Most people would agree that life is complex – a beautiful maze that never has a direct path, but surely “rivers always reach the sea” (Led Zeppelin, Ten Years Gone). This complexity of our present day is especially evident with the economic crisis, wars overseas, increasing poverty rates, etc.

I am a person who tries to make life as simple as possible. If you sneak a peak into my room, you will see at least 20 pictures of nature or paintings bursting with earthy colors. As I take a look at these pictures – I center myself. I realize that behind the complexity of life there is a location of peace and meditation.

I think that meditation could benefit anyone who gets too caught up. Stop for a second. Go into a room where there is as little noise as possible. Then close your eyes. Can you believe how loud your mind is?

I’ve always like this idea of the “brain” because it is graspable. But the mind is a whole other story that I cannot figure out. OTHER people or experts may have this answer, but I choose to find my own answer.

I am not asking anyone who reads this blog entry to meditate. But I found an article in Times Magazine titled Mind Over Chocolate by Alana B. Elias Kornfeld. It describes how food has been embedded with meditative cues. Products have been infused with hints toward meditation, prayer (not in the traditional sense), and even music!

For example, there is intentional chocolate that contains a box of six raspberry triangles with monks’ meditations imbued within. A Californian company called H20m has words, colors and symbols on the labels that have wishes for joy, health, love and appreciation for everything that is around us. The idea of subconsciously alluding to meditation in foods and drinks is not a new idea – cultures, like Navajo, have been doing it for centuries. It’s just that the U.S. and Canada have been catching on.

“We hear you rolling your eyes”, says Kornfeld. But you can actually alter the physical world that encompasses you through your mind. It starts with reflection and conscious-awareness.

We still can’t shake the reality that there are Ten Years Gone, but I shall end this entry with giving you my own definition of meditation. It is a place in the mind where you can enter to become detached from the world temporarily, only to come back feeling like a newborn.

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Somewhere, amongst the notions that we will get nationalized healthcare, and that we’ll close Gitmo, and that we’re going to fix the economy, and that we’re going to rebuild all of the good will and trust in government that the Bush administration squandered, and all of the other hopes, dreams, and prayers that people have attached to Barack Obama’s message of change, one more seems to have snuck in there which doesn’t seem like it belongs with the rest of them.

Marijuana legalization bills have been recently introduced in both Massachusetts and California, and many other states have recently made moves which would make the law more friendly towards medical marijuana and the decriminalization of carrying small amounts. Also, while there’s always been a crowd of people shouting at the top of their lungs to legalize it, several new voices have been added to their ranks in recent months, including television personalities, Harvard professors and lawmakers. Change is happening all over the place, right? Why can’t we change the way we treat marijuana?

Oh sure, some states have opened some doors, and yes, he appointed an Attorney General who doesn’t believe in the DEA interfering with state laws. Still, how any of this adds up to the recent groundswell of speculation that marijuana legalization is within reach is almost as baffling as the people who feel that Obama turned against them when he recently said that he doesn’t not support legalization.

Is this really THAT surprising? Really, people? The same guy who spent months campaigning and calling for to work hard and to give back to our country, the same guy who says that people spend too much time sitting around in front of the Nintendo Wii, you mean he’s also the same guy who doesn’t think legalizing a substance which lists as potential side effects depression and a lack of motivation?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody, really. All the excitement over our dynamic new president has clearly put some thoughts into people’s heads and gotten marijuana legalization supporters perhaps a touch too excited. That particular battle has been and always will be an uphill struggle. Some administrations will make it easier than others have to take the kinds of steps that are necessary in what will invariably be a slow, slow process. Whatever marijuana advocates say about Obama’s stance, the fact is that his administration is more friendly toward these goals than the Bush administration was, and they are more willing to do the research and put the work in to explore its medical uses. The individuals who are blowing up message boards and writing angry missives on their blogs need to take a step back and realize that Barack Obama never betrayed them because he was never, in fact, on the same page as they were.

