Gardening As A Gateway

Russell’s friend Emily Staugaitis is one of those people who seems to be a kind of natural difference-maker.  Where other people see challenges she can identify opportunities, and she’s not afraid to tackle a big project — like trying to set up an urban apple orchard in a depressed part of the Detroit area.

https3a2f2fcdn-evbuc-com2fimages2f223578392f1807581212702f12foriginalOne of Emily’s projects is Bandhu Gardens.  It’s a collective effort that uses gardening to help Bangladeshi immigrants in the Detroit area use the green thumbs they developed while growing up in south Asia to connect with each other, and with local restaurants that are interested in fresh, locally grown foods.  It’s also a way for Bangladeshi women to make some extra money, achieve more autonomy in their households, and get a taste of the business world in our capitalistic society.

Last year, the Bandhu Gardens group collectively sold 120 pounds of greens, beans and peppers and 25 pounds of squash to restaurant accounts.  They’ve also hosted “pop-up” dinners, including some at local restaurants owned or operated by women, have begun to offer cooking classes, and this year will be selling their produce at a large public farmers market in Detroit.

It’s a classic American immigrant story, of how people come to our country and begin to make their way forward, drawing on their traditional experiences and know-how and applying them to realize opportunities in their new home.  Sometimes, though, it helps to have someone who can help to point out the openings and make the potential opportunities into realities.  Congratulations to Emily for helping to serving in that important role for some of the new arrivals to our land of immigrants!

Important Photo Tips

Somewhere out in the world there are people who like to have their picture taken.  Perhaps they are models, or just selfie-obsessed narcissists.

nikonsmashed-700x445Then there are those of us, like me, who hate to have our pictures taken because it always is a depressing, illusion-destroying experience that instantly makes me resolve to go on a severe diet and begin an aggressive workout regimen.  My passport photo, for example, makes me look like a cross between a homeless person and a bloated zombie whose had far more than his share of living brain tissue.  It’s amazing that the immigration officers of any country, including the U.S., that look at the photo would allow me to enter.

Is there anything that can be done?  (Anything, that is, other than actually losing weight and becoming more “toned” so that multiple chins aren’t evident when the shutter clicks?)  Fortunately, according to professional photographers, there are some simple, immediate things you can do when you get your picture taken to make you look slimmer and therefore better.  The pros say, for example, that you should stand at a 45-degree angle to the camera.  Don’t squish your arms against your body.  Stand up straight and don’t slouch.  Be sure to wear dark colors.

And above all, keep your chin our and hold your tongue against the roof of your mouth, which is supposed to tighten your neck muscles and therefore reduce your multiple chin count.  Having the photographer to take the photo from straight on, or from an angle slightly above your head, also is supposed to cut down on overexposure of that unslightly, bulging neck flesh.

So there you have it!  There’s no need to actually work out — just stand ramrod straight an at an angle, keep your chin thrust out like Mussolini, and always appear with arms akimbo.  Dodging the camera works pretty well, too.

The End Of Privacy As We Know It

The right to personal privacy isn’t a right that is specifically recognized in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, but it has been a recognized area of the law for decades, as well as a treasured ideal for many Americans.  For many people, the right to be left alone is an important one.

But this is another area where technology is simply changing the game.  Whether it is cookies left on personal computers that lead to pop-up ads that are specifically targeted to your website viewings, search engines that can sift through mounds of news stories, photos, and data in split seconds whenever a name is entered, tracking mechanisms on cell phones, surveillance cameras on every street corner, drones in the air, computer hacking, or listening devices that are routinely used by governmental entities, technology makes the ability to maintain some zone of privacy harder and harder.

20130203_adde1Social media also has had a significant impact.  Anyone who likes the convenience of Facebook as a way to keep in touch with their old friends, family members and colleagues is giving up a piece of their privacy.  And when technology and social media meet, the erosion can become even more pronounced.

