symptoms and leading to more patient deaths. But they've allowed the drug-makers to keep Advair (which contains Serevent plus an inhaled cortic0steroid) on the market, on the argument that the steroid mitigates the problems with the Serevent.

Advair has been keeping me breathing very effectively for the last year or so. I chase The Offspring, and go out running, without getting exercise-induced asthma, which has plagued me for -- literally -- as long as I can remember, since my early childhood.

Now, though, I get a chill of fear with each morning's dose and each evening's dose.

For my doctor, it's about statistics, and about "patient compliance" -- a problem medical professionals often ascribe to sloth, or to patients' daft inability to follow directions.

For the drug companies, I feel fairly confident in arguing, it's all about the bucks. Big Pharma has a pretty well-documented history of dismissing, down-playing and concealing evidence of serious side-effects of medication. Unless the medication in question has just gone generic, in which case they're happier to have it taken off the market, so they can sell more of something that they can make more money on.

(Case in point: Seldane was killing people back in the 1990s, but the FDA didn't make the manufacturer take it off the market until they had developed Allegra to replace it; Allegra, conveniently enough, became available just as Seldane was getting sold in generic form.)

Yeah, it's important to stay up-beat. And I don't really have time to think about it this week; I'm knee-deep in papers and finals that need grading. But I'll be having a little chat with my doctor when I see him next in a couple of weeks about whether I really should keep taking this medication.

02 December 2008

Thanksgiving, A Little Late This Year

My mom is home from the hospital, worn out, but healthy.

The Offspring isn't throwing up any more, and he's recovering from the demise of The Fish.

I slept soundly last night, and I'm not feeling quite as porous any more.

Aaaand, I found the CD I've been missing since July: Peter, Bethany, and Rufus. Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary, and his daughter singing with Rufus' accompaniment on cello. Lovely stuff.

26 November 2008

Sacrificing For The Kids

The Times reports today that "to buy children's gifts, mothers do without." It turns out that the moms they interviewed are doing without that crucial new pair of designer jeans, or an updated work wardrobe to replace last year's fashions. The article twice uses the word "sacrifice."


It's hard for me to reconcile the words "sacrifice" and "designer jeans."

Actually, in the US and more heart-breakingly around the world (see: Zimbabwe) there are a lot of moms, poor moms who have recently gotten poorer, moms at the margins of the middle class whose income has dropped them back into poverty, who are making true sacrifices to provide for their kids. In that context, this article strikes me as unfortunate.

25 November 2008

Giving Thanks

Bossy asked her readers to give thanks, in ten words. Most gave thanks for health.

I gave thanks for health care, and for the job that guarantees it. Health care, good health care, is what's keeping me and my family members (one epileptic, two asthmatics) functional and apparently healthy most of the time. What is health, really? If we're taking several medications a day, but they keep us functioning just about like everyone else, is that health?

And y'know? Even with chronic illness, life is generally pretty good most of the time.

22 November 2008

Hollow Leg?

Bedtime. The Offspring says he's hungry. Indeed. He eats:

Half a sandwich
A fried egg
A bowl of yogurt
A whole sandwich
Another bowl of yogurt
One and a half rugelach.

And finally, he's full.

Secretary of State Clinton

In the excitement over Obama's election, we've lost track of how much life has changed for women in the United States in the last 40 years. David Brooks wrote in the Times this week about the academic credentials of Obama and his team: Columbia, Princeton, Harvard, Yale, MIT, Stanford... and Wellesley.

Hillary Clinton graduated from Wellesley College in 1969.

In the 1960s, the nation's "Ivy League" colleges and other elite institutions didn't yet admit female students. In 1970, Yale admitted women for the first time, followed by Dartmouth in 1972 and Princeton in 1977. Not until 1983 did Columbia University admit female undergraduates.

Also in 1970, Harvard merged with Radcliffe College, and MIT eliminated quotas on women admitted. In 1975, UPenn eliminated the College for Women, allowing women to study with male students in all programs. Title IX, which forbids discrimination against women in education, was passed in 1972, but it took many years to be fully implemented. (Some would argue that implementation is still lagging. A topic for another day.)

The nomination of the woefully underqualified Sarah Palin as vice-presidential candidate has obscured the historical importance of Hillary Clinton's run for president: she's the first woman to come close to winning a major party nomination. And let's not forget: the last female vice-presidential candidate was Geraldine Ferraro, Walter Mondale's running mate in 1984.

The papers were reporting that it was "women of a certain age" who were supporting Clinton's presidential bid. (This is pretty snide, by the way, but another topic for another day.) I asked around among women friends and realized that a bunch of us in our early 40s were Clinton supporters. Who knew we had already reached "a certain age"?

But here I am, grinning from ear to ear again, because Clinton will be the US Secretary of State. And I know she'll do very, very well.

19 November 2008

What Do We Need? Health Care Reform. When Do We Need It? Now.

The New York Times opines that the United States is "the wrong place to be chronically ill." At one level, I have no cause to complain: I have good health insurance, and my health costs, and those of my family, are well covered.


The Mate, The Offspring, and I all have chronic illnesses, and the co-payments start to add up. Between us, we take eight medications a day year-round -- more when things flare up. There's seldom a month when one of us isn't in a doctor's office at least once, and we're all too familiar with the emergency room. Fortunately, when The Offspring's breathing gets particularly bad, I don't have to worry about how I'm going to make the $50 ER co-payment.

Does the insurance company perhaps think they can discourage me from visiting the ER by making the co-payment five times the cost of a regular doctor's visit? If that's the rationale, it's just plain cruel. If I'm laboring to breathe at 3 a.m. on Saturday, do they want me to contemplate waiting until Monday morning to see a doctor? If The Mate has a seizure in the middle of the night and hits his head, do they want him to wait until morning to get checked out? Please.

The other problem involves getting the insurance company actually to pay for health care. In the end, they always do. But because I work in New Jersey and live (and generally seek health care) in New York, submission of claims always seems to be getting fouled up.

Last year, The Doc prescribed a new medication for reflux, since the one I was taking wasn't doing the job. Then he had to make a phone call to the insurance company to reassure them that I had already tried the first one. No, they wouldn't take my word for it.
(Yes, I've cut back on tomatoes, coffee, and citrus. No, I don't go to bed with a full stomach. No, I hardly ever drink alcohol, so there's not really anything to cut back.)
Once a month or so, The Mate spends at least half a day on the phone with health care providers, the insurance company, and collection agencies trying to get everything sorted out.

That's a lot of lost productivity, in economist-speak.

And another thing.

People (insurers, big pharma) shouldn't be making fortunes off of health care. That's just wrong. The money should be going into the system, not into executives' second and third homes.

Bookworm Junior

When I was a little kid, my parents called me a bookworm. I was always sitting around reading something. Some members of the family still talk about the time I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X when I was around 9. What can I say? It looked more interesting than the rest of the books on Aunt Maude and Uncle Farrington's bookshelf. (I remember asking my father what "rape" was. He answered in rather vague terms, as I recall.)

Eventually "bookworm" ceased to be sufficiently descriptive and my parents started calling me "the Reading Monster."

So I've been watching The Offspring's forays into reading with interest, to say the least. In the last few days, he's begun picking up books and... reading them! I watch this with pride and joy, but also with a little trepidation. How much longer will he let me read to him?

And then, this: Yesterday he was complaining of itching in a personal place and I went to google to find out what to do and as I was scrolling down skimming one of the sites he said, "Wait! Go back to where it says 'When To Call The Doctor.'"


Obviously, I need to start being a little more careful about what I read when he's around. We've long since stopped listening to the radio, to avoid inundating him with reports of dead girlfriends and hijacked taxicabs and whatever else passes for "news" in between the weather and traffic reports on 1010WINS. (We don't have television, so that was never an issue.)

Do I have to cancel my subscription to Mother Jones? Stop reading news sites when he's in the house? Put a blindfold on him when we ride the A train so he can't read the ads?

The visual landscape of advertising in Manhattan, with eye-catching images all over the buses and subways, is about to become, for him, a textual environment. I don't know if I'm ready to answer all of the questions that are sure to ensue.

17 November 2008

The Civil Rights Battle of Our Generation

In 1964, South Carolina repealed a law forbidding adoption by mixed-race couples. In 1967, the US Supreme Court struck down laws still on the books in some states against inter-marriage between people of different races. (More details here, in an article by Andrew Morrison in the Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal.)

The week before last, same-sex marriage was outlawed by popular vote in Florida, Arizona and, of all places, California; Arkansans voted in a law designed to keep same-sex couples from adopting children.

Sound familiar? But backwards?

