Friday, May 1, 2015

Seatle Got its May Day Riots--" Smackdown Mom" was Right

This is not me, but could've been.
The meaning of May Day has morphed, from innocent and happy to sinister and angry.

 “To old-fashioned people, May Day means flowers, grass, picnics, children, clean frocks. To up-and-doing Socialists and Communists it means speechmaking, parading, bombs, brickbats, conscientious violence," said an article in Time Magazine in 1929.

I was an old-fashioned child, born after Communists were rooted out and Socialists never mentioned in my carefree American home. In my public elementary school in Los Angeles, each grade prepared dances for a May Day performance for parents. Girls wore flowers in their hair, boys wore crepe-paper bow ties, each class distinguished by a different color. The dances were in circles, squares and lines, and the children were reminded to smile. Sometimes there'd be a May Pole, and each girl would take a streamer and dance around it until it became wound in happy colors.

At home, we'd pluck flowers from our yard, tuck them into construction paper cones with stapled-on handles, and leave them on front-door knobs before ringing the bell and running off in giggles.

In the United States, association of May 1 with labor protests dates to the Haymarket Riots of 1886, when workers held a national strike for the cause of 8-hour days. But by the mid and late 20th century, most workers had no need for protests. Union wages were well established, and men returning from World War II set off on careers that would allow them the American Dream. The Baby Boom was a spurt of hope, and families, with two parents and children, the center of the culture.

But over just the last decade or so, May 1 in the US changed. Street demonstrations abound; this year's march in Seattle was billed as "the 14th Annual May Day March for Worker and Immigrant Rights, organized by El Comité." It's annual now; expected, and it's not about working conditions, more vacation, sick time or salary. Today, May Day is the day for anger about whatever's currently newsworthy, like immigration enforcement or the obvious fact that black lives matter.

Get ready for it: in Seattle, residents were warned to steer clear of Downtown Seattle; authorities didn't know what to expect. The newspaper instructed that bus routes may be moved to avoid confrontations. The Mayor set up a press conference. Places, everyone; time for combat. And at night it happened: Anarchists formed what KING 5 TV called an "anti-capitalist rally," bashing cars, throwing rocks and sticks at officers, and vandalizing and spray-painting property on Capital Hill. Police sustained injuries, as Seattle got its riot. And for what?

Certainly some causes are worth protesting. I can sympathize with the black community's frustration that young black males tangle disproportionately with law enforcement, and I can understand that at certain periods in our country's history, unfair labor practices required extreme action to correct.

Seattle police on May Day, 2015 Anarchy? What's the appeal, except narcissism? And what's this anti-capitalism? Have we forgotten the 2012 Arab Spring Riots (spring--again) seeking capitalistic opportunity and resisting oppressive governments? After Stalin and Castro and Mao, hasn't the world learned the value of freedom? 

May Day in America now gives license for anger.

The change of May Day emphasis from sweet, springtime doorstep bouquets to protests and confrontation is sad--and destructive. Stand-offs and conflicts pump protesters' adrenaline but don't solve problems.

Toya Graham smacking her errant son in Baltimore
Baltimore "smackdown mom" Toya Graham had it right when she went after her 16-year-old son when she saw him throwing rocks in a riot.  Want to get in trouble? March in the street with a bunch of angry people.Want to get in bigger trouble? Throw rocks at cops.

Moms need to keep their kids in line--and at the same time they need to guard their innocence. Parents have the power to teach values. Yes, yell when they do stupid things. But raise them with traditions that celebrate the world. Restore May Day to positive appreciation for hope and renewal, and teach means to channel anger toward useful constructive action.

Monday, April 13, 2015

On Being a Caretaker as the Patient gets Better and Better

Nurse offered bubbles when my husband finished treatment
Nobody likes dealing with cancer, especially me. My daughter-in-law, the one about to be "pinned" as a registered nurse, loves everything medical. She's comfortable in the environment of a hospital, with officials rushing around reading machines hooked up to pale patients. Not me. The hospital smell makes me queasy. The pale people make me worried, and feeling lost and untrained makes me anxious.

