Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Best Books of 2010

The Good Reads of 2010
Neal Lemery

Here’s a list, in no particular order, of the books I’ve really enjoyed in 2010:

Against the Stream, Noah Levine. A very easy read, taking you into the heart and soul of Buddhism. Levine has a sense of humor and his writing is seductive and enjoyable.

For The Time Being, Annie Dillard. A look into who we are as a species, and where we come from. Dillard’s superb writing is worth it, even if you may not be intrigued with her journey. But, after getting into the book, you will be hooked.

Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell. The author takes us on journeys of people who have become successes. What is it that makes some people successes and others not? It is a well written and compelling exploration. This book stays on this year’s best sellers list, too, for good reasons.

Writing to Change the World, Mary Pipher. Writing well and thoughtful does change the world, and the author inspires me to write, write, and write some more. This book inspires one to really focus on writing something meaningful.

Ethics for the New Millennium, The Dalai Lama. How should we live a life in search of truth, and to be true to ourselves? This is timely and inspiring, and much needed in this age.

Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, Tamim Ansary. This just appeared on my reading table, and appears to be much needed perspective of our world and “Western Civilization”. Probably not being reviewed in the major media channels!

Oak: The Frame of Civilization, William Bryant Logan. More than you would think. The author takes me on an intriguing journey of our historical relationship with trees and wood, and how our use of this wood really has changed our culture and our exploration of the world.

Given, Wendell Berry. More timeless and provocative poetry from one of this country’s greatest poets. Soul food for the lover of nature and good poetry.

Buddhism Is Not What You Think, Steve Hagen. A well written and captivating exploration of Buddhist thought and practice.

How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer. A fascinating exploration of the brain and decision making. We are not the completely rational and logical decision makers we might hope to be. This book is easy to burrow into and causes me to contemplate our humanness as we problem solve.

Sex at Dawn, Christopher Ryan. This is a fresh look at human sexuality and our social institutions. His thesis is provocative and interesting, and supported by a lot of sociology and anthropology.

War, Sebastian Junger. The author spends a year with American troops at a fire post in a remote and hotly contested valley in Afghanistan. This is a very good description of life for American soldiers in Afghanistan today, and is not something you would see on the evening news. I was uncomfortable reading this, because it was Real. We need to hear this voice, as it is the life of the soldiers who are lucky enough to come home.

Alaska, Walter Borneman. An in depth, but not plodding, journey through the history of Alaska and where the 49th state is today. I gained new insight into events I thought I knew about. An easy read, actually. Good stuff to know before our wildlife cruise on the Inside Passage last summer.

Pandora’s Seed, Spencer Wells. This is a fascinating book, the premise of which is that the advent of agriculture in human history was not really an advancement for humankind, as we are still dealing with the impact of the change in diet, culture, and family. This is probably one of the most important books of the year, and is worthy of more attention, and not just from those of us who enjoy biology, history and anthropology.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, Mary Ann Shaffer. I finally got around to reading this book, after several years on the best seller list. A delightful and intriguing book, with an engaging writing style. Despite being set in the German occupied British island during World War II, this book has a wealth of interesting and beloved characters.

Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion. Superbly written, this is a journey of a well known author who nearly loses her daughter and loses her husband in a tumultuous year. Some of the best writing of my year in books.

Stones Into Schools, Greg Mortensen. The sequel to Three Cups of Tea. I learn more about how one American is changing the Hindu Kush and Central Asian life by working with local people to build schools, educate children, and really change the world. He’s certainly not the Ugly American!

God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchins. A well educated and thoughtful agnostic takes a hard look at organized religion throughout the last 2000 years, and offers much food for thought to the spiritually inquisitive.

Jesus, Interrupted, Bart Ehrman. This theologian and historian takes a much needed examination of modern Christianity and its theological sources. He challenges a lot of current thinking and viewpoints.

New York, Edward Rutherford. An intriguing look at the social and economic history of New York from the time Henry Hudson sailed into New York harbor, written from the perspective of family members living there over the last 400 years. This was enjoyable and informative, giving me a new approach to thinking about life in the Big Apple.

The Grand Design, by Steven Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. Quantum physics may not be your passion, but this is really a great book, and is not a daunting task for those of us who don’t have our Ph.D.s from MIT. This is very readable, and explores the likelihood of ten dimensions, and that neither time nor gravity is a constant in all dimensions. The best brain stretcher of the year, by far.

