Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Changing Face of Burnsville

The Star Tribune profiles the changing face of my home:
Cornelius Dipo Ajayi smiled at his wife, Marriam, and tried to look reassuring as the Metro Transit bus carried them farther and farther south.

There are nice houses in south Minneapolis, he told her. We'll ride the bus from downtown and you'll see.

Coming to America was a good thing. Nigeria was home, familiar and dear in so many ways, but the West African country was in political and economic disarray. Ajayi's life had been threatened. Schools were in turmoil, and the future looked bleak for the children: daughter Dele, 15 when the family emigrated; son Damilola, 10, and daughter Oluwafunmi, 3.

Once in America, coming to Minnesota made sense. Friends from Nigeria had settled here and offered their home as a temporary stop.

But coming to Burnsville?

They had boarded the wrong bus, and it was carrying the Ajayis through Richfield and Bloomington and into Burnsville. There, debating whether to try a return trip, Ajayi saw a sign on an apartment complex: "Now renting."

That was seven years ago.

"We came to Burnsville by chance," Marriam said, smiling, as the Ajayis gathered recently in their townhouse to watch "American Idol" and talk about their place in the suburban melting pot.

"But since we came here, we have liked it."

Rapid change

Nothing tells the story of the changing suburbs like numbers from the Burnsville schools, where nearly one student in eight -- 1,229 of 10,339 -- has a limited proficiency in English.

Seven years ago, just one student in 33 needed help with the language.

"The community itself only has a history of 40 or 45 years," said Ben Kanninen, the district superintendent. "In the past 10 years, they've seen demographic change far more rapid than anything they saw in the first 30 years."

Half of the limited-English students in Burnsville give Spanish as their first language. A quarter list Somali. Significant numbers of students speak Cambodian, Laotian, Russian, Chinese, Amharic, Arabic and Hmong.

Change has not come without problems, but difference is increasingly seen as the norm, said Kay Joyce, principal at Burnsville High School.

"It's not unusual at all now to see a student of color voted in as homecoming king or queen or as captain of an athletic team," she said. "In the elementary grades, especially, it's what they all know."

Kanninen agrees. "There are people who resist change -- any change -- and there are individuals for whom this is a bad thing," he said. "Some of the newer people say they feel they're kept at arm's length, a little outside. But I don't get a sense there's strong resistance."

The evolution of the larger community can be shown through numbers, as well. In 1980, Burnsville was home to 1,163 immigrants; the largest group was Germans. By 2000, the number was nearly 4,500, and more than half were newcomers who arrived in the 1990s from Asia, Africa, or Latin America.

Hints of the changes abound in the coffee shops, on both sides of retail counters and in that most traditional of community institutions, the service club. Ajayi joined the Burnsville Breakfast Rotary Club a few years ago. Before him, an immigrant from Uganda led the club in organizing a project to build wells in his homeland.

Breakfast members Michael Follese and Jay Van Arnam said that Dipo -- the name that Ajayi asks friends to use -- is hardly their only local contact with the larger world.

"My kids in high school have Russian friends," Follese said. "I'm on a treadmill at the health club next to a guy with a scarf around his head."

At the market, at the clinic, at theaters, "you see everything from Russians to Ethiopians to Hispanics," Van Arnam said, and that has altered the popular notion of what it means to be from Burnsville.

"I don't look at anybody as an immigrant anymore."

For security and schools

Ajayi, 47, grew up in Lagos, a sprawling city of more than 10 million people on Nigeria's Atlantic coast.

It was a fairly comfortable life for Ajayi, who earned degrees in business and worked in advertising, rising to manage a major agency. His perks included a car and driver.

But Nigeria was governed by military dictators, and the political instability caused the crime rate to soar and the educational system to deteriorate.

Men who mistakenly identified him as a political enemy once surrounded him on his way to work and appeared poised to kill him. Desperate, he showed them his identity card as a church deacon. "Finally, one of them said, 'It's not him. Let's go.' I was shivering the whole day."

Still, the decision to leave wasn't easy.

"Leaving parents, that is hard," Ajayi said, and as he spoke, Marriam began to cry.

"We lived with both of our mothers," he said, reaching to comfort his wife. "We have cousins who are getting married this year. We would have been the key people for them to have at their weddings.

"The family is important in our culture. Even today, seven years later, I feel a continuing sense of something missing."

Damilola, 16, who goes by Peter ("My friends have enough trouble with my last name"), and Oluwafunmi, 9 -- Funmi, or Debra to her friends -- turned from the TV to watch their parents and listen.

"In the time before we left for America, my mother would come to my room," Marriam said. "Sometimes she would comment: 'I'm not sure I will ever see you again.' "

She died in 2002.

Has Dipo considered bringing his mother to America, to Burnsville? He laughed, and Marriam laughed, too.

"Life is too secluded here," Dipo said. "There is not enough interaction going on. My mother would not like it. She is the kind of person who walks miles and says hello to everyone."

Marriam wiped at her tears and smiled, thinking about Dipo's mother charging through the cul-de-sacs of Burnsville, engaging young and old. "People here are more reserved," she said.

"But they haven't been unfriendly," she added. "They don't turn away when they see you out. They will smile and wave and say, 'How are you?' "

Their townhouse, which they bought in 2002, is in a cluster of homes on a private drive. They have mingled some with neighbors, Marriam said, often through the children, and she has a plaque recognizing her involvement in the local Head Start. But it's a far cry from the communal society they all remember -- all but Funmi, a toddler when the family left Nigeria.

"I can't remember anything," she said with a blissful grin.

Africa remains in her brother's memory. He remembers the fragrant bean cakes called akara that his grandmother made especially for him. He misses her, and he misses her bean cakes.

"I miss my grandfathers," he said, softly but with weight, as if he were talking about the sun and the moon. "They were there, and I loved them."

He misses friends, too. "One of my cousins, Mayowa, was my best friend. We played video games together. Primitive video games."

The memory causes him to brighten. "One good thing about coming to America: better video games."

A sophomore at Burnsville High last school year, trim and fit, Peter says he may try out for the soccer team next year. He's good at math and wants to be a computer programmer.

He expects to follow his older sister to college. Dele is at the University of Minnesota, studying fashion and psychiatry. "She wants to work in New York," her bemused father says.

Naive expectations

Dipo is a gentle, courtly man, proud of his degrees and the professional reputation he established in Africa.

He arrived in Minneapolis with his family on a Sunday afternoon in September 2000. The Twin Cities looked clean, intelligently designed, welcoming.

"I was naive," he said, with "too many expectations that I would just glide into my new life here. I sharpened up my résumé, dressed up and went out on interviews. But this was a time when the economy was not good. The people interviewing me were not even sure they would keep their own jobs." Others seemed put off by his accented English.

When he couldn't get anywhere with advertising or public relations companies, he took entry-level sales jobs.

"My accent was very, very raw, and the customers were not patient with me," he said. "As soon as I opened my mouth and started to speak, they would ask, 'Is there someone else?' I was very worried. Is this how it's going to be? Have I made a terrible mistake?

"The first thing is to survive, to see that my family survives," he said, so he swallowed his pride and took cleaning jobs at the Mall of America and the Metrodome. But he lost the mall job one night when, exhausted, he fell asleep in a restroom.

"They marched me out and told me never to come back," he said. "I cried. I shed tears."American Idol" was over, and Peter and Funmi sat on the floor reading. They stopped reading and looked up at their father, perhaps trying to imagine him in a janitor's uniform and sitting on a bench, crying.

Dipo went home and told Marriam what had happened. "I asked her, 'You want to go back?' I talked to myself, too. 'Do you want to go back, or stay here, or just drop dead?' "

The debate raged in his head, but not for long.

"I decided, 'OK, I will stay,' " Dipo said. "Coming to America is a leveler. I had some remorse for coming out of my comfort zone, for losing part of my identity. But it will work out."

He is a man of strong faith -- he is pastor of a small nondenominational church in St. Paul -- and that faith extends to his new life in this new land.

He went to the Internet, which told him that the best opportunities available for recent immigrants were in health care and insurance.

After three months of study, he obtained the necessary credentials and landed a job with Met Life in Bloomington. He now works in insurance and investments at New England Financial, a Met Life company in Minnetonka.

"Dipo has a work ethic and attitude that surpasses that of most people," said Carol Schulstad, his supervisor. He is a model for achieving "good balance to his life," she said, and his story connects him with a growing segment of the Twin Cities population.

Maintain the family

Dipo's mind often returns to Africa. But he said Minnesota has a strengthening hold.

"You get a car loan, you get a mortgage, your kid goes to college," he said. "You can't look back. At church now, after seven years, I am looking at doing missionary work -- from an American base.

"The most important thing for the immigrant is to keep the unity of the family. Maintain the cultural unity of the family and stick together in challenging times, and you can attain much."

Marriam adds, "If I passed today, would I want my body to be transported back to Nigeria? No. This is home. We have made this place our home."

Thursday, June 28, 2007

In the Garden Today

Our Younger Generation: Hope for the Future!

Reading about the results of this poll yesterday gives me a bit more hope for our future here in the U.S.A. If the current state of the economy continues for any length of time, it would seem that once these young people enter the working world and form families, they are less likely to drift to the right to protect their economic interests. Unlike their counterparts of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s (who are now their parents) economic growth the previous generation experienced as they entered the work force appears to be no longer available.

Here's synopsis of the new poll as reported in yesterday's New York Times...


Young Americans Are Leaning Left, New Poll Finds

Published: June 27, 2007
Young Americans are more likely than the general public to favor a government-run universal health care insurance system, an open-door policy on immigration and the legalization of gay marriage, according to a New York Times/CBS News/MTV poll. The poll also found that they are more likely to say the war in Iraq is heading to a successful conclusion.

The poll offers a snapshot of a group whose energy and idealism have always been as alluring to politicians as its scattered focus and shifting interests have been frustrating. It found that substantially more Americans ages 17 to 29 than four years ago are paying attention to the presidential race. But they appeared to be really familiar with only two of the candidates, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, both Democrats.

They have continued a long-term drift away from the Republican Party. And although they are just as worried as the general population about the outlook for the country and think their generation is likely to be worse off than that of their parents, they retain a belief that their votes can make a difference, the poll found.