Consider the news that a software developer has used the advances in facial recognition software to develop an app that allows you to take a photo of a stranger in a public place and immediately run a search for the identity of that person through Facebook.  It’s called Facezam, and it’s apparently going to launch on March 21, although Facebook is raising questions about whether the software is in compliance with the Facebook privacy policy.  But even if Facebook quashes the idea as to Facebook, you would imagine that the app could be modified to be applied to search through other sources of photos.

It’s creepy to think that random strangers, simply by taking your picture in a public place and unbeknownst to you, could then find out who you are and, if they’re so inclined, track you down.  One person in the story linked above describes that concept as the end of anonymity in public places, and I think that’s right.  If you want to guard against it, you can withdraw from any social media, refuse to get your photo taken, avoid going out in public except in disguise, avoid any travel, and stay in your room.  Those aren’t especially attractive options, are they?

Welcome to the Brave New World!

 

Trump’s 2005 Taxes

There was a dust-up yesterday about Donald Trump’s taxes.  MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow obtained two pages of Trump’s 2005 personal tax returns, which apparently had been leaked — by someone.  The two pages show that, in 2005, Trump reported income of $150 million, paid $38 million in taxes, primarily through the alternative minimum tax, and benefited from a continuing write-off of losses that apparently date back to 1995.

48550944-cachedThe White House bemoaned the leak of the two pages of the tax returns, noting that an unauthorized leak of tax returns is a violation of federal law.  At the same time, the White House noted that the two pages show that Trump paid a big chunk of money in federal taxes — while also pointing out that he has no obligation to pay one penny more in taxes than the law requires, a position that virtually every taxpayer heartily agrees with — and added that Trump also paid “tens of millions of dollars in other taxes, such as sales and excise taxes and employment taxes, and this illegally published return proves just that.”

In addition, some Trump supporters used the two pages of the return to refute some of the things said by Trump opponents during the presidential campaign — namely, that Trump wasn’t releasing his taxes because he was a poor businessman, his business empire really wasn’t that successful, and his returns would show that he paid no taxes at all.  As a result, some people are speculating that Trump himself engineered the leak and is using the 2005 return to play the media like a Stradivarius — by releasing limited documents that appear to refute opposition talking points, while at the same time objecting to leaks in violation of federal law.

It’s a messy story, and we’ll have to see whether we learn anything further about the source of the leak.  For now, I hold to two basic points:  (1) if Trump didn’t approve the leak and somebody in the federal government (specifically, the IRS) leaked the two pages of the 2005 return to advance their own personal political agenda, that is both illegal and a grossly inappropriate intrusion into Trump’s personal information and should be opposed by anyone, regardless of their political views, who has entrusted the government with their confidential information, via tax returns or otherwise; and (2) the returns show why presidential candidates should release their returns and why, if they object to such a release, voters should insist that they do so.  The 2005 returns indicate that Trump paid millions of dollars pursuant to the alternative minimum tax — a tax that Trump has talked about abolishing.  The public deserves to know whether political positions are motivated by a politician’s own self interest.

Ready For Some Baseball

The Midwest has been hit with a typical contrarian March cold blast, and the east coast has been hammered by a snowstorm.  Perversely, the crummy, winter-is-still-with-us weather has made me think that the real spring cannot be far away, and that it’s okay to start thinking about something good that will be coming with the warmer spring weather in just a few days:  baseball.

hi-res-f1085a23cef5182ba9e8ebe79f8a2f31_crop_northAlthough they fell just short of that elusive World Series win, last year was a magical one for the Cleveland Indians.  The team overcame injuries to crucial members of the pitching staff and key position players and, with deft manager Terry Francona holding things together with spit, scotch tape, and baling wire, the Tribe improbably made it to the doorstep of a championship.  With the players hopefully healed, and Edwin Encarnacion set to fill a big hole in the middle of the lineup, Tribe fans are dreaming that this might be the year.  Hey, lightning finally struck the long-suffering Chicago Cubs last year — why can’t it strike the Indians this year?