How about Germany ca. 1935, when the Nazis outlawed marriage between "Aryans" and Jews? My mother has her parents' marriage licence from the late 1930s: it requires the applicants, her parents, to list the names of all their grandparents to prove their ancestry.

Waaaaay back in March 2000, Bob Jones University -- a Protestant fundamentalist college in South Carolina -- got around to getting rid of a school rule forbidding interracial dating after W (Bush 43) was criticized for campaigning there. This month, fundraising by the Mormon Church was instrumental in passage of the California law.

I see a commonality here. Conservative Christians fought against integration, fought against interracial marriage, fought against desegregation of schools... and they're still claiming their prejudices are supported by the Bible and trying to legislate their religious beliefs.

Forty years after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., the US elected an African-American president. Will it take another forty years for Americans to recognize that gay men and lesbians are also fully human?

River Power Microhydro

The British are reviving the country's old mills, once used to grind grains, to generate electrical power. Each mill will generate only a relatively small amount of power -- a mill in Yorkshire will power 50 homes -- but as The Guardian points out, "With more than 20,000 mill sites across the UK, the potential is huge."

What if every New York City high rise had a solar grid and a wind turbine? How much of the building's energy could be generated right on site, with completely clean power sources?

It's an option to which we should be giving a lot more attention. But instead, we read about Exxon, which goes on insisting that Oil Is King. GM, Ford and Chrysler are about to go down the drain on their insistence on building huge, gas-guzzling vehicles. I wonder how much longer it will take for Exxon to shrivel.

15 November 2008


Found this reading her web site. A sample:

14 November 2008

Hack Cough Cough Gack

Bronchitis, prednisone, Levaquin. Thankful for good health insurance.

Civil Rights For All -- Even Gays

Obama is preparing for office. It's really sinking in: he's truly president-elect. I'm even tempted to look over the list of jobs for which his administration is hiring, in case I'd want to turn my back on tenure and move to Washington.

Also sinking in: four states rejected rights for gay men and lesbians in one fashion or another, as Judith Warner documents in the New York Times in her usual eloquent fashion. That's also sinking in: while the Times tells us that white folks have become more "tolerant" of African-Americans, people in several states have voted for a conviction that non-heterosexuals don't deserve equal rights in matters of civil union, adoption, and foster parenting.

(Important side note: Tolerance is different from acceptance, and acceptance is different from embrace. We should be striving for more than "tolerance" of difference; the definitions of "tolerance" include respect for difference, but also the ability to endure something bad.)

During the vice presidential debate, Biden said that neither he nor Obama "support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage." On the other hand, he made clear that he thinks that civil rights for gay and straight couples should be the same. In order to accomplish that, we need a national civil union law allowing any couple -- straight or gay -- to register in domestic partnership guaranteeing the legal benefits now allowed to married couples.

When my parents got married in Germany in 1963, they had a state marriage in some civil servant's office. Their religious marriage was a separate ceremony. They celebrate two anniversaries. When my husband and I got married in New Hampshire in 1991, we got a marriage license from the town hall, but it was completed by the rabbi on the day of the ceremony.

Civil union as defined by the government, and marriage as defined by religious organizations, need to be separated in the United States as a matter of freedom of religion as well as a matter of civil rights.

09 November 2008

Election Afterthought

After I watched An Inconvenient Truth the other night, I went on line to read a little more about Al Gore's biography. And I learned something interesting:

Bill Clinton was sworn in as president of the United States at the age of 46. He had served as Attorney General and Governor of Arkansas. Yet Hillary Clinton claimed that Barack Obama was too young (at 47) and inexperienced (after three terms as a U. S. senator from Illinois).


I was, and in fact remain, a big fan of Hillary Clinton. But this tarnishes the image a little for me.

Motherhood and Work

I wrote the following in reply to the November 7 entry in Lisa Belkin's New York Times blog, "Motherlode":

I’m a college professor and, while I have a certain amount of flexibility when I’m not in class (even when it comes to scheduling the interminable meetings), once I’ve set my schedule for a semester, I have to be in class at the scheduled time: I see students for 45 hours per term, and those hours have to be non-negotiable.

Depending on the subject that semester and that day, I might be able to get a substitute who could discuss the topic in a meaningful way, but that eliminates the continuity with preceding and following classes. And even if they can, few of my colleagues have the time to prepare a three-hour class on, say, ecocriticism and Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls, or on syntax and sentence diagramming, on top of their own schedules.

Sure, I could have avoided teaching Tuesdays this semester so I could stay home with The Offspring on Election Day and Veterans Day, but that doesn’t take care of the various holidays that fall on other days of the week.

Fortunately, The Mate works part time and is able to schedule commitments around both my schedule and our son’s.

When our son was young, the Mate found a group of (male) buddies also home with their kids. They guys are in arts, theater, things like that, with wives who have steady incomes and health insurance working in law, medicine, education.

I take your point about the title “motherlode,” and since I’m an English professor I do rather like it. But I’ve also heard way too many things about the presumed incompetence of fathers around their children. The mother of a friend asked who picked The Offspring up from school when he was in half-day preschool. “His dad.” — “But can he fix lunch?” One day in the park, a mom improvised with an empty yogurt container for a kid who needed a bathroom right away. “A dad would never have come up with that,” she commented afterward. I held my tongue, but with effort.

Thanks for your thoughts on motherhood and work. Even with a dad who’s more or less at home, I often feel as though I’m trying to keep several plates spinning in the air.

07 November 2008

An Inconvenient Truth

I just finished watching An Inconvenient Truth, starring Al Gore.

It's brilliant.

If you haven't already seen it, get it from Netflix or surf on over to Gore's web site and buy yourself a copy of the DVD. Then click on the Take Part button on the top left to find out more. Add Treehugger to your daily reading for more information.

And please write to president-elect Obama (oh, how I like the sound of that) and to your local elected representatives, and urge them to sign on to the fight against climate change.

Judith Warner: "Tears to Remember"

Judith Warner writes movingly, here, about reactions from the generations to Obama's win. Scroll down for a picture of a little girl, reaching up in wonder to touch her crying mama's cheek.

Hope for a New Generation

The Offspring and I regularly walk past the placards in the sidewalk on 135th Street commemorating the heroes of the Civil Rights movement. He frequently asks questions, and I've gradually told him some things about the people commemorated there -- David Dinkins, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Malcolm X are just a few -- and their work for civil rights.

That, of course, meant I had to back up a little bit and explain about the history of slavery and racism in our country. How do you talk about that to a five-year-old? A little at a time, like everything else.

And then one day he asked: Mama, will they put Obama here?

I choked back tears as I told him if he won the presidential election, maybe they would.

I marched against war in Iraq early in 2003. I was already pregnant, but having given up on having children after ten years of trying, it would take me a few more weeks to catch on. The Offspring was born -- a miracle! -- but I have often felt a heavy sorrow at the state of the world into which he had come.

This week, for the first time since he was born, I feel we've done something to offer hope to the new generation.

05 November 2008

I Can Still Hardly Believe It

Last night, I stayed up waaaay too late watching the returns come in. They called Ohio for Obama with less than half the vote counted, and I didn't believe it would stick. They called Pennsylvania, and I didn't believe that would stick either. They didn't call Florida until 99 percent of the vote was counted ... probably a wise choice.
I remember 2000 all too well. I went to bed thinking Al Gore was my new president, and awoke to the nightmare of a Bush presidency.

The polls closed on the west coast, and the media called the election, and I cried. McCain conceded. I asked The Mate if that meant it was really over. I listened to Obama's speech, and I cried some more.

I went and woke up The Offspring to tell him the news. I wasn't sure if he really heard me, so when I awoke to go the toilet some time later, I told him again. "Mama, you already told me." This morning, I asked if he remembered that I told him in the night that Obama was president. "Yes, Mama -- twice."


Then I asked The Mate if Obama was still president-elect.

45 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Today we welcome, I dare to hope, a new era in which people will be valued for their talents, celebrated for differences in perspective and vision, but never again reviled because of the color of their skin.

2008 is not an end, but a beginning.

04 November 2008

Obama Wins Landslide (in Tiny NH Town)

At this point, I've lived in New York longer than I ever lived in New Hampshire, where I grew up. Still, I feel a good bit of pride that the 21 registered voters of Dixville Notch, NH, in a fairly isolated conservative northern corner of a conservative state, have thrown their support behind Obama.

Yep, it's a tiny victory, and I'm gnashing my teeth, biting my nails, fidgeting at my computer as I await further results. But right now, it's something to hold on to, and I'm holding on to it with a glee that bubbles up from under the weight of the anxiety about what else might come.

03 November 2008

Raising a New Yorker

The other day, The Offspring saw The Dog sniffing at one of his toys. He walked over and said firmly, "No, Jojo. Don't even think about it." Did he get that from us? Or did he pick it up at school?

