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November 2009 Archives

Academic Freedom in Nebraska

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On Saturday, November 14, I had the privilege of listening to Bill Ayers in Omaha at the Academic Freedom Coalition of Nebraska (AFCON) Banquet.  He spoke eloquently about the importance of Academic Freedom, about the freedom to express and exchange ideas.  

Bill Ayers is a Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at The University of Illinois at Chicago.  But maybe you remember that last year as the presidential election heated up, Sarah Palin called him out as one of Obama's "terrorist friends." This sudden media attention (and revisiting of Ayers' former days of involvement opposing the Vietnam War, namely his connection to the Weather Underground) caused an uproar right here at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL).   UNL had booked Ayers the previous year to come and speak to the faculty and students on the topic of education.  But because of the media hype, suddenly Dr. Ayers became "Professor Non Grata" and he was disinvited.  

Faculty and students protested.  Professors Chris Gallagher, Julia Schleck, Steve Ramsay, myself and graduate students Mike Kelly and many many others helped to organize a teach-in regarding Academic Freedom and also wrote a letter explaining how Ayers' disinvitation was a breach of Academic Freedom.  

We still hope that Professor Ayers will return to UNL to give that talk on education.  

Photograph below:  Amelia Montes, Bill Ayers, Julia Schleck, Mike Kelly, Steve Ramsay

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Forget 2012--let's look at 2025

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If you're worried about a coming apocalypse in 2012, you might want to look instead at what you ate today.  Media hype about the Mayan Long Count Calendar pointing to a global cataclysm and propagandist films like Roland Emmerich's 2012 can easily distract us from focusing on what is truly an encroaching global disaster: our diet.  The foods we choose to consume are slowly contributing to a global epidemic that will not come with a cataclysmic bang but a slow debilitating disease:  Diabetes.  

A diabetic individual may (type 1) not be able to produce insulin at all or (type 2) produces insulin in amounts that are inefficient (either too much or too little).  Insulin is the key hormone/protein which assists in transforming glucose into energy. When glucose/sugar continually remains in the bloodstream without getting processed, the kidneys, heart, nerves, eyes can become damaged.  People die not from "diabetes" but from "complications from diabetes."  It is a complex disease that affects various areas of the body making it a serious and crippling disease.

An article in the journal Diabetes Care explains that "The number of adults with diabetes in the world is estimated to increase by 122 percent, from 135 million in 1995 to 300 million in 2025 . . . Without sustained and cooperative education and government outreach, the prevalence of diabetes will reach epidemic proportions by 2025."  

This serious increase in diabetes is due (1) to the global corporatization of pre-processed foods (very high in sucrose and fats) and (2) a sedentary lifestyle.  Easy to fix you may say--just eat organic local foods and move your body.  Easy for those who can afford organic, locally grown food.  When McDonalds or KFC is offering dollar meals while a pound of organic green beans is $3.50 and you've got a family of 2, 3, or 4 and you're working two jobs and don't have time to cook--which are you going to choose?  

I think about this and wonder--how did we get to this point in our global society?  The media and Hollywood may advertise the coming of 2012 but I fear what we have become right now in 2009.  There IS hope!!  I don't want to sound so dire.  There ARE many many people/organizations who are questioning AND doing something about our pre-processed and sedentary world.  And when I say "sedentary" I do not mean laziness.  I am thinking of people in factory jobs who are sitting or standing and doing the same "action" over and over (wrapping, cutting, stuffing, inspecting) but not working/exercising their whole body. I am also thinking of our children--the next generations who are already so addicted to their computers, video games, i-phones, i-pods, wii---that they are loathe to take a walk, to eat a home-cooked meal.  

Sooo--I am including here, a number of books on this subject if you want to join me in working toward a non-preprocessed, active world!  Forget 2012.  Let's prevent a diabetic epidemic in 2025!

4.  Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
5.  My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki

If you have a favorite book that is not on this short list, please share!  
Happy healthy eating and exercising to you all!!

p.s.
If you click on the book Eating Animals, check out author Jonathan Safran
Foer's two-minute description of his book--picture below--on Amazon, you can 
hear it. 
Also--click here for more on Barbara Kingsolver (her new book and latest news regarding Animal, Vegetable, Miracle)!

Click to watch this video



Día de los Muertos

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In Mexico the lines are long to enter the cemeteries.  In Torreón, Coahuila where the majority of my family lives, people take a basket of fruta (mangos, guava, tuna, tamarindo), flowers,  pan de muertos which is a simple recipe (main ingredients: milk, butter, flour, sugar and anise seeds). Everyone goes.  Of course, lately, with the violence in Coahuila, my cousin Anita has been telling me that the crowds are not like they used to be but people still go.

One year when I was 12 or 13, Anita and I made our own versions of the pan de muertos.  We shaped them into figures from Mexican history.  I remember taking a long time shaping the body and head of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.  This is much before she became known in the U.S. (when Margaret Sayers Peden translated Octavio Paz's 1988 book on Sor Juana or later, when Alicia Gaspar de Alba's wonderful Second Dream was published). I had grown up with Sor Juana.  Instead of reading me fairytales, my mother's version of a bedtime story was reciting (from memory) Sor Juana Inés poems.  Imagine my little seven-year-old mind listening to "Hombres Necios" (translation:  "Foolish Men")!  On that day, I remember Anita busily shaping the flour into Ricardo Rodríguez, brother to Pedro who became the famous racing driver. She would end up marrying a racing driver (hardly famous) who had a day job and who died of a heart attack not many years after they married.  

Today Anita remains a widow and its been a while since I've visited the familia in Torreón.  Many aunts and uncles, cousins and comadres have died and today is the day to remember them all.  We create altares with their pictures, fill the altares with candles, food, pictures, whatever helps us remember. Many indigenous groups in Mexico have done this for 3,000 years:  Zapotec, Mixtec, Purepecha, Totonac, etc.  The ritual has survived and continues to thrive in many areas outside of Latin America.  It is a day when we can commune with those who have died.  

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On my altar I include statues from other spiritual beliefs.  I have the Azteca goddess, Coatlicue on one side (goddess of life and death), and the Buddhist goddess Kuan Yin on the other.  Kuan Yin is represented as female but can change forms.  She is the goddess of compassion, of keen perception, mindfulness, knowledge.  I also include pictures of my familia, and of skeletons dancing and singing.  

A couple of years ago, I was in San Antonio and loved visiting the schools there.  Teachers and students had created various altares.  Some were altares for those killed in the Iraq War, altares for cancer victims, altares for those who have died from complications of diabetes, altares for grandmothers, for grandfathers, altares for those who died too young.  

What I love most about Day of the Dead is how people create their honoring of the dead.  It is their way to commune with their loved ones and with their communities.  And these rituals have made their way to North America.  In Lincoln, the Sheldon Art Museum has a number of activities planned.  Day of the Dead is also celebrated in various areas of Latin America.  These dancing skeletons below, for example, do not come from Mexico.  They are Peruvian Day of the Dead musicians!  

Living in Nebraska, where the change in season is marked (compared to my Los Angeles hometown), I can visually see the November earth changing, dying, transforming into Mictlan (realm of the dead):  leaves turning a fire red, falling, leaving skeletal branches, a barren landscape--but not completely gone never to return again. The dancing skeletons below remind me that life is intertwined within this scene.  Life and death are one.  

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