Valentines, by Ted Kooser, former poet laureate of the United States. This is a delight, and a great collection of poems that will provoke your thinking, challenge your awareness of what may be the “simple things” in life. I want to go to Lincoln, Nebraska just to sit in his class and hear him read a poem.

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Eckhart Tolle. This excellent spiritual roadmap was written in 1999. I’ve just discovered it, and it offers a treasure of insight and challenging thoughts to all of us on our spiritual journeys.

Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds, Lyanda Lynn Haupt. This talented writer looks outside her window in Seattle and shares the beauty and wonder of nature. Her essays are provocative and magical, and makes me take a fresh look at what goes on in my backyard.

The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine, Matthew Fox. The writer takes me on a journey deep inside of me, calling me to look at myself, my soul, and my cultural references, challenging me to really see what is there, and asks me what it all means.

Sweeping Changes: Discovering the Joy of Zen in Everyday Tasks, Gary Thorp. This is a wonderful collection of short essays, or prose poems, or meditations. Each one is a gem, and needs to be savored and read again, over a cup of tea in a quiet corner.

Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder, Kent Nerburn. I discovered this on a back shelf somewhere in the magical labyrinth that is Powell’s Books. A captivating read and journey into authentic spirituality and shamanism, and one’s relationship with God. This is well worth your time. One of those books that is put in your hands by the Almighty, for a reason. Hmmm. Maybe I should pay attention!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tillamook Daily Photo

I seek to be a better photographer, and to more fully appreciate the beauty in the part of the world in which I live.
To that end, I have a new blog, http://tillamook-daily-photo.blogspot.com . I commit to putting a new photo up on my blog, every day. Every day, I seek to find beauty, and to celebrate it in my life.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Grand Design

“To understand the universe at the deepest level, we need to know not only how the universe behaves, but why.” Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design.

Stephen Hawking takes us on a journey through the discoveries of science and the musings of philosophy to probe humankind’s theories on how the world functions, and where the universe came from. He artfully picks the fruit of philosophers from Socrates to Newton to Einstein, and to the forefront of today’s scientific thinking.

Then, he magnificently leaps into the depths of quantum physics, bringing the reader to a certain level of comfort with the idea that there are not three, not four dimensions, but rather, ten.

Hawking again asks Einstein’s question, “Did God have any choice when he created the universe?” He takes us along the journey his mind has pondered, and entices even those of us who are not scientists to look at the questions of creation and human potential in a new and satisfying way.

This book is probably one of the most important books of 2010, simply in the relatively easy way he brings his readers into today’s most progressive laboratories, today’s discussions on quantum theory and M-theory, and into the realm of great thinkers throughout history, which certainly includes Professors Hawking and Mlodinow.

The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, Bantam Books, 2010.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Barbells and Bow Ties: 24 Hours of Culture With My Wife

I found myself mesmerized by the array of stainless steel shapes arranged on black velvet cards in the display case. A variety of hooks, curlicues, and a style called “barbell”, written on a little tag in a child like hand alongside the rows labeled by sizes, in eighth of an inch increments. I’m glad they told me. I was certainly the neophyte for all this, and I need the education.

In the next case, there were rows and rows of similar shapes, carved from various exotic woods, along with a chessboard array of various ceramic and wooden plugs. This was a piercing shop, mind you, and the various items were the end product of a process conducted in the adjoining room, the doorway covered by a long tie-dyed sheet. Rap music played loudly in the little house, setting the mood for my first time in the Black Hole.

The DJ of our concert was the resident tattooist, lacking a customer for the moment. The piercer (pierctess?) had joined him on the sidewalk outside for a smoke when we walked up. My wife was in need of a repiercing of one of her ears, so she could again wear earrings on both ears. The jewelry shop in the mall had referred us to this place, The Black Hole. Her enthusiasm for “the Hole” was echoed by another customer. Yet, I wondered if the tattooist was part of the Calcutta Connection and the rap music was designed to cover up the screams of the hostages in the back.

So, we ventured forth during rush hour in the rain to this little house two blocks from the heart of downtown Beaverton, which may be another oxymoron in this story. We found the place the new fashioned way, using an app on my iPhone. It was safe to say we hadn’t heard of this place before, not being frequenters of piercing shops or tattoo parlors.

My wife signed the mandatory one page disclaimer, rather skillfully drafted by legal counsel to The Black Hole. I wondered if the attorney’s fee included a tattoo of the scales of justice on the forearm, or a nice black and white portrait of Sandra Day O’Connor, or maybe the text of the Bill of Rights on their back. Or, maybe a nice nose piercing “screw”, that would be the perfect accessory for the lawyer’s black and gray pinstriped suit.

