Thursday, November 5, 2015

An article in Daily Beast called "Yes, They Want To Take Your Guns Away" has an intriguing title, and is a lengthy explanation of how Americans will not ever accept a government order to take away the guns of citizens.

...My wish is that at some point Americans (and it's mostly a national problem) could be persuaded that guns are a national quandary to solve, and impediments by themselves to a higher quality or standard of living, just as auto pollution and hate speech, as exemplified by the KKK are, as the writer, James Kirchick explains.

In a nutshell, Kirchick doesn't want to live with any more guns in America. But, he despairs, "If federal agents came to round up firearms, many gun owners would be prepared to shoot back."

Well, my view to that obstacle is: Maybe or maybe not. Why should Americans fear themselves so much? Isn't it even worth a try to combat guns with peaceful programs and the approval of federal officials who've been all too weak about mandating stricter gun control? Where's the courage and the conviction of Americans that they deserve to live safer and more secure lives and that this will only, ONLY, happen without guns?

America has a long way to go when it comes to safety and security for the populace, however, and it should be clear, although it oddly isn't to some extremist Americans, that guns come with a cost. That cost is alienating those who would otherwise be friends of America. I wish the government would just do what Australia did to achieve a safer country for all, and ask citizens to turn in their arms.

The truth is many foreigners wouldn't want their children to go to anyone's house in their own country if they owned a single gun. There are too many accidents where a gun has killed the wrong person by accident. This is also true for them in America. Many foreigners prefer not to socialize with gun owners, and generally don't have to.

A harmful and incorrect new argument I've recently heard circulating in favor of owning guns is that foreigners in foreign countries own guns, so why shouldn't Americans have them?

But this is grossly untrue of most foreign countries. Guns are illegal in most countries. Probably there are pockets of gun owners in foreign countries, most likely those specifically at war. The point is that America hasn't ever aspired to mirror the very worst, most unattractive qualities of other countries. Shouldn't it aim for peace at home? America has supposedly been a land that tries to be better than other countries and have a higher standard of living.

Some Americans would be surprised to know that some foreigners won't visit America with its glut of guns (currently approximately one for every citizen according to the article) and lack of affordable healthcare, both of which decrease its attractiveness. Yet Americans don't have to worry about these duel concerns in other countries when they travel away themselves.

America may be the land of the free and home of the brave, but it should also ideally be an open nation abundant with peace and trust for all.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Portland's Newest Landmark: P.N.C.A.

It is internationally well accepted that college students of both sexes can be the energetic forces of economic revitalization. Through education, ideally, students learn to harness their powers of creativity, become problem solvers, and gain enough confidence to reinvent the world.

Exterior of P.N.C.A.

Pacific Northwest College of Art, P.N.C.A., is superbly well-located in the beautiful Pearl District of Portland, one of the most unique and creative cities in the world. First of all, I would like to stress that I love P.N.C.A. and think it is the very best College of Art in the Pacific Northwest in state of Oregon.

View of Mount Hood

According to the website of the President Tom Manley, a leading force behind the expansion of the college, along with financial support from, among others, the ubiquitous Schnitzer real estate family, PNCA is the oldest full-time art school in the Pacific Northwest. It was also notably the first college of art and design in the region to launch graduate programs after receiving an endowment from the Ford lumber estate. 

This welcoming art college in Portland, Oregon, where students can major in Studio Arts, Media Arts, Design Arts, or Liberal Arts, has moved a few blocks towards the east side of the Pearl District started its first classes in a spectacular new building this term in February, 2015. It is an historic Federal Building gutted and refigured by award-winning architect Brad Cloepfil (CLOP'-fil) to work with modern technology, while preserving the desirable, original artistically carved marble and metal and stonework features in the impressive stone structure that has an awesome location and setting in prime Portland real estate.

 View from P.N.C.A.

The tall landmark main building of the College used to be the main Portland U.S. Post Office and the artists at P.N.C.A. can surely appreciate the effort that went into the beautiful building. In this era of obsolescence, it's heartening to find that an antique building can be revitalized with new life. It's a fine old building filled to the ceiling with marble walls and stairwells and a beautiful ceiling within the main front hallway.

P.N.C.A. has doubled the student body in the last seven years, tripled the faculty, preserved the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Craft, added seven new academic programs, and quadrupled the endowment. Each one of these is an achievement in an of itself. But these landmark changes serve to highlight this desirable college's growing and respected reputation in the northwest and the nation.

P.N.C.A. graduates are influential artists, entrepreneurs, entertainers, urban designers, and global citizens dedicated to exploring innovative ways of thinking, finding creative solutions and launching new businesses. PNCA has certainly made a difference to me.

Image result for interior of pnca
Interior Atrium of P.N.C.A.

Pacific Northwest College of Art (P.N.C.A.) currently offers Baccalaureate degree courses in Design Arts, Communcation Design, Illustration, Media Arts, Animated Arts, Studio Arts, Intermedia, Photography, Video & Sound, Painting, Printmaking, Sculpture, Liberal Arts, writing and others.

At the Graduate level, P.N.C.A. offers Master degrees (M.F.A.s) in Applied Craft & Design, Collaborative Design, Visual Studies, Critical Theory & Creative Research and has opportunities for Post-Baccalaureate Residencies.

The new main building of PNCA is called the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Center for Art and Design and is located in a chic area at 511 Northwest Broadway, a short walk away from the bus and train stations. Here's a video by architect Brad Cloepfil of the firm Allied Works explaining that the college was not meant to be pristine (although it is at the current time) but a catalyst for creativity. The impressive first floor and marble staircases make this college a compelling winner of a college for students from everywhere.

Another video here shows an early pre-construction phase and the gutted interior, but I believe the promise of the architect has been realized and the space is as beautiful as envisioned from all the reports I have heard.

Portland's Rose Garden

PNCA has certainly made an enormous difference to me and members of my family. Many gifted students and educators I've met there on my visits have impressed me with their vitality and creativity. Check out this college. Better yet, sign up for Continuing Education courses.

Near Bend in the Beautiful State of Oregon

The American Healthcare System is Broken

You have skills, you have money and pay your bills on time, you have a history of being covered with health insurance in America. It couldn't happen to you that would ever NOT be covered for health insurance, correct?


It could, if you were in my situation. It has happened to me. I'm not covered for the month of June. I can't seem to make a payment for health insurance this month and can't find out how to, despite having spent over six hours on the phone since the beginning of the month.

How could this happen to a person who can afford to make the payments?

I have been covered through the Princeton University health insurance program since 1996 and through Paul's previous employer's insurance company up until now since 1979, a very long time, (decades, in fact).

When my divorce was finalized in March, I was able to make a payment for April and May, and the payments were debited from my bank account from United Healthcare at $679.85 each month. I have proof of this, which I would need (and is the least I deserve to have), and which I have in pdf. file form.

But I didn't get a medical card as proof of my payments, and luckily didn't need to have one, as I haven't been to any doctor in the last two months.

I applied for healthcare through the so-called Healthcare Exchange Marketplace (a.k.a. Obamacare) at I applied more than once. I've made several phone calls. Most of the time, I've been hung up on. No one has ever returned my calls, although I did get a call from (which may be a scam). There isn't any record of my payments, and no way that I can find to pay for another month.

The Trustees of Princeton Unversity finally sent me information on how to get healthcare through the COBRA program for divorced people (yes, COBRA is a horrible name, isn't it, unless you're one of the rare people who likes snakes). Kind of ironic, how after making dinners as an academic's wife for decades, I'm considered suitable for something that is another word for a snake. It's hideous. But the long letter from the Trustees was several months late (meaning that I had no choice but to try to join Obamacare), and I've been told by the company related to COBRA, called PayFlex, to pay double the premiums retroactively and then have the premia I deserve returned from United Healthcare (in the over two-thousand dollar range!). That sounds like pie-in-the-sky thinking. Who on earth would do that, pay double the premia retroactively? Yet, that's supposedly the solution to how to get covered for the next two years, and then I'll just get caught in this nightmare again.

I may get coverage for next month, July, through the Healthcare Exchange, but can't seem to get it for this month. A caseworker will decide whether or not I deserve coverage with insurance, and I know I won't qualify for Obamacare.

A friend said to apply through my insurance agent. But, that office when I called says to "apply to Obamacare"...