More than half of Americans ages 17 to 29 — 54 percent — say they intend to vote for a Democrat for president in 2008. They share with the public at large a negative view of President Bush, who has a 28 percent approval rating with this group, and of the Republican Party. They hold a markedly more positive view of Democrats than they do of Republicans.

Among this age group, Mr. Bush’s job approval rating after the attacks of Sept. 11 was more than 80 percent. Over the course of the next three years, it drifted downward leading into the presidential election of 2004, when 4 of 10 young Americans said they approved how Mr. Bush was handling his job.

At a time when Democrats have made gains after years in which Republicans have dominated Washington, young Americans appear to lean slightly more to the left than the general population: 28 percent described themselves as liberal, compared with 20 percent of the nation at large. And 27 percent called themselves conservative, compared with 32 percent of the general public.

Forty-four percent said they believed that same-sex couples should be permitted to get married, compared with 28 percent of the public at large. They are more likely than their elders to support the legalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The findings on gay marriage were reminiscent of an exit poll on Election Day 2004: 41 percent of 18-to-29-year-old voters said gay couples should be permitted to legally marry, according to the exit poll.

In the current poll, 62 percent said they would support a universal, government-sponsored national health care insurance program; 47 percent of the general public holds that view. And 30 percent said that “Americans should always welcome new immigrants,” while 24 percent of the general public holds that view.

Their views on abortion mirror those of the public at large: 24 percent said it should not be permitted at all, while 38 percent said it should be made available but with greater restrictions. Thirty-seven percent said it should be generally available.

In one potential sign of shifting attitudes, respondents, by overwhelming margins, said they believed that the nation was prepared to elect as president a woman, a black person or someone who admitted to having used marijuana. But they said that they did not believe Americans would elect someone who had used cocaine or someone who was a Mormon.

Mr. Obama has suggested that he used cocaine as a young man. Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and a candidate for the Republican nomination, is a Mormon.

By a 52 to 36 majority, young Americans say that Democrats, rather than Republicans, come closer to sharing their moral values, while 58 percent said they had a favorable view of the Democratic Party, and 38 percent said they had a favorable view of Republicans.

Asked if they were enthusiastic about any of the candidates running for president, 18 percent named Mr. Obama, of Illinois, and 17 percent named Mrs. Clinton, of New York. Those two were followed by Rudolph W. Giuliani, a Republican, who was named by just 4 percent of the respondents.

The survey also found that 42 percent of young Americans thought it was likely or very likely that the nation would reinstate a military draft over the next few years — and two-thirds said they thought the Republican Party was more likely to do so. And 87 percent of respondents said they opposed a draft.

But when it came to the war, young Americans were more optimistic about the outcome than was the population as whole. Fifty-one percent said the United States was very or somewhat likely to succeed in Iraq, compared with 45 percent among all adults. Contrary to conventional wisdom, younger Americans have historically been more likely than the population as a whole to be supportive of what a president is doing in a time of war, as they were in Korea and Vietnam, polls have shown.

The nationwide telephone poll — a joint effort by The New York Times, CBS News and MTV — was conducted from June 15 to June 23. It involved 659 adults ages 17 to 29. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus four percentage points for all respondents.

The Times/CBS News/MTV Poll suggests that younger Americans are conflicted in their view of the country. Many have a bleak view about their own future and the direction the country is heading: 70 percent said the country was on the wrong track, while 48 percent said they feared that their generation would be worse off than their parents’. But the survey also found that this generation of Americans is not cynical: 77 percent said they thought the votes of their generation would have a great bearing on who became the next president.

By any measure, the poll suggests that young Americans are anything but apathetic about the presidential election. Fifty-eight percent said they were paying attention to the campaign. By contrast, at this point in the 2004 presidential campaign, 35 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds said they were paying a lot or some attention to the campaign.

Over the last half century, the youth vote has more often than not gone with the Democratic candidate for president, though with some notable exceptions. In 1984, Ronald Reagan won his second term as president by capturing 59 percent of the youth vote, according to exit polls, and the first President George Bush won in 1988 with 52 percent of that vote. This age group, however, has supported Democratic presidential candidates in every election since.

The percentage of young voters who identified themselves as Republican grew steadily during the Reagan administration, and reached a high of 37 percent in 1989. That number has declined ever since, and is now at 25 percent.

“I think the Democratic Party is now realizing how big an impact my generation has, and they’re trying to cater to that in some way,” Ashley Robinson, 21, a Democrat from Minnesota, said in an interview after she participated in the poll. “But the traditional Republican Party is still trying to get older votes, which doesn’t make sense because there are so many more voters my age. It would be sensible to cater to us.”

That a significant number of respondents said they were enthusiastic about just two of the candidates — Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton — to a certain extent reflects that both candidates have been the subject of a huge amount of national attention and have presented the country with historic candidacies. Mr. Obama would be the first black president and Mrs. Clinton the first woman. Other candidates could begin drawing attention from this group as the campaign takes a higher platform.

More important, though, at least for Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama is the impression this group has of them. In the poll, 43 percent of respondents said they held an unfavorable view of Mrs. Clinton, a number that reflects the tide of resistance she faces nationwide. By contrast, only 19 percent said they had an unfavorable view of Mr. Obama.

Marjorie Connelly, Marina Stefan and Dalia Sussman contributed reporting.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Politics of Jesus

I read Andrew Sullivan most every day. I often disagree with him but he is certainly an interesting read, and no more so when when he is trying to hold together being gay with being a Republican in today's right-wing Christian influenced version of the GOP. But sometimes he says things that are completely off-base. In a recent post about what he fears about Obama (what he fears is that Obama is a transformational candidate who could cement big government thinking for decades to come) he comments on Obama's religious appeal. He doesn't like it because he doesn't think it is true to his understanding of Jesus and Christianity. Sullivan says:
For my part, I believe Jesus had no politics, let alone the big government politics of our time.
How does Sullivan think Jesus ended up on a cross, crucified by the Roman empire? He was crucified as a political revolutionary, a threat to the peace and order of the state. Why? Because he was, truly, a threat to the peace and order of the state.

Jesus practiced a politics of radical equality. This is where his religious vision led him. No one knew better than the Roman empire, a profoundly unjust regime built on the backs of peasants and slaves, how dangerous such a religious vision was. Jesus was not unique in his day. Why was John the Baptist beheaded by Herod? Why as Passover approached each year did the Roman authorities march a Legion to within easy striking distance of Jerusalem? Religious people motivated by visions of justice and equality are dangerous people. Their vision may be religious but it has real political consequences.

It is true, of course, that Jesus had no vision of a big government programs to put in place his religious vision of justice. He also had no vision of traveling around Galilee in a car. The only big government he knew - and the only big government that existed in his day - was built from the ground up on authoritarianism and injustice. The practical tools and the evolution in thinking had not yet been invented to make it possible for a democratically based system of government to tackle enormous social problems and deliver goods and services in a just manner.

If Jesus were alive in America today would he advocate the abolishment of Social Security and a return to fear and the prospect of destitution and poverty for seniors? Somehow I doubt it. And for the same reason he would support a healthcare delivery system that guaranteed care for every person.

Any religious vision that seeks to embody equality and justice has political consequences. It is not possible to be for it and remain above the fray of politics. Think Gandhi; think MLK Jr.; think Mandela. And if you happen to live in the realm of a deeply unjust regime, it can get you crucified.

The Dam Begins to Break

Sen. Richard Lugar, a senior Republican and a reliable vote for President Bush on the war, said Monday that Bush's Iraq strategy was not working and that the United States should downsize the military's role.

The unusually blunt assessment deals a political blow to Bush, who has relied heavily on GOP support to stave off anti-war legislation.

It also comes as a surprise. Most Republicans have said they were willing to wait until September to see if Bush's recently ordered troop buildup in Iraq was working.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Marriage Equality from the Human Rights Campaign

Yesterday I went to the Twin Cities Pride Festival with a couple friends from ProgressiveChurch. It was the first time I'd been there. There were about 3 times as many exhibiting organizations as I would have expected. One of the nicest ones was The Human Rights Campaign. I subscribe to their daily newscast of GLBT news called Equally Speaking. Here's today's broadcast.

Click here to view Equally Speaking:

Cherries in the Garden

Who says there's not global warming? My cherry tree says it is so. The cherries are ripe 1-2 weeks earlier than usual. It's cherry pickin' time today!

Horse Meat Sushi

High quality tuna is becoming scarce because of over-fishing and the growing popularity of sushi around the world. In Japan, where sushi has long been a national obsession, the shortage of fish is a big deal. What is a sushi restaurateur to do without tuna:

The tuna shortage is also having a more concrete effect on menus at Japanese sushi bars. Fukuzushi, a midpriced restaurant in a residential neighborhood in Tokyo, is having a tougher time finding high-quality fish at reasonable prices.

The restaurant’s owner, Shigekazu Ozoe, 56, said the current situation reminded him of the last time he had no tuna to sell — in 1973, during a scare over mercury poisoning in oceans when customers refused to buy it. At that time, he tried to find other red-colored substitutes like smoked deer meat and raw horse, a local delicacy in some parts of Japan.

“We tasted it, and horse sushi was pretty good,” he recalled. “It was soft, easy to bite off, had no smell.”

If worse comes to worst, he said, he could always try horse and deer again. The only drawback he remembered was customers objecting to red meat in the glass display case on the counter of his sushi bar.

At least he didn't say it tastes like chicken.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Spiritual Literacy--including the Cinema

I'm delighted to find out that Fredrick and Mary Ann Brussat have a blog! Ten years ago I read their book Spiritual Literacy when preparing to teach an Adult Eduction class at church. It was wonderful and I've loaned and recommended the book many times. Among other things, it talks about the spiritual content of many "secular" movies (and by secular I mean movies that have no apparent religious theme or content).

I happened upon the Brussats' blog when reading reviews of the new movie adaptation of D.H. Lawrences book Lady Chatterly's Lover which is now in the theatres. I'd read this book for the first time the first year our neighborhood book group got started--13 years ago. I liked their review.

