Monday, November 29, 2010

Can You Believe?

Olga Kotelko is 91 years old! She is an amazing athlete, she runs, does long jump, throws the discus and javalin. A long article about her in the NYTimes Magazine yesterday has me stunned at her accomplishments. She is not a life-long athelte. She spent the middle part of her life as a single mother raising two children, teaching school and struggling to make ends meet. She had enjoyed sports as a girl and turned to very serious sports training only after she retired.

No, I will not say, "if she can do it so can anyone". That's very clearly not true. Much of the article talks about physiological matters explaining why some older people are physically so much more able than others. Much has to do with working at physical fitness during the 50s and onward. But doctors really don't know how to explain the few people who are like Olga, super fit and with muscle fibers that work as efficiently as a very much younger person.

An article like this isn't being published to tell everyone "get out there and do it," but to say that, indeed, there are considerable physiologic differences but that constant physical endeavors help maintain fitness when most people have become couch potatoes. On a personal level I was relieved to learn that often [perhaps most of the time] our muscle fibers stop being efficient sometime between 45 and 65 and we lose fitness which makes us feel that exercise routines are tiresome and largely useless. I've been a long, long time practitioner of yoga but have found it very hard to maintain my routines in the 4 or so years since I broke my hip and had to avoid strain for a couple of months. I still feel, in my head and gut and muscles, that getting back into the routine would be an extremely good idea. I know elasticity can be regained.

This article talks about studies Olga Ketelko underwent in Finland. And just last week I read an article saying other fitness studies in Finland showed that some people -- usually people in their 30s or so, simply do not benefit for exercise routines while the majority do benefit. The point being that not everyone has the same muscular ability to get stronger or limberer or to increase their cardiovascular ability. But I also remember reading more than once that when it comes to medical studies, the Finns perform them as strictly and well as other people but frequently come up with results that are simply not replicable in any other study. Who knows why? However, I look at this picture of Olga Ketelko and I think "This is what 91 looks like!"

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Chaucer's hopefulness

I was reading a poet writing about writing - something I do very little of on this blog, but I do a lot of thinking about it. The poet quoted Chaucer who wrote at the end of Troillus and Cressida, "go, litel bok, go". I have been haunted to these four words for a couple of days now and even started a poem. I suddenly felt so a great closeness to dear Jeff [fancifully shown in the picture on his way to Canterbury]. Doesn't every writer finish a piece of work and want to release it to the world like a bird one has nurtured from it's hatching but wants to free to live the life that it deserves in the wild? And isn't that a fitting metaphor for a story, poem, play, whatever piece of writing and for the writer's desire to have fashioned an entity that can exist on its own?

In Chaucer's time story tellers were admired but they probably had little hope of their work outlasting them. Not many people were literate and books were rare except in rich men's homes. He couldn't have guessed that his poetry and his simple tales about a bunch of fairly ordinary people on a pilgrimage "that April" would still be read and enjoyed well over 500 years later. Today we have too many books and publishers are miserly gatekeepers. Few of us can hope that when we finish our work and say, "go, little book, go" that it will reach any audience beyond our friends and family -- and most of us have learned that both friends and family are unreliable readers. Of course the same is true of blogs -- of the thousands and thousands, only a handful have many readers. And yet, when I hit the "publish post" I am saying, "go, little blog, go" and hoping someone will read it. Certainly I am not alone, but in this case company is part of the problem -- how will anyone have time for me or I for the many who are saying interesting things?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saturday Summary

Not surprisingly, I've been reading a lot about food this week. I was also given a few "sent from Florida" grapefruits but I don't know yet if they are the white or red variety. I prefer the red and I just found out that I'm smart to do so. Red grapefruit have 25 times the vitamin C of white grapefruit. Plus they have as much lyocpene as fresh tomatoes -- why's that good? Because it's been shown that lycopene prevents osteoporosis far more effectively than calcium -- for those post-menopausal women who are most at risk. Better to eat grapefruit or tomato salad than drink all the milk.

