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May 19th, 2018
07:52 am


Substitute teaching the other day, I had a moment with a couple 7th graders looking at a political globe of the earth. I went over to share with them how I'd recently learned there's a stripe of desert from Africa all the way to the mongolian Steppes in Asia.

We turned the globe to Africa to find the left side of the stripe. Student 1, on my left, said he didn't know how to find things on a globe. He pointed to Niger and asked how you pronounce that. "Nigh-jer," I told him. "Oh," he said. "But where's Africa?" He asked.
I gestured at the continent with my hand while the other student chimed in, "It's right there! That's Africa."

Pause. Student 1 studied what was before him.
"But where's Africa?" He asked again.
"Africa is a continent, not a country," I explained further. "It has many countries, and over 300 languages are spoken there."

"Oooooh." Was his response.

"What's the largest desert in the world?" I asked. Student 2 had it. "The Sahara!"
"Where is it?" He pointed to Niger.

World geography is clearly lacking. It's throughout. Rosie recently came home from a second grade segment of learning to make and paint clay beads, "Like they do in Africa, because they are very poor there and all they have is mud."
(I made sure to share her takeaway with her teacher later. She was clearly embarrassed.)

I reminded her Africa is a continent, not a country, and that they have a wide range of rich and poor people there, like we do here.

Stereotypes are so easily formed.

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October 22nd, 2017
05:55 pm


So... this past week while I was watching my Facebook fill with posts of "Me too" and "I believe you," I was also reading The Round House, by Louise Erdrich. It's not an easy novel to read, but it is an important one. Told from the point of view of an adolescent boy in North Dakota, the novel chronicles the impact on him and his family of the rape of his mom by someone who calculatedly did it in a location that makes it hard to prosecute, because they live on Tribal land, but the attack might have happened within state or even Federal jurisdiction. Because of that and other circumstances, this story has the basis for powerfully expressing the difference between the relief felt when an abuser is locked up and the paralysing fear and powerlessness of trying to continue living while they are free and around in the same town. Erdrich is exposing the continuing barriers to justice in reservation life while also bring us along on a coming of age journey for the narrator. I highly recommend this book to everyone 14 or older.

Note: while there is a rape in this book and some details of the attack come to light, there are no graphic details of sexual violence. However, there are other scenes and conversations that have to do with sex, sexuality, body parts, and violence. In fact the intergenerational dialogue (both spoken and acted out) about sexuality, drinking, violence, and how to treat each other is one of the most fascinating aspects of the book.

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September 15th, 2017
06:07 am


Dear body,

This waking up at 5 am thing?

Not a fan.


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August 2nd, 2017
03:57 pm


"blackface" backlash - an over-reaction? Or a long overdue one?
Reading comments about the white woman who was recently lambasted for darkening her face to cosplay Whoopi Goldberg's character Guinan from Star Trek, I feel like there is an underbelly of the issue that is being missed by many of the white people in the discussion, and not necessarily brought up by the people of color, either.

I appreciate comments saying that someone's race is not something you should put on as a costume when depicting characters they played - that in and of itself is a good point, and an interesting one.

But I feel that simply calling what the woman did "blackface" fails to really connect most people to some of the wounds that are at play here.

Largely because current/younger generations, especially white people, have little-to-no awareness or concept about how pervasive blackface minstrelcy was, to what purpose it was used, and how it has continued to influence how characters of color are depicted in theater and the media, and also how people of color are perceived on the street.

If you are confused by the level of emotion invested in the backlash directed at this white cosplayer, I encourage you to read Let Black Kids Just Be Kids, a recent and very relevant New York Times Op-Ed by Robin Bernstein.

Berstein draws a very credible connection between the practice of blackface minstrelcy and the current patterns of perception that contribute to tragedies like the death of Trayvon Martin and the daily overpolicing and underprotecting of black kids in America.