Here's their blog cite:

Which Variety Is Blooming in Your Garden Today?

A rose, is a rose, is a rose...

Not So! It's seems there's an infinate number of rose varieties. All of them are beautiful--and many of them are blooming now!

Not often do I wish I lived in New York City, but perhaps I'm feeling a little twinge today after reading this.

Romancing the Rose in Its Infinite Splendor
Michael Falco for The New York Times

Published: June 22, 2007
AS they always have — and absolutely must — during Rose Month at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, fanciers of the queen of flowers will stop, stoop and smell the roses, inhaling the splendor of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden throughout the month of June. But this year visitors will discover a 1.04-acre garden that has been redefined. After undergoing a comprehensive, six-month, $2.5 million refurbishing, the rose garden is presenting its largest and most varied collection ever: 3,373 plants in 621 varieties.

“What you love about roses, aside from their beauty,” says Peter E. Kukielski, self-described “rose geek” and curator of the garden’s rose collections, “is their names and their stories. It’s fun to personify them.”

As rose lovers visit individually or in groups of “rose friends,” they will find that the garden’s 83 beds, radiating from its central gazebo, have been reorganized and repopulated. New walkways, railings, permanent signs and other embellishments have been installed, in addition to extensive, if often invisible, infrastructure improvements that are intended to ensure that the future of the garden is comfortably rosy.

This weekend there is a busy roster of rose-related tours led by experts, question-and-answer sessions with the garden staff and home-gardening demonstrations. (See accompanying box.) But now, beyond this, the collection itself, the tapestry woven of the garden’s grand inventory, has more big blocks of color. Reds and pinks and whites and oranges and butter yellows fill the garden’s irregular triangular lot, with its planting area of 19,288 square feet. And visitors will encounter a more chronological presentation of the garden’s roses as well.

“We needed to expand the collection to keep up with rose hybridizers and to rationalize our heritage collection,” said Gregory Long, president of the mile-long, 250-acre Botanical Garden, a national historic landmark where roses have been grown since 1790.

A year ago the Botanical Garden brought in a rosarian, or cultivator of roses, from Atlanta, Peter E. Kukielski, whose formal title is curator of the Botanical Garden’s rose collections. He culled 400 of some 2,000 plants, those he deemed underperforming and unsuited to the location; then he added 1,703 new plants.

The setting of the rose garden, to the southeast in the Botanical Garden where it is bordered by the Bronx River Parkway, is a natural bowl just down the hill from the picturesque Stone Cottage, which dates to the mid-19th century, when the surrounding land was part of the Lorillard estate. The slopes of its margins are punctuated by weathered outcrops of Fordham gneiss.

There in 1916, at what is believed to have been the site of a Lorillard garden and pond, the current rose garden was planned, along with its fencing and gazebo, by Beatrix Jones Farrand, a niece of Edith Wharton and the most fashionable landscape designer of her era, Mr. Long said.

But the rose plantings established there were a stepchild of the Botanical Garden for decades, and the rose garden offered few amenities, since the plot was three-quarters of a mile, and a 15-minute walk, from the visitor hubbub near the Enid Haupt Conservatory. Now the garden’s trams make the 13-minute trip from the new visitors center every 10 minutes on weekends.

In the 1980s David Rockefeller donated $1 million in the memory of his wife, Peggy, to renovate the rose garden, creating new gates, fencing, walkways and a gazebo, all following the Farrand plan; it opened to the public in 1988.

Now the gazebo and iron lattice fencing have been refurbished and repainted. (The fence is considerably more than ornamental, since it discourages the Botanical Garden’s omnivorous rabbit population, which yearns for rose roots.)

The renovation has also brought the installation of large new decorative medallions of Hudson Valley bluestone at the main western entranceway, and new bluestone border pathways that now augment the crunchy gray stone-dust walks that were the signature of the previous garden. There are also new iron railings and boxwood borders by the main granite staircase to the west.

A sophisticated system of automated irrigation has been installed to keep the flowers watered on hot summer days. The drainage system needed drastic improvement as well, since in severe storms the garden “could be underwater,” Mr. Kukielski said. “Ducks used to swim among the roses,” he added.

For the first time each of the rose garden’s three entrances has its own welcoming garden: pinks and whites at the north, purples and oranges at the south and reds and apricots at the main western entrance.

The four tree roses at the north entrance, a variety named Pillow Fight — their hue is an appropriately fluffy white — are flanked by new varieties like Mystic Beauty and Borderer.

Pillow Fight, Mr. Kukielski explained during a tour on a recent afternoon, is a rare seedling of a hybrid called Gourmet Popcorn, and in the garden the miniature flowers of these white roses have been situated next to their Pillow Fight offspring “because we wanted to tell that story,” he said.

The tree-rose stars of the south entrance are four examples of a new variety called Burgundy Iceberg, a floribunda the color of Burgundy wine.

The main entrance too features some new celebrities: four newly introduced tree roses called Home Run, surrounded by apricots and reds that include Soft Morning and Sans Souci.

Mr. Kukielski said he hoped that the garden could now serve as a living encyclopedia of historic and modern roses. Therefore the eastern border of the garden is now a chronology of cultivation, the garden’s heritage rose collection of varieties — stretching from north to south — that existed generally before 1867, when the first hybrid tea rose, La France, was created. Though there are classic roses in other sections of the garden, they will be consolidated at the eastern margin during the next year.

To the north are species roses, those wild plants that evolved under natural selection. And a group of Rosa gallicas, the first hybridized class of roses, has been moved to the heritage bed, including varieties like Charles de Mills, introduced about 1790, and Cardinal de Richelieu, introduced about 1845.

The library of rose classics also includes damasks, albas, centifolias, China roses, moss roses, Portlands, Bourbons and hybrid perpetuals.

A first for the garden is the display of its collection of Barni roses from Italy, which combine the scent and shape of old roses with the vigor and repeat-flowering penchant of modern hybrids. The Barnis are new to the American rose scene, Mr. Kukielski said, and include exquisitely hued Rita Levis, Montalcinis and Silvina Donvitos.

Also on view is a new collection of Kordes roses from Germany. They are not only fragrant and beautiful, Mr. Kukielski said, but disease resistant as well, requiring no fungicides.

“What you love about roses, aside from their beauty,” he said, “is their names and their stories. It’s fun to personify them.” One example is Elizabeth Taylor — a deep pink hybrid tea rose — planted in the garden next to Julia Child, a butter yellow floribunda. Julia is adjacent to Betty Boop, a white-pink floribunda.

“The right plant in the right place can tell a story worthy of a novel,” Mr. Kukielski added. He offered as an example a plant called Peggy Martin Survivor, a vivid pink cutting from a New Orleans rose fancier’s important backyard collection. Though 450 of Ms. Martin’s heirloom plants were washed away during Hurricane Katrina, the Survivor was the lone rose to bloom again after the waters subsided.

A ruddy, sturdy, self-described “rose geek,” Mr. Kukielski, 41, said of roses on a recent afternoon that “they like to eat a lot and drink a lot, and I do too, so we get along very well together.”

Before joining the Botanical Garden last year, Mr. Kukielski — pronounced koo-KEL-ski — ran his own Atlanta-based company, the Rose Petaler Inc., creating estate rose collections.

A native Nebraskan who came to Atlanta at 5 and grew up there, Mr. Kukielski developed his love of roses from his mother, Elizabeth, and by working in the garden with his grandmother, Helen Gillen.

How did he become a rose geek? “They catch your soul,” he said. “The color, the scent, the uniqueness of them.”

And when people ask him what his favorite rose is, he tells them, “Whatever is blooming that day.”


Time to go out and do a little pruning and fertilizing and see what's blooming in my garden today! I love Peace, and Mr. Lincoln. But then...I'm a progressive! What about you?

Friday, June 22, 2007

In my garden grows my Cayenne--it is a red pepper!

We are clinging to our 8 year old 120K+ mile van desperately, hoping to squeeze a few more years out of it with the thought of perhaps getting a hybrid SUV and dread having to buy a new vehicle. I find it unbelieveable that people would actually pay this much money for a mode of transportation! They say this model SUV appeals to women. Do women think they will impress a man because they are driving a Porsche? (Not the kind of equal opportunity I'm looking for.) It wouldn't work on the men I'd try to impress--they'd go running in the opposite direction away from this sticker price. Spicy and pricey indeed!

This from the New York Times Weekend...

Behind The Wheel | 2008 Porsche Cayenne
Still Extra Chunky, Now More Spicy

Published: June 24, 2007
SOME Porsche purists are still horrified that the sports car company branched out into sport utility vehicles. But let’s get real: if a Porschephile’s transportation needs call for an S.U.V., why should she, or he, have to shop elsewhere?

The newly redesigned Porsche Cayenne, which first appeared as a 2003 model, remains a study in contrasts. It is, with apologies to 914 devotees, the ugliest Porsche ever. Yet, for an S.U.V., it is comparatively handsome. Maybe that is why it appeals to so many women.

Fully equipped, the 2008 Cayenne can price out as the most expensive S.U.V. this side of Baghdad. But ounce for ounce, a 5,191-pound Cayenne is the most Porsche that money can buy — especially the base model, which starts at a mere $44,295, including the $895 shipping charge. In fact, you can buy two base Cayennes for what a top-line Turbo model costs and have change left over.

But what exactly would a fully loaded Cayenne look like? I counted 107 possible options for the Cayenne (some, like multiple wheel choices, are duplications). There are also 10 paint colors, at least 4 leather combinations and 3 powertrain possibilities. So, considering all that, how high can the sticker price go?

“I don’t have such a figure,” Gary Fong of Porsche, who manages the company’s fleet of test cars, said by e-mail message. “But since the Cayenne Turbo has so many standard features that are optional on the other Cayenne models, there’s not a lot you can add. I’ve configured some loaded Cayenne Turbos over the years and never cracked $109K. Running the options through my head, and barring the custom tailoring offerings, I’d say the max would be between $110K and $115K.”