And about dates: The date palm grows naturally in arid, sandy soil but near a source of water which in North Africa where the majority are grown, means oases. In the US we mainly see brown dried dates but they only turn brown when they're dried [preferably in the sun], they are red, yellow and shades of color in between when ripe on the trees. 90% of the dates produced in the world are produced in northern Africa, from Egypt right across to Morocco.

Olive oil usage has increased more than 50% in the last twenty years as Americans, not just those of Mediterranean background, discover that it is the healthiest cooking oil. Extra virgin olive oil [which has never been subjected to heat processing] is the only oil that can be kept at room temperature and will not go rancid.

Still in the plant world, teasel, the herb that resembles thistles, is often used in fall floral arrangements. But it's many sharp pointed bracts, when dried were long used in the woolen industry to "tease" up the nap of fabric after it was woven.

No, there can't be a week when I don't read about something negative and generally stupid: this week it was that while dentists are generally careful to shield patients when their teeth are X-rayed, and it is well known that young children are more negatively affected by radiation than older people, the majority of orthodontists use radiation that is much stronger than used in adults and use it more frequently on their young patients.

Gee, I'm sorry my daughters were subjected to orthodonture, although I'm glad they have attractive adult smiles.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Airport security - TSA invasion of privacy

On any given day in the United States hundreds of thousands of people board airplanes ... and not one of them is a terrorist. Yet everyone submits meekly to increasing acute invasion of their privacy by often ill trained, sometimes loutish, sometimes perverse security "guards". Why are these people acting like sheep? Can't anyone realize that something is very wrong here? Why are toddlers forced to take off their shoes? Why are people with medical conditions, colostomy bags, titanium hip or knee joints subjected to treatment as if they are criminals? Why is a bottle of water of a normal size container of shampoo a matter of suspicion?

Oh, I've read know about Bin Laden's threats and about the bombs sent in cargo planes and the few nut cases who got on board planes -- despite warnings, in one case even by the would-be-terrorist's father that were ignored by our so called Homeland Security. The fear rampant in this country is almost beyond belief. Characters in Orwell's 1984 were not so terrorized by Big Brother as we are by the TSA. Can't anyone count the numbers of people who are harassed and manhandled at airports against the number of people who have boarded airplanes with intent to do harm and wonder how the pictures got so badly skewed? Who is pulling our strings?
It seems the only thing the government is doing to ease the joblessness situation is hire more TSA employees and then do a lousy job of training them in anything like human decency. It looks sadly like Bin Laden and any other terrorist groups really have already won -- America is a land of the terrorized, afraid to board airplanes, even for commuter flights within own country. Surly I am not the only person who is appalled by this state of affairs. As people crowd the airports to join their families for Thanksgiving, I wonder if they'll be in any mood to enjoy what is supposed to be a peaceful and grateful event.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Saturday Summary {on Sunday]

Jellyfish are fascinating to look at and to read about which I've been doing. I've also seen their blobby bodies on the sand now and then, sometimes looking quite fresh. So here are some facts: they have been in the seas for 500 million years which is known because very complete fossils have been found in Utah's mountains which were once part of a shallow sea. Fish have only been around for 370 million years. We don't yet know how many kinds of jellyfish that exist but they are being studied. Overfished areas and polluted areas of the sea attract jellyfish which are sometimes found in vast numbers. The equivalent of 50 dump trucks full of jellyfish caused a rolling black out on the island of Luzon, Philippines in 1996 when they were sucked into a power generator. Others have forced a company to stop diamond mining in the seabed off Namibia because they slime the equipment. I read much more about how their stingers work -- you don't really want to know, but it's good to have a bottle of vinegar in your beach bag, that's about the only thing that relieves the pain of a sting.

