Archive for August, 2007

Refusing to be Enemies

Friday, August 31st, 2007

See Refusing to be Enemies: the Zeitouna Story
at the Michigan Theater
Monday, September 24 – Wednesday, September 26, 2007
7:15pm every night
Michigan Theater Screening Room (seats 200)
Box office opens 6:15pm (no advance tickets)
All Michigan Theater prices apply
Laurie White and her Zeitouna sisters will be present at the Wednesday screening.

I came to know Laurie when we were both on the People’s Food Co-op Board of Directors years ago. I have appreciated getting to know some of the Zeituna members through her, who I had not already met before.
This is an important movie, and Laurie deserves out support for making it. Please spread the word.

The movie profiles the twelve women of an Ann Arbor dialogue group called Zeitouna (“olive tree” in Arabic) and documents their developing relationship over a four-year period. Six of the Zeitouna women are of Arab descent and six are of Jewish descent. Some are native born and some are immigrants. What they all have in common is their humanity and their desire to bridge the gulf that has developed between their two communities. They chose the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the focus of the group and use the dialogue process as a means of personal transformation leading to socio-political transformation.

It is out in print now

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

A combination of The Ann Arbor News and The People’s Food Co-op Newsletter has put the boycot issue on paper, in the public awareness, and with statements from many perspectives.

I certainly never imagined I would be concerned and involved with this issue in this way.

The voting begins Saturday, and I hope that the ability to take action will help diffuse the conflicts and confrontations that have taken place and that seem to accompany the issue of how to achieve peace in the Middle East.

The Ann Arbor News article refers to nastiness, without being specific. I think this is most unfortunate, as I have been very specific in what I have been critical of. This article ran in the Co-op newsletter. Perhaps I should have taken an even stronger stand, but this is what seemed right to me.

UPDATE Thursday afternoon: The print version of the Ann Arbor News article leaves out much of the details of the conflict, including being asked to leave our meeting place because of verbal abuse, and the vague “nastiness” refered to in the on line version which I felt was deserving of more full coverage, and why I wrote the article that follows. I think this is unfortunate. It waters down the issue and the consequences, and makes the valid concerns of the members (which have at times even included the group who brought the boycott referendum to the Co-op) seem less significant.

The call for a boycott of Israeli goods has many beginnings, just as the conflict in the Middle East has an infinite number of facets and history interwoven over thousands of years. The immediate story for the Co-op is still fresh. At the beginning of this year the Co-op board of directors was approached by a local group asking that the co-op boycott Israeli products. The board declined to take on the question.
Similar to most Co-ops around the world, we have provisions in our by-laws to ensure that member owners can bring initiatives forward and have a means to be heard. The Boycott Israel Group (BIG) used that mechanism to have the question brought before the membership.
It has then fallen to the Board of Directors to manage the referendum vote. Once the petitions were validated, the board worked on setting guidelines for the off-cycle voting (the decision was made to vote in September rather than waiting until our normal elections in March). There were many unexpected complexities and nuances to this vote that this board didn’t expect. The process has been far from perfect. The volatility of the issue combined with 5 of the 7 board members being new in May, a process begun by one set of directors and then taken over by another, the lack of guiding policy, a by-law that the board had to interpret rather than providing straight forward guidance and the board being busy people who are giving volunteer time to the co-op have all contributed to what could be called a bumpy road. Even as we go to press, there are unexpected legal questions resulting in the board deciding to seek further legal counsel.
The ramifications of the boycott proposal have been many. It has been over 25 years since board meetings have been so well attended. But we have also heard from hundreds of members voicing concerns as well as questions about the proposed referendum We have had a great chance to connect and learn form our membership, yet it has most often been from members who are unhappy.
The boycott question has also brought conflict to our front door and to the board meetings, although the staff have both worked hard to help shoppers understand the process as well as help with situations that have been informational at times, and confrontational at others.

