Thursday, October 30, 2008

slight change in plans

I love this photo. One of Savannah's friends took this shot actually, not me. They got their face painted at our church picnic and all three girls got dots all over their faces. It was cute! She has beautiful eyes! :)

I've had a slight change in plans for the weekend. Laurie started to get sick and I didn't want to end up camping by myself, so I got a hotel reservation instead. I wasn't sure if I'd be doing the trip alone or not, but she's feeling good now and will meet me there tomorrow - yea! So we will go out on the Granbury Riverboat cruise Friday night (Halloween!) on Lake Granbury that sounds like a blast! It's some sort of fun cruise, murder mystery dinner. It was that or the romance package Saturday night where some guy was proposing to his fiancee'... um, no thank you! :) I'll take the fun package. Ha! So I'm totally stoked about it. I'm doing a travely article about the area as well as research for my book. We'll still go to visit and hopefully hike a bit in Cleburne State Park and go see the tracks at Dino Valley and alse the Creation Museum. That's all I have time for now, I'm still finishing up my cassowary piece, and I need to make sure everything is packed, so here are a few pics!

This is super old but I was just randonly going through pics and thought this is cute - wonder twin powers, activate! This is Elise (aka Stinky - ha ha!) and I at a Christmas party I had at my house last year.
This was at a gathering at Lynn's last week. I look like a dork! This is Georgia, me, Trish, and Tammy going clockwise from left! My friend Carmine and I last weekend when we went out to dinner. My braids are messy! LOL!

Monday, October 27, 2008

the next adventure

Laurie & I before our hike up Guadalupe Mt, the tallest peak in Texas. You should've seen the self-portraits we took afterwards, we look awful! They are such a riot but I'm not posting them here! Ha!
Copyright (c) 2006 Wendee Holtcamp

I've been totally snowed under with work, still trying to get caught up after Hurricane Ike pushed all my work back a couple weeks. I am getting very excited about my upcoming camping trip this weekend! I am going to camp at Cleburne State Park with my friend Laurie (above) and we will visit the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose as part of research for my book (Losing My Religion: Making peace between evolution and Christianity, Beacon Press).

Basically the guy who runs the museum, Carl Baugh, believes that dinosaurs walked the earth with humankind. Yep just like the Flintsones. And Noah had dinosaurs on board the Ark - less than 4,000 years ago. So obviously, I don't agree with what he espouses, since science shows the earth to be over 4.5 billion years old, dinosaurs to have gone extinct around 65 million years ago and modern humans (Homo sapiens) to have arisen in Africa around 200,000 years ago. But I'm curious to know why he believes what he does. Why do any of us believe what we do? How do we know if we're right or wrong? That is what my book is about. As a fellow Christian, what does he think of my acceptance of evolution? (I know from some of his writing he says there's no evidence, which of course is ridiculous - there are hundreds of thousands of studies of published articles including genetics research, natural history research, paleontology, archaeology, embryology, physiology, etc that all point to natural selection and evolution and the common descent of all living organisms). I've long ago made peace with my faith and science, but it will be interesting to talk to those who think differently.

So besides camping, campfires, and S'mores Laurie and I will visit the museum, I'll interview Carl, and we'll explore some other sights in the Granbury-Cleburne-Glen Rose area (southwest of Ft. Worth). I also plan to visit Dinosaur Valley State Park, which I've been to before a couple times, but it has some of the best preserved dinosaur tracks in the world! Some of them are in the shallow clear blue Paluxy River. I hope the water level is low so I can see the prints well.

It's going to probably be cold this weekend so I'm glad I have a very warm sleeping bag!!! But hey after camping in Nepal where I literally slept in about 5 layers of clothes, my fleece beanie, and my awesome North face down sleeping bag, I can handle it!!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

the reality is...

Copyright (c) 2000 Wendee Holtcamp

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt

I just saw this outstanding blog post at Daily Kos, Fear among the Republican base and wanted to link to it here. It talks about the class wars and how angry the opposition to Obama is. He gives an illustration from his personal life, but what struck me was that he says that it is not the "Joe sixpacks" who typically support McCain-Palin but the upper middle class to the wealthy. I would say that seems to be the case in my area, as well.

The reality is when someone who makes over $250,000 per year tells me - a single self-employed mom struggling to make ends meet every month and working myself to death as a writer and instructor and can only afford such crappy health insurance that I can only have 2 office visits per year no matter what reason (apparently including well woman checks since my last one was denied) - and they tell me that they do not want to pay just a little extra taxes to help others less fortunate -to help me - to be honest, it is personal.

I may look and act middle class, but I came from poverty and it very much affects me and my outlook and I do not fit in with the typical middle class income structure. And while I have a nice suburban home and a Subaru, my month to month existence is a real struggle. My reality is that if I found some sort of lump in my body that might be cancerous, God forbid, I would end up going into debt to be able to pay for treatment, and most likely I may avoid going to the doctor because I don't have the money for it nor will my insurance do anything for me. It scares the living bejesus out of me. And when someone who makes that much money tells me that they don't want to pay a little extra taxes, it stings. It's personal.

And it also makes me sad, because I know that those same people are very generous, kind-hearted people, good people who would help out if I were sick or a major disaster struck. But for some reason we don't apply the same reasoning on a broader scale - to give a little of our earned income to help the rest of the nation. I think sometimes we have to ask ourselves what are we willing to sacrifice for? I don't think it's too much to ask to sacrifice a little to help those who are less fortunate. Because there are a lot of us out here.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Newsflash to Palin

Copyright (c) 2006 Wendee Holtcamp
One of the lakes at the resort in East Texas formerly known as Chain O Lakes and now called the Retreat at Artesian Lakes. We went there for Thanksgiving two years ago. It has an amazing restuarant the Hilltop Herb Farm.

Palin gave her first policy talk and during this talk which was about special needs funding, she ridiculed fruit fly research... She said:

“…sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.”

This has a clip:

Research on fruit flies may seem esoteric to someone who has absolutely no understanding of science, but, Newsflash: Fruit fly research provided the bedrock foundation of modern genetics. Anyone who paid any attention in biology (that is, if their state's education system wasn't already completely floundering) should know that. Because fruit flies reproduce readily and produce many offspring in short periods of time, you can study the changes that occur when you breed together different strains (red eyes, white eyes, messed up wings, etc - and that allowed scientists to find where the specific genes were and what they were linked to - and that is how modern genetics was born).

Now that the genome of Drosophila has been mapped, fruit fly research is even more valuable - including research on things like autism which is one of "Special needs" that Palin wants to support and fund. She needs to do her research a little better! It does not bode well for science funding should McCain-Palin get elected. Nor for the future of sound science education.

Update: Here's a good article in, Sarah Palin's latest swat at science, about the issue, and what the fruit fly research was on - actually on a tephritid fly that is a pest on olives, which are a major crop in California in particular. The small portion of the money that went to France was because that particular tephritid fly pest originated from the Mediterranean... introduced insect pests cost companies a lot of money, and research on them has a direct benefit to the public.

Friday, October 24, 2008

what is a liberal?

The term liberal is thrown around like it's a dirty word by conservatives, which is a shame because we should learn to respect other viewpoints. But I thought a lot of people may not even know what the heck liberal really means. My dad emailed this to me, and I thought it was great. Like me, he is a liberal Christian! And we are not alone! There are many many many out there. Maybe not too many in Texas... but there are some. And there are loads where I'm from, Oregon. And hey though Palin may not call any place that doesn't agree with her real America, I'm proud of my country and love the Constitution it was founded on!