What a circle, and not a virtuous one at all. I've had trouble communicating on weak telephone lines to people around the world that I can barely hear and who can barely understand my English. It's making me sick. I have the advantage of speaking English, but what about those who don't speak it, or for whom it's a second language? I have enough to make payments, but what about someone for whom that is an issue and needs health coverage immediately? Good luck.

Friday, March 27, 2015


Of a High Performing Doctor
and Medical Practice

1. Accessibility: same day appointments and walk-ins, evening and weekend hours.

2. Care is individualized to suit the needs of patients. Tests are completed and accomplished.

3. Patient feedback is important and acted upon.

4. Certain procedures and tests are done in house e.g. insulin initiation and stabilization, suturing.

5. Doctors stay connected with patients to assure that treatment plans respect patient preferences.

6. Patients are seen rapidly after hospital discharges; medications are sometimes prescribed or specialists referred. It's called closing the loop.

7. Staff members provide support that enables doctors to work harder, i.e. take care of more patients.

8. Staff work together without regard to hierarchy.

9. Compensation is balanced by concerns about patient care and experience, and improvements to practice-wide activities and resource utilization.

10. They rent modest offices and don't need to order expensive tests to generate more income.

This dream list should be in the offices of every practicing primary physician, and many specialists.

This information is taken from an article about primary care sites that Stanford University identified in a summary along with shared characteristic features. 

These points about patient care appear common sense, but at the same time, are idealistic and often ignored to some extent in America. In my own experience, patient feedback is rarely requested, nor are patients seen rapidly after hospital discharge or by request. Staff working together and cooperating is not just important but essential in this computer age. Doctors will have work hard to achieve all the points on this list.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Learning About Your Genealogy Can Help You Live Better Now

Genealogy is the most popular hobby in the world, or so I read last week. Why? If true, maybe it's because we all want to know where we came from, what chain of life we belong to, how we connect to the past, how to divine our future from the actions of our ancestors. Who knows? What I do know is that learning about ancestors is satisfying and fun. 

Finding Your Roots, now showing on PBS once a week here in the United States, must easily be the best ever produced about genealogy. Incredibly impressive efforts and extravagant expenses have gone into the creation of each segment. 

Tracing ancestors can be a fascinating hobby that can extend to the far reaches of the world. Getting names, dates, and locations where they lived can be extremely fascinating and unexpectedly time-consuming and expensive. 

The television show used the latest genetic technology to extend what could be found hounding paper evidence and graveyards for clues. Taking the time to make lengthy searches used to be the only method for finding our ancestors, but now we can each discover much more lengthy family histories, whatever our personal circumstances. In other words, even if we know nothing even about our parents, or beyond our grandparents, whatever we know, we can find out more than we could dream about our ethnic histories by sending spit (incredibly for only $99) to genealogy websites, my favorite of which is 23andMe as I written about herehere and here. Fascinating and geeky sites, such as my personal favorites, Promethease which I wrote about here, and Livewello, are coming online where (for as little as $5) dozens of pages of genealogy and health advice can appear in your email, protected for privacy. 

Improving current health and anticipating future health challenges can be a motivation for finding out more about ancestors. Some of these sites cross the line between health and genealogy to help us connect the dots between the recessive and dominant genes our ancestors had that we share with them. Being conscious and aware of health issues can help when visiting the doctor if the doctor has a better idea of the individual health risks we might have and it's on a personal printout that we can make and keep to ourselves. Our bodies are our own responsibilities and we should know everything we can about our own health before we have medical emergencies.

Being worried negatively (to the point of being paralyzed into inaction) about an identity being stolen is counterproductive and unrealistic. Being anonymously cloned for commercial purposes is impossible scientifically for humans. Such negativity is unhelpful because scientists aren't interested in putting together clones of any particular one of us any more than one particular peanut is interesting to a scientist when the overwhelming popular demand is for more peanut butter. And at this point we're all peanuts and probably will be forever. None of us knows if our particular skeleton will become the most important find of the century for a future archeologist. 

Scientists of many disciplines need to have aggregate collected information that will help all of us. Researchers have made new discoveries, based on saliva samples, donated by thousands of people around the world for the purpose of understanding historical migration and advancing medical research and the area is exploding from the possibilities created by combining information from the precious samples of thousands of people. 

Learning about your own personal history can be an entryway increasing understanding of the histories of people around the world, and that is the value of Finding Your Roots that is extremely helpful. Genealogy is helping motivate a better understanding of history because as always, if the commercial is served, the recreational will be improved as well.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Bachata Fever

Music therapists recommend creating a relaxation playlist because healing music helps fight stress, find comfort, and manage pain as does exercise. On a deep level, music can make us feel understood and provide us with a release that allows us to move on. Counterintuitively, sad music has been shown in a study to have numerous positive health benefits according to a recently popular study published in the Journal of Consumer Research. Music preferences can show how social we are, remind us of the people we would most like to be with, and are influenced by how we've been treated by other people, said the study author Chan Jean Lee, PhD of KAIST Business School in Seoul, South Korea. 

Bachata is urban Latin music for dancing, very sensual and loving, originally from the Dominican Republic, a bit slower than Merengue, and a cousin of Salsa, Mango, Cha-cha, and Tango. It's grown on me lately so I've decided to share with you, my precious reader, the names of a few of my favorite dance tunes.

Try playing this music while you read or when you're with friends as it makes excellent background music:

La Amo a Morir

Bachata is danced with a partner, but not necessarily always. I've been enjoying learning it in a gym class (partnerless and in front of mirrors in rows) from a Uruguyan Zumba teacher who is passionate about Latin dance, and especially Bachata. Little wonder it's enormously popular. It's stretching credibility for this little Canadian girl (me) to learn this form of dance, but the music is beautiful when listened to over and over again. I'm trying to imagine myself sashaying around tropical cafes to this music. Okay, dreaming of that now that our New Jersey weather is chilling.

Here are a few more tunes. Just to give you fair warning: they will seep into your subconscious the more you listen to them, and can make them slow down (if you know how to do that):

If only more people around the world would listen to music and dance more for business and recreation instead of fighting useless, harmful political power struggles. Enjoy listening to this wonderful form of dance, and as hippies in the 60s used to say: make love not war.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences

A theory of seven multiple intelligences described by Howard Gardner of Harvard University in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Here are the seven summarized:

1) Visual-spatial architects and interior designers are aware of their environments and think in terms of physical space and learn well with images and imagery.
2) Bodily kinesthetic dancers and surgeons have a keen sense of body awareness and language, learn hands on, acting out, role playing. 
3) Musicians show sensitivity to rhythm and sound in their environments, might learn better with music in the background. 
4) Interpersonal students learn through interaction, have many friends, empathy for others, street smarts, and have been shown to learn well with time and attention from instructors and audio conferencing, group activities, seminars, and dialogues.
5) Intrapersonal students tend to shy away from others, are in tune with their inner feelings, have wisdom, intuition and motivation, a strong will, confidence, and opinions, are best taught through independent study, appreciate privacy, and are the most independent of learners. 
6) Verbal-linguistic students use words effectively, like playing word games, and using computers for word games, listen well to lectures and multimedia presentations.
7) Logical-mathematical thinkers think conceptually, abstractly, and see patterns, solve puzzles, ask cosmic questions, learn through investigations and mysteries, and need to learn and form concepts before they can deal with details.

Also suggested as alternative intelligences are: Naturalistic tendencies (sensitivity to nature), "Existential" or spiritual intelligence, and Moral intelligence (having to do with ethics of right and wrong).

Isn't it likely we are mixes of many of these? Gardner believes we're each a unique mixture of these intelligences. 

However many intelligences there are, schools should allow students to study in a way that works best, whether it's allowing stuents to research independent studies with minimal supervision, or enjoying a lecture, physical education class or coffee break with classmates, or a mix of both. I believe test results would probably improve substantially, even if students pick and choose how they learn, and teachers allow space for that to change for various tasks or over time. Teachers and students would feel less frustrated with each other, if only each could play to the strength of the other.

There is value and truth in the idea that intelligence isn't etched in stone, and shouldn't be believed from a single test if one bad day can make or break a test-taker. Being late, hungry, tired, or feeling ambushed by life's demands can hijack some hapless test-taker's attention, and thus ruin intelligence test results with disastrous long-term consequences.