It is safe to assume that Porsche is making a fair profit on these things, even when they lack some options, although how much is not clear. Recent buyers of close-out 2006 models (there was no 2007 model year) have reported getting discounts of up to $30,000 off the sticker. So there would seem to be some wiggle room on price. I tested two versions of the redesigned vehicle. My Cayenne Turbo test vehicle, laden with a mere $13,000 in options, priced out at $106,595. That was without extravagances like the panoramic glass roof ($3,900), two-tone leather interior ($1,510), leather-trimmed air vents ($2,160) and matching leather keyfob holder ($95).

I also tested the bargain-basement model, which is simply called Cayenne. Potential shoppers should note that this version comes not with a V-8 engine like the S, or the twin-turbo V-8 of the Turbo, but a V-6 engine supplied by Volkswagen. While the 6-cylinder model might seem to be aimed at those conflicted people who are in the market for a slow Porsche, it is actually quite competent, if not overwhelming.

At least the V-6 has benefited from a significant upgrade for 2008. What had been an unworthy 3.2-liter power plant is now 3.6 liters and makes 290 horsepower — some 15 percent more than before. (This, by the way, is more than the advertised horsepower rating for the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution rally rocket.)

Another redeeming feature: Cayennes with the V-6 are the only ones available with manual (six-speed) transmissions. The manual comes at no extra cost, but to get it, you have to check that box on the order form.

So it would seem that the six-speed Tiptronic S automatic, the only transmission offered on the S or the Turbo, would be standard equipment on the base model, but it is not. Porsche actually charges $3,000 extra for that transmission on the base model. Go figure.

My base-level test model also lacked Porsche Active Suspension Management, a set of suspension controls and commands including an electronic ride control system that continuously adjusts the traction and the damping at each wheel.

Along with the electronic stability control, it intervenes to override a driver’s worst excesses, for better or worse. In fact, a lot of enthusiasts think the system is too intrusive.

In my test-driving, the base Cayenne was fairly economical (22 m.p.g. on the highway) yet peppy, responsive and more nimble than its pricier brethren — particularly in low-speed maneuvers like parking. It is easily the most driver-involving choice in the Cayenne lineup.

Over all, the 2008 Cayenne benefits from freshened styling, slicker aerodynamics and more user-friendly ergonomics. Technically, this is a new-generation S.U.V., but it is hardly a clean-sheet-of-paper redesign.

The Cayenne still shares its structure with the Volkswagen Touareg, and this not particularly people-friendly people-hauler still comes in just one rather confining size, with two rows of seats that accommodate as many as five passengers. Rear legroom remains cramped. Rearward and side-to-side visibility are not noteworthy. The cargo area is relatively small at 19 cubic feet, though it can be expanded by folding down the second-row seats. It lacks a third-row seat. The load floor is too high.

Though it may not haul cargo, it will haul, um, the bacon.

The superb dual-range all-wheel-drive system, precise steering and stout brakes give the Cayenne surprising dexterity both on and off road. Its low-profile speed-rated tires limit its ability to go rock-crawling, but it is possible for Cayenne to navigate all manner of terrain into which a sane person should never, ever take a $100,000 vehicle.

An optional off-road package adds a locking rear differential, hydraulically disconnecting stabilizer bars and skid plates. Active antiroll bars are now available on models with the air suspension.

A new Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control system works with the optional air suspension to hydraulically limit body roll through turns. The system also improves driver control by isolating the steering — not to mention the cabin — from the jolts of undulating surfaces. The chassis control system is a big upgrade in handling and performance dynamics. It really works.

But it is a $3,150 option. Ouch! And there is more. The special air suspension needed for the chassis control comes standard only on the more expensive Turbo model and is optional on the base and S — so the total price for both systems on each of those models is a staggering $6,500.

This raises a fundamental question: Why should a Porsche buyer have to pay extra for optimal handling? Anyone who owns a Porsche has a right to expect nothing less.

The dynamic chassis control is one of two crucial improvements that most differentiate the new Cayenne from the first generation. The other is new, more-powerful engines, including the only Porsche V-8s on the planet.

In the base model, the enhancements don’t cost extra. But the S and Turbo models now have starting prices thousands of dollars higher than in the first generation. The 4.8-liter V-8 in the $60,795 Cayenne S has been juiced for a horsepower rating of 385 — up 45 from last year’s S.

The $94,595 Cayenne Turbo has a twin-turbocharged 4.8-liter V-8 with an added 50 horsepower. Total output is now a positively sociopathic 500 horses (and 516 pound-feet of torque). Porsche says highway fuel economy is up 15 percent for the Cayenne S and 11 percent for the Turbo, thanks to new direct fuel injection.

The Turbo is such a rocket, it sometimes felt as if it could overpower its chassis; I didn’t find it particularly fun to drive. Once the neighborhood slammers have been trounced in stoplight drag races, ennui sets in. The Turbo begins to seem like a bully without a cause.

Hard-core enthusiasts who don’t need grocery-hauling capability or the continual company of their four closest friends might find longer-term happiness in a Cayman.

All the changes do add up to a spicier blend of Cayenne. If you are rich enough not to care about Porsche’s pricing schemes, the ’08 Cayenne is truly a remarkable performer. My advice would be to buy the slick-handling base model and hide the window sticker.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Why We Will Have Gay Marriage

Teresa R. Sayward is a New York State Assemblywoman. She weighed in recently on efforts in that state to make same-sex marriage legal. She has a gay son:

“We would spend long nights crying together and talking,” she told a full house of hushed lawmakers. “And one night I said to him, ‘You have to be what you are; you can’t be what people think you should be.’ ”

She is also a Republican conservative Catholic from upstate New York. But more importantly she is a mother and she wants her son to have the same rights and opportunities as every other son or daughter.

I know some of these people - traditional, conservative, Republican parents of gay children. These are the people whose personal experience and involvement is making gay acceptance and gay marriage a reality.

What Disappearing Birds Says About Us

In the New York Times, Verlyn Klinkenborg comments on the Audubon report on rapidly declining bird populations, and what it says about us:

The Audubon Society portrait of common bird species in decline is really a report on who humans are. Let me offer a proposition about Homo sapiens. We are the only species on earth capable of an ethical awareness of other species and, thus, the only species capable of happily ignoring that awareness. So far, our economic interests have proved to be completely incompatible with all but a very few forms of life. It’s not that we believe that other species don’t matter. It’s that, historically speaking, it hasn’t been worth believing one way or another. I don’t suppose that most Americans would actively kill a whippoorwill if they had the chance. Yet in the past 40 years its number has dropped by 1.6 million.

In our everyday economic behavior, we seem determined to discover whether we can live alone on earth. E.O. Wilson has argued eloquently and persuasively that we cannot, that who we are depends as much on the richness and diversity of the biological life around us as it does on any inherent quality in our genes. Environmentalists of every stripe argue that we must somehow begin to correlate our economic behavior — by which I mean every aspect of it: production, consumption, habitation — with the welfare of other species.

This is the premise of sustainability. But the very foundation of our economic interests is self-interest, and in the survival of other species we see way too little self to care.

The trouble with humans is that even the smallest changes in our behavior require an epiphany. And yet compared to the fixity of other species, the narrowness of their habitats, the strictness of their diets, the precision of the niches they occupy, we are flexibility itself.

We look around us, expecting the rest of the world’s occupants to adapt to the changes that we have caused, when, in fact, we have the right to expect adaptation only from ourselves.

Talk Radio Is Ruining America

Who said this:
Talk radio is running America.
Trent Lott, and he is talking about conservative talk radio. What he really means is that talk radio is killing Republicans on the immigration issue:

The front lines of this problem are in the fast-growing states of the American West. And the closer you get to the border, the more voters back politicians who are looking for middle ground — and punish those who follow the rant-for-ratings route.

In just the last six years, Arizona’s population grew by 20 percent, Nevada’s by 25 percent, Colorado’s by 10 percent and New Mexico’s by 7.5 percent. These four states may be the biggest battleground in next year’s presidential race, with 29 electoral votes — more than Florida or Ohio.

Hispanics make up 28 percent of Arizona, 24 percent of Nevada, 20 percent of Colorado and 43 percent of New Mexico. The rap is that they don’t vote. Not yet, at least. But they’re the fastest-growing part of the electorate.

Still, on the air it’s open war against the browning of America — tinged with slurs that disrespect all Hispanics. Consider (former Arizona congressman J.D.) Hayworth, who gives helium a bad name. Ousted from his seat, he now uses the megaphone of a Phoenix talk station to promote his solution: all undocumented immigrants would be given 120 days to leave the country — or face a massive, forceful roundup and deportation.

Right. And this would be done, no doubt, by the same people who couldn’t stop a single tuberculosis carrier from entering the country.

The syndicated talker Neal Boortz chuckles at the human collision along an advanced border fence. “I don’t care if Mexicans pile up against that fence like tumbleweeds in the Santa Ana winds,” he said on Monday. And two hosts of something called the “Patriot Radio News Hour” here mocked the Hispanic Games, held last weekend in Phoenix. They suggested “jumping the fence” and “leaving the scene of an accident” as competitive events for Latino athletes. Ha-ha.

Democrats are laughing all the way to a new Western majority. In 2004, they picked up a Senate and a Congressional seat in Colorado, with two Hispanic brothers in cowboy hats. And they did it with counties where an NPR liberal is hard to find.

“Arizona is in play like never before,” said David Waid, chairman of the state’s Democratic Party. “And the Republicans are literally handing it to us.”

The politics of polarization is finally beginning to cost them.

North Korea Talks

A sign that the neocons have lost some influence:
In the first visit to Pyongyang by a senior American official in nearly five years, the envoy, Christopher R. Hill, was scheduled to meet senior North Korean officials, including his counterpart, Kim Kye-gwan, for one-on-one talks.
Bush could yet salvage something positive out of his Presidency if he actually tries negotiating with the "axis of evil."

June 21, 2007--Summer Solstice

Welcome to the longest day of the year. I hope you make the most of it!

Summer solstice celebrated at Stonehenge
By RAPHAEL G. SATTER Associated Press Writer
Article Launched: 06/20/2007 11:50:18 PM PDT

Clad in antlers, black cloaks and oak leaves, a group gathered at the Heel stone—a twisted, pockmarked pillar at the edge of the prehistoric monument—to welcome the rising sun as revelers danced and yelled.