Dictionary results for: liberal Unabridged (v 1.1)

1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.
2. (often initial capital letter) noting or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform.
3. of, pertaining to, based on, or advocating liberalism.
4. favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, esp. as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.
5. favoring or permitting freedom of action, esp. with respect to matters of personal belief or expression: a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers.
6. of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies.
7. free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant: a liberal attitude toward foreigners.
8. open-minded or tolerant, esp. free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.
9. characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts: a liberal donor.

Emphasis courtesy of my dad! (and me) :)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

appreciation for single moms

One of the sand mines along the San Jacinto River.
Copyright (c) 2007 Wendee Holtcamp

I seriously can't believe it's already Thursday evening and I haven't blogged since Monday. The week has flown by. I tell you what, I have a newfound appreciation for single moms who do not have the dad in the picture at all. Matt has been out of town for coming up on 2 weeks now, and man oh man I have been just absolutely swamped, running the kids to school and back every day, to track meets, confirmation, drum lessons, picking Savannah up from play practice, and driving over to take care of Matt's animals .... whew! That on top of my own work load not to mention cooking and making the kids lunches and cleaning up. Double whew! I need to clone myself! It makes me even more appreciative of the situation I have with Matt where we share duties and everything is very equal. I know it's not like that with a lot of single parents, and I'm very blessed. And I'll be very glad when he is back in town!!

So I gave the talk this morning on sand mining on the San Jacinto to my son's school and I think it was well received. I gave the talk to the entire school and it's hard to make a talk that entertains everywhere from pre-K to middle school! But the preschoolers were very well behaved! I was impressed.

Sunday evening I went to dinner with Carmine Stahl, a dear elderly friend of mine who flew in from Ohio to receive the Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT) lifetime achievement award (Charles Leonard Weddle Memorial Award). I'm not a member of NPSOT but I kept trying to find someone who was to nominate him, and one of the people who took my writing class was and she did the job for me! I wrote an article about him for Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine, Papa Stahl, though we'd met on biological surveys before then, but we've become dear friends and now talk on the phone regularly. It was good to see him! Since he moved to Ohio a few months back I didn't know when I'd see him again! He's a wonderful person and it was nice to have him meet my kids. He prays for me and that means so much to me. I'll put some pictures up when I get a chance.

Tomorrow night is the Alanis Morissette concert. I'm so excited. She is my all-time favorite singer-songwriter. I went to her Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie Tour way back when with my friend Gia, and it was great. The kids are going to their school dance tomorrow night. I literally can not believe this week is almost over. It has flown by, and I am still feeling completely snowed under. I'm going to bed now!

Monday, October 20, 2008

tootling with vigor

Rhododendron forest in eastern Nepal
Copyright (c) 2007 Wendee Holtcamp

"Should you find yourself the victim of other people's bitterness, ignorance, smallness or insecurities; remember, things could be worse. You could be one of them!"
- An email from "God" in my inbox today :)

From Martha Beck's article Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Lady on She says:

Nevertheless, I recommend these ninja techniques for dealing with mean people. Get away from them, full stop. Sound extreme? It's not. Cruelty, whether physical or emotional, isn't normal. It may signal what psychologists call the dark triad of psychopathic, narcissistic, and Machiavellian personality disorders.

But my favorite is this:

I’m a lifelong fan of “Japlish,” English prose translated from the Japanese by someone whose sole qualification is owning a Japanese-to-English dictionary. One classic Japlish instruction, which I picked up from a car rental company, advised: “When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor.”

So when someone says something cruel, the first step (after ignoring and getting away) is to trumpet melodiously. If that doesn't work, tootle with vigor. Consider the previous post my tootling with vigor! Ha!

"Now, Guy," she said, in precisely the tone Supernanny uses with kids on TV, "that kind of petty meanness doesn't become you. Show us all you can do better."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

stop the hate

And God said to me, Write:
Leave the cruelty to kings.
Without that angel barring the way to love
there would be no bridge for me
into time.
- Rainer Maria Rilke

I disabled anonymous comments because of someone sending hateful ones. What is the point? I mean, don't we have enough hate in the world? Hate sin, love the sinner. If you don't agree with me, or worse if you think my "salvation" is in question - shouldn't you show me love and patience and mercy, as Jesus would? Are you really acting as a good messenger of God's will and God's incredible merciful love by sending anonymous hateful comments?

There was a long political comment I planned to reply to in a post but I have not had time to compose a thoughtful and lengthy reply it deserves (Because it was SO far out there, with so many errors, it will take some time to gather up a response that is not just "my opinion"). So, quit the hate. Quit the insults. What is the point? This person said that "How could I call myself a Christian" etc (if I support Obama) - a couple quick points. I don't. God does. Christ does. Even if I'm "wrong" He says, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God, and we are not saved by what I do or what I believe or my theology, but by grace. That's good enough for me.

Look! It's a photo of what hell is going to look like! All the Obama supporters worshipping the anti-Christ socialist! Black, white, Hispanic... what a mix, what a great crowd for the fiery inferno. (Oops there goes my sarcasm valve flapping open again...)

And if you're sending "anonymous" letters and telling me I do not have courage (because I don't post your hateful anonymous comment), umm... isn't that the pot calling the kettle black? Why don't you just have a conversation with me. A respectful one. You're welcome to disagree. This is my blog, my forum, and I can put my opinions and thoughts and analyses. If you don't like it, don't read it. And I can choose to not allow in the negativity and hate from a "so-called Christian." A wise man once said... Look at the plank within your own eye.... I suggest you follow this wisdom! I know who you are. I have your IP address.

sand mining could be toxic

Copyright (c) 2006 Bryan Carlile/Legacy Land Trust
Sand mine on the San Jacinto River, Texas

I had two of my daughter’s teenage friends over here spending the night last night with her, and we were talking about the upcoming election and watching the recent Saturday Night Live skits with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and I asked them – since their school is doing a mock election coming up – who they would be voting for. I assumed they’d probably say McCain because I know that both of their parents are Republicans (what can I say – I live in Texas). But when I asked, “Who are you going to vote for?” one of them replied, “Chicken Nugget” and the other replied, “Bob the Builder.”

These are smart kiddos, they are. And witty too. They cracked me up! One of them said they asked their dad for an unbiased explanation of the election but he didn’t give her one. I thought that was pretty smart of her to be able to even recognize that it was not an unbiased explanation! I told her that she can go to that has a pretty decent explanation of each candidate’s positions on various issues, and voting records. Heck I figured their school should be giving that information, since they’re having a mock election!! I may just have to have a talk with their teachers.

I’ve been working on a talk I'm giving next Thursday at their school about the San Jacinto River and the impact of sand mining. I am the Founder of San Jacinto Conservation Coalition, a nonprofit organization that co-nominated the river as an American Rivers Most Endangered River, and it was selected as one of ten in 2006. Sand mining devastates both the east and west forks of the river, which is a historical and ecological treasure. The infamous battle cry, “Remember the Alamo” was cried out on the banks of the San Jacinto. And the river is lined with bottomland hardwood forest, which provides habitat for nesting bald eagles, migratory songbirds, and many other wildlife species.

The sand mining is so horrendous that Harris County Precinct 4’s Dennis Johnston told me:

“Sand pits from the air are 10 times worse than what they look like on the ground. They totally dominate the landscape along the San Jacinto River. It looks like nuclear war was practiced in this theatre. The silt drainage they were pumping into the river was so obvious that it looked like cream running into a fresh poured cup of tea.”

