Sunday, July 22, 2012

Guns, Mental Illness, and the Aurora, CO Shooting

Last night my husband read me an article about some of the latest findings about some of the latest findings about James Holmes, the alleged perpetrator of the Aurora, Colorado shooting. His behavior with police has been haphazard (shooting people and then peacefully surrendering to police, booby trapping his apartment and then warning police about it, etc.). People talked about how Holmes was so quiet, spending a great deal of time playing alternate reality games online, that they never would have suspected he could do something like that. Apparently, he started planning the shooting months ago, around the time his stressful final exams started. There are accounts that talk of him sitting in his jail cell even now still pretending to be the Joker. Once again, the focus has turned to stricter gun regulations.

If I may say so, it sounds to me like Holmes may be suffering from a severe mental illness, possibly schizophrenia. This is something I am pretty familiar with since my mother exhibits many of the symptoms of schizophrenia. I really think we are doing ourselves a disservice when we focus on guns as the problem. I know intimately how someone whose mind is very disturbed and bent on destruction will turn to anything they can find to carry out that destruction. Once, when I was about 12 or 13, my brother and sister and I were sitting with my mother in a traffic jam. I think we were trying to get somewhere on time and were running late. Sometimes even seemingly small things would really set her off, and this time seemed to be one of those. She took her own hands and started to try to choke herself and we had to stop her. It didn't take a gun for my mom to exercise her destructive tendencies. When I was 10 I was shaken badly for forgetting to put the clothes in the dryer. Whenever the subject of her getting some help came up, my mother would often deal with it by threatening suicide and going for the knives in the kitchen. And this is pretty mild compared to what some people have experienced. When I was at BYU, I had a fantastic choir teacher who gave us an assignment to do something out of our comfort zone once every semester. One time he related the story of a girl in his class who had watched her schizophrenic brother murder her entire family. She volunteered at the state mental institution helping to care for other people with schizophrenia to getout of her comfort zone. I consider myself very, very lucky.

I am truly sorry for the losses in Aurora, Colorado. I feel a great deal of sorrow for the victims. But I also feel sorrow for James Holmes and the disturbed mental state that he has been suffering from, just as I feel sorrow for my mother. So I hope you'll forgive me if I don't jump on the "ban guns" bandwagon as a cure for violent crimes committed by the mentally ill. In order to reduce those, we have to do a lot of harder things like delving into the violent mind, examining media content and exposure, exploring new and maybe even unconventional therapies, and finding ways to help families function better and cope with mental illness.

Whoa. My last couple of blog posts have been pretty heavy. I promise there will be some more lighthearted stuff coming soon. But thanks for reading. =)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Black, White and Shades of Grey: A Very Personal Essay On The Bombing of Hiroshima And Nagasaki

I'd like to share a story with you all today. This is a very sensitive subject and a very personal one for me. My intent isn't to change anyone's opinion on the atomic bombings of World War II, I just want people to think more deeply and respectfully about the accompanying matters of life and death. And I may say things in this post that you might disagree with. The only thing I ask is that you be respectful in your comments since I am opening up and being very vulnerable here.

My last semester at BYU in 2006 I took a small capstone humanities course. One gray fall morning the professor and the other students arrived and we were all feeling a little loopy. The professor didn't end up lecturing, everyone started talking about a bunch of randomness. I don't remember how the subject of the bombings of Japan came up, but they did. The professor (who in spite of this incident actually remains one of my favorites because of the many things I learned from him) and students pounced on the subject with almost an irate glee, condemning Truman and the military leaders of the time, dismissing the claims of "a million American lives" as pure fiction and the bombing as an act of racist imperialism. I sat silent. What could I say to people who were in such an emotional frenzy? To them it was all very black and white and simple: Japanese civilians should live, a few Americans should die. The type of thing you can wrap up in an hour long broadcast of the nightly news. I felt I couldn't even begin to articulate my thoughts verbally. I guess this is my response six years later.

I have a dirty little politically incorrect secret: I might not be here today if it weren't for the atomic bomb. In 1945 my maternal grandfather was married with two children, one a toddler about the age of Duckling and one a little older who had been institutionalized because he was brain damaged from a birth injury. My grandfather had managed to wait out the war thus far doing stints ranching and copper mining and a number of other odd jobs. But like the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, there came a time when "his number was up". He was drafted just a few months before the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He probably went into basic training expecting to be among the first wave troops sent in for a long, bloody land invasion of Japan. After the bombings and subsequent surrender of Japan, he became part of the first troops sent in during the American occupation of Japan. He returned home a couple of years later to a son who didn't remember him. My Uncle Bruce recalls that a nice man showed up on the door step, gave him a piece of gum and asked him to go get his mother. My mother was the sixth of seven children born to grandparents.

The number of American soldiers who were expected to die in a land invasion of Japan has come under much criticism in the last 30 or so years. Most Americans believe that the "million" number is a complete fabrication thrown around by Truman to justify his "cowboy" diplomacy. (But before we condemn Truman as an out and out racist, I think it only fair to bring up that he was the president that mandated the racial integration of the armed forces- shade of grey.) The estimates for American casualties of Operation Downfall were, in fact, based on actual numbers of casualties incurred in the island hopping campaigns in the Pacific. Other factors were included in the calculations such as troop strength, firepower, terrain, strength of Japanese intelligence, terrain and operational plans. (If you want a detailed explanation, D.M. Giangreco wrote an excellent paper for the Journal of Military History which you can find here.) A million was a fairly reasonable estimate all things considered, possibly a bit on the high end, but when you're planning a full scale invasion, you don't base your plans on, "Gee, if we're lucky, only 100,000 soldiers will die!" You plan for the worst.

And Operation Downfall was shaping up to be a massive undertaking. It would actually have required two separate invasion forces, one coming down from the northern part of Japan, headed towards Tokyo (Operation Coronet) and one coming in from the south aimed at taking the southern port of Kyushu as a base (Operation Olympic) to further aid Operation Coronet. A few historians have argued that Japan was ready to surrender before any of this would happen, but there is a large body of evidence (including accounts from Japanese civilians who were being mobilized to fight) that this was not the case. If you want to get an idea of how big Operation Downfall was going to be, think about this: the combined Allied force that would have been assembled for Operation Olympic on November 1, 1945 would have been the largest ever assembled with 42 aircraft carriers, 24 battleships, and 400 destroyers, plus destroyer escorts. Operation Coronet, set for March of 1946 would have been smaller, but still twice the size of the invasion force for the Battle of Normandy. And yet, the people in my capstone course were glibly talking about a land invasion of Japan as if it would have been some sort of walk in the park. The casualties would have been enormous. And there is a very good possibility that my grandfather would have been one of them.

The other thing that most Americans fail to take into account when thinking about a land invasion is the massive death toll for Japan. Japanese casualties always outnumbered American casualties. In the Battle of Luzon Japanese casualties outnumbered American at a sky high 5:1. Even on a "good day" at Iwo Jima, the Japanese still lost 1.25 men for every American soldier. If a land invasion would have cost a million American lives, it could easily have cost two million Japanese- and that's not accounting for civilian casualties. Nor does it take into account the number of other people who would have suffered during a prolonged war, like the people living in Japanese occupied China and Korea, Allied POW's, Chinese, Korean, Filipino and a few European women who were kept as comfort women, and British nationals living in Asia who were kept in internment camps. (If you've ever seen the movie Chariots of Fire, the Christian missionary runner who refused to compete on Sunday actually died in