Monday, August 30, 2010

rebel with a lot of causes: factory farms

I haven`t been a very good Internet activist as of late. I think I`m in the midst of a quarter-life crisis. My mother is in the hospital back home and I am having severe anxiety about my plans for the future. (Please send a prayer my way if you believe in all that.)

But I feel that I should take advantage of the latest food recalls to bring attention to factory farms. The egg recall, along with the
recent beef recall, highlights how unhealthy our farming practices in the U.S. really are.

Our cheap food system is largely based on factory farming, a practice that is cruel for animals and unsafe for humans. Factory farms represent some of the worst treatment of living things that I have ever heard of. Animals live in filthy conditions with very little space to move; many are unable to move at all.

Chickens in factory farms typically cannot open their wings. They are starved in order to induce molting, which causes them to lay more eggs. The close confinement of these operations, and the fact that the chickens live covered in their own waste, makes them susceptible to infections and diseases. The feed that they are given also makes their eggs less nutritious for humans.

To reduce your exposure to excessive antibiotics and possible food poisoning, please consider taking this pledge.
I never buy factory-farmed eggs when I am in the U.S., and really, it isn`t that difficult to live without them (try baking with bananas instead of eggs).

If nothing else, please check out the Humane society`s pages about factory farming, and sign a petition or two. Right now, the government is finally feeling the pressure to make these industries safer. Let`s use this bad situation to make our food better, and help animals at the same time!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

matters of faith

I watched an excellent documentary this weekend that really got me thinking. And crying.

The documentary, called For the Bible Tells Me So, is about homosexuality and religion. It attempts to answer the questions, Does God really hate homosexuals? and Does the Bible really condemn homosexuality as an abomination?

Note: I can`t find Part 1 of the documentary any where online. Starting at Part 2 is still good though.

The film really highlights some of the major conflicts in Christianity, and many other religions, in today`s world. There are fundamentalists who interpret everything in their holy book literally (when it suits their needs), and there are other people who try to place the writings in context and apply the truths to their lives, though perhaps not in a literal way (since most people don`t view eating shellfish as an abomination, although it was during Biblical times).

It shows that not all Christians are the overly conservative, judgmental people that we see so often on television. There are also people who want to be tolerant and teach that God loves everybody; gay, straight, and ignorant alike.

I`ve only recently allowed myself to accept the fact that I believe in God. I`ve been afraid to admit my beliefs on more than one occasion because of how Christianity is perceived by many people today. It isn`t completely unlike the growing view of Islam today--fear of extremists, and thus, fear and hatred of the entire religion. There are Christian terrorists, who blow up abortion clinics and attack Muslims, and then there are people like Anne Lamott, whom I look up to as an inspiration.

The reason I believe in God is because it makes sense to me. To some people, the idea of God makes no sense.

The God that I follow is pure and total love. I don`t want to be judged by anyone, and I don`t want to judge. That`s not my job.

I love all of my friends, gay or straight, and so does God. That`s all I need to know.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

a little help

Some people just never seem to worry. They flit through life, cheerful, not afraid of roller coasters and skin cancer. They go on exciting adventures and theme park rides and eat foods with weird textures. I have always wanted to be one of those people.

Sometimes, I feel like a fairly healthy and adventurous person, but then something will come along, like a steep staircase with no handrail, and I`ll remember who I really am: a product of a somewhat crazy, fear-infused household. A person who is only capable of doing some things like a normal human being.

There are things going on back home which I am powerless to do anything about. This happened last year, too, a few months after I first got to Japan. I know that it is just life happening, and that everyone has been away from their families at important moments, but my coping skills are not like everyone else`s.

I realized this weekend, when I went hiking with Zack and Andy, that my worrying might be more of a debilitating problem than a harmless quirk. I couldn`t make it to the top of the mountain. I was fine for a long time, when there were some trees and the incline wasn`t too steep, but when I got close to the peak, where there were only rocks and the sky stretching out around me, I started having a panic attack. Zack was trying to reassure me and get me to press on, but I could not convince myself that I wasn`t going to plummet to my death if I kept climbing.

