Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Uppity Woman (Child) #21: A Profile in Courage



From the Muslim Times, Veronique De Viguerie / Getty Images, file


From dictionary.com- 

Uppity: rebelliously self-assertive; not inclined to be tractable or deferential.

I know of no person who better embodies the spirit of the amazing women on my list of "Uppity Women" than Malala Yousafzai. Yet Malala is a child of only 14. She is "uppity" because she dared to blog, under a pseudonym, about the atrocities committed by the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Swat Valley for the BBC, that bastion of apostasy, in 2009, at the amazing age of 11. Her blog espoused both her desire and firm belief in her right to an education, and her outrage at the destruction of schools and the violence visited on peaceful Pakistanis who wanted their daughters to be educated or those who wanted to educate all children. The Taliban in the Swat Valley are clearly very threatened by the idea of educated females, and by Malala in particular, because yesterday two of their thugs proudly got on her school bus in Mingora, Swat and after asking which girl was Malala, shot her in the head and neck, then shot two other education righteous-thinking girls for good measure. Malala has survived the shooting, although just barely. Reports still insist the bullet did not penetrate her brain.

Malala, who was nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize in 2011,  won the Pakistani National Peace Prize in December, 2011. The Government School for Girls was renamed the Malala Yousafzai School earlier this year. Her attempted assassination, for certainly she was a well-known and charismatic figure, has brought immense sorrow, anger and embarrassment in various circles in Pakistan. But among the Tehrik-i-Taliban there is only the consternation that she is the girl who lived, albeit precariously so at this point. Their leader, Ihsanullah Ihsan has said tersely, "Let this be a lesson," and promised they will try to kill her again for the obscenity of her desire for her rights and Western-tainted values. 

The Pakistani National Airline has said they are ready to fly her to any facility in the world for further medical care but she is evidently not stable enough to be moved. Meanwhile, demonstrators flooded the streets, as evidenced by the many photos on Al Jazeera and other Islamic news outlets. This morning the government of Pakistan offered a 10 Million Rupee bounty for the men that shot Malala and her friends, an extraordinary sum. Roads are barricaded, streets bear signs decrying the shooting and Pakistani PM Pervez Ashraf said of the attack, "She is our daughter." Journalist Nadeem F. Paracha said in a positively brutal tweet on Twitter, "Come on brothers, be REAL MEN. Kill a schoolgirl." Yet, the Karachi-based Paracha's column in today's Dawn lays the blame for Malala's suffering not just on the Taliban but on Pakistanis themselves, who he paints in stark contrast, due to their apathy, to brave souls like Malala.

A friend asked me this morning about whether Malala couldn't get asylum in the West. I guess the US or the UK would be able to grant her asylum. Surely there is ample cause. But imagine uprooting your entire family and struggling to rebuild their lives so far from home. Why should she, or they, have to seek asylum, is my thought. Why can't a 14 year old girl be safe on a school bus or in her government school? Why should she or her friends live in fear? Why should any of the lessons she's learning have to do with grown men shooting children? Why can't she study as long as she wants to, and whatever she wishes to? 

Malala, who was named after a Pashtun poet and warrior woman, clearly saw the risks of opposing the Taliban, based on her direct experience and as detailed in her blogging. And yet, she was a child and children never internalize risks as adults do. Perhaps her courage will galvanize her elder compatriots and make them see, yet again, that the very future of their country is being brutalized and terrorized. Demonstrators in Benghazi, Libya took matters into their own hands, striking against, and routing, the Ansar-al-Sharia who killed Ambassador Chris Stevens. Maybe the people of Swat Valley need to make their voices, and their will, clearer to the Tehrik-i-Taliban? Maybe the bravery of "their daughter" will be the catalyst for the change that Malala believes in

The world, excepting a pack of barbarians, wishes this child a full recovery.


Demonstrators protesting Malala's shooting in Peshawar.

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Friday, August 31, 2012

Child Welfare: Present Line of Thought



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Monday, August 20, 2012

No Honor Here...






I guess I must just be on a tear with Pakistani treatment of women and children. Lest we think the Taliban is the only problem facing Pakistani women, or the sole factor in the mindset that women are mere chattel, we need only consider the case of Shafilea Ahmed. This honor killing, which occurred in 2003 and is finally facing justice, took place in England. About a week ago, her parents were finally convicted of Shafilea's grisly murder, on the basis of her younger sister's testimony against her parents. Her parents had been living in the UK for more than a decade by the time they killed their 17 year old daughter for being too Westernized.


