Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Starhawk reports on the Gaza Freedom March

We had created a micro-Gaza right there in the plaza, and again, that is the point of nonviolent action—to dramatize an invisible wrong and make it visible, put in the face of the world so it can’t be ignored.
So I ended up in front of these hard-eyed Egyptian security guys, with the grim expressions that reminded me that these are the folks the CIA gets to do their real torturing for them. But honestly, I was bored. So bored that I decided to make use of the time, if possible, to improve my Arabic.

I smiled at grim cop in front of me, held up one finger, and said, “Wehed?” His eyes locked on mine. I held up two. “Efnayim?” He ventured a smile, nodded encouragingly, and said “Taletha.” “Arbah” I replied, holding up four, and before I knew it the entire line of cops within earshot were grinning and nodding encouragement as I counted to ten, then patiently instructing me on to eleven, twelve, thirteen…There’s a music to the Arabic numbers that is quite hypnotic, and before I knew it I was up to a hundred, with my team cheering me on. Then we started over again, and over. They were all gazing at me with fond, paternal eyes, like a father looks at a promising child, and they stopped looking to me like potential torturers and started looking more like sweet young men doing a job that wasn’t really their choice to begin with. Then they switched shifts, and I had to start all over again. But damn if it didn’t work just the same way with the new guard.

Those quotes are from Starhawk's fourth post detailing her participation in the Gaza Freedom March. Here's the first one.

Is this on the news?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Organizing Against Foreclosures in Chicago

My friend Sandy was at some of these demonstrations. Her friend Elce is in the videos. Go, Elce!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Borders Suck Too...

Sci Fi author Peter Watts beaten at border crossing. Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now fame, was questioned at length at the border. Maybe she'd like to highlight this case. (I found the contact gizmo on their webpage and sent the link.)

School Sucks Sometimes

Mark Chu-Carroll was severely bullied in high school and now they want to to friend him on Facebook, and want him to come to the high reunion. Over 400 comments - he's hit a nerve.

It speaks to me, even though I wasn't physically abused, and can't remember any emotional abuse at school after all these years. (I got more of that from my cousins, who I do see, who think I'm 'too sensitive' for having any problem with their behavior. Yeah, they 'friend' me on Facebook, too. Maybe that's why I've never taken much to Facebook; it's a pretty superficial environment.)

His solution for his kids is to make sure they know martial arts. My solution is to keep my son away from environments like that. His school is tiny, and cares about how the kids feel.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Political action, what's that?

Mike Tidwell's provocative title, To really save the planet, stop going green, isn't quite accurate, but the point he's making is right on.

Don't change your lightbulb, organize!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Our local coffee shop

Catahoula is a local coffee shop 4 blocks from my house. I'd gone there a number of times, but wasn't a regular until I lost my internet connection at home for a few weeks. During the month of November they got to know me well. "A latte, please. More milk, less coffee."

A few days ago Rigo, who works there, said hi as he walked by on his way home. I said, "I bet you knew my internet was better." But I realized I missed the camaraderie, so I headed over there this morning without my computer, got my latte, and read the paper. (I found out Barbara Lee and Barbara Boxer are opposing Obama's "surge". I'm proud of them. I hope they can make a difference.)

I had left some business cards in the display they have for us locals, and noticed they were gone (cool!), so I left a few more.

This is such a cool business. I wish for more like it in our struggling neighborhood.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What will it take? Is this a first glimmer of hope?

Nationwide for 2007, according to the latest federal data, infant mortality was 6 per 1,000 for whites and 13 for blacks.

This NY Times article talks about what's happening in the county which includes Madison, Wisconsin, because the infant mortality rate there for Blacks has fallen dramatically.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Map Quiz - What's it Mean?

Good Morning. Here's a quiz I got none right on. I was almost right on one, and sort of right on a few. You're given 20 maps, and asked to figure out what they're about. (On #'s 5, 9 and 21, guess the date.) The answer links go to the original showing of the map on the web and the answer you seek isn't always obvious. (On the map that referred to papal visits, I had to click around quite a bit.)

Here's a few more hints, so you can maybe get something right: My brother Dave's state, Minnesota, figures prominently in one question (joined with Washington DC, I believe). It's a political question. There's a different sort of political question I was happy to see included, since it's something that might matter personally someday. By the time it might matter to me, the map is likely to be out of date. Looking for countries that were once part of the British Empire is relevant on a few questions, but you'll still need to figure out what it means.

I had fun, and learned a bit. What do you think? (Please let me know if you get any right.)

(Found on Flowing Data.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


pretty leaves, cute jokes

Rethink Afghanistan

On the anti-smoking movement being classist:

Joe Bageant starts by quoting (at length) another Joe...
And, in the employment section of the want ads, more and more businesses and government agencies declare that "users" of tobacco, in any form, need not apply: "Urine and blood samples will be taken when we accept your application."

Generally, this war is described as a battle against big tobacco, but, of course, it's actually a war on working people, their habits, their little idiot joys, their little mechanisms of coping.

Then he writes about his own struggle to quit, along with much commentary about folks on the left being way too judgmental of working class folks who they seem to see as beneath them...
Yes, I think the anti-smoking movement is becoming a mass social control program. But not in the ways I sense you see things. I don't believe any grand wizard or corporate cabal cooked it up behind the curtain (although they certainly capitalize on it). Not directly anyway. I believe it just came down the pike wearing opportunity's hat. In America one man's misery has always been another's opportunity to make a buck. We are not good at "the common good."

Personally, I hate cigarette smoke. But I know how hard it is to quit. I've watched a colleague try, over and over.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Fun with iMacs

So there's the built-in camera, and I had to call the store to find out what software would take photos with it - it's called photo booth. Here I am...

Now I guess I'll have to explore the files and see what other goodies are buried in this machine.

We've just watched another instant movie - Little Women.

The wireless hub is working, and so are the scanner and copier on my old printer. Lotsa fun...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lost my internet, But now I'm back

17 days ago, I clicked on 'update software' and it trashed my computer. I'm on a Mac and was unpleasantly surprised. I called their tech support, and they started to tell me I didn't have a maintenance contract. When I said "It's Apple's fault!", they ended up helping me, for hours, ... and sent a new OS disk to reinstall that. But nothing helped, and one of their hypotheses was that my hard drive was too full. (55gig hard drive had 9 gig left.)

So I resigned myself to buying a new computer. I now have an iMac, and am hoping I'll keep loving it. I chose the smaller screen (21.5" vs 27"), and it's huge! Right now it's too big, but I think I can get used to it. ;^) The store (M.A.C. on Shattuck, in Berkeley) couldn't reduce the price any, but threw in labor to help me with getting everything working.

My old printer, which stopped working when I 'upgraded' to 10.5 (so my externat hard drives would work) now works again, so I can scan stuff in and print in color. My new laser printer is cheaper on ink, so I'll still use that mostly, but I'm thrilled to be able to scan again.

They're trying to fix my laptop, but still haven't figured out what's wrong. I figured getting all my stuff off the hard drive would help isolate the trouble. We'll see...

I can now watch movies instantly from Netflix. (Unexpected bonus, yeay!) My son and I watched The Nightmare Before Christmas, half last night, the rest this morning.

I love the scrolling on the new "magic mouse".

This new machine will need to live in my bedroom, so I'll need to have wireless. (Cheaper and easier to install than added DSL line, I'm assuming.) That will happen in the next few days. If my laptop gets fixed, that will mean I can work outside.

