Friday, February 17, 2012

Lice Happens

This week, I am unable to come up with any deep observations on politics, psychology or spirituality, because my daughter came home with lice. Those parents who have gone through this know how embarrassing, time consuming, and stressful it can be. I even got a second call from the school nurse telling me I didn't do a good enough job picking out the nits. Both the nurse and my daughter's kindergarten teacher spent time removing lice eggs from my daughter's long, beautiful hair. I am grateful, and humbled.

I guess my eyes must be going bad, and the evening lighting in my apartment isn't that bright, but I am truly doing the best I can. After shampooing myself and four children with the recommended medication and combing through everyone's hair, I have been doing laundry around the clock for the past two days, losing sleep - all the while my youngest engages in “cute” antics like dumping corn starch all over the living room, peeing on the carpet, and well, you know what it's like to have kids. This article is devoted to parents facing the stress of lice. As if we didn't have enough to worry about.

I remember bursting into tears the fifth time my kids got lice from visiting their cousins in Queens. A nice Pakistani lady calmed me down reminding me it's no big deal. It is often humiliating to be found with lice in your family, because lice is common in places where people have less access to running water. It is associated with being poor and dirty. However, lice are very happy to live in clean people's homes too. Lice live on the scalp, sucking your blood. But they do not die from shampoo. So even if your children bathe frequently, they could get lice. If you are diligent about brushing your children's hair often while looking closely at the scalp and each strand of hair as you comb through it, you might catch the lice sooner than if your kids' hair stays braided or messy.

If you catch lice early, you will find white little bubbles about the size of a pencil dot sticking to shafts of hair near the scalp. You have to use your fingernails to slide the egg down the hair shaft and remove it. If lice goes on for a long time left untreated, you will find little crusty brown dots stuck to the scalp that require a fingernail dig to dislodge. In any case, as soon as you realize all these eggs are in your child's hair you have to use the lice shampoo, and then manually search through every blade of hair. And wash your hands afterward of course. We might think: Who has the time for this???!!!

It is part of primate biology to be vulnerable to insect parasites, but God created biology with some interesting psychology mixed in! Monkeys and gorillas comb each others' fur and pick out insects (and eat them) as a way of showing love and affection. They can sit together for hours, just exchanging their beingness with one another, providing a little gentle skin massage to their beloved in the process. I knew a woman whose husband had such fond memories of his mother searching his hair for lice while he lay his head on her lap, that he enjoyed his wife to pretend to look for lice as part of their mating ritual! That woman is now an elected official – so don't let the fear of real or imagined lice hold you back.

It takes a lot of love to pick nits out of someone's hair. And a lot of time and patience. Single parents definitely face a challenge because there is no one around to comb through their hair, after they have combed through their children's hair. Some barber shops will help out on the sly. But it is always a situation where you are begging someone for a serious favor!

Hazrat Ali said (something like) that he KNOWS there is a God, because every time he makes plans, something else could happen. You might have thought you were going to reorganize your recipe box this weekend. But instead, you are dealing with life. I mean, lice.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Question of the Pill

“If a man breaks a relationship with you because you would not allow him to participate in the sexual act, you can be assured that he did not love you from the beginning.”

- Martin Luther King, Jr. 1957

There has been a lot of discussion in the news recently about funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides cancer screenings as well as abortion to low-income women. The question of abortion funding has elicited outrage and accusations that women’s rights are under attack in the same way that minorities are under attack by lack of civil rights. Therefore, advocates on both sides of the issue have looked to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for insight.

The Reverend supported birth control for African-Americans as a way of alleviating poverty. MLK was the first recipient of the Margaret Sanger award for his support of Planned Parenthood in 1966. However, abortion was not one of Planned Parenthood’s services then as it was illegal, and birth control was only being promoted for married couples at that time. MLK made his personal opinion regarding sexual behavior quite clear in a 1957 advice column, where he told a young woman:

“I think you should hold firm to the principle of premarital virginity. The problems created by premarital sex relationships are far greater than the problems created by premarital virginity. The suspicion, fears, and guilt feelings generated by premarital sex relations are contributing factors to the present breakdown of the family. Real men still respect purity and virginity within women. If a man breaks a relationship with you because you would not allow him to participate in the sexual act, you can be assured that he did not love you from the beginning.”