Jeanette Montesano, a 23-year-old recently graduated religion student from New York and a self-described pagan, said she had been saving for a year to make it to Stonehenge, comparing the importance of the trip to the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

"It's not the hajj, but it is 19,000 people in a little circle. I wanted to experience something like that."

An estimated 20,000 people gathered at the stone circle in Wiltshire, in southwestern England. Dancers writhed to the sound of drums and whistles as floodlights colored the ancient pillars shades of pink and purple, and couples snuggled under plastic sheets.

Solstice celebrations were a highlight of the pre-Christian calendar. People in many countries still celebrate with bonfires, maypole dances and courtship rituals.

In more recent years, New Age groups and others have turned to Stonehenge to celebrate the solstice, and the World Heritage Site has become a magnet for those seeking a spiritual experience—or just wanting to have a good time.

But the celebrations also can attract their share of troublemakers. Police closed the site in 1984 after repeated clashes with revelers. English Heritage, the monument's caretaker, began allowing full access to the site again in 2000.
Police were deployed early Thursday to keep the hedonists from getting out of hand, and to prevent revelers from climbing the stones.

Solstice celebrations also take place in other countries, although most are deferred until the last weekend in June. Swedes will gather to sip spiced schnapps, Danes will light bonfires, and Balts and Finns will flock to the countryside to dance, sing and make merry under the midnight sun.

Stonehenge, on the Salisbury Plain 80 miles southwest of London, was built between 3,000 B.C. and 1,600 B.C., although its purpose remains a mystery. Some experts say its builders aligned the stones with the sun as part of their sun-worshipping culture.

It is one of 20 monuments competing to be named one of the new seven wonders of the world in a massive online poll.


Associated Press writers Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, Louise Nordstrom in Stockholm, Sweden, Gary Peach in Riga, Latvia, and Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki, Finland contributed to this report.

The Future of Depression Treatment

I didn't see this article when it was first published the other day, but it showed up on the New York Times "most e-mailed" list today and caught my eye. I can see why so many people are sharing this news. As someone who spent 10 years telling herself that it was actually OK to take a medication to treat depression and then the next 17 years fiddling around with the proper type and amount of medication, this article is like a breath of fresh air. Just imagine the number of gray days--as well as suicides--that these new developments in the depression drug industry will prevent!


On the Horizon, Personalized Depression Drugs

Published: June 19, 2007
Imagine that you are depressed and see a psychiatrist who explains that you have clinical depression and would benefit from an antidepressant. So far, so good. But then the doctor tells you there is a 60 percent chance that you’ll feel better with this antidepressant and that it could take as long as four to six weeks to find out, during which time you’ll probably have some side effects from the drug.

I have just described the state-of-the-art pharmacologic treatment of major depression in 2007. Don’t get me wrong; we have very effective and safe treatments for a broad array of psychiatric disorders. But in everyday clinical practice, we have little ability to predict which specific treatment will work best for you.

Laura is a case in point. A successful management consultant in her late 30s, she sought help for lifelong depression. Her treatment began with four weeks of the antidepressant Lexapro, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or S.S.R.I., without any effect. Next, I switched her to Zoloft, another S.S.R.I., since the chance of response to another member of the same drug family is about 60 percent. Again, no response. Then we moved on to Wellbutrin, an entirely different type of antidepressant, but this didn’t work either. Laura was now ready to call it quits, and who could blame her?

After nearly three months, I had still not found an effective treatment for her. Then she came in one day and said her father had recently revealed that he had been depressed and had done well on Prozac, another S.S.R.I., and she wondered if she could try it. Within three weeks, she felt markedly better, and the symptoms of her depression began to melt away.

Instead of the hit-or-miss approach I had to use with Laura, it will soon be possible for a psychiatrist to biologically personalize treatments. With a simple blood test, the doctor will be able to characterize a patient’s unique genetic profile, determining what biological type of depression the patient has and which antidepressant is likely to work best.

Scientists have identified genetic variations that affect specific neurotransmitter functions, which could explain why some patients respond to some drugs but not to others. For example, some depressed patients who have abnormally low levels of serotonin respond to S.S.R.I.’s, which relieve depression, in part, by flooding the brain with serotonin. Other depressed patients may have an abnormality in other neurotransmitters that regulate mood, like norepinephrine or dopamine, and may not respond to S.S.R.I.’s.

In a report last October in the journal Science, Dr. Francis Lee, a colleague of mine at Weill Cornell Medical College, identified a genetic mutation that could potentially predict patients’ responses to an entire class of antidepressants.

He inserted into a mouse a defective variant of the human gene for brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that is increased in the brain with S.S.R.I.treatment and is critical to the health of neurons. Then he subjected these “humanized” mice to stress and found that they did not respond to Prozac with decreased anxiety. The clear implication is that people with this variant will not be able to respond to any S.S.R.I., which requires normal neurotrophic-factor function to work. A psychiatrist could identify this genetic variant and then steer his patient to a different class of antidepressants.

Furthermore, other genes may play a role in the adverse effects of antidepressants that have made recent headlines: suicidal behavior. Recent evidence shows that a small number of depressed adolescents and young adults experience an increase in suicidal feelings and thoughts when they are treated with S.S.R.I.’s, compared with a placebo. It is entirely possible that a genetic variation in one or more genes that regulate serotonin function makes these people feel briefly more suicidal, rather than less, when exposed to the drugs.

This new field of pharmacogenomics will also enable psychiatrists to predict which drugs might produce toxic side effects for certain patients. Nearly all drugs are metabolized by a group of enzymes that vary greatly in activity from person to person. If patients have a genetic mutation that results in either deficient enzyme activity or none, they would be likely to have serious side effects if exposed to the drug that is metabolized by the enzyme.

Within a few years, patients could be routinely screened for these genetic variations, which will tell a doctor which drugs to avoid. This could potentially prevent unnecessary drug toxicity, a major cause of illness and death.

Aside from the potential to transform clinical psychiatric practice, these new developments will surely change the relationship between doctors and the drug industry and between the industry and the public. Direct-to-consumer advertising will become nearly irrelevant because the drugs will no longer be interchangeable, but will be prescribed based on an individual’s biological profile. Likewise, doctors will have little reason to meet with drug company representatives because they won’t be able to give doctors the single most important piece of information: which drug for which patient. For that doctors will need a genetic test, not a salesman.

Soon, your psychiatrist will really get to know you — not just your mind, but your brain, too. Treatment doesn’t get more personal than that.

Richard A. Friedman is director of the psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Why I Sometimes Fear Technology

This article from the Washington Post republished in today's Pioneer Press, highlights one of the several reasons I am somewhat fearful and very ambivilent of technology.

Has your child lost touch with nature?
Today's 'indoor generation' spawns movement to connect kids with the great outdoors
Washington Post
Article Last Updated: 06/19/2007 11:08:31 PM CDT

WASHINGTON - Linda Pelzman appreciates the beauty of the outdoor world, sometimes pulling her children into the yard to gaze at a full moon or peer into a dense fog. An educator and founder of a summer camp, she wishes her enthusiasm were fully shared.

On a recent nature walk near her Gaithersburg, Md., home, her younger son, 6, was unimpressed, pleading, "I just want to go back to civilization." Her older son, at 13, has made it clear he prefers PlayStation.

"Kids don't think about going outside like they used to, and unless there is some scheduled activity, I don't think they know what to do outdoors anymore," Pelzman said.

Her view is shared by a growing number of children's advocates, environmentalists, executives and politicians who fear that this might be the first generation of "indoor children" disconnected from nature.

Concerns about long-term consequences - to emotional well-being, health, learning abilities, environmental consciousness - have spawned a movement to "leave no child inside."

In recent months, it has been the focus of Capitol Hill hearings, state legislative action, grass-roots projects, a U.S. Forest Service initiative to get more children into the woods and a national effort to promote a daily "green hour."

Today, 40 civic leaders - representing several governors, three big-city mayors, Walt Disney Co., Sesame Workshop, DuPont, the gaming industry and others - will launch a campaign to raise $20 million to fund 20 initiatives

to encourage children to do what once seemed second nature: Go outdoors.
"If we really want to make a difference in this area, we need a shift in the culture," said Larry Selzer, president of the Conservation Fund, which organized the alliance.

Researchers long have been aware of the decline in outdoor activity. It has been documented by experts such as Sandra Hofferth, a family studies professor at the University of Maryland.

From 1997 to 2003, Hofferth found, there was a decline of 50 percent - from 16 percent to 8 percent - in the proportion of children 9 to 12 who spent time in outside activities such as hiking, walking, fishing, beach play and gardening. Organized sports were not included as an outdoor activity in the study, which was based on detailed time diaries.

Hofferth's study showed an increase in computer play time for all children and in time spent on television and video games for ages 9 to 12. And it found increases in sleep time, study time and reading time.

The increased activism has been partly inspired by author Richard Louv's best-selling book, "Last Child in the Woods."

Coining the term "nature deficit disorder," Louv argues indoor kids are more prone to a range of childhood problems, including obesity, depression and attention disorders. He contends they miss out on the spiritual, emotional and psychological benefits of exposure to the wonders of nature, including reduced stress and improved cognitive development.

"I'm not saying a child who grows up without nature is going to have terrible problems," Louv said, "but if you look at the studies that show what nature does give kids, it's unfortunate that so many children are missing out on that."

At the National Wildlife Federation, Kevin Coyle, vice president for education, said Louv's book attached a name and a framework to a phenomenon everyone knew existed.

Coyle's group, which publishes Ranger Rick and Your Big Backyard magazines, looked for a way to take the next step. It started promoting the "green hour" - and the idea that children need a casual hour outdoors each day in the same way they need a good night's sleep or a vitamin.

At least 30 grass-roots efforts have been started across the country in the past two years - focusing on legislation, nature centers, nature-based preschools, open space and other matters, said Amy Pertschuk, managing director of the Children & Nature Network, which was co-founded by Louv.

Experts suggest a major factor in the decline of outdoor time is parental fear about leaving children unattended - aggravated by excessive media coverage of horrific crimes.