If you`ve never had a panic attack, it`s basically a minute or so of your life in which you feel certain that you are about to die. I think I got my first one when I was 8 years old, but I didn`t really start getting them on a regular basis until I graduated college.

Most of my closest friends share my strange sense of anxiety and dread so I didn`t always think much of it. But now that I`m traveling, which is something I really want to keep doing, I know that I have to change. Normal people do not freak out during a spiritual walk in a temple (you walk through a pitch-black, silent tunnel in which you can`t see the exit as a form of meditation). A girl that couldn`t have been older than 8 or 9 climbed to the top of the mountain Sunday while I sat under a pine tree by myself trying to calm down. Most people don`t get vertigo so bad that they have to crawl down stairs like a crab sometimes. And most people can ride a bicycle without thinking that it will end in their legs being permanently paralyzed.

Anyways, I found a great website today called that I wanted to share. Just in case anyone else reading this has ever cried in terror after getting off a water slide or been convinced that all of their friends hate them because you said one stupid thing at a party the previous night. Everything on this page describes what goes on in my brain on a regular basis.

I`m going to try some of their anti-worry techniques. And if you don`t decide that I`m the worst writer ever and that my blog is the worst blog on the Internet, I`ll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

the most dangerous game

I`ve been strangely obsessed with Dr. Mario lately. I`ve always viewed video games in the way that some people view recreational drugs*; good for a laugh sometimes, but don`t get yourself addicted. But then I moved in with Zack, who is a seasoned video game addict, and I found myself trying them more and more. I find myself saying things like, Just one more try, that`s it, I swear...

Dr. Mario is a game that teaches children that candy-colored pills will destroy the cute virus monsters living in your stomach. The whole point of the game is to stack pills on viruses of the same color. Get four half pills/viruses of the same color in a row and the virus goes away. It`s actually kind of boring, but like house work, it is a strangely fulfilling task. Every time one more nasty virus goes away, you feel a little accomplished.

I`ve gotten up to Level 19 but I just can`t get past it. Level 20 is the final stage. You start with 2 or 3 viruses in Level 1 and by Level 19, there are almost 80 viruses to destroy. It`s pretty intense. I`m tempted to just give up, but I really want to win.

When not playing Dr. Mario, I`ve started the quest for an MFA. Really all I`ve done is figured out when and where I can take the GRE (December in Tokyo). I`ve gleaned a lot of information from a nice writer that I know, Brandi Wells. She is now working on her MFA at the University of Alabama.

I thought that I was figuring this stuff out all right when I had a talk with another ALT this weekend. She knew a surprising amount about Creative Writing MFA programs even though she had never done one. Apparently, getting into a fully-funded Creative Writing program is harder than getting into med school. Awesome.

Maybe the worst part of this MFA business is that my GPA and GRE score won`t count for much. It comes down to your writing sample and a few other factors to get into a fully-funded program. As a person obsessed with grades (I`m pretty proud of my undergrad GPA), I`m a bit disheartened by this news.

One of the things that these insane programs are looking for is how much you are published. As you all know, I`ve only been published once. I`ve been agonizing over my latest short story, worried that it isn`t as good as I want it to be, but I need to just finish it and hand it over.

I don`t know how long it will take for me to get into one of these elusive programs, but I really can`t afford grad school without most or all of it being paid for. (I`ll be paying for my first degree well into my 50s or 60s at the rate I`m going.)

So accomplishing my goal of getting a free MFA is going to be the hardest competition of my life so far. But I`ve always believed in all those cheesy sayings about how you can do anything if you put your mind to it, etc. I will finish my short story, and then I`ll write another, and another, and before you know it, I`ll be complaining about pulling all nighters and bitching about professors like the good old days.

*I don`t do drugs and neither should you!

