Monday, April 25, 2005

Know When to Fold 'em

So the Mayor of San Diego announced that he’s stepping down, this after a three-way triumph last November. I don’t know much about Mayor Murphy or his politics, though he was recently labeled one of the worst urban mayors in the country by Time. I will say, however, that I give TOTAL props to someone has the integrity to walk away. I’m not talking about running off with one’s tail tucked in between the legs, nor do I advocate quitting in the middle of the game when things aren’t going one’s way. But in his own words, "When I ran for re-election, I had hoped that my second term would be as productive as the first time. But now that seems unlikely. It's clear to me the city needs a fresh start." The City Attorney, who has openly criticized Murphy, publicly stated that "in making the hard choice of resignation, Mayor Dick Murphy has shown an admirable determination to do what is right and also shown a level of courage to which all in public life should aspire." I agree wholeheartedly, not just for elected officials but for bad supervisors, ill-suited lovers, and Ben Affleck. Just stop making movies already, okay?

Speaking of movie stars, I spent the evening listening to Jane Fonda, who is on a speaking tour in promotion of her new autobiography, My Life So Far. I didn’t know she had written a book that’s been the number one seller in the country for the past two weeks, nor did I know she's out promoting it. Even if I had known, I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to see her, if it hadn’t been for a coworker and friend who issued a last minute invite to me. Of course, I ended up being terribly glad that I went, both for the company and the speaker.

The event was well-attended, perhaps in part by those hoping to see another tobacco spitting incident, though her detractors did not have a strong presence. The vast majority were Fonda's willing parishioners. I did see a lone guy outside A Clean and Well Lighted Place for Books (stupid name, I know, and always-rude and overbearing clerks, but hey, they bring in some interesting folks) who was bearing a sign blaming Fonda for everything under the sun, from the hole in the ozone layer to the propensity of milk to rot when left out. Well, I’m being facetious, but honestly his sign was so laden with text that I couldn’t bear the idea of standing there and reading it all. A few words jumped out at me—genocide, Cambodia … I dunno. It just seemed like a lot to place on the shoulders of someone, specifically a woman,whose main crime in life seems to have been a willingness to speak her mind at a time of social upheaval. The way she put it is that “we’re not supposed to be perfect. We’re supposed to be complete. I realized good enough is good enough.” She was talking about her ill-fated relationships with the men in her life, but I felt it was a comment that one could easily take to heart in regards to a lot of things.

What I liked most about Fonda is that she seemed extremely open, in a way that’s rare. Sure she’s an accomplished activist-actress, but she’s also 67 years old, which is hard for me to believe. She looked fantastic in her moss green jacket and green tinted sunglasses. Whatever skeletons she’s got left in her closet would probably crumble into powdery crumbs if exposed to anything as tepid as a sneeze.

Fonda spoke very briefly yet warmly to those of us gathered—well over 100 crammed in that clean and well-lit place—and then went straight to questions, which ranged from queries about her personal life to her political activities, and one or two on acting. Sadly no one mentioned her workout videos, and I didn’t have the chutzpah. I was too busy trying to remember how to use the camera/camcorder function on my cell phone. When I finally had the money shot in the frame, a giddy acolyte put her big fat head in the way. You win some, you lose some.

In what I deem a rare experience, the audience posed a nice array of interesting questions. For example, one person asked, why Fonda ended up with men so different from herself, to which she cheekily replied, “I made the same mistake twice,” which brought lots of hearty chuckles. She also said, “I betrayed my body, heart, and soul so that I wouldn’t be left by my husbands, but when I finally did show up, I was left by them.” She didn’t say it in a "poor me" way but more from her self-described “liberal, feminist, progressive, Christian” self.

I didn’t know that Fonda converted to Christianity, which brought a question from the audience about how and why she had done so. Tongue-in-cheek she said, “It happened in baby steps. I think the fact that Ted Turner took me to Georgia….” After the laughter died down she added, “No really. People aren’t stoned in Georgia.” But then she revealed that after “I became a Christian, I thought I’d made a mistake. I hadn’t left a patriarchal marriage to be in patriarchal religion. [Then] I learned it’s quite congruous to be a feminist and a Christian.” She mentioned other well known Christians, including Andrew Young, Jimmy Carter, and Rosalyn Carter, noting, “They aren’t dummies.”

Fonda also spoke about her relationship with her father and children. Of the latter she said the thing she’s most grateful for in life, is that her kids turned out alright. One interesting anecdote was spurred when an audience member asked her to tell the “potty training story.” It was the only moment in which Fonda was slightly taken aback; she asked how he knew about that, and the man said, “Tom Hayden told me.” She had the clearest expression of “Oh” on her face that I’ve ever seen, and it was a wonderful moment. Then she cheerfully related the story that when she and her then-husband Tom Hayden were traveling through S.E. Asia, their son Troy “was potty-trained by communists, and I thought that was pretty cool, but then revisionism set in, and by the time I got home, [the training] was all gone.”

Someone asked if Fonda had any ideas about how her father could be such a sensitive actor but seemed to lack the same sensitivity as a father. Fonda reminded the audience that “generations of fathers couldn’t deal with emotions, and they didn’t have Prozac back then,” a comment that brought laughter and nodding heads. She related the fact that her dad could hold 45-minute discussions with complete strangers but never once in her life spoke to her for that long. Then she asked how many people have had the same experiences with their fathers. More hands went up then were left down. Then she said the greatest lesson she’d learned is that “you have to understand why they are that way, and you realize it has nothing to do with you, and then you can forgive them and move on.”

Asked what women she considers role models, Fonda said too many to mention but off the top of her head she ID’d, Karen Nussbum, Eve Ensler, and Pat Mitchell as friends whom she admires greatly. A wishful thinker asked what it would take to get Fonda to run for office. After the many catcalls, whistles, and hand claps that followed, she offered, “I wish more women would run for office because we are different, and the issues affect us differently … but it won’t be me.” Then, before we knew it, the spectacle was half over.

The other half was signaled by jostling lines that formed for the book signing. I left Mary there to fend for herself, and headed on home with the intention to read the book in the near future. I know my mom would have, so I’ll read it for both of us. Five years in the making, if it’s as candid and forthcoming as she was in person, the book will be a great read about a remarkable woman of our times.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Government's Pyramid Scheme

Didn't they just go and change up the food pyramid. I'm sorry, but it's the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen. And I love this quote from an Associated Press article:

"[The old pyramid] become quite familiar, but few Americans follow the recommendations," Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Tuesday as he unveiled the new pyramid.

The new one encourages people to figure out their calorie and exercise needs using a new government Web site There people can find 12 different models based on daily calorie needs—from ... sedentary toddlers to ... teenage boys."
This is completely absurd. If people er I mean Americans are familiar with but don't follow the recommendations of the simply and easy to follow "old pyramid," what in the hell makes the government think that people, especially Americans, will muddle their way through 12 different models. I sure as hell won't, and I'm not even a sedentary, toddling teenage boy.