I was reminded of this this morning after I dropped The Offspring and The Carpool Kid off at school, and was then crossing Houston Street to get to work. I had George Winston in the CD player and I was trying really hard to stay calm. (Not easy, between the maniacs, the idiots, the truckers, the taxi drivers, the pedestrians, and the cyclists all weaving in and out of narrow lanes under construction.)

I didn't get exercised at the little black Honda driving between lanes and knocking over pylons. But then I reached the point where Houston Street veers off to the left, and Bedford Street goes to the right.

The livery cab to my right decided at the last minute to take Houston instead of Bedford, and cut me off. During the interminable wait for the light to change, a big silver SUV came along and cut in front of me from the left. And when the traffic finally started to move, the car behind the livery cab also tried to cut in front of me.

From inside my car, I'm screaming and gesticulating. "No! Don't even think about it! No way!" There may have been one or two unprintables in there, too. The nice woman behind the wheel is looking at me, clearly thinking: You better go back and find your mind, because obviously you lost it somewhere back there.

Right. You have a point. Back to George.

02 November 2008

New York Times: Reporting Like It's 1971

The Boston Marathon didn't allow women to enter until 1972, but the New York City Marathon included women from its first race in 1970 -- though the lone female competitor that year (along with 71 of the 121 male runners who entered) dropped out before the finish.

This year, incomprehensibly, the New York Times is live-blogging the men's marathon, while all but ignoring the women's race. (Paula Radcliffe just won.)

Go figure.

01 November 2008

More Outrage from the Right

Ann Coulter compares Obama to Hitler. Beyond the gross opportunism and wild inaccuracy of her remarks, she trivializes a horrendous chapter in history.

The New York Times reports that on Fox News,
the rest of the news media is portrayed as papering over questions about Mr. Obama’s past associations with people who have purportedly anti-American tendencies that he has not answered. (“I feel like we are talking to the Germans after Hitler comes to power, saying, ‘Oh, well, I didn’t know,’ ” Ann Coulter, the conservative commentator, told Mr. Hannity on Thursday.)
She's referring, presumably, to Bill Ayers (not to Todd Palin, who belonged to the Alaska Independence Party, which advocates Alaska's secession from the US, until 2002). As the Chicago Sun-Times reported, Ayers was a member of the Weather Underground; the FBI called it a "domestic terrorist group," and it bombed US government buildings.

Even Fox News acknowledges that charges against Ayers were dismissed. Ayers is now a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Thirty years later, Obama and Ayers both served on the same Chicago-area foundation involved in community development. Obama served for nine years, leaving in 2002; Ayers joined the board in 1999 and is still a member.

Obama has been quite clear about his assocation with Ayers. Coulter's claims are outrageous. That such obnoxiousness is not denounced by the more moderate members of her party is beyond dismaying.

30 October 2008

The Mate Says: Please Vote For Obama

The Mate wrote the following, and asked me to post it here:

For the past eight years, this country has slaughtered, displaced, and wounded hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Our country is mired in debt that will affect our ability to care effectively for our citizens now and in the future. Although I do blame both Democrats and Republicans (Congress authorized the war and controls the purse strings), the rot came from the top down.

Bush and Cheney pushed through an unnecessary war and pushed for unbelievable spending increases and tax cuts. Ironically, the wealthiest who voted for Bush and thought they were getting a good deal will likely find their net worth severely punished for their efforts. Between plummeting stock and home prices, their bottom line will be worse than it was eight years ago. Those of modest means or lower will suffer even more as job layoffs continue and food prices soar.

Remember the message of Everyman*: Charity in all its forms is the key to salvation. Now, even if you have doubts about the hereafter, the moral message is clear and relevant. People are suffering, and contributions of money, clothes, and time are the best you can do in trying times.

As for John McCain, experience does not outweigh poor judgment. It is clear from how he has waged his campaign through poor choices that his presidency would not be much different. He wants to continue the unwinnable war in Iraq, extend the tax cuts to the wealthy, and continue to surround himself with unqualified people who think contributions should be spent on Louis Vuitton bags for seven-year-olds.

Barack Obama, though certainly not perfect, is clear-headed, inspiring, and has the intellect to deal with the problems we are facing. I am impressed with Hillary Clinton pulling out all the stops to campaign for him, especially in Florida, and I hope Hillary supporters can become as passionate in convincing those who are still undecided.

Obama's campaign, from the people he has surrounded himself with, to grass roots organization, and his response to issues that have come up along the way shows that he will be a fantastic leader. Don't let fear-mongering, single issues, or misinformation cloud your judgment.

Please vote for Obama.

*Everyman is a Morality Play written in the late fifteenth century. You can read it here, or go here to buy a copy of The Mate's video version. Full disclosure: I produced the video.

Beyond Offensive

I thought we were beyond this kind of race and class-based politics. But as reported in a New York Times article today, a reporter interviewed a woman at a McCain rally, and she suggested that people who support Obama's policies are all about handouts for people who are too lazy to earn a living.
“A lot of people on the other side just want free money,” said Susan Emrich, at a McCain-Palin rally in Hershey on Tuesday. ... Ms. Emrich would like to attend another rally later that day in nearby Shippensburg, but can’t. “I have to work,” she explains. “I’m a Republican.”

Remember when Republican politicians demonized "welfare queens"? Wikipedia says* Ronald Reagan popularized the term during the 1976 presidential election in a reference to the South Side of Chicago, with its primarily African-American population. He and other Republicans of that era were evoking the fiction of black women having child after child so they could keep getting public assistance.

The reality? The majority of people on welfare are -- and were -- white women with one or two children, who usually spend less than two years on the dole before going back to work.

And by the way... access to truly affordable, flexible, high quality childcare so women with children could attend school or go to work would reduce the need for welfare and would also improve living conditions for large numbers of middle class families.

*The article cites Susan Douglas's 2005 book, The Mommy Myth, as the source for the information.

22 October 2008

Alaskine Rose

The McCain campaign spent $150,000 to clothe Gov. Palin in September. It calls to mind the excesses of Evita as played by Madonna:
I came from the people, they need to adore me
So Christian Dior me from my head to my toes
I need to be dazzling, I want to be Rainbow High
They must have excitement, and so must I

Or Imelda Marcos with her hundreds of pairs of shoes.

Mostly, it just boggles the mind.

16 October 2008

I assumed it was photoshopped ...

... but the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, among others, published it. Full size here.

Attempting Levity

Duet for Two Lungs: "Tell Me Again Why it was So Important to Climb that Flight of Stairs."

That's pretty much been the state of things since the first cold of the semester and the onset of the season of drifting, dusty, mildewed leaves ratcheted my asthma up a few notches.

But with the benefit of several prescriptions and nearly every OTC known to RiteAid, I set off today for my first run in ten days. I managed to complete my three-mile loop and even made it up all the hills.

And then I flagged down one of the helicopters monitoring traffic on the Cross-Bronx Expressway and got a lift from the sidewalk to my fifth-floor walkup.

McCain Doesn't Think Much of Women

During the final presidential debate last night, I muttered imprecations at the computer at various points.

Asked about his running mate's qualifications to be president, Sen. McCain said, "Well, Americans have gotten to know Sarah Palin. They know that she's a role model to women and other -- and reformers all over America."

First off there's the issue of the syntax. "Americans" know that Palin "is a role model to women." McCain not include "women" when he thinks of "Americans." The people he considers his constituents are the male members of society; women are an afterthought.

At any rate: Sorry, Senator, I do not see Gov. Palin as a role model. I do not see a former beauty pageant contestant and journalism major who can't name a newspaper she reads as a role model. As a college professor, I'm very aware of the potential for abuses of power in heirarchical institutions, and I do not see as a role model someone who abuses her position to attempt to get people fired. As an environmentalist, I do not see as a role model someone who has five children, flies airplanes and drives snowmobiles for sport, and doesn't believe that humans have impacted climate change, as a role model. (Remember Zero Population Growth?)

McCain didn't, by the way, answer the question. He didn't say that he thinks Palin is qualified to be president. He said, "She'll be my partner."

But it was Sen. McCain's sneer as he uttered the phrase "health for the mother" that got me really yelling bad things. (Fortunately, I didn't wake The Offspring.)

Bob Schieffer asked Obama and McCain to explain their positions on abortion. Obama discussed the issue in terms of seeking "common ground" by attempting to prevent unwanted pregnancies and provide real support for women with unplanned pregnancies. He added, "Nobody's pro-abortion. I think it's always a tragic situation." (Folks, birth control fails, even when used by married couples.) In response to McCain's statement that he had failed to vote in favor of a ban on "partial-birth abortion," he said:
I am completely supportive of a ban on late-term abortions, partial-birth or otherwise, as long as there's an exception for the mother's health and life, and this did not contain that exception. And I attempted, as many have in the past, [to] includ[e] that so that it is constitutional. And that was rejected, and that's why I voted present, because I'm willing to support a ban on late-term abortions as long as we have that exception.