Shafilea Ahmed's teachers deserve kudos for trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to help this child. Just like recent killings in Canada however, the child welfare system seems to find it difficult to safeguard young women in these difficult situations. You can watch the CNN video report on the welfare failure here:





And meanwhile, I encourage anyone who wants to spend a bit more of their time *headdesk*-ing to check out the comments on the Pakistan Express Tribune's Facebook posting of their article on Rifta Masih, the poor 11 year old Down's syndrome child who is charged with blasphemy (punishable by death) for burning pages of the Koran. As it turns out, her mother was with her when she was jailed. But of course, the rest of the family had run off and abandoned the mother who stood by her child. The police now deny the mother and child were "tortured." Since a later Pakistan Express Tribune article opens with the statement that the child was severely beaten, I'm wondering exactly what the police mean by "not tortured." A later article still says that Islamabad police have registered a case against the Muslim cleric in Rifta's village for encouraging a village mob to set the child on fire. Reportedly, the police intervened before that could occur.





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Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Blasphemy of the Disabled





An 11 year old Christian girl, Rifta Masih, has been arrested in Mehrabadi, Pakistan for blasphemy. The child blasphemer, who has Down's Syndrome,  was reportedly severely beaten by a crowd of people, and may face the death penalty for burning pages of the Koran along with the fact that other pages she carried with her were housed in a bag of waste, which she was trying to put into a waste bin. She should, in spite of her disability, evidently known better. Or her God should have kept her safer or perhaps have given her better judgment or something. 

Yes, this is what passes for blasphemy in Pakistan, a place in which reasonable people, like Salman Taseer and Shabaz Bhatti, gave their lives trying to drum sense into the public's mind. So a disabled child may die, because with her lack of intellectual capacity and understanding, she insulted the holy book of Islam. This is justice?

I had planned to make some snarky remarks about a$$holes like Todd Akin and  their form of profanity against reason, but frankly, I'm really just too absorbed in thinking of what will happen to this poor 11 year old child, who probably just wants her mother, and who will be subject to who knows what horrors. Did she even get medical care after being beaten? It's too horrifying to contemplate. As the BBC's World Service says, few people at this point, after the deaths of Taseer and Bhatti, will stand up to the extremist mob, even if it means a child must die for doing something when she didn't have cognizance of giving offense. 

Another Bhatti, Dr. Paul Bhatti, Minister of Harmony *cough* (no idea if he's a brave relation to assassinated Minority Minister Shahbaz Bhatti) is evidently trying to get her an attorney.

Some days, I just lose all hope for reason in this world. 


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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Simply Exquisite




I've come out of estivation. Amazing.

Many of my friends know that I'm a die-hard architecture fan. (No, really. Consider the fact that I've dragged my husband to Bear Run, PA in late winter, driving through a hailstorm no less, just to see Fallingwater on a private tour, people. Then there's the trekking all over California for Wright and Greene & Greene houses or buildings... Or how about the architecture tour of NYC, of my own making from the AIA guidebook, the Marzie walks your feet off tour? When I say I like architecture, I ain't kidding. Trip to Barcelona? Forget seeing Barça play. Give me some Gaudí. World Cup in Brazil in 2014? A chance to see Oscar Niemeyer's work live.) Anyway, as a fan of architecture, I've been fascinated by the work of Maya Lin for decades, ever since she won the Vietnam Veterans Memorial competition while still an architecture student at Yale. I was utterly fascinated by her. Both because of how well she forged ahead, in spite of all the controversy, and because she was so close in age to me and I couldn't fathom how someone my age could be so poised on a national and international platform. And, of course, I thought her designs were so impressive, so well thought out, so thoughtful of what they were to represent. From the simplicity of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC to the elegant concept of The Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery to the impressive African Art Museum (I love African art, too, btw) in New York, I've followed her work with great enthusiasm. 