Bernstein goes on to explain, "only white kids were allowed to be innocent. The more that popular writers, playwrights, actors and visual artists created images of innocent white children, the more they depicted children of color, especially black children, as unconstrained imps. Over time, this resulted in them being defined as nonchildren."

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” one of the most influential books of the 19th century, was pivotal to this process. When Harriet Beecher Stowe published her novel in 1852, she created the angelic white Eva, who contrasted with Topsy, the mischievous black girl.

Stowe carefully showed, however, that Topsy was at heart an innocent child who misbehaved because she had been traumatized, “hardened,” by slavery’s violence. Topsy’s bad behavior implicated slavery, not her or black children in general.

The novel’s success prompted theatrical troupes across the country to adapt “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” into what became one of the most popular stage shows of all time. But to attract the biggest audiences, these productions combined Stowe’s story with the era’s other hugely popular entertainment: minstrelsy.

Topsys onstage, often played by white women in blackface, were adultlike, cartoonish characters who laughed as they were beaten, and who invited audiences to laugh, too. In these shows, Topsy’s innocence and vulnerability vanished. The violence that Stowe condemned became a source of delight for white theater audiences.

This minstrel version of Topsy turned into the pickaninny, one of the most damaging racist images ever created. This dehumanized black juvenile character was comically impervious to pain and never needed protection or tenderness.

Other Blackface Minstrel characters created or perpetuated equally damaging stereotypes of black people, almost all of which were used only as comic relief, and young white people today are largely ignorant about those characters and performances, which continued into the 1970s in some places.

Heck, most of us don't even know or think about where the term "Jim Crow" came from.

Sometime around 1830, a white NYC ctor named Thomas D. Rice learned a popular African-American song-and-dance routine, based on the myth of a trickster figure, an escaped, possibly physically disabled slave named Jim Crow, who would dance and boast. His face blacked out with burnt cork, Rice perfected the act and sparked the tradition of the minstrel act. At first the blackface character was actually a smart and sympathetic one. But as time went on, the minstrel show took on a more racist tone.

Blackface Minstrelcy was very popular in the US in the 1830s and 1840s, but it continued to be practiced well into the 1900s and its legacy continues in the lack of African American characters of content who have primary roles in mainstream US media (books, film, plays, tv shows, etc). This legacy has caused an implicit bias in almost all of us, too little acknowledged, and is very hard to address with counter-cultural re-programming, especially while white people continue to dominate the production fields of those media.

If you think people are over-reacting to white people who darken their faces to portray people of color, please take a step back and learn more about why they are reacting the way they are.

On the topic of depictions in film and theater, btw, I highly recommend you read the historical fantasy novel Redwood and Wildfire, by playwright Andrea Hairston.

Thank you.

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July 9th, 2017
09:39 am


Sunday morning haiku
Hollow dreams, cupped like
Daisies, float away from me
On a morning breeze.

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June 27th, 2017
08:45 am


It's all about Turmeric -- in FOOD
When a cousin of mine found out I have a type of cancer, he sent me a note that said "It's all about Turmeric." I did some research on turmeric supplements, and found myself skeptical about that as a delivery system. Now, reading Anticancer, by David Servan-schreiber, I find my skepticism confirmed -- what is best is to COOK with Turmeric, especially combined with ginger or pepper. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, due to the component curcumin, but not when isolated. Servan-Schreiber writes:

"Turmeric magnificently illustrates the benefit of the great culinary traditions, in comparison to the consumption of isolated substances. When researcher in Taiwan tried treating cancerous tumors with turmeric delivered in capsules, they discovered that it was very poorly absorbed by the digestive system. In fact, when it is not mixed with pepper or ginger -- as it always has been in curry -- turmeric does not pass the intestinal barrier. Pepper increases the body's absorption of Turmeric by 2,000 percent. Indian wisdom has thus been far ahead of modern science in the discovery of natural affinities between foods.

"When I was researching information on my own cancer, I was astonished to find out that even brain tumors such as glioblastomas were more sensitive to chemotherapy when curcumin was prescribed at the same time.