Every afternoon as I sit eating lunch, I scan the big headlines on Boston.com. I know I’m not alone when I say that I don’t read every single article just because the Globe decided to print it. I scan the headlines, reading sentences here and there, but I rarely find what I am ultimately looking for. Being the daughter of a United States Soldier, I spend most of my time looking for articles with news from overseas. I search the papers and watch the news in an attempt to feel connected with my father and his comrades. But, alas, the wars overseas are no longer news worthy. America has indeed moved on, and there are apparently much more important things to report on. For instance just today I happened upon an article about Dane Cook’s half brother being held for a million dollars bail. Now THAT’S news! I don’t think I could have lived without reading about that! In fact if you haven’t read about it yet, you better Google it right away, or else you’re going to be seriously out of the loop…

Imagine my surprise when last Sunday I came across an article which in title alone perfectly voiced my opinion. “As Public Largely Moves On, Local Guardsmen Dive In, Ship out”. Although I found the article itself a little wordy, it attempts to hit upon a key point. There are still soldiers fighting, despite the fact that the U.S general public has abandoned them. The article focuses on a few members of the 211th Military Police Battalion (which being my father’s battalion is near and dear to my heart) and how they are currently preparing to deploy to Iraq in early July. Despite the fact that troops are gearing up for deployment, the public is blind to their very existence. Many civilians believe that because Obama’s political stance was to pull the troops out, that the troops are all already safe at home. My own grandmother firmly believes my father is lying about his upcoming deployment date. Her argument is “Obama said you weren’t going”. Okay Grandma, whatever you say.

Sadly, my grandmother is not alone. I have even been forced to be subject to professors at my institution telling me that the war was over and that no more troops would leave our soil. Oh yeah? Try telling me that in July when my father is putting his life on the line for our country, fighting the war which is apparently not as over as the public thinks.

As I read through the comments on the article, some of them nearly made me sick. I understand that some people are against the war, but there is no reason to be against the actual soldiers who fight it. These men and women are under orders, they didn’t just decide to take a plain over and start shooting the place up. If given the choice, I’m willing to bet most soldiers would prefer to be home with their families, rather than overseas. The support for the war shouldn’t affect the support of the soldier. The phrase “it’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it” comes to mind here. I’m not asking for constant patriotism, however it would be nice. I’m just asking for people to realize there are heroic men and women still putting their lives on the line for this country. This war isn’t over, and ignoring it won’t change that. Show some support, if not for the war, at least for the soldiers. Don’t you think they deserve it?

What defines a person versus other animals? Is it because we are the only ones capable of language, both physically and verbally, in addition to communication? Animals can communicate with each other, but this is just perceived by people. Is there not more to it that we just cannot understand, in terms of language of other animals?

Chimpanzees can use sign language when trained. We are not the only ones.

Is it our ability to make executive decisions? Does this just originate from the frontal lobe, or does it come from something more philosophical – something that cannot be explained through human intellect?

What about how we have built our own civilization after hundreds of years? What about the concept of time that we have created in our heads?

But the Babylonians and Egyptians had a sense of time even before there were clocks and watches. They even made predictions through the elliptical movements of the planets.

Or is it our unique genetic makeup? Well think of this: Chimpanzees share most of their genes with humans.

Is it that we reside on this planet – where the ocean meets the sky?

In the end, we are human beings that are just trying to get by – most of us living in our own bubble and sphere of thought.

“As we meet, I always keep in mind that we are the same in being human beings. If we emphasize those superficial differences, I am an Easterner and a former Tibetan from beyond the Himalayas, with a different environment and a different culture. However, if we both look deep down, I have a valid feeling of I, and with that feeling I want happiness and do not want suffering. Everyone, no matter where they come from, has this valid feeling of I on the same conventional level, and in this sense we are all the same.” (Kindness, Clarity, and Insight: The Fourteenth Dali Lama).