This is a photo I took of the illegal dumping of sediment into the river that I caught red-handed. Repeated attempts to report the violation to TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) went nowhere.

This must be the same one that Dennis saw from the air, because this looks like exactly what he described - cream being poured into a cup of tea. The tan color on the left is where the sediment is pouring into the river and on the right is how the river looked upstream of this - absolutely so clear that you could see the bottom. You could see fish. I wrote about this in my article Many Rivers, One Bayou.

It was my first time flying in a Cessna and it was amazing! But the sand mines were a disgrace. The sad thing is that in Texas there are no laws requiring reclamation for sand mines unlike other types of mines. So after they cut down all the forests and destroy all the wetlands, they leave a gaping sand pit, sometimes hundreds of acres large. Forever. It never regrows with vegetation because all the topsoil is gone. And because the sand is right on the edge of the river, all the sand leaches into the river filing it in which exacerbates flooding and causes water quality problems.

The problem with the dumping of sediment (specifically they dump the fine talc-like waste that they can't use) into the river is that it clogs up fish gills and kills them, and it smothers benthic organisms that live on the river floor such as our already disappearing freshwater mussels, and other aquatic life. It does not have to be this way because in other states, there are some amazing reclamation efforts - not to mention sand mining industries that are regulated in the first place! In other states, old sand mines have been turned into lakes or nature preserves. I wrote an article for CLEANHouston on Sustainable Solutions to the sand mining issue that links to some examples. The first article for CLEANHouston was called Muddy Waters.

The fishing is far worse in Lake Houston than in Lake Conroe as a result – you get different fish species altogether, and a less healthy aquatic ecosystem. I wrote an article on sand mining for Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine, Many Bayous, One River, which is one of the articles I’m most proud of – especially because after that article was written a Texas Senator introduced legislation to help prevent sand mining on the San Jacinto (SB359). It passed the Texas Senate, and made it out of the House Natural Resources Committee but they ended up not voting on it because they ran out of time. I’m hoping they will reintroduce it this upcoming legislative session. Apparently November is the time for Congress-people to put bills in the hopper.

In the Appalachians, mountaintop coal mining has received a ton of attention and media coverage but so far no one but me has written about sand mining!! And I’ve had a hard time getting national media interested in the topic. I may try to do a documentary on sand mining. Texas agencies (not to mention the Galveston District of the Army Corps of Engineers) engage in some questionable practices when it comes to the situation. Sand is big money. Sand and gravel brings in millions annually to Texas, which feeds a $20 billion dollar transportation industry.

The problem is not that we need to put a stop to sand mining altogether, but it needs to happen in a river or stream away from a major metropolitan area, because the illegal dumping – and the devastation of the forests around the river and lake – end up costing taxpayers money. Just like we taxpayers are bailing our greedy companies on Wall Street, taxpayers in Texas pay for the illegal activities – and even the legal ones – of the sand mines along the river. The river gets "filled in" from excess sediment and taxpayers foot the bill for any dredging of the river and lake.

But there's something far more serious. Treating the drinking water from Lake Houston is so costly (3 times that to treat the other water treatment plants-$600/MG vs $200/MG; Region H Water Planning Meeting, Mike Turco) because of the excess sediment that the City of Houston expressed interest in getting that legislation passed. They know the link between sediment and blooms of algae and cyanobacteria – which kill fish and cause odor and taste problems in drinking water. The photo below, which I've titled schmung, is a pea green bloom of yukness that was in the river just downstream of the sediment dumping.

Turns out, those very blooms may be toxic and cause long-term neurological disease. Research by top-notch scientists Paul Cox, Oliver Sacks and Sandra Banack of the Institute for Ethnomedicine has recently linked cyanobacteria and the associated toxin BMAA to neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson's, Lou Gherig's (ALS) and Alzheimer's. These studies have been published in journals such as Science, PNAS, and Neurology. See the Honolulu Star Bulletin newspaper article for a general interest piece, Water-scum toxin linked to nerve ailments.

Write to Senator Tommy Williams, District 4, who sponsored the bill last session (, and represents Harris County and ask him to reintroduce the legislation, and tell of your support for the bill. You can read the full text of the previous version at the link above to SB359. It sets up a "pilot project" on the San Jac that is similar to the one they have on the John Graves Scenic Waterway segment of the Brazos River, where they limited sand mining due to efforts by Walmart heiress Alice Walton.

Friday, October 17, 2008

how to pick a president

The trail to the top of Guadalupe Peak, the tallest in Texas.
Copyright (c) 2007 Wendee Holtcamp

I highly recommend this article! How to Pick a President: Why virtue trumps policy. Christianity Today. June 2008 - written before the candidates were finalized but oh so applicable!

Also exciting is that Obama got 3 big newspaper editorial board endorsements today, including 2 that haven't endorsed a Democrat Presidential candidate, ever. They have followed Obama throughout his career, which of course started in Chicago.

"We have tremendous confidence in his intellectual rigor, his moral compass and his ability to make sound, thoughtful, careful decisions. He is ready," wrote the Chicago Tribune.

"The change that Obama talks about so much is not simply a change in this policy or that one. It is not fundamentally about lobbyists or Washington insiders. Obama envisions a change in the way we deal with one another in politics and government."
They also talk about the historical nature of the endorsement:

" The Tribune in its earliest days took up the abolition of slavery and linked itself to a powerful force for that cause--the Republican Party. The Tribune's first great leader, Joseph Medill, was a founder of the GOP. The editorial page has been a proponent of conservative principles. It believes that government has to serve people honestly and efficiently."

"The Republican Party, the party of limited government, has lost its way. The government ran a $237 billion surplus in 2000, the year before Bush took office -- and recorded a $455 billion deficit in 2008. The Republicans lost control of the U.S. House and Senate in 2006 because, as we said at the time, they gave the nation rampant spending and Capitol Hill corruption. They abandoned their principles. They paid the price."

And it goes on to say why they decided against McCain, who they had endorsed in the primary.

"It is, though, hard to figure John McCain these days. He argued that President Bush's tax cuts were fiscally irresponsible, but he now supports them. He promises a balanced budget by the end of his first term, but his tax cut plan would add an estimated $4.2 trillion in debt over 10 years. He has responded to the economic crisis with an angry, populist message and a misguided, $300 billion proposal to buy up bad mortgages.

"McCain failed in his most important executive decision. Give him credit for choosing a female running mate--but he passed up any number of supremely qualified Republican women who could have served. Having called Obama not ready to lead, McCain chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. His campaign has tried to stage-manage Palin's exposure to the public. But it's clear she is not prepared to step in at a moment's notice and serve as president. McCain put his campaign before his country."

riotously funny video

You have to watch this. It is riotously funny!!!! I mean laugh out loud funny!!! You can also see McCain's speech, which is funny too. They're both embedded at the following Daily Kos blog post.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Poverty -Blog Action Day

A home in a Machiguenga Village in Peru. Notice how dirty the young boy is. His younger sister, not pictured, was extremely malnourished. I have some other photos of the village here. Another nearby village, Diamante, was a striking contrast with very healthy and happy kids. Copyright (c) 2007 Wendee Holtcamp

I learned from a friend's blog that today is Blog Action Day, with the topic of Poverty, a subject close to my heart. I always said that if I were to run for President, that would be my platform - eliminate world poverty. It's just too important an issue to ignore, and one in which we clearly have the economic resources, just apparently not the will, to fix.