Later in the same article, a graphic design expert is quoted as saying that "the new pyramid doesn't provide much information and instead assumes people will do a lot of research. 'They've thrown away the useful part of the pyramid—less at the top, more at the bottom. I think words and pictures together are very powerful. But just by itself, this isn't a substitute for what we had before.' [He] called the stair-climbing figure an 'inelegant' attempt to encourage exercise. 'If you remember the pyramid at all, and you remember oil was at the top, you now have somebody marching steadfastly up towards the oils,' he said." I'm sorry but that's hilarious.

But not nearly as funny as this: "To help promote the new emphasis on exercise, Johanns invited fitness expert Denise Austin to be a cheerleader for the recommended 30 minutes of daily physical activity. Austin, a member of the president's Physical Fitness and Sports Council, goaded reporters like an exercise class instructor: 'The more you move, the more you lose!' She gave an impromptu demonstration, gripping the arms of her chair like parallel bars and lifting her legs to work her abdominal muscles." Have you ever seen Denise Austin in action? She is unintentionally hilarious, and I can only imagine the moves she put on during the press conference. What a joke.

By the way, do you remember those Presidential Fitness Challenges of yore? They'd make kids, even the asthmatic ones, run a timed mile with absolutely no training and do silly things like walk a balance beam. I think fitness goals are great at any age, but the approach, like the aforementioned pyramid scheme (pun intended), was all wrong. Interestingly, there's a President's Fitness Challenge for adults, too. Medals are the lure—bronze, silver and gold. It's weird if you ask me but just weird enough that I might go for it. I know I would feel absolutely ridiculous walking around with a Presidential Fitness Gold medal 'round my neck—ridiculous enough that it might be fun to turn myself into a "Presidential Champion." Maybe I can even earn the super neeto patch!

* * *

Meanwhile last week I said, three things get me through the day: nutritients, exercise, and tunes. I think I've pretty much covered the food, though I didn't mention my occasional need for donuts or candy or some other kind of sweets. Nor did I mention that we have wine every Friday at work, and that as much as I abhor Chardonay, I've succumb more than once. But it's time to move on because we've got a new pope and other things are going on in the world about which I have an opinion or two, but I feel equally compelled to finish out this work thing, especially because there is a law of diminishing returns that will eventually come into play, i.e. a day whereby no matter how good the food, or how far I run, or how many songs I have in my playlist, I'm still hoping to win the lottery, and I will by golly by gum.

Alright so I found long ago that the more active I am, the more energy I have. That exercise = energy is well documented, but it's easy to forget the extent to which it's true. Sure you might end up feeling tired that particular day, but once you get in a regular groove, you'll find that your energy lags more when you miss a few days.

I am fortunate in that I enjoy working out. If you can't find something you enjoy doing that gets your blood flowing, then working out sucks. There's nothing more painful than spending 20 to 90 minutes doing something that you can't stand. For instance, I hate swimming. There's nothing about it that I like. I loathe the smell of chlorine. I get the heeby jeebies from stray hairs and debris that I know I'm gonna end up drinking. And I can't stand drowning. In the Bay Area, there are plenty of non-pool options, complete with non-pool deterrents like ice cold temperatures and salt water that stings worse then chlorine when you swallow the water just before you drown. Nope, no water sports for me, and I mean that in all the connotations.

Now me, I learned belatedly in this life that I like running. Go figure. When I was in my teens and twenties, you couldn't have gotten me to run, even by offering me a steak and a slab of cake at the finish line. Then lord knows what got into me, but I started running about two years ago and behold, I love it. I'm a natural runner; I'm fast, and I can go the distance. BUT, I've got totally flat feet, and since everything's connected, I've had problems from the foot on up to the knee with both legs. I had to have six-weeks of physical therapy last year, where it was highly suggested I try something easier on the body—like swimming. My compromise was to take a couple months off and then to resume on a greatly reduced schedule. So I went from running three to four times per week to twice a week or doing the math, I've gone from about 20-25 miles per week to about five, which blows but hey, at least I can do it at all.

Ideally, I'd like to get four cardio sessions in per week, but I'm kind of stymied. I usually go bike riding either Saturday or Sunday, so that give me three. Riding is awesome, especially in as scenic a place as San Francisco, but it's not the same. Riding gives me a complete sense of freedom. For example, two weekends ago Soyboy and I went for what was meant to be a leisurely ride, and we ended up in Sausalito. Along the way we rode through Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach, went along the Coastal Trail to China Beach, went through Mountain Lake Park and the Presidio and eventually over the Golden Gate Bridge. The weather was stellar, and it was totally fun. But running is different for me. I don't know why. They say it's the endorphins.

Meanwhile I'm still looking for one more piece to round it all out. The Ron and I bought a soccer ball recently. We kicked it around last in Delores Park Thurday after work, which was a blast, but I hate to rely on either people for stuff like that. I'm not casting aspersions on The Ron, but I like activities that I can do on my own if no other takers are around. I'm thinking about handball as a possibility now, if I can find a court.

But cardio is only one piece of it. Another is flexibility. I do what I call "baby yoga" at least two to three times per week: studios are expensive, so I've armed myself with a DVD or two, and I get my stretch on that way.

As for strength training, which is the third part of the fitness triangle, that's incorporated with the running thanks to the inestimable coaching of SF Outdoor Fitness's Mike, and then I've got a trick or two of my own up my sleeve. (C'mon, I can't give away all my secrets). Suffice it to say, strengthing and conditioning is going on daily.

In addition to feeling healthy and energetic as a colt, I've also found that working out helps keep me on track. I tend to go to bed earlier rather than later because I know I'm gonna get up at 5:30 a.m. on the days I run. I also tend to eat better when I'm in a fitness groove because my body craves nutrient-rich food, and because I know that I perform better when I fill myself with quality fuel.

Which brings up another point: rest. Working out gives creates a body awareness that wouldn't otherwise exist. For example, two weeks ago I was exhausted one evening. Not just sleepy, but physically exhausted. At first I thought it was because I hadn't gotten enough sleep the day before, but I realized it was more than that when I found myself wishing for a bus though I wasn't far from my house. I didn't feel sick or run down; my body was just tired. I decided not to work out the next morning and slept in an extra hour. Doing so, didn't make much of a difference. I was sluggish all day and couldn't wait to get home to my bed. Then I thought about what I'd been eating, what sort of workouts I'd had earlier in the week, and I decided I was low on protein. After work, I ate a cheeseburger, something I rarely do. Saturday I dragged myself on a long walk and then had two filet mignons in the afternoon. Sunday I went to Osento, a local women's bathhouse, and treated myself to an hour and a half of hot tub and sauna, which I try to do every few weeks. Then I ate a smoked trout salad because unlike the previous days, I craved salad. Monday, the exhaustion I'd felt began to drain away. Today I felt 100 percent raring to go. When I hit the pavement the next day, I knew I'd feel stronger than before my little burnout, and I did.

I don't eat red meat often, but there are times when it makes a difference. I often find that when my body is craving something, it's because I need something. Maybe it was the iron, maybe the mad cow's, who knows. I was also craving pampering. I try to do the spa (steam and soak) about every three weeks or so and a deep tissue massage about once a month. I've also done acupuncture for relaxation. They all work in different ways, but they all work. These methods of healing can be expensive, but I try to budget for them as best I can because they're worth it, especially as we get older and especially when you're really active.