Bali holiday, part 2

I was reading my friends` blog, who also took a trip to Bali this summer, and I realized that I should do another post about this strange little island.

My last post was pretty negative. I think that was the culture shock talking more than anything. Culture shock is a strange thing. You don’t always get it, and when you do, it can make you caught up in all the negatives of traveling and none of the positives. But then you go home and breathe and see how not bad the whole thing was. How amazing, actually.

I had never been anywhere like Bali before this summer. From the way it was described on the Internet and my eternally-useful Lonely Planet guide, I figured that we were going to the Indian Ocean equivalent of the Bahamas or something.

Anyways, I had no real idea what to expect. I wasn’t expecting the roads to be clogged with motorcycles bought on credit or offerings to various gods to be mixed with trash on the sidewalks. I wasn’t expecting to feel like a rich traveler, either. We were millionaires in the local currency, the Rupiah. Many locals seemed to view us as big wallets with legs, but that’s probably because tourism makes up 80% of the Balinese economy.

We saw extravagant beach resorts right next to trashed beaches and slums.

I hope that things like poverty and pollution never cease to shock and sadden me, no matter how well-traveled I become.

The people were generally nice, although I just had to accept that some behavior that seemed normal to them was just plain shady to me. A lot of things were shady in Bali.

But I’m glad that I went.

One of the most interesting aspects of Balinese culture is the Hindu religion. It is the only island in Indonesia that isn’t predominantly Muslim. I saw many temples, one of which was on a stunning cliff beside the Indian Ocean. Hindu temples are elaborate and ancient looking.

Pura Ulu Watu

Pura Batukaru

I climbed my first mountain, which was actually a volcano. (I didn’t make it to the tippy top, but I made it pretty far. This is an accomplishment for me and my irrationally-afraid-of-heights brain.)

Gunung Batur

I got addicted to some of the best coffee I’ve ever had, and I felt good knowing that every cup was locally grown. We even visited a coffee and spice plantation and saw how it was produced.

A few beaches were depressing (Lovina) because of pollution problems, but it felt amazing to walk on sand and breathe in ocean air again. I’ve been going to the beach at least once a summer for as long as I can remember. This is the first time in nearly two years that I’ve gone to a nice beach. (I don’t count the beach in Toyohashi, Japan that I visited earlier this year because it was a total dump and I couldn’t even walk with my toes in the sand.)

I got a slight tan (my first in almost two years), saw some stunning scenery, learned about another people’s culture, and learned to appreciate the privileges that I have in life.

I realized that it was really more a traveling trip than a vacation.* A vacation denotes things like mints on pillows and air conditioning and having drinks served to you while you get a tan. I saw a lot of people doing just that. But we were traveling, which is more like staying in places that may or may not have running water and eating nasi goreng more times than you can count. It’s more risky and a little less comfortable, but it’s also more of an adventure. And that’s the whole point of going places, isn’t it?

*I think I got that idea from a conversation I had one time with Josie. Thanks, Josie!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

a plea to the anonymous commenter

(Sorry to everyone who isn`t the anonymous commenter. This has been driving me crazy.)

To the anonymous commenter on my now-deleted post--

Please tell me who you are. I`m assuming that I know you because I doubt that anyone I don`t know personally would be reading this blog. I`d like to talk with you more, or at least find out if you hate me or not. So please send me a message on here or Facebook if you would also like to talk. I hate feeling like you hate me even though I don`t know who you are. I appreciated your jarring comment on my previous post about someone that I mistook for a potential terrorist. I posted that entry because it was a very odd thing to happen to me, and I wanted to get other people`s opinions on the topic. I`m very sorry if I offended you; the whole incident shocked me in real life. I`ve been wondering if what I did was flat-out wrong or right or maybe somewhere in the middle. I knew that I didn`t deserve some medal of honor or anything, but I didn`t feel that my decision was completely wrong.

Anyways, if you would like to talk more, or at least tell me who you are, I would really appreciate it. Thank you.