I grew up partly with my dad in some pretty rustic conditions. At times, he used food stamps, and was also at one time on welfare. Yet he pulled himself out of the quagmire and quickly got back on his feet. To some extent, he chose voluntary poverty, as a hippie, as someone who wanted to live off the land. Yet some circumstances got the better of him and he ended up in more dire straits than he intended. But he eventually rose above with the help from these government programs (programs that some people would choose to eliminate under their political choices - even as we spend trillions on military spending and unjust wars!)

The times I spent in this "poverty" were the happiest of my childhood memories. Poverty does not in itself make people sad or impoverished in spirit. On the contrary, I believe it builds spirit and character. But the poverty I experienced was not extreme (though some people in the suburbia I live in now would certainly think it was!). Yet conditions in third world countries, several of which I have visited, include horrendous conditions -- lack of access to clean drinking water and hence higher risk of disease, lack of access to modern medicines or medical care. In the Peruvian village above they have no toilets - they just use the bathroom in the forest or in the river. The same river they drink from. I've seen young children begging on the streets in Nepal. I've seen orphans whose parents were killed in wars. There are too many sad stories to tell. But it's "out of sight and out of mind" to most people.

Not to me. I wish there was more I could do. I have blogged many times about poverty and the desire to do something (one important and Nobel Prize-winning concept is microlending, which I've blogged about before).

When I was at the Society of Environmental Journalists Conference in Burlington, Vermont in 2006 I heard Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream give his keynote speech, which impressed me (as a matter of fact, the SEJ 2008 Conference is going on right now, and though I'm not attending this year, I'm there in spirit!). Ben talked about the priorities our country has by stacking big plastic Oreo cookies up to represent "billions of dollars spent."

Guess where most of the Oreos went? Not education, not poverty elimination, not healthcare. But.... War. Military spending got about 10 times the number of cookies. He showed that if we just took a couple of cookies away - money that is being spent on just caching outdated nuclear weapons that will never be used, we could literally have enough funds to eliminate world poverty. He says:

On Ben & Jerry's American Priority Pie page, they shows some of the stats. We are...

  • 1st in nuclear defense capability
  • 1st in nuclear defense expenditures ($30 billion/yr)

  • 14th in efforts to lift children out of poverty
  • 18th in % of children in poverty
  • and last (yes last!) in providing healthcare for all children.

"Meanwhile, according to the experts, as much as $13 billion could be cut from U.S. nuclear spending each year without compromising our national security or our standing as the world's strongest nuclear power."
- Ben Cohen, Ben & Jerry's Founder

  • Just $1 billion a year would be enough to fully immunize every two-year old who has not already been vaccinated against preventable childhood disease.
  • $2 billion annually could provide health insurance for 1 million of America's 9 million uninsured children.
  • $5 billion a year would allow us to cover Head Start for every eligible child not currently enrolled in the program.

Check out a video on Ben discussing the issues of government priorities and spending and how a little rearranging could help solve poverty. He uses BBs to show a pretty amazing concept... National Priorities Project page, and True Majority, too.

As a matter of fact, today also happens to be Global Handwashing Day. Who knew that when children wash their hands - particularly in third world countries where water is often infested and "bathroom" conditions kind of nasty, to say the least, washing hands can actually help save lives.

Poor hygiene and lack of access to sanitation together contribute to about 88% of deaths from diarrhoeal diseases, accounting for 1.5 million diarrhoea-related under-five deaths each year. Children suffer disproportionately from diarrheal and respiratory diseases and deaths. But research shows that children – the segment of society so often the most energetic, enthusiastic, and open to new ideas – can also be powerful agents of behavioral change.

Cross-posted at Daily Kos

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

media bias, science & critical thinking

This is just sad, but this is the best grizzly picture I could find! This was a grizzly eating vegetation in Yosemite National Park. Everywhere I go, I see bears. I think they're my totem animal! I have seen them in Alaska, at Glacier NP, at Yosemite, at Yellowstone, oh and the black bears I saw when writing an article on them in Louisiana...and then I studied grizzlies when I was at A&M grad school (see below)!
Copyright (c) 2007 Wendee Holtcamp

Since someone commented on bias in the media on my last post, I want to start talking about this issue a bit more because it's near and dear to my heart. When I spent 2 years earning a Information Technology in Science - ITS - Certificate from Texas A&M (a collaboration of the Departments of Education and Department of Science), critical thinking was my main interest. (I worked in Larry Griffing's lab studying the behavior of grizzly bears at McNeil River, Alaska via remote camera, before transferring to Rice).

While working on the ITS Certificate, which was part of my doctoral studies, I developed an "Evolution in Action" Excel workbook. I then used this tool to teach my Biology students at Kingwood College (now Lonestar College) scientific/critical thinking skills and also to introduce students to evolution. Students would watch video of grizzly bears engaged in various behaviors, including fishing for salmon, fighting with one another, and infanticide (in this case, a male bear killed a female bear's cub), while thinking about the questions, "Why might aggressive behavior have evolved in grizzlies? Is the reason different for female versus male bears?"
(I just uploaded it here - Evolution in Action. It's an Excel file and the link will open a window asking you to open in the browser or to save it to your computer where you can view it). After developing the workbook and using it in class, I did a study analyzing whether the workbook helped enhance student critical thinking (see my publication, "Grizzly Bears, Evolution, and Critical Thinking: Analyzing a Scaffolding IT for Teaching").

The workbook involves several different exercises but the last one was to analyze various print sources of information on grizzly bears - book chapters from various authors, a website, a scientific publication. There's a lot of controversy and misinformation surrounding grizzlies! After reading each source, they would then answer the following questions (below), and fill out a worksheet that assigned numerical values to their answers. This enabled them to rank the reliability of that source of information.

These are the questions:

  • Are the authors' names and credentials listed on the publication?

  • Does the info source provide more than one viewpoint or hypothesis?

  • Are specific studies mentioned or cited in the text? (Do not give a YES answer if the article contains general phrases like "studies indicate" or "research shows" unless the article/source explicitly mentions a specific study and researcher mentioned).

  • Does the paper test a prediction?

  • Are the authors trying persuade you to accept a particular viewpoint?

  • When was it published? (decreasing points for older pubs)

  • Is the article or website sponsored by a company or by advertising?

  • Do the authors blatantly or implicitly insult other perspectives?

  • Does the perspective presented seem exaggerated or extreme?

  • What is the purpose of the publication? (inform/share data; Disclose information; persuade; sell or entice)

By answering those questions and entering a numerical value (explained in the workbook) to each answer, they would come up with a numerical way to judge and analyze the reliability of a particular news source. I'd love to develop this tool more and make it available to the public. It's far from complete or fully comprehensive, but it's a start. (The video links won't work in the online version, unfortunately, and you have to click on the tabs at the bottom to get to the different "Exercises.")

I also have some views on objectivity in journalism that may differ from the typical J-school trained journalist because, well, I'm not one. I'm a science-educated writer who covers wildlife, the environment, conservation, and outdoor travel. I outlined some of my thoughts on Objectivity in Journalism when I gave an invited lecture at the University of North Texas' 2007 Nature Writing Symposium.

Magazine writing, especially for magazines mostly published by nonprofit organizations, don't necessarily hold to the same standards as, say, the strict guidelines of the New York Times. There is a difference between being fair and truthful, and doing the whole "present both sides" thing which in many ways can be a sham, particularly when journalists present two or more sides on an issue when there are NOT two sides! Do we give equal time to lunatics or fringe ideas? Doing so only makes their ideas seem more accepted unless they're clearly labeled as such.