My overriding physical fitness goal isn't prowess; it's about paying attention; when I don't, I suffer. I've done that plenty of times, and I'm sure it will happen again. But overall, I like the grounding feeling that comes from physical exertion. I also find it's a sort of meditation for me. Sometimes I take my mom with me, communing with my ancestors, if you will. Other times, I talk to the universe or just listen to my own internal rhythm. I know many people work out in the afternoon or evening, but I like the way it sets the tone for the rest of the day. Then I can go to work and plug in and still feel like I'm transforming my life.

As for fitness websites, my favorite is Marty Gallagher's Purposely Primitive Fitness, which discusses diet basics, fitness, and exercise along with random philosophical musings (Marty's Stream of Warped Consciousness Blog) from the five-time world master powerlifting champion. The web site might seem intimidating at first, but I got to know his work through his Live Online Washington Post columns. In that forum, he made an art form of addressing every level of fitness questions from every walk of life, not just hardcore bodybuilders. Now he's got his own thing going, and I think it's great. Ask him a question during one of his live chat sessions; just make sure to include a lot of detail. The more you tell him, the better a response he can give.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Tiny Bubbles

"Nothing without water/Water has no enemy”
—"Water No Get Enemy" lyics by
Fela Kuti

Besides tea, my other beverage of choice these days is good old fashioned water—without the gas. Carbonated water tastes like aspirin to me so that would leave plain old tap as the source, but I live in San Francisco. No matter what they say about the Hetch Hetchy water system, filtered by Yosemite—I ain’t doin’ it straight from the tap. And forget about those Britta water pitchers. I don’t have all day to wait for them to drip drip fill. I’ll take my chances with the already bottled water, though there doesn’t appear to be a consensus on the risk of dixoin (and other carcinogen) contamination attributed to plastic containers.

While scholarly opinions vary, I’m pretty skeptical of the purity of most water, especially for urban dwellers. (I was surprised to see that Detroit’s water is better than San Francisco’s, which is a bit frightening). It’s even been suggested that prescription drugs, such as Prozac are making it into the water supply. Crimeny, we can't even agree on how much water to drink each day let alone what's in it. One thing's for sure, though: easy access to water will one day be the stuff of myth. Water gets more scarce day by day.

You can laugh and take it as a joke if you wanna
But it don't rain for four weeks some summers
And it's about to get real wild in the half
You be buying Evian just to take a fuckin bath...
Used to have minerals and zinc in it (New World Water)
Now they say it got lead and stink in it (New World Water)
Four carbons and monoxide
Push the water table lopside
Used to be free now it cost you a fee
…The rich and poor, black and white got need for it (That's right)
And everybody in the world can agree with this (Let em know)…
Go too long without it on this earth and you leavin it (Shout it out)
Americans wastin it on some leisure shit (Say word?)
And other nations be desperately seekin it (Let em know)
Bacteria washing up on they beaches (Say word?)
Don't drink the water, son they can't wash they feet with it (Let em know)…
Epidemics hopppin up off the petri dish (Let em know)
Control centers try to play it all secretive (Say word?)
To avoid public panic and freakiness (Let em know)
There are places where TB is common as TV
'Cause foreign-based companies go and get greedy
The type of cats who pollute the whole shore line
Have it purified, sell it for a dollar twenty-five
Now the world is drinkin it...
The cash registers is goin to chink for it
—"New World Water" lyrics by Mos Def

The professional prognosticators tell us that once we realize that it's more valuable than oil, water will be the next commodity we fight over. We’ve configured our world so that we can’t live in the way we’re accustomed without oil, but we literally cannot live without water. Global discussions of the issue revolve around degrees of water crisis:

"Water shortage" is used to describe an absolute shortage, where levels of available water do not meet certain defined minimum requirements. The actual quantity that determines a per capita minimum may differ from place to place.

"Water scarcity" is a more relative concept describing the relationship between demand for water and its availability. The demands may vary considerably between different countries and different regions within a given country depending on the sectoral usage of water. A country with a high industrial demand or which depends on large scale irrigation will therefore be more likely to experience times of scarcity than a country with similar climatic conditions without such demands. Countries such as Rwanda, for example, would be classified by most standards as suffering water shortage but, because of low industrial and irrigation utilisation, would not be classified as water scarce.

"Water stress" is the symptomatic consequence of scarcity which may manifest itself as increasing conflict over sectoral usage, a decline in service levels, crop failure, food insecurity, etc. This term is analogous to the common use of the term "drought."

"Water security" is a situation of reliable and secure access to water over time. It does not equate to constant quantity of supply as much as predictability, which enables measures to be taken in times of scarcity to avoid stress.
The end result of each of these is dire, and the potential for destruction is widespread. According to an article originally published in a 1991 issue of Foreign Policy water has been on the radar for nearly two decades:

As early as the mid-1980s, U.S. government intelligence services estimated that there were at least 10 places in the world where war could break out over dwindling shared water—the majority in the Middle East. Jordan, Israel, Cyprus, Malta, and the countries of the Arabian Peninsula are sliding into the perilous zone where all available fresh surface and groundwater supplies will be fully utilized.

Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia face similar prospects in 10 to 20 years. Morocco has made serious efforts in the water and sanitation sectors. Still, that country faces the prospect of a declining water supply beyond the year 2000, when its population is projected to grow to 31 million.

Algeria, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Tunisia, and Yemen are already facing a "water barrier" requiring accelerated efforts, investments, regulations, and controls just to keep apace of spiraling populations. Middle Eastern and North African countries combined will absorb 80 million people by the close of the 1990s, pitting the Davidian capacity of existing water and sanitation services against the Goliath of demand."
According to other data, one can expect to add Qatar, Libya, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Zimbabwe, Barbados, United Arab Emirates, Tanzania, Singapore, Peru, Bahrain, Comoros, Kuwait, South Africa, Cape Verde, Syria, Kenya, Iran, Burundi, Ethiopia, Haiti, Rwanda, Malawi, and Somalia to the list of countries that will likely experience deep difficulties by 2025, if not already. And of course the problem isn't just out there—it’s here at home as well. Anyone who lives in the southwestern United States, including Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, or some of the plains states can tell you that the price of gas will one day be the least of your problems. Tiny bubbles. Chin chin.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Mighty Tea

In the south of South America, somewhere between the River of the Painted Birds and the largest tropical wetlands in the world, ie. the Uruguay and Paraguay rivers respectively, the Guarani (pronounced “war-an-i”) were greeted by Pa’ i Shume. Among other things, the god revealed to the tribe the secret of the medicinal Yerba Mate (pronounced “ma-tay”) tree. In Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, the bitter-sweet-grassy tasting tea brewed from the leaves of the Yerba Mate remains revered for its immunity-boosting, detoxifying, and stimulating effects. The beverage of choice for many, “Mate tea has become almost pathologically ritualized in a manner reminiscent of coffee and tea abuse in Western and Eastern countries.”