Changes in family life also have had an influence: more mothers in the work force, more structured playtime, more organized sports. Fewer hours are left for kids to slip out the back door and play hide-and-seek, catch fireflies, skip stones and create imaginary worlds.

A Kaiser Family Foundation study shows children ages 8 to 18 now spend 6.5 hours a day on TV, electronic games, computers, music and other media, with many multi-tasking electronically. For many, the virtual world has become a more familiar setting than the natural one.

Remembering Lillian Hellman

On June 20, 1905 Lillian Hellman was born. I came to know Lillian Hellman by reading her novel Penimento the summer between my sophmore and junior year of college while in Europe on a study program. This novel was later made into a movie starring Jane Fonda as Hellman. Later my college theatre department produced The Little Foxes which I reviewed for the college newspaper. This experience allowed me to delve a little deeper into Hellman's life--she was a fascinating and heroic person.

The New York Times marks the anniversary of her birth, by linking to her obituary. She died July 1, 1984.

Lillian Hellman, Playwright, Author, and Rebel, Dies at 77
Lillian Hellman, one of the most important playwrights of the American theater, died of cardiac arrest yesterday at Martha's Vineyard (Mass.) Hospital near her summer home. She was 77 years old and also lived in Manhattan.

The playwright had been taken to the hospital by ambulance from her home at Vineyard Haven. Isidore Englander, her lawyer and one of her executors, said that Miss Hellman had suffered from a weak heart for several years.

Among Miss Hellman's plays that have entered the modern repertory are ''The Children's Hour,'' ''The Little Foxes'' and ''Watch on the Rhine.''

Wrote for Motion Pictures
She was also one of the most successful motion-picture scenarists, and the three volumes of her memoirs were both critical and popular successes - and even more controversial than her plays.

Yet the Hellman line that is probably most quoted came from none of these, but from a letter she wrote in 1952 to the House Committee on Un-American Activities when it was investigating links between American leftists and the Communist Party in this country and abroad.

''I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions,'' Miss Hellman wrote.

She offered to testify about her own opinions and actions, but not about those of others, because ''to hurt innocent people whom I knew many years ago in order to save myself is, to me, inhuman and dishonorable.''

For this, she risked imprisonment for contempt of Congress, was blacklisted and saw her income drop from $150,000 a year to virtually nothing.

Although she had participated with Communists in many causes, she was not a Communist. ''Rebels seldom make good revolutionaries,'' she explained.

And Lillian Hellman was a rebel, possessing a headstrong, argumentative, stubborn - some said arrogant - streak that seldom enabled her to admit she could have been wrong. She also found it difficult to admit that viewpoints that conflicted with her own might possess some merit, a trait that in her late years embroiled her in public disputes with the authors Diana Trilling and Mary McCarthy. She rebelled first against her family, especially the wealthier branch of her mother, the former Julia Newhouse. They were Southern merchants of German-Jewish origin, who had settled in Alabama, then New Orleans, where she was born on June 20, 1907.

Her father, Max, moved to New York after a business reversal and began a successful career as a salesman. An only child, Miss Hellmann spent her girlhood shuttling between upper West End Avenue and the genteel boardinghouse kept by two maiden aunts in New Orleans.

Her memoirs, which are less an autobiography than a montage of the people who meant most to her, portray relations of love and tension between the girl and her wet nurse, her aunts, a cousin who was a ''lost lady'' and other extraordinary kinfolk and friends. A loner, disaffected from family and school, she took refuge in books.

Revealing Anecdotes
After a scolding, she ran away at the age of 14. Received with love on her return two days later, she recounted that she learned something ''useful and dangerous - if you're willing to take the punishment, you are halfway through the battle.'' She added, ''That the issue may be trivial, the battle ugly, is another point.''

In another revealing anecdote, she said she pawned a ring given her on her 15th birthday by her maternal uncle, Jake Newhouse, and bought books with the money.

''I went immediately to tell him what I'd done,'' she said, ''deciding, I think, that day that the break had to come. . . . He laughed and said the words I later used in 'The Little Foxes': 'So you've got spirit after all. Most of the rest of them are made of sugar water.' ''

After graduation from Wadleigh High School, Miss Hellman was enrolled at the Washington Square campus of New York University for three years and later studied journalism at Columbia University. But, she said, she often cut classes to explore Bohemian Greenwich Village. This led in 1924 to her first job, reading manuscripts at the venturesome new publishing house of Boni & Liveright.

She left the next year and married the writer Arthur Kober. The marriage ended in a friendly Hollywood divorce in 1932. In between she did book reviews, wrote short stories that she said she did not like, visited France and Germany and read scripts for Metro- Goldwyn-Mayer.

Met Dashiell Hammett
It was a period, as she recalled it, of frequent idleness, discontent and drinking. It terminated when she met Dashiell Hammett, with whom she would live off and on for 31 years. Mr. Hammett told her that she was the model for Nora Charles, the cool and witty wife in his book ''The Thin Man'' - but was also the model for his villainous women as well.

Miss Hellman wrote a play, a comedy, with Louis Kronenberger. She said it amused them both enormously, but nobody else found it funny, and it was never performed. Thereafter, each of her plays were written in several drafts, after long research and under harsh coaching by Mr. Hammett.

The next, ''The Children's Hour,'' was suggested by a book about a lawsuit in Scotland. It is the story of a vicious girl destroying the lives of two teachers by falsely accusing them of having a lesbian affair. Miss Hellman, who was then reading scripts for the producer Herman Shumlin, took it to him and sat in a corner while he read it.

After the first act, she recounted, he said ''Swell!'' After the second, ''I hope it keeps up.'' After the third,

''I'll produce it.''

It opened in 1934, and was an immediate hit. Although it was banned in Boston, Chicago and other cities, and in Britain, Miss Hellman earned $125,000 from its first run, and a $50,000 contract from Samuel Goldwyn to turn it into a movie.

A Play About Slander
It was a period, as she recalled, when a film could not show a man on a couch with a girl unless at least one foot was touching the floor. But with what would become her legendary skill, she revised her tale of slander to one involving jealousy and a love triangle, rather than lesbianism. The picture, called ''These Three,'' was considered daring enough in that age of Pollyanna films, and it was a success.

Speaking of ''The Children's Hour,'' Miss Hellman said, ''I never see characters as monstrously as audiences do.'' For her, it was a play not about a vicious child but about the evil power of a slander, and to some degree anticipated the political investigations of the left that were to come.

By 1935, she was able to dictate terms for an occasional scenario for Hollywood (''The Dark Angel,'' ''Dead End''), and was one of the country's highest-paid writers. Yet she drew closer to the left.

She wrote a drama about a strike, ''Days to Come,'' which appeared in late 1936 and was unsuccessful. She then went to Spain, helped write Joris Ivens's film, ''The Spanish Earth,'' and came home to campaign for aid to the Loyalists fighting the Franco forces in the Spanish Civil War.

Meanwhile, she was working hard on a play about a Southern family obsessed with money and power - the play, she later said, that got out of her system her own resentment toward her mother's family. Her close friend Dorothy Parker suggested the title: ''The Little Foxes.''

Frightened by Success
It was a great hit on stage and in the screen version, which Miss Hellman also wrote. She fled New York after the Broadway opening; she explained that she was frightened by success and what it did to people.

With her earnings, she bought an estate in Westchester County and converted it into a working farm. For 13 years, she lived there and helped run it, while writing plays, books and magazine articles and carrying on an active social life.

Interviewers, conditioned by the toughness of her writing, were surprised to find her intensely feminine, fond of clothes and cooking, a short, attractive person with reddish hair and an aquiline nose. Late in life her face was generously lined and her voice was raspy, a condition she attributed to nearly a lifetime of chain-smoking.

While conceding the taut excitement of her work, some critics complained that her plots were melodramatic. She replied: ''If you believe, as the Greeks did, that man is at the mercy of the gods, then you write tragedy. The end is inevitable from the beginning. But if you believe that man can solve his own problems and is at nobody's mercy, then you will probably write melodrama.''

Deeply engaged with the fate of Spain and what she foresaw as the coming war with Nazism, Miss Hellman was widely attacked as a Communist. But when her anti-Nazi play, ''Watch on the Rhine,'' opened in early 1941, the Communist press criticized her for supporting the Allies in what it then called the ''phony war.''

Inspired by Childhood Friend
The play, named the best of the year by the New York Drama Critics Circle, describes a tragic encounter between a German foe of the Nazis and a cynical Rumanian in the home of a cultivated, liberal American family. The hero's American wife seems to have been inspired by a girlhood friend of Miss Hellman's who joined the anti-Nazi underground and was killed.

One of the Hellman memoirs, ''Pentimento,'' tells the story of ''Julia,'' and recounts that Miss Hellman once smuggled $50,000 to her to be used in bribing Nazi guards to free prisoners.

Last year, Yale University Press published a memoir by Muriel Gardiner, a psychoanalyst who was active in the Austrian underground in World War II, and suggested that Dr. Gardiner's experience was the model for the Hellman story. Since the Hellman story ends with her bringing Julia's body back to the United States, some critics raised questions about the authenticity of the Hellman story.

Miss Hellman responded that Miss Gardiner ''may have been the model for somebody else's Julia, but she was certainly not the model for my Julia.''

Two War Movies
During the war, Miss Hellman wrote a scenario for a movie about the Eastern front called ''The North Star,'' extolling the bravery of the people of the Soviet Union, by then an American ally. After heavy rewriting, it emerged as a simplistic affair and she deplored it, although it was well received.

She also wrote a play, later a movie, ''The Searching Wind,'' about an American diplomat and prewar appeasement of Hitler, and visited the Eastern front outside Warsaw as a guest of the Soviet Government.

Then came ''Another Part of the Forest'' (1946) and ''The Autumn Garden'' (1951), both returning to the theme of bitter strife over money and power in genteel Southern settings. Both were successes.

Never Denounced Stalinism
Miss Hellman was attacked by a number of critics for never denouncing the excesses of Stalinism, as others on the left did.

Mr. Hammett was jailed in 1951 for refusing to submit a list of contributors to what the Federal Bureau of Investigation had branded a Communist front, the Civil Rights Congress, of which he was a trustee. He emerged with his health shattered. Miss Hellman received her summons the next year.