At present, Maya Lin is working on what she calls her last memorial. It is the ultimate conceptual art project. It is a memorial to planet Earth. I cannot say enough about it, or thank the Cornell Ornithology Lab enough for alerting me to its very existence. I could spend hours on this website. In fact, I have. (Ironically, the very first dot I clicked on was Giant River Otters...)

The installation of What Is Missing is touring in its ever diminishing world. While not everyone will get to see it in person, you can participate on the web at WhatisMissing.net. What do you miss in the natural world in the last thirty years? Frogs croaking at night? Fireflies that look like stars come to earth in the summertime? Bachelor's Buttons in your garden? Naturally ripe and flavorful tomatoes? Rivers frozen in winter? Meadowlarks, Buntings or Robins making it as far south as you are? Tell Maya Lin your story.

And those of you who say, oh, it will be so depressing, please, by all mean, go to What You Can Do

Do Something.


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Friday, July 13, 2012

In the Mire & Remembrance



Baby Tern on a barrier island in Barataria Bay, one of the areas hit hardest with BP oil on 2010. This chick and most of the others were swept away with high waters from Debbie.

(Image credit: Julie Dermansky, used with permission)


It's been a while, hasn't it? Things are better and appalling and not forgotten.  Yesterday, I actually thought of that baby tern as a metaphor. Today, I'm in a better and clearer frame of mind. 

Since my last post, I've filed a shelter petition for the young woman I call Lillie (don't even get me started on the legal end of this and what I have to say about child welfare.) I've seen the young man I was worried about land pretty much on his feet, and inch ever closer to aging out. I've seen Keyoncé disappear yet again, into the murky world in which he fails to thrive but doesn't struggle enough in to leave or to die in. Snow White is going to use my car for her operator's driver's license exam and we can have positive conversations again. Marina and Serena are fine in their group homes and in fact, they appear to be thriving. My other two GAL youth, Tammy and Shammy, are doing okay. My "not really my case officially" GAL youth is doing better, though I'm still worried about her living circumstance. Overall the trend is up. But, then again, less than a week ago, I've seen things like this (below) coming back into the home of my brand shiny new GAL youth, whose case I just got on because she is diabetic and this is what her prospective adopter is sending her home  with (late for her medication, no less) from visits: 


(That yellow bag? Cheetos-type fries, mostly gone. The cup? Milkshake. The 24 oz. soda? A FRAKKING 24 ounce soda. The doughnut, the sugary Bubblicious gum, the buttered popcorn. Quantum field help me, what is she eating all afternoon, if this is what worked its way home?)

And yet, in spite of all these many things, what motivated me to write a post is Julie's ongoing, powerful series on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf. Julie is my kind of person. I think I must operate on the same frequency. She isn't letting it go. She won't let us forget. Why? We shouldn't forget. The animals, the people, the everything about what BP did there with the Deepwater Horizon. Everyone and everything along the affected Gulf Coast will be seeing the effects for decades. We must not forget their struggle. 

Please join me in commending Julie's work at the Atlantic. Like it, share it (yes, it's hard to like, but it's important to do so for social media connections and you help her get the recognition to keep on taking these pictures). Spread the word. Stick it to BP. Show them, and the entire industry, that the American attention span isn't quite as short as they hoped...

We will not forget Barataria Bay, its birds, its marine life. Or any place, affected by the DH spill.

Julie- Thank you.






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Monday, June 11, 2012

Picking Up the Pieces






Since the beginning of the year, I've been having a hard time with the idea of blogging. I kept posting about other things I care about, doing a delicate dance around things and people near and dear to my heart. But things kept piling up, and up, and up. Finally, I just quit, because really, I didn't know what to say, or how to say it, or whether I could even legally say it. This morning, I just don't give a damn.


What have I been doing for the last decade or so? What was I thinking? Sure I had that idea that I could make things better for one child, one youth, at a time. Yeah, right. Instead, I'll just be there holding their hand while the train derails. Or maybe sometimes I was one of the engineers?


Since this post is a nice, big cathartic feast after a five week famine, I really suggest you turn back. Here, have an otter, or baby zoo animals. You'll walk away happy.


