I have been working all week on an intense project and ideas for this particular topic have been swirling through my head. Sometimes they gel into a cogent statement, buttressed by facts from all the sources that spin past me each day and at other times, they just drop into the pool of ideas that I hold in memory over many years of thinking about this subject. When I want to be technically accurate, I refer to the notes I take in a spiral notebook on the coffee table in the family room so I can jot down names, figures, book titles and ideas as they come to me. But this week I am also starting a pullover for Geoff (finished my Noro cardigan) and using my notebook to chart the pattern (something I have learned to do after thirty-something years of knitting), so I am too lazy to leaf through it for more data.
That is a long way of saying, I will just wing this. I was laughing to myself that I could probably have a permanent tab on this blog, riffing on this word and at some future date, I will share all the punning variations that immediately came to mind, each for a particular topic that gets my Irish going.
What prompted this post (in addition to a few recent developments in these areas, in the news last week) was seeing the two links below. Their connection may make more sense later in this post or in a future one. In any case, the first one is a must-see. Make sure you watch the whole thing (it’s only a few minutes).
Everything in my background conspired to create a person who cares about people, this planet and every single living thing (and resource) on it. I am a child psychologist because I sincerely believe (and can prove by sound evidence) that everything we become is founded in the first seven to eighteen years of our life. The first three are the most critical, then the next four, the next five (with a critical developmental stage around the age of 12, i.e., puberty, etc.). So, lest anyone think that I care more about other things, than people, you need only look to my education and work to know that isn’t so.
However, I love the rest of the living things on this earth, especially animals. But almost as much, the resources and abundant treasures we inherited. It seriously pains me to see it destroyed. I was happy but not satisfied, for example, to see Ed Schultz come around to condemning the Keystone Pipeline and getting his head out of the tar sand. If for no other reason than this toxic, noxious-gas-emitting, carcinogenic sludge would likely leak into the Ogallala Aquifer, the second largest fresh water body in the United States, and destroy the mid-Western bread basket, responsible citizens must see to it that this potential disaster doesn’t slip across the Canadian border. I hope Canada will leave it in the ground where it belongs. It will go to China, not us. It would be a mistake of epic proportions to extract and ship it.
I was also thinking of the wonderful bread basket of Northern California where Geoff and I lived, in the East Bay, before we moved down to SoCal. We could go to Berkeley Bowl, a hypermarket for fresh produce in Oakland, and choose from hundreds of fresh, unique and healthy fruits and vegetables, among many other incredible delicacies. People whose diet is heavily weighted toward animal products and processed or fast foods, have no idea what a magnificent experience for the senses, a plant-based rainbow diet of fresh food is and how it revolutionizes one’s menu. In fact, there is a new series on PBS on Scandinavian cooking that is worth DVRing, if you can. If you want to find a fresh, healthy, mouth-watering cuisine, you will find it in the wild-food based diet of the Norwegians, Swedes and Danes. For pastry, the Danes rival the Austrians, too. Our diets are comparatively dull, tasteless, and frankly, deadly. When I was in high school and still eating meat, I found out that the rest of the world eats cows, chickens and pigs that actually move around and live a decent life outdoors in nature — and the meat has flavor, I experienced it over and over again, first hand, during extensive travels. Americans just don’t realize that ours does not. Until you compare it for yourself, you will not understand or believe me. If you have been to Holland, as just one among many examples, you will realize that our meat and cheese pales by comparison.
Our food in America isn’t live. It is all produced by agribusiness, giant corporations whose only concern is profit — lots of it. We are sick and fat and narcotized, as a result. It doesn’t have to be this way, but, we are sheeple and have been thoroughly indoctrinated. There is nothing wrong with enterprise, but I don’t want a CEO to rake billions off the ill-health of the population and vital resources of this earth. All you have to do is pay attention to the news of toxic spills, millions (I am not exaggerating) of pounds of recalled contaminated meat from factory farms where the diseased and miserable animals are squeezed into tiny spaces and spend their whole lives living in their own waste before being dragged to their death, sick, fallen and suffering, if you want to know what is really going on. Why would anyone want to eat that? Just because it is sexed up with chemical flavors, dyes, and extruded into the shape of something that reminds us of the diet our ancestors used to eat before the runaway industrial complex took over our food supply.