She formally offered to testify about herself but not about others. Further, she refused to let her lawyers cite the fact that she had been criticized by the Communists. She said that to use this ''would amount to my attacking them at a time when they were being persecuted.''

Balmain Costume for Courage
Wearing a new Balmain costume to give her courage, she said later, Miss Hellman appeared before the House committee, repeated her offer to testify about herself, then invoked the Fifth Amendment on questions about others. The committee did not choose to cite her for contempt. But she suddenly became an untouchable in the movies and the theater.

Her income dropped from $150,000 the year before to a pittance. She had to sell her farm. She worked briefly in Italy on a scenario that was stillborn, and briefly as a salesclerk in a department store, under an assumed name. Not until ''Toys in the Attic'' appeared in 1960 did her financial straits end. This play again won the drama critics' award, but the Pulitzer prize board rejected the recommendation of its drama jury that it receive that honor as well.

In ''Scoundrel Time,'' a memoir that was a best seller in 1976, Miss Hellman recalled that era with bitterness - not so much for those hunting Communists as for the former leftists who named names, and for those liberals who remained silent or who participated in anti-Communist efforts that she said were subsidized by the Central Intelligence Agency. These events, she said, led directly to Vietnam and the Watergate affair.

''Such people would have a right to say that I, and many like me, took too long to see what was going on in the Soviet Union,'' she wrote. ''But whatever our mistakes, I do not believe we did our country any harm. And I think they did.''

Twice Planned to Marry
Mr. Hammett died in Jan. 1960. In an introduction to a collection of his short stories, Miss Hellman said of his last years with her, ''It was an unspoken pleasure, that having come together so many years, ruined so much and repaired a little, we had endured.''

In an interview in 1973, she shed a bit more light on that relationship, troubled by his drinking, their tempers and a ''modern'' attitude toward marriage.

''We did have two periods of planning to be married,'' she said. ''The first time, he disappeared with another lady. That's not really fair - I was disappearing too. . . . We were both of that nutty time that believed that alliances could stand up against other people. I should have known better, because I had a jealous nature.''

During the decade when she was blacklisted by Hollywood, Miss Hellman wrote four adaptations for the stage: ''Montserrat,'' based on a novel by Emmanuel Robles; ''The Lark,'' from Jean Anouilh's play about Jeanne d'Arc; the book for ''Candide,'' an operetta, with music by Leonard Bernstein, and ''My Mother, My Father, and Me,'' based on a novel by Burt Blechman.

All of the later plays got mixed reviews, but are occasionally revived. ''The Lark,'' which Miss Hellman also directed, was described as much better than a Christopher Fry version staged in London. The critics' judgments of some of these shows, as with the Hellman plays that were smash hits, have improved as time passed. ''The Little Foxes'' was revived in 1980 as a vehicle for Elizabeth Taylor and had a successful run on Broadway and a national tour.

Her Last Play
By the end of the 1950's, motion-picture offers were coming in again, but Miss Hellman was no longer interested. She explained that she did not want to work in a medium where directors were free to revise a writer's work at will.

''Toys in the Attic,'' still another drama about a doomed Southern family, was hailed as perhaps her finest play. It was also her last.

''I do not like the theater at all,'' she said in a lecture in 1966. ''I get restless.''

Elsewhere, she quoted Mr. Hammett as telling her, ''The truth is you don't like the theater except the times when you're in a room by yourself putting the play on paper.''

But she was not idle. Occasionally, she taught classes in writing at Harvard, Yale and the City University of New York. She edited the letters of Chekhov and the Hammett stories and worked on her memoirs: ''An Unfinished Woman'' (1969), ''Pentimento'' (1974) and ''Scoundrel Time.'' In her town house on the Upper East Side and her cottage on Martha's Vineyard, she held court for a circle of younger writers.

'Julia' Story Filmed
Miss Hellman at first turned down an offer of more than $500,000 for the movie rights to these books, on the ground that they involved living persons who might be hurt. But she later sold movie rights to the ''Julia,'' story and it was made into a film in which Miss Hellman was played by Jane Fonda.

She herself had criticized her friends Lionel and Diana Trilling, among others, for their writings on the cold war. But when Miss Hellman's publisher, Little, Brown & Company, rejected a book by Mrs. Trilling because it responded to Miss Hellman, the latter commented, ''My goodness, what difference would that make?''

Mrs. Trilling had to find another publisher, however, and the feud between the two women continued, at one point, in 1981, coming down to battle-by-interview in which they exchanged sharp words.

Mrs. Trilling said that on Martha's Vineyard ''anyone who entertains me is never again invited to Lillian Hellman's house.'' Miss Hellman issued a formal statement in which she acidly denied the charge.

Mary McCarthy Feud
The playwright also, in 1979, plunged into a headlong feud with the novelist Mary McCarthy after Miss McCarthy, in a television interview, characterized Miss Hellman as ''a dishonest writer'' whose every word, ''including 'and' and 'the,' '' was a ''lie.'' Miss Hellman sued Miss McCarthy, the Educational Television Corporation and the interviewer, Dick Cavett, for damages of $1.75 million for ''mental pain and anguish.''

Last May 10, Miss Hellman won a preliminary round in the lawsuit when Justice Harold Baer Jr. of State Supreme Court denied Miss McCarthy's motion to dismiss the suit. While Miss McCarthy had argued that her statements were expressions of opinion about a public figure, Judge Baer said that the strong statements seemed to fall ''on the actionable side of the line - outside what has come to be known as the 'marketplace of ideas.' ''

Many of her admirers and other observers were apprehensive about the fact that Miss Hellman had become obsessed with the action and that she might squander a great deal of her energy and wealth on the lawsuit. They also feared that she might erode the freedom of critics like herself to comment.

It was ironic, some said, that despite Miss Hellman's lifelong championing of civil rights, a victory in the case might seriously erode First Amendment protections. Mr. Englander said yesterday that he did not know what impact Miss Hellman's death would have on the lawsuit.

Miss Hellman's veracity also came under attack in 1980 by Martha Gellhorn, a writer once married to Ernest Hemingway. Miss Gellhorn accused Miss Hellman of having passed off fiction for fact in ''An Unfinished Woman'' when she wrote about Mr. Hemingway.

Sued for Nixon Tapes
Throughout her life Miss Hellman continued to raise her voice for such causes as civil rights and peace, and with others filed a suit that won a court ruling that the Nixon White House tapes were public property. She also signed petitions seeking the release of Soviet dissidents.

In ''Scoundrel Time,'' she commented on her disillusionment: ''My belief in liberalism was mostly gone. I think I have substituted for it something private called, for want of something that should be more accurate, decency. . . . but it is painful for a nature that can no longer accept liberalism not to be able to accept radicalism.''

For many reviewers, Miss Hellman's position and her dramatic art were best expressed in the wistful closing lines of ''An Unfinished Woman'':

''I do regret that I have spent much of my life trying to find what I called 'sense.' I never knew what I meant by truth, never made the sense I hoped for. All I mean is that I left too much of me unfinished because I wasted too much time.''

Miss Hellman left no survivors. A private graveside ceremony will be held at 2:30 P.M. Tuesday at Abel's Hill Cemetery on Martha's Vineyard. A memorial service in New York City will be held at a date still to be determined.

Keeping America Wild

Our nation's green space is being preserved by the efforts of private non-profits and their members. Cudos to The Nature Conservancy and it's members/donors/staff who have helped craft and fund this latest land preservation purchase!

This editorial is in today's New York Times...

A Deal Worth Cheering

Published: June 20, 2007
The steady march of major timber companies to new locations in the southern United States and overseas has exposed millions of acres to development, ratcheting up the already fierce pressures on the nation’s dwindling supply of open space. With most federal open-space programs cut to the bone, the task of preserving these lands for future generations has fallen increasingly to private groups.

Given their relatively limited resources, any victory they achieve is cause for cheers. And cheer we do this week for the Nature Conservancy’s purchase — with financing from the Open Space Institute and other groups — from a paper company of 161,000 acres of hardwood forests, mountain peaks, lakes and streams in New York’s Adirondacks.

The deal secures for posterity the last big piece of privately owned timberland in the Adirondacks. It caps a series of transactions stretching back to the early 1990s that altogether have protected hundreds of thousands of Adirondack backcountry acres that might otherwise have been lost to second homes. The transaction is also significant because it will allow selective logging to continue for 20 years, helping to preserve jobs at a local paper mill.

To cover the $110 million price, the Nature Conservancy is going to need more than just cheering. Some of the money could come from private fund-raising, and some by selling part of the timberland back to a company that would harvest the land sustainably but keep out residential development.

We also urge Gov. Eliot Spitzer to step forward, as his predecessor George Pataki did on similar occasions in the past. The state could buy some of the land outright, adding it to the New York State Forest Preserve. It could also buy the development rights from the Nature Conservancy through a conservation easement — rights, of course, it would never use.

From Maine to California, groups like the Nature Conservancy, the Conservation Fund and the Trust for Public Land are engaged in a continuing, and financially creative, battle to keep the developers at bay and keep large ecosystems intact. This week’s deal gives them, and all of us, heart.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Pledge Allegiance and Sing the Breathing Song!

OAKLAND, Calif., June 12 — The lesson began with the striking of a Tibetan singing bowl to induce mindful awareness.

Theodore Rigby for The New York Times

A student holds an instrument used in mindfulness techniques.
With the sound of their new school bell, the fifth graders at Piedmont Avenue Elementary School here closed their eyes and focused on their breathing, as they tried to imagine “loving kindness” on the playground.

“I was losing at baseball and I was about to throw a bat,” Alex Menton, 11, reported to his classmates the next day. “The mindfulness really helped.”

As summer looms, students at dozens of schools across the country are trying hard to be in the present moment. This is what is known as mindfulness training, in which stress-reducing techniques drawn from Buddhist meditation are wedged between reading and spelling tests.

Mindfulness, while common in hospitals, corporations, professional sports and even prisons, is relatively new in the education of squirming children. But a small but growing number of schools in places like Oakland and Lancaster, Pa., are slowly embracing the concept — as they did yoga five years ago — and institutions, like the psychology department at Stanford University and the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, are trying to measure the effects.