So being a "caretaker," the euphemism for a completely uneducated person charged with somebody else's life-and-death requirements, is about the last thing I desire.

Sometimes we have no choice.

With my husband diagnosed with throat cancer, we together entered a strange and out-of-focus world with its own rules. Gravity doesn't pull the same direction. Something I considered gross, say, anything thick and greenish, becomes measured and analyzed. In this upside-down milieu, activities heretofore unmentioned earn applause. As one nurse blithely remarked, "we celebrate poop."

Me, not so much. Nor vomit, nor dense, stringy mucus. Seeing blood normally makes me feel faint. Needles going into people make me wince. This is the recuperatant's universe.

(Remember, I'm the movie critic's wife who won't accompany her husband to any screenings liable to portray violence, suspense or slapstick. What very sick individuals go through could be classified as the former. And sometimes the latter.)

So be proud of me. In the last two months I've learned a whole new vocabulary. Unless you're a medical professional, I doubt you know the word "bolus." (It's a big syringe of liquid that gets squirted into a person's stomach via a tube through a, pardon me, hole.) People whose swallowing mechanisms have been zapped or otherwise disrupted need to get sustenance somehow. I have learned exactly how.

And I will spare you.

Horror Film Medication Names
This monster is not "Ondansetron."
Now, everybody thinks she knows about taking medicine, right? You pop it into your mouth and depending on what it is, chew, or drink and swallow. Oh yeah--some people can't swallow.

Gratefully, my husband's swallowing muscles still function, but given all the zapping that went on in his mouth and throat, it's a mess in there. Again, I'll spare you, but as it pertains to me, the mess causes the need for varying levels and types of medications, many of which take a lot of careful administration in creative ways.

I learned that many medications go by not just one strange, made-up combination of letters, but quite often, two. These wild-words are used interchangeably, nonchalantly, as if everybody knows that, say, Ondansetron is also Zofran.  I should have figured that, since both sound like horror-movie robots.

"Gamera" is not a medication name.
Unfortunately, all medications carry destroyer-of-the-world names. There's no Caretaker U course called Weird Words 101 teaching you that two completely unrelated-sounding creatures are the same, and that those particular protagonists fix, say, nausea caused by chemotherapy.  Instead, as people wield these terms in your direction, you exist with a special level of panic, sure you're going to give the lizard monster to the patient when really he should have gotten the enormous turtle monster.

I learned many things. How to repress responses when cleaning out receptacles. How to speak up when bullied by people using multi-syllabic medical jargon. I know that as confusing and overwhelming as this is for me, it is magnitudes worse for my dear husband who actually endures the devastating process that is necessary for his cure.

It Gets Better
Even as the gunk and sputum and slime and other impolite substances continue as part of our lives, he shows signs of improvement every day. Which allows us to trudge along.

While he was hospitalized, I began repeating a phrase that my sweet Daddy used to say often: "Every day in every way I am getting better and better." I replaced the "I" with "you" and told this to my husband every day, even on days when I didn't believe it.

The phrase originated with French psychologist Emile Coue (1857-1926) who developed self-hypnosis and the use of "affirmations." He saw that patients he encouraged did better than those he didn't, conducted some experiments to show this, and through his book Self-Mastery Through Conscious Auto-Suggestion (1922) popularized his catchy phrase. It later reverberated throughout the culture, including mention in a PG Wodehouse story ("Mr. Potter Takes a Rest Cure"), a Pink Panther movie ("The Pink Panther Strikes Again"), and a John Lennon song ("Beautiful Boy [Darling Boy]").

And now my husband hears it and is getting better and better. Hair has broken through his scalp, now forming a five o'clock shadow where there were few wispy survivors of his chemotherapy.  His voice is getting noticeably stronger. He spends increasing time at his computer writing, and published op-ed pieces in USA Today, and his column for Truth Revolt, as well as commentaries you can read on his website. He's started recording segments for his show where he gives his take on the day's current events. The mucus that emanates from his radiated salivary glands still prohibits his hosting his three-hour radio show, but he's coming back, every day, in every way.