The child welfare system is, as anybody who reads this blog, who has worked in it, lived in it, aged out of it, so very, very broken. And it is self-perpetuating. Abuse begets abuse, neglect begets neglect, loss begets still more loss. I'm really at a point where I wonder, wearily, if it is even possible to fix the system, to stop the cycle, and whether anything I do makes any difference to anyone, including the kids I serve. I am skeptical, if not downright cynical, about whether a lot of people working from within the system are more interested in just having their job than they are in what their job was supposed to be doing. Or whether they even care that they are part of the problem and whether they ever wonder if they cause more problems, more damage. Because I sure do.


And then, there are the kids themselves... The ones who bear the weight of all the mistakes, the inability of the child welfare system to forge a positive change in their lives. Where to begin?


The day before Valentine's Day, I got a call from Snow White, who long time readers of the blog know is something of a success story. A young mother, Snow White won, against astounding odds, an RTI reinstatement case before the Third District Court of Appeals. She was and is, on the face of it, a good mother who chose caring for her daughter, even though it derailed her schooling and almost cost her her Road to Independence funding, the program that helps aged out foster youth when they turn 18. She has now graduated with her high school degree, has a beautician's license, and is ready to start work and college and life. Which is why it almost killed me to have to report her family for child abuse because her significant other battered her, stole from her, used substance, all in front of their child. While trying to limn that fine line between someone being a bad father while genuinely loving their child, being a bad partner while evidently loving you, Snow White lived and lives in the desperate world of many a former foster youth: the I Want A Family world, in which broken family is better than no family, and in which one can only hope that the system would agree with her and try to fix the broken parts. (It doesn't really, by the way. The system decides some things, and some people, are too broken to merit treatment.) 


To say that the rabbit hole that Snow White and I fell into on February 13 was a long and winding and unbearable fall (for the both of us) would be an understatement. She is now 21 and we have known each other for seven years. I was the constant in her life she could count on. I was also the one who almost cost her her daughter. But I did my duty and, in doing so, lanced the festering wound in her family and hoped the system would treat them, heal them. Good thing I am not holding my breath. We have since reached a sort of truce. She now sadly knows she can't tell me anything really bad because I'm a mandated reporter, a point that was never crystallized in her mind before. (So much comfort there, for the both of us...) but she knows that if she has a problem that does involve the need for help, for connections within the system, that I'm there for her. I am just hoping that the system, which isn't really great at breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect, will somehow vanquish some of the problems facing her and her daughter. But the means of dealing with  domestic violence (DV) in this county and in this state are egregiously outdated. (Maybe that's everywhere, though.) Even just domestic violence, treated wrongly as a concept isolated from substance abuse and rooted in gender, is outdated, when you look at decade old work by Corvo and Dutton, and others. DV is often not rehabilitated in terms of the success of programs- they aren't successful, by and large. The links between family violence, intimate partner violence, substance abuse and psychosocial dynamics are not often successfully addressed in our little corner of the world. Holistic isn't the first word that comes to mind when I think of dependency. (Nor are the terms 'evidence-based' and 'happy outcomes!'.)


Anyway, after the searing February, there was March.