McCain's response was an outrage.
Just again, the example of the eloquence of Senator Obama. He's health for the mother. You know, that's been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America
to mean almost anything. That's the extreme pro-abortion position, quote, "health."
He sneered when he said that. John McCain sneered at the idea that a woman's health is of importance.

The world has changed a lot since John McCain was born 72 years ago. The roles of men and women have undergone widespread shifts.

When McCain was born, women could be excluded from serving on juries. The minimum wage only applied to men. Waitresses weren't allowed to work at night.

When McCain graduated from college, it was legal to pay a woman less than a man for the identical job. In fact, employers didn't even have to hire women. Laws in many states prohibited married couples from using birth control. Yes, abortion was illegal. It was legal for a man to rape a woman ... if he was married to her. A woman could get fired from her job if she got pregnant. Bosses groped their employees, and worse, but the term "sexual harrassment" hadn't been invented. Many of the nation's elite colleges and universities accepted only male students.

Society has changed, but John McCain has not. His patronizing, exclusionary comments indicate his profound disrespect for women's rights and women's contributions to society.

15 October 2008


Me: Cheney is being treated for arrhythmia again.

The Mate: He has a heart?

07 October 2008

Joe Six-Pack

I've been wondering what, exactly, Sarah Palin means by "Joe Six-Pack." Somebody who drinks a whole six-pack at a sitting? Somebody with really defined abs? So I went to urban dictionary, and this is what it says:
Average American moron, IQ 60, drinking beer, watching baseball and CNN, and believe [sic] everything his President says.

So that's how Palin is presenting herself in detailing her qualifications to be vice president. Uh-oh.

Letter to the New York Times

In the article "Campaigns Shift to Attack Modes on Eve of Debate," Adam Nagourney suggests that the Obama and McCain campaigns are engaging in similar kinds of tactics.

This is not, in fact, the case: Palin is smearing Obama with innuendo in her claims of his association with Bill Ayers, ignoring the parts of the Times article on their acquaintance that refute such claims.

The Obama campaign's advertising referring to McCain as one of the "Keating Five" involved in a 1989 ethics scandal, on the other hand, is fact; the investigators concluded that he had exercised poor judgment in his role in the scandal. As a candidate for president, his ability to exercise good judgment is, well, crucial.

Your writers should make clear the distinction between the smear tactics of the McCain campaign and the legitimate attacks of the Obama campain, rather than hiding behind supposed "objectivity" in making it look as though both campaigns are up to the same kinds of tactics. McCain's people won't like it? Doesn't change your responsibility to the truth.

Heide Estes

03 October 2008

Joe Biden Cried Last Night. Or, Things Have Changed

Last night, Gwen Ifill asked Biden and Palin to talk about their respective "Achilles' Heels," noting that "conventional wisdom" has it that Palin lacks experience, while Biden lacks discipline.
In response, Palin mentioned her experience as governor of the "huge state" of Alaska (with a population of under 700,000, just a bit bigger than Washington, DC) and then moved quickly to her experience as the mother of a son about to be deployed to Iraq and another with "special needs." (What happened to the three daughters?)

Biden responded that after 35 years in the Senate, "People can judge who I am." He talked some more about his record, and then added:

Look, I understand what it's like to be a single parent. When my wife and daughter died and my two sons were gravely injured, I understand what it's like as a parent to wonder what it's like if your kid's going to make it.... But the notion that somehow, because I'm a man, I don't know what it's like to raise two kids alone, I don't know what it's like to have a child you're not sure is going to -- is going to make it -- I understand.

He choked up. He blinked away tears. He moved on. To me, that shows more profoundly than McCain's choice of a completely inexperienced woman as a running mate, that my parents' generation changed America. (Thanks, Mom and Dad.)

It's not 1972, and Joe Biden is not Ed Muskie. Responding to attacks on his wife, Muskie choked up during a speech. The press reported that he cried, and his already faltering presidential bid was derailed among claims that he was too emotional to serve.

While Palin uttered platitudes, Joe Biden showed himself as a man of emotional as well as intellectual depth. To me, the debate felt like an adult conversation between Biden and Ifill, with Palin refusing to answer questions and instead pleading with Americans, "look at me!"

If you're looking for a full transcript and/or video of the debate, the New York Times has them here.

02 October 2008

Sarah Palin v the Polar Bear

Tim Downing of the Guardian wonders who will better succeed given current global realities. An excerpt:
Impact of climate change
Polar bear: Length of hunting season has diminished, birth rates have fallen and it now has insufficient fat reserves.
Palin: None observed.
The rest of the article is here.

30 September 2008

Living with Chronic Illness

Or call it invisible disability, if you will. Here's one of the best definitions I've seen, from a New York Times article by Abigail Zuger:
Are you sick? Are you well? You are on a small island in the middle of the river, with lovely views of a rock and a hard place. And yet, you wake up in the morning, and you feel pretty good.
Today, two days ago, the day before that, and backward for the last few months, I went out running. Maybe next week, maybe not for another ten years, allergy or infection will almost certainly once again trigger an asthma attack that will leave me quite literally breathless. Without breath, everything else gets awfully difficult. I take three medications every day to keep the breathing going, and that regime lends me what looks, feels, like good health. Am I sick? Am I well?

19 September 2008

Recycling Electronics

Getting rid of your old TV and replacing it with one that gets the new digital signal? Don't put it out with the garbage to go to the dump; recycle it. Go to Earth 911 to find out where.

(From EMagazine. You can subscribe here.)

17 September 2008


"Every breath is a prayer."

"Did you learn that at Hebrew school?"

"No, they say it at synagogue.

"Oh, right. They do, don't they."

The Offspring makes me think fairly often, but this one blew my mind pretty good.

After a pretty tough spring with six or eight weeks of troubles with asthma, I've identified myself as disabled at work so as to be able to teach on line if necessary and, hopefully, do a better job at keeping up with my classes. I'm having a tough time with going through this process, which isn't the point of this post, and maybe I'll get back to it another time.

At any rate, having The Offspring quote the liturgy at me got me really thinking.

If every breath is prayer, what does that do for the breaths that are "invalid" (yeah, go ahead and read that both ways), the ones that I get so angry about when they occur in my body, the ones that make me grieve when they occur in the body of The Offspring, to whom I've given my genes for this disease, among other things?

Are the imperfect breaths, then, imperfect prayers? I'm pretty sure all of my prayers are imperfect. It occurs to me to be more grateful for the good breaths, the easy breaths, the ones I take for granted, to try to move away from being so angry and so afraid when breathing fails.

05 September 2008


Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court and appointed Jeane Kirkpatrick as U.S. representative to the United Nations. Bill Clinton made Madeline Albright Secretary of State, nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the supreme court, and made Janet Reno attorney general. George Bush appointed Condoleezza Rice as his National Security Advisor and hired as White House legal counsel Harriet Miers, whom he also (perhaps regrettably) nominated to the Supreme Court . Shirley Temple Black served in various capacities under presidents Nixon, Ford, and George. H. W. Bush (the dad). The English elected Margaret Thatcher, another conservative.

Here's a list of some other "Notable Women in U.S. Government."

In other words, there are plenty of qualified women, many of them conservative, who have been out there working in various high-profile positions for a lifetime.

But the best qualified woman McCain could find to nominate as Vice President is Sarah Palin. That speaks volumes about his judgment.

Given more years in state government, perhaps a term or two as a U.S. Senator, she could have developed into a mature politican worthy of respect and of the vice presidency. Today, however, her experience consists solely of a brief stint as governor of Alaska, whose entire population is less than that of Memphis, Tennessee -- the eighteenth largest city in the U. S. Before that, she served as mayor of Wasilla, a suburb of Anchorage incorporated as a "city" (a term the media are using rather loosely, in my opinion) way back in 1974 whose population, according to the town's web page, is just over 7000.

Neither the town of Wasilla, nor the city of Anchorage, nor the state of Alaska bears much resemblance to the geographic and ethnic diversity of the rest of the nation: Anchorage, the largest city, has fewer than 300,000 inhabitants, and the state's population is just over 3 percent each Hispanic and African-American.

Palin can boast of being a bear hunter and a hockey mom, but really, how relevant are those things to international diplomacy? Or even to the majority of Americans, at least 75 percent of whom live in urban areas?

There's no dearth of commentary out there. But one of the best pieces is Judith Warner's New York Times commentary, "The Mirrored Ceiling."

Staycation Jet Lag

I'm not a morning person.

Before Child, I saw 5 a.m. fairly regularly, but it was because I was still up from the night before. (I'm a workaholic, not a party animal.) When my son came along, let's just say I tried hard to appreciate the many sunrises to which I was exposed. As he's grown, we've tried to adjust his bedtime so he doesn't wake up too early in the morning, but he generally leaps out of bed, fairly early, ready to face the day.

Some months ago, we adopted a dog. The dog wakes up at the crack of dawn, if not a little earlier. We try to keep him up late too, try to make sure he gets lots of running during the day, but it doesn't do much good.

Thank god the fish isn't a morning person.

04 September 2008

Tooth Fairy

The Offspring lost his first tooth at breakfast this morning, then went off to school and swimming lesson, so he got home only in time for dinner. And at the dinner table, it occurred to him to wonder if the tooth fairy had already left something under his pillow. I explained that the tooth fairy comes at night so nobody will see her. Maybe, he thought, she came while Daddy and Mommy were out doing something. Nope, we were home all day.

Oh, Mommy, is the tooth fairy nocturnal?


03 September 2008

Another Reason to Bring My Own Lunch

When I buy lunch, there's a whole heck of a lot of waste, and it's not just the dollars trickling out of my wallet. I bring my own cup for water and coffee, and I keep a fork in my desk so I don't have to throw away another fork every time I eat a meal, but still: I always end up with a whole lot of unrecyclable plastic whose trip from the refinery to the factory to the landfill is interrupted only briefly by a few moments of useful life.

01 September 2008

Not In the US Media....

... but the BBC reports that "a spokesman for Mrs Palin had also confirmed that her husband had been arrested for driving under the influence in 1986."

Okay, he was in his 20s, and a lot of people make dumb mistakes when they're young (see: Mrs. Palin's daughter). But a lot of people don't get arrested for drunk driving, even when they're young.

This and That

People whose names I envy: Francine Prose, Sarah Vowell.

Favorite element from the Periodic Table: Dysprosium.

29 August 2008

Meat Is the Answer

There's been plenty written about the effects of meat on the environment as well as on individual human bodies. The antibiotics and hormones pumped into the animals to get them to grow faster on diets they don't eat in nature; the amount of water required to raise a cow or a pig; their methane gas emissions (see: diet); the amount of petroleum used to transport the grain to feed the animals and then transport the meat to the place where it's eaten; the use of grain to feed animals in countries where people are starving.... The list goes on.

And there's actually something you can do about it. In the last paragraph of his article, "Think Before You Eat: The Widespread Effects of Factory-Farmed Meat," Brian Colleran quotes Paul Shapiro of the Humane Society’s Factory Farming Campaign:
“The silver lining is that this is one of the easiest ways for individuals to reduce their environmental footprint. Whereas switching to a hybrid car or worrying about coal stacks may be beyond our daily means, choosing more plant-based meals is something where we can stand up for animals and the environment every time we sit down to eat."
And a can of beans--or, if you're so inclined, a whole bag to be soaked and boiled--is a whole lot cheaper than a slab of meat.

28 August 2008

One Way to Kill a Mouse

After I dropped off my compost on the Pinehurst Avenue stairs at 181st Street, I saw one of those really big bottles of beer with an inch of liquid still inside -- and I thought I caught a glimpse of legs. I dragged the dog back up the stairs to take another look, and there was a drowned mouse in the bottle. Looked pretty tiny with its fur all wet. All I can say is, I hope it got good and happy before it went the way of all creatures.

13 August 2008

Calisthenics Through the Decades

After minor surgery to remove a small growth from the side of my foot, I'm to limit walking and avoid running for at least three weeks. How, then, to get any exercise? Last night I got out a yoga mat and started a little stretching, and then I saw some leg weights lying around and put them on.

I lay on my back, propped my feet up in the air, and bicycled my legs around in a move I remember learning in gym in the 1970s. I did some 80's style aerobics class leg lifts, and some other leg lifts I was doing in the 90s while recuperating from and ITB injury. And I finished off with some yoga arm balances and a headstand, which I finally learned to do recently.

I wonder if anyone has written a history of exercise routines in the 20th century.

Which reminds me: the lobster boat racing finals took place in Maine last weekend; there's another thing I was thinking it would be interesting to research the history of.

(I know, I just ended a sentence with a preposition. Did you really want to have to read "... another thing about which I was thinking it would be interesting to research the history"?)

07 August 2008

Big Book Business

Go to Barnes & Noble on line, and included in the pictures of books and videos scrolling across the screen you'll find Obama Nation. Think about the title for ten seconds: yup, "abomination." According to the blurb about the book, it argues an Obama presidency would give the nation "a repeat of the failed extremist politics that have characterized and plagued Democratic Party politics since the late 1960s.”

Huh. How did the Clinton years embody "failed extremist policies"? He was a moderate's moderate. And he presided over eight years of peace and prosperity. Bush, on the other hand, lied and prevaricated to get us into a war that the next generation will still be paying off, all the while deregulating banks and big business to land us in a crisis of mortgage and credit card debt that we won't be out of at least until the end of the decade.

Borders also lists the book (along with another anti-Obama screed) in its email promotions this week, but it identifies it as coming from the right, and promises a new book about the elections from Michael Moore to be published next week.

06 August 2008

War Surgery in Afghanistan and Iraq

War Surgery in Afghanistan and Iraq: A Series of Cases, 2003-2007 has been published by the U. S. Government Printing Office, but it's hard to get, as the New York Times reported yesterday in "To Heal the Wounded." It's written to teach surgeons on the ground the newest techniques for treating injuries of war. And it has pictures. Pictures that show wounded veterans.

According to the Times, "There were strenuous efforts within the Army over the last year to censor the book and keep it out of civilian hands," but the Surgeon General has insisted on releasing the book. For $71 (including shipping), you can order it direct from the U. S. Government Book Store -- but it's out of stock. Supposedly, more are being printed.

Given the Bush administration's record of suppressing information it finds politically unpalatable, I have to wonder how long it will take before more copies are actually made available.

30 July 2008

Airline Surcharges

The New York Times reports that Delta has doubled, to $50, the fee it charges passengers who check a second bag when flying.

Not only that, but the second cousin of the daughter of one of Delta's financial officers has revealed that the company has considered weighing all passengers, measuring them, and testing them with bioelectric impedance analysis. The company is reportedly considering requiring those who exceed the recommended weight ranges developed by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company or who have a Body Mass Index higher than 25 to pay an excess fuel surcharge.

Asked if the underweight or small children would be allowed a low weight rebate, the source abruptly terminated the interview.

29 July 2008

Eating Mud in Haiti

Haitians are eating mud cakes because they can't afford food. More here from the Guardian. If you're reading this, write to your elected officials and urge them to find a way to help.

27 July 2008

Where are the Menopause Bloggers?

There are a couple out there: mymenopauseblog, menopause the blog. Plus some web sites about menopause and a good section on menopause on the web version of the book Our Bodies, Our Selves. The National Women's Health Network is advocating for changes in cultural and medical attitudes toward menopause.

Let me know if you know of anything else I should check out. I suppose it will come in due time: if the mom bloggers are still out there in 15 or 20 years, they're likely to comment in collectively minute detail on The Change.

Meanwhile ... okay, I've gained a few pounds. Maybe half a size. But my skin? Gained a size and a half. How did it get so baggy while my clothes got tighter?

When did my eyes decide they couldn't read a restaurant menu without help?

Night sweats: grrrr.

26 July 2008

Incongruities on the A Train

Three women.
"McCain went to a German restaurant in Ohio. He's complaining because Obama is in Germany."
"He was just there. What does he think, we're stupid?
"You know who thinks we're stupid? Dick Cheney. Dick Cheney thinks we're stupid.
A woman walks by in ... a dress. It's shorter than anything I'd wear, but she's younger, too.
"Who does she think she is, Carrie Bradshaw?"

Three young men, working Rubik's Cubes. One completes one side, and tries to show it to his buddy, but the other guy is so engrossed, he can't get his attention.

Woman with highlights, understated make-up, Coach handbag, Tiffany shopping bag, and a tattoo of barbed wire around her right shin.

Young man. Rise of the jeans is engineered to ride so low, they look to me like harem pants. A thought that would no doubt horrify him if he heard me think it.

24 July 2008

The Great Outdoors

The other day in Hell's Kitchen, I passed a place advertising work-outs and tanning treatments.

The incidence of skin cancer crept up between 1973 and 2004 in men aged 15 to 39, according to the New York Times. In women during the same period, the incidence nearly tripled, from 5.5 to 13.9 per 100,000. The authors of the study reporting the increase note that during the same period, use of tanning beds has increased much more among girls and women than among their male cohorts.