We both look forward to the time, relatively soon, when all this will be forgotten (more so for him thanks to certain wild-worded medications).  And I can return to being my squeamish self where little is slimy and our lives' cast of characters is familiar.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Falling in Love with Anyone

The New York Times' "Modern Love" column of January 9, "To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This," garnered more than 5.2 million online visits, 365,000 "Shares" on Facebook, and 745 comments. A reader even set up the fall-in-love procedure as a game on a website. People are desperate for love.

Writer Mandy Len Catron successfully tried "a Cupid-like technique to help two strangers fall in love," a series of 36 personal questions a pair asks each other, developed two decades ago by psychologist Arthur Aron. The process culminates in a four-minute eyeball-to eyeball stare-down. After a 45-minute interchange and gazing through the windows of the soul, the couple feels in sync.

Mandy Len Catron's take-away lesson: By building closeness through introspective communication, "it's possible--simple, even--to generate trust and intimacy, the feelings love needs to thrive."

If it's "simple, even" to create trust and intimacy, wouldn't it be even simpler to rekindle the same feelings, once entrenched and now faded? To re-fall in love, and avoid divorce?

Two married people drifting apart emotionally could take only a single hour answering 36 questions to steer themselves back together. With such an easy formula for closeness, why wouldn't every estranged couple give it a try? Revealing feelings is a lot less traumatic than moving out; a lot less costly than court; a lot less acrimonious than deciding custody.

Here's why not: willingness. Or lack thereof.

Willingness is a choice, of course. And certainly people have justifiable reasons to refuse. Justifiable, but often sadly selfish.

Perhaps withdrawing is the culmination of years of small slights, hurting comments or unfair expectations. And certainly there are times when a spouse feels so betrayed she can't bear the offender. (Divorce is indeed necessary in some cases.) But even after resentment and anger replace a chunk of original affection, a couple can still decide to set the bad stuff aside in order to choose closeness.

But few people now learn to put others ahead of themselves. The concept of self-sacrifice has abysmally low ratings.

Still, most who enter marriage claim intentions of "forever," and want the relationship to work (as long as it satisfies). A functioning, pleasurable, life-enhancing relationship for both partners is the prize--but it requires willingness to put others ahead of yourself.

Stubbornness is selfishness--and keeps too many partners from deciding to give in to the other. The 36 questions shift the focus. How can you stay estranged when you're telling your partner personal insights like your secret hunch about how you'll die? About why you haven't accomplished what you've dreamed of doing? About your feelings regarding your mother?

In the exercise, moving from your deepest interior life into questions focusing on the other cements the connection. "If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know." The process climaxes with question 36: "Share a personal problem and ask your partner's advice on how he or she might handle it. Also ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen."

Why are these 36 questions so effective at producing love between strangers (and non-strangers, too)? Because embedded in the questioning is a course on communicating and bonding. The questions require looking inward about memories, emotions and desires (ie one's past, present and future).

They require forming these thoughts into cogent words, phrases and paragraphs--expressing one's interior--and checking to see that the receiver understood. This involves offering oneself to the other, becoming vulnerable; when both do this they form a relationship combining the two individuals.

The entire process rests on a bond and a goal--a commitment (bond) to work together to connect, "to fall in love with anyone" (goal).

That's marriage: A bond that supersedes a declaration, and an ongoing goal. Everyone knows how tough it is to undo the legal contract; neglect alone can dissolve the emotional bond. But few articulate that the goal, called by the 36 questions game "falling in love with anyone," must be pursued by daily choices placing the spouse, and the relationship, first.