In March, I found out via Facebook that the maternal grandmother of the talented young man who is now my oldest GAL case (first hugged him in January 2005) was terminally ill. He posted a status comment about it, in typical fashion, minimizing it. I was aghast to hear him say it was "no biggie", as was his adult sister, who came down to see Grandma and him. When his mom was on the streets, his grandmother loved and cared for him. His mother died of HIV in 2008. His father was deported to Suriname in 2004. His sister, also my GAL youth, ran away from Miami, in 2007. And this entire school year he was getting terrible grades and living in a dreamworld in which, when he turns 18 in September, he runs away to LA, with no contacts, no portfolio, no high school degree, and not even a contact email account that bears his proper name, and is discovered, becoming a famous actor and director. Talking with him in recent times, without crushing him, both because he is very bright, and because he is so adept at ignoring whatever is too painful to deal with straight on, has been probably the toughest run of my GAL 'career'. He is amazingly articulate and insightful, quick to call some of those who have worked on his case in court, 'condescending' among other things. To say this kid has lived with loss and has fought hard to bury everything painful he has endured would be the understatement of the century. And, after the continual revolving door of case managers (I count at least ten over the past 7 years and he told me a few weeks ago that "they change my case manager more frequently than I change my underwear...") he no longer really talked to his then case manager. I called her and told her what was going on about Grandma and that he'd even been to her house (a very bad scene according to the sister) and seen her. The case manager failed to document my concerns. (Including concerns about the 8% this kid had back then in Geometry, which, by the way, is rather surprising for a kid who was in the gifted program in math, from 3rd through 8th grade, before he got to his swanky and elite performing arts school and can you say CRY FOR HELP any louder, no you can't.) But she was in the weeds, evidently. Didn't document any of it. Didn't try to talk to him. Left the agency. The whole thing took a turn for the worse when his placement of 5 years began to disrupt. (A scenario described to Comtesse [redacted] as 'watching the slow motion derailment of a train'.) And then our wonderful child welfare system became all about covering asses and blame-shifting. To the point that after a discreet trip to the bathroom with a jurist, the agency 'had done so very much' to save that placement but they 'just couldn't save it'. And yeah, the youth, who has struggled mightily to express his feelings, in spite of being incredibly articulate and well-spoken for so many other things, was firmly stifled from the bench. So now he's in a good interim home and we get to look for where he can live on $892 a month, if he stays in school. (Age 18 and in the 11th grade, what a picnic it will be!) Since his school doesn't offer the school lunch program, I'm now going to be picking up 100% of the cost of lunch to try to eliminate that reason for dropping out because frankly, I do not see how he can manage otherwise. (For the past two years I was doing 50%, with the other 50% provided by the case management agency for their little star who should shut up and be quiet.) But hey, the happy story here is that the case management agency is good! And in another three months, they won't have to think about any of this anymore! Another successful outcome!!!! The world is filled with puppies!


So up to this point, I was still feeling okay about things. I mean, not happy, but as if there was still a purpose in being involved in the child welfare world. Then I got this FB message from a longtime friend and former GAL, who had been the beloved foster parent of the children in what is my second oldest case as a GAL. And therein, of course, lies still more sorrow. 


I'll just call her Lillie. She and her brother were placed for adoption in 2008. I had been their GAL since January of 2004. An unusual case, one that makes you really believe in Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome. (And I've had two such cases, what are the odds?) A hard case to work, with demands for knowledge of IDEA, Section 504, and disability educational expertise like none I have ever had. Lillie and her brother both suffered from severe auditory processing disorders and what appeared to be dyslexia. I struggled finding them proper evaluations and services, and got them into a superlative private remediative school, The Cushman School, on full scholarships, to rehabilitate their reading and math struggles. They were doing so well by 2007. They were, for the most part, happy kids, although Lillie has always had a tendency to feel somewhat sad and lonely. In 2008 they were adopted by a seemingly successful couple who had overcome, or so it seemed, their own learning problems. They had moved from Michigan to Florida and wanted a child desperately. They wanted a boy but were willing to take a sibling set. Voilà! A disaster is borne! And one I helped make, that I signed off on as their GAL. Long ago Lillie had promised her mother that she would take care of her little brother. So she agreed to the adoption, even though she didn't feel entirely comfortable with this family, well, specifically with the adoptive mother. The father appeared to be nice enough and that was enough for her. The parents didn't seem ideal from the standpoint of really learning about their prospective off-springs' specific deficits and needs. But they did get those evaluations entered into the school systems that they moved to successively. Good thing, because after that adoption was final, they moved, and moved, and moved. Because they kept losing their jobs and being evicted. Because they drank and were verbally abusive and angry people who got fired a lot. Because even though they passed a Children's Home Society homestudy, which cleared their background in the state of Florida, I later paid for a  full background check (too late, a mistake I will never, ever make again) myself and found out that they had a string of foreclosures and civil financial problems back home in Michigan. And I have to say that the idea of taking two instead of one when you're getting paid to take them makes great sense when you can't hold a job, right? Of course, right!