The traditional method of making Yerba Mate involves soaking dried, ground tree leaves and stems in a gourd filled with cold water, before steeping them in hot water for a long enough time to extract the health and energy provoking qualities of the subtropical plant. The infusion is then sipped through a wooden or metal straw with a sieve—the entire apparatus of which is called a bombilla—in order to filter out the leafy material. Mate, which can also be served as a cold beverage, is increasingly available in tea bags or powdered form for those of us who eschew tradition, shame on me. That’s about to change, though. In the meantime, I’m currently drinking Guayaki brand because it’s organic and dedicated to free trade. The company started out as a class project for enterprising students at California Polytechnic State University and has developed into a nice business model.

For many, "Mate is more than just good for the body; it's good for the soul. Drinking it can be a form of meditation or reflection—allowing the goodness to infuse into the body while stimulating and resting the mind." I drink a few cups every work day.

I also drink other teas and am currently on a white kick, ironic ain't it. Delicate and subtle white tea has the least amount of caffeine of all the non-herbal teas and is high in Vitamin C. Though green tea gets all the hype, white tea actually has more antioxidant properties than its rival. I'm not knocking the grassy flavors of green tea, which was the first to be drank in China (Tang Dynasty 618-907), where many if not most of the finest teas originate. Sweet, black tea (think Lipton, Earl Grey, English Breakfast etc.) is the sort with which most non-connossieurs tend to be familiar. Black tea is, in fact, the most common tea in the world and is also the basis of the beloved chai, but my ultimate favorites are the oolongs and the puh-erhs. If green tea and black tea were to marry and have a baby—or even if they had it out of wedlock, oolong would be the result:

Oolongs provide an eye-opening experience and offer a wide variety of flavors that range from subtle to intense, with each infusion unfolding new and different subtleties. These teas are semi-oxidized and roasted teas with medium levels of caffeine. The vast majority of oolong teas are produced in Fujian province in China, or Taiwan. Chinese oolongs generally tend to have a darker roast and fruitier nature than Taiwanese oolongs, which are generally greener, with a more floral aroma.

As far as I'm concerned though, the mysterious puh-erh is the king and queen of tea.

"Pu-erh tea is the only tea to improve with age. A truly full bodied, robust and yet incredibly smooth taste, pu-erh can be brewed hotter and longer than other teas. From the Yunnan province in China, this tea has been in production since the sixth century BC, traded along the Silk Road. The ageing process takes place in caves, underground, in bamboo stalks, in fruit rinds and many other ways. Pu-erh comes in square cakes, large round patties, compressed balls, or loose leaf. Also known as Pou Nei or Bo Lei in China, this tea is aged from 1 to 100 (or more!) years. Pu-erh has been known to lower cholesterol and triglycerides, cleanse the blood, help digestion, and even alleviate hangovers."
Or get you through a day at the office, though not near quitting time. Drink enough of these fermented tea, and you won't be fit to drive.

Then you've got your herbals or flower teas, my favorites of which include the red South African rooibos (fantastic plain or with sweetened condensed milk if you wanna drink it S. African style), hibiscus, osthmanthus, Samovar's "chill out blend" and the Celestial Seasonings offerings. Bite my tongue, but it's true. Can't be highfalutin' all the time. Plus I've been on the Celestial Seasonings factory tour in Denver twice; that's how cool it is.

For more on the delights of tea, check out the websites for Samovar Tea Lounge and DynasTea, two of my favorite tea providers in San Francisco, the latter thanks to Soyboy. Wisconsin's Rishi Tea also has a nice thing going on.

Monday, April 11, 2005

You Are What You Eat, Whether or Not You Know What You're Eating

Back to the donuts. If I eat enough okra or other it’s-good-for-you fare during the week, I don’t feel too bad about the occasional donut. However, if I’m having the sort of day in which a donut is the only thing that’ll cheer me up, it’s donut city, for which I’ll probably feel guilty later but when in Rome you eat spaghetti, when I’m in the dumps, I eat donuts.

Sometimes the question isn’t where but what. Is okra actually good for you or not? It’s green and repulsively slimy, which is often a dead give away of high nutritional content, but I’ve discovered a more reliable way than guessing (because sometimes green and slimy just means rotting). NutritionData’s Nutrition Facts Calorie Counter is easily my favorite nutrition-oriented web site. I couldn’t care less about the calories, but I’m always wondering what specifically is good (or not so) about what I’m putting in my mouth.

Let’s take barley for example. The other day the woman at Arabi talked me into a pearled barley salad with corn and diced red peppers, spiced with dill. I told her I’m not that into dill, but she sold me with “barley’s great for you.” As she packed it up for me, I wondered—is it? I know it’s a grain. I know grains are good for you, but some are better than others. But wait, aren’t grains starches? Aren’t starches not so good for you? Back at my desk, I plugged into NutritionData—upper right hand corner, enter food name, and hit food search button.

Results. In this case we get “cereal grains and pasta,” “breakfast cereals,” “soups, sauces, and gravies,” and “baby foods.” Under cereal grains and pastas,” we get “barley flour or meal,” “barley malt flour,” “barley, pearled cooked,” “barley, pearled raw,” and “barley.” Clicking on “barley, pearled cooked,” one learns it’s a good food, earning three of five stars: “This food is very low in Saturated Fat, Cholesterol, and Sodium. It is also a good source of Dietary Fiber and Manganese.”

We also get a nice visual with the Nutrition Facts box that we’re used to seeing on packaged foods as well as a “Caloric Ratio Pyramid.” For the super hardcore, there are tables that contain nitty-gritty detailed food composition breakdowns, including nutrients per serving, nutrient density, and protein quality. These breakdowns are way more information than I need; in fact, I admit they are largely nonsensical to me so I skip right over them. Instead, I scroll to the very bottom of the page where resides the other key piece of information I like to know: “Better Choices,” i.e. lists of alternative foods that may be more supportive of your dietary goals, whether you’re trying to lose weight or gain it, which I think is really cool. Each food also gets a nutritional density rating that mirrors the star system used at the top of the page and a fullness factor rating.

The 5-star rating system is based on editorial opinions of NutritionData and is not intended to replace the advice of a nutritionist or healthcare professional. "No food is completely good or bad for you. Optimal nutrition depends on your individualized needs and the combined nutritional benefits of all foods that you consume. Any opinions expressed on the analysis page are based on calculations derived from the Daily Reference Values (DRVs), Reference Daily Intakes (RDIs), and recommendations of the FDA."

This is an extremely dynamic site loaded with useful information that can be used in myriad ways. My curiosity never goes deeper than what I’ve just described, but I’m super impressed with the wealth of information and the different ways in which its accessible. So who’s behind this treasure? Some cute little couple in Arizona: Ron Johnson, a fitness expert, engineer, and inventor, who has consulted for "some of the world’s foremost fitness and nutritional products companies, " and Lori Johnson, a certified personal trainer and weight loss consultant. They use raw data from the USDA's National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference with additonal info from restaurants and food manufacturers. The exact source for each individual food item is listed in the footnotes of that food's analysis page.