Monday, November 2, 2009

What Obama Does Right

I want him to have a clearer understanding of what's needed in education. I want him to get out of the wars our country is waging in Iraq and Afghanistan. I want him to stop foreclosures instead handing billions (or was it more?) to banks. He says we need to push him, and I will try to do that.

Meanwhile, I never would have imagined this speech, given at a Human Rights Campaign event. He talks about having met with Matthew Shepard's mom in the Oval Office. He talks about honoring same-sex relationships equally with those between a man and a woman. (Does that mean he will support same-sex marriage, or will he try to find some other, lesser, way to honor our relationships? He is definitely avoiding the word 'marriage'.)

"We are ending the discriminatory ban on entering the U.S. based on HIV status."

"I've required all agencies in the federal government to extend as many federal benefits as possible to lgbt families as the current law allows."

"...That's why it's so important that you continue to speak out, that you continue to set an example, that you continue to pressure leaders, including me, to make the case all across America."

The friend who passed this on to me said it made her cry. Through most of it, I wasn't quite that moved. But 21 minutes in, he told the story of Jeanne Manford, the mom of a gay man, who founded PFLAG. His one funny moment was imitating the policeman who had called her in the middle of the night, in the 60's, to tell her her son had been arrested. He said, "...and you know, he's homosexual." (Obama drawled this out a bit, so cutely.) She said, "Yes, I know. Why are you bothering him?" PFLAG always moves me to tears. Hearing President Obama talk about them is a special moment.

It is such a relief to have an intelligent, well-spoken president. I can only hope his position on other issues will get as close as this to what we need.

A message from the mayor of Richmond on the gang rape

I'm on a mailing list for these messages. This is from Gayle McLaughlin, the mayor of Richmond:

It has been a very difficult past week in Richmond. Many of you are aware of the horrific rape and assault of the young woman, 15 years old, at Richmond High School.

We, in the City of Richmond, extend our full support to the young woman and her family. We know that recovery (physical, mental, and emotional) will be a long process.

Throughout last week, I was interviewed by many reporters and shared my outrage and pain over this horrendous crime. This incident is deeply troubling and our police department is fully engaged in making arrests and conducting a thorough investigation.

Although this horrible incident occurred in Richmond, there is no doubt that this incident is symptomatic of a much larger problem. While the national media has chosen to cast disparaging light on the City of Richmond, this incident is not about Richmond. It is about violence to women, experienced daily throughout America. Every nine seconds in the US a woman is sexually violated.

Hostility and violence against women is based on social injustice propped up by advertising and commercial interests that choose to portray women as sexualized objects, passive and dehumanized, apart from real human relationships.

A Richmond High teacher rightly said that this is a “teachable moment,” and it is a teachable moment that must extend beyond the moment and sink deep into our national consciousness. Sexism, along with racism, poverty, and all forms of social decay continue to exist in our nation because we have not put all forces to bear into opposing them.

This deeply troubling incident in Richmond is indeed a time for reflection. It is time to reflect more deeply on the injustices that are allowed to fester in our society. Every one of us has the responsibility to critically analyze the root causes of social ills. Why did some among our youth stand by in the face of this heinous crime? Yes, there is something wrong here, but it doesn’t originate in our youth and it doesn’t originate in Richmond. The status quo culture throughout our nation does not encourage youth to stand up for justice. Nor does it encourage youth to speak truth to power. We see young people too often being shaped, molded and told to "fit in" to this unjust society without questioning its persistent flaws. When we call upon on our youth to not stand by passively in the face of a crime, we must call upon ourselves to not stand by as our youth come of age in a world filled with problems, and instead encourage them in the strongest way possible to stand up for something better.

And the media must be called upon as well. They must be called upon to look deeper at the issues they cover. Shockingly, I was told by a prominent Bay Area TV News reporter when she questioned me about this horrendous act of violence in Richmond that she “didn’t want to hear about social injustice.” Well, the problem should not be separated from the cause, and, in my view, the media has a responsibility to explain Richmond’s issues in the context of our overall systemic problems. News stories leave a profound impact upon our youth. In Richmond you will find the brightest and most empathetic youth as you will find anywhere. Many have overcome huge challenges in their young lives already. They are refusing to take on the image that the press too often places on Richmond youth and our community as a whole.

In response to this rape, I participated in a very moving press conference organized by youth groups at Richmond High this past Thursday. Check out the strong voices of our youth, their teachers, and adult allies at Richmond High School here (scroll down on the page to the video): Community rallies...

Another activity, a Peace Rally, will be held in front of Richmond High on Nov. 7 at 11 a.m. to continue to extend support and raise awareness.

Richmond High is accepting cards and donations for the young rape victim and her family. Checks should be made out to the Richmond High Student Fund. The checks and cards should be sent directly to the school at 1250 23rd St., Richmond, CA 94804-1011


Gayle McLaughlin
City of Richmond

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I love history! or, Textbooks are evil...

On my other blog, Math Mama Writes, I often consider the ways in which school impedes our learning of math. Of course that happens in other subject areas too. Until I got to college, I loved math too much for school to come between us. For me, it was history that suffered the most from what school does to destroy the joy of learning.

In high school I hated 'History', which to me meant history classes, with their horrible, sleep-inducing history textbooks, full of presidents, wars, and stupid dates I was supposed to memorize. Luckily, the women's movement entered my life during my senior year, and when I began college I took as many women's studies courses as I could. 'Theories of Feminism' was taught by a history prof, and I suddenly found out that I loved history. Reading original sources while learning about something that mattered to me made this sort of history delightful. (Thank you, Robin Jacoby!) I even managed to remember a date or two. (The Seneca Falls Women's Conference was held in 1848. At that time, the vote for women was considered one of the more radical demands. Women got the vote in 1920.)

Those high school classes left their mark, though, and I've never wanted to study history in a more general way. So when I read Frances Fitzgerald's America Revised in the early 80s (in my 20s), about how bad high school history textbooks are (and why), it impressed me enough that I remember it still. (I've just ordered a copy from PaperBackSwap.) I don't remember much, but basically, she discussed how committees take anything 'controversial' out of textbooks, and what they leave is the rah-rah patriotic stuff. It's not real history at all.

My favorite books on more broad-based U.S. history are A People's History of the U.S., by Howard Zinn, and Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James Loewen. My favorite way in general to learn history is through historical fiction. That probably leaves me with some amusing misconceptions.

I got started on this train of thought when I saw the post at BBC News Magazine on "The map that changed the world". It was created in 1507, and was the first known map to include the Americas. 1000 copies were made of it, but by 1570 it had disappeared from view. One copy was discovered in 1901, and in 2003 the U.S. Library of Congress bought that copy for $10 million. Fascinating piece. The comments include an interesting discussion of where the name America comes from.

Maps are not usually my thing, but I liked this.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Not a Scavenger Hunt

What is this called, when one clue leads to another, and eventually you find the prize at the end?

My nephew's 10th birthday was a few days ago, so last night I made him 10 clues to find his gift. My son wanted a clue hunt, too, so I just now made him 7 clues (he's 7). I love putting these together.

For my nephew J
Clue #1:
This clue is a real pleaser,
If you look in the _______.

Clue #2:
Don’t trouble your head,
Next clue is in the ____.

Clue #3:
First give your aunt a hug,
Then look in your favorite ___.

Clue #4:
Freddy is a happy elf,
He says look on the book____.

Clue #5:
Give your aunt a bit more lovin’,
Now go look in the ____.

Clue #6:
This clue rocks!
Look in the da-da-da-___.
(I had to help with this one. It was the Jack-in-the-___. When they played the tune and it popped open, the paper clue popped way out. It was great!)