The goal of marriage is continuing to fall in love, every day, every moment, with "anyone," the person you've got sitting in front of you, the person you may know better than all others, and still not yet know because he changes all the time. Understanding those changes brings closeness, the substance of love, and all you have to do is choose to keep asking the questions. And gazing into each others' eyes.

(Dedicated to the love of my life, as we celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary January 27, 2015.)  The 36 questions can be found here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

My Husband's a Movie Critic. Here's why I skip 90% of screenings.

"The Artist" is a film I saw...and loved.
Though my husband hosted Sneak Previews, the movie review show on PBS, for twelve years, and has continued to review new movies as a national radio talk-show host for the last 18 years, I seldom go with him to screenings.

Here's why: I don't want anything in my head with violence, suspense or slapstick. If I go to a movie, I want it to be fun, interesting and/or uplifting. You don't need violence, suspense or slapstick for that.

Many people call me a wimp. A whuss. A ridiculous extremist. Let me try to convince you that I'm right to be so picky.

First, violence. I don't like to see people get hurt. I know it's not real, but animation, camera work, "foley" sound and special effects put us in the middle of the gore and mayhem. When I see an image, I don't just forget it. I wince. My brain has taken an indelible snapshot of the scene with its literally sickening, graphic components. Sickening: even in real life, I'm squeamish, and in real life in America, you don't typically see such disgustingly horrible mutilations and murders as screenwriters devise. There is far too much placed before my eyes from the real world without my consent; why would I want to add even more bloodshed to fuel my recollections?

There's been way too much research on the impact of violence on children, and more than necessary on the influence of violence on adults. After the first fifty studies, we should have understood that images, plot lines and even incidental content all change us. Watching violence makes kids more aggressive, and even if it doesn't change actual behavior, it influences how they perceive the world (more menacingly). Please read Michael Medved's classic book Hollywood Vs. America.

He makes the unassailable point that advertisers spend tons of money for sixty seconds of content, which they'd definitely save if they thought their commercials didn't impact anyone. Certainly the TV shows surrounding those commercials sink into our consciousness just as much as the ads. In movie theaters, with all distractions removed and images oh, thirty times life-size, doesn't it make sense that blood spattering across your field of view, with severed limbs or mangled bodies creates an impression that's, well, larger-than-life?

I know: you watched all that stuff and you came out okay. In fact, you keep watching that stuff, and you're a virtuous model citizen who sleeps just fine. Well, you may have a clean slate and your heart might melt at LOL Cats, but this doesn't mean you're unscathed. Desensitization to cruelty and others' suffering, proven in scads of those over-funded studies as an outcome of watching violence, may not express itself overtly or even often, but still offers subtle influences to personality.

Does seeing violence really help you in any way? You can say that it's necessary when telling some stories; that the plot couldn't move forward without it. You could say it, but it's not so. Remember Alfred Hitchcock's movies? He worked during times of strictly imposed standards of the Motion Picture Production Code (called the Hays Code after its champion Will H. Hays, the first president of the Motion Picture Association of America). Yet he was able to clearly communicate horrifying events, causing plenty of nightmares in viewers, without oozing blood, graphic hackings or shocking dismemberment.

And frankly, I don't want to wrap my brain around a story with even implied violence. OK, this may be too wimpy for most, but in my limited hours on earth, I'd rather use my brain cells for less wrenching focus. As a psychologist, I cultivate empathy; if I have any for a fictional screen character--which is what all good writers strive for--then I'll still experience some degree of anguish or discomfort to see the protagonist suffer. There is enough real suffering in the world; for that I reserve my heartfelt caring and distress.

So, I eschew viewing violence. I'll never see an Alfred Hitchcock film, though, due to my second criterion: no suspense.

Well, little suspense. Even the most lighthearted films have some sort of hurdle or obstacle or conflict, and of course these create some level of suspense. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, there's some problem (causing suspense) but it's overcome and, well, Sleepless in Seattle. You've Got Mail. When Harry Met Sally. Biggest RomCom grosser of all time? My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Why refuse movie suspense? Because suspense is imposed stress. Life is stressful enough, see my note re suffering, above. Some people find tension invigorating. I do, but only self-imposed stress, like when I'm cooking big meals for guests for the Jewish Sabbath and I've got only a few minutes until it begins but three dishes left to finish.