Vote or Die

March 24, 2009

The Constitution of the United States of America currently allows for the popular election of its legislative branch alone.  The President, uncontestedly after the 2000 elections,  is voted for by the Electoral College.  Furthermore, the most powerful branch of government and the most powerful office in all the land is an appointed position.  The Justices of the Supreme Court, who receive their appointments by the President once confirmed by the Senate, have the ability to rule laws or actions unconstitutional.  As such, the Judicial branch represents the most powerful apparatus in the Federal government structure.  What exactly is the purpose of having a popular legislature with an insulated executive and an even further insulated court system? 

Well, it was not always that way.  The issue is that we have lost touch with how our government works.  In former times, a citizen with a concern would take his or her grievance (issue of concern) to the local authorities.  A State Representative or a town/city hall official was and is the first step in our government.  Since action a century or more ago took a long time due to slow lines of communication, it was acceptable to navigate our concerns this way.  As communication lines became increasingly accessible, the Federal government became an outlet for citizen concern.  The problem was, only the House of Representatives was elected by the people.  The Senate, as originally set forth in the Constitution, was elected by members of the several State’s legislatures.  Under that system of representation the States had a voice, independently, in the Federal government.  An added benefit was that voting for local/State representatives was given the proper gravitas – since these individuals then voted for Senators.  With these conditions taken in consideration, the Supreme Court was then isolated even further!  The Senate, voted in by the State legislators, and the President, voted in by the electoral college, appointed Justices to determine the constitutionality of laws.  The major factor to ponder is the loss of State influence and voice in our Federal government.  If the Stimulus Package has shown us anything, it is how intregal State concerns are to the functioning of our government. 

It is understandable to be upset when it feels like your vote does not matter.  It is even more understandable to be discontent when you are denied the right to vote for a very influential position in your own government.  However, before we citizens complain about who we can not vote for, we should think of who we are not voting for – our local representatives.  Town/City officials, State Senators and State Representatives are positions that are nearly overlooked in our fast paced society and, ironically, are best able to respond to our needs and demands.  Making real change in our system, effectuating significant and lasting differences in our political structure starts now where it did in 1787 – with local representatives.

Blows to the head

March 22, 2009

By definition, a concussion is a sudden alteration of an alert state due to some sort of head trauma. Although the brain is capable of recovering after a concussion, the amount of force needed to cause permanent brain damage is unclear and is still being researched.
There have been studies indicating that heading the ball while playing soccer can lead to brain damage and dementia later on in life. It has been hypothesized that former England international footballer, Jeff Astle, died in 2002 due to a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated traumas to the brain that were related to heading a heavy leather football.
But the idea that heading the ball while playing soccer can cause brain damage is inconclusive. Dr. Andrew Rutherford, a psychologist at Keele University in England, has researched the neuropsychological consequences and found that these studies are not as valid as they may seem. Instead, these studies indicate that people compete to head the ball and may bump heads, which is the real factor that causes concussions and brain damage. Dr. Scott Delaney from the McGill University Health Center in Canada has also researched soccer-related head injuries and agrees that heading the ball rarely leads to acute concussion.
Boxers have also been afflicted with sport-related dementia that eventually led to Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases. When compared to a normal sized brain, boxers’ brains are smaller and their ventricles (spaces in between the brain that are filled with cerebrospinal fluid) are enlarged.
Boxers experience concussions just as soccer players do when there are head traumas, but what about small bumps to the head that do not cause concussions? Do they have long-term cumulative effects in causing dementia?
There does not seem to be enough evidence supporting or disproving the idea that small bumps to the head, such as heading the soccer ball, can cause small traumas that can cause neurodegenerative diseases over time.
Just as studies have showns that boxers’ brains shrink and their ventricles enlarge, I suggest that the same studies should be done on soccer players who have not had any serious concussions, but who have headed the ball frequently. Their brains could then be compared to the brains of people who have had neurodegenerative diseases due to serious head trauma. These brain studies could help reveal if there is a cumulative effect of small injuries in causing brain degeneration.