During a five-week pilot program at Piedmont Avenue Elementary, Miss Megan, the “mindful” coach, visited every classroom twice a week, leading 15 minute sessions on how to have “gentle breaths and still bodies.” The sound of the Tibetan bowl reverberated at the start and finish of each lesson.

The techniques, among them focused breathing and concentrating on a single object, are loosely adapted from the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the molecular biologist who pioneered the secular use of mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts in 1979 to help medical patients cope with chronic pain, anxiety and depression. Susan Kaiser Greenland, the founder of the InnerKids Foundation, which trains schoolchildren and teachers in the Los Angeles area, calls mindfulness “the new ABC’s — learning and leading a balanced life.”

At Stanford, the psychology department is assessing the feasibility of teaching mindfulness to families. “Parents and teachers tell kids 100 times a day to pay attention,” said Philippe R. Goldin, a researcher. “But we never teach them how.”

The experiment at Piedmont, whose student body is roughly 65 percent black, 18 percent Latino and includes a large number of immigrants, is financed by Park Day School, a nearby private school (prompting one teacher to grumble that it was “Cloud Nine-groovy-hippie-liberals bringing ‘enlightenment’ to inner city schools”).

But Angela Haick, the principal of Piedmont Avenue, said she was inspired to try it after observing a class at a local middle school.

“If we can help children slow down and think,” Dr. Haick said, “they have the answers within themselves.”

It seemed alternately loved and ignored, as students in Ms. Graham’s fifth-grade class tried to pay attention to their breath, a calming technique that lasted 20 seconds. Then their coach asked them to “cultivate compassion” by reflecting on their emotions before lashing out at someone on the playground.

Tyran Williams defined mindfulness as “not hitting someone in the mouth.”

“He doesn’t know what to do with his energy,” his mother, Towana Thomas, said at a session for parents. “But one day after school he told me, ‘I’m taking a moment.’ If it works in a child’s mind — with so much going on — there must be something to it.”

Asked their reactions to the sounds of the singing bowl, Yvette Solito, a third grader, wrote that it made her feel “calm, like something on Oprah.” Her classmate Corey Jackson wrote that “it feels like when a bird cracks open its shell.”

Dr. Amy Saltzman, a physician in Palo Alto, Calif., who started the Association for Mindfulness in Education three years ago, thinks of mindfulness education as “talk yoga.” Practitioners tend to use sticky-mat buzzwords like “being present” and “cultivating compassion,” while avoiding anything spiritual.

Dr. Saltzman, co-director of the mindfulness study at Stanford, said the initial findings showed increased control of attention and “less negative internal chatter — what one girl described as ‘the gossip inside my head: I’m stupid, I’m fat or I’m going to fail math,’ ” Dr. Saltzman said.

A recent study of teenagers by Kaiser Permanente in San Jose, Calif., found that meditation techniques helped improve mood disorders, depression, and self-harming behaviors like anorexia and bulimia.

Dr. Susan L. Smalley, a professor of psychiatry at U.C.L.A. and director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center there, which is studying the effects on schoolchildren, said one 4-year-old noticed her mother succumbing to road rage while stuck in traffic. “She said, ‘Mommy, Mommy, you have to sing the breathing song,’ ” Dr. Smalley said.

Although some students take naturally to mindfulness, it is “not a magic bullet,” said Diana Winston, the director of mindfulness education at the U.C.L.A. center. She said the research thus far was “inconclusive” about how effective mindfulness was for children who suffered from trauma-related disorders, for example. It is “a slow process,” Ms. Winston added. “Just because kids sit and listen to the bell doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be more kind.”

Glenn Heuser, who teaches a combined fourth- and fifth-grade class at Piedmont, said one student started crying about a dead grandparent and another over melted lip balm. “It tapped into a very emotional space for them,” Mr. Heuser said. “They struggled with, ‘Is it O.K. to go there?’ ”

Although mindful education may seem like a New Yorker caricature of West Coast life, the school district with possibly the best experience has been Lancaster, Pa., where mindfulness is taught in 25 classes a week at eight schools. The district has a substantial poverty rate, with 75 percent of students qualifying for free lunch.

Midge Kinder, a yoga teacher, and her husband, Rick, started the program six years ago at George Ross Elementary, where their daughter Wynne taught.

Camille Hopkins, the principal, said initially she was skeptical. Growing up in South Philadelphia, “I was never told to take an elevator breath”— a way of breathing in stages, taught in yoga — “or hear the signals of chimes to cool down,” Ms. Hopkins said.

But the stresses today are greater, she conceded, particularly on students who lived with the threat of violence. “A lot of things we watched on TV are part of their everyday life,” she said. “It’s ‘Did you know so-and-so got shot over the weekend.’ ”

In after-school detention, children are asked to “check in with their feelings,” Ms. Hopkins said. “How are you really changing behavior if they’re just sitting there?”

Yolanda Steel, a second-grade teacher at Piedmont, said she was hopeful that the training would help an attention-deficit generation better manage a barrage of stimuli, including PlayStations and text messages. “American children are overstimulated,” Ms. Steel said. “Some have difficulty even closing their eyes.”

But she noted that some students tapped pencils and drummed on desks instead of closing their eyes and listening to the bell. “The premise is nice,” Ms. Steel concluded. “But mindfulness can’t do it all.”

I sincerely hope that therapists, yoga instructors, and clergy aren't wrong. We're starting this at church and at home. Guess I need to work on my kids' school next!

Ground, Path, Fruition and Tantra

About a dozen years ago Sting was interviewed upon the release of one of his solo albums and talked alot about his practice of Tantra. Due to this "pop culture" reference many people, including me, began to assume based upon this interview that Tantra was a practice that was "spiritual sex".

While doing research on yin/yang for liberalchurch vacation bible school I found out from Beliefnet that I'd been led astray. Here's the scoop on Tantra Yoga (edited to PG-13 for the blog because there are some aspects of it which involve sexual practices).


What Is Tantra, Anyway?
The lama sets the record straight on the ins and outs of a much misunderstood term.

Q. What is Tantra? I have heard it has something to do with spiritual sex.

A. Tantra is often associated with sacred sex. The ancient Sanskrit word tantra literally means "warp and woof" or "continuation" and refers to non-duality, interwovenness, or oneness through the union of opposites.

Tantra is an ancient, esoteric Indian spiritual tradition, common to both Hinduism and Buddhism, dating back to before the time of Christ--and even the Buddha, who lived in the sixth century B.C.E. Buddha is said to have transmitted Tantric teachings to his disciples. Both Hindu and Buddhist Tantric traditions emphasize the cultivation of enlightened consciousness, divine oneness, and the burning off of blockages and defilements that cover and inhibit the inner radiance of our own original nature or innate state of perfection. Classic Tantric Buddhist texts, such as an ancient, anonymous manual called "The Union of the Sun and Moon," reveal how to utilize the right and left psychic energy channels (nadis)--which, in yogic physiology, embody the masculine (solar) and feminine (lunar) energies within our own bodies. As a result, we can become more integrated, awaken our inner energy, and thus experience wholeness.

In Tibetan Buddhism, or Vajrayana, the term refers to various kinds of texts (medical, astrological Tantras, etc.) and more generally to the systems of meditation of our tradition. There are four classes of these esoteric texts and treatises, and they form the heart of Tibetan Buddhism. Thus Vajrayana Buddhism is also known in Tibetan as Tantrayana, or the Tantric vehicle to enlightenment.

Today the term Tantra is sometimes misunderstood or even misused in the West. Made out to be synonymous with eroticism and licentiousness, there are myriad books and websites claiming to help students harness the Tantric teachings as a means to great sex and financial success. There are even commercial relationship workshops promising better sex through sensual Tantric training. But most Tantric practices involve no sex, and Tantric yoga is best practiced under the guidance of an experienced and qualified teacher.

Of course, sexuality is a healthy part of life, and the sexual drive is one of the most powerful energies in us. Although Western religions seem to have lost touch with the wisdom of the body and the sacred dimension of sexual energy, Tantric adepts through millennia have worked to find ways in which to integrate that energy into spiritual practice, and turn this powerful force into rocket-fuel-like propellant on the path of spiritual ecstasy and transcendence.

This transformation of energy is Tantra's capacity for developing samadhi (concentrative absorption), expanding consciousness, and opening into meditation. More than 1,000 years ago, the yogis of Bengal and Orissa in India developed this spiritual art, and a few still practice it in an underground fashion, as do the Tantric yogis and lamas of Tibetan Buddhism, where it still continues in the fullest form today.

Many Tantric practices, as I mentioned, do not involve a literal union of two people, though they are based in the symbolic synthesis of male and female, solar and lunar, compassion and wisdom. One such fundamental aspect of Tantric practice is Tantric medicine, an ancient methodology for healing both body and soul. Working with the so-called "subtle" body, which includes the various "sheaths" or dimensions of our being from corporeality on up, Tantric medicine employs diet, fasting, breath and energy practices, initiations, visualizations, mantras, mudras (ritual gestures), and yoga, along with a knowledge of the body's chakras and subtle energy (prana) channels to remove blockages and correct damage. By purifying the body along with the energy, the mind, and the spirit, this process can strengthen the immune system and prevent disease and mental imbalance and instability, and promote longevity, vitality, and spiritual and emotional development.

Tantric medicine can be found today in the Indian Ayurveda tradition as well as in the Buddhist treatises known as the Medical Tantras in the Tibetan tradition. Tibetans say that Buddha appeared in the form of the healing Buddha, or "Bhaishajya-guru Buddha," who symbolizes the healing or perfecting quality of dharma, and taught the Five Medical Tantras to qualified disciples, from which all of Tibetan medicine is derived.

In the universe of Tibetan Buddhism, the continuum of Tantric spiritual development is seen as having three categories: ground, path, and fruition. The ground is the practitioner, the path is the path of meditation, which purifies this ground, and the fruition is the blissful, unified state that arises as an effect of Tantric practice. So forget IPOs and hot sex. When the body and mind become aligned and peaceful, as with Tantric medicine, that's fruition in the true sense of the word.