That's blissful stress. I set it up that way; when I do get everything done under the wire, I'm flying into Shabbat. Feelin' good! Feelin' fine! Feelin' in control! If I miss the deadline and have to turn off the oven with the challah bread still baking inside, well, okay, it's my own fail, and I'm still pumped from the exercise of trying. That's why God made freezers--to keep bread ready for when yours isn't quite done on time.

But somebody else imposing unpredictable stress? No thank you. Even if I've begged for the spoiler, and found out the plot turns out fine, I don't want a movie manipulating my emotions like that.

And most of the time, I don't know what will happen, except that the music is getting faster with lots of thumping, and you see the car careening with a very upset driver. That's when I leave the room and don't finish the movie. If I made a poor choice and am stuck inside a dark theater, that's when I duck under my jacket, put my fingers in my ears and start humming. I never have to worry about disturbing my neighbors because that thumping about-to-crash music gets awfully loud.
The Three Stooges. Hilarious?

No, a script-writer's imposed stress is not for me. That brings me to the final movie device I avoid: slapstick.

I don't find people doing stupid things, usually getting injured doing them, funny. The Three Stooges were prime offenders. The cruelty poking eyes, flipping brooms and crowding doorways appalled me as a kid watching the black-and-white TV show. How many pies were pushed onto those guys' faces? What did they have against pie? I did not laugh; I cringed. This does not mean I am humorless, and in fact, I'm the first to laugh at even fairly lame jokes. I just don't laugh at slapstick, because it's always at someone's expense.

As intimated earlier, that leaves me with romantic comedies. Or unromantic comedies. Or interesting stories that aren't even funny, but end up happy (or at least not sad). I prefer exiting a movie more upbeat than when I entered. I prefer being entertained, perhaps with good singing and dancing, as offered in most musicals. But if the show is called "dark" (Into the Woods) or a tragedy (the characters you care about die) or a suspense thriller (duh), there's no chance I'll enjoy it.

Like most people, before taking the hour-and-a-half for the movie plus the extra hour-and-a-half for transportation and mandatory waiting for the show, I check out the film's trailer online. When I saw the one for The Theory of Everything (2014), about handicapped scientist Stephen Hawking, it appeared the film was the story of a couple in love fighting together to overcome a debilitating disease. Looked romantic, but it bothered me to see Hawking succumbing to illness, so I skipped the screening. My husband returned saying that the trailer was misleading--the film was really about the Hawkings' divorce. He said it depicted each's affairs and their split. Rather than an uplifting story of love trumping physical limitation, it apparently told of love's demise.  No matter how well acted or beautifully shot a film, if its story is one of coming apart, betrayal and sadness, it's not for me.

Most people love sharing their responses to movies, and who better to do that with than a real movie critic? If I'm standing by when friends start talking to my husband, I listen politely but only rarely want to see the movie discussed. I've got far too much to accomplish, experience, and heck, just maintain (ie housework) to indiscriminately enter some screenwriter's made-up world. I admire excellent artistry but not at the risk of my sensibilities.

I do enjoy many films, though. The Artist, winner of the Oscar for Best Picture in 2012, is at the top of my list. Why? It was a film in which every character was likeable, yet it told a complex story with a message--and even did it silently, in black-and-white. Recently, I liked Chef, this year's Jon Favreau film, and while we're on the subject of food, Julie and Julia (2009) and The Hundred Foot Journey (2014), were delightful films that met all my criteria.