My second runner up for food info is The George Mateljan Foundation’s World’s Healthiest Foods. The WHF has a different tack, which is “to show you a healthier way of eating that's enjoyable, affordable, quick and easy to fit [into] your personal needs and lifestyle." You get food tips, menus and recipies, and a mini-essay on the food of the week (this week it’s green peas: “They contain 18 health-promoting nutrients that qualify as excellent, very good or good according to our Quality Rating System.” The recipe always incorporates the food of the week, hence this week we have “lemon flavored fish and sweet peas … a great combination of flavors that takes only 25 minutes to prepare! It also provides 101% of the daily value (DV) for selenium, 85% DV for vitamin B-12 and 85% DV for protein.”

Like NutritionData, there’s a lot going on here, most of which I under utilize. I don't need as much help with selecting, preparing, and enjoying my food as I do just knowing what's in it. The WHF is also more community-oriented, with “George welcom[ing] you to interact with him and the Foundation by asking questions, sharing ideas and even supporting the cause of the Foundation. ” George’s bio is rather lengthy, but suffice it to say that he created the first company to produce healthy convenient prepared foods in the United States. The year was 1970, the company was Health Valley Foods. He’s put his 30+ years of expertise into his eponymous foundation. I subscribe to the newsletter, which admitedly I look at irregularly. I don’t go to the site often, but it’s a nice resource of which to be aware.

Next: washing it down.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Fresh Meat, or Your Brain's the Size of a Mango

Before I answer the question about the donut, let me explain the title of this post. Thursday night was the best of times and the worst of times. The Universe Within formed the basis of the best; the worst was distilling the experience into a post immediately afterward, hitting publish, and losing my Internet connection for a day. It's back, which is nice, but the post is gone to lost post heaven. I offer you this information less for martyrdom and more as an apology if my enthusiasm doesn't shine through. Not only do I hate to be asked the same question twice or told the same things repeatedly, I hate trying to duplicate something I've already written. I'm not enough of an optimist to believe it will be as good as or even better than the original, but for you, dear reader, I'll try anything, so here we go.

After work I turned down a dinner invite from Roro and Lala, instead heading down to the Nob Hill Masonic with Soyboy and Six to "explore the mysteries of the human anatomy in a fascinating new exhibit" called The Universe Within. In the same building in which I've seen and heard Ornette Coleman channel something completely otherworldly, they've got more than 200 plastinated organs and full bodies of formerly living Chinese men and women. I'm laughing as I write this because I know it sounds pretty bizarre, and I won't lie. It's more bizarre than you can probably even imagine.

Here's the thing. A guy by the name of Gunter von Hagens, invented plastination, a method of preservation that forgos the messiness and smelliness of formaldeyde, which is one of those substances the stench of which you never forget. In high school and college I dissected a fetal pig and a cancerous cat, and all I can remember is the smell. I even had to pith my own frog. What got to me most was the smell. Actually the pithing was nasty, but I've blocked that out. But in plastination, all the fat and body fluids—remember that we're more than half water—are sucked out and replaced with liquid plastic that hardens to create a "solid, durable anatomic specimen that will last indefinitely," according The Universe Within program flyer. This creepy von Hagen has had an exhibit touring now since 1998, called Body Worlds. You may have heard about it recently if not sooner than that because the Body Worlds exhibits have stirred some controversy with their inclusion of a pregnant woman and fetuses, one of which was recently roadside attraction with Ken and Suzy some years ago, i.e the little known museum of oddities called the National Museum of Health and Medicine, filled with jars of abnormal fetuses, the vacuum- sealed leg and basketball-sized testicle of a man with elephantitis, and the sawed torsos of a man and a woman, pubic hairs included. The cut lines revealed the flesh to be nothing more than fresh meat.

Thus, when confronted at The Universe Within with a skinless man holding a hanger on which hung his skin, it was kind of old hat to me even though I can’t watch horror films of any sort, and I abhor gore. To me he could have been holding a cured leather coat—an oddly human shaped leather coat, but fashion is often a mind-fuck and the belly button actually is a button. Seriously. It’s pretty bizarre.

One of the specimens that made the biggest impact on me was a man (if I remember correctly) who was spread out horizontally, and I do mean spread out. He’d been sliced into approximately 1 inch slices from head to toe, like a loaf of bread. The slices were positioned about an inch apart as if he’d been merely been stretched out. It was mind-boggling to view the human body in that way—to see everything within a slice so to speak.

Some of the other specimens rivaled anything one might see at the MoMA or Louvre. One display had the entire circulatory system sans bone, muscle, organs—just the blood vessels themselves, but intact in human shape. Incredible. And beautiful. Another specimen feature a man in the running position, with all of the major muscles flayed apart. He looked like a graceful superhero, which I think was one of the points of the show.

The body is heroic in all that it survives day and in and day out. We’re so delicate on the inside and yet so strong. To really see the bones of the feet and think about the way they carry most of us … or to see how small the gluteus muscles really are and thus know that EVERYBODY has a fat ass … or to see how small the heart and kidneys actually are and that even the brain is only the size of a mango. It was amazing and eye-opening. Wanting to protect their precious cargo, Six and Soyboy immediately resolved to bulk up. I felt differently; rather than wanting to bulk up, I just wanted to make sure that everything that’s in me stays healthy. It gave me an entirely different kind of respect for my body.

I also had a lot of respect for the people whom we viewed. The program didn’t offer much explanation regarding who they had been or how they had been selected for this show, but from a spiritual standpoint, I offered thanks to each and every one of them for allowing us to have such a personal look at them, and one that "normally only doctors and scientists are allowed to see first-hand."

From a curatorial standpoint I was a tad disappointed. The "pieces" were incredible, but I found myself wanting more information. Many, but not all of the pieces, were accompanied by a placard bearing a digital photograph of the specimen in question, on which various parts were labeled. But I wanted to know more, like had this man or woman been young or old when s/he died; what was the cause of death; and was what we were looking at considered healthy or normal? For instance, one specimen had clearly fractured a leg; the metal plate and screws made that quite evident, but then I wondered if anything else on him was "damaged." There was one case which contained a set of healthy lungs and the shriveled, blackend lungs of a smoker. I wanted more comparisons. In a few situations, the placards had information that was too technical. I don’t know if the information dearth was due to issues of translation since the exhibit originated in China, but Soyboy said that when he went to Body Worlds last year in L.A., more information was available, including short bios for some of the specimens. I also think that for $17, attendees should get more than a single piece of photocopied paper. I expected something more explanatory—a brochure basically. We all agreed the lighting wasn’t very good either.

These complaints are minor in the long run. As a final remark, I thought Six’s comment was pretty funny. All of the specimens were anatomically correct, prompting Six to look at one particularly small male appendage and say, "All that trouble in the world over something so small." Much ado about nothing. See, it's true—you can always rock the Shakespeare. And if you have the chance to see one of these exhibits, do. It's a trip.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Spring Chicken

And other foods. I don't know about you, but research makes me hungry and good food makes me happy. Since all I do at my "9 to 5" is tap at the keyboard and squint at the screen all day long, I gotta entertain myself. I've got three essential methods that get me through 8 hours of work: tunes, exercise, and food. I'ma start breakin' it down for ya, startin' with food.