We tend to think that every kind of flora and fauna on earth must have been discovered by now but, not true of kinds of jellyfish and not true of any other life form. Just since 2000 300 new kinds of mammals have been discovered, one of the most appealing being a very furry brown monkey found in the highlands of Kenya. The native knew about it but our academics did not. Most mammals and plants not yet "discovered" are being discovered because of deforestation and roads in areas that were not easily accessible previously. Very large numbers of insects and kinds of bacteria are being discovered all the time. There's a lot to learn out there.

I did read a few other things: on the education front, many college professors use "clickers", little handheld electronic devices, in the classroom which allow students to answer questions, take tests and even make their presence [or wakefulnes/ sleepiness] known to the professor. Another plus is that since the students never know when the professor is going to ask a question that requires a click, it's hard for them to text during class.

Only in 1994 did it become legal in the USA for Native Americans to practice their native religions. Whenever you get into a freedom of speech and religion conversation, bring up that fact.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A winter wind

I promised myself I would be brave even though summer's sun is gone and the beach is no longer a warm and welcoming place to walk. Bundle up and walk anyway, I decided. Autumn had blown in on a nasty, wet and blustery wind but we've had hiatuses. Two nice days last weekend I did the whole walk on both sides of the spit called Long Beach. These wave marks were more pronounced that I saw over the summer. The winds and waves had crimped the sand like early permanent waves used to crimp flapper's hair styles. The tide was out, obviously, the sand was formally pleated.
Yesterday, midday the sun came out it was warm and balmy, the air had the soft moistness that, in April, brings out the forsythia. It was very breezy but I thought that would be fine. So off I went to walk on the beach. I immediately found that it was more than breezy -- it was gale force windy. I actually could almost make no headway against the wind on the ocean side of the spit of land. All the sandy beach was smooth a a dance floor. The wind was a great broom that had swept the sand flat, burying shells and seaweed. None of those lovely crimps at all. The waves crashed furiously. After about 50 feet I walked up and over the lowish dunes to the inlet side which was somewhat protected. I walked about half the distance to the point where I had reached a wider marshy area beyond the part with scattered shrubs and low trees. The bezach had a personality that was new to me. I'm glad I went. Back home, a mile inland, once again the weather was lovely.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Very Long Engagement

No photo for this post because the only photos I find are from the DVD of this French movie which I saw today and they are the very romantic opening shot of the lovers in bed. it's modest enough and, of course, as the title suggests, this might be called a romance. But it's not -- or wasn't to me. It was about French soldiers in World War I. The romance was a girl who refused to believe her young lover was dead and indeed finally, after well over two hours of movie, finds him in a psychiatric hospital with amnesia. Half the movie, I think, takes place on battle fields. All war is hell but WWI was especially brutal and certainly seems so in this movie. The movie was artistically done mostly in tones of sepia with a lot of black and white for the battle scenes -- the blending of colors -- some full color scenes after the war too -- was so well done it was never jarring.

I might not have gone if I had realized that there would be so many battle field scenes and that the story was a fairly simple, but relentless, search for information. I've just been reading a couple of blogs that remarked on Veteran's Day and also on the numbers of people killed just in WWII without adding the millions from WWI ... and then the world had all those other wars -- I should make that a present tense. For we HAVE indeed wars at this very minute with people dying.

I met with a couple of writers this noon, one of whom is a German woman who was, as teen, a prisoner of war when the Russians advanced toward Berlin at the end of WWII, taking over her home in Pomerania. Her experiences are something no Americans had to endure. To hear her continual terror that she would be raped is only a small part of the story. The movie had none of the usual glorification of heroic figures in most such movies and listening to this writer's experiences and her struggles to tell her story in a clear and direct way, no heroics although, indeed, she was very brave, carry me into a world I feel I need to recognize but am grateful I have never experienced.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Aung Sun Sui Kyi Released!

Just two hours ago [it is 8:45 EST- USA] Aung Sun Sui Kyi was released in Rangoon. One joyous step in Myanmar.

I am delighted for this brave and pervailing woman.