Which brings me to the final point. Most movies lower the quality of discourse, and drag me into milieus and neighborhoods I'd rather avoid. The ones I appreciate contribute to my enjoyment of the world. I am blessed with a fabulous, exciting life, and while I love broadening it with travel and non-fiction and beautiful images and music and especially study and learning, I want to restrict the tainting influences in our culture as much as possible. So, I'd rather hear a lecture on Jewish text than a movie with profanity. I'd rather even read the newspaper than "experience" a character's grimy, drug-centered downfall. Yes, that limits my experiences to half of the possibilities of life, for surely there is as much negative in the world as positive. But one can be aware of the negative but choose the positive. One can read about criminals and choose admirable people as friends.

So don't expect to see me with my husband at screenings. I'll remain blissfully naive of the latest box-office smash. And as free as possible from gruesome images and soul-wrenching stories, hoping to make the most of this awesome existence.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Stark contrast in reactions to killings related to race/ethnicity: "Burn this B---- Down," vs. this Israeli daughter

Louis Head yelling "Burn This B---- down!" with Lesley McSpadden
Louis Head, who identifies as deceased Ferguson, Missouri 18-year-old Michael Brown's stepfather, climbed up on a pedestal wearing an "I am Michael Brown" t-shirt to comfort his partner, Lesley McSpadden, Brown's mother. The Grand Jury declined to prosecute police officer Darren Wilson, and the town was in flames before him, "Season's Greetings" spelled in lights over the street.

He becomes agitated, shouting "Burn this mother------ down!" and repeating "Burn this b---- down!" before violence erupts.

Soon thereafter, family attorney Benjamin Crump shared a podium with Rev. Al Sharpton, currently the subject of exposes in the New York Times alleging tax irregularities (at the least). The press conference was in response to viral posting of videos showing the inciteful screams by Ms. McSpadden and especially those of Mr. Head. Mr. Crump explained that the "burn this b----down" exhortation was "born out of desperation and frustration after watching the decision that the killer of an unarmed child would not be brought to justice." 

I beg to differ: Officer Wilson was 'brought to justice" by the evaluation of the Grand Jury, which determined that he should not be charged.

The reaction in Ferguson to the Grand Jury's decision was characterized this way by CNN: "A row of businesses on West Florissant Avenue, a major thoroughfare in the St. Louis suburb, was engulfed in flames Monday night. Police cars and vehicles at a nearby dealership were
Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, reacts to Grand Jury
turned into fireballs. There were so many blazes that firefighters couldn't reach every one."

I live in Seattle, where protesters blocked the I-5 freeway, exploded a large firework in front of police, and threw cans and bottles. Roosevelt High School, ranked by US News as 351 among the nation's top high schools with a 9% black student body, experienced a student walk-out to a rally on the University of Washington campus.

In other cities, law enforcement had its hands full containing responses. The central, underlying issue is whether police target  blacks and treat them unfairly because of their race.

Halfway around the world, it is certain that Jews have been targeted and treated unfairly because of their "race." This week four worshipers in prayer at synagogue, and a policeman coming to their aid in the Har Nof suburb of Jerusalem were cruelly hacked and stabbed to death. Eight were wounded. The deceased left a total of 24 children fatherless. Thousands attended the funeral later that day of Rabbi Moshe Twersky; his eldest son said his only consolation was that his father died in prayer.

Posted by many of my friends on Facebook is a link to an ad-hoc video by Michal Levine, the daughter of slain Rabbi Kalman Zeev Levine, in which she reacts to losing her father just a few
Michal Levine, reflecting on the murder of her father
days ago. In calm, deliberate words, she explains that her father would want his death to bring greater unity, and inspire others to see the good in what they have. She concludes movingly:

“He died because he was a Jew, without harming anyone, and it’s painful, but yet, every person we still see as good. We leave his physical body with pain, but not with any anger with anyone. And that is the message we want to be known.”

I've heard some say the reaction to the Ferguson Grand Jury announcement is really not about that one case, but anger rooted in persecution since and including slavery. President Obama claims anger "is understandable" here, but shouldn't be cause for violence or destruction. To be fair, Michael Brown's father, quoted in Pres. Obama's remarks before the Grand Jury announcement last night, is measured: "“Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer. No matter what the grand jury decides, I do not want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that makes the St. Louis region better for everyone.”