Spring is the time of dreaming for all baseball fans.  Tribe fans aren’t the only ones who are hoping that the team’s off-season moves have put the right pieces in place, that the player who had the unexpected great year last year wasn’t a fluke, and that the minor league phenom will step up and produce in the big leagues.  It’s all part of the time-honored baseball process that has been part of America’s National Pastime for more than 100 years.  The baseball fans who are dreaming and hoping about their teams today are just new links in a very long chain.

Let’s play ball!

 

Mint In The Morning

This morning I woke up with “morning breath.”  That’s what we call it these days, where we promptly take steps to try to get rid of that hot, coated, somewhat slimy feeling on our teeth and tongue that comes from keeping your mouth closed during a good night’s sleep.

mint2When you think about it, “morning breath” is really just the absence of minty freshness that we all expect to achieve as a result of our time standing at the bathroom sink, brushing and flossing and gargling and swishing.  We want to feel that frosty sensation and experience the rush of cool air when we inhale after a vigorous encounter with toothbrush and toothpaste.  And, thanks to the effective advocacy of toothpaste commercials, we are vaguely embarrassed to have “morning breath,” and we wouldn’t dream of walking outside and inflicting it upon people we encounter in the unsuspecting world.

Yesterday I went to the grocery store and needed to pick up some toothpaste.  Although there are the dozens of different toothpaste offerings, purportedly geared toward sensitive teeth and teeth whitening and plaque prevention, virtually all of them involve flavoring with spearmint, or peppermint, or some combination of the two.  The same is true of mouthwashes, and even dental floss is offered with mint flavoring.  Yes, mint is what we want, and mint is what we must have.  Have you ever gone to the dentist’s office for a tooth cleaning and had the oral hygienist offer you a choice of mint versus, say, cherry toothpaste?  Cherry?  Yeah, right!  Nobody wants their mouth to taste like a cough drop when they rise from the dentist’s chair!

Mint is supposed to have lots of health benefits, from aiding digestion to pain relief.  That all may be the case, but it’s that blast of arctic chill that we crave.  We must have mint in the morning!

Chatterboxes

As we boarded our flight from Houston to Columbus last night, I noticed that an older guy in the row across from us was switching seats so a young woman could sit next to another young woman.  “What a nice gesture by that guy,” I thought.

By the end of the flight, I was cursing him.

These two high school students talked non-stop during the entire plane flight, in that kind of high-pitched, high-speed Valley Girl patois that you just can’t ignore no matter how hard you try.  And believe me, I tried. They apparently were returning from some kind of field trip, and they were raring for a complete download.  It was an extraordinary exhibition of yakking.  I can’t imagine flapping my gums for a solid two-and-a-half hours, even if I had something important to say.  These two girls clearly weren’t concerned about that; no incident was too small, no event too mundane, no observation too trivial to escape their prattle.

How do you feel about holding hands?  I’d rather put my arm through the guy’s arm, wouldn’t you?  I don’t like it when they try to put their fingers through your fingers.

I really prefer rum-and-cokes.  I bet I had five of them.

I’m one of those teacher’s pet students who never gets into trouble even when I do something wrong.  One time I literally punched a guy and nobody did anything about it.  And I was like, whatev!  I’m a good student and I guess I get to do what I want!

Omigod!  My knee got so sore.  And when I looked down at it, there was a red mark on it!

The little snippets from the torrent came flooding over to our side of the plane, and by the end of the trip you could tell that everyone within a three-row radius was gritting their teeth, hoping that the flight would land before their brains turned to mush and restraining themselves from bursting out:  “For the love of God, could you please stop talking!”

But there were no outbursts, because people heading back to their homes in the Midwest are polite to a fault.  But when the plane landed, you could feel an inner cheer from our fellow travelers, and as we walked through the quiet terminal, on one of the last flights of the night, we all shared a single thought:  silence never sounded so good.