Here is a quiz you can take to find out your area of intellectual strength.

Myself, I think I'm a mix of musical intrapersonal linguist. Choosing one I'd say intrapersonal, and that was how I tested. I've always liked personal instruction the most and group instruction least. If asking an instructor a question in a group setting isn't possible, I feel frustrated. Yet often, questions aren't permitted and my questions must go unanswered forever. Isn't it frustrating to be in a lecture auditorium and have the lecturer take questions that can't be generally heard and not repeat them? It's usually impossible to guess a question, and extremely frustrating for listeners. I also think it's necessary for someone in that position to repeat a question that not everyone in a room can hear. It's good manners not to waste anyone's time. Try the quiz.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The More We Get Together, The Happier We'll Be

Have you been to a family reunion or important wedding this summer and perhaps shared folklore of distinguishing features of your ancestors and health information? Worldwide, there is a huge thirst for names of ancestors and many of us are interested in filling in quenching it and filling in those family trees. Yet sometimes even after names have been filled in on the charts, mysteries of personality quirks and health issues remain, and require interest in pursuing them further. Genetic genealogy is a way to fill in many of gaping holes, and changing the ways families enlarge conjectures they hold of their family heritage.

The first meeting of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) happened last weekend in beautiful Chevy Chase, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. 

ISOGG logo
From nearby National Geographic Society, Spencer Wells gave the keynote address with a video illustrating the history of the Human Genome Project. Dr. Wells had written a paper with Oleg Balanovsky, Head of the Research Center for Medical Genetics at the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences in Moscow, and Dr. Balanovsky then described Russian efforts to trace human migrations and languages.

Genetic genealogist CeCe Moore gave an entertaining talk about her own family history in genetic detail, about how hard it is to get people to donate their spit in a humorous way, and tips on how to carry out the necessary detective work with genetic information when the paper trail goes cold and results in research brick walls.

Representatives from companies such as 23andMe,, and a few others associated with the new field of genetic genealogy gave talks and explained how to research ancestors. It was a fascinating gathering, and I was privileged to attend this inaugural meeting of an entirely new discipline made possibly by the internet and advances in DNA technology.

Apart from the standard genealogical bread and butter advice to have family reunions and share information, genealogists can confirm (and sometimes) deny family relationships. Sometimes, the results can actually cause people to deny they have half-siblings they didn't know they had. CeCe Moore gave proof of this and described in detail how she discovered the Heming family relationship with the former American President Thomas Jefferson.

To find out more about health risks, inherited conditions, drug responses and distinguishing traits, 23andMe stands head and shoulders over other data providers. 

Once you have data, you can do a lot with it, and the most fascinating sites for me now are Promethease and SNPedia which I described here. I'm fascinated by any health information I can get that concern my children and ancestors. That's my primary motivation for researching my own ancestry further.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Promethease and SNPedia: Sites Worthy of Honor, Respect, and Support

As I've remarked in earlier posts, my genes have been sequenced through various companies and the results have been analyzed through a very interesting organization and website called Promethease and the wiki site SNPedia, founded in 2006 by Greg Lennon. It would be a good idea to support their work. My results have been amazing and life-changing. 

The name Promethease itself could derive from legends surrounding Prometheus which typically have to do with honor and support.

PROMETHEUS Statue Courtesy: Buchhandler
Promethease is a fascinating site and company where you can directly send your genome data from another site such as 23andMe or most other sources and receive reports on your gene SNPs (or "snips), the so-called snips of your genes that make you who you are, and that make you different from your family. It's useful for everyone: members of large families who will learn more about their individual genetic predispositions and traits, orphans who could learn more personal family names or disease risks, and anyone can learn more about family lineages going back hundreds of years. For each person, genetic results are different. Certainly the healthcare field of doctors can use it as a research resource, genealogists searching for quirky character traits, maybe police forces searching forensically for an individual's DNA data. The uses for genetic information is in its infancy. Genetic data can be another useful and time-saving device and it's limited only by imagination.

A connected compendium of SNP results is organized into a wiki called SNPedia, founded by Greg Lennon and Mike Cariaso, both also of Promethease. Mike has made many informational videos explaining how to use the site.  SNPedia is a resource that can be used by the medical field around the world. It's meant to be updated like Wikipedia by doctors and medical students and provide  a database useful for biomedical research and discovery. SNPedia lists medical papers related to diseases connected to genes and SNPs, and much that is currently known about the current field of DNA interpretation.