Excellent, but then we see the footage of Lesley McSpadden and Louis Head actually reacting after the decision is delivered. Ms. McSpadden visually contradicts her former partner's admonition by wearing a knit cap displaying "#JFMS," for "justice for my son." (The fashionably inclined can select from five t-shirt offerings on the craft-site Etsy alone, most with a "hands up, Don't Shoot" logo.)

By contrast, the footage shown after the massacre in the Jerusalem synagogue featured
Reuters photo of Palestinians celebrating Har Nof massacre with sweets
Arabs in Gaza celebrating by sharing sweets, as well as blood-spattered Jewish ritual items. We can't judge much based on what the press chooses to show us, and I consider the Ferguson announcement an epic fail by our own government, who should have summoned media to discuss and thereby diffuse feelings about the Michael Brown case in the three months since it occurred. Perhaps if instead of a huge drum-roll in the several days before the announcement, we'd heard more about the info that led to the dismissal--to prepare everyone--there would have been less expectation of violence to fulfill.

Case in point: my local talk station yesterday at every commercial break used their most deep-voiced announcer (the one whose inflections imply gravity) to assure listeners that when the announcement comes, they'd suspend all programming to carry it live. The question arises: do news-sites cover or create a national climate?  Then again, do we expect news gatherers competing for ratings to hold back from exploiting an opportunity to enlarge a big story? Even in the interest of minimizing possible injury and destruction?

But you can't blame individuals' behavior choices on media. And you can't excuse Head and McSpadden's profanity-laced incitement by saying they were upset.

People can end up doing really destructive things when they're pumped up, like Becca Campbell, 26 of St. Louis, who brandished a pistol in the car while her boyfriend drove. "I'm ready for Ferguson," she said, waving the gun so wildly her boyfriend rear-ended another car. The gun went off, shooting her in the head and killing her.

Each person is responsible for his own actions, and the Grand Jury determined that was the case for Michael Brown, too. If he'd complied when Officer Wilson asked him to walk on the sidewalk instead of the middle of the street, he'd likely be alive, though probably prosecuted for the convenience store robbery.

Not so for the four slain worshipers in Jerusalem, whose behavior was not what caused their demise. And yet, the response from resident Jews surrounded by potential enemies is one of grief grounded in serenity, confidence in One grander and more just.

So here we have two stories of race-ethnicity with similar sad events but very different responses. "Burning the b---- down" solves nothing and salves little, while withholding anger in favor of communication and trust in God allows life to go on.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Near-Miss Accident on the Freeway; and a Coincidental Psalm

This is NOT the crashed car from my story (just found it online)
I just heard my husband speak on his radio show  to his millions of listeners about a near-miss accident we experienced last night that left us quaking from shock and immediately grateful to God.

We were traveling on the freeway to meet out daughter for dinner at our local kosher Chinese restaurant when out of nowhere, a sports car speeds up from behind in the lane on our right, inserts itself in the space between us and the car ahead of us, keeps on veering left into the next lane over--that was occupied by a car that threw on its brakes. He swerves back in front of us and through to the right, and starts spinning just in front of a large semi-trailer truck that slammed on its brakes. The sports car kept on spinning, out of control, crossing a further-right exit lane and then into the concrete wall. Miraculously, he did not strike a car, nor did a car strike him, and though he'd crashed into the wall, the sports car stopped upright and appeared damaged on only one side at the rear.

This was a near-miss on at least five counts; about four seconds that felt like slow-motion eternity, watching the sports car place itself dangerously close to three fast-moving vehicles (ourselves twice) and twirl around so many times to the squeal of tires and brakes.

The first thought is to thank God for sparing us--and the others who might have had impacts. It was dark and impossible to see, but if the offending driver wore a seat belt, it was likely even he was safe. Then again, would someone taking such reckless chances wear a seat belt? We were on the freeway and could not know the outcome.