Clue #7:
When you fight,
you often say ouch,
Now look in the ____.

Clue #8:
When we got lice,
we cut off our ____,
Now go look behind the ____.

Clue #9:
Hope you’re not too tired to look,
Next clue is inside a ____.

Clue #10:
Last clue, almost home,
Look for your gift under the ____.

Here's the one my son gets to do in the morning. (I'm up in the middle of the night because I couldn't sleep...)

For R

Clue #1:
Don’t be a fool,
Look under the _____.

Clue #2:
If this clue is not a liar,
The next one will be in the ______.

Clue #3:
Don’t go too far,
Find a clue
On the ___.

Clue #4:
Tell Punkie to stop her clawing,
Now look behind a cool car ______.

Clue #5:
Give your mom a great big hug,
Now look under a different ___.

Clue #6:
Solve all puzzles if you’re able,
Next clue is under a folding _____.

Clue #7:
You are getting very hot!
Find your prize in the old ___-___.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Action on Climate Change

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce seems to be in the way of progress on this issue, so...

I just heard on Democracy Now that the Yes Men have struck again. From their website, it looks like their last 'prank' was in 2007. Yesterday they impersonated the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, made a press release, and gave a press conference. See it on YouTube, it's hilarious!

Medill Innocence Project Pressured

This program at Northwestern University has done so much good. Now, when a new hearing has been scheduled for a man in prison for 31 years for a murder he may not have committed, the prosecutors office is harassing the students who helped get the evidence to exonerate him.

Monday, October 19, 2009

VanGogh online

I have two favorite artists - Vincent vanGogh and Georgia O'Keeffe. peacay at BibliOdyssey has just posted a bunch of vanGogh's sketches, included in his letters. It's a wonderful collection.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

There's not enough time in the day...

I love being a mommy. I love the work I'm doing on this book. I love teaching math.

But I want to sing with friends, and there's not space in my life for it.

I love riding my bike, and haven't done it for months. Same with swimming and yoga.

I don't suppose anyone gets to do everything they love, huh?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

If he could X, they'd blame him for Y

I have no newspaper, I watch no TV, so you can imagine how little I follow the day-to-day political wrangling. But I have the internet, and I've heard a bit about tea parties and lifers and racists demeaning the president, so I was heartened by this speech by Rep. Alan Grayson. I hope there are Republicans who are ashamed of the antics of their party, and I don't think the Democrats are really on my side (as an anarchist and a Green), but I think this speaks to the ridiculous bitterness directed at Obama:

America understands that there's one party in this country that's in favor of health care reform and one party that's against it and they know why.

They understand if Barack Obama were somehow able to cure hunger in the world, the Republicans would blame him for over-population.

They understand that if Barack Obama could somehow bring about world peace, they'd blame him for destroying the defense industry.

In fact they understand that if Barack Obama has a BLT sandwich tomorrow for lunch, they will try to ban bacon.

Seen at Video Cafe.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Great Books?

On The Chronicle of Higher Education website, there's an article by W.A. Pannapacker titled Confessions of a Middlebrow Professor. He reminisces about his working class upbringing with parents who valued 'high culture'. The had a set of "Great Books of the Western World, in 54 leatherette volumes", which he loved. His reminiscences are in response to a recent book by Alex Beam titled A Great Idea at the Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books.

He has a lot to say about 'Great Books' and about 'strivers' (people who are trying to move up in status). He appreciates what reading those books did for his mind. I get that. But I found the comments pretty one-dimensional, and didn't see any real critique of the notion of a canon inherent in the idea of some particular set of books being the ones called 'Great Books'. My comment there was pretty long, and could have been longer. Here it is, with minor changes:

A previous commenter wrote:
What has to be stressed is that the books comprising the "Great Books" set are, indeed, great books--and that the vociferous critics of the very idea of a great book who have infested academic life in recent decades aren't capable of producing even modestly good books.

I enjoyed most of the comments here, but please don't push the pendulum back the other way, folks. I suppose I'm middlebrow (I hadn't heard the term before), but not at all in the way the author described. My dad was the first in his family to go to college, my mom never did finish college. They're both big readers. They may care about status, but I never did much. I read voraciously because it was what I liked to do.

I went to the University of Michigan in 74, and their honors program included a course in Great Books for entering students. (It started with the Bible, included lots of Greeks, and ended with Dante and Faust. Nothing originally in English, which my higher-brow roommate pointed out.) I had just spent the previous year reading every feminist book I could get my hands on, and was pretty disgusted at all the male heroics. I think I would have liked The Iliad and the Odyssey more when I was young and reading The Arabian Nights. The professor would talk about universal themes, and I'd sit there thinking about how the themes felt pretty male to me. (In a lecture hall of hundreds it wasn't easy to comment.) My favorite semi-universal theme is overcoming oppression, and I didn't see much of that in the books we read.

How about Oprah's pushing of great books? No capitals here; I'll bet she doesn't think of her choices as a canon. (I wouldn't know for sure, as I don't watch TV. I just hear people who do talking about her books.) She has gotten lots of people (many you'd call lowbrow, I think) reading, and discussing, better books.

I think it's possible to have a respect for great literature that doesn't include the notion of a canon. Instead of alleged universal themes that don't include me (as a woman, or as a lesbian) or my friends of color, let's think together about what might be universal themes, and how differently they might be expressed in different works.

My degrees are in math, but I considered a second masters in literature. It won't happen, though - too much pretension in lit courses, and I can't stand being graded on my thoughts.

My personal canon includes The Color Purple, The Salt Eaters (Bamabara), The Yellow Wallpaper (Gilman), The Bean Trees (Kingsolver), and The Word for World is Forest (LeGuin). I'd love to hear what books others think of as 'great books', that aren't in the traditional canon.

One last bit: I was intrigued to see this side of Virginia Woolf. The side of her I know best is displayed in A Room of One's Own, where she dissects sexism by looking at books on Woman in the British Library. (Her upper-class perspective did show in her notion of genteel poverty being someone with a small inheritance.)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

What a week! Chickens, Lice, and the book

As I wrote this to a friend, I thought about putting it here, to share with anyone else who might want to hear about my life. Let me know if you're out there...

Well, the chickens weren't the big news this week. The lice were. Last week two of the girls at Wildcat (same family) discovered they had lice. So their family went through all that. When I got the email, I had R (my son, 7) come over to me, and I looked through the hair at the nape of his neck. I didn't see anything, and I figured we were ok.

On Thursday, they did a lice check at school. They found lice on R, and I had them check me. I had the worst lice they'd seen. Big ones, little ones, nits - lots of everything. S was recommending this place called Lice Control. "You go there, they get rid of all of it. You don't spend hours." I called and they said they didn't have a salon any more, but they could come to my home. The price they quoted on the phone sounded about the same. It didn't end up the same. I paid $325! Which I can't afford. But it's still the best thing. I would have been stressed for days and weeks, trying to do a good enough job, and worrying about how hard it is to see them. He offered us a free 2nd treatment on Monday, when they're training people. So we're driving to Castro Valley (half hour), and getting re-treated.

He said he usually gets everything out on the first treatment, but R's case was bad (worse than mine), and he was sure there were still nits. He asked me to cut R's hair. So last night D cut his hair. He now has a Mohawk. This is his first 'fun' haircut ever.

This company says the lice can't live more than 24 hours off a person's head. They recommend laundering everything you can and vacuuming the rest, and then staying away from anything that could have had the lice on it, for 24 hours. Did all that. I still have the throw rugs to launder, and piles of stuff in the laundry room, waiting to come out of seclusion. I'm going to do it again with the sheets on Monday, in case we got some lice on them.