In the process of debate and information sharing, swastikas have come to front doors of the co-op as well. The flyers and placards that include this inflammatory symbol have been decried by Members of the Boycott Israel Goods group, which coordinated the petition drive, as well as many other in the co-op community. Reverend Neimoller is famous for his words .. “but I didn’t speak up..” and the consequences of silence. For this short narrative it would be wrong to try and ignore this most negative consequence of a free debate.
So we must speak up to say that there is an ugly facet that has been introduced to this debate and democratic process. Yet it is the same motivation, to speak up, that has driven a group of co-op members to take the action to boycott Isreali goods.
What you have to now determine is if this is the form, the place, and the indeed the best approach for the People’s Food Co-op to be a part of bringing peace to the Middle East. The Board of Directors has placed that trust in the members to decide.

Multi Level Sales Marketing

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

I get asked all the time to become part of someone’s “downline” and sell a multi level marketing product. Because I teach and see clients, I suppose I’m seen as a nice target for these things.

Most recently, I was asked to be “evaluate” this product. Apparently the sales training suggests they contact all their friends in the alternative or conventional health system and ask for their evaluation, and then talk about the possible financial rewards and oh yeah, health benefits for you clients….

I am purposely not using the links supplied, but here is my most recent response to a request to get involved:

Thanks for the links to the Goyin site.

It isn’t a product that I would support or encourage. Here are a few reasons why.

First, I have trouble with multi level marketing. In most cases, the emphasis is on training sales people who provide health advice and then practice the unethical art of pushing one product for health which they have a direct financial benefit from. We wouldn’t put up with that form a medical doctor, how is it any different from an alternative health practitioner?

I also don’t support the patenting of traditional herbal formulas. As a Folkloric herbalist, our work depends on the open and free exchange of information and ideas. That someone would come in from outside that tradition, learn a bit about the work, then claim it for their own (which is what a patent is) denying both the collective ownership of the ideas as well as actively acting against those same traditional healers if they ever again use the formula, is frankly offensive. This product advertises heavily that it is traditional, without appearing to understand the responsibility and openness that implies.

I also don’t like using formulas that contain many ingredients, I find it is best to use a custom approach. They talk about the balanced and cooperative combinations but in truth that is also an individual thing, so find that claim unfounded. One size fits all doesn’t apply to herbal medicine.

The ingredients seem OK but some of the herbs I wouldn’t suggest using day in and day out.
Again, with the multi level marketing this is the only alternative offered. What about preparing your own fresh juice?

As I said on the phone, I also prefer local products and local ingredients as much as possible – for the sake of global warming, for the local suport, because I think there is a relaitonship with what is around us that is important. Also, the contamination isssues from China are strongly on our minds. They talk of testing — but what kind? While they get NSF certification or Consumer Labs? I certainly don’t trust the Chinese market for policing themselves and product testing.

So that is a quick overview of my concerns, and reasons why I think the product is overall a bad idea.
You asked, I let you know.

But good luck with whatever you choose!

I have one published article also addressing this issue. It is called “Selling your clients”. It is pretty old now and needs revising, but the concepts are the same.

retro TV

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

I’m not sure if I can do this – but I liked this clip a lot so I thought I’d try and share it.
Turns out it works. So let me explain — this is a compilation of a bunch of TV station identifications from the 70s and 80s. Nostalgia. No other reason than to trigger a few memories and associations.

Am I Neurotypical?

Monday, August 27th, 2007

I just finished reading “Asperger Syndrome in the Family: Redefining Normal” by Liane Holliday Willey.
I’ve recently learned that significant family members most likely have high functioning Aspergers syndrome. Suddenly my life history has changed with this new perspective.

And the obvious question for some of us is – what about me? Liane defines non-aspergers as Neurotypical (NT). A phrase I’ve heard in other books on autism (which I’ve ben devouring for almost 15 years – without every recognizing the pattern in my own life). Sometimes truth is too close to know.

I’ve always had significant empathic abilities, so that immediately rules out any form of autism for me. I am considering that overdevelopment of that function may be something that occurs with NTs who grow up parented by Asperger parents. I suppose it is one of the things I’ll learn as this exploration continues.

In previous posts I’ve talked about labels and differing perceptions. I suppose that having family members who have atypical brain chemistry is part of my attraction/interest/awareness of the issue. So as I was reading the book I made a list of some of the atypical ways my brain functions.

Am I neurotypical? I suppose, with some odd twists and turns. I’d like to discover which may be by products of environment (compensating for atypical family members) which are random defects, which may be a differing form of brain malfunctioning which could be linked to the genetic component of having this disorder in the family, even if I apparently skipped the actual full blown syndrome.

Honestly writing it down, exposing the ideas, beginning the communication about it all I hope will help.

Here is my list.

The most perplexing thing that comes to mind right away is my difficulty with face recognition and connecting faces and names. I am much more impaired than most people I know, and it is compounded by meeting a lot of people every week. But even with people I know I have trouble describing faces, and it is rare that I see “family resemblance” that people talk about.

I have keen awareness of rules and order – relying on them, but also deliberatly choosing when and where to go against them but only if they seem wrong. I wouldn’t break a good rule, and I’ll fight to change rules that seem wrong. I’ve enjoyed reading Robert’s Rules of Order cover to cover a couple of times. I can read policy manuals just for fun.

As a child, I was always aware of the consequences of actions, before what is developmentally normal. I was the nerd in the group who would point out the dangers and risks of what we were about to do. I wasn’t popular. I always knew how my parents and other authorities would respond to something, and it influenced my behavior. Even in first and second grade I was seriously responsible.

It wasn’t until 7th grade, when we moved back to Ann Arbor, that I relalized I could choose friends. In Ithaca it was who was there. And they were mean and cruel to me often. It was a revelation to come to Ann Arbor and find some people I liked and who liked me and to then hang out.

I have synesthesia – I feel what I see, and see what I feel. As if they are combined and crossed. An unusual disorder, but a bit more common than you’d think.

Simple neurotic stuff – I over prepare for trips and new experiences, I dislike certain fabrics, can’t tolerate anything on my neck, don’t like socks and shoes, and am uncomfortable sitting on a bed in street clothes unless there is a blanket or cover on it. I watch people on TV climb in between the sheets with their clothes on and feel creeped out.

I’ve always had a hard time figuring out what to wear and what goes with what. I choose clothes for comfort and often forget to match things.

I am mostly lost with art and dance with occasional breakthroughs. I’ve been to dance performances and I felt I was the only one in the audience who had no idea what was happening or why.

I have always had greater than normal empathy and strangers tend to easily tell me their stories and personal experiences.

I find it nearly impossible to write legibly, and when I have to the process is almost painful.

In tests I’ve ended up well above the 95th percentiles for spatial understanding and IQ, leading one career test to conclude I should be a naval officer. Or lawyer.

I take “how are you” very literally every single time. I tend not to respond, and if I ask it I actually would like to hear a true answer. But I cringe a little every time someone asks it as a throwaway question. I would think that after a few thousand times I wouldn’t still have that response.

Am I neurotypical? I think so. But things like facial recognition and synesthesia also mean that there is some atypical stuff going on as well. Maybe there are links with the other stuff, but from talking to so many people about their oddities and foibles I actually otherwise think I could use the phrase “near normal” at least as far as spectrum disorders are concerned.

Now what?
More reading, more talking with family members, more writing about reframing early childhood experiences, and it turns out a bit of grief work around the loss of emotional connections and support. It is a fascinating process. The last few weeks I’ve been caught up in the new insights this provides, today I mostly feel the grief.

The book I mentioned at the top gives a very positive view of Aspergers, the author has that syndrome herself. I agree. The world is a far better place with the mix of syndromes and disorders all having their unique strengths and weaknesses strangly linked.

But all the better when we are aware, able to balance, and to have the conversation about what it can mean.

SE Michigan storm

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Apparently the damage is very severe, with a tornado touching down in Fenton, just north of here.

I had finally made it out to the lake, about 4:45 PM and saw the storm clouds rolling in with very distant thunder. But it had been a week since I was able to swim, so I felt pretty desperate. I didn’t even unload the truck but put on my suit and quickly paddled out. The sky was blue and calm in the east, the west was dark and grey with fast moving clouds. I swam in circles around my swim platform so I could get out of the water quickly. I normally swim down the lake, but that would take time to get back.
The thunder was far away, but almost continuous.
I was able to swim hard and fast for about 15 minutes, and the clouds seemed to be clearing but I saw a very far distant flicker of lightening so I went for shore and was out of the water within a minute. I sat out on the moored pontoon boat for about 5 minutes, hoping it wold just pass and I could go back in, and then the rain started, gently.

Zomba and I made it to the cabin and I took a quick shower. I was just about to go out to the gazebo to watch the storm when the rain suddenly became sheets, the lightening was all around me, the lights were flickering and dimming, and the wind was whipping the water in through the open windows. I had a slight moment of fear and then just perched in the window to enjoy it. The trees were certainly whipping around, and there are two dead trees slong the drive, but they all held. The willow tree is phenomenal as the long wilow tips are whipped up and down and dipped into the water and out. The whole tree just breathes with the wind and it is a magnificent sight.

The lily pads were dipping into the water with the amount of rain that hit them. It was like a continuous green wave on top of the water as the rain fell and the wind took it.

Thankfully Zomba is a dog who enjoys storms, or will at least put up with me getting excited.

Of course if it had been more serious there is no basement, there is no protection. It is just a small log cabin on a crawl sapce. I am in a high spot water wise, but there isn’t any safe place to be if things got really wild.
The rain let up, and Zomba and I came home. It seemed likely that the power would fail, I didn’t see much reason to stick around if I lost power and water and everything else.
I’ve been watching the news for the last few hours, the local stations preempted all the programming to cover the damage north of here.

It seems very surreal. I had a storm to enjoy, rather than fear. My thoughts are with the people who had a direct rather than a close call. The photos and reports tomorrow when it is light again should be startling. So far it seems that with all the propert damage no one has been hurt at all. Amazing.

back to school

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Today it begins. I have a staff meeting most of the day for the Rudolf Steiner High School. I won’t be teaching until the winter, but I try and stay connected to the school throughout the year. It will be easier this year since the bees are next to the campus.

In stead of focusing on health in Winter, I’ll start after Labor Day at Community High with the class on political organizing. That’s once a week. The herb classes continue in Sept twice a month, then in October I teach special unites for the UM Pharmacy School and Medical School in herbs with emphasis on herbal preperations (hands on).

I’m also excited for the infant massage classes that will start in October. October will be a busy month! It will also be time to extract honey – or earlier – whihc I hope will involved some of the Steiner students if possible.

I love the chance to teach, I’m just a little concerned about the balance of seeing clients, writing, teaching, and the volunteer work at hospice and the co-op. And having a life. But mostly I’m excited and looking forward to being inspired and sparked today by being at the school again.

Birth Politics

Friday, August 24th, 2007

The maternal mortality rate in Afghanistan is reported at 1,900 per 100,000 according to this recent article. The US rate is 8 per 100,000 births.

From the article:

Infants whose mothers die in childbirth have only a one in four chance of surviving, so the high maternal death rate threatens women and children alike.

Most of these deaths are preventable, the product of unsanitary conditions, poorly maintained roads, limited access to health care, forced marriages, lack of education, poor nutrition and sanitation, and a fundamentalist religious regime that, even in the post-Taliban era, prohibits women from seeing a male doctor or health care practitioner and limits them largely to the home.

I am a vocal critic of many of the protocals and procedures here in one of the best medical facilities in the world, as well as appreciating the massive positive changes I’ve witnessed over 26 years of attending births. It is easy to forget what is still common practice in so many other places in the world. Beginning with poor access to birth control, compounded by lack of choice in sexual partners, and then nutritional and medical barriers that expose women and children to health risks that could be prevented.

The good and bad news from this part of the world:

One glimmer of hope can be found in recent efforts to train hundreds of Afghan midwives. The presence of a midwife has been proven to reduce maternal mortality rates substantially — one reason the World Health Organization has prioritized international midwife training in its goal of reducing maternal deaths by 75 percent worldwide in the next eight years as part of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. Afghanistan has a long way to go; by some estimates, only 14 percent of Afghan births are attended by a skilled professional.