Karen chose the smallest of the “barbells” for her “reholed” ear lobes, as one apparently needs to wear stainless steel for the six weeks of healing, after the needle finds its mark. She’s not one for needles or medical procedures, especially after this week’s adventures with her colonoscopist, which included a complimentary IV apparatus and the “just a little poke” for the “happy drugs”.

The needle lady guided her back behind the tie-dyed door, and I half expected to hear screams. Instead, I was lulled by the again loud rap music to skim through the albums of tattoo pictures on the counter, next to the sign that said “tattoos—cash only”, which was also next to the credit card machine. Hmm, some needle work is chargeable, but the really expensive stuff, with the colored inks and exotic, complicated designs, is cash only. I wondered if they barter.

In a few minutes, the deed had been done, and we left, intact, with our new barbells, and no tattoos. I hadn’t found anything I liked in the books, though the one of Satan on the Cross was, well, a little captivating. How many takers have they had for that design?

And, no barbells in the case seemed to have my name on them, and there didn’t even seem to be any Prince Albert paraphernalia, for the man who really ached to have his penis pierced. Some men do that, you know, and I guess I was just a little disappointed. For a name like the Black Hole, I expected a little more sinisterism, even a little erotic tidbit waiting for me in the display case. For a piercing and tattoo place, this was pretty mild, after all.

The next morning, I found myself at the gym, pumping a little iron. While I was grunting through my weightlifting routine, I hoisted some barbells. Well, not quite the barbells at The Black Hole, but these were the barbells in my life, and I think I wanted to keep it that way. But who knows, maybe the next fad at the Y will not be the three white stripes down the leg Adidas sweatpants that the Arnold Schwarzenegger wannabes are wearing now, but instead, maybe a nice wooden ear plug, or the one inch nipple piercing barbell. Maybe I should be the trend setter, the leader of today's fashion a la mode.

That afternoon, I finally showered, and donned the most formal attire in my closet, a black suit and a pleated white shirt, set off with the only bow tie I have ever owned, satiny black. It has an elastic strap and a little hook, so I don’t have to learn how to tie one of these every year for the one time I wear it. Still, the white pleats down the front and the bow tie brings a flash of elegance to my wardrobe, which focuses entirely too much on the ensembles a man in high standing in rural Oregon seeks to attain in the world of fashion. My Carhartt overalls and my Wal-Mart jeans were left on the floor, and we strolled out to the limo for an afternoon on the town.

Our first stop was the Christmas Tea at the local tea shop. It really is an elegant event, and certainly the high point in our holiday festivities. The place is decorated to the hilt with all the Christmas d├ęcor one could hope to ever accumulate. We ate our dainty sandwiches and noshed on miniature tablespoon sized cups of tomato soup and sorbet, sipping our English tea from flowered china cups. I even raised my pinkie each time I took a dainty sip of tea, with one lump of sugar and a spot of milk, just like my English great grandmother was prone to do. Large tea pots, tied up with “tea cozies” festooned the table, as we chatted with friends about holiday events and our New Year’s plans.

The afternoon ended, finally, after two pots of tea and enough sugar and fat to exceed my diet for an entire week. We were headed for the movies, and the early starting time didn’t allow me to return to my estate and don the more common movie going attire in Tillamook of jeans and hiking boots. After all, this is December, and the rain was falling at about an inch an hour and the wind was blowing sideways. I didn’t want to get my bow tie wet, you know.

So, off to the theatre we went. We certainly stood out to the popcorn lady, who remarked that she hadn’t seen anyone ever wear tuxedo attire into the movies before. I just grinned, acting as if I always wore my tux to the Tillamook theatre, took my popcorn and headed in to watch Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren machine gun the Secret Service.

We finally exited that high cultural event about eight o’clock, an hour perilously close to our bed time, and certainly past the hour that we fashionably don our “lounge pants”, which is the new term for what I used to call PJs. Lounge pants seem to be the attire of the evening these winter nights, especially when the rain is cascading down the roof and nearly filling the eaves troughs. My social companions, the cats, don’t seem to mind, as long as they get a bit of time stretched out on my lap catching up on their beauty sleep, and the treat bowl gets filled at least once.

