Sunday, January 27, 2008

Grocery Totes: Arty, Handcrafted, Colorful, Practical or Frugal -- Your Choice

Once upon a time in Baltimore, in a distant century, a health foods store was run by the 3HO Society, followers of Yogi Bhajan’s kundalini yoga. The store was on Charles Street, in the neighborhood where I lived, and I shopped there often.

I brought bottles and filled them with honey. I brought canisters and filled them with whole wheat flour, unbleached white flour for pastry, rice, nuts, raisins and other dried foods. We weighed the container before filling it, and weighed it again after it was filled.

I have been doing my part this past year to use the many cloth bags that I’ve received from colleges and universities where I’ve worked, as well as one from a chiropractor and another from a grand opening of The Whole Foods Market.

Sometimes, I have to run back out to the car, because I forgot to bring them in with me. Bronwen Davies at her Flights of Fab Fashion Fancy blog published the perfect solution last year – completely foldable fashionable totes that fit into their own small carrying pouch.

The pouch shown at the top. $37.95, holds the five colorful bags in the Retro series. The tan bag with the circles, right, is from that series. You can purchase one bag for $8.50. Davies likes the black-and-white bag from the Monochronmatic series. I agree. You can see them at the
Envirosax website.

I thought I might find something ultra high-style at New York's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). I was disappointed with this tote is priced at $55.00 for the largest size (14 x 20 inches). The leather handles probably discourage purse snatchers with the standard operating procedure (SOP) of snapping the strap.

Project for the Old American Century has advertising exhortations that evoke early 20th century advertising.

Speaking of frugal, I was fascinated to discover that more enterprising people than I are making a beautiful buck from an idea I had some time ago. My kitchen is far too small for typical recycling containers, so I turned a nice burlap mall bag with a plastic laminated interior to purpose as a garbage container. Another free-standing bag, a plastic shopping tote from a take-out place, stores my bottles until I have time to carry them to the apartment building’s floor containers.

This set of four colorful bags are made of waterproof tarpaulin. The bright colors make it easy to sort recyclables. My Oceanside burlap shopping bag cost me a buck or two at a thrift store and the Pei Wei bag was free. The matched bags here will set you back $22.

In sum, there's plenty of choice -- far more than I can show. If you are tired of plastic bags spilling out of your cupboard, take a moment to save the environment, bring your own bag, and tote in style.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Kudos to Stan Boreson for "I Just Don't Look Good Naked Anymore"

The Sonomah County Herald in Texas is running a clever video by elder musician Stan Boreson. I hope his tune, I Just Don't Look Good Naked Anymore, becomes a huge Internet hit.

The video has been attractively edited to accent the witty lyrics with an amusing photo montage. Stan has a good singing voice and can still coax a lively tune from his accordion. For a good smile, do stop by this link.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Dream of Cell Phone Booths

Now that everyone has cell phones, I miss the privacy of cell phone booths and nooks. A cell phone is convenient to call for directions while driving, arrange to meet a service representative without staying home all afternoon, or to let someone know I’m running late. On the other hand, the constant chatter that surrounds me everywhere I go is irritating. Doesn’t anyone want to be here now?

When I first moved to South Florida, I didn’t have long-distance access to the phone where I stayed. I often went to an elegant beachside hotel. I could grab a drink at the bar and ensconce myself in a comfortable phone nook for private conversations. As I recall these nooks, they had upholstered walls, nice wooden shelves, comfortable padded benches, and a pay phone. They were deep enough so that a door wasn’t necessary and sufficiently soundproof to offer privacy. All in all, these were a lot more comfortable than metal street boxes.

I thought about calling a friend today while I was waiting for my car to be waxed, but it was too noisy everywhere I went to feel comfortable doing it. It was noisy inside the car wash lounge, and even noisier out on the street with six lanes of traffic whizzing past. I stopped for lunch at the Chicken Kitchen. Even though it wasn’t crowded, I did not feel comfortable having a personal conversation at an open booth in that cavernous space.

Perhaps it is time to bring back some variation of the phone booth. Not much is available yet, and what there is lacks comfort.

Cell Atlantic’s portable cell phone booth can be stored in a backpack. It looks like a person could suffocate in there.