I'm going to go out for a run and get my tan the old way.

23 July 2008

Two Small Things

1. I'm using the back of used paper to print drafts. Haven't done that since I was broke and in grad school. Started because I was out of new paper, will continue because it just makes sense.

2. We're trying to wean ourselves off the dryer. In the last apartment, we had a small combination washer/dryer. The dryer was so inefficient we just hung everything to dry. And since the loads were small, we were never inundated with wet laundry.

Now, we do laundry in the basement of our building, five flights away. It's hard enough to carry it dry. But The Mate has agreed to haul up part of the load wet, provided that I do the hanging. I might offer to help haul, to further reduce reliance on the dryer.

22 July 2008

Do The Hardest Thing First

Franke James of North York, a subdivision of Toronto, decided to "do the hardest thing first" by selling the family SUV and going car-free. Read more on her hand-written, illustrated blog My Green Conscience.

What would be the hardest thing to get rid of for me? For you?

21 July 2008

Summer in Times Square

Bought by Disney? Check.
Filled with euro-toting tourists? Check.
Smells like piss and garbage? Check.

Some things, money can't buy.

19 July 2008

Gloria Steinem T Shirt

Me: I don't get why people wear t shirts with other people's names on them.

The Mate: Wouldn't you wear a shirt with "Gloria Steinem" on it?

Me: Hmmmm....

It turns out you can get a shirt that says "I Love [heart] Gloria Steinem." You can also get a sweatshirt with Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Hughes stencilled on it. It appears, however, that you can't get a Gloria Steinem Barbie. Thank goodness for the little things.

18 July 2008

Wind Farm

One of the criticisms levied at wind farms, where you put up a whole bunch of windmills (or wind turbines, in the new terminology) to generate electricity, is the potential for a lot of noise. So when I was driving across Kansas with my parents a few weeks ago and saw a wind farm on the horizon, I wanted to stop and take a listen. My parents, old lefties and environmentalists from way back, were game, so when the highway passed the nearest turbine, we pulled onto the shoulder and got out of the car.

We couldn't hear anything.

So we climbed the embankment to get closer. Eventually we reached the fence and, standing maybe 100 paces from the nearest turbine, we listened. Only when there were no cars or trucks passing on the highway 25 feet below could we actually hear anything; then, it sounded about as loud as a refrigerator.

I know there are other criticisms, too. For one thing, birds -- especially big ones -- get hung up in the blades of the turbines. But then again, burning coal or oil for electricity doesn't do the bird population, or any other populations, a whole lot of good either.

People say they're ugly, too. I guess it's a matter of taste; I thought the wind farm we saw in Kansas was rather beautiful, and the slow movement of the individual blades was soothing and a bit mesmerising (I was driving: I had to fight that part of it).

Interestingly enough, all across Kansas, single old-style windmills are still in use providing energy to get water out of wells and other localized applications.

17 July 2008

How To Save The World

Treehugger reports that David MacKay of the Cambridge University physics department has identified what he considers the eight most important things to do to reduce power consumption. He's written about this in detail in his book Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air, available for free download here.

Here are MacKay's Eight:

1. Put on a woollen sweater and turn down your heating’s thermostat (to 69 or 72 degrees, say). Put individual thermostats on all radiators. Make sure the heating’s off when no-one’s at home. Do the same at work.
Could save: 20 kWh per day

2. Read all your meters (gas, electricity, water) every week, and identify easy changes to reduce consumption (e.g., switching things off). Compare competitively with a friend. Read the meters at your place of work too, creating a perpetual live energy audit.
Could save: 4 kWh per day

3. Stop flying.
Could save: 35 kWh per day

4. Drive less, drive slower, drive more gently, use an electric car, join a car club, cycle, walk, use trains and buses.
Could save: 20 kWh per day

5. Keep using old gadgets (e.g. computers); don’t replace them early.
Could save: 4 kWh per day

6. Change lights to fluorescent or LED.
Could save: 4 kWh per day

7. Don’t buy clutter. Avoid packaging.
Could save: 20 kWh per day

8. Eat vegetarian, six days out of seven.
Could save: 10 kWh per day

Treehugger's report on this estimates that besides all the kilowatt hours saved, this could save you more than $7000 a year.

Now, if I could just stop blogging and shut off my computer, I could save even more energy.

Another Plug for Urban Organic

... over at my other blog, Ecological Shopper.

16 July 2008

Reduce your Paper Footprint

Some tips from The Independent by way of Treehugger:
* Do not pick up paper napkins in cafés.
* Ask yourself: do I need to print this? If so, use both sides of the paper.
* Sign up to the Mail Preference Service: www.mpsonline.org.uk
* Make sure any paper you buy (toilet rolls through to writing paper) comes from recycled sources.
* Re-use paper bags or compost receipts and torn-up bank statements
* Cut down on and share magazines, return unwanted catalogues to the sender.
* Re-use envelopes and make your own cards.
* Read small print carefully and never tick the "more information" box.
* Ask your boss to buy recycled paper for your workplace.

To cut down on junk mail in the US, you can sign up here. (More on this, here.)

15 July 2008

Old Television, New Digital, and the Landfill

Congress has required that broadcasters switch to digital television beginning in February, 2009. More here from The New York Times.

Your television might already be capable of recieving a digital signal, especially if you bought it after May, 2007. If not, you can buy a converter box, and Congress says you're entitled to two vouchers worth $40 each to help pay for the purchase. The Federal Communcations Commission will tell you more about the advantages of the conversion, here.

But a lot of old televisions are going to end up in the garbage. According to CoopAmerica, "a cathode ray tube television can contain eight pounds of lead, as well as mercury, PVCs, and hundreds of other toxic chemicals." If the televisions are put in landfills, these chemicals are likely to end up in your drinking water. (For more on that, see Elizabeth Royte's Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It.)

CoopAmerica wants the FCC to mandate that the manufacturers that sell you your new television capable of recieving the digital signal will take your old television and recycle it responsibly. For more information, and to sign on to a letter to the FCC, click here.

13 July 2008

Foundation Problem Solved: Running Again

I've always had a problem with bounce; I used to solve it by pulling a stretchy sport bra over an underwire sport bra. Nine months of pregnancy, thirteen months of nursing, and five unshakeable extra pounds later, the extra, ahem: volume meant that didn't work any more.

Enter the Frog Bra from Title Nine. I've been eyeing it for years in the catalogue, but didn't want to buy it unseen and untested. Finally I took the plunge, guessed on the size, and ordered one.

The catalogue claims "no bouncing ever" and adds "'It's almost like not having breasts at all. Well almost.' Warning: major masher bra." It's all true, and it's also a Houdini-like feat of contortion to get on and off ... but running is comfortable again. Maybe now I can finally shake those five extra pounds.

10 July 2008

Best Cartoon on Scientific Integrity?

The Union of Concerned Scientists is running a contest to raise awareness of the issue of political interference in scientific inquiry under the Bush administration. Vote here for your favorite cartoon.

Thanks, Sonja!

Buried in the New York Times

The Guardian has published a secret report from the World Bank which estimates that the use of grain for biofuel has raised food prices by 75 percent worldwide. Articles here and here, pdf version of full report here. And The New York Times? It buries the information in an editorial that acknowledges the role of production of biofuels but claims,
Some of the causes are out of governments’ control, including the rising cost of energy and fertilizer, and drought in food exporters like Australia. Higher consumption of animal protein in China and India has also driven demand for feed grains. Wrongheaded policies among rich and poor nations are also playing a big role.
The Guardian thinks the World Bank has withheld the report to avoid embarrassing President Bush. Is that why The Times won't provide any details about it either?

07 July 2008

I've Been Thinking About Paper

How dry do my hands have to be after I wash them on a hot summer day? Three paper towels gets them completely dry; two leaves them damp, one damper. Or I can skip the paper towels altogether, give them a shake, and move on. I've been experimenting.

15 June 2008

Urban Organic: A Plug

When I started this blog, The Mate requested that I not ever blog about him or about The Offspring. I agreed. Recently, however, he decided it might be okay if he made an occasional appearance here; in particular, he wanted me to record the recipe for a particularly delicious salad he made one night, which he wrote down for me on a scrap of paper.

Sadly, the scrap of paper has gone astray; I do remember that the salad included baby spinach, some sort of lettuce, mangoes, pumpkin seeds, and a dressing made with lime juice, orange juice, and honey.

