Friday, January 16, 2009

Dear Sir Obama: Presidential Advice

Published: New York Times, January 15, 2009

Every day after school about 65 children come to our center to get help with their homework. The place is always vibrant, but on Nov. 5, 2008, the 20 tutors in the room essentially played zone defense to keep things in order. For the students, the election of Barack Obama had overturned their world.

The children had been interested in the election all year but few of them, truth be told, really thought Mr. Obama would be elected. When he won, their talk quickly and excitedly turned to what would happen next.

We decided to channel this energy into a writing assignment. We asked our students — not just those in San Francisco, but ones in Ann Arbor, Mich.; Boston; Chicago; Los Angeles; New York; and Seattle — to offer their thoughts, hopes and advice to Mr. Obama in handwritten letters (many of which came with drawings). These were two letters that particularly caught my attention.

Dear President Obama,
Here is a list of the first 10 things you should do as president:
1. Fly to the White House in a helicopter.
2. Walk in.
3. Wipe feet.
4. Walk to the Oval Office.
5. Sit down in a chair.
6. Put hand-sanitizer on hands.
7. Enjoy moment.
8. Get up.
9. Get in car.
10. Go to the dog pound.
— Chandler Browne, age 12, Chicago

1. Make everyone read books.
2. Don’t let teachers give kids hard homework.
3. Make a law where kids only get one page of homework per week.
4. Kids can go visit you whenever they want.
5. Make volunteer tutors get paid.
6. Let the tutors do all the thinking.
7. Make universities free.
8. Make students get extra credit for everything.
9. Give teachers raises.
10. If No. 4 is approved, let kids visit the Oval Office, but don’t make it boring.
— Mireya Perez, age 8, San Francisco

Jory John, program director at 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center, is the editor of the forthcoming “Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country: A Collection

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Let the Right One In

One Sunday morning at 11:00 am I attended the Brattle theatre’s Eye Opener series to watch Let the Right One In. I knew I would not like it. I only went for the free breakfast and to support the group; it would not kill me to stay 30 minutes. When 30 minutes was up I thought hum! I can stay another 20 minutes it’s not a bad movie. I ended up watching the entire movie and loving it; what a surprise! I then read the book from beginning to end in three days; that also was thrilling.

It is a great vampire and coming of age film and beautifully filmed in Sweden. It stays true to the book while leaving out a complete chunk around Eli’s so called father. I think this was a problem but understand that it would have made the film run well over two hours.

Oskar is a 12 year old fragile and very anxious boy that is regularly bullied by his stronger classmates. He seems to have no friends until he meets Eli, also 12, who moves in next door to him with her father. She is a pale, serious young girl or is she? She/it/he only comes out at night and doesn’t seem affected by the freezing temperatures. Coinciding with Eli’s arrival is a series of inexplicable disappearances and murders. One man is found tied to a tree, another frozen in the lake, a woman bitten in the neck.

Being a vampire movie, Blood is the common thread - and for an introverted boy likes Oskar, who is fascinated by gruesome stories, it doesn’t take long before he figures out that Eli is a vampire. But by now a subtle romance has blossomed between Oskar and Eli, and she gives him the strength to fight back against his aggressors. Oskar becomes increasingly aware of the tragic, inhuman dimension of Eli’s plight, but cannot bring himself to forsake her. Frozen forever in a twelve-year-old’s body, with all the burgeoning feelings and confused emotions of a young adolescent, Eli knows that she can only continue to live if she keeps on moving. But when Oskar faces his darkest hour, Eli returns to defend him the only way she can… and what an end it is; wow!!

Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson weaves friendship, rejection and loyalty into a disturbing and darkly atmospheric, yet poetic and unexpectedly tender tableau of adolescence. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is based on the best-selling novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One Week to Go: Uprising or Celebration

In 2009 I look forward with great joy to a new president and the hope that Congress gets its act together to support him in producing a new look and feel for our country.

Today's New York Times op ed suggested that we should have an uprising against the outgoing president. Because "this is the man who gave us the war in Iraq and Guantánamo and torture and rendition; who turned the Clinton economy and the budget surplus into fool’s gold; who dithered while New Orleans drowned; who trampled our civil liberties at home and ruined our reputation abroad; who let Dick Cheney run hog wild and thought Brownie was doing a heckuva job." Check out the entire piece at

The damage is done, the media do not even talk about him anymore, and our lasting image of him is OF the Iraqi journalist who throw a shoe at him; an apt visual for all that went wrong during his administration over the past eight years.

And so, I wonder do we show our anger (after all he was voted in despite his ineptitude or do we celebrate a new beginning?)

As the weeks wear on I constantly find pictures of Obama coming into my head and think how goal orientated he was and his "yes we can" has turned in my head to "Just do It." So America, lets get on with our lives, even though we are broke we can still make significant changes to our environment and lives we just have TO DO IT!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What are YOU afraid of?

Have you noticed lately that so many more people seem to be more afraid now than 20 years ago? Your friends and family are constantly warning you against “life” and when you ask them where they got that idea from it will generally be the news. I myself don’t watch TV and I suggested that they did not either. My fear factor has not changed one bit since my teens. This week in two different journals I found the answer to why fear is on the increase.