Training midwives and birth asistants is cost effective, empowering for women, and bottom line it saves lives. This administration is responsible for many of the deaths world wide – by withholding funding for birth control, ignoring information on what programs work, and trying to impose a personal certain morality ignoring true medical needs and cultural realities.

Reproductive choice, throughout life and all the stages of life, remains a primary concern for women worldwide and without that freedom we’re condemning women to lives with too much death, poverty, exploitation, ongoing medical problems, and lives without potential. And so much more. It is a key pivitol issue.

Supporting and training midwives is a huge intervention that can really help to change the world. One woman and one new baby at a time.

Talking about gender

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

I ran across a provocative and challenging article this AM regarding gender differences. The text of am address to the American Medical Association has been published on line, with the title “Is There Anything Good About Men?

I’m not going to agree with all of it, and it is a culturally biased report that makes sweeping generalizations, yet I really appreciate the sideways thinking, the different interpretations, and the basic premise which I captured in this small quote from the speech by Roy F. Baumeister:

Men on Top

When I say I am researching how culture exploits men, the first reaction is usually “How can you say culture exploits men, when men are in charge of everything?” This is a fair objection and needs to be taken seriously. It invokes the feminist critique of society. This critique started when some women systematically looked up at the top of society and saw men everywhere: most world rulers, presidents, prime ministers, most members of Congress and parliaments, most CEOs of major corporations, and so forth — these are mostly men.

Seeing all this, the feminists thought, wow, men dominate everything, so society is set up to favor men. It must be great to be a man.

The mistake in that way of thinking is to look only at the top. If one were to look downward to the bottom of society instead, one finds mostly men there too. Who’s in prison, all over the world, as criminals or political prisoners? The population on Death Row has never approached 51% female. Who’s homeless? Again, mostly men. Whom does society use for bad or dangerous jobs? US Department of Labor statistics report that 93% of the people killed on the job are men. Likewise, who gets killed in battle? Even in today’s American army, which has made much of integrating the sexes and putting women into combat, the risks aren’t equal. This year we passed the milestone of 3,000 deaths in Iraq, and of those, 2,938 were men, 62 were women.

That’s an important first clue to how culture uses men. Culture has plenty of tradeoffs, in which it needs people to do dangerous or risky things, and so it offers big rewards to motivate people to take those risks. Most cultures have tended to use men for these high-risk, high-payoff slots much more than women. I shall propose there are important pragmatic reasons for this. The result is that some men reap big rewards while others have their lives ruined or even cut short. Most cultures shield their women from the risk and therefore also don’t give them the big rewards. I’m not saying this is what cultures ought to do, morally, but cultures aren’t moral beings. They do what they do for pragmatic reasons driven by competition against other systems and other groups.

I have long wondered what men would be like in a society that doesn’t seek to damage them and deny those most special aspects of manhood. I think growing up a male in American culture is pretty cruel, and as is pointed out here so many do not survive intact let alone well nourished and actualized.

It is a piece worth reading, considering, and important for a feminist to contemplate. Our damaging sex roles happen within a context, and no one can claim exclusive rights to the damage done by those roles. I think he is right on with suggesting that conspiracy theories are simplistic, men would have to be supremely masochistic to perpetrate such a system that has devastating costs to the majority of their brothers.

Why is it important to continually re-examine the issue? Because we are paying such a high price, men and women, and our unconscious support of the system that has evolved will only continue it. We need to do better.

The Press and PFC

Monday, August 20th, 2007

I did my first press interview this afternoon concerning the upcoming referendum to boycot Israeli products. Very simple 5 second sound bite stuff — just a quick this is happening piece so speak clearly, don’t say “umm” to much and all is well.

My talking points are to speak well of the co-op and democracy, explain what a memebr driven initiative is, and let people know that this is not without controversy. If we can get even a moment in about how Co-ops are different then that is great.

What is also interesting is that WAAM radio has scooped the Ann Arbor News on this issue, which the news director semed happy about.

I’m sure there will be more to come. There is a lot of misinformation out on the web about this local referendum, so the simple clear message will hopefully help clear up some of the errors, however a fair and accurate presentation of the issues is not something we can look forward to…