Lillie was miserable. Lillie tried to run away. Lillie reported abuse to me, which I reported to the state and which the state couldn't prove and didn't really look into all that much because it's just not the kinda thing they're into nowadays. Hey, no big bruises or marks, how bad can it be? I last saw her in early January, when she told me that she was just hoping she could stick it out until she turned 18, how miserable she was, how hard it has been. Lillie would come back to Miami and stay with her former foster mother every chance she got. In fact, Lillie is there now, in what is about to be, hopefully, her real 'forever home', except there are all these little details that are nagging at me. A forever home? Wasn't that the one you're adopted into? They kicked her out. She turns 18 in January. She will never get RTI now because she was adopted. She will get the free Florida Bright Futures Scholarship, if they deign to give her the documentation showing she's entitled to it. Speaking of which... There is no documentation so far as I know that make the arrangement legal and viable for the next 6 months. I have no idea if she has Medicaid, should she get sick or injured and with no documentation, the former foster mother cannot obtain Medicaid for her. I'm also not clear on whether they are giving the $500+ stipend the state pays them for Lillie to the I cannot tell you how incredible foster mother that has loved and nurtured her and made her a part of her family for all these years and is now taking her in for good. Guess why Lillie wasn't adopted into her foster mother's family? Her foster mother was too old to qualify. Guess what Lillie has endured? Psychological and physical abuse, separation from her mentally ill mother, now from her brother, and complete destruction of her childhood and adolescence. Yes indeedy, job done! I'm feeling like one helpful person these days. And part of a very helpful system.


Yes, yes, I have had cases that ended in successful adoption, including my first case, where the child ended up with her young aunt, about whom I can say only wonderful things. Or the multivisceral organ transplant toddler, adopted by the nurse with her private nursing company, who had lost a daughter to the same condition but found room in her heart for more love, more loss. Or the young man with the severe skeletal defects, adopted by a longtime friend, after her supporting him through grueling back surgery for terrible scoliosis and kyphosis and helping him deal with his other skeletal defects and his social isolation. None of those people kicked the children out.


But yeah, lately, everywhere I look, I see broken children, broken youths, broken system. 


The word discouraged is wholly inadequate.


And not to be mean or dismissive, but y'all can just skip the usual palliative, oh "poor Marzie was good" comments. That is so totally missing the point here. Feel angry at the system and sorry for these kids and what they endure in the child welfare demi-monde, not me. I live in a nice house, with my nice family and my lovely pets and my beautiful garden and the worst I have to deal with is waking up at night worrying about these youths, where they are, where they're headed and wonder about how it is that I can know three people for seven or eight years and have done so little to have helped them. That's the right question to be asking, to my mind. They are just three children, of the many cases, out there. And if this is how it goes, when a person is really trying to be in their corner, I don't want to imagine the rest.












Edited to add in the late afternoon:


When it rains, it pours. Keyoncé, 22 years old in late August, last mentioned on this blog because of his plight of being intellectually disabled, bipolar and working the oldest profession in the world under some very sketchy conditions on Biscayne Blvd., just called me. His APD is a mess and he needs an apartment because his electricity is off where he is right now. "I need you in my life, Marzie. I need you back as my GAL. I ain't got nobody, no family. Who's gonna help me? I can't live on $606 of SSI Disability. What am I gonna do? I'm tired. I want a Section VIII apartment but they don't take my application. Well, I don't know how to apply. You know I got problems reading."


Meeting: Wednesday, 11:30 am.


How do I tell him that I think Section VIII applications are closed but even if they weren't, he's not a woman with children? How do I tell him I don't know what to believe and not believe? How do I tell him that he needs to tell those fine folks at Our Kids and APD that yes, he really does turn tricks for added money?


Sigh. Camillus House, here we come.








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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Otterly Adorable



Image credit: Zooborns


So since everything seems to be conspiring against my having any viable time to write anything about anything I want to write about thus far this week (other than sticking it to the Men in the Republican Party who support oppression of women as the way to restore their puny self-esteem) I'm offering up this baby otter video (below). Because in a world with clematis, the only thing as good as gorgeous plants and beautiful cats and dogs is otters.

And now you know why I want to move to Pittsburgh.





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Monday, April 30, 2012

This Slut Votes





Since so much of the furor has died down, I just wanted to say that I ordered my bumper sticker and my t-shirt, and hey, "Republican Party Males Who Want to Roll Back Time to the 1900's, I Mean 1950's," I remember all that legislation you proposed, passed and have tabled until you think no one is watching anymore.


When it comes to the rights for my daughter and quasi-daughter-in-law, I think you'll find that my attention span is fecking infinite.





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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Palate Cleanser #179: Clematis Envy, Part 98



So, to enrich my weekend (which it did), Cynical Nymph sent me these. I mean, I mean... NYC, you inspire envy in soooooo many ways. But, after a week of giving myself blisters planting, planting, planting tropicals that I wish were temperates, this, this, makes my heart sing. I've got plenty of green grass people, but I don't have these...