Incoming Stanford and Harvard medical students will have their genes sequenced and will learn how to analyze genetic results to help patients in the future. That's how important this field is. As well as medics, anyone searching for medical information can broaden their understanding of disease and personality characteristics. Genealogists can find clues when paper trails have run their course and evolutionary biologists and anthropologists can use it as a resource. Many professionals now have another avenue to use for investigations, and have been finding that DNA can answer longstanding mysteries.

It's possible to look at a website about SNPs at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but that website, unlike Promethease, doesn't give you a definition of each one of your SNPs, tell you whether your particular allele is in "good" or "bad" repute, how your personal risk compares in percentage size to the world population of your ethnicity. The NIH gives chromosomal raw numbers but without interpretation such as that found on Promethease, all that data is useless. The search mechanism of Promethease makes use of NIH's ClinVar (Clinical Variants) information from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, which also aggregates and archives information, but doesn't yield popularly-useful interpretations. Promethease, in contrast, goes much further and describes what each SNP is and what diseases and traits it determines.

 At the related SNPedia site, it's possible to find papers to research for more information, and papers are continually updated into the site every day. For that reason, downloading your gene data into the site will yield updated information as the site forgets information after 45 days. The data is only searchable on Promethease when it's fresh, but can be kept in your files. Whether the service is free or not depends on whether you'd like to wait hours for the report or have it in a few minutes, and that cost is only five dollars, for results that were unavailable until now in any medium and will quickly become priceless to you. It's an easy to do and easy to understand. Recommend putting this on your to-do list. Everyone should try this at home.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Should Stay Out of Financial Games of Politics

"The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) is pulling millions of dollars in investments out of three U.S. companies tied to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
In a close vote at its annual assembly in Detroit on Friday, the church voted 310-303 to divest $21 million from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions.
The church says Caterpillar supplies products to Israel that are used to destroy Palestinian homes, Hewlett-Packard provides logistics and technology to help enforce the naval blockade of Gaza, and Motorola Solutions provides military and surveillance systems in illegal Israeli settlements.
But immediately after the vote, church leaders said the decision was not a judgment against Israel. "In no way is this a reflection for our lack of love for our Jewish sisters and brothers," Moderator Heath Rada said." CNN

Here's why I don't agree with the recent announcement by the Presbyterian Church in America to sell investments in these companies. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is harming American industry and innovation and the hard work that the thousands of company employees do in their jobs every day. These are enormous companies: Caterpillar employed 125,341 people as of Dec. 2012, Hewlett-Packard: 317,000 in 2013, and Motorola Solutions: 22,000 in 2012. 

I didn't think I'd ever have to support American industry single-handedly, but I do think it's wrong for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to get into politics by making this decision because it's a two-edged sword. Where does entering world politics stop for a church? Surely every  multi-national company could be faulted for one reason or another. Apart from being narrow-minded, it's hypocritical in a church that should value inclusion and seems to me close to anti-Semitism.

It's thought that these companies aren't helping Palestinians. The importance of helping Palestinians is an attitude that has pervaded the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in recent years. It has already divested companies with operations in Israel, noting that church divestments in the 70s helped end Apartheid. That last assertion sounds rather grandiose to me; I'd need to see evidence of that. To me, limiting investments in these companies is an absurd stance and is a decision reeks of church politics, and someone always wins and loses with politics. Besides, what's wrong with investing in agricultural machinery, computers, and telephones?

These companies employ many thousands, and the ones singled out by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) currently employ thousands in America whose present salaries, future pensions, and the lives of their families, might be affected through no fault of their own. It's an insult to the personal histories of all employees and is hurting them for church-political reasons. The Church will instead help to contribute to global poverty and global hunger if these machines and devices aren't made and sold overseas. Who knows how the companies and my friends in Israel might retaliate? 