"According to the Aggarwal team in Houston, turmeric's extraordinary effect seems to be due in large part to its capacity to interfere directly with the black knight of cancer we identified in chapter 4, NF-Kappa B, which protects cancer cells against the body's defense mechanisms. The entire pharmaceutical industry is looking for new, nontoxic molecules capable of fighting this mechanism of cancer promotion. It is now known that curcumin is a powerful NF-kappa B antagonist, while over two thousand years of daily use in indian cooking has proved that it is totally innocuous. Turmeric can also be eaten with soy products that replace animal proteins and provide the genistein mentioned above, which detoxifies and helps check angiogenesis. Add a cup of gree tea and imagine the powerful cocktail that, with no side effects, keeps in check three of the principal mechanisms of cancer growth."


  • Servan-schreiber, D., Anticancer: A New Way of Life. Viking (2009).
  • Carter, A., " "Curry Compound Fights Cncer in the Clinic," Journal of the National Cancer Institute (2008). p. djn141.
  • Cheng, A.L., C. H. Hsu, J. K. Lin, et al., "Phase I Clinical Trial of Curcumin, a Chemoprotective Agent, in Patients with High-Risk or Pre-Malignant Lesions," Ancitcancer Research 21, no. 4B (2001): 2895-900
  • Shoba, G., D. Joy, T. Joseph, et al., "Influence of Piperine on the Pharmacokinetics of Curcumin in Animals and Human Volunteers," Planta Medica 64, no. 4 (1998): 353-56.
  • Gao, X., D. Deeb, H. Jiang, et. al., "Curcumin Differentially Sensitizes Malignant Glioma Cells to TRAIL/Apo2L-Mediated Apoptis Through Activation of Prospases and Release of Cytochrome c from Mitichondria," Journal of Experimental Therapeutics & Oncology 5, no. 1 (2005): 39-48.

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June 16th, 2017
08:05 am


Sustainability is Personal.
In my discussions and reading in the past year, I note that a lot of society's problems revolve around:

* How to achieve knowledge transfer to the next generation(s) while still allowing room for/encouraging new ideas and innovation.

* How to help people develop lasting connections to other people

* How to connect people to services and activities that can help them live a healthy and rewarding life.

* How to connect people with the time, energy, and will to serve to opportunities for them to do so that fit their skills, abilities, preferences, and availability profile.

* How to build a dependable funding stream/business model as needed, as part of:

* How to help make those services / organizations be sustainable over time

(which circles around to)

* How to capture and retain knowledge of how to create and sustain an effective organization.

In my observation, organizational effectiveness tends to be closely linked to specific people, and their personal investment or dependability, as well as their connections to others. And not necessarily people with "leadership" skills, but with people who have whatever are the specific skills and interests or enthusiasm and connections needed to play their part in the organization.

And when the people who created an organization grow old and die, all too often, the history of how the organization actually came to be is lost with them, because they themselves were to busy to actually reflect upon it and capture it, and because it was so long ago no one can for sure remember, and because we as humans are not always sure how something came together - often the origin of something is as much based on friendships and other social connections as it is on a common purpose or intent.

Mentoring can ameliorate these problems, but in this case I mean mentoring with organizational intent or purpose - not mentoring just in order to serve/guide the mentee, but in order to serve the organization by facilitating the education of individuals as to how the organization actually works, in the hope that those individuals will continue with the organization and sustain it.

When funding that was previously available dries up, or a wealthy donor or organizer dies or has to retire, or there is other significant organizational change/turnover, the outside community/people who were "customers" or volunteers with that organization often have no idea what is going on, and little-to-no ability to revive or preserve whatever aspect of that organization they were attached to/benefited from.

All of this contributes to people feeling helpless or hopeless about their own community, even in a community where there is plenty of desire to *build* community. Without knowing how, people are lost, or isolated.