Clematis on the Upper Eastside © Cynical Nymph


Still More Clematis on the Upper Eastside © Cynical Nymph

No, really people, this is growing on a fence near where she lives, on the streets of NYC. Sigh.

BTW- Personally, I'm thinking the Nymph isn't as cynical as she says she is, since she goes around photographing flowers and all. 







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Visual palate cleanser concept © Bright Nepenthe, 2012

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Palate Cleanser #178



Image credit: Danis51




I mean, how could I be expected to pass this one up? It came in my Pixdaus Newsletter email.







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Cornell's Red-tailed Hawk Nest WebCam!



Watch live streaming video from cornellhawks at livestream.com






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Monday, April 23, 2012

Vanishing of the Bees: What You Can Do




Honeybee Pollinating an Apple Blossom
(Image credit: Jasmina)


As my readers know, I love those bees. It's rather odd, given the whole allergy thing, but hey, I love their buzzing and flitting around and the feeling of life they add to a garden. I also happen to love a lot of what bees help me eat. Grains are not my friends, as you guys know (Celiac!), but fruits and vegetables have been a life-long passion. I can't imagine a world in which I couldn't afford to bite into a crisp apple, a lush ripe pear, or enjoy my favorite berries. And cooking a stew just wouldn't be the same without carrots, parsnips, onions, peppers. It's said that a third of every bite of food we eat in America is thanks to a pollinator. The list of things pollinated by bees, either to produce seeds (reseeding is so vital in agriculture it is impossible to overestimate it) or to grow from seed to produce fruit or vegetable, is incredibly long. You can take a quick look hereAnd that's not all... I don't know about you, but I rather like my cotton clothing. Thank you, bees.


Last year there was a quiet little documentary making a big splash at some of the environmental and wildlife festivals. Vanishing of the Bees, narrated by Academy-Award nominated actress Ellen Page, takes a hard look at what the real causes are of Colony Collapse Disorder, the suspects, and how the different approach of the European governments- that of cautious appraisal (did you know that France saw CCD as early as 1994?) vs. that of the US- put it out there and get back to us if there's a problem- may have a lasting impact on our environment. Systemic pesticides last a long, long time. And bees are the sentinels of our food web. Their demise heralds problems with our food supply, with our environment and, potentially, with our survival. Presaging the now increasingly dire peer-reviewed findings on a class of systemic pesticides called neonicotinoids, Vanishing of the Bees lays it all out there in a lean 87 minutes. These recent findings in France and in Great Britain indicate that longterm exposure to pesticides decreases foraging and hive survival in honeybees and retards colony growth and birth of new queens in bumblebees. (While we're talking about bees here, one can wonder, as well, what it does to humans who are ingesting the food that came from these treated crops....) But bees face other perils, including the Varroa mites, Nosema apis fungus, and the Israeli paralytic virus. Put it all together, and it's a miracle that bees survive at all.


Vanishing of the Bees will also introduce you Chinese fake honey (what beekeepers call 'funny honey'), in case you missed the excellent Mother Jones article about it last year. In their article Honey Laundering, they follow the work of investigative reporter Anthony Schneider, who writes for Food Safety News. Cheap Chinese honey is what has made it look as if, in spite of this great collapse of the bee industry in the US, honey is still widely available and dirt cheap! So cheap. Only... it isn't honey in those cute little squeeze bears, or maybe not even on your honeyed cereal. Chinese honey might have some honey in it. But it may also have high fructose corn syrup, antibiotics like chloramphenicol (hello, aplastic anemia) or heavy metals like lead. China is not alone. Indian honey has also been identified with these contaminants and in fact, Asian honeys were banned in the 27 countries of the European Union in June of 2010. Our old friend Michael Pollan, also makes an appearance in this documentary, decrying monocultural crops and the ultimate impact of these crops on beneficial insects, food and agriculture. And the issue of a growing lack of diversity and terrible practices in bee breeding is explored as well.