There's one more chapter to this story. It really started back in May. My head was itching, so I went to the doctor to see if I had lice. He checked (thoroughly, I thought), and told me I did not have lice. I've been itching for 5 months, and trying to find a good shampoo that wouldn't do this to me. I am itching a little this morning, but I itched a lot less yesterday. I'm thinking it was lice the whole time. I had to write the people who come to my math salon, and tell them - if you sat in my recliner, you may have been exposed... (Embarassing!) I was also angry, thinking about how badly I'd been itching, and how the doctor misled me.

OK. Now I can write about chickens. We got the first one on Saturday evening. We went to S's house, and no one was home. She had told us we could go in back and catch some, so we went in back and managed to catch one. It was quite an ordeal. Her yard is really steep, heading down to a stream. It's rocky and I worry about slipping. It's even like that inside the chicken run. So I was pleased I managed to catch one. We went back on Monday, and she caught us two more.

The first one R named Blackie. She's really dark red and brown. The other two are a lighter brown (reddish too). I need to find out what kind they are. Blackie spent Sunday hiding behind a big brush pile, and I finally had to go behind there with a broom (mostly to get the spiders out of my way), to get her out. After her day of freedom, she wouldn't come out of the coop for a few days. So the first time I saw Squawky chasing her and pecking at her was on Thursday, I think. I put Squawky in the coop for the day, and did she ever hate it! Yesterday they were all in the run together, and they seemed to be OK. We'll see... (Squawky sure rules the roost. I call her Queen Squawk.)

The flies have come. I don't have any screens on my house, so I'll have to deal with that eventually. I still don't have straw, so they haven't gone into the laying boxes in the back of the coop yet. I'm hoping to find that today. The place I bought the feed doesn't have it.

We've gotten 3 eggs so far. I'm still using up the 'boughten' eggs I had in the fridge. When those are done, we'll pretty much ration ourselves to what the girls provide. I'd like to let them out to run around the yard and eat the snails, but I want to fix the fence in one place first, and clear out a better path behind that brush pile.

I had thought my big news this week would be all the chapters for the book arriving. I kept all day Thursday and Friday clear for editing and was so eager for it. Wednesday was the deadline, and I kept checking my email. One chapter came in around 5 pm, and I read it over and sent him some quick comments ("More detail! Tell me more about those students!"), and went back to checking for more chapters. None came. And none came on Thursday. Yesterday morning I emailed all the people who were supposed to send one on Wednesday. No reply yet from any of them... I'm getting nervous. Maybe they needed the weekend. I will hope everyone will come through.


And that's how my week went. Too busy with the lice and the chickens to post here until now.

Just some stuff I like...

Here's a typing practice program that looks fun. I often want to get to where I stop looking at the keys, and enjoy a bit of this sort of practice.

I suppose I could put this one on Math Mama, but it seems more at home here. It's art with a political statement called Running the Numbers. The first one looks like a Charlie Brown picture until you get close enough. It "depicts ten thousand dog and cat collars, equal to the average number of unwanted dogs and cats euthanized in the United States every day."

Learning about taxes for fun?!!

My brother laughed when I said I was following a blog about taxation. Hard to believe that could possibly be interesting, isn't it? I found it by following Mary O'Keeffe, who writes the Albany Area Math Circle blog, to her other blog, Bed buffaloes in your tax code. Lately she's been writing a series of posts on why we should have a National Tax Bee (like the National Spelling Bee). There are 3 so far. I think she's on a roll. You know someone loves what they do when they really believe it could make good TV.

I think the book I'm working on about learning math outside the classroom (and in) is so cool Oprah might want to do a show on it. Maybe I'm delirious. Maybe Mary O'Keeffe is delirious. But we are having fun with ideas, and that's why blogging just might make a difference in the world. You can find someone passionate about anything, and they might even manage to explain it well enough to be contagious.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

gmail ads: cool or creepy?

I've been using hotmail for years. (I'm suevanhattum there.) I hate the ads that blink on and off, and the ads that suddenly take up more screen space if your cursor accidentally goes over them. I've also accumulated about 70 pages of old email in my inbox.

So when I needed another email account for the book I'm working on, I decided to try gmail. (I'm mathanthologyeditor there.) I have loved it. There are almost no ads. (None when composing a new message.) The interface is cleaner and usually quicker. I'm delighted.

The ads that do appear are one-liners at the top of the list of messages. They are targeted by what I'm interested in. When I first noticed this, I thought it was kind of cool. I saw an ad for a math camp, and it seemed like almost useful information.

But I just now realized that they use the text of my email to decide what ads to post. A friend mentioned playing guitar in a message to me. He mentioned it a bunch of times in the message (5 times, I just counted). I have never looked at a guitar site, or done a search using the word guitar. I've never written about guitars (until now), and it wasn't in the subject line.

But there it was:
3 Guitar Scale Mistakes - www.GuitarScaleSystem.com - ¤ 99% of guitarists make when they practice. Save years of p...

Yikes! What if someone sent me a message about guns, and I replied to them? I guess I'd get an ad for guns, huh? What if I wrote an intimate message to a lover describing something we might want to engage in? (I used to exchange some steamy messages long ago, with a long-distance lover.) Would Google send me ads for strange equipment? This 'feature' begins to feel creepy.

I experimented, moving from my inbox, to all messages, and then to a particular message. The ad changed depending on the location. (If you have gmail, try it.) Kinda cool (how do they do that?!), kinda creepy.

I have thought of the text of my email messages as private. This knocked that notion out of my head. Email. Is. Not. Private. (Repeat 100 times: Do not equate email with old-fashioned postal mail. They are not the same.)

I'm wondering what others think of this brave new world we're writing in. What do you think? Is this cool, or is this creepy?

...Not Always Right

As in, the customer is...

Maybe I'm up too early, and anything silly would be funny. Maria D pointed folks to this page, where a customer didn't know 5x7 was the same as 7x5. I've been reading the vignettes for 20 minutes now, and here's my fave so far:

On The Straight And Narrow (Minded)

Bar | Hertfordshire, England

(Note: I’m a female customer sitting in a pub. I’m approached by another male customer while I read a book.)

Male customer: “Hello, my name is ***.”

Me: “That’s nice.”

Male customer: “So can I have your number?”

Me: “Oh. Actually, I’m gay.”

Male customer: “You want to have sex with women?”

Me: “Well, not right now. Right now, I just want to read my book.”

Male customer: “That’s bulls***! If you’re a lesbian then you want to have sex with women!”

Me: “Honestly, I just want to read my book.”

Male customer: “You’re lying to me, that’s very rude! I’m going to complain!”

Male customer, to a waitress: “That girl over there is being really rude. I want you to do something, it’s disturbing my day. She just lied to me and told me that she was a lesbian, and now she’s mocking me.”

Waitress: “What am I supposed to do about that? Make her straight?”

Male customer: “Just do something about it!”

Waitress, to me: “Hello, there.”

Me: “Hello. I’m sorry about him.”

Waitress: “Oh, it’s no problem! So, can I have your number?”

Male customer: *looks horrified*

Me: “Er, yeah, sure. Here.”

(I write my number on a napkin and she takes it, still smiling.)

Waitress, to male customer: “See? She’s a lesbian.”

Male customer: “That’s not what I wanted you to do! I didn’t want you to ask her out, I wanted you to make her leave! I demand to speak to your manager!”

Waitress: “Oh, he’s just popped out. I can get his boyfriend for you though if you want?”

Male customer: *storms out cursing*

(It turned out that the waitress was kidding about her manager, but she wasn’t kidding about asking me out!)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Letter to the President

It's too long. He won't read it. But I wrote it before Ramadan was over, and I'm happy about that. I'm going to send it through the mail on Monday. Anyone want to recommend lines to ditch? I'd love to get it shorter.

Dear President Obama,

Alice Walker wrote you a letter early on. I’ll bet you read that one.
I don’t know if there’s anything I can say that will get my letter noticed.
But I’ve got to try.

Progressive leaders tell us you can’t do it alone.
You need us to pressure you.
Well, this is the most pressure I can offer.
I’m a single parent, working full-time and more, etc etc
No time for meetings with organizations to plan actions.
But I support Code Pink, in their protests of every war being conducted by the U.S. or its proxies,
Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Palestine, are there more?
And I support whoever is working for single-payer health insurance for all,
Including undocumented workers.
I support anyone who is telling you you’re not quite there yet in your understanding of education issues.
(You might want to listen to Deborah Meier,
Founder of a small public school in Harlem that has made a big difference in children’s lives,
Author of The Power of Their Ideas, a book about that school.)
I support whoever is pushing you to get serious about global warming,
Perhaps more important than any of my other (small? human) concerns.

And I support you, the most intelligent, well-spoken president I’ve ever had
In my 52 years as a citizen of this country.
I am deeply sorry that people of color are being subjected to such vicious racism lately.
On its surface it’s pointed at you, but it hurts millions.
You knew what you might face, and are strong enough to look beyond this.
My students do not have the resources you do.
Each sign that belittles you is a slap in their faces.
I am angry.

This letter is mostly about wars and peace,
About how democracy and empire don’t sit well together,
About how Greg Mortenson’s work building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan will reduce terrorism,
Where U.S. bombs are likely to increase it.
But it’s also about health care and education, about racism and the health of the planet,
Because, on the small chance I’ve managed to catch your ear,
It’s all connected for me.
Racism keeps people divided, keeps the fear level high, fear is what feeds militarism, along with terrorism.
Those soldiers who’ve been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan need better health care, just like the rest of us.
Young people whose education doesn’t numb them, who follow their natural desire to learn learn learn,
Will be smart enough to stay away from the military.
And of course, we can only stop global warming if we’re working together all over the planet.
We need to stop warring to do that.

You know these wars aren’t really about terrorism,
But more about oil and empire.
Please realize that it’s too expensive to keep trying to control half the planet, or more.
The expense isn’t only the billions or trillions being spent on weapons and soldiers.
There is also the goodwill lost, a huge expense.
Are we the world’s cop, the world’s biggest bully?
Or can we be a beacon of something good,
Of a country that can (sometimes) live up to its ideals?

Three years ago I had 6 Muslim women in my beginning algebra class.
When they talked about Ramadan, I asked them to explain.
I decided to fast in solidarity with Muslims,
Because there was too much hatred toward them,
And the wars…
Last year, I hoped I might be able to stop fasting each year.
I hoped you might stop the warring. Was that a silly hope?
President Barack Obama, I will continue to hope that your moral compass will steer you out of these wars.

Respectfully Yours,

Sue VanHattum

P.S. #1:
I know you got lots of money from insurance companies in your campaign.
Just about everyone who’s ever been elected to high office has.
But now, if you want to be able to hold your head up, you need to do what’s right,
Even if that makes them turn against you. Haven’t they already?
Everyone needs health care,
And it can’t come through the greedy insurance companies,
It needs to come through taxes.
This nonsense about being fined for not having insurance sure sounds unconstitutional to me,
Not to mention blaming the victim.

Mostly, I loved your first day of school education speech.
But it’s almost completely a Puritan work ethic sort of thing.
And really, we learn best when our learning is playful and passionate.
A good learning challenge sucks you in so that you want to work hard (really hard) to 'get it'.
I wish you would have addressed that.
I also wish you would have talked about how good it feels to accomplish something you've worked hard at. And my third wish is that you would have addressed what it means to think for yourself.
Learning should not be only about learning facts, figures, and procedures.
It should be about learning how to think about issues deeply.
My success has come more through following my heart than through the hard work you mentioned.
I suppose I work hard, but I’m having so much fun with my work that I hardly notice.
You said, “You won’t love every subject you study.”
I do think we should be able to love everything we study.
And I think homework should be inspiring.
(Doesn't have to be relevant, if the kid wants to do it anyway.
And if they don’t… Homework can mess with family time, badly.)
I like the message that we need to work hard.
But I want kids to work hard because they love it, not just for some future gain.

I’m a lesbian, and I’d like my people to have the same marriage rights straight people do.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Peace in Afghanistan

Here are some links I got in an email sent to me by War Times:

United for Peace & Justice will have actions on October 7.

• Tom Hayden speaks internationally against the war. Here's an interview from a German site.

• Tom Engelhardt has a piece on Znet (new find for me) called Afghanistan by the Numbers.


On a more personal note, I just finished a great retelling of Beauty and the Beast, told from the point of view of the beast. The Persian prince Orasmyn is turned into a lion by a vengeful spirit (a pari). Only the love of a woman can turn him back. His Muslim faith permeates Beast, the story written by Donna Jo Napoli. Here's a passage (from Rumi, complete poem here) that moved me:

O Shams-e Tabrizi, you
Compassionately blend and renew
East and west through and through
And so we say, may it be so

Another book I'm happy to recommend to folks wanting good stories that include details of the Muslim world in a positive light, is The Man Who Counted, by Malba Tahan. Here's the blurb I wrote on it for Math Mama Writes: Written in Brazil, set in the Middle East, these stories follow the adventures of Beremiz, an accomplished mathematical problem-solver. He uses math to settle disputes, solve riddles and mysteries, and entertain his hosts.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Philadelphia Library System Closing?

I want to think this is a hoax, like Orson Welles' broadcast in 1938 of War of the Worlds, but it looks like it's for real:

ABC's Lisa Chinn reports from Washington: The public library in Philadelphia may be closing its doors permanently. It would be the first closure of a public library in a major American city. The library is the sixth largest public library in the nation, and its precursor, the Library Company of Philadelphia, created by Benjamin Franklin, was the first public library in the United States.

Words fail me...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Britain Apologizes and Thanks Alan Turing

Dan MacKinnon (who writes the mathrecreation blog) alerted me to this moving news. The prime minister of the UK*, Gordon Brown, issued a statement today, apologizing for the terrible treatment Alan Turing suffered at the hands of British courts. Alan Turing was a computer scientist whose computer work helped decode the German Enigma codes (ciphers, really), which helped win the war. But he wasn't knighted, instead he was persecuted.

From the prime minister's statement:
In 1952, he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ – in effect, tried for being gay. His sentence – and he was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison - was chemical castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own life just two years later.

I am impressed at Prime Minister Brown's courage. I can't imagine Obama thanking LGBT activists as Brown does at the beginning of this statement.

* I had to look it up to know whether I should say Britain, England, or the U.K. Yahoo answers says: "England is a part of Britain. Great Britain is a large island and many smaller ones, off the north west coast of Europe. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the political name of this group of islands. Northern Ireland is composed of 6 counties at the north east of Eire in the island of Ireland." PM Brown refers to Britain at the beginning of his statement. I wonder if Northern Ireland feels left out.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Obama Speaks to the Children

President Barak Obama will speak today, in about an hour, to the nation's schoolchildren. (Well, the ones who are allowed to listen, anyway.) My comments at the end...