We needed to get a bottle of wine for the next day’s cultural event, a brunch. Safeway was a block away, and my wife, who I realized may not get out as much as she should, wondered if they were still open. Well, it is eight o’clock, but some folks may grocery shop, or need a case of beer in this town after dinner. It is Saturday night, after all, and Safeway probably offers more possibilities of a good time in this town than most establishments. By the looks of downtown, Safeway, the second showing of our cultural film classic, and the two downtown bars were about all that the county seat offered this late on a Saturday night.

So, we stroll into Safeway, Karen still attired in her black dress with black sequins, and the new stainless steel barbells, and me in my black suit, pleated white shirt, and bow tie. We peruse the wine section, along with the wino looking for a cheap bottle of red and a bag of potato chips. He looks like he’s just trying to get his second or third bottle for the day, and looks at me with a half sloshed look of disbelief. Or, maybe he was just an admirer of how the bow tie looked against the pleats of my shirt, on Saturday night in the big city. I bet on the latter opinion of my fashionable taste this fine evening out.

We hit the checkout stand, manned by a friend of ours who grinned when he espied the bow tie, the pleated shirt, and my wife’s sparkly dress. He murmured that we might be overdressed, just a wee bit. But, then, he’s used to see me standing in his line after I’ve sweated through a T shirt at the Y, or in my usual winter storm attire of Gortex and a flannel shirt.

We headed home through the rain, wind pushing our car sideways a bit, and head inside. The cats yawn as we burst in, a fresh gust of ocean air and slanted rain catching the door. The bow tie and the suit coat soon end up back in the closet, and my cat refrained from commenting on how classy I looked when I came home. Apparently, my black and white tuxedo cat is not terribly impressed with my attempt to look as classy as he. But, I still won. Unlike him, I have a bow tie.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Teen Suicide -- the facts

November 15, 2010 (Denver, Colorado) — About 25% of high school students report being bullied, 13% have considered suicide, and 8% have attempted it, according to data from 2007.

Building on this foundation, Shane Fernando, MS, from the University of North Texas Health Science Center, in Fort Worth, explored the link between bullying and suicide in a poster presented here at the American Public Health Association 138th Annual Meeting.

He used data from the Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a standard US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey for youth between the ages of 12 and 18 years, to assess the link between bullying and suicide. It asks about mental state (such as feelings of sadness), being "physically hurt by a date or having sexual contact against your will," being the victim of bullying during the previous year, and risk behaviors during the previous 30 days. His analysis was based on complete data from 3095 students.

The responses were stratified into 3 levels: no risk (did not think about or attempt suicide), low risk (thought about committing suicide, planned suicide), and high risk (attempted suicide and attempted suicide with injury).

Fernando found that whites, who constituted about two thirds of the survey population, had the highest rates of victimization — "around 23% for both males and females." Hispanics were the next most likely group to be bullied.
Victims of bullying were twice as likely to be in either the low- or high-risk groups as those who had not been bullied (low-risk odds ratio [OR], 2.1; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.7 - 2.6; high-risk OR, 1.83, 95% CI, 1.3 - 2.7).
Those who had been physically hurt by a date had a higher chance of being in the low- or high-risk group than those who were not (low-risk OR, 1.44, 95% CI, 0.9 - 2.4; high risk OR, 2.63; 95% CI, 1.7 - 4.1). There were parallel results for youth who had a sexual experience against their will (low-risk OR, 1.42; 95% CI, 1.0 - 2.1; high-risk OR, 2.04, 95% CI, 1.2 - 3.5).

"We saw that as you go up in grade level, the tendency to be bullied decreases." It might be that newness to the environment of high school and smaller physical stature are factors leading to victimization, he said.

"We found that the suicide level was highly correlated with victimization. Hispanics had a 1.5 odds ratio of being in the high-risk category, compared with the low-risk category" (OR, 0.087).

"Feeling depressed, feeling sad, was correlated with being bullied, as was being physically hurt or having sexual contact against your will," Mr. Fernando said.
Cyberspace is the latest arena for bullying. Mr. Fernando believes it is because "it is an easier way to bully someone because you are anonymous."

It also helps to level the playing field; previous manifestations of bullying were often based on physical stature and the group dynamics of power. The anonymity of cyberspace allows even the smallest and weakest students to become bullies, he pointed out.

The link between bullying and suicide led Fernando to say that "we need to address bullying and find measures to reduce the depression and suicidal behavior" that spring from it.

He urged physicians to look for possible signs of victimization, such as sadness or physical marks, among their adolescent patients and ask about it. "Try to bridge the doctor–patient disconnect, and try to make them feel comfortable talking with their doctor about things that may be happening in their life."