--Anxious blogger

P.S. For everyone who has no idea what I`m talking about:
I wrote a blog post the other day about my flight to Bali. On the first of 2 flights, a man was acting strangely (in my opinion). He was in the seat across the aisle from us. Before the plane took off, he was pacing the aisle and saying what sounded like `Jihad, jihad, jihad` over and over. I`m already a nervous flyer, so hearing something like that terrified me even more. I notified a flight attendant. Basically, the man was under observation the entire flight. The flight attendants even offered to handcuff the man, which I (thankfully) declined. I couldn`t help but watch him out of my peripheral vision though. He acted a little odd throughout the flight, but it was probably because we had pointed him out.

At the same moment that I noticed the man was saying `Jihad,` I also noticed that he looked Middle Eastern. I`m ashamed to admit that it made me more afraid, I think because of the culture of fear we live in in America. (I mentioned this detail in the original blog post.) It`s an extremely touchy thing to say, but I added this detail because I thought it was important. It shows how much I`ve let stereotypes affect my thinking.

It took until right before we landed (3 or 4 hours) for us to realize that the man`s brother, who was sitting further back in our section, was named something that sounded like `Jihad.` Jiyad or something. (We had to assume that this was his brother`s name, because they weren`t speaking a language that I recognized.)
I was shaken and embarrassed, so I got off the plane as quickly as possible without apologizing to the man. He also apparently didn`t understand English, so maybe it wouldn`t have mattered anyways.

Anyways, I wrote this long post about it all and got a very negative comment from someone who wouldn`t put their name with their comment. It`s been driving me crazy for the last couple days. I deleted the post in a panic because I didn`t want people to read it and think that I`m some crazy racist. I even remember telling the flight attendant something like, `I dont`t want to be racist, but it sounded like he was saying jihad.`

As usual, I`ve probably made this all into something a lot more severe and dramatic in my head than it actually is. Let`s all hope that this is the case.

This will be my last post on the subject. We will soon return to my normal randomness.

the itch

I think some bugs burrowed under my skin in the Bali National Park. I have these weird red bumps on my legs that won't go away. They aren't like mosquito bites, either. I bought some mystery cream from a Japanese pharmacy and they feel a little better now.

I hope I don't wake up with little insects coming out of my legs.

In other news, I'm going to start researching grad schools. I've got the itch. I need to be in school again.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

a response

I felt the need to do another post about my last post (which was about a perceived threat of terrorism I had on my flight to Bali; I deleted it). The only comment was by some anonymous person (I don`t know why he/she wouldn`t reveal his/her identity). This was their comment:

`I think if all it took was one scared white girl to have me watched for an entire flight, i would start looking suspicious too. Might change my mind about being a peaceful middle eastern dude as well. Treat everyone like criminals and guess what they start acting like?`

I see the person`s point. I said that I felt bad for the guy in the end. But I think the point that I was trying to make is that you can`t be too safe on a flight. I thought I might be preventing something horrible from happening.

I admitted that the fact that he was Middle Eastern made me more scared because it`s true. Our media has made us afraid of certain groups of people, and I never thought that I would let myself be one of them. I wish I could have explained all of this to the guy, but I didn`t know what to do. It was a really terrifying moment for me. I couldn`t believe that the flight attendant wanted to put the man in handcuffs so quickly .

The man probably had nothing to do with terrorism at all. He was just a man on a flight with his brother whose name sounds a lot like a word that I associate with terrorism because of what I`ve been taught. I can`t imagine what it was like to be him. But what are you supposed to do when you hear something like that? I guess I could have waited to see what might happen before I freaked out and told the flight attendant, but what if there was something to what I heard? I figured the flight attendants would question him to see what he had to say about the whole `jihad` thing, but they didn`t say a word to him, and I was too shaken to talk to him.

I feel bad for the man, but I still think that what I did wasn`t totally in the wrong. I really do believe that I would have reported anyone acting suspicious on a flight, regardless of who they were. (Now whether or not you construe someone pacing up and down the aisle saying a word that sounds like `jihad` as suspicious is another thing.)

And I hope that I didn`t make a peaceful man into something else because of my actions. I hope that maybe he can forgive me for being afraid. Our cultures are so different that I have no idea if he knows the kind of distorted news and fear mongering we are fed in the U.S.

I will be more careful in the future to not jump to conclusions about people I don't know.

Thanks for your comment, anonymous person. What would you have done in that situation?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

bali holiday, part 1

I feel bad that my last blog post before leaving for Bali was about cellulite. I've thought a little about cellulite since we landed last Thursday, but not too much.

I've thought about dogs and monkeys and waterfalls and temples and Bintang. I've thought about my privileges as an American the most. See, in some places, things like drinking water and hot showers are a luxury. Places like Bali.

My only preparation for this trip was the Lonely Planet guide that I bought online--the first travel book I've ever purchased.

I'm sitting at a crappy laptop at a hotel near the Bali National Park. Today, we went snorkeling. I swam above living coral reef.

It's amazing moments like today that almost make me forget about the other amazing experiences we've had; the experiences that make you grateful that you are only a visitor and not a permanent resident.

On Thursday, we went on a tour of the Balinese countryside. We saw terraced rice fields, a temple on a lake, a huge waterfall, and a coffee plantation. We ended the tour with a dip in a hot spring that was big enough to swim in. As we were walking through the winding market that led to the parking lot, we saw a baby monkey. A woman was standing beside the monkey.

It took us a minute to realize that the monkey was chained and tied with rope around its back legs. It took us another minute to realize that the woman was not untying the monkey to set it free. She proceeded to drag the monkey away, its little baby hands clawing the ground as she pulled the rope and chain.

I was exhausted and in shock. I didn't say anything. Zack went up to the lady.
"That's wrong!" He yelled. "You should set that monkey free. You can't keep a monkey tied up like that."
The woman looked confused.
"The monkey go in the box," she said. I didn't hear the whole conversation, but she apparently told Zack that the monkey was too small to be released into the wild, and that she would release it when it was a year old.
"You better set it free," he said. "That's wrong!"
She kept dragging the little monkey to the back. It didn't cry or scream; the baby just clawed at the ground in silence.

It was almost a perfect day. We didn't say much on the ride back to our hotel. The Balinese guy driving us around tried to comfort us. He said that maybe another tourist would buy the monkey and set it free. Which didn't comfort us at all. Was this woman going to exploit this tiny animal for money? Was this the first time she had done something like this?

This is the first poor country I have ever visited, and I had no idea what to expect. Travel guides make it sound like paradise, but I don't see much paradise in piles of trash by the side of the road and behind a dilapidated elementary school. I don't see paradise in the mound of plastic and Styrofoam being burned right by people's houses. I don't see paradise in the mangy dogs that wander the sidewalks and the two dead puppies I saw laying like so much garbage in the street and on the beach.

Zack got "Bali belly" last week. For three days, he was in pain from his stomach cramping in an attempt to rid his body of the bacteria. We went to a doctor in a village. The office was filthy and scary. The doctor sold us 2 baggies of pills for about 50 cents. We finally got to see a more professional doctor, whose office was cleaner but still shady, who told us that the medicine we got was no good. What do the people in the village do when they are sick?

I don't regret coming here. I'm learning so much, and I've seen amazing things that I would never see in America or even Japan. The most important thing I've learned from this trip is that we should always be thankful for what we have. Especially in America, where drinking water is considered a right, not a privilege. The people here live in what so many call "paradise," but even paradise isn't perfect. It looks that way in a brochure or Facebook album, but up close, it's just another place with its own problems. Problems that many people can't even fathom, and that the guests of the resorts beside Balinese shanty towns choose to ignore. I don't want to ignore them. I want to take them in just as much as I take pictures of the beautiful cliffs and mountains. I want these scars to be souvenirs, too.