Here's what he plans to say (From the White House website):

Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.
I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.
I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.
Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, “This is no picnic for me either, buster.”
So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.
Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.
I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.
I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.
I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.
But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.
And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.
Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.
Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.
And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.
And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.
You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.
We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.
Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.
I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.
So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.
But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.
Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.
But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.
Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.
That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.
Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.
I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.
And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.
Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.
That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.
Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work — that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.
But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.
That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, “I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.
No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.
And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.
It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.
So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?
Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.
Mostly, I love it. And it seems to me that this is a speech conservatives would love too. Seems to me, they'd wish Obama had been one of Bush's speech-writers. (Because we know Bush didn't write his own speeches. And I'd bet Obama does...)

What I don't love is that it is almost completely a Puritan work ethic sort of thing. I think learning can be fun and playful, and a good learning challenge sucks you in so that you want to work hard (really hard) to 'get it'. I wish he would have addressed that. I also wish he would have talked about how good it feels to accomplish something you've worked hard at.

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

My success has come through following my heart. I do think we should be able to love everything we study. I do think homework should be inspiring. (Doesn't have to be relevant, if the kid wants to do it anyway.) I like the message that we need to work hard. But I want kids to work hard because they love it, not just for some future gain.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Racism isn't pretty

I have been floored twice today by news everyone else probably heard a while ago. First the ridiculous to-do over the president's intended message to schoolchildren. Is this something new? If anyone doesn't want their kids to hear the president telling them to work hard, keep your kids home from school. But I think it's racism that they're all worked up about this.

Then I read just now that Van Jones is being attacked. Here's Starhawk's blog post about it.

She also links to this, on Color of Change:

As you may know, right-wing talk show hosts have been bringing race-based fear mongering into the mainstream, but FOX's Glenn Beck just took it to another level. On Tuesday, Beck said:

This president has exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep-seated hatred for white people... this guy is, I believe, a racist.
I signed the petition there.

I also wrote to the president, as she suggested. My connection got as slow as molasses, until I quit Fireforx and restarted it. I wonder if that's something to do with the number of people writing to the White House, or what...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

War Times

This is the website of a group that used to put out a paper version of their newspaper. All the back issues are there. One of the few ways I've been able to do a bit of activist work since becoming a mommy was to distribute their newspaper at the college I work at.

It's easier to 'distribute' it online. But I don't know if I'll reach as many people.

I really like what they have to say.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Not Good at This

Well, I have to confess. I'm not doing very well at my Ramadan fasting this year. Ramadan is observed by fasting while the sun is up. You can get up early and eat breakfast before the sun comes up, and you can eat dinner after the sun goes down. I set my alarm so I can eat breakfast.

Yesterday, when my alarm tweedled, I shut it off and meant to lie there a few minutes so my son would fall back to sleep. I fell back asleep myself. I jumped up at 6:40, after the sun had come up. I tried not eating when this happened the first year. It was too hard. It meant that my focus all day was on my hunger, instead of all the things I had to do.

If I've eaten in the morning, I still notice not eating, and I remember that I'm doing this so I'll think (and talk and write) about the wars the U.S. government is waging in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that awareness can come and go, and can fit in with all my other responsibilities.

So. I decided the sensible thing to do was to eat a quick breakfast, and then fast for the rest of the day. OK once (for me, not for Muslims). But then today... I couldn't sleep last night and got up at 4am. I'm browsing on the internet, and when my alarm tweedles I'm surprised it's already 6am. I finish typing a sentence, and then... What?! How did I forget to get out of this chair?! It's 6:40 once again. I made myself breakfast again, and will do what I did yesterday.

But I can hardly say I'm fasting for Ramadan if I keep eating my breakfast after the sun has come up.

I can tell you I've never been good at following rules. Not even my own. But I did this fast for each of the past 3 years, and never messed up two mornings in a row. What's different? The first thing is that my days have less structure. I'm on sabbatical, working from home. That also means I see and talk with adults less. The other difference is our president. Do I feel less urgency because I like the man who is ultimately in charge? U.S. soldiers are still killing innocent people. Why would I feel any less urgency?

How can I make sure I really wake up when I need to tomorrow morning? I guess setting a second alarm would help. OK, done.

I feel like I still need to think about this. Guess I'll call my friend Sandy. I think better in conversation than alone.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

First day of Ramadan

Yesterday, when I posted on why I fast for Ramadan, I wrote:
Sun comes up at 6:31 tomorrow. I'll set the alarm for 6am, so I can eat some breakfast.

What I didn't say is, I never set an alarm the rest of the year, except when I have an early flight. I go to bed early with my son, and I wake up early. I woke up at 5:30 today. It was nice to be up before the alarm had a chance to jangle me.

I had oatmeal with blueberries and raisins, and a glass of orange juice with soda water. I appreciate food so much more during Ramadan! The sun is up now. (I like it that I notice when the sun comes up. Tomorrow maybe I can get off the computer and actually watch it come up.) No food until... she goes to look it up... 7:53pm.

What else changes? Most of the time I'm pretty wrapped up in my own not-so-little world. Parenting, teaching, writing, playing with math, trying to stay on top of keeping my house from falling apart. I don't notice the bigger world much. This month, I'll be noticing more.

Over the summer I read Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson. He's building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. That's the most informative and respectful book I've read on Islam since I've started doing this. I'll post about some other books I've looked at, soon.

Back to preparing to host the Richmond Math Salon...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ramadan: I'm Fasting in Solidarity

Muslims celebrate the month of Ramadan by fasting during daylight. 3 years ago, I had 6 Muslim women in one class, and when I overheard them discussing Ramadan, I began to think about fasting in solidarity. It seemed like a way to stand up for people who have been discriminated against pretty severely lately.

I hoped last year was my last year of fasting, but I promised I'd fast as long as the U.S. was at war against any Muslim countries. I'm proud of our intelligent, apparently sincere president, but so far, he seems to think waging war in Afghanistan is a good idea, even though plenty of women and children are being killed. [I don't watch or read the news. If I'm at all wrong on this, please do correct me.]

I start fasting tomorrow. My biggest problem with it is usually just managing to remember not to stick food in my mouth. I'm having 20 people over to my house in the daylight. [I've decided that if I forget 3 times tomorrow, I'll give it up for just the one day, and start on Sunday (and do an extra day at the end).] After I get started, I'm ok. Muslims don't even drink water during the day, but I've given myself that. Sun comes up at 6:31 tomorrow. I'll set the alarm for 6am, so I can eat some breakfast.

When I started 3 years ago, I naively thought lots of people would join me. So far, no one has. I should have contacted Code Pink a few months ago - they might be able to get people going on this... Some day my life will move more slowly...

So I'll be reading more foreign affairs posts online during the next month, and posting about the situation. No time to do that properly tonight. I've gotta fold paper, get ready for my origami session tomorrow.

May we all strive for peace.


Monday, August 17, 2009

My Heroes: Starhawk, modern-day Good Witch

The word witch carries a lot of negative baggage. But there are many people, Starhawk among them, who have turned that all around, and are witches, using what power they have to make the world a better place.

I don't call myself a witch, because I think of witches as something like shamans. I can't do magic (yet?), so I'm not a witch, yet. I am pagan, which means that I consider the earth sacred, that I honor the changing of the seasons and the cycle of the year, that I consider the earth and her creatures alive. Being pagan means different things to different people; there are no holy books, no gurus, no rules written in stone. Only stories. Halloween comes at the time when 'the veil between the worlds is thinnest'. And, it is said of the Goddess that 'all acts of love and pleasure are her worship.'