The Cell Phone Zone is more useful, but the round shape makes it an impractical use of space for a bank of them at an airport or in a hotel lobby. It doesn’t seem to have a cushy seat, either.

The red melamine booth, top, evokes those that vanished from our streets not so long ago. See Wired for more information.

They also are available in wood finish, as depicted at engadget.

Is it only a dream to think that someday cell phone etiquette will require the incessant talkers among us to retire to private places, and that designers will make these comfortable enough so that users will enjoy them?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Bad Journalism as Usual: Primaries, Caucuses and Choosing a President in the USA

Pack journalism predominates in television coverage of the Democratic and Republican processes for choosing presidential candidates to run for the country’s top office this fall. Pack journalism starts with always referring to these processes as races, contests, and competitions – the first mystification.

So many academic media analysts have commented on the harmful effects of framing electoral politics using metaphors of war and sports that it seems redundant to mention it. Yet, our numbskull journalists seem not to have read a single serious book about the subject they cover.

The latest pronouncement circulating is that the Republican Party is in disarray because no single, clear winner has emerged after only three decision-making events – a caucus in Iowa, a primary election in New Hampshire, an upcoming caucus in Nevada this weekend with South Carolina primaries to follow. “Republicans want leaders,” Chris Matthews has solemnly decided on NBC, diagnosing a sociological mindset for half a nation without a single social science instrument.

Is it true the Republican Party is in disarray, because the multiplicity of U.S. sentiments is being expressed in these early political processes? I doubt it. The purpose of allowing all of the 52 states to offer their input is to arrive at the decision of party candidates by popular vote this summer – not by polling and pundit prediction based on a few states in January.

Meanwhile, every awkward statement gets blown up out of proportion to its importance, instead of useful comparison of candidates’ positions on heath care, Social Security, financial impetus packages for an economy sliding into decline, and complicated issues related to foreign policy, such as the rise of China and India as competitors in world markets.

Former President Bill Clinton clumsily remarks that candidate Barack Obama’s statements about his consistent opposition to the Iraq War are a fairy tale, and the press convolutes this into a statement that the first credible black candidate’s campaign is a fairy tale. Former Arkansas GovernorMike Huckabee supports South Carolina’s display of a confederate states’ flag, while Senator John McCain decries it. Our feeble journalists run the bytes over and over again: This carnival sideshow is the real news for them.

Few of my students want to read or learn about anything that can’t be Googled and read in four minutes, but most want to be on television. It’s no wonder that I live in a know-nothing society. Journalists focus on the wrong things when covering political processes, and democracy suffers.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Two Books About Aging

Millner, Nancy Bost. (1997). Creative aging: Discovering the unexpected joys of later life through personality type. Mountain View, CA: Davies-Black Publishing.

Raines, Robert. (1997). A time to live: Seven steps of creative aging. New York: Plume (Penguin).

What I would like to find in a book about aging is a game plan for transcendence. These books repeat platitudes about aging being a time when we can come to self-acceptance, wisdom, and creativity. These things are true enough, but they do not provide me with the sense of magic and wonder of my youthful illusions that the future stretched out with endless possibility and promise. I miss that.

The first 60 pages of Millner’s book orient the reader to a Jungian perspectivpere on the elder years. Millner is a fluent writer who performs this task effectively. If you are not familiar with the 16 personality types, as categorized using the Myers-Briggs personality index, there are many good websites where you can gain fundamental understanding before buying the book. A pretty good free version of the MBTI may be found at the Humanmetrics website. The scoring isn’t particularly detailed and, therefore, it wasn’t spot-on for my type. If you are interested, you may want to find someone who is certified to administer and explain the type fully for you.

Chapters four through eight characterize five components of the elder experience as: vitality and contentment, generosity and spaciousness, connectedness and relatedness, joy and devotion, and reflecting on the great art of living.

Millner then suggests how some of the 16 personality types might inhabit that dimension of aging, using extended case-study examples. I am out of patience with popular psychology books that over-generalize on the basis of limited studies. It’s a shame that my training has been as a quantitative researcher, because it is getting harder as I age to persuade me that limited studies do as much as even I have claimed in my own work to promote the understanding that is a goal of qualitative research. Perhaps this is merely a testament to the wisdom of my own years.

