Superman

If he’s supposed to be Superman, where’s the cape? The original inventors of Superman, Siegel and Shuster, created the caped hero to right wrongs, and fight for social justice and against tyranny. That sounds about right. But still no cape.

And Superman was quite secretive; he pretended to be a mild mannered reporter, and acted pretty much like a dolt at times. Maybe that’s the Superman they think he is; a capeless dolt. Of course when Superman heard the victim’s cry for help, he rushed into the nearest phone booth, and voila! He zoomed out in his wonderful Big S outfit with the cape flying behind him. Once again justice would be served.

I am really confused as to why Republican Congressmen think President Obama is Superman. Well, maybe you haven’t heard that story yet. So here it is. The President is totally in charge of and fully aware of every email, agency policy, and federal employee’s actions. So he has to be Superman. Otherwise how could he do that? Well, if he isn’t able to do all that, then why do the Congressmen keep saying he can?

Look at the IRS stories in the news. President Obama fired the IRS commissioner, when the Treasury Inspector General reported to the Congress that conservative groups who had applied for tax exempt status were being screened out. It wasn’t just southern girls and boys who wanted to play politics under the guise of getting out of paying taxes, the IRS also targeted Jewish groups. Any applicant who had certain key words in their application were screened out, or at least carefully looked at. The President said the whole thing was “inexcusable” and “outrageous”.

What we are talking about is an influx of applicants for tax exemption after the U.S. Supreme Court made a ruling in 2010. This ruling was known as Citizens United, and greatly expanded the ability of unions, corporations, and other organizations to participate in election spending. This is about people paying no taxes while being able to raise money and pour it into election campaigns. Of course you won’t hear about that in the Congressional hearings unless the voice of reason is somehow able to be heard. Don’t hold your breath.  

Funny thing about the IRS commissioner who President Obama fired – he was appointed by George W. Bush. But when you are Superman, well that kind of information doesn’t matter. It must be Superman’s fault. He’s in charge of righting wrongs, working for social justice, and shutting out tyranny. I am really beginning to believe it’s the cape thing. He doesn’t have one. I think that is what keeps Obama from being able to know everything that might be amiss, and fix it all without help from Congress. I may have to start my own 501© (4) organization to get the Hero a cape. He’s going to need it.

 

 

 

 

 

Us and Them

We often get caught up in the “us” and “them” approach to life. That’s when we think of some group of people as different from us and label them as “other”. Usually we see people as different from us because of our family upbringing, our culture, and our adult take on the world. A lot of folks don’t let new things in very often, and seem to become stuck in one place. Fear of the other also plays an important part in many people’s thinking. Sometimes the fear is obvious, sometimes it is hidden even from the “us” person.

Others can be the rich, the poor, homeless, jobless, welfare clients, people of other colors or religions, gun owners, people who don’t want to go near a gun, and pretty much anyone else. Depending on your family background, Hillbillies are sometimes us and sometimes them.

Freedom of speech, religion, and the press, and the right to assemble and petition the government make up the First Amendment of the Constitution. Freedom of speech is not allowed in many parts of the world. Across the globe, people are locked up and killed for speaking their beliefs out loud. In this country we can speak freely about the day’s activities as we see them. That’s the First Amendment at work, and why we have different viewpoints on TV news, and all the other media.

But I know if I listen to one national TV news program I will get all righteous about how they distort the news. I also know that if I want to understand what a lot of other people are listening to, and believing, I need to watch this show and others once in awhile. Some people try to read widely, but most of us get to a place where we take in information about what we already believe and ignore almost everything else.

The news show that I have in mind keeps focusing on the U.S. Constitution in some rather distorted ways.  Due to the recent Boston bombings, several talking heads on the show have made global statements against the Muslim people.  At least one of them declared that all Muslims hate Americans, and others showed they view the Muslim people as all one type: enemy. It doesn’t matter if a lot of Muslims have lived in our country for decades, raised their families, doctored our children, fought in our armies, and paid their taxes. Their young men should be put on a national watch list, and perhaps we should just get rid of them all. When the same folks talk about guns, they can’t get enough of the 2nd Amendment, but when they talk about Muslims they completely ignore freedom of religion in the 1st Amendment while enjoying the freedom of the press.

I find all this way out there on the us and them scale. As part of the current gun discussion in this country, and the “types” of people who have been killing with guns, some folks seem bent on locking up the insane, far out religious nuts, young men who live at home with their gun owning mothers, and people who look scary. Forget the Constitution and lock them all up. Oh no, we can’t do that. Us and them have Constitutional rights. I am truly thankful I was born in America with Constitutional rights for all people, and a government that usually supports the law. Not just for us, but for them too.

 when nothing goes right go left

Activate your body, increase your brain power.