My coworkers marvel and comment endlessly about what they perceive as my endless capacity to eat. I think I've mentioned before that my cubicle office has windows all around, so it's true that nearly every time someone walks by, I'm stuffing my face. However, I don't think I over eat. It's more that I eat small portions of this and that throughout the day, and I eat a lot of "weird" stuff, which mainly means that I don't eat "breakfast things" at breakfast.

Currently I'm lucky because several healthy and relatively inexpensive meal options exist near my office. I'm sure I eat better during the day than I do at home, which is just plain sad, but the truth is, by the time I get home, I have neither the gumption nor the wherewithal to shop and/or cook. I hope this will not always be the case because I actually miss cooking, and I'm not too shabby of a cook, but I am lazy when it comes to it. Being a hungry, lazy chef is not a good combination. I'm hoping that in my next abode I'll have a more inspiring kitchen (gas stove, counter space) with the right equipment (I don't even have a full set of cutlery anymore let alone the right cooking utensils). As for shopping, the big chain stores like Cala and Safeway are out of the question. Aside from last Sunday's escapade, I really don't know how to shop at those places anymore. I walk through the aisles amazed by the overabundance of product choices, 99 percent of which I don't eat (anymore).

Rainbow, the local co-op, is too hippie for me, and Trader Joe isn't that convenient for me plus I think it's highly overrated. If the Albertson's of the world offer too many selections, Trader Joe's is the opposite. I don't like shopping where I can't make brand comparisons and they only carry their own stuff. I don't care if it's organic. I can't tell if it's a good bargain if I've got nothing with which to compare it. Plenty of independent produce markets and mom and pop groceries are scattered througout each city, but as luck would have it, none of the one's near my house work for me. (I miss Golden Produce on Church St. for veggies and Courtney's at Duboce and Castro--or is it Divis right there--for the fruit). San Franciscans also have access to farmer's markets on various days of the week, but again, the locations/dates no longer work out for me. So what's a hungry girl to do?

I'll tell you what I do. Weekday breakfast I head over to Arabi at the Rincon Center. Best Arabic food I've found in the SF, hands down. They will do stereotypical, short-order breakfasts (eggs, bacon, etc) in the morning, but I always opt for the lunch items they already have prepared. This can mean anything from hummous and tabouli to brown rice w/ lentils to chickpea salad to fresh fruit salad. Sometimes I'll stop at a corner store on the way to the Bart station before I get downtown and get some cottage cheese and canned pineapple. If I have time at home I'll make breakfast couscous or quinoa or maybe make a yogurt smoothie. Or if I've had time the night before, I'll get some nuts and raisins. Today I had kale & seaweed salad I picked up at Whole Foods the night before and baked chicken w/ red, green, and yellow bell peppers and red onions on top of cooked cabbage from Arabi. Every once in a while I'll get a carrot raisin bran muffin and a cup of lentil soup at Specialties or a peanut butter banana granny smith apple sandwich with fresh cranberry spread ($3.50!). That's breakfast.

I usually follow this up with a cup of Yerba Mate. Right now I've got a Yerba Mate green tea w/ lemon grass that I sweeten with either honey or stevia. If I need a mid-morning snack, I'll either have nuts and/or raisins if I hadn't had any earlier or "fake food"--ie. a Balance Bar or a Cliff Bar or a Larabar or a Luna Bar or a hemp or flaxseed bar or any compressed, bar like food. I hate succumbing to them, but I figure they're not that bad in the scheme of things.

Lunchtime I usually go to Lightening Foods, which has an awesome food bar. Not that expensive and always plenty of vegetable options so I'll load up on the green beans or the zucchini mix or whatever they've got going that day. I'll even eat the brussel sprouts if they have them, even though I hate brussel sprouts; they're good for ya. The other good option is back to the Rincon, either to Arabi or the Indian joint in there. I can't remember the name, but I usually get the honey chicken and spinach dal with naan. There's also a Japanese place that has the best seaweed salad (wakame) I've had. Depending on the time, my mood, etc. I might venture further away and grab a sandwich or soup or salad elsewhere or if I'm satiated from before, I might "skip" lunch. I never consider it skipping because usually I've had enough to keep me satisfied 'til dinner.

Dinner is the big challenge for me. Lately I've either been mooching off Vani and The Ron or scrounging around for something cheap and quick, whether a visit to a taqueria, a cheap sushi joint, or a yogurt w/ nuts and raisins. Every once in a while I'll break down and cook at home just because I crave something home cooked. Last night I picked up a lamb shoulder chop, marinated and broiled it, and devoured it. No side dishes, just meat. Mmm.

Weekends are more of a free for all: skipped meals, bad meals, good mixed with the bad, or sometimes I've a veritable saint of healthy eating. Just depends. I try not to sweat it too much and not to spend too much cash. As it is, eating is clearly one of my biggest expenses. I try to budget for it, but doing so makes me unhappy. Sometimes I think Mpho really means "feed me (something tasty)." But allowing myself to basically eat whatever I want on the weekends, makes it easier to eat healthier during the week, and eating healthy keeps my physical and mental energy up, which gives me the stamina to endure eight hours of sometimes challenging, sometimes mind-numbing work in front of a computer.

Next: What's the healthier option, a glazed donut or a bowl of okra with steam tomatos? It depends. I'll explain why.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Foreign Correspondent: Moscow Missive 1

[I've got a friend in Russia, whom I'll introduce more properly in the near future. He's a Kentucky boy who's been working for an American company in Mother Russia for a few years. That's all you need to know for now. We'll tell more as he checks in from time to time.]

March 2005

Moscow continues to be a good place to be. I continue to look on in uncomprehending horror at the US. I had about 3 weeks there over Christmas/NewYears, and right now I've got an image in my mind of the I-5 highway, early morning, heavy fog. There are numerous heavy trucks going each direction at high rates of speed, as are innumerable passenger vehicles. Something very bad is about to happen involving immovable objects and kinetic force. And absolutely no one seems the slightest bit apprehensive, cautioned or even, you know, aware. Does that sound dire? Maybe it's not so bad as all that. Personally, I've started keeping a third of my salary in rubles as a hedge against the dollar. That may sound weird, and it's a risk of sorts, but the weak dollar is a huge subject of concern over here, and I'm wondering if I'm being too conservative.

Anyway, that's a snapshot. More later.


Sunday, April 03, 2005

All in a Day's Work

No one heard him. ..."A single thought of ours could change the universe. We human beings are small things. Life is a great thing."

--Ben Okri: Dad
The Famished Road

Spring forward, and everything gets crazy.

Sunday, after an intensely fun bike ride, I ended up needing and taking an unplanned nap. One moment I was laying on my bed reading, and the next moment I was waking, completely unsure of whether I had slept for 2 hours or 24. My clock is am/pm challenged and indicated that it was 5:48am, though it seemed it had to be early evening. Because we hadn't yet sprung foward, it was impossible to tell from the light. I just didn't know if it was still, Saturday or if I'd pulled a modest Rip Van Winkle and slept through my Sunday. I ended up having to call Six to find out what day it was and was relieved to find I still had a Saturday night and entire Sunday to enjoy.