Full disclosure: it's a church I haven't joined. You may not know, as I haven't said this before on this blog, but I happen to be the grand-daughter of a Presbyterian minister in Canada, and grew up going to Church on Sundays in Ottawa with very devout parents. I think I have as much right as anyone to throw in my two cents, and hope my Canadian friends show better financial acumen than this.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

"That's Just The Way It Is" Internationally In American Education

America has had trouble coming out in first place internationally in the field of education recently. 

The losing streak was beginning to show hope of fading after a report came out that supposedly highlighted how well America had done with problem solving skills. The idea, reported in the media, was asserting that American students were better at problem-solving and flexibility skills than students in other countries. 

Then I saw an article  in The New York Times called "American Students Test Well in Problem Solving, but Trail Foreign Counterparts." Note that even a subordinate clause in the title says that it really trails other nations. Yet NPR radio in reports had made it sound as if this result was a shining achievement of American education, when in reality, America trailed even here Singapore, South Korea, Japan, several provinces of China, Canada, Australia, Finland and Britain. And this was hailed by an American politician as a relatively "strong suit." It was hoped that the value of flexible thinking would redeem the weakness of American education, but it turns out the improvement was decided as only minor. Excuses were given to explain the higher standing of foreign countries, such as the emphasis on rote learning of facts and formulas in Asian countries. 

The topic fascinated me and I decided to look further into the 2012 scores of the Program of International Student Assessment (P.I.S.A.) published in December 2013 and only now being reported in the popular press. America's losing streak appears to be continuing however the press wants to spin it.

In this article in the Washington Post article mathematics:
"The U.S. percentage was lower than 27 education systems, higher than 22 education systems, and not measurably different than 13 education systems."

In science literacy, a similar story:
"The U.S. percentage was lower than 17 education systems, higher than 27 education systems, and not measurably different than 15 education systems."

Even reading literacy wasn't exceptional:
"The U.S. percentage was lower than 14 education systems, higher than 33 education systems, and not measurably different than 12 education systems."

Where, besides Sarah Palin, do Americans get the idea of American exceptionalism, or of America as the hub where people must be seen and live to become "known"?  Exceptionalism doesn't appear to have any basis in reality if these test results are any guide. If any American students go to university primarily to play sports instead of to learn academic studies, then I don't suppose anything will ever change and their standings will never improve except in the unreal world of American propaganda. 

According to this article in The Atlantic magazine:
"The U.S. ranks fifth in spending per student. Only Austria, Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland spend more per student. To put this in context: the Slovak Republic, which scores similarly to the U.S. spends $53,000 per student. The U.S. spends $115,000."

Worse, even the advanced state of Massachusetts lags two years behind Singapore at the high school level, so that foreign students fall behind if they attend American high schools, and have a huge advantage if they attend American universities. This education failure sadly is an old refrain, and I hope to have a more optimistic tone, as I usually do have, in my next post. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Is the Act of Forgiveness Dying?

Last week I attended a conference for women in business where the keynote speaker said that for women in business it's wrong to apologize and say "I'm sorry." The speaker exhorted us to promote rather than apologize and ask permission and said instead of apologizing to say "excuse me" or "please go on" and that apologizing is now supposedly a sign of the weakness of women in a business setting. But I have to say here (in my one still and tiny voice) that "I disagree."

Her speech about gravitas and how to have it was given to a huge audience of influential women here in the Princeton area of New Jersey. The lady who said it (and who shall remain nameless to avoid trouble) gave a talk otherwise laudable and praiseworthy, and I recognize that I'm taking this single topic straight out of context (and apologize).

It's the height of arrogance not to apologize when circumstances warrant outpouring expressions of kindness. It makes the person who made a mistake own it (along with shame, guilt, fear) and makes him/her into a better and more trustworthy person, and the apology must be said with sincerity and forgiveness requested and granted or else it won't be believed. Showing empathy and compassion shows your human nature in its best light.

Forgiveness is possibly a genetically inherited character trait, a sign of strength, of empathy, and of compassion. It isn't the sign of a healthy relationship if the other person doesn't admit they are wrong, doesn't take responsibility or ever admit to being at fault. In fact being callous and remorseless has been called a sign of psychopathy.

Not all apologies are equal. We've all heard someone apologize in a sarcastic or insincere way, such as to an opponent in reference to winning a competitive game "I'm sorry to say I won that match." That isn't really meant as a deep apology, and perhaps this casual use of the phrase is inadvisable except in the most casual of settings. 