In the Fall 2008 issue of The Berkeley-based literary magazine Threepenny Review they published the proceedings of a symposium they held on the subjedt of fear. A portion was reprinted in the Utne Reader magazine In a nutshell it said that the “example rule,” dictates that the easier it is to gin up a memory of something, the more likely it is to be a repeat threat. This worked well before the advent of TV but now we are being bombarded constantly with pictures of plane crashes, superbugs, and child abductions; faced with related decisions, our guts are now make the decidedly wrong decisions. Utne printed three favorite moments from the symposium and I have reduced it to one because each time I read it, it makes me smile and that is what I like to do.

“If I’m tempted to boast that I have no fear that is not because I am fearless by nature, more that I have almost never found myself in situations in which I have had any need of fear…I’ve had no experience of loss. My parents are both in the 80s and still going strong. Also, since I don’t have – and never want to have – any children, I am not prey to the parental terror that they will be snatched any (by pedophiles, illness, or accident) without warning. …So there’s been no grief in my life, only a massive amount of irritation, and I suspect there is a relation between this and living without fear. To put it simply, I’ve just been too childishly pissed off, frustrated, and enraged to feel fear.”
Geoff Dyer, British author of But Beautiful, among other books.

The other article was in the Ode Magazine blog “Avoid Mental Toxins for 2009“
In the same vein as Utne Reader they say that “Sadly, the news and media these days are flooding the airwaves with negative, anxiety and fear-producing stories. While it is important to know what is happening, I would strongly suggest being careful about taking in too much of that fear and negativity. It can be bad for your health.”

Hear! Hear! Do something positive in the New Year, skip television and volunteer at a shelter (human or animal), work with kids, help the environment, work at your church, or just meditate. Remember it is important to be in sync with the Rhythm of Life. Happy New Year

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mr. Meow Meow 1996-2008

Mr. Meow Meow had to be put to sleep on Friday December 5th. Fortunately he was only sick for one week; the diagnosis was chronic pancreatic disease. He did not respond to treatment and his daily blood results were deteriorating rapidly so there was no point in continuing. Thank goodness I had the courage to listen to my cat who was telling me it was time to go. A small point I would like to make is that the vet was not much help to me in making the decision. It seems that they just like to keep trying even and no want to give up.

Sometimes life works in peculiar ways those. Two weeks prior I had taken in two foster cats from an animal hoarder’s house. One of these cats was perhaps the most frightened cat that I had ever met in my life. It took two weeks to get him to come from under the sofa. He hadn’t eaten for days. Now he is acting more like a normal cat and has even learned to play with a ball. I think he is well on his way to recovery. So while I mourn by beloved Meow Meow, I was able to help another cat overcome his abject fear and have him ready to move on to his forever home.

His ashes will be spread around his garden in the spring time. Goodbye Meow Meow I miss you! Thank you for being the cat you were.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Brother, can you spare a Dime?

We live in the world's richest state and we are befuddled, numb, angry and hungry. In fact 30 millions folks are getting food stamps. How did this happen?

It isn't often that I read a piece of journalism that resonates as much as this piece in the Guardian Weekly December 19, 2008. Ed Pilkington reminds me how important journalists are in geting out the information that we need to know and not what corporations dictate. Lets hope that after the technology shake out that they bounce back in a different medium.

Please check out his article on a week in the U.S. economy that we wish had not happened. The only difference between this soup kitchen picture and the line today is that women and children have joined it. I guess this is what happens when the foxes watch the chickens. It is sad that "Brother can you spare a dime" is as true today as it was in the 1930s.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Parrot Snatched from the Tarmac

A Story about an African Parrot

The New York Times “books of the year” includes a book called Alex and Me by Irene Pepperberg. In the first few pages you will realize how much Ms. Pepperberg and the African Grey had bonded. It is a very interesting book and one that I would recommend any bird/animal lover will want to read. But this story is not about Alex but about another African Grey.

Back in the early 1970s, during Idi Amin’s campaign against Asians in Uganda, households and their animals fled to whereever they could for safety. Pilots from the East African Airways would fly in and literally grab whatever was on the runway and take off without ever turning their engines off. One day an African Grey was rescued from the tarmac and made it to London at the beginning of the winter season. Since no one would take him in I did even though I was scared of parrot like birds.

To make a long story short, he was not happy, his feathers began to molt and he looked very sad and never said a word. I tried leaving music on for him to no avail. Then I tried leaving the heat and the music on and still no luck Then I went to Harrods department store who are suppose to know everything about everything and I came back with guaranteed parrot food mix; that did not work either. What was I going to do, he was almost bald now. Perhaps he needed to fly a bit! So I let him out of the cage without any thought of how I would get him back in again. That was a disaster. I tried throwing (from a distance) a large sheet over him so I could than capture him! I guess that God gave birds’ wings so they can evade such primitive efforts of capture. Each time the sheet landed on him he flew from underneath the sheet and squawked and squawked. I think he had a grand old time. I went to bed exhausted. The bird was free and he celebrated by pooping everywhere.

Four weeks later the owners arrived in the UK. They were conservative Hindus. They gratefully took back their parrot and immediately fed him green chilies; this is what the bird was missing and definitely not on the Harrods menu of bird feed. But then, much to my astonishment and shame the bird began to talk. He spoke every bad thing I had said about it along with all the swear words I spoke in frustration because he would not eat.

How you Can do to Help:
Never get an animal that you keep in a manner they need to live a comfortable life.

Sponsor a parrot at Best Friends Parrot Garden