All of the ingredients except the honey came to us from Urban Organic. For $35, we get a box of assorted organic vegetables and fruit left by our front door every Tuesday. The box is plenty big; some weeks, we have to work to keep up with cooking everything that comes in it. And we eat a far better variety of food, especially fruit, than we'd ordinarily buy at the market. (I'm an apple buyer; The Mate usually just gets bananas.) Check out the web site here.

Did I Lose My Youth Someplace Last Century?

I'm too old to understand:

High heeled flip flops
Eyebrow piercings
Writing across the seat of the sweat pants

14 June 2008

Track Work

Announcement on the 1 train at 96th street headed uptown:

"The next stop on this train, and on all 1 trains this weekend, is 137th Street, due to necessary track work. We apologize for any inconvenience."

I'm just glad they're not doing any unnecessary track work.

25 April 2008

Water Footprint

If you want to move beyond your carbon footprint and worry about a whole new thing, check out your water footprint.

A glass of beer and an apple both have about the same impact: 75 and 70 liters of water, respectively (that's a little more than a quart, in case I have a reader in the US). Double that, at 140 liters, for a cup of coffee. Does that mean I should switch my morning coffee to a glass of beer? No, better off switching to a cup of tea at 30 liters per cup.

A kilogram (2.2 pounds) of chicken requires 3900 liters in comparison to 200 liters for an egg, but that kilo of chicken will fill more bellies; a kilogram of soybeans requires 1800 liters of water, so in terms of water footprint alone it seems we're better off getting our protein from the eggs.

Compare that to a pound of beef at 15,500 liters per kilogram, and it looks like switching one hamburger a week to an omelet, a basket of chicken wings, or a General Tso's bean curd has pretty decent impact.

One Lightbulb at a A Time

At the UK's The Guardian, you can make a weekly pledge about relatively simple things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.

Ideas that individuals can adopt right now, without investing in any household supplies or hardware: stop buying farmed flowers, stop using bottled water (refill the last bottle you bought at the water fountain until you get around to buying a Sigg), eat less meat, re-use plastic bags.

At the next level: replace one short-haul flight with a train journey, get a low-flow shower head, compost kitchen and garden waste.

The site will give you a little graph showing how much carbon you're saving with each pledge; it ought to be satisfying to watch the little green bar grow.

20 April 2008

Reduce Junk Mail

They try hard to talk you out of it with threats about all the potential savings you'll miss if you opt out of junk mail, but you can sign up here:


They also try to make you sign up with a credit card, or print out a page that has to be mailed with a check for a dollar, but if you just keep clicking on "continue," you eventually reach a page that tells you you've successfully opted out of receiving all unsolicited mail.

The link comes from an article in the New York Times. Let me know if it works for you.

16 April 2008

Spend Like Its 1999

Estimated cost of the war in Iraq, including health care for all the injured veterans: at least a trillion dollars, perhaps as much as three trillion. That's 3,000,000,000,000 reasons our economy is spiraling into what looks to be a deep and enduring recession. That's the International Monetary Fund calling this "the largest financial shock since the Great Depression," though you wouldn't know that if you only read US media.

But now you can spend that money, in a game intended to raise awareness of the costs of this war in comparison to other things the US government could be funding. Universal health care, say, or improved schools, or development of alternative energy sources.

08 April 2008

Secrecy and Democracy do not mix

Letter to New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on his back-room tactics to stall NYC Mayor Bloomberg's proposal for congestion pricing in lower Manhattan:


Mr. Silver:

Your refusal to bring Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan to the Assembly floor so that New York's lawmakers are forced to make a vote for or against the proposal rather than hiding behind claims of "strong opposition" is unconscionable. These are our elected representatives and our legal process must be transparent, not hidden in closed meetings whose outcome is left unreported.

I am outraged.


Heide Estes

02 April 2008

If You'd Asked Me In 1998...

Thomas the Train sticker as a bookmark in Beowulf? No.
Vegetarian dog food? No
Dog food on the floor of the car? No, and no.

01 April 2008

Congestion Pricing for Manhattan

City Council has approved Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan, under which drivers would pay $8 to enter Manhattan below 60th Street between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays.

This is good. Reduced congestion will speed trips for buses and taxis, and the revenue raised by the plan will pay for additional bus and subway services.

Next, the proposal goes to Albany, where Sheldon Silver has been non-committal about whether he will support the plan. If you're reading this, please write him a letter or make a phone call:

250 Broadway
Suite 2307
New York, NY 10007

or send him an email via this link: http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/?ad=064&sh=con.

30 March 2008

Insurance Parity

"If mental illness never ends, which is typically the case, how do you set a standard for coverage equal to that for physical ailments, many of which do end?" A completely misleading comparison from a New York Times article on the push for requiring health insurance companies to cover mental and physical illnesses equivalently: that is, without setting higher co-pays or lower total coverage limits for mental illness. Misleading because plenty of physical ailments are chronic, meaning they can't be cured but can only be treated for the rest of the patient's lifetime: diabetes, asthma, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, to name just a very few.

But the real lack of parity?

The millions of Americans who have no insurance at all: because they cobble together part time or freelance jobs whose employers aren't required to cover them, or because they're between jobs, or because they've started a new job with a waiting period before insurance coverage begins (a particular problem in the case of "pre-existing conditions," on which insurers often set longer limits before coverage under a new policy can begin).

29 March 2008

Pedestrian ... safety?

The New Jersey Department of Transportation web site includes a section claiming that the organization "has made pedestrian safety a top priority." Under "Contacts," there's an email address where readers are encouraged to write for more information.

However the message bounced back with a notification that the address no longer exists. Does this mean that the NJ DOT has given up on pedestrian (and bicycle) safety?


Dear Pedestrian and Bicycle Program Coordinator,

Because I try to avoid driving all the time, I’ve walked on various occasions between Monmouth University (where I work) and places like the Elberon and Long Branch train stations as well as area businesses.

Sidewalks in the area are frequently damaged or non-existent, but worse, the place where they should be is often blocked by a hedge, forcing a pedestrian into the street.

I’ve been on the NJ Department of Transportation web site trying to find out if any state or federal law requires the construction or maintenance of sidewalks within towns, but found information only about snow removal. Is there any law requiring sidewalk construction and/or maintenance of sidewalks in towns or along any particular kind of streets and roads in the state? If so, who is in charge of enforcement? If not, to whom would I write to ask that the law be changed?

Thank you for your time.

Heide Estes


If this blog has a reader, maybe you can make some suggestions.

29 February 2008

Green Medicine?

I've gotten slammed with asthma this winter, and have been to the doc a number of times, spent a night in the ER getting treated, and am now taking an enormous boatload of prescription drugs and OTCs, as well as various vitamins, herbs and teas recommended by the Chinese acupuncturist, the nice woman at Stephen Drug in Long Branch, and my mother.

Google searches on "green health care," "ecological medicine," and the like yield some information about hospitals looking toward healthier construction practices and better food for the patients, as well, unsurprisingly, as a slew of sites on alternative medicine.

I don't even know where to start. I don't trust Big Pharma one iota, but here I am depending on their products to keep me breathing -- i.e., alive.

27 February 2008

Carbon Footprint

As reported in the Guardian, you can calculate your carbon footprint at the UK’s government web site, DirectGov. According to this site, my carbon footprint stinks and it’s all about my commute.

But I knew that.

Living in a New York City apartment, I have smaller appliances, lower heating costs, fewer light bulbs, and the like than people who live in houses. But I leave computer and phone chargers in the wall outlets all the time. I use a laser printer, which turns out to be an energy hog compared to inkjet or dot matrix.

In addition to that, I commute 65 miles each way to work, traveling three or four days a week for 30-odd weeks of the year and logging somewhere over 15,000 miles, and that’s before all the trips north to visit family.

The site recommends that I get a lower CO2 car when I replace my car. Nice idea, but it seems I already have one of the best cars money to buy in the US: according to Treehugger, the Honda Fit is among the twelve greenest cars for 2008.

Worst of all, I estimate that I take one long-haul flight per year. The calculator tells me: "Just one long haul return flight can give you the same (or larger) footprint as driving a car for an entire year." Actually, I go long haul every second or third year, but the calculator doesn't allow that as an option.

The bottom line (with a grain of salt--how accurate are the data I entered?): my carbon footprint, at 10.58 tons per year, compares terribly with the UK national average of 4.48 tons per year. I can rationalize: in the UK they actually have a useable public transit system, which I used along with a bicycle for all of my transportation needs while living there last year. Or I can figure out a way to ride the bus here in the US.

26 February 2008

In lieu of a sustained critique

If Jeb runs for president in the next election, will we have to elect him on the basis of No Bush Left Behind?

25 February 2008

Oxymorons? Oxymora?

Ultra-thin maxi pads.

Are those more like jumbo shrimp or hybrid SUVs?

