Sunday, August 30, 2009

Prison of the Mind

I have had a morbid fascination this week with the news story from Antioch, CA about the girl kidnapped 18 years ago who was recently liberated from her abductor. Jaycee was snatched off the street between her home and the bus stop as she headed for school in Reno one morning. She was 11 years old. Her stepfather chased after the car and got the license number, but it was never found. Neither was Jaycee. Until last week.

As the story goes, Jaycee was held in a concealed section of yard behind her abductor’s house. She is now 29. She has two daughters, age 15 and 11, fathered by her abductor, who is nearly twice her age, is married, is psychotic, and is a registered sex offender who was visited several times a month by an oblivious parole officer who never looked in the back yard. The abductor’s wife helped him keep Jaycee and her daughters captive. I’m not usually one to pay attention to these sensationalized horrifying stories. So what is it about this horrendous tale that keeps me reading? The key lies in one of the few quotes from Jaycee publicized in the media. The girl said that she feels guilty that she didn’t try harder to escape.

She didn’t try harder to escape. At first. Then she didn’t try at all. Obviously. She and her daughters never left that substandard living situation until very recently. They used a makeshift outhouse. They lived in tents. They had no contact with the outside. Their entire world was that small backyard. No TV. No internet. No conversation with other children. Other people. Only the psychotic abductor, father to the two daughters, and his disturbed wife. Jaycee gave birth to those children out there with no medical attention. They have had no schooling. The thing that fascinates and puzzles me is why they stayed as time went by. Didn’t the children have questions about what lay beyond the fence? Over the course of 18 years, there must have been opportunities to escape that were never taken. A psychologist who is working with Jaycee and her daughters spoke about why Jaycee stayed: “It sounds simplistic, but the real prison was her brain.”

That yard and the constricted life Jaycee and her daughters led can be applied to all of us to some extent, each of us living within our own frame of reference, trapped in our reality, our perspective. It makes me step back and question. What are the walls of my personal prison? What is the fence that I fail to see beyond, the door that I choose not to open? Gives me pause.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Return of Michael Vick

So Michael Vick served his time, learned his lesson, regrets his behavior, and signed with the Eagles; and I, for one, am delighted. He was, and still is, a very young man. As an NFL star, his transgressions were magnified for all the world to see. Imagine if the biggest mistakes you made in your youth were lit up in lights and published on the front page of the newspaper. Pretty awful. I believe his apologies and I believe that he is a changed person. He served his time, in prison, for his crime. He has been punished. He has suffered.

In my opinion, the discussions about him that I have read miss the boat. Vick says the first time he attended a dogfight he was eight years old. He comes from a culture in which dogfighting is a way of life. I am not condoning it. Far from it. I’m an animal-lover, a former dogowner, and a vegetarian. I abhor cruelty in all its forms. But I’m saying that in certain African American Southern cultures, dogfighting is part of everyday life. It took Vick’s “outing” as a dogfighting participant to throw this practice into perspective. Not only for Vick, but for other people who may have thought it was OK, because, well, it has been OK for as long as they can remember. Vick apparently grew up with dogfighting and never had that aha moment when he realized that something about it was terribly wrong until his downfall.

There are many reprehensible cultural institutions that persist far too long because those from inside the culture need a change in perspective to “get it.” Animal sacrifice and human sacrifice were acceptable in ancient times. Slavery was a cultural institution on which this country was founded. And “paddling” (i.e., beating) of schoolchildren is still legal in many states, despite the known harm to children of corporal punishment as well as the statistical evidence that disabled children are universally “paddled” with shamefully more frequency than their peers. We could talk for a long time about cultural institutions that should have been shed miles ago on the path of evolution. Dogfighting is certainly one of them. So let’s get a little perspective on Michael Vick’s plight and give the guy a chance to redeem himself. He has made a commitment to donate money to animal rights causes and he now speaks out publicly against dogfighting. Perhaps his experience will steer a whole generation of young men clear of this dreadful practice because he’s a role model. And he’s a heck of a ballplayer. I look forward to admiring the beauty of his game again.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Life on Earth

Yesterday we spent the day celebrating the life of a friend who was killed in a bizarre biking accident two years ago and then afterward we drove into San Francisco to have dinner with a friend who survived the Tsunami on Phi Phi in 2004. The juxtaposition of these two life experiences certainly makes me think life here on earth is pretty random.

Our dear Elena was biking to work in Oakland two years ago last week. A truck driver, who claims he simply didn’t see her, ran her over with a large truck. She was killed instantly. Yesterday was the second annual picnic of her friends and family to celebrate and remember her life. It felt a bit like going to a party where the guest of honor doesn’t show. But she had so many lovely friends that it was a wondrous day spent with lovely people. I am blessed to know them through Elena.