However, I woke up Sunday searching frantically for that lost hour. I have the feeling it won't turn up until October. Meanwhile what an odd Sunday it turned out to be. First I got simultaenous drop in visits by PBoss, Amber, and The Ron. I clearly wasn't expecting company, which was most apparent by the dirty socks and running clothes strewn around the room. We discussed the revamping of our band amidst a pile of panties and an empty pizza box. I felt like I was in a dorm room instead of my humble studio.

When the impromptu meeting was over, The Ron and I went grocery shopping at the 23rd and S. Van Ness Cala. What a nightmare that turned out to be. Far be it from me to be politically correct at all times, so I'll go ahead it say it: that store is ghetto. In fact, it's super ghetto. The prices are higher than at any local corner store and more importantly there's no visible management. When I noticed that the cheese was rotting on one shelf because that part of the refrigerator section wasn't working, I told a passing cashier who shrugged and suggested that it was defrosting. I asked her if it's supposed to defrost until the feta turns brown.

The entire time I grumbled and moaned, driving The Ron as crazy as I felt as we endured a three-year-old motor mouth who seemed to be standing next to me wherever I went. She was cute, and she was polite, asking her dad for this and that and thanking him profusely as she commented "oh this is great because it's my favorite and it tastes so good and i haven't had it in a long time because last time mom didn't buy it because she said that we had some at home but we didn't and she didn't believe me because she forgot but i don't think that she didn't want me to have it so thank you daddy, thank you daddy, thank you!!!!" Three aisles later I looked at The Ron and said, "just a glimpse of your future." His response: "fuck you." Oh it was insane.

But the real insanity began when I turned the corner and caught a customer shoving about $200 worth of meat into a rolling suitcase. Talk about cojones. Now, here's a clear cut example of not knowing what you would do in a given situation until you're in it. Had I been asked a hypothetical "you see a customer stealing at the grocery store--what do you do?" I would have said that if it was something little, like a candy bar, I'd ignore it. A suitcase full? I'd report it to the store, then I'd go back to my own business."

Well, I started out meeting my own prediction. For a moment I thought the guy had to work there because it was so blatant, but it didn't make any sense, and he definitely got a little frantic when he saw me see him. I immediately abandoned my cart and headed towards the front of the store, where I ran into a cashier going to her register. Careful not to draw unnecessary attention, I sidled up to her and said, "I think there's a customer stealing a lot of food." She merely kept walking. I thought maybe hadn't heard me so I repeated myself, adding, "he's right behind me." She laughed, shrugged her shoulders, and went to her register. He walked out carting his stash behind him. Incredulous, I said, "So you don't care." She shrugged again and asked what she could do. The store doesn't have any security, and there were no male personnel in the store--and besides, "he comes in here all the time. He came and stole food yesterday." It was at that point that something in me snapped. Without giving it a second thought, I left the store without telling The Ron. I saw the culprit strolling down S. Van Ness towards 24th, and I did what any (ab)normal person might do: I dialed 911.

Let's pause for a moment. Normal or abnormal? If the store clerks weren't going to be proactive, was it up to me to do so, or should I have left well enough alone? I ask because the people who've heard this story live from my lips have fallen into two camps: those who think I'm crazy/overreacted/endangered myself and those who think I was "brave" but still think I went above and beyond. My own feeling falls somewhere between the two extremes. I'm not a heroine, that's for sure. But I am surprised both by the lengths to which I went and by the fact that my reaction wouldn't be universal--even though before it happened, I would have considered it to be "above and beyond."

What happened was that I saw the guy across the street, so I hid behind a truck and called 911. They asked for a description, so I told them what he was wearing, his height, hair color, described the 'case, etc. Then he started walking again, so I followed him on the other side of the street. He turned down 24th; I crossed against traffic and stayed about half a block behind him. He met up with a woman, and they continued walking leisurely until he happened to turn around. When he saw me, the woman automatically split, and he crossed the street again. I stayed on my side of the street and actually ended up walking past him so as not to panic him. About half a block later, I stopped and saw him step out of a doorway--with different clothes on. That's when the chase began in earnest. He started walking faster and faster and was quickly at a run. Me, too, except the entire time I was on the phone with the cops. Telling them which streets we were on and headed towards. The chase broke into a full out sprint; meanwhile I was yelling at the cops to hurry up. We dashed across Cesaer Chavez and down a side street. He rounded the corner, and so did I, just seconds later . . . but he was gone. 30 seconds later the cops came rolling up, wanting to know where he was. I was so disgusted, all I could say was "Maaaan." They shrugged their shoulders.

The only thing that made me happy in that moment was the realization that I wasn't out of breath at all. Not too shabby. That and the fact that I'd drank a yogurt at the store that I hadn't paid for since I abandoned my cart. I mean goddamn it, this world isn't right. How freakin' annoying. I'm about to stand in line with my rotten cheese, and this asshole gets a free ride everyday? The Ron asked me why the cashiers should care. I told him that even though they don't own the store, they also have to spend 6 or 8 or 10 hours a day making 8 or 10 dollars an hour. Everybody should care. I don't think I overreacted even though my reaction was much stronger than I would have expected of myself.

So that was my adventure. The rest of the day had no chance of topping that. And I'm still mad at the cops who said they'd put two cruisers in the area. I know it wasn't a life threatening crime, but if a citizen is gonna go the lengths I did, they should fuckin' nail it. And the cashiers suck, too, because they should call the cops the moment that guy sets foot in that store. It makes me wonder if they're in cahoots. Well, that's bullshit. That's the first and last time I set foot in that store--without a suitcase. Free food down at Cala.

But more importantly, what does it say about us culturally, that most of us would have stopped at reporting it if even that? Or is it simply that we don't know what we'd really do? In either case, I think we need to ingrain it in ourselves that the most normal response is to do what I did. Not because what I did was great but because there are a lot of unfair things in this world, and whenever we see a chance to rectify it we should. I'm not talking vigilante justice or anything like that. But the cops, the cashiers, the culprits, need to know we care. Maybe instead of giving chase I should have shouted an pointed to the guy in the store and let other customers get involved. But would they have? I hope so, though if I were in the store and one customer was denouncing another, I think I'd just shrug my shoulders and move on the next aisle. But the thing is, it's not any different than signing a petition or waving a sign during a march; we've got plenty of signers and wavers in this city, myself among them. Yet I see stupid little petty crimes all the time--I'm sure we all do--and nobody does anything, I suppose because it seems futile. Well, when that's the stance we take, all that happens is we end up with overdeveloped shoulders from constant shrugging, and nothing changes.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Passing of Pope John Paul II

This is the image I love best. Over the years and particularly in the past few weeks I have opined publically my cynicisms about the Pope, but I have been greatly saddened by his passing. I am not a Catholic, so the whyfores and wherefores and whofores of this man were lost in my memory banks. I must have been in the 5th grade when he ascended to papal greatness, as it were. I have vague memories of being excited about it but only because the world was excited. I know I didn't understand anything beyond that and maybe I still don't.