I do think there is a place even in business for a sincere apology. Apologizing shows respect for the feelings of others. Saying you've made a mistake should also in turn be respected. It does get easier to say the more you say it and you will feel better for saying it. In fact, they are the two (or three) sweetest words I can hear from someone with whom I've had a disagreement, and who I feel is truly at fault.

It's not that I'm a fine example of a businesswoman (far from it), but from an international point of view as I generally have I don't agree that apologizing is a sign of weakness. Apologizing and asking forgiveness is a method useful for reconciliation and continuing diplomacy engaged as a sign of true humility and repentance.

Sincerely, I hope that asking for forgiveness doesn't soon become a lost art because forgiveness helps us all move on with our lives. Apologies are meant to signal that water has passed under the bridge so why not strengthen that metaphorical bridge and not ignore it? Apologizing and asking forgiveness is a useful interpersonal diplomatic tool when the end goal is peace. Don't we all want that?

File:Richmond Bridge Panorama.jpg
wikimedia: Richmond Bridge Tasmania

Friday, January 17, 2014

Jane McGonigal's Extraordinary TED Talk

Jane McGonigal, Game Designer 

Thanks, Jane! In Jane McGonigal's TED talk, she talks about how to add ten years to your life. 

After people have had trauma similar to Jane's severe head trauma, goals they often share are to:

1) do whatever makes them happy
2) feel closer to family and friends
3) understand themselves better
4) know who they really are now
5) have a clear sense of meaning and purpose in life
6) be better able to focus on goals and dreams.

When people are dying, the regrets most often expressed are the opposite and reinforce the above positive goals. They often wish they had:

1) not worked so hard
2) stayed in touch with friends
3) let themselves be happier (for example, by playing video games)
4) had the courage to express their true selves
5) lived lives true to their dreams instead of what was expected of them.

To review, those who lived on average ten years longer continually boosted four types of resilence:

1) physical - by never sitting still for more than an hour at a time
2) mental - by tackling tiny goals to boost willpower
3) emotional - by achieving the three-to-one positive emotion ratio
4) social - by reaching out to one other cared-for person every single day

McGonigal's a game designer and approves of games. Scientific literature proves that when we play a game we tackle challenges with greater creativity, determination, optimism, and we're more likely to reach out to others for help, be more courageous, ambitious, and committed to our goals.

Video games can help with survival and longevity with behaviors we can adopt for use in real life. Another reason to like online video games is that "groundbreaking clinical trials recently conducted at East Caroline University showed that online games can outperform pharmaceuticals for treating clinical anxiety and depression. Just 30 minutes of online game play a day was enough to create dramatic boosts in mood and long-term increases in happiness." 

Here's the entire transcript of the video and it's well-worth watching or reading.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Michelle Obama Is A Vital Asset to America's International Image

Michelle Obama has always had a difficult journey to walk in the White House. From the beginning of her husband's first term as 44th and current President of the United States, her husband's political opponents have taken it on themselves to criticize her at every opportunity, most vocally for her choices of clothes.

And now she's staying in Hawaii for a few weeks as a gift from her husband, staying at Oprah Winfrey's house while the East Coast freezes, and the petty jealousy in the press is everywhere. The neverending cheap and nasty sniping and the publishing of disrespectful and unflattering photos makes me sad. It's extremely obvious that her opponents use the race card at every opportunity, since Michelle Obama is the first African-American First Lady.

Michelle Obama is a beautiful, accomplished, experienced individual whatever her detractors have to say. She was born Michelle LeVaughn Robinson in Chicago, attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School before returning to Chicago to work at the law firm Sidley Austin, on the staff of Chicago mayor Richard Daley, and for the University of Chicago Medical Center.

The First Lady has used her platform in the White House to draw attention to the problems of poor children by starting a Task Force on Childhood Obesity. She grew organic vegetables in the first White House vegetable garden and started bee hives that supplied fresh organic produce and honey at state dinners.

Michelle Obama has been involved in the many aspects of being wife of the President, and she will leave a lasting legacy as an advocate of LGBT rights, and on many issues of concern to military and working families. I wish her opponents could wise up to her assets within the realities of this farflung multinational country.