With girls, signs of victimization are more likely to take the form of concern with gossip; with boys, it often centers around "making them feel that it is okay to feel challenged or threatened."

Cindy L. Buchanan, PhD, noted the high incidence of rape in the lives of the adolescent girls visiting her clinical practice in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. "I wanted to find out if these percentages were because they were the ones coming into clinical practice, or was this actually a problem in the community," said the psychologist, who is now teaching at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
She found that the overall rate of suicide attempts was high in Philadelphia. "More shocking than that, if our teens had experienced rape in their lifetime, our total sample is 3 times more likely to attempt suicide. The numbers go up when we look at minority female adolescents in Philadelphia; [they are] as much as 7 times more likely to attempt suicide.

The overall rate for adolescent females who had attempted suicide at least once within the previous 12 months was 14.7%; 12.7% reported being forced to have sex at least 1 time in their lifetime.

The young women who reported a history of being raped were 3.350 times more likely to have attempted suicide (95% CI, 3.034 - 3.700).

Hispanics who had been forced have sex were the most likely to have attempted suicide at least once over the previous year (OR, 7.008; 95% CI, 3.850 - 12.758); African Americans were the least likely (OR, 3.658; 95% CI, 3.215 - 4.162), and whites were in the middle (OR, 5.813; 95% CI, 4.605 - 7.337).

The study did not include those who were successful in their attempts at suicide.
"It makes sense," Dr. Buchanan said. "They have experienced this major, traumatic stress and they are figuring out how to cope with it. My hope is to be able to develop strategies to help them to cope in a more effective manner."

She has developed a Web site, with input from teenage reviewers, in which teenage rape victims can get information "and most importantly, link them to professional help," particularly if they are not ready to talk to a local school counselor.
Physicians need to be aware that many teenage girls "initially have a hard time discussing past history of abuse or rape," Dr. Buchanan reminded meeting attendees. Do not take the first denial of a problem as the final answer; keep that possibility open for future discussions, she advised.

Dr. Buchanan said it often requires time to build trust that will allow the patient to become comfortable talking about an issue that has been bottled up. Often, girls are victimized by a boyfriend or family member, and there might be serious relational consequences from raising the matter publicly.

Dr. Buchanan suggested that physicians try asking other family members or friends if the patient has changed, and if so, when those changes began to occur. "Maybe you can identify a time when things started to look different for them."

She acknowledged that it can be difficult separating out responses to rape/victimization from normal developmental changes that occur during the teenage years. A professional who is experienced in working with teens is best equipped to do so.

Matthew Miller, MD, MPH, a suicide expert from the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, called Dr. Buchanan's study confirmatory: "We've seen this before."

He is not sure that physicians should necessarily screen for a rape–suicide nexus with their patients. There are no conclusive data demonstrating the utility of this screening, and there is some suggestion that it might even be counterproductive. Dr. Miller said: "It may normalize the idea [of suicide] and have a perverse effect."

The speakers have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.
American Public Health Association (APHA) 138th Annual Meeting: Abstracts 3070.0-3 and 3157.0-1. Presented November 8, 2010

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Passion

“What is your passion?” my friends ask. “What is it that excites your soul?”

It is easy at first, to answer this question: my work, my wife, my home. Then, deeper I dig, and think of my photography, my music, my books. I get pretty excited to talk of serious things with my friends, using a cup of coffee as an excuse to visit, to dig deeper into my heart, to find soul talk.

The answer is not in a book, and only some hints are found in my poetry, my music, my art. Very little is found in what I do at work, though there are many fruits of my passion to be found there.

I dig deeper, and longer, feeling a need in my soul to go camping and exploring, to find that room in my heart to really think about this question. Some serious hours of solitude and being away from the daily routine give me room to think, to dream, to ponder, seriously ponder.

The answer, perhaps, is in the rising of the full moon over Crater Lake, watching, feeling the lake turn from turquoise to a very deep indigo blue, as the Sun and the Moon dance about the sky. The answer, perhaps, is in the air as I share coffee with my friends, or while I sing a song while my fingers dance along my guitar.

My passion lies within my life, and I seem only truly alive when I am in nature, being my primitive self, absorbing all that I can from what this planet and this corner of the universe can offer me. It is also in giving it back, in my songs, my poems, my art, and even in how I drink my coffee. My passion is what I want to leave behind, as I journey onward, to give to those left behind.

When I die, my friends will still ask the question, “What was his passion?” And in my life, they will know the answer.
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