I know, I know, I should just get a moon cup already and be done with it. But The Change, she is in the air, and it seems a little late for a change in procedures.

10 February 2008

What Boys Play With

Peggy Orenstein in "Girls Will Be Girls" in the New York Times today:

"In another study of younger children, Cherney and London found that if ushered alone into a room and told they could play with anything, nearly half the boys chose “feminine” toys as often as “masculine” ones, provided they believed nobody, especially their fathers, would find out."

Orenstein adds, "That made me question whether any more expansive vision of girlhood can survive without a similar overhaul of boyhood, which, apparently, is not in the offing."

In my household, the attempt is in the offing. It's an attempt that is thwarted every time we walk out the door. There must be other parents out there who are revisiting "Free To Be You And Me" but this time, trying to expand opportunities for the emotional and imaginative life of boys. It sounds terribly retro, I know. There's still work to be done in changing the limits on girls' lives. But it's a closely related challenge, to raise boys who will respect and honor the new generation of girls.

04 February 2008

Nobody needs a car that does 10-15mpg

That's what the former chairman of Shell Oil, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, says, in urging the European Union to ban the sale of cars that get less than 35 mpg. Meanwhile, late last year the US passed a law requiring that the average fuel economy of all cars sold by any automaker average 35 mpg. By 2020.

According to the EPA, there are only two cars -- the Toyota Prius and the Honda Civic Hybrid -- that can be expected to get more than 35 mpg.

The remaining cars on the top-ten list:
Nissan Altima Hybrid
Ford Escape Hybrid FWD/Mazda Tribute Hybrid 2WD/Mercury Mariner Hybrid FWD
Toyota Camry Hybrid
Toyota Yaris (manual)
Toyota Yaris (automatic)
Ford Escape Hybrid 4WD / Mercury Mariner Hybrid 4WD / Mazda Tribute Hybrid 4WD
Toyota Corolla (manual)
Honda Fit (manual)

(The EPA estimates 28 mpg city, 34 highway for the Fit, but I've been getting 38 overall in my 2007 model, in mostly highway driving. I do try to be gentle on the accelerator and the brake.)

Compare the UK, where you can buy three different cars that get nearly 60 mpg (70 mpg in imperial gallons), and dozens -- including several made by FORD -- that average better than 35 miles per gallon. (The comparable figure for imperial gallons is 42 mpg.) You can search cars sold in the UK by fuel economy here and in the US here.

27 January 2008

Meat Consumption and the Environment

The New York Times has a good overview of the environmental consequences of world consumption of meat today. See "Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler."

The article concludes, oddly, with the note that the author of the piece, Mark Bittman, has also written “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian,” but is himself not a vegetarian.


25 January 2008

Fuel Economy

Mother Jones on maximizing fuel consumption through driver habits:

This Guy Can Get 59 MPG in a Plain Old Accord. Beat That, Punk.

The reports are that Prius drivers' fuel economy increases by up to 20 percent over the first year as they learn from constant feedback to avoid driving habits that use more gas. If anybody is reading this, can you tell me where to get a fuel economy meter to install in my car?

24 January 2008

Nutrition Fictions

January 24, 2008

PepsiCo, Inc.
700 Anderson Hill Road
Purchase, NY 10577

Dear Pepsi Employee,

I’m writing about the bottle of, uh, beverage I bought earlier this evening. In Penn Station, I was looking for something healthy, and in a refrigerator case on the other side of the counter in one of the little shops, I saw a bottle of “Ruby Red Grapefruit Dole 100% Juice.”

Only after I had paid and been handed my purchase was I able to read the small print at the bottom of the label, written in white on light green: “Ruby Red Grapefruit Flavored Juice Blend”

This discovery led me to the ingredient label, where I found a list including water, concentrates of grape and apple juice in addition to grapefruit juice, water, and five other ingredients.* One of these is carmine, which I learned from Wikipedia is “is a pigment of a bright red color obtained from the carminic acid produced by some scale insects, such as the cochineal and the Polish cochineal.”

I’m a vegan.** This is not a good discovery. And it really makes me wonder what might be in the “natural flavor” listed a little farther down on the label.

The “100% juice” claim is repeated in two other places on the bottle’s label. I do assume that this is legal, in accordance with some carefully worded, international agri-business-approved law, but whether it’s accurate is another issue altogether.

I would respectfully ask that you clearly label the juice products to which you add animal products and other non-juice elements. I would also respectfully ask that you print the Pepsi name in more prominent type: had I known this product was one of yours, I would not have been fooled into buying it.

Thank you for your time.

Heide Estes

*The complete list: filtered water, grape juice concentrate, ruby red grapefruit juice concentrate, apple juice concentrate, pectin, ascorbic acid (vitamin c), carmine (color), citric acid, natural flavor.
**That means if it comes from an animal, I don't eat it.

Laundry List

What I took for a cold, just to get some sleep last night:
  • Mucinex, with guaifenisin to thin the mucus
  • Decongestant spray to make it go away
  • Airborne, in case all the herbs have any effect
  • Breathe Easy tea, ditto
  • Kold Kare, ditto
  • One aspirin, to take the edge off the aches and pains
  • A benadryl, to counteract the tea and the decongestant, both of which make me jittery
Oh, and a multivitamin.

It's a wonder my stomach didn't explode.

22 January 2008

Black Blog

I sent this letter to the New York Times; it also explains why I've redesigned my blog with a black background, rather than white. Next project is a redesign of my web page.

According to:


web pages with black background require less power to view than web pages with white background.

This web page


shows some other low-energy colors.

How about a redesign with a darker background? Given that you must have a gazillion viewers, it might actually have some sort of aggregate effect.

Thanks for your time.

21 January 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

It was approved for construction in Washington in 1996. Land has been set aside, a design has been chosen, and still it languishes while funds are raised.

If you'd like to help realize the dream of construction of a memorial for Martin Luther King, Jr., you can read more, and make a donation, here:


Martin Luther King Day

In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., said in Washington, "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. "

We've come a long way in these 45 years, but we're not there yet. We Caucasian Americans need to examine the contents of our own characters, day after day, to discover and root out the myriad ways in which we continue to benefit from institutions, social conventions, and individual interactions that maintain our privilege.

180 degrees away, we Americans of economic comfort need to examine the ways in which our culture of consumption is destroying poor nations -- also nations filled with people of color -- through the interconnected phenomena of deforestation, chemical fertilization, aggressive mining, and so many other acts destructive of land and contributory to global warming.

Yes, I oversimplify. But there can be no fundamental change while we continue in our current consumptive ways.

With King, I dream: "When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!' "

I dream beyond the borders of these United States: I dream that Israel and Palestine, India and Pakistan, Serbia and Croatia, and the war-torn nations of Africa will find peace. And soon.

20 January 2008


The New York Times reports today that increasing demand for plant oils is causing food prices to spike worldwide. And John Gray argues in The Guardian that Bushies and environmentalists alike are too focused on switching to alternative fuel sources. Gray's headlining claim is that we need "the technologies we fear", primarily nuclear power, to stave off global warming. However, his argument rests on the observation that "the most fundamental fact about the environmental crisis [...] is that it cannot be resolved without a major reduction in our impact on the Earth.

In other words, eco shopping and wind farms are just a small part of the equation; a bigger part is reducing consumption of fuel and the manufactured goods that require more fuel for production and transportation.

14 January 2008

Fair Trade Salvage Furniture

My neighborhood Gristede's is now carrying fair trade sugar. Better yet, in the midst of trying to get a new (to me)* book case I stumbled across Bazaar de la Paz, which imports furniture from Indonesia made out of salvaged wood, with fittings made of salvaged brass. The company is also certified as complying with fair trade practices, and is replanting forests to become carbon neutral. Beautiful furniture you can feel really good about buying: check 'em out.

*Used is even better: it keeps something out of the landfill and avoids the various ecological costs of new production, including shipping of components and the finished product as well as the various chemicals used in manufacture. But after weeks of combing Craig's List, I wasn't coming up with a whole lot other than Ikea particleboard, and ten years out of grad school, I'm trying to stop living like a student.

09 January 2008


The good folks at the 181st Street Beautification Project have put up signs: the compost bins are full, and they can't take any more compost until spring. Not only was I going to start composting again (I fell off the ... barrel ... last fall), but I was going to get a little exercise by walking over there to drop off my apple cores and beet peels four or five days a week.

Wrote a letter today to New Jersey Governor Corzine, asking him to spend some of the increase in roads taxes to improve service on New Jersey Transit train and bus lines. If you want to get people off the roads, there has to be a viable alternative, and two hours and forty-five minutes one way to get from my home in Manhattan to my job 65 miles away in New Jersey isn't viable.