See these links:
http://www.braininjury.com/injured.html
http://cnn.org/2009/HEALTH/03/06/football.dementia.injury/index.html
http://menshealth.about.com/od/fitness/a/boxing.htm

If you’re anything like me, you’ve got your Google account wired to directly beam any mention of beer or wine in any publication in the world directly to your inbox. Then, of course, you’ll spend the first two or three hours of every day sifting through these listings,  skimming through laffable crud like Malcom Gluck of the UK’s Guardian, paying attention to guys like Lew Bryson, and hanging on every word coming from Robert Parker — okay, maybe not every word. And if you’re like me, you’ll down maybe a pot or two of coffee in the process (or, on those special mornings, a glass of Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout) and brace yourself for the rest of the day. Yes, if you’re anything like me, mornings aren’t all that bad.

This particular morning, I happened upon this article. Basically it says that drinking beer or wine in moderation (not hard alcohol — apparently that’s a thing of the devil) significantly improves bone density. And Google didn’t even have to look hard for this study; turns out this finding was part of the Framingham Offspring study.

How’s this for un-demonizing alcohol: “…the effect of alcohol on bone mineral density (BMD) that [Dr. Katherine Tucker] and her colleagues saw was ‘larger than what we see for any single nutrient, even for calcium. It’s not ambiguous. It’s very clear.'”

Beer better than calcium? How could this be? “Beer is an excellent source of silicon, a mineral needed for bone health that has become increasingly rare in the modern diet, the researcher noted.” Which means that beer is better than mother’s breast milk. Unless your mom’s implants are leaking, in which case you’ve got a whole new set of problems… not the least of which is the fact that you’re still breast feeding.

Here’s something else that’s interesting: “…there were too few women who drank beer to draw conclusions about how the mineral affected female bone density.” Come on, ladies, you’re letting us down. Man up and drink a beer. For science. For science!!

Dr. Tucker emphasizes the fact that it’s important to take a variety of factors into consideration when deciding how to manage your health. For example, alcohol could be linked to increased estrogen production in the body, which is a factor in increasing the risk of breast cancer in women. So before you change your drinking habits (for science!!) consider all of the risk factors involved.

Now I don’t feel so bad for having that beer for breakfast. And for the record, I haven’t broken a bone since high school.

…just sayin’…

In recent times, everyone has had to make some sacrifices in order to save money.  With no end to the economic hardship in sight, many blushing brides and their soon to be hubbies have decided that they can no longer put their wedding plans on hold.  Many couples have opted for budget weddings, which may save money but occasionally leaves some brides feeling their dream wedding was out of reach.  What’s the number one thing cash-strapped brides feel they missed out on? The prefect wedding dress. 

Lucky for these budget brides, Goodwill designed an event just for them.  At the Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries headquarters in Roxbury this weekend, brides could hunt through over a thousand gorgeous gowns in a variety of sizes, styles and designer labels.  These dresses, which normally would sell for anywhere from $300 to $1,000, but brides could steal these dresses for as little as $80 to $250.  A very generous, anonymous, local retailer donated the dresses to Goodwill. 

The Goodwill spokesman, James Harder, is pleased with the turnout so far.  “Our hope is that brides on a budget will be able to find the gown of their dreams at an affordable price” says Harder.  Although the organization provided soon-to-be brides with their dream dresses at a price that could fit any wedding budget, its main mission is to offer job training and readiness to those with disabilities and disadvantaged and also sells affordable clothes and other household goods.  The headquarters even turned its classrooms into make shift dressing rooms for the event.  Goodwill stores around Massachusetts have always sold wedding dresses this is the first time that Goodwill has hosted a wedding dress sale of this size.  Harder is confident that this will not be the last time they host an event like Brides on a Budget. 

If you are preparing to take the big vows on a budget, stop by the Goodwill headquarters at 1010 Harrison Ave Sunday before 3 p.m. to check out the sale. 