Starhawk was my introduction to pagan thought. Much of what's written in that realm is too woo woo, too self-indulgent, or just not deep enough. Two of Starhawk's books stand out as a way to really understand pagan thought philosophically, historically, and politically. Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex and Politics came first. It weaves feminism, therapy, non-violent activism, and politics into a big bundle, and throws magic into the mix. Magic - we've been trained to think it's all about tricks, that it's just pretend. More on that in a moment...

I like Starhawk's ability to weave together a scientific worldview with a pagan perspective. At a workshop I attended, she described gravity as Mother Earth hugging us all, and in Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority, and Mystery, she describes DNA like this:
the sliding of snakes
coupling and uncoupling
at the cell's core
This passage is part of one of the epic poems that alternate with the chapters of text in her rich book. Seven of those poems form the story of the descent of Inanna, which so many feminists have retold. The power of the story enchants us. (Inanna's stories come down to us through time on clay tablets from Sumeria. The most historically faithful retelling is found in Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer, by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Kramer.) Truth or Dare is full of history, philosophy, and practical ideas. It provides the grounding that started me on my journey to a different worldview.

What makes Sathawk one of my heroes isn't just her philosophy, it's the actions she takes in the world, from protesting nuclear power, to the protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle that she documents in Webs of Power, to her current work, both with permaculture and in the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

Much of her writing can be found on her blog, Dirt Worship, and through her website. (My blog reading list is gettting awfully long...)

Redefining Magic
Most people in the U.S. dismiss magic as pretend. And, in fact, the dictionary definitions usually start there: "The pretended art of influencing the course of events, and of producing marvelous physical phenomena..." (OED) But if magic means pretend, then where is the word that means something similar that's not pretended? The definition we have constrains the ways we can think. When language slices things in a way that makes certain alternatives unthinkable, it forces our thinking along some channels and not others. The language itself frames our worldview.

So what is magic, if it's not pretend? Starhawk explains it better in her books than I can. But I can offer 3 stories that describe the sorts of things magic might do, unusual but not impossible. Two come from what I've read, one I experienced.

Catching Fish (from Utne Reader, I think)
The author was at a witch camp in Colorado. He had been told, along with a group of people, to go to a river that was going to dry up, as it does every summer. The group was to catch the fish, who would be dying soon anyway, and fill the bed of a pickup truck with them to bring back to camp for use as fertilizer. They weren’t given any tools, though. They felt like the task was impossible. A few of them tried to grab the fish, but there was no way. Finally their teacher came and told them to think like bears. He slapped his hands together in the water, and popped a fish up onto the shore. They filled the truck in a short time.

Becoming Invisible
I believe Starhawk talks in one of her books about being in prison with a few hundred other women, for protesting a nuclear weapons site, and wanting to have a meeting to plan their responses to the prison officials. (I've searched but can't find this passage. I'll try to verify.) Meetings were prohibited, and they were feeling stuck - this meeting seemed vital. They met, raised power, and created a circle of invisibility. They conducted their meeting, and the guards, one nearby, did not stop them.

Now, the standard definition of invisible involves seeing right through something. But think of it more as something we just don't notice. Imagine the guards just not noticing the meeting. I have students who are excellent at becoming invisible when I decide to call on someone; I'm sure it's a skill they've developed.

Friendly Mice?
I wrote this in story form, but it's not fiction. It happened in late 1989 or early 1990, on UCSD’s campus. The only part I made up was Gail’s name. I don’t remember her real name, and she needs one for the story to flow.

One night, when the moon was full, I walked to the eucalyptus groves north of campus with my friend Sandy and her friend Gail. We were that night a coven of three, aware of each other’s powerful presences, intending to honor the goddess with our small circle in the woods.

We walked familiar paths. Changed in the moonlight, they seemed to be longer and more winding. We arrived at a spot far enough from campus, hidden from the bigger trails, where the moon shone to the ground. We settled ourselves in, and began.

Sandy called in the spirits of the four directions. I don’t remember now what my participation was. Gail began a chanted meditation. We all sat, eyes closed, two listening, one speaking. I wasn’t connecting with Gail’s words, and I drifted. I opened my eyes to the beauty around me, the moonlit forest, leaves dappled with that soft light and the darkness, fluttering in faint breezes. I thought about what a blessing this serenity was in a world full of cities. Then I noticed that there were some kind of forest mice all around us, some within our circle, sort of checking us out. They seemed entranced by Gail’s voice. There were about two dozen of them.

I didn’t want to scare away our visitors, usually so shy, so I tried to repress my excitement, to keep the feel of our circle as it had been. I listened more carefully to what Gail was saying, letting her soothing, droning chant calm me. Meanwhile of course, I was eagerly watching our visitors out of the corner of my eyes. They scampered around, clearly interested, seemingly listening to Gail’s voicel, and checking us out.

Then one of them scampered over Sandy’s hand, and she jumped a bit. They all ran away. I quietly said, “They’ve been here for a while, listening.” We all kept our eyes open and Gail tried to go back to her chanting. We were too excited to return to quite the same calm, self-contained circle we had been. But Gail’s soothing voice did bring them partway back. None came inside the circle this time, but at least half a dozen had returned, and watched us for a while longer. They left before we ended our circle, and we walked home, feeling blessed by having had some very special unexpected participants join us that night.

I don't know if these 3 stories are enough to convince anyone that magic happens. But the next time you see that on a bumper sticker, at least you'll have a glimmer of where we're coming from.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Community Building in NC: TechShop

Durham, NC has a community business called TechShop, and they have a blog. Looks interesting. I'd like to play there. The closest things to this locally are Berkeley's tool lending library, and a place whose name I'm forgetting. (I've googled forge, and looked in the thesaurus. They have welding classes, and one theater person I know loves the place.)

I was also looking around to see if there were some sort of community blog or wiki for Richmond. (I just checked Berkeley, too, but my search terms bring in too much, none of it what I want.) I'd love a place online that collects good community-building ideas, geared toward local communities. Is there something like that already, and I'm missing it?


Friday, August 14, 2009

My Heroes: Speaking Truth to Power

One of my very first posts in this blog was just a stub pointing to a collection of portraits of Americans Who Tell the Truth, by Robert Shetterly. (I couldn't find the book for sale there, and just bought it here.)

It's a good collection, but it's missing some of my heroes. Emma Goldman is in it, but Starhawk and Alice Walker are missing. I'll ask Shetterly if he wants to add them to his traveling exhibit. My own list of people who haven (powerfully) spoken truth to power is international. I was moved to write this by some posts I just read online about my favorite educator, Paulo Freire, a Brazilian who I'll say more about later.

Shetterly's title reminded me of the phrase 'speak truth to power'. Googling it led me to a Quaker document on pacifism (written in 1955), with this explanation of the phrase:

Our title, Speak Truth to Power, taken from a charge given to Eighteenth Century Friends, suggests the effort that is made to speak from the deepest insight of the Quaker faith, as this faith is understood by those who prepared this study. We speak to power in three senses:

  • To those who hold high places in our national life and bear the terrible responsibility of making decisions for war or peace.
  • To the American people who are the final reservoir of power in this country and whose values and expectations set the limits for those who exercise authority.
  • To the idea of Power itself, and its impact on Twentieth Century life.
Our truth is an ancient one: that love endures and overcomes; that hatred destroys; that what is obtained by love is retained, but what is obtained by hatred proves a burden. This truth, fundamental to the position which rejects reliance on the method of war, is ultimately a religious perception, a belief that stands outside of history.
The list of those who speak truth to power is long. So begins another series in this blog: portraits of my heroes. (If you're enjoying the bibliographies, don't worry, I've still got lots of those coming.) I debated using the word heroes, because I don't want to put them on such a pedestal that they seem unreachable. But we can all be heroes. Remember June Jordan's (and Alice Walker's and Barak Obama's) words: "We are the ones we've been waiting for." My heroes are my inspiration to do the most powerful work I can.