Animals feel, think, understand, reason far more than we give them credit for. Because most of them cannot speak. I live with two animals. One of them speaks, English, understands what she is saying, and expresses herself in a large vocabulary that she has learned to combine into novel sentences that indicate true cognition and ratiocination. There is impressive research on parrots to support this (look up Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her world famous work with and on Alex, pictured right). And, we all know that the great apes and large water mammals can perform similar communication marvels. We wouldn’t be so quick to put live turkeys in shredders if we all knew this to be true, as I do, from my reading and first-hand experience. Crows are almost as smart, but don’t have voiceboxes and the musculature to produce speech, the way all parrots do, to a greater or less degree, African Grey’s being the best at it.
I get just as upset when trees are needlessly destroyed. My next door neighbor, an attorney who is renting the house with a backyard adjacent to ours, separated by a high stone wall, had a party two weeks ago. She apparently convinced the owner to “prune” two magnificent trees that provided shelter, shade and beauty to our backyard, as wells as hers. I stood outside and guided the “gardeners” in Spanish, to save as much as I could but they butchered those two gentle giants anyway. Now we are trying to figure out what we can plant along that wall, that will grow quickly enough, to shield our eyes from their carcasses, that were left in plain sight of our property. I was furious but there wasn’t a thing I could do. Wanton destruction and stupidity were at work. Our national parks suffer the same fate from ignorant, short-sighted and greed-driven programs.
Our honey guy has finally thrown in the towel. We go out of our way to buy our produce at the local farmer’s market every week. He had been in Valencia (and surrounding towns) for 20 years. There are just not enough bees left for him to stay in business. Why? Because Monsanto needs to have jacked-up crops that are drowned in pesticides. Frogs and bees are disappearing, all over the earth. I could shield myself from some of it, but I have noticed too that bumble bees no longer come to my yard, all my lady bugs (not only pretty, but practical as they feed on harmful insects) are gone. Very few butterflies, despite my putting out trays of fruit for them.
I was encouraged to hear Russell Simmons — someone with the clout and finances to make a difference — talking to Joy Reid about the fact that there are 40 billion animals in factory farms emitting enormous amounts of methane, far more dangerous to global warming and the ozone layer than carbon from the fossil fuel industry (especially fracking and coal burning). Those 40 billion pigs, cows and chickens are eating material that could feed all the hungry people on this planet, many times over, end starvation and spare the lives of these helpless creatures in the process. We need more people to get on board with eating lower on the food chain.
I could probably cite more examples that are my particular pet peeves in this area, but instead, I will leave you to visit these two links that I think bolster my arguments, at least on the topic of animals. Thank you for indulging me as I ambled (and ranted?) through this stream of consciousness, and feel free to give me your thoughts, too.
To be continued in future posts …
Images: atlantic.com, youtube.com, nyt.com,huffpost.com, berkeleybowl.com, fr-treepictures.com, kcrw.com
There is so little time to do anything frivolous these days. One thing I miss is listening to NPR. When I visit my relatives in North Carolina, I stay with Annabelle’s parents, two college professors to whom I am related on my mother’s side. They have two big-screen TVs but those are disconnected most of the time and the elaborate gauntlet one has to traverse to get a decent program on is above my pay grade. So I listen to WUNC and sometimes tune in to it here in LA via Pandora. One of the interesting programs I heard was about this topic, which arrived in e-mail form yesterday.
Among many shocking facts is the one that only 1 in 4 Americans knows that the earth circles the sun, not the reverse. Yes, that’s right, in the richest, supposedly most exceptional country on earth, 25% of the people are that ignorant. And we are not alone, other countries are offenders in this regard.
What does this tell us about the state of education in the 21st century (everywhere except Finland and South Korea, I guess).
Then while I was digesting that, I happened to watch Fareed Zakaria. He had on, among others, Adam Gopnik, a writer for the New Yorker and a historian. His books are just wonderful, and I would recommend them. He has lived in France and has some amazing stories to tell about that culture and his and his family’s time there, but has also written a magical children’s book that I would recommend if you know any 8 to 10 year olds.
He said something that really struck me as important. That, while of course we need the STEM courses and many technical jobs go begging in this country because we are graduating so few trained and qualified specialists in those areas, we cannot put the humanities, i.e. art and literature especially, on a back-burner. He pointed to Apple and said that largely Apple’s genius is not just its engineering wizardry, but its aesthetic mastery. The creative aspects of Apple products are what enable it to command the popularity and prices it does — not its technology. We will always have technically savvy people, but what will elevate the few is their advanced creativity.