I am also remembering other political prisoners including Liu Xioubo the most recent Nobel Peace Prize winner who has been sentenced to 11 years in jail in China. Those are the famous ones. And then there is the Dalai Lama exiled but certainly not imprisoned, although the young Pachen Lama is as much under "house arrest" as was Sui Kyi. Here in our own country Leonard Peltier is one among others in jail unjustly.

The world is just a tiny bit more right tonight.

Saturday Summary

Forget about the old cliche, "all the gold in Fort Knox." America's biggest stash of gold is in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on Liberty Street, 2164 ounces of the shiny stuff valued at $93 billion.

From the sublime to the often embarrassing: Some hospital patients will go high fashion and no longer inappropriately exposed. Cleveland Clinic, one of America's most well known cancer hospitals has commissioned designer Diane Von Furstenberg design new hospital gowns for patients.

And good news for all we computer users. When Russian police announced they were investigating a man known as "the spam king" worldwide spam messages dropped by 50 billion a day. I wondered what happened to those ads for Russian-made Viagara.

Speaking of Spam, in this case the trademarked "food" that many think has disappeared -- but it hasn't! When that large cruise ship was disabled because of an engine room fire this week and refrigeration was cut off, helicopters dropped cases of Span so the passengers would have something to eat while they waited to be towed to shore. Not exactly the usual Captain's Table fare.

Seen only by invitation and then under hush-hush conditions, an abandoned subway stop somewhere in NYC [there are quite a few such stations underground] has been turned into a huge art gallery with mosaics covering the walls. Being there is illegal as is "defacing" such city property but it's said to be a very wonderful work of art.

Equally unseen except by those with special abilities, but apparently a real on another dimension, astrology physicists say two vast bubbles of energy have emerged [sometime in the last few billion years] from the center of the Milky Way galaxy. All the physicists are quite sure about is that they are not black holes of dark matter. This energy, we are told, is the equivalent of 100,000 supernova. It will take more than a week of contemplation for me to wrap my imagination around that piece of information.

Since a Supreme Court decision sometime int e 1940s, corporations have had the legal status of "persons" and all the freedoms guaranteed to persons in the Constitution. It was only a small tweek in the definition that resulted in a more recent definition of corporations as "individuals" resulting in their freedom to make political donations anonymously, and that includes making many of those "infomercials" about political candidates that polluted our airways and eardrums up until election day last week. We had no way of knowing who was telling us what to think about who and which proposal. Were you an "informed voter?"

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

One MInute Writer Weekly Winner

One-Minute Writing of the Week:
Writer: June Calender (Monday's winner)

Prompt: Discovery. Write about a good discovery you've made (big or small!)

The discovery that discoveries never need to cease, especially the small ones that make life sparkle and fill in the unrecognized pockets of ignorance. I live in an ecology that is new to me; I constantly discover new things, especially about the sea. But the most wonderful discovery is that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" is a lot of hooey -- I learn new things on many levels constantly.

The One Minute Writer link is in the list on the right. Anyone interested in spending one minute a day writing should have a look at this site. I've been visiting it for some months, the prompts don't always speak to me but some do, the one about discovery certainly did. I could, of course, write a great deal more about discovery continuing throughout life but I said just about all that's really important in one minute. If you never think you know everything, you'll probably learn more today than you knew yesterday.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dersu Izala, Kurasawa

It's hard to believe the treasure I've unlocked by becoming involved with the community college and it's continuing ed. I've know for well over a year that there is a free Tuesday afternoon film series. Today was the first time I attended a showing. The film was Kurasawa's 1975 collaboration with Russia filmmakers, Dersu Izula. Set in far eastern Siberia in 1902-07 Based, I read, on an actual native hunter, Dersu who acted as a guide for a group of Russians soldiers mapping a part of Siberia. I've been reading about Siberia for a long time and was eager to see a film shot there. I was not disappointed.