But worse, in my opinion, is when a news source gives the illusion of being unbiased, but clearly is! I believe that sources providing information should put their biases out there on the table. Most know Fox News has a conservative bent -but they don't tell this clearly to their listeners. Some people believe the media has a liberal bias but present information as if they don't. It is a problem when news sources act "as if" they are not biased but bias creeps in.

We should know that a magazine published by a wildlife nonprofit is going to not run certain stories, but that does not mean the stories they run are not accurate, fact-checked, and presented with attention to both sides of an argument. However they may come out a bit more persuasively argued toward one side of the argument than another. But when the same information is presented in say a conservation magazine, the New York Times, and various other sources of news and information but not in a right-leaning news source, that is when you should be concerned that maybe the story has merit. There's no doubt that while the internet has revolutionized the world into an information age, one of the downfalls is that so much information can be overwhelming and it becomes difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Another thing is that there are a lot of "thinktanks" and organizations with great-sounding names ("Center for Truth" - I made that up - but that kind of thing) - but in reality they are funded by particular groups with very specific agendas. When they're quoted in newspaper articles without that article clearly addressing this issue, it passes along "expert" quotes when that expert may just be paid to spout off a certain perspective (and most likely they believe it too, or they probably would not work for that organization). But sometimes, it takes digging to find these things out, and most people don't take time to dig. Who has time? But with the internet it's often not that difficult. Sometimes journalists must do FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests - demanding governments release information that should be public but that they don't want to release - and then writing expose's to expose some of the more "hidden agendas." FOIA requests are not a tool your average citizen typically uses, but why you should indeed pay attention to the more prestigious newspapers and news sources. They do their homework and have high standards. They're not perfect, but in my experience, journalists take great pride in their work and being the "4th branch" of a healthy democracy.

I think that bias still does creep into supposed bastions of objectivity like the NY Times, but that does not mean that one should not still read it and pay attention. Just have a critically thinking mind when doing so. Those who pretend to not have bias may just be fooling themselves. We all have biases. The trick is to do our best to understand and make clear our biases, even while still doing our best to write truthfully and accurately. I believe it's better to be clear about biases than to pretend one does not have them.

However when it comes to science - and this is one of the most misunderstood things in society I believe - the whole field of science, the scientific method and the whole process of science (developed during the Scientific Revolution) was designed specifically to REMOVE bias from the the practioner's research so that scientists could reveal facts and ultimately truth. In science, this is done through the various things, including the scientific method, double-blind experiments, the use of statistics to analyze data (rather than merely philosophical reasoning and logic), and the peer-review system of scientific publication.

Monday, October 13, 2008


I am laughing so hard at this post from Daily Kos, So, let me get this straight... by Jeff Lieber I have to post!

So let me get this the direction of unrepentant terrorist Bill Acorn, Buddhist Democratic candidate Barack O'Leary, who is not eligible to run for President on account of the fact that his birth certificate says he was born in Europe, instructed a voter registration group known as Filbert to conspire with the Iraqi government to give risky loans to black people, which has caused the nihilistic practice of the U.S. government bailing out Walmart, which is especially bad when you consider the fact that Tony Rezko, who is currently in prison for letting gay men and women get married in Kenya, is trying to force them to unionize, a practice that maverick Sarah Palin said "No, thank you" to as mayor of Alabama when she wasn't steadfastly monitoring whether or not Vladimir Preston was or was not rearing his head out from Mexico, which we need to build a wall around, because the mostest importantest thing to the U.S. Americans is who is going to pick our orange juice for $50 an hour, which we can't do on account of the fact that Raila Odinga wants to tax not just the RICH, but the Sexual Education Class for kindergartners, which is why YOU MUST VOTE for What's-His-Name, who ABSOULTELY AND COMPLETELY has a plan to catch Harry Pelosi, and whom Republicans only nominated because the rest of their candidates were total ball-sacks.

And THIS is the cogent closing argument Republicans are sure will get America to WAKE THE F*** UP and install them in the White House for another eight years?

OMG that had me laughing out loud!!! Seriously, the crap coming out of this campaign is seriously ridiculous, and it makes me extremely frustrated that so many smart people believe the hogwash. Somehow we think we are immune to propaganda, but we do truly still live in a Propaganda Nation (I'm interviewing Nancy Snow for my book - she is a tenured Communications Professor at Syracuse University). Newsflash: Fox News is completely biased!!! If you're getting your news from there, you might want to consider some other sources. Check out this article on Fairness in Accuracy and Reporting (FAIR), The Most Biased Name in News: Fox News Channel's extraordinary right-wing tilt.

dangerously crunchy

Extreme Weather Alert: Meteorologists Predict Intensely Brisk Autumn

Just for fun. My favorite line, "Dangerously crunchy" - listen for it! And this from someone who lives in Houston, where the leaves start to fall off in January, about 3 days before the leaves start to come back on for spring.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bubba Gump Pumpkin Co

I've officially become the Bubba Gump Pumpkin Company. After you see the pictures below, you'll see why. This is what my last two days have been about: Rinse smashed pumpkin of dirt. Put pumpkin pieces into rectangular dishes filled with some water. Because of the size of the dishes and the fact that I have only two rectangular baking dishes, I can only bake pieces of approxiumately 3/4 pumpkin at a time. Bake pumpkin until soft at about 350 degrees. Take pumpkin out of oven, wait until it cools. Peel or cut rind off. Chop into chunks and put in Cuisinhart food processor and blend until mush. Pour pumpkin mush into large freezer bags, and put in freezer. Repeat ad nauseum.

I started to say to Savannah, "I'm gonna make pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin bread, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin sorbet, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin sandwiches..."

"I'll pass on the pumpkin sandwiches," she pipes in.

"...pumpkin cake, pumpkin souffle, pumpkin quiche, pumpkin salad, pumpkin cocktail..."

Wait a minute, what is pumpkin cocktail? I think this has gotten outta hand...

Sam tosses a pumpkin to a friend in the Pumpkin Toss Contest.
Two of the boys do the toss while everyone else looks on.
Sam about to drop his pumpkin onto the tree stump from one of the trees lost in Hurricane Ike.
The pumpkin, about to smash!
And... Smashed! A different meaning altogether.
The boys about to start off on their scavenger hunt.
And just in case you didn't think we were a strange family already, here are the party favors. Yep. Dead squirrels. Don't. Even. Ask. I blame Matt.

Sad Guys on Trading Floors

Just for fun - this is so hilarious, especially the funny comments!
Sad Guys on Trading Floors.
And now I have to show my ignorance of Wall Street, so please help me out. I understand why the average person on the street gets upset when the stock market crashes, but why do the traders get such shocked looks? Do they get paid based on how the trading goes? And who the heck ARE the people that are on the trading floor anyway? Individual traders, or people who work for companies, or what?? I told ya my ignorance is showing. I really want to know - so if you know please comment!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

smashing, literally!