I think this book would be more appealing to someone who is relatively new to personality type studies. The engaging writing, clear descriptions of type, and concise case examples will appeal to many readers.

Raines, on the other hand, writes with the deliberation of the memoirist, which in fact he is. I had been expecting a illumination of Jung’s seven tasks of aging, and this is not.

Jung’s 7 tasks of aging

Raines 7 steps of creative aging

1. Facing the reality of aging and dying

1. Waking up

2. Life review

2. Embracing sorrow

3. Defining life realistically

3. Savoring blessedness

4. Letting go of the ego

4. Re-imagining work

5. Finding new rooting in the Self

5. Nurturing intimacy

6. Determining the meaning of one’s life

6. Seeking forgiveness

7. Rebirth – dying with life

7. Taking on the mystery

A retired minister, Raines brings numerous personal experiences to his exploration of the blessings of aging, as well as examples from other people’s lives. The book is liberally sprinkled with quotations from great writers and thinkers. Raines is reflective and deeply human as he describes his illuminations. In the final analysis, however, his illuminations are his, and I must have my own.

In sum, I respect all writers on the basis that they have accomplished something I have not – the publication of a book. Each book has its particular strengths and will appeal to its own audience of readers. Neither, however, has lifted me from the doldrums of vague disappointment with the experience of aging, for I am neither as wise as I would like to be nor as accepting of this life stage as its inevitability requires.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Introvert Advantage: Research Shows Brains Hard-Wired Differently

Laney, Marti Olsen. (2002). The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World. New York: Workman Publishing.

Introverts “can’t get no respect,” in the words of the late comic Rodney Dangerfield. We live in a world that values heavy socializing, fast answers and multi-tasking. Working in noisy, shared office spaces in a way of life, and professional conferences that keep us booked from early in the morning until late at night are supposed to be fun. And that “ain’t me, babe” as an old pop song wailed.

Dr. Laney’s book offers three key messages. First, brain research now shows that introverts' brains are hard-wired differently, in a way that often facilitates more thoughtful processing and greater control of impulsive and emotional responses. Those can be real advantages.

Second, society gives introverts many messages that suggest we are not okay – labels such as shy, anti-social, slow, and dull. An introvert may be none of those things, and most have rich inner lives. Laney provides much needed evidence that it is time for introverts to accept ourselves and to insist extroverts do the same.

Third, Laney presents thoughtful coping skills for parenting, socializing, and managing relationships at work, with families, and in our personal lives. She understands that many everyday situations overtax the introvert cognitive pattern and offers non-evaluative suggestions.

Laney’s writing style is engaging and does not beef up the content with abbreviated case studies. I am weary of popular psychology and self-help books that present one brief example after another, each supposedly revealing some all-purpose life lesson. The result too often is the reasoning fallacy of hasty generalization. Laney’s chapter on brain research is especially worthwhile. Her coping suggestions are generally based on this, with examples that illustrate rather than substitute for research. There also are concise chapter summaries of the main points.

In summary, Laney has written a useful and concise guide to life for introverts and everyone who knows an introvert, which is the rest of the world. The book does much to dispel myths and misinformation and to grant introverts dignity in a society biased toward extroversion. Laney fulfills the subtitle's promise to tell introverts "how to thrive in an extrovert world."

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Sacrificial Lamb? Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Assumes Figurative Leadership in Pakistan Politics

Perhaps it is a seasonal reflex to superimpose a story of martyrdom onto the chain of recent events in Pakistan.

Benazir Bhutto’s 19-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, has been named the figural head of the Pakistan People’s Party, following the assassination of his mother, a former prime minister, on Dec. 27. He will finish his studies at Oxford University, while his father, Asif Zardari, manages party affairs in Pakistan. Democratic elections have been postponed, as violence in the wake of Bhutto's death is quelled.

Naming Bilawal party leader seems shockingly like offering the sacrifice of an innocent, as in ancient blood religions. I hesitate to call them primitive religions, because what could be more primitive than the religion-driven bloodbath that engulfs the Middle East and inflames global poltics? Storm Warning's question: Benawal Bhutto stepping forward (or pushed?) pithily expresses my concern.