This is a 140 minute film in which nothing happens except that we see man and nature and a man who lives in harmony with nature who teaches those much more literate than he survival in wilderness, against the elements. Dersu was played by a Chinese actor perfectly, the Russian Captain was also a stereotype. Nothing mattered really except the setting, the elements and Dersu's harmony and simplicity. The photography was magnificent. I heard people complain that it was "long" as they left -- Siberia is bigger than merely "long" -- eight time zones! A movie that cannot be forgotten, not because of story but because of simplicity. I never saw the Kurasawa epics, somehow I just didn't get to the showings. What a wonderful introduction!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Real Cheesy

Upper right headline in today's NYTimes" While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales Agriculture Department plays Conflicting Roles as Marketer and Nutrition Adviser I think the wording of this headline gives us a clue where my favorite paper stands on the situation. While Michelle Obama is on a campaign to help Americans becomes less obese, and health officials everywhere tell us that obesity is the costliest preventable health risk, the government itself in the form of an organization called Dairy Management has funded Domino's pizza's latest ad for a cheesier pizza [one slice has 2/3s a daily maximum recommended fat content and they seem to be shy about telling us the calorie count. Is there something askew with this pictures?

Yes, dairy farmers need to sell their products but somehow I doubt they are the ones profiting from pushing Domino's [or any other] pizza, it seems there are too many grabby hands of middlemen in between. With people the world over starving every day, and a portion of them actually in the U.S., why is the government helping those who buy pizza contribute to their weight, their likelihood of having diabetes, their potentially clogged arteries? Is this how government is supposed to help the people it serves? We rave about the cost of healthcare while making people sicker and sicker.
No doubt those pizzas taste great, I'm feeling a little mouth-water-y thinking about them. But ...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

New York Marathon

This is New York Marathon weekend. Rather than random facts, one fact that amazes me: Edison Pena, a Chilean minor who was trapped underground for over a month will be running in the Marathon -- although most people in the race will have spent months running miles a day in preparation, Edison ran what he could in the confinement of the mine. He is amazing, as are all the other survivors of that ordeal that is to me unimaginably terrible [I'm claustrophic about underground places, I do admit]

Here is a poem I wrote about the marathon a couple of years ago.


They run
By the thousands
Through the canyons
Over the bridges,
Through the park.
News cameras look down from helicopters.
People look out tall windows
Lean over high balconies
Line the crowded streets.

They run
Like once the bison ran over the Badlands
The wildebeast still run through the savannahs
Fabled lemmings run over cliffs into the sea,
Heroes ran the mountains in ancient Attica.

As they run
Many thousand feet pound softly
Their breathing is a mass sigh in a city
Accustomed to sirens’ screams.
The crowds’ cheers drift softly to the sky.
Newscasters’ chatter circles the globe.

They have been running
Alone, or in packs of two or three or a few
For months, years. They leave
Behind home, wife, husband, children.
Silence is enough for many,
Some search for “the zone.”

They run
To win, or beat a record, or follow heroes,
To prove something, “because it’s there,”
“To do it once.”
To be, this one day, lost in the herd,
Part of something big and beautiful,
Massive and magnificent
Independent individuals
Who trained and paid and stayed the course.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day

Always chilly and usually gray, or so it seems I remember many days in November over the years when I walked to a voting place, muttering to myself about winter coming on. And many times, not unlike today, I've thought that American politics, like the weather most election days, is a dreary matter.

Once I was young and idealistic and ignorant ... but not for long. As a college freshman I declared a major in political science. After a course that year called Introduction of Indiana Politics, or some such name, I lost both idealism and ignorance and changed my major to English lit. Time itself took care of the business of being young. I am pessimistic this evening and dread listening to the results tomorrow morning [I have no TV and will only listen to the classical music radio station which does not do news -- blessings on their Mozart addled brains!] They are a respite and a refuge. I could pick nits about their programming but not in terms of their lack of news. After today, glory hallelujah!, the paid political ads will no longer foul the minutes between segments of symphonies.

I recently found this quote; “We'd all like t'vote for th' best man, but he's never a candidate.” - Kin Hubbard. That about sums up what I have to say tonight except I might sometimes change "he" to "she."