Copyright (c) 2005 Wendee Holtcamp
Joy! Sam splashing in Sexton Pond, Angelina National Forest, Texas

I think that I am going to have a very pumpkin-y Fall. I am at Matt's house right now, in the midst of Sam's birthday party, waiting for a friend to come help me get the boys back to my house. Matt (Sam and Savannah's dad) is very creative and comes up with these really cool ideas. So the first thing that he came up with was a pumpkin toss contest. Teams of two boys would throw a large pumpkin back and forth, moving further apart after every throw. The winning team (who were able to successfully throw and catch the pumpkin the farthest distance apart without it dropping) got $10. And the next thing they did was a Pumpkin Smash. Each boy took a large pumpkin and stood on top of the back porch and threw it with all their might onto a stump that came from where a giant tree had fallen in Hurricane Ike. Savannah judged whose pumpkin got the most smushed up. Next, they did a scavenger hunt.

What to do with all these smashed pumpkins? They won't go to waste in my household! :) First, I had the boys get out all the pumpkin seeds and we're going to roast them with olive oil and salt, which are soooo yummy. And then I put all the smashed pumpkins in a garbage bag for transport back to my house. I'm going to boil them or bake them, and then freeze it. I make a mean pumpkin soup! Not to mention, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin pancakes... you name it. Besides the 6 smashed ones, I also have 3 remaining fully intact pumpkins. Like I said, it's going to be a pumpkiny Fall. But hey since we're heading into Great Depression II at least I'll have some frozen pumpkin. That will last, from experience, about a week (if the electricity goes out, that is). Not to fear, I went out and bought a whole bunch of dried beans and extra water bottles yesterday too. I do not want to be paranoid, but some things do not come with warnings, like a hurricane.

I started to get seriously panicky the other day about this country on so many levels (hence the dried and canned goods and water shopping spree). The economy is worrying me, the election is worrying me, and the divisiveness and the anger and negative rhetoric on the (McCain) campaign trail is scaring me (though, thank God, McCain finally started to tell his angry riotous crowd to calm down and to not fear an Obama presidency, saying he was a good man, though then he goes on to continue inciting anger in his crowds). I am well aware that it's not hard to incite a crowd to anger and vitriol, but is that what we really want to do, and is that the behavior we want our leaders to encourage? It's also not that hard to inspire a crowd - or the country - to be united and generous in spirit to the point they want to give and help their neighbor. And remember Jesus in his parable of the good Samaritan said it's not just those like us who are our neighbor- but those most unlike us. We should help those we think are our "enemies" and certainly not hate them.

When I was talking about my worry, a friend last night told me not to get into that negative head space, and I think that is true. But it's also is difficult not to. Very difficult. As a self-employed person, the economic woes bring me a lot of uncertainty. What's the first thing to go when people's purses tighten? Donations to nonprofits and causes, like environmental groups - whose magazines I write for. Several of the magazines I write for have been reducing assignments already. It's just the way things go, and means I must work harder and stay even more focused. It's quite a challenge to stay positive. But I'm going to try. (Who by worrying can add a single day to one's life? Jesus once said... and it's so true. Anxiety only shortens our lives! But it's not always like snapping one's finger - or praying - and it goes away. Though I suppose one could pop an anti-anxiety pill... oops there goes my sarcasm valve, flapping open again - we all know how I feel about our overmedicated society!). :)

On another note, one thing (or one person) who makes me laugh and smile is... my daughter. The other night I was putting Savannah to bed and we were laughing about something or other (she cracks me up, and reminds me of the teen girl I once was who, despite the challenging times I went through, loved to crack up riotously with my friends). We got on the topic of the names I made up for them during the camping trip we took to Martin Dies Jr State Park and Angelina National Forest a few years back. We were playing around in a small lake in Angelina National Forest and I was trying to remember what I called them, and I said, oh I called you Sunshine Crazy and she said no that's what you called Sam. You called me Raisin Toadstool. I was like I did NOT call you Raisin Toadstool! Raisin Toadstool?!! Ha! I was cracking up, but apparently she is convinced I did at one point. But the name I chose for her was Mystery Magic. I think they decided my name was Bohemian Stupidhead. (This is the blog about that day: camping and making one's heart light as a feather).

Friday, October 10, 2008

we need more kindness

Sea lions touching noses in the Galapagos Islands
Copyright (c) 2007 Wendee Holtcamp

I think we need more kindness in the world. I really do. I think we need to display kindness toward one another as well as toward ourselves. I generally get a lot of really nice comments to my blog and by people in email. Those people who don't like what they read - and I'm sure there are some - generally don't bother to send a hate-filled email or comment. I have seen a lot of negativity - some pretty foul, awful stuff - on online forums, where people discuss politicians or celebrities or issues. People can really get pretty nasty and mean. I guess the anonymity of the internet makes it easier for people to speak their minds and hearts. But if vile negativity is coming out of your mouth it is there in your heart as well. ("But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man."Matthew 15:18 Am KJV)

If you have something negative to say to someone you know, if you have something rude to say to me, have the courage to start an actual conversation with them/me and see if the issue can be resolved. And if not, at least I can speak for myself, then I say my prayers for the person and wish them the best, and we go our separate ways. Someone said recently to me, unforgiveness is a poison you take, hoping the other person will die. I think it's true in the large and the small things. Let love rule. This is a hard harsh world and what we need is love, forgiveness, hope and mercy not malicious anger, fear, and hate.

I think that people can disagree on a lot of things, including heated topics like politics and religion and even disagreements about personal issues between people, without needing to resort to meanness and unkindness. If the receiving person is strong, they can take constructive criticism. It's actually highly beneficial to receive constructive criticism from someone who has your best interests in mind and who cares about you. But why listen to angry rants from "anonymous" people who obviously have some issue more within their own heart and soul? I just don't get it. It makes me sad for them. Because everything that we say to another person, that person generally feels toward themselves in some way or another. If someone says oh you're so self absorbed, you can be pretty sure that they are also or it would not be pressing their button. Being introspective and self-reflective is a good thing. Being narcisstic isn't. Sometimes the difference in a trait is only a matter of degree.

I see so many rants by the politicians (particularly McCain-Palin) but I also see a lot of anger directed at Sarah Palin. I do not like what she stands for, I do not like the way she incites anger in her crowds, I do not like her inexperience, but I'm not going to incite people to hate her, or directly send her mean comments. And there's also a difference (though only in degree) between ranting on a public forum and saying something directly to someone's face or in "anonymous" email or comment. What's the point? It's not the kind of thing that the God that I follow - Jesus Christ - calls us to.

Barack Obama spoke up against the fear and hate mongering coming out of the opposite camp today. Daily Kos has a blog on it. Obama said:

We have seen our share of hard times. The American story has never been about things coming easy - it's been about rising to the moment when the moment is hard; about rejecting panicked division for purposeful unity; about seeing a mountaintop from the deepest valley. That's why we remember that some of the most famous words ever spoken by an American came from a President who took office in a time of turmoil - "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Now is not the time for fear. Now is not the time for panic. Now is the time for resolve and steady leadership. We can meet this moment. We can come together to restore confidence in the American economy. We can renew that fundamental belief - that in America, our destiny is not written for us, but by us. That's who we are, and that's the country we need to be right now.
It's easy to rile up a crowd by stoking anger and division. But that's not what we need right now in the United States. The times are too serious. The challenges are too great. The American people aren't looking for someone who can divide this country -- they're looking for someone who will lead it. We're in a serious crisis -- now, more than ever, it is time to put country ahead of politics. Now, more than ever, it is time to bring change to Washington so that it works for the people of this country that we love.

The Nation blog has an interesting story comparing the campaigns of Hoover vs Roosevelt: McCain Ayers Attacks Backfire. It talks about Hoover's fear mongering versus Roosevelt's steady calm leadership and hope amidst crisis. God that brings tears to my eyes.