Minneapolis Homelessness

March 19, 2009

Many of the youngest Americans have been punished due to the recession. Nation wide figures have indicated there were 16% more homeless children in the 2007-08 academic year than in the previous year – but there is something even more shocking than this figure. According to a figure given in the Times magazine, nearly 1 in 10 students in Minneapolis are homeless.
Read that last line over again.
Minneapolis social workers have been taking note of how students are regularly falling asleep in class. Why? This is because rats and roaches have been keeping them up. A student at Longfellow elementary school was sleeping on a floor worried all night that rats and roaches were going to crawl on him. A social worker had given him a mattress to sleep on until his family could find a more permanent home for him.
There are other things being done to help students who are homeless in the Minneapolis area. For example, backpacks full of food have been given to students who live in homeless shelters; they are not just cheap knapsacks, either. Coats, mittens and hats have been handed out to students during wintertime. The district also provided funding to make sure that kids play sports and go on field trips and participate in science fairs. Minneapolis public schools are providing instruments for students during the year, even for young Ty’jhanae who loves playing her violin in church for the volunteers.
The stimulus package has even allocated 70 million dollars to help homeless students.
Although this information was shocking to me, I’m glad that it is being attended to – helping students hear the music again. Children that have hope for the future are most likely going to have a more positive attitude toward life, even through the struggle.

Just when we thought things with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act were starting to settle down…

The DMCA, signed into law by President Clinton in 1998, was designed as a means of protection for copyright holders as we entered the digital age. It was designed to protect vendors from the looming threat of widespread digital piracy, which would then protect consumers by allowing vendors to keep the market fair. As most anyone with a computer and access to the internet knows, the DMCA has done little to nothing to protect content, as just about anything you could imagine can be found with very little effort. Likewise, the act has managed to do even less than nothing to protect consumers, as companies seem to find new and innovative ways to take advantage of their customers everyday.

It was bad enough when the language of the DMCA stripped us of ownership of the media we purchase, introducing DRM (Digital Rights Management) to the lexicon and bringing us such debacles as Sony BMG’s rootkit or the Starforce DRM which made PC gaming a nightmare for many people. In response to the backlash from these missteps, though, it was starting to look like companies were starting to get it. These scandals were less frequent, and when they did occur, the implications were not nearly so great. It was starting to look as though consumer influence was going to shape the market going forward.

Still, never count the tag team of corporate greed and the DMCA out. It’s not that they don’t play by the rules, but that they make the rules. Two stories already this week tell us that the DMCA will continue to be a thorn in consumers’ sides for some time. First we have Apple, no strangers to DRM controversy. Last week, they announced the new model of their iPod Shuffle line of products, this time shrinking the famously tiny device by actually removing the buttons from the device and placing them on the headphone wire. That’s all fine and good, until a mysterious chip was discovered inside of the headphones. While, thus far, the chip is a mystery, it is speculated that this chip is some sort of DRM for hardware, forcing third-party vendors wishing to make headphones compatible with Apple’s new device to pay a licensing fee for the privilege of doing so. Though this story hasn’t been confirmed as of yet, it should be noted that, thanks to the DMCA, this type monopolistic behavior is, in fact, quite legal.UPDATE: Yeah, that’s what it is. Proprietary headphone technology. /me rolls eyes

The more disappointing and also more surprising story comes from Amazon this week. The company sent a legal notice to MobileRead.com informing them that they are in violation of the DMCA for producing a means for using ebooks not purchased from Amazon on Amazon’s popular Kindle ebook reader. Amazon, a company that seemed to understand what consumers wanted from their digital content providers, is now using the DMCA to eliminate competition in the growing ebook marketplace.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a poor, outdated and misguided set of rules by which to govern the increasingly important market for digital content. It does not prevent piracy, it does not protect consumers, and it does not promote the growth of the market. In the 11 years since the DMCA was passed, it’s served only to hurt the consumers, hurt the producers of digital content, and enable the marketplace to be turned into an aristocracy by corporate greed.