Here's who I'd like to write about eventually (this list will lengthen over time):

Paulo Freire (here's the site that started me writing today)
Rebeca Wild
Deborah Meier

Emma Goldman
Starhawk (activism page on her website, and her Newsweek (!) column)

Alice Walker
Adrienne Rich
Barbara Kingsolver

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Dozen Delectable African-American Chapter Books

Many of the books listed below are just one in a series, so there's lots more fun where these came from. Choosing just one book per author means I've had to leave out some of my favorites. But it's easy to find more, once you know a good author.

Gloria Rising
, by Ann Cameron. Gloria meets an astronaut, Doctor Grace Street, at the grocery store, and then has troubles in school when her teacher doesn't believe her. My son loves these. There are at least 8 more books about Julian, his younger brother Huey, and their friend Gloria.

Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs: The Buried Bones Mystery
, by Sharon Draper. 4 boys, all friends, all from different sorts of families, decide to form a club, and solve mysteries. They get a big one almost before they start.

The Warm Place, by Nancy Farmer. Ruva, a young giraffe, is taken from her mother and home in the grasslands of Africa, and sold to a zoo. With the help of 2 rats, a chameleon, and a boy, she escapes and heads home. Read everything by Nancy Farmer!

The Broken Bike Boy and the Queen of 33rd Street, by Sharon Flake. Queen is so spoiled and bossy she doesn't have any friends. Then Leroy joins her class. He has stinky clothes and a broken bike, but he says he's from Africa. Somehow the two connect past all their differences. Queen still manages to cause plenty of trouble, and almost loses her chance to solve the mysteries Leroy presents her with.

Missy Violet and Me, by Barbara Hathaway. Viney may be 11, but she still thinks Missy Violet, the midwife, brings women's babies in her bag after finding them in cabbage patches. That summer she gets to work with Missy Violet, and gets quite an education.

Elijah of Buxton, by Christopher Paul Curtis. Buxton is a town of free Blacks in Canada, close enough to Windsor and Detroit for runaways to come their way and settle. (This is true. Here's more information on the town.) Runaway slaves would come to Buxton and settle, and this is the imagined story of Elijah, the first child born free in the town.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor. Set in the deep south, in the 30’s. Cassie Logan’s family owns and farms 200 acres. The Logans have managed to protect their children from the hatred of the whites around them, but this year will be especially difficult.

Darnell Rock Reporting, by Walter Dean Myers. Darnell isn't much into school. But he joins the school paper, and his article on a homeless man gives him and the community lots to think about.

M.C. Higgins, the Great, by Virginia Hamilton. I loved this book, but read it too long ago to remember the details. I remember that M.C. lives on a mountain with his family and is very independent. Amazon says it's called Sarah's Mountain, after his great-grandmother who settled the family there after running away from slavery. Amazon also says he's dealing with nearby strip-mining. I'm going to have to read it again...

If You Come Softly, by Jacqueline Woodson. Jeremiah is Black and Ellie is white. They're both 15, and falling in love. The book was inspired by a poem by Audre Lorde that begins like this:
If you come softly
as the wind within the trees
you may hear what I hear
see what sorrow sees.

Be prepared to see what sorrow sees.

The Friends, by Rosa Guy. Once again, my memory is lacking. I loved this book so long ago, I remember almost nothing. Here's what I got from enotes.com: Phyllisia Cathay has recently moved from the West Indies to Harlem. She's smart but lonely. Edith is much poorer, and would like to be her friend. Phyllisia doesn't think so. Hmm, the class issues in this book and the Broken Bike Boy and the Queen of 33rd Street sound similar...

Small Steps, by Louis Sachar. I loved Sachar's book, Holes, and was excited to read another book with some of the same characters. This book is very different, less mythic, and grittier. I loved it differently. Armpit is back home, and trying to get his life on the right track. His mom is trying (sometimes too hard?) to help. But his friendship with Ginny, his neighbor with cerebral palsy, is a big help too. It's all going pretty well, until X-Ray, a shady dealer from his past at Camp Green Lake, comes into the picture. Lots of action.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Getting Better All the Time - At Parenting

I'm a single parent, working full-time. This past year, I worked too much, my son didn't get enough time with me nor enough consistency in his after-school care, and things got rough. He was very angry and acted out (hitting me sometimes). I worked less during Spring term, and saw things gradually improve.

I want to write about two steps forward, and one other milestone.

Last year in July I left my son with my brother and my family for a week while I attended the Math Circle Teacher Training Institute. When I returned, my son was furious. We had lots of trouble at bedtime, when he was acting up and I was too tired to deal. It was memorably bad.

I was planning to go to the Institute again this year, and he was saying he didn't want to go to Michigan. (We live in California, my family is in Michigan, he stays with them there while I go to the institute in Indiana.) He was not happy about the thought of me leaving him for a week again. But I knew I just had to go.

A few weeks before we left for Michigan, I stumbled upon a wonderful idea. We were at Toy Go Round, a used toy store, to buy him a hotwheels car. In the front window was a Playmobil service station. My son has been just about obsessive over cars his whole life, and has recently become enamored of Playmobil (way more expensive than the other toys in his life). The service station was the perfect thing for him. But his birthday was the month before, and xmas is a very long way off.

He says he asked for it. I don't even remember that. We asked to see the price when we went in, and at $35, I just shrugged to tell him it was way too much to spend. I so wanted to get it for him, but couldn't justify it when he'd already gotten so much on his birthday. He took his usual long time picking a hotwheels car, and we paid and left.

As I looked in the window one last time, I had an idea. I sat him down and reminded him of how angry he had been last year after I'd come back from the Institute, and how badly he'd behaved. Poor kid thought I was reprimanding him, I think. I said he might feel angry again this year, but it's important to find better ways to express it. I asked if he wanted me to get the service station and hold onto it until we got back. He could have it if he behaved well. His eyes lit up - "Oh, yeah!"

Normally I hate punishments and rewards. But it seemed like a good idea for him to have something to look forward to. And it was. He was great on our trip, even though it was hard for him. (He had a bunch of meltdowns the day after I got back, and I'd hold him each time and say "I know, it was so hard...") I think the second time with mom away was easier for him, but still very hard. He was more prepared for it, having gone through it before. And I was more prepared for dealing with the aftermath. When we got home a week later, he was thrilled with his new service station, and maybe it means more to him than other toys.

The holding and loving him up (with not so many words) when he cried came in handy again yesterday. He hates change, and I wanted to move the furniture in my room around. He still sleeps in my bed and didn't want me to change the room. He burst into tears at one point, and I just held him and said, "I know, it's hard." I'm learning to talk less sometimes.

That's the two steps forward. Here's the milestone: My son is friends with a woman who uses a powered wheelchair when her energy level demands it. She carries it in her van, and when she's visiting us, she's not using it. She allows my son to 'drive' it sometimes. Yesterday he asked if he could drive it out of the van. It was facing away from the door, and he made a 4-point turn to face forward, without touching the walls. When she complimented him, he said, "I was thinking about how to do it the other night, and I figured it out in my head." She and I both thought that was some pretty fancy visualization.