Last night I sat at Roro and Lala's. The television showed an endless stream of live and archived footage about the Vatican, this Pope's historical and cultural contributions, and his current condition. Even if you missed it all, I'm sure it's easy to imagine. We watched intermitently, talking about other things when the drone became too stressful. Every once in a while a soundbyte would catch my attention or Roro would say something that would dislodge items that had been lost in my head for 27 years. "Born Karol Jozef Wojtyla ... the first non-Italian in 455 years." A small part of me murmered "oh yah...." Roro mentioned the previous Pope and how he had died after a month. I felt disoriented; I had no recollection of that. Then slowly it came back to me. Yes, his name was Pope John Paul, and this new guy chose the name John Paul II, and I, a ten-year-old, had thought that very noble. It had made me feel warm and fuzzy about him. I had loved the Pope with my decade-old heart.

So the night continued, the reports, the timelines, the failed attempts by newcasters not to appear opportunistic about having a guaranteed large-scale viewership for the evening. They continued with shots of people crying, comments by average Joes saying that losing him would be like losing his or her own father. Experts drone and speculated. People prayed for the Pope in hope that he might not suffer too much. I couldn't relate to much of it other than that certainly one always hopes for no suffering. It made me sad that he was laying there, knowing that he would die sooner rather than later. I thought of my mom and how she must have known that she was dying even if the rest of us were in denial. I thought about how I'm glad that they will meet. Isn't that odd? At the time it was a perfectly sensical thought—the Pope will die and at some point my mother will get to meet him and oh how she'll like that.

I lost myself in myself as I had more and more strange thoughts. I tried to imagine the life of someone whose destiny will lead them to be a spiritual leader of such reknowned stature. Or what it would like for his parents or childhood friends. I thought about all the irreverent comments I've made about the Pope, and I stand by them because my comments were not about the man who is the Pope, but the Pope who is a man. Think about the power with which we imbue certain roles as well as the people in them. If their power comes from us then aren't we really the powerful ones? Or is it that we give up so much of it that we leave ourselves none?

One thing I never forgot was the reaction when Sinead O'Connor tore the picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live. I didn't understand why it was so troublesome and had such bad repercussions. I wouldn't have done it but to me it was just a picture. It wasn't like she shot him. The symbolic gesture was nothing more than that to me, but last night, when I realized that he really would die, I began to understand. The world, including the non-Catholic one, has lost a great spiritual leader. It doesn't matter if you or I agreed with his actions or stances or that for which he stood. Genuine spiritual leaders speak for all of us regardless of class, color, or creed. They speak to the one thing that we all have in common, even if we're athiests. For better or worse, we're all human, which means that ideally we share a humanity.

I always liked my impression of the man who was John Paul II. I will continue to point the finger and have my opinions about the Pope just as I do for presidents and princes, monks and ministers, supervisors and sultans, judges and the judged. We'll have a new Pope soon. He won't be Asian or Latino or Black nor will he be a woman, but he will be somebody. He will lead and many will follow. God bless the future and the past. Amen.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Here's to Fools, Hurray!

All the other holidays are so loaded with expectations and obligations that whatever larger meaning they're supposed to bear gets lost in the shuffle. But April Fool's Day celebrates the things I like most: fun, creativity, imagination, humor, levity, smiles. It's like being a kid again for a moment.

I have to admit it's been a good long time since I pulled a prank specific to the First of April, but I haven't forgotten the eager anticipation I had every single year. I'm kind of disappointed in myself for not having been an active participant in the madness in recent years, but maybe that's because I spread my foolishness throughout the year. (I completely admit I'm a fool).

While I rack my brains trying to remember my best April Fool's Day prank, here's a link to the Top 110 April Fool's Day Hoaxes of All Time as tallied by San Diego's Museum of Hoaxes. I hope giving you a few only inspires you to go out and pull someone's leg today:

In 1957 the respected BBC news show "Panorama" announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, wiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. It accompanied this announcement with footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. Huge numbers of viewers were taken in, and many called up wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti trees.

In 1998 Burger King published a full page advertisement in USA Today announcing the introduction of a new item to their menu: a "Left-Handed Whopper" specially designed for the 32 million left-handed Americans. According to the advertisement, the new whopper included the same ingredients as the original Whopper (lettuce, tomato, hamburger patty, etc.), but all the condiments were rotated 180 degrees for the benefit of their left-handed customers. The following day Burger King issued a follow-up release revealing that although the Left-Handed Whopper was a hoax, thousands of customers had gone into restaurants to request the new sandwich. Simultaneously, according to the press release, "many others requested their own 'right handed' version."

In 1996 the Taco Bell Corporation announced that it had bought the Liberty Bell from the federal government and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Hundreds of outraged citizens called up the National Historic Park in Philadelphia where the bell is housed to express their anger. Their nerves were only calmed when Taco Bell revealed that it was all a practical joke a few hours later. The best line inspired by the affair came when White House press secretary Mike McCurry was asked about the sale, and he responded that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold, though to a different corporation, and would now be known as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial. [I especially love this one because it's not that far-fetched. On any other day but April Fool's Day, I wouldn't question it at all.]

The April 1998 issue of the New Mexicans for Science and Reason newsletter contained an article claiming that the Alabama state legislature had voted to change the value of the mathematical constant Pi from 3.14159 to the 'Biblical value' of 3.0. ...It only became apparent how far the article had spread when the Alabama legislature began receiving hundreds of calls from people protesting the legislation.

In 1992 National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation" program announced that Richard Nixon, in a surprise move, was running for President again. His new campaign slogan was, "I didn't do anything wrong, and I won't do it again." accompanying this announcement were audio clips of Nixon delivering his candidacy speech. Listeners responded viscerally to the announcement, flooding the show with calls expressing shock and outrage. Only during the second half of the show did the host John Hockenberry reveal that the announcement was a practical joke. Nixon's voice was impersonated by comedian Rich Little.

I love the museum's about page, which simply states:

The Museum of Hoaxes was established in 1997 in order to promote knowledge about the phenomenon of hoaxes. Why do we (the staff at the museum) care about hoaxes, and why do we think other people should care also? One reason is that we live in an era in which reality and unreality are becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish, and the only reliable way to sort out what is real from what is unreal is to have some knowledge about what unreality looks like and how it manages to slip past our defenses.But the real reason we care about hoaxes is simply because we're endlessly fascinated by the bizarre things that people have been talked into believing over the years.
Pshh, I know that's right. Like the story about Snowball the 87 lb. mutant spawn of a house cat that lived near nuclear plant. I can think of many, many things I've gotten people to believe or do over the years, but I'm still trying to assess the one over-the-top, number one best prank I've ever pulled. While I'm trying to rank my prankish achievements, why don't you share some of yours?

Oh and let me say one more thing: the best thing about April Fool's Day is that it not only celebrates the best in us—and I dare say much more so than Christmas—but it celebrates everyone, the prankster, the gulliable, and the witnesses. If laughter is the best medicine than this day celebrates health and if done in good taste, with no malice aforethought, it's one of the rare times that people are laughing with rather than at you. What's not to love about that? The Taco Liberty Bell—that's great.