Here's the video trailer for Vanishing of the Bees:










You can see the full 87 minutes on line with a streaming three-day rental of the film for only $3.99 (They use PayPal) by going to their pay per view site. Or, if you want to watch on DVD, you can email me about borrowing one of my copies of the DVD (I have two!), in exchange for making the modest contribution to the Save the Honeybee Foundation in Kilauea, Hawaii (on the island of Kauai!). Save the Honeybee and Vanishing of the Bees want to be able to make educational materials and copies of the DVD available in schools for children in grades 5-11, so that they can teach children about how to help rather than fear bees. This film is really worth your time.


I've written a fair amount on the blog about bees, but the issues involving colony collapse and bee health remain no less complicated than when I first started blogging on the topic. Colony Collapse Disorder remains a devastating problem in the agricultural industry. Yet there is so much that YOU can do to help, however. We talked about it before on this blog but there is more information and there are more resources than ever.


Don't use systemic neonicotinoids on your farm or urban landscape. Ask, if you have a contract for fertilizing, etc. with a tree or lawn service company, if they are using a systemic pesticide. Chances are that they are. I've cancelled my service because they were using Merit (imidacloprid). 


Buy local honey. That way, you're sure it's really honey, and you're helping bee keepers by supporting more than just their pollination services.


Buy organic produce whenever you can. Yes, it's expensive, but remember that the experiment of these pesticides on bees isn't going very well. Those same pesticides on plant products your eating constitute an experiment on you, as well. Can't afford organic? If you have the space, try growing some of your own vegetables, even if it's on your apartment's balcony or window sill.


Plant bee-friendly gardens. You can find suggestions for temperate zone plants here, and some for tropical plants here and here (pay special attention to plants that are bad for bees). Also, check out The Melissa Garden for additional things you can do to help bees in your home garden. (This sanctuary is literally a stone's throw from my father's stomping grounds, in Healdsburg, California!) And hey, don't forget The Great Sunflower Project, mentioned on this blog at least once before. Participate in the Backyard Bee Count with them!


Encourage solitary bees by making bee houses available. (Resources include Gardener's Supply and Kinsman Company, just two among many.) Especially if you have a garden with fruit trees, nut trees or a vegetable garden, consider ordering some mason bees. One resource is Crown Bees (sold out for the year, except in the West) or get information from their sister company, Hunter's Mason Bees about attracting more mason bees.


Speak up about bees. The more people talk about bees, the more people will care about bees. But be an informed source of information. Check out the Natural Resources Defense Council's info, for instance, in their downloadable PDF, Bee Facts: Why Do We Need Bees? The NRDC has been instrumental in protecting bees and pushing the US to identify the underlying causes of CCD. You can write to the USDA about your concerns through the NRDC here. And signify your interest to bee stories in the media by tuning in. For instance, check out the National Radio Project's half-hour long program explaining the intricacies of bee history, including an interview with Hannah Nordhaus, author of The Beekeepers Lament. (Really good discussion on fake honey, too.)


And finally, the next time you see a bee, even if you're allergic like me, don't panic. Move away, or if it was confused and got inside (bad sign....) try to get it out without swatting it. Remember these bees are what keep all the color (and a third of our food) on our dinner tables. Whatever you're eating, bees were there for you. Be there for them. Bees have rebounded in France and Germany. If we give them a chance, they will rebound here, too.





Honeybee Pollinating a Plum Blossom
(Image credit: Bosca78)









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Just Can't Ignore It



Yeah, I know I did the Bad Big Oil post yesterday. But this has been pissing me off since about 7:30 am and I finally decided I can't stand not saying something about it. I know this will shock my readers that I am not comforted by:

"The chance that any spill would hit the Keys beaches is low."

Really? No reason to worry? Of course not! Because it's not like there have been any problems with deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico or anything. Or likely that oil can travel 77 miles from a spill. (NASA satellite imagery to the contrary.) And it's not like I don't trust recently Argentine Government-nationalized Repsol and embattled Spanish Repsol to be not distracted by their situation. Or that Cuba has any internal problems of concern that might take their focus off safe offshore drilling in their waters, which happen to be pretty much my waters, too. 

Oh, no. None of those things.






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Palate Cleanser #177: Comtesse-Related







This is for Personal Failure. She and I will eat all of these. Okay, GlamKitty might help, because technically, tomatoes are fruit.


(Hey, did I mention that our food supply needs bees?)







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