I feel lucky to have developed some artistic skills that embellish and decorate my life. From childhood I could sing, draw and dance well — something both my mother and father encouraged. Had I not had parents that emphasized science and teaching as a profession, I might have gone into the arts and thrived. I find time to do those things still and all through school, I made sure I took classes at least in history and literature so I wouldn’t be a Joanie one-note. I don’t care about fame and fortune, I want to live life purposefully, but artfully, beautifully, consciously and fully.
I am not just a psychologist. I have a lot of hobbies. I go to a great deal of trouble to beautify my home, turn out imaginative pastries, paint scenes on furniture, plant a year-round blooming and fruiting garden, knit and crochet (I am working on a colorful Noro sweater right now that I will share in the future). This is a lifelong drive, a hunger for knowledge and a complete life that wastes as few personal resources as possible, especially time. It is something almost all children have naturally until it is driven out of them by misinformed, misguided adults in the name of very short-sighted expediency.
Where is that voracious appetite for enriched learning in our schools today? The entire teach-to-the-test movement has meant the impoverishment of the so-called electives. I attended public schools growing up and we had art, crafts, music, gymnastics, theater, debating — all were part of the curriculum as were all sorts of languages (including Latin and Greek), right along with the sciences and math. We had a pioneering accelerated English program for gifted kids that tied into the history and science classes so they were all coordinated (much like Waldorf education has on a richer and more varied scale). What I see now in my younger nieces’ and nephews’ textbooks in so-called California model schools is appalling: dull, soul-draining, pedestrian, lifeless. How kids get into top colleges and universities equipped with such mediocrity, is beyond me.
As I have mentioned before, my favorite niece, a 12-year Waldorf graduate, got into a top college and from there she went on to the top graduate school in her scientific field. She sings, acts, paints, and knits. She can make books, draw her own clothing patterns and then sew those clothes by hand, to make any garment she wants. She has made dolls, tooled leather, done woodworking; she plays two instruments and was a volley ball captain. All of this prepared her to be a scientist, because it developed all her faculties, not just the left-brain talents. In Waldorf Schools, the students create and illustrate their own subject books. That skill, from 12 years of learning how to sketch and paint the world around them by continuous practice (the way the masters learned their crafts at one time), enabled my niece to illustrate her work in graduate school while many other students were struggling with awkward computer-generated images. And, most of the kids she went to school with have gone on to similar successes. (In fact, an earlier graduate of her school, who is now a CEO of a sizable company, built and painted a harpsichord when he attended, that he later donated to the school!)
Adam Gopnik said something profound: we are impelled to study the humanities because we are human. It is a natural desire and we innately long for an understanding of where we are, where we have come from and where we are headed as a species. We need to anchor today, in yesterday, in history. We need to read books from the 19th century to learn that they struggled with much the same issues and longings and misgivings with which we ourselves are occupied right now.
We study science so we can known the world as it is. But history tells us how we got here, and inspiration found in art, music, books shows us the path to where we can go. You need a creative mind to imagine the next invention. You will not learn that in an engineering or computer class.
Gopnik said that in every past era, the conversations pivoted around books and pictures, literature and art. These things are accessible to all and thus highly democratizing. That is why libraries and museums have always been largely free. Everyone can and should feel part of a conversation that extends back through time to the very beginning of civilization as we know it, and allows our imaginations to freely stretch toward an amazing future.
This is the very core of human desire. In fact, as my Francophone friends know, the word ‘coeur’ or heart is etymologically akin to ‘core’. The human heart desires to understand and the arts speak directly to our hearts and to this need. If we sacrifice them at the altar of practicality, we drain the very life blood and nourishment from our culture.
This country readily teaches our kids to use guns but cannot justify teaching them to paint and write music and read French literature? Maybe if students in all our schools had to draw and paint and model figures from nature, let’s say, of our solar system, in vivid, vibrant colors, they would learn and remember that we do not live in a geocentric universe. They might see the similarities between the species that reveal evolutionary progress, it might be driven home to them that the world has order and is beautiful, and we can know and understand that order through our senses, if we are trained.
They might yearn for true knowledge and not be satisfied until they have explored our world in all its glory, thoroughly.
If you roll over or click on the images, you will see the grade of the students at different Waldorf Schools who created each of these illustrations, in the image URL.
Images: Amazon.com, AWSNA.org