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June 7th, 2017
10:31 pm


Rising 2nd Grader
Last Day of 1st Grade

Here is Rosie on her last day of first grade. There was a ceremony for the lower school end of year, with singing and gratitude to teachers and the kids receiving their Summer Book, and lots of fuss for the 5th graders, who are moving up to Middle School. I never had such fuss when I was a kid. Not until High School graduation. There was just school and then no school.

Now we face the long summer. We have projects around the house, a little bit of local travel planned for hiking and sight-seeing, possibly some slightly longer trips to see relatives and friends, do some camping. Rosie will have some day camps, including ice skating camp, but mostly we can't afford those this year, so it'll be the free Tennis for Kids program, Get Outdoors York, Summer Reading Program, and whatever else we come up with, ending with a trip to Michigan in August for Rosie's 7th birthday, as she requested, to be with her cousins, grandparents, and Ann Arbor friends. What an amazing kiddo.

I told her earlier this week I think becoming her mom was the best thing I ever decided to do. It hasn't been easy, and I know there's no guarantee for how long life will last, but it's already been amazing, and I have high hopes for this one.

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May 14th, 2017
08:03 am


Those percentiles

Looking for my college transcript in my files, I just ran across the printed report of my 1996 General GRE results. Verbal 740, Analytical 750, and Quantitative 690. (All my standardized test scores are also online, here.)

I was reminded that being better than 98-99% of other test takers in my verbal score has simply been a fact of life since... whenever it was that I first started taking them. Third grade, I think (at which point I tested at a high school graduate level) And I am remembering a conversation, walking across the Grinnell Campus, about these GRE test scores.

I was disappointed that my Quantitative score was only 690.

My boyfriend couldn't understand my disappointment. He pointed out that my Quantitative score was better than 79% percent of other people who took the GRE, which is all people applying for grad school. That was an achievement, was his point, and he wasn't wrong. I cheered up a little at the time, but I still can't shake the overall sense that I am (comparatively) weak in math.

I honestly wonder if this is an overlooked component to why perfectly smart middle school girls tend to self-evaluate as "not that good in math" at the same ability level where boys are more likely to be proud of their math skills. Boy are less likely to have had strong linguistic skills from an early age, so they don't have that portion of their own skill set and self-confidence to compare their math skills to.

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May 11th, 2017
08:16 pm


The National Museum of African American History and Culture
Last week I traveled to DC on a group excursion I arranged with timed passes to see the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Our timed Entry was 12:45 and we toured the Capitol building first so we were a bit rushed with lunch and getting there on time. Our group was part people from the NAACP exec, part people from Crispus Attucks Association and the Goodridge Freedom Center, and then also two local museum members, who had arranged the capital tour and also for us to tour the NMAAHC with the head of Collections, who apparently doesn't actually give tours, so it was a very special opportunity.

I'm still processing my reaction to the museum. The outside is gorgeous. The inner lobby had a couple art pieces installed in it that just left me feeling puzzled as to their point or connection to anything else, and in talking to other members of the group, that reaction seemed shared. We spent a bunch of time on the bottom floor, which has to do with the beginning of the colonies and slave trade. I feel like I could have taken a full day to go through each floor, and still not have seen and heard all there was to see and hear. They have a couple of whole cabins that have been relocated into the museum. They have a Tuskegee airplane. There is so much. A lot of it I have already studied in the past 6 years, but some of it was still new.

My friend Serena and I spent some time in the gift shop. Lots of books. Some odd things. Like, they have a book of paper dolls of Michelle Obama and her clothes, but the representations of her and her fashion do not do either justice. I commented on that to Serena, and she agreed and felt it was clearly not the work of an African American artist. There were several odd notes like that. There were places in the historical displays were I was sorry they left things out. Only so much space, right?

I will have to go back a few times to take it all in, and plus it is going to change. There was a whole exhibit hall that's not open yet. Lots to see.

Speaking of seeing, Here are some pictures from the trip This entry was originally posted at http://netmouse.dreamwidth.org/807503.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

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