The incident has entered my thoughts often today--and even more given a most peculiar coincidence. I happen to subscribe to a Psalm-a-day group of 200 women who hope to uplift ourselves and our families. Today in my email in-box was Psalm 107, "describing people rescued from a life-threatening situation." The commentary lays out the types of situations that require special thanks to God for His providence, and concludes with the following:
"The refrain that repeats itself numerous times throughout this chapter admonishes people who have experienced salvation, 'They shall give thanks to God for His kindness, and speak of His wonders to people.' ...One who has been rescued from trouble is thus obliged to not only express his gratitude, but to do so in a public fashion, thereby helping to glorify God throughout the world."
A meaningful coincidence after my husband's on-air story, the way I see it. By the way, the Psalm begins with a phrase common in Jewish liturgy. Phonetically in Hebrew, it's  "Hodu Adonoy, ki tov, ki l'olam chasdo," a sentiment appropriate as we approach Thanksgiving: "Give thanks to God who is good, for His kindness endures forever."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Eeww--A bug bites while you sleep, and its poop gives you parasites

 You may know that recently I wrote about a debilitating mosquito-borne disease sweeping the Americas that leaves a fifth of its victims with ongoing joint dysfunction. Chikingunya has affected 500,000 Dominicans and thousands of others in the Caribbean, and made it to Florida this summer. The virus swept through my handy-man's family and friends in El Salvador, and seeing his distress has caused us all pain.

I got a response to my post from my new daughter-in-law who's in nursing school: "Did you hear about the other disease that's spreading around the US, caused by insects that bite your face while you sleep??"

Bite your face while you sleep? Get ready: "Chagas" is even worse than chikingunya (though easier to pronounce).

Blood-suckers called "kissing [or 'assassin'] bugs" (triatomine) take their snack and leave their parasite-infested poop as a souvenir. Unknowingly, you touch it and spread it into your own system by nudging a bit into the puncture, or touching your eye or mouth. 

Then, you've got it for life--and maybe death.

There are two phases of infection. In the first, "acute" phase, you might get symptoms that could be identified as something else: "fever, fatigue, body aches, headache, rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting," says RT news. Swelling around the eye near the infection site ("Romana's sign)  is another clue to chagas. The Centers for Disease Control adds, "Rarely, acute infection may result in severe inflammation of the heart muscle or the brain and lining around the brain." Or, this first phase could produce no symptoms at all.

"Megacolon" caused by Chagas
It's the second phase that can be especially deadly, and it can happen over a period of years or decades. According to Baylor College of Medicine researcher Melissa Nolan Garcia, 41% of Texas blood donors who tested positive for the parasite (and that was 1 per 6,500 blood donors) had "cardiomyopathy," which includes a host of heart problems that can lead to death. Also common are gastrointestinal problems (megadisease) that can make esophagus, stomach or colon--enormous.

 As if that's not bad enough, no treatments eliminate the parasites. A couple of drugs (benznidazole [Rochagan, Ragonil] and nifurtimox [Lampit]) are often used, but their effectiveness is hit-or-miss and the only place you can get them in the US is from the Centers for Disease Control. I've seen comments that baking soda on the bite, and consumed in water, is helpful, but anecdotal reports won't cut it. Unfortunately, a pregnant woman can pass the parasite to her baby. Most people living with T. cruzi don't even know it--or what it's doing to them. And yet world-wide, ten million people are living with it!

So far, the CDC says "kissing bugs" inhabit only the southern United States, and those suffering with chagas further north contracted it through travel from infected regions.

 Given its designation as a "silent killer" because victims can be asymptomatic until their conditions are dire, I certainly hope this scourge receives more attention. It's the opposite of Sleeping Beauty, whose princely kiss revives her from a deathly rest--a bug that brings ultimate death by its night-time kiss while you sleep. People are getting so scared that Snopes took it on and reported it's true--there's indeed something to fear. Sweet dreams!