Young Bhutto has witnessed the death of his mother to political gunmen. His grandfather Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the first democratically elected president of Pakistan, was hanged in 1979 when ousted by a military dictator. His maternal uncles, Benazir’s brothers, "died in mysterious and violent circumstances," according to Griff Witte of The Washington Post.

His father has been tortured and his mother was jailed on charges of corruption, before the family fled the country in self-imposed exile. Benazir had returned in October to run for office, stating that she felt that was her mission despite the risk to her life. Currently, Bilawal is not old enough to run for office in Pakistan anyway.

I am not very brave, so if it were me, I would say – Thanks but no thanks. I’ve spent a good deal of my life in England, and I think I’ll just go on living a reasonably comfortable life here and let you folks in Pakistan have it out.

That is not the sentiment of Bhutto, however. News reports are abuzz this morning with statements he posted on a Facebook site. "My time to lead with come," he reportedly claims.

Only youth, with its intimations of immortality, can rush headlong into gunfire, which is why old men send young men to war. Realistic perceptions of risk are an area of the brain that is slow to develop.

When I view from afar the lives of people in the public eye, I am glad for my own ordinary, ordinary life. I would not wanted to be Princess Diana, even if she had not died such a tragic, senseless death. The densely-packed public schedule and required smiles would be too stressful for me. I have read that Oprah Winfrey gets up at 5 or 6 a.m. to exercise and works until after 11 p.m. planning her programs. Are these people on methedrine? Where do they get this energy, focus, and determination?

Already, young Bhutto will live under 24-hour armed guard in England, which seems sensible but certainly not the life of an ordinary student. For now, Benawal is, hopefully, safe studying history, watching Buffy reruns and eating junk food, accroding to his self-report. I wish him well, and I hope he survives public scrutiny and lives to a peaceful old age.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year 2008 Sites and Sights

I have been pondering the New Year by web surfing to gather the ideas of other people, hopefully smarter and better informed than I am. Along the way, I have gathered a few blogs and websites to share with you.

First, please visit Ronni Bennet’s fabulous blog about aging and ageism, her travels, Ollie the Cat, the weather in Maine and sundry topics. Time Goes By is a permanent link at left. Her new year’s column is a meme list. Ronni threatened to give up her well-read column a short time ago, but thank goodness, the warm response from her readers has staved off this prospect. Thank you, Ronni Bennett, for the good reading.

Second, discovered only yesterday, Robert Wilkerson’s Aquarius Astrology – Global Astrology is subtitled “Using Astrology, Spirit, and Archetypes to move and groove through the intersections of fate and free will." I don’t understand most of the astronomy jargon, but he creates a more complex perspectives on planetary relationships and uses archetypal imagery that can appeal at a deeper level. You can find out some planetary prospects that go beyond fortune-cookie sayings here.

If you think astrology is bunko, stop by Bad Astronomy. There are many different ways to measure what constitutes a year, so new year’s celebrations are a social convention, rather than the acknowledgement of an uncontested fact of nature.

Those grinches at the Wall Street Journal bah-humbug celebrating 2008. They warn, “Don’t count on a happy new year” as economic analysts read the entrails of the dying year past.

On the other hand, Chinese astrology occultists report the opposite, predicting that the “world economy will boom."

Indeed, why should we of the globally linked world be content with only one new year celebration, when the very fact of a new year is in dispute by scientists of astronomy? Rat-happy Russians with an interest in Chinese astrology are emptying pet shops of the creatures, according to the BBC.

The Rat is the first sign in 12-year cycle. I am an Earth Rat and found instructive information at, of rather unlikely locations, a bridal guide.

There is no effective transition from rats to cherubs and this photo of an art exhibit at the Telfair Art Museum in Savannah, Georgia, that I took in August 2007. The little statues on the stairway represent racial poulation statistical mixes. Unfortunately, I do not remember the details of the exhibit, or the artist. It was the only exhibit that visitors were allowed to photograph. The dozens of cherubs on the steps were a cheerful sight that, one can only hope, symbolizes the blending of all races, ethnicities, religions, political perspectives with respect for each other, peace, and harmony.
That is a new year’s dream worth having.