Obama and McCain are giving us a clear sense of who they are and how they would lead. It would seem that Obama has been studying the 1932 campaign of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The key to Roosevelt's victory was not a big program but a jaunty sense of optimism in the midst of despair that led to his signature inaugural line -- "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Less famously, Roosevelt declared in his acceptance speech that "this is no time for fear, for reaction or for timidity."

In recent days, Obama has painted himself as calm, pragmatic, open and hopeful. He seemed to be channeling FDR when he told a crowd in Indianapolis on Wednesday: "This isn't a time for fear or for panic. This is a time for resolve and steady leadership."

As for McCain, his campaign is trying to sow fear and panic about Obama. That's exactly what Herbert Hoover tried to do with Roosevelt. Days before the 1932 election, Hoover attacked Roosevelt's "inchoate New Deal." He predicted it would "crack the timbers of the Constitution" and warned voters to beware of the "glitter of promise."

And Franklin D. Roosevelt is one of the most celebrated Presidents in history, and the one who saw us through the Great Depression as well as WWI. I absolutely loved the Roosevelt Memorial in Wahsington DC, particularly the part highlighting his I Hate War speech. Our country has seen some great leaders who have risen above great obstacles to inspire the people of our nation. It's time to elect another one. That one.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

inner child

My brother and I circa 1975 by the strawberry plants in dad's garden, Oregon

You hold my tears in your hands with such silent indifference as if the love in my heart is somehow a force to fear. Do you find yourself unlovable do you fear baring the truth of your soul do you ever get real? Don't you see that my tears they were never for you nor about you nor any of all of the salient things. they fell like a rushing river like an upwelling spring but they were not for you. all the words that came pouring out of me all the fears and frustrations and desires all the expressions and intensity of my written word it all had nothing to do with you they had nothing to do with any of you not anyone, but one. the salt and the love and the loss. the tears and the voice. they are for the flaxen haired little girl with freckles on her nose the gorgeous beauty that she was the tiny little thing with such spunk that little one that urchin that quiet girl who never used her voice she kept all her secrets inside so many years that beautiful girl. she is the one i love i love her so much. i love her for all the people who never did and who should have they should have loved her and they should never have done those things. i love the smile that came so easily to her before they slashed her innocence. i embrace her and i reclaim her and i will let her laugh and i will let her sing and i will let her dance and i will let her spin and i will let her swing until she is high above the earth and i will let her rejoice in the innocence and the joy she was meant to have. she refused to let darkness overwhelm her she stayed quiet balancing on the tightrope no way out but down her only chance was to give up and to push away and to act as if she didn't care anyway she never had a chance. but i am giving her one now.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

must-read articles

A billboard of some texted-in questions for Sarah Palin at a Los Angeles rally sent by the California Democratic Party. Pretty funny!

I've seen some interesting articles lately which I believe are critical to read as the election nears, especially if you're undecided. I also love that has this "Fact Check" feature on their "Political Ticker blog" where they run all the claims McCain, Palin, Obama and Biden say about their opponents through a fact checker and write up a little article on each claim.

They checked claims like: Obama voted 94 times for higher taxes. Verdict: MISLEADING. Obama has never taken on Dems. Verdict: FALSE. Is Obama 'palling around with terrorists'? Verdict: FALSE. Obama got the 2nd most money from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in history. Verdict: MISLEADING (this one is particularly misleading because while individual employees did donate $126,349 collectively to Obama - a tiny fraction of the $139 mil he's raised overall - but importantly, McCain received $169,000 from the directors, officers and lobbyists of these companies, while Obama received only $16,000. In addition, McCain's statement is misleading because donations do not come from the company itself, only its employees).

Every single time I've read it, McCain and Palin's claims come out false or misleading and Obama's and Bidens true (Did McCain say the Iraq War would be easy? Verdict: TRUE-on multiple occasions. Did McCain intervene on behalf of Charles Keating? Verdict: TRUE.

What kind of people and leaders do we want to elect? Ones that will do anything including lie and mislead? Even if you tend to support the conservative policies, is lying what you really want in the President and VP of this great nation? Haven't we had enough of that?! It particularly bothers me that evangelical Christians so strongly support McCain-Palin, because who, after all, is the 'Father of Lies'? Not Jesus, that is for sure. I think we Christians should all be praying hard for open eyes and a clear conscience about this very important decision for the future of our great nation.

Politics of Attack, New York Times Editorial.

It is a sorry fact of American political life that campaigns get ugly, often in their final weeks. But Senator John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin have been running one of the most appalling campaigns we can remember. They have gone far beyond the usual fare of quotes taken out of context and distortions of an opponent’s record — into the dark territory of race-baiting and xenophobia. ... Ms. Palin, in particular, revels in the attack. Her campaign rallies have become spectacles of anger and insult. “This is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America,” Ms. Palin has taken to saying.

Palin's Kind of Patriotism by Thomas Friedman. New York Times.

Whether or not I agree with John McCain, he is of presidential timber. But putting the country in the position where a total novice like Sarah Palin could be asked to steer us through possibly the most serious economic crisis of our lives is flat out reckless. It is the opposite of conservative.

At least the king of Saudi Arabia, in advocating “drill baby drill,” is serving his country’s interests — by prolonging America’s dependence on oil. My problem with Palin is that she is also serving his country’s interests — by prolonging America’s dependence on oil. That’s not patriotic. Patriotic is offering a plan to build our economy — not by tax cuts or punching more holes in the ground, but by empowering more Americans to work in productive and innovative jobs. If Palin has that kind of a plan, I haven’t heard it.

Make-Believe Maverick: A closer look at the life and career of John McCain reveals a disturbing record of recklessness and dishonesty. Rolling Stone Magazine.

In his current campaign, however, McCain has become the kind of politician he ran against in 2000. He has embraced those he once denounced as "agents of intolerance," promised more drilling and deeper tax cuts, even compromised his vaunted opposition to torture. Intent on winning the presidency at all costs, he has reassembled the very team that so viciously smeared him and his family eight years ago, selecting as his running mate a born-again moose hunter whose only qualification for office is her ability to electrify Rove's base. And he has engaged in a "practice of politics" so deceptive that even Rove himself has denounced it, saying that the outright lies in McCain's campaign ads go "too far" and fail the "truth test."

Mad Dog Palin: The scariest thing about John McCain's running mate isn't how unqualified she is - it's what her candidacy says about America. Rolling Stone Magazine.

This is a very biting commentary, but I think there's a lot of sad truth here.

Palin's charge that "government is too big" and that Obama "wants to grow it" was similarly preposterous. Not only did her party just preside over the largest government expansion since LBJ, but Palin herself has been a typical Bush-era Republican, borrowing and spending beyond her means. Her great legacy as mayor of Wasilla was the construction of a $15 million hockey arena in a city with an annual budget of $20 million;...

Mud Pies for 'That One' by Maureen Dowd. New York Times.


Independence Creek Preserve (The Nature Conservancy) in West Texas
Copyright (c) 2004 Wendee Holtcamp

Yesterday morning it rained and thundered, and about 15 minutes after I woke up the electricity went off. My automatic reaction was "Noooooo!!!!" I think I felt an extreme reaction because even though I live in Texas where thunderstorms occur regularly and the electricity goes out often, I just lived through 11 days without electricity, post-Ike. I had a bit more of a reaction than usual. I mean, it's not like I freaked out or anything! I was just like: No. Way. But then after about ten minutes, when I was boiling my water on the stove for my instant coffee instead of starting up my coffee maker, I realized that it was actually quiet. Peaceful. And I thought, this is actually kind of nice. It's amazing how a little awareness can change our perspective on things.

I also know how the things that really press our buttons, or the things that cause us to "fear" something, or the things that really annoy us, or sometimes the things that really attract us to someone, are often over-reactions. Debbie Ford describes it as if we have plugs all over our body (or soul?), and if we get a reaction, it means someone (or some event/issue) has "plugged in" to one of our plugs. The same thing may not get a reaction at all from someone else! We have to ask ourselves why did that particular person or that particular thing cause that reaction? It seems to me like most people like to live in denial rather than radical honesty and transparency.

I've quoted this before, but Neale Donald Walsch wrote in the forward to Debbie Ford's book Dark Side of the Light Chasers:

"I believe in a life of utter visibility. That means complete transparency. Nothing hidden, nothing denied. Not even the part of myself that I didn't want to look at, much less acknowledge. [Visibility] is the key to authenticity, and that authenticity is the doorway to your True Self..."

Amen to that! As the old saying goes, "I'm not ok, you're not ok, and that's ok"!

Anyway the statement about me being "scary" was so out of place that I thought that something in me must have triggered something in them that made them think subconsciously that I was their scary mom getting them into trouble. They obviously had some plugs that I happened to plug into. In Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix, he writes that we are attracted to people who have both the positive and negative traits of our parents or caregivers, and this is so true. Hendrix also writes about that whole over-reaction, plugged-in thing in his own way, and when we have that "fear" reaction that what's happening is something in another person is triggering our reptilian brain - the least evolved part of our vertebrate brain - and we instantly are once again a young child in trouble or an animal in fear of their life, and the autonomic response is "I am going to die." This kicks in our fight or flight reflex.

The mammalian part of our brain has to over-rule this if we are to be evolved and emotionally mature creatures, rather than living from our fears. I'm paraphrasing, but he writes that when we get that sort of extreme reaction, like 10% of our reaction is actually the person and 90% is our subconscious and our reptilian brain instincts ratcheting up the fear!

On another note, when I was in Nepal, Tim and I were joking around about vices, and he said what is your vice, and I said I don't have any vices! I don't smoke or do drugs or drink heavily. I don't have any. He said he'd find my vice by the end of the 2 weeks trip. But he didn't! But when I got back home to the U.S., I realized that my vice was internet and email addiction (which I didn't have while over in Nepal). Since I hate having vices of any kind, three days ago I cut myself off from my Crackberry. It's now just a phone. Just do it! Turn off Data Services. Done!

I'll now use the email on the blackberry only when I travel. So if you're one of the people who emails me and you don't get my usual speedy Gonzalez replies 24/7 anymore, now you know why. I tell ya, it's been very freeing to not check that darn thing every 5 seconds! I was starting to feel like one of those rats pressing a lever to get a reward. I actually read something online once about how the email triggers release of some chemical in our brain....

OK here I found an article from the Daily Mail, "Blackberry addiction 'similar to drugs'." this wasn't what I read originally but it's interesting.

Monday, October 06, 2008

becoming real

Giving Sam a big hug!
Copyright (c) 2008 Savannah Holtcamp

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you...."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

"The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."

- Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit Or How Toys Become Real

This morning while getting ready to take Sam to school I was listening to KSBJ, the Christian radio station and a couple of really good songs played, and I just felt this upwelling of joy and love for God, for Christ. Lately I've had experiences where I cared about people who can't seem to return the compassion and understanding and openness with which I try to live my life, and when that happens it's very easy for me to start to question myself. What is wrong with me? How did I contribute to this problem? I see all my flaws and I start to blame myself.

I started to realize that my deep frustration at wanting to connect with people who don't share the interest in connecting back with real intimacy (intimacy was defined in a book I read recently as "the sharing of reality with one another" - how profound!), I realized my feelings must pall in comparison with how God must feel when people do not respond to His overwhelming compassionate merciful love. It's easy to get angry with God or frustrated with God sometimes but I started to feel empathy and comraderie with God. Maybe that sounds weird, but it gave me a greater compassion for reaching those who don't know Christ.

I tend to have more liberal understandings of "salvation" and all that than many but... I definitely believe without a doubt that there is something within the words and wisdom and reality of Jesus that can not be found anywhere else. I have for many years been frustrated with the "church" (but not with Jesus) because of self-righteousness and other typical churchy flaws, but lately I feel I've found my "tribe." Let me explain.

Over the past few weeks, I've felt a fierce determination to seek understanding from this one person who I felt was the only person who could explain a particular situation, and I felt a fierce determination to be understood as I was not as they thought me to be. I wanted them to see and accept my reality, which is intimacy - the sharing of reality. But after an inspiring and confidence-building conversation with someone I deeply respect, who has a lot of training as a counselor and in ministry, I got this wisdom:

* Watch people to see if their feet follow their mouth. In other words, do they do what they say? Do their actions match what their words said they would do? It takes time to know whether people you meet are trustworthy in this manner.

* When people's feet do not match their mouth, they do not know themselves. They are not living emotionally or spiritually mature, connected lives. Although we may not want to totally end a friendship or relationship immediately upon realizing this, why would I want to "listen" to what they say about me, when they don't even know themselves? Why would you put any trust in their words?

This was a huge revelation for me. Especially because in these groups I'm now surrounded by people whose feet do match their mouth, and who accept me as I am, and love and embrace me as flawed but beautiful, a person of dignity, a child of God who has been harmed by some awful stuff in this fallen world, but redeemed and on a right path.

For so many years I never felt I fit in, anywhere. I related better to non-Christians and scientists, many of whom were atheists, because they lived in the real world - they accepted science and the knowledge within and were a bit more progressive in their thinking and highly educated and intellectual and were very real and down to earth and psychologically aware. The non-Christian friends are often spiritual but not religious and many are my absolutely closest friends. But I have a hard time discussing religion in any real deep way with them. We just respected one another's differences. And that's ok. And I never felt I fit in with the Christians because especially in Texas it tends to be more conservative than I am, and I felt judged for having different views rather than embraced because God makes us all unique. And I would get frustrated by some things that happened like being abandoned by the churchy friends when I needed them most (that was years ago now).

But recently in a few groups I'm in at my church, I've found Christians who are deep, genuine, raw, gritty, real, honest. They are not afraid to share their flaws and lessons learned and current struggles, no matter how potentially embarrassing or humiliating. They are open and real. Of course all that is shared is confidential but the courage to be so open breaks and heals my heart at the same time. And it's from a Christian perspective but one that is very grounded in the real world. And they just as openly accept me and cover the shame of my past with grace and words of healing, rather than condemnation or silence (which gives the message that 'you are not good enough for me,' or 'there's something shameful or not good enough about you'). Finding these groups has been such a profound revolution inside my soul!

I have seen some true transformations in some of the people I have known from both close and from afar that I'm witnessing and it's beautiful. The power of that for me, seeing that within the Christian church within an individual believer's life, is incredible. I don't mean "I found Christ and it changed my life" kind of thing (though that definitely happened to me) but "I've been a Christian all my life, and embracing this new type of raw-reality and radical honesty transformed me." The Christians who have already embraced the spiritual and accepted Christ, often their whole lives, are embracing the "real world," embracing "intimacy" and the sharing of reality, and it's healing them. Wow. Sort of a flip on the typical understanding of how Christ transforms. It reminded me a bit of the Velveteen Rabbit - becoming Real.