In the evening we joined a friend of mine visiting from Europe whom I have not seen in many years. He was vacationing on Phi Phi in 2004 with his then-wife when the Tsunami hit. He was swept up into a tree where he survived by hanging onto the limbs. His wife was drowned. He was so badly injured that he had to remain on Phi Phi for several weeks in the hospital and a nurse finally accompanied him on his flight home. His wife’s body was recovered and they waited for him to get out of the hospital to hold a memorial. He is an exceptionally positive, resilient person. He remarried in May and was driving up the Pacific Coast (talk about “getting back on the horse”) with his new wife on their honeymoon. Ron and I had dinner with them at Fisherman’s Wharf. His new wife is lovely, smart and beautiful, accomplished in her field, and so good with him. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to see him happy again in his new marriage. I am blessed to have seen him at all, to have seen him alive.

Before going to sleep last night, I couldn’t help but reflect on how random and chaotic the way of things seems. I would like to think there is a reason for everything, but how can that be when senseless death and miraculous survival occur side-by-side on the planet? I suppose it is arrogant of me to imagine that perhaps I could understand the greater design, and ignorant of me to suggest that there is none. Life on earth is certainly puzzling.

One thing I know to be true is that my husband DJs on the radio most Saturday nights and I want to remind you to listen in to the audiostream on your computer. His show is on KZYX Saturday from 8 to 10 PM PST. On the 22nd he’ll be doing a show of ALL live performance recordings in honor of the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock, which was this weekend. Go to KZYX and click on Listen Live. You can email him during the show at

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Death of the Map

On Thursday my daughter returned to me the lovely AAA Maps of the cities of the Bay Area that I gave to her when she went away to college seven years ago. They were pristine. She had never opened them. “What do I need a map for?” she asked. “I have a GPS.” So I took them home and offered them to my son, who is about to leave for college, and he declined. “What do I need a map for?” he asked. “I have an iPhone.” My daughter confessed that she doesn’t even know how to read a map. It then occurred to me that I can’t remember the last time I used a map.

I am severely directionally impaired. I could get lost in a mop closet. I once spent 20 minutes trying to find the exit in an apartment building. After visiting my friend Jim at the Fantasy Building in Berkeley, I said good-bye and proceeded to get completely lost trying to find my way out (exactly the same as the way in only opposite). After wandering around in a confused funk, I mercifully turned up back in his studio. He had to accompany me to the elevator. My sense of direction is so dreadful that if Ron and I get turned around while driving and I suggest we go left, he will automatically go right since 99% of the time going in the opposite direction from my idea is the correct choice. But since the advent of Mapquest, I rarely get lost (only when I inadvertently stumble off the Mapquest). And now I have Thomasina, my trusty Tom-Tom (that Ron gave me), who speaks to me in a calming English-accented respectful voice (she never derides me for failing to make a turn). Thomasina usually steers me in the right direction, although there was the time we don’t speak of when she had me turn the wrong way down a one-way street (“take the next left then you have reached your destination”). She is usually spot-on. Between the Mapquests and Thomasina, I’m AOK. But I feel badly about the plight of the map.

It is quite astonishing to think that an entire generation no longer uses maps whatsoever; that I myself have stopped using them. Cartography is an art and a window into how humans view the world. Perhaps one day the AAA maps I have used in the past will grace the walls of a giant map museum. Or not; they aren’t anything special. According to our method of finding our way these days, I suppose we view our world as an electronic network that bridges geography, truncating distance, removing visual evidence of relationships between places, and making journey an abstract quantity.

Here is Ptolemy's Map of the World:

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Health Care in California Comes to a Grinding Halt

Healthy Families provides health insurance coverage for children in families that make too much money to qualify for MediCal (California’s Medicaid program) and who have no health coverage. If you visit the State of California Healthy Families website, you will learn that because of the budget crisis, the program has been frozen. Suspended indefinitely. According to the website, families filling out new applications for their children can expect to be wait-listed for at least a year (other children will have to drop off the rolls to make room for new children). What does this mean?

It means, among other things, that:
--Parents will not take children for regular check-ups so illness and issues of concern will not be caught early. More children falling severely ill and dying.
--Children will turn up in emergency rooms in record numbers, when untreated health issues blow up. Higher cost to the system. Greater stress and suffering for children and their families.
--Children with tooth decay in families that can’t afford the dentist will be in pain. By the time they enter kindergarten, 50% of California schoolchildren have tooth decay and 28% have untreated tooth decay. On any given day, 4% of California kindergarteners are experiencing tooth pain, often as the result of an abscess. How can they concentrate on school when their teeth hurt?

It means that families who let their Healthy Families coverage lapse at the annual renewal date will lose their spot and be wait-listed. It’s easy to forget to renew. New babies born into families on Healthy Families will not be automatically grandfathered in. Their older siblings may be covered, but the baby will be wait-listed. Parents living just above poverty level with a child who experiences a health crisis will basically have to quit their job and drop into poverty to be covered by MediCal so they can get needed medical services for their child.

There are options to resolve this problem, many have been proposed by Democrats in the state legislature, but the Republicans don’t want to listen. I’m burning out on these supply-siders; wish they would toddle off to the old-age home already so the rest of us can get on with evolution.