“Abortions are destroying us as women,” Dr. Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., told The Final Call.

Ms. King is a pro-life advocate and the director of African-American Outreach for the New York-based Priests for Life ministries. Alveda King became an outspoken anti-abortion activist after having experienced more than one unhappy abortion in her teen years. She now believes that “the Negro cannot win if he’s willing to sacrifice the futures of his children for immediate personal comfort and safety.” King considers Planned Parenthood to be the “number one killer of African-Americans.”

In 1996, Planned Parenthood reported that “Blacks, who make up 14 percent of all childbearing women, have 31 percent of all abortions.”

The Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973 legalized abortions in America and since then, Black women have accounted for between 13-15 million abortions, making them five times more likely to have the procedure than their White counterparts. From 1973 through 2005, more than 45 million legal abortions occurred nationwide.

It is meaningful to note that “Roe” – the actual woman who was responsible for legalizing abortion in America – seriously regretted the political use of her pregnancy. Roe is now an outspoken anti-abortion advocate! Her conversion to Christianity was influenced by anti-abortion protesters around her clinic who chatted with her during her cigaret breaks. They explained to her about the true value of the human soul and the possibility of divine redemption.

Anti-abortion activists take amazing amounts of abuse from the public that only a Muslim would understand. Once in a while somebody listens. One young Black single mother told me that her unborn child saved her life. Being pregnant changed her – for the better.

As complex as the abortion issue remains, the issue of birth control is even more complicated. When left to our own natures, the human female body is capable of producing about one child per year. In the olden days, this could mean 14 or more children, and often, premature death. Just producing enough nutrition to create and sustain that many lives was the central challenge in every woman’s life.

Classic country singer Loretta Lynn wrote a song in 1972 called “The Pill” that was banned on all the radio stations. She sang:

“You …promised if I’d be your wife you’d show me the world

But all I’ve seen of this old world is a bed and a doctor bill.

I’m tearing down your brooder house ‘cause now I’ve got the Pill!”

The availability of birth control that is not dependent upon a male partner’s cooperation has made a huge difference in the lives of women. The past forty years have demonstrated that women who do not have too many children are capable of competing with men, and sometimes, excelling them in all realms. At the same time, the existence of birth control has contributed to a certain level of male expectation that is divorced from the concept of a meaningful and committed emotional relationship.

What is never discussed are the health consequences. Every type of Pill, or injection, or NuvaRing can cause cancer, seizures or heart attack, and will certainly increase your Candida growth of yeast while killing the good bacteria in your digestive system, just like taking antibiotics. It’s like being an alcoholic or a foodaholic eating way too many sugary foods. Yin/Yang balance is health. Birth control causes a stress upon your immune system. If you have, or will develop, any kind of immune issue, taking hormonal birth control medication will affect that. Be particularly alert to increased risk of cervical and breast cancers, heart attack and strokes, high blood pressure, gall bladder and liver disease, decreased bone density, yeast overgrowth and infection and increased risk of blood clotting.

The counter-argument in favor of hormonal birth control is that the process of pregnancy and birth is also dangerous and potentially life-threatening. I don’t know about you, but if I had the choice between cancer and another child, I know what I would choose. But you never get to make those choices with rear view mirror hindsight.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Are Walls Necessary to Protect America?

In the coming presidential election, one of the issues being discussed is how the United States should protect its borders from illegal immigrants from Mexico. As a first generation European-American, I feel somewhat uncomfortable placing my legal rights above those whose ancestors have resided on this continent for perhaps 10,000 years – although I can also understand that there are probably some very real problems associated with undocumented residents placing a burden on taxpayers. While I have no quick answers, I can state with certainty that the US-Mexico border wall makes me very uncomfortable, given its similarities with the Israel-Palestine Wall, which has caused so much human suffering including the deliberate starvation of innocent populations, who WANT to work.