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Activate your body, increase your brain power. That is what a young Illinois coach found out in 1990. Phil Lawler read about the decline in US children’s health, and started looking at what students in his school’s PE program were doing. He saw that most of the students watched while a few played the game of the day. He began looking for ways to change physical education in the school where he worked. He didn’t expect to make super students when he started.

One of the first changes Lawler made was to have his students run a mile once a week. He caught a lot of flak for awhile, similar to what the schools are getting now for serving healthy foods. Lawler got one of the early heart monitors at a PE conference and tried it on one of the slowest girls in his class. To his amazement, she was running at almost maximum heart rate, and was actually getting a good workout. The coach said he would have told her to speed it up without this information. He enrolled another coach, Paul Zientarski, and the two of them took on the school system. Their students got heart monitors before they got the internet. What these men started has literally changed the lives of thousands of students.

In those 2 decades a lot of information about exercise and its effects on the brain has been developed. All this in a time when the average student spends 5.5 hours in front a screen watching TV, texting, or playing video games. 30% of US school children are overweight, another 30% are on the edge of being overweight, and we have all heard about the increase in childhood diabetes. And only 6 per cent of American high schools have regular PE classes.

During those 23 years the Naperville School District, which is located near Chicago, started making changes in their PE program for all their schools.

The school system funds their program through school monies and donations. They provide each student with a heart rate monitor; they have state of the art indoor and outdoor equipment, and they teach all their students how to develop healthy habits. They are medically monitored and almost all have low body fat, and good health abounds. The program includes about 18 different types of sports which the students choose including climbing, kayaking, and dance video games. The students find something they want to try; they learn to stick with it and grow as people in the process. 

In the Naperville school district, there are almost no overweight students and 97 % of the students graduate. And to top it off, they beat out Singapore, Japan, China, and the rest of the participating high schools in the world on the TIMSS test for science and were 6th in math.  

At the other end of the spectrum, first year remedial literature students can enroll in Learning Readiness PE. They meet early to participate in stretching and aerobic exercise. The authors describe the progress of the students in one of these classes. They raised their reading and comprehension skills 17% by the end of the semester. It was also found that any student did better in their most difficult subjects when they exercised close to the time of their class. The students moved, their brain charged up, and they were super ready to learn. They also find that the students learn to think clearly, make better decisions, and build self-esteem in this non-competitive environment.

Youth from these schools have taken part in university studies, and other studies have been done that show the same type of results. Throughout these 2 decades, other school systems have begun examining the brain fitness connection, and changing their school programs. In 2001, the fit California students scored twice as well on academic tests as their unfit peers.

Dr. John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman write about all this in their book, “Spark”. According to them, research proves that 1 hour of exercise 5 days a week increases brain power and keeps it growing strong.  

What have most US school systems done in those 23 years?  Due to budget cuts, or a desire to push academics, they have sliced PE right out of the system, or at best, maintained the dodge ball mentality of having 30 students throw the ball at each other for 20 minutes.   

We have recently started making nationwide changes in what students eat at school: moving from too many high fat, starchy foods, to healthier foods. Add in this type of exercise program, and our students will be ready to take on the world again.

Use it or lose it has changed to move it and grow it. But as they always say, don’t start moving it without talking to your doctor first. Or as one child’s song says, ‘activate what’s under your hat’, which we now know is much easier right after exercise class.

Riding the River of Life

Riding the River of Life

Seaside hill in JapanFor a long time my favorite book was Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse and if you’ve read the book, you know the ending is like this story. I wrote it after re-reading the book.

I like to think about our journey here on earth as a canoe ride on our pretty little river. There’s a lot going on: taking in the beauty of the river; watching out for swirling eddies, powerful currents, and hidden rocks; learning the art of paddling as a team; and keeping the ride’s end as a goal.

 I see a lot of people in our boat and it’s getting more crowded everyday. Most of the folks are paddling hard, a few are taking in the rays, and someone frequently calls out “Rock!” to direct the canoe’s path. In our canoe we have every job, age, gender, shade, and culture. A lot of the folks look worried, and a growing number were in a bombing accident yesterday. The lucky ones in the canoe have two hands to paddle with, two feet planted firmly in the boat, clear vision, and fresh food and clean water to eat and drink.

 When I’m up close to all these people, I notice how alike and different they are. I remember the articles I’ve been reading about the random DNA tests being run on people across the world. These tests have been surprising as they show that everyone is the same breed. Of course most of us identify with just one color or culture, and for some that causes trouble. They can’t admit that we’re all pretty much the same, and try to put down, control, or even destroy those they see as different in our canoe.   

 Yes, there are many different personalities, and varying attitudes and behaviors among the paddlers. A large group of folks are focusing on surviving the journey, keeping their heads down and their minds closed to new things we see along the trip. Others are always looking around at the shore, trees, and sky, and talking about everything at once. Occasionally someone stands up in the canoe and tries to get the rest of us to notice the massive boulder ahead, like a senseless war or a class five hurricane, so we’ll take a different direction. And sometimes the one standing up tells us to believe the looming monster, like global warming, isn’t really there. I start feeling scared when this happens and the majority of paddlers keep pushing the boat straight toward danger and don’t seem to notice. Or when they get it, but can’t figure out how to convince the leaders that the river divides ahead with us going down the most treacherous side. On days like this it feels like the ones in charge don’t know much about taking a canoe down the river. 

 We all want to get to the river’s end at Hinton, and we keep hoping somebody will tell us when to paddle left or right so we make it. Most everyone knows it takes a healthy group of paddlers and leaders to get us there, folks who choose the best way for the most people in the boat, and for their grandchildren.

 Someday our canoe will come to rest near the Bellepoint Bridge. We’ll look back to consider our part in the trip, and maybe understand how our ride changed the journey for others coming behind us. We’ll see our children and grandchildren taking their canoes down the river, watching the otters play, attempting to go around the boulders, riding the waves, floating the easy stretches, hoping to arrive safely at the end of the river. And we’ll be glad if we taught them what we know now – all of us are cousins, and none of us take the ride by ourselves.

Guns Part XX

I don’t know about you, but I am really starting to worry about our country and the whole gun issue. Last week a woman was shot and her baby killed by a couple of teenagers who thought the only way to get spending money was to rob someone at gunpoint, and shoot them both when the money didn’t jump into their hands. Something’s gotta give.

It doesn’t sound like the US Congress is going to make it to ban automatic weapon sales, or change much to protect our children and ourselves. And some of our West Virginia Congress members are trying to pass laws that will weaken old gun laws that work. As they say in the vernacular, ‘what part of gun laws that work ‘don’t they understand?  

The Mayor of Charleston recently expressed concern that if the state takes over gun laws, and forces the cities to give up their own laws, shooting will increase. He said the 20 year old gun laws in that city have worked; less shootings, less deaths. Now there are those in Congress who want to take over the city’s authority and freedom to take care of their own people.

Now for the worried gun owners. I know folks who keep loaded guns in case someone breaks into their home. Well, they say, if we locked the gun up and put the bullets somewhere else, we’d be dead before we could get to the gun or the bullets.  Or maybe the kid who visits from next door won’t shoot them when he gets a hold of the loaded gun and thinks it’s a toy, or at least doesn’t expect it to be loaded.

And hunters. In West Virginia people hunt bear with bows and arrows. Guns too, of course.  We don’t seem to have nearly as many hunting accidents as we do good old family shootings. Maybe the hunters don’t make it to the front page like the man who shoots his wife, brother, or neighbor.

I heard once that parents should only have as many children as they have hands to hold, so I guess that is about 4 per couple. Maybe that is a start for gun laws. You can have as many as you have hands. I don’t know if it would solve anything, but it might cut back a bit on people stealing and selling guns.

In my gun world, everyone would have a background check, a license, proof of gun ownership, and a shooting exam. They could also sign a release for a mental health background check. I don’t want to take hunting rifles away from the soldiers who come back from war with PTSD, as long as they are being treated, but we could at least keep guns away from schizophrenics or people who have made multiple suicide attempts.

I don’t want to wait to hear about another baby being shot in the head, or 20 more school kids being shot. I want to hear that our elected officials have turned away from the gun lobbyists, and stepped up and done what is right for all our children.

Paper, Plastic, or Potato?

Nancy and the tall sunflowers 8-12Paper, plastic, or potato is coming to a store near you. A number of chemical companies are creating “artificial” plastics from corn, sweet potatoes, switch grass, and other natural products. Bioplastics are a tiny part of the green market now. They are expensive, mostly made from food products, and actually produce carbon dioxide as they “cook”. The top selling feature is their CC (cradle to cradle) rating – they all become compost after use. At least one of the new bioplastics, Mirel, can actually be thrown into your backyard compost pile. Others need a commercial plastics recycling plant.

 You’ve probably heard a lot lately about the plastics in baby bottles and other food containers leaching chemicals into your food or drink. Bioplastics are said to have no dangerous chemicals, and they can be used to make anything. Their main limitations will be consumer willingness to pay more money for green products, and the amount of natural products available for use.

 You can get a biodegradable gift card at most Target stores now. The company brags that their gift card can be eaten, but they prefer you spend it instead. Sam’s Club is selling gift cards made by NatureWorks, another bioplastics company that uses corn to make a multitude of “plastic” products.

 Until we get potato bags at the store, reusing bags makes sense. You can buy reusable shopping bags at most grocers now; they are very inexpensive and have a long life compared to those flimsy plastic bags we all use. The lined bags keep your food fresher on the trip home. In Europe and Japan people shop every day for food, and most of them carry a shopping bag for all purchases. I have priced such bags in catalogs and find they range from about $5.00 a bag to over $20.00. The hard part so far is to remember to carry the bags into the store when I shop, but I’m sure I can teach myself this trick over time. Gas stations are selling coffee cheaper if you bring your own cup. I see a few folks doing this, so reusing sturdy cups and bags may catch on until non-recyclable foam and plastics are replaced by bioplastics.

 Some environmentalists are wary of bioplastics due to their carbon footprint, and the genetically altered methods some manufacturers use to change corn and potatoes into “plastic”.  They say we need to recycle the plastics we have now. Current recycle rates in this country run at about 6% for all plastics. Of course the problem for many of us is that reusable plastics come with all sorts of numbers on them, and most of the numbers are not recycled in our area. And a lot of plastic packaging can’t be recycled or reused.

 The question remains – will we pay more for a cup of coffee because it comes in a truly throwaway cup – one that becomes earth instead of growing old for five hundred years in the landfill? The makers of these corn fed plastics think the tipping point will be reached in a few years due to rising oil prices and people’s changing lifestyles. Of course when oil reaches a gazillion dollars a barrel, potato “plastics” may make a lot more sense economically and thus become widely available.

 Until potato bags are a reality I’m going to answer the paper or plastic question by saying I brought my own bags. They’ll get used to it and so will I.  

Watch for the Bees this Spring

Watch for the Bees this Spring

DSCN2416Recently listening to the song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” I found myself wondering about the bees. I haven’t seen any bees yet this year, although several species of ants have started showing up in the house. and there are yellow headed daffodils in the yard. Do you recall all the stories asking ‘where have all the bees gone?’ last year?  

For a couple years the bees in America, Europe, Brazil, and Canada have started disappearing at an alarming rate. Bees have died out in other years, but never at this level. When keepers checked their hives, they often found only queens and young bees; fifty to eighty per cent of the workers had disappeared. Scientists call this phenomenon Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), but they don’t all agree on the source of the problem. 

According to the US Department of Agriculture, almost one-third of our diet comes from plants pollinated by bees. Bees travel the country in special trucks and on their own speed to keep us in fruits, veggies, and nuts. For example, keepers from every state take approximately 1.5 million hives to California each year just to pollinate the almond crop.

 At the WVU flower sale, a friend and I met a beekeeper who introduced us to Professor James Amrine, an entomologist at WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture. We were excited to learn that Dr. Amrine is working on the bee mystery. Along with Bob Noel, a beekeeper from Maryland, he has created a natural process to destroy pathogen-carrying mites on the bees. They have demonstrated they can kill up to 93 per cent of the mites in a one-day treatment. These mites are thought to be one of the reasons the bees are disappearing.  (wvutoday.wvu.edu/news)

 While watching the professor work in the midst of twenty hives, we were soon spotted by the diligent bees. As I waved my hands around to “shoo” them away, the beekeeper spoke in a low voice, “Stand still and slowly place your hand in front of your mouth and nose because the bees are attracted to carbon dioxide”. I tried it and they quickly flew away. Now if we just had some more bees to try it on!

 Around the world other scientists are trying to figure out why the worker bees are dying out. While reading about these researchers, I found this quote from Albert Einstein.  “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.” Einstein’s words remind us of the vital connection between people and all living creatures on Earth. Fortunately for us, most of the world’s worker bees are still taking care of business: transplanting pollen, feeding their babies, and making honey.   

 If scientists like Dr. Amrine are successful, the shrinking bee population will likely rebuild. Then we won’t have to wonder what happened to the honeybees. They’ll be traveling to California for almond flowering time, and buzzing back to West Virginia to pollinate our apple trees.