My own family was divided for 40 years, unable to visit one another, by the Wall that separated Western Germany from USSR-occupied Germany. This Wall was topped with barbed wire and decorated with automatic machine guns that were programmed to shoot anything that moved. Like the Palestine Wall, people dug tunnels underground to escape, while visitors had to wait in traffic jams for hours, getting their cars searched by soldiers, just to obtain a temporary travel pass. My father’s cousin even served prison time for “possession of a Bible.”

I went to the former East Germany in 1993 for a visit. My nearly deaf and blind great-uncle in Saxony told me he had lived through four different governments in his lifetime. He told me the only thing he could say for sure in the wisdom of his old age was that things always change. Sometimes you have everything, other times you don’t have enough. But if you wait, times will eventually change. He was not sure that Capitalist Germany was going to be better than Soviet Germany. Because of the Wall, he was never able to travel, and now that he could travel, there was no point since he could barely see. He told me that he had known enough of war and had no desire to see the next century. He died in his sleep on New Years Eve 1999.

Family friends had amazing stories: their idea of a vacation was to travel to the hilly countryside to glimpse the land on the other side of the Wall. One day, they threw a message in a bottle into the sea to try and connect with the outside world. It ended up in Norway! A family in Norway began to write letters to this family trapped in Germany and they established a great friendship. As soon as the Wall came down, our German friends couldn’t wait to buy tickets to visit Norway. So I can truly sympathize with the issues faced by both Mexicans and Palestians: The personal humiliation involved with one’s freedoms being hindered by a cement monstrosity cannot be quantified. It may help to view the historical facts associated with today’s present reality.

La Voz de Aztlan (the Voice of Mexican-American Californians) states on its website,

“As a consequence of the 1839 westward imperialist expansion by Anglo-Saxons and other White European settlers that was fueled by the diabolical and racist notion called Manifest Destiny, the Republic of Mexico ended up losing over half of its territory. Manifest Destiny was utilized to justify the massacre of many native American Indian tribes and to rob Mexico of Alta California, Tejas, Nuevo Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and parts of Colorado and Wyoming. Manifest Destiny was the evil concept held by racist expansionists that God had given Whites the right to conquer and “civilized” the Mexican and Indian “savages” in order for them to establish a nation from coast to coast. It is exactly the same Satanic ideology that European Ashkenazis Zionist Jews are using to dispossess native Palestinians of their territory in the Holy Land.”

They conclude that their intention “is also to unite with the Islamic nations that are suffering from the same oppression meted out by the White colonialist and imperialist interests, such as Iran, Palestine and others.”

This may seem like a radical position, but the facts speak for themselves. La Voz editorializes:

“Another of the most glaring similarities is the incarceration policies of youths by the dominant culture. Presently, the survival of the Palestinian people is being threaten by the selective incarceration of the bravest, strongest and most productive members of the group… the incarceration of Raza youths, is also having the effect of destroying the family structure of our communities. In many cases, children are being left fatherless in the critical stage of their development. Targeting by the police of Raza youths is similar to the targeting of Palestinian young males by the Israeli Armed Forces.”

Jewish landlords are accused of “ethnically cleansing” Mexicans from downtown Santa Ana, California, while links are made between the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a Jewish terrorist group, border control vigilantes and CIA drug smugglers.

I think enough questions remain to make it important for Muslim Americans, especially those from immigrant families, to come to an understanding of the historical realities facing Mexican people today. The strong opinions voiced by many of today’s politicians regarding “border control” are covering up some very real political and racial issues that we need to understand, from both sides, before coming to any conclusions.

Debating Prisoners' Release

Two bills have been introduced in the Massachusetts House and Senate,
which are meeting a lot of protest from the local community,
especially among those of color. House Bill 3811 and Senate Bill 2504
would implement a “three strikes” sentencing policy. The issue is
currently in conference with state legislators, elected officials, and
criminal justice advocates.

The bill would require anyone being charged with certain offenses a
first or second time to serve two-thirds of their sentence before
being eligible for parole, while a third offense would receive the
maximum prison sentence without possibility of parole. The Senate bill
is more lenient than the House bill, as it introduces some leniency
towards drug offenders and targets only dangerous or violent
criminals. The House bill considers any and all felony convictions as
counting towards the three strikes. Opponents are being asked to
contact state lawmakers in hopes of revising these bills so that
prison times will not be extended for non-violent offenders.

State Representative William Brownsberger received a standing ovation
at a recent panel discussion on the “three strikes” bills for saying
this “isn't a black and Latino issue, it's a human issue.”

Nancy Gertner, a retired judge from the US District Court for the
District of Massachusetts, wrote in a recent editorial in the Boston
Globe: “Why is Massachusetts moving in a direction opposite that of
other states -- retaining life without parole for juveniles, refusing
to enact post conviction DNA testing statutes and more recently,
proposing a new version of the discredited “Three Strikes and You’re
Out” crime approach?... Existing get-tough policies have pushed our
system to the breaking point.”

Gertner is particularly “mystified” by the Massachusetts legislature's
repeated rejection of DNA testing: “No one is interested in the
imprisonment of an innocent man.”

Overcrowding averages 143 percent over capacity; one unit at MCI
Framingham is even at 331 percent over capacity. Judge Gertner
concludes that “if the new law increases the prison population as it
is likely to do, the Commonwealth will have to build more capacity
fast – costing $100,000 per cell. This is on top of the $1 billion a
year the state spends on incarceration. Worse yet, since the current
system is too strained to meaningfully invest in keeping prisoners
from reoffending, we are doomed to keep paying to house some of the
same prisoners over and over.”

Mississippi and Texas have implemented far more intelligent reforms.
By reserving prison space for the most violent and instituting
rehabilitation programs for low level offenders, Mississippi has cut
its prison population by 22 percent, saving roughly $450 million,
according to one study. Texas enacted similar reforms in 2007, saving
an additional $2 billion. Crime rates in both states have
substantially declined.

Massachusetts does not have the death penalty, but it is the only New
England state that enforces life without parole for juveniles. Arnold
King has served 40 years of a life sentence for a shooting that
occurred when he was a teenager. While serving his time, King worked
hard to educate and improve himself, and became a valuable member of
the community. The former Massachusetts furlough program used to allow
prisoners temporary leaves of absence from prison in order to work,
participate in educational programs, visit family members, obtain
medical treatment, look for work upon release, attend a funeral or
other valid reasons. King went on 30 furloughs, during which time he
worked actively with the Rainbow Coalition, interned at the State
House, did a number of speaking engagements trying to curb youth
violence, and he was even married at Jamaica Pond while on a furlough.
His brother, Kazi Toure, states:

“Prisoners, piecing their lives back together, truly benefited from
this humane rehabilitation program as a way of reacclimating back into
society. But the program was shut down. Everyone who was a lifer was
pulled back behind the wall - where they have remained.”

While there has been a reduction in clemency towards prisoners who
have tried to better themselves, there has been an increase in the
practice of reducing prison time or releasing prisoners – in exchange
for acting as an informant. For example, a man named Johnny Martorano, who
admitted to killing 22 people, was released from prison after
serving just 12 years, because he gave information about Dan Connelly,
the FBI agent, who let Whitey Bulger, the Rifleman Flemmi, and Stevie
Selemmi commit whatever crimes they wanted including murder for the
FBI, in order to get information about other crimes. Similar deals
have been given to supposedly dangerous Muslims incarcerated for
terrorism related offenses: they are often given softer sentences in
exchange for incriminating old friends.

Why are prisoners who are no longer a threat to society being kept
locked up, while other prisoners, including serial killers, are being
set free in exchange for information? There needs to be more public
involvement and oversight of the process by which prisoners are
granted or denied a second chance at life. Three-strikes laws don't
protect the community but collectively punish taxpayers. They reduce
incentive for good behavior, and increase the financial and emotional
calamities experienced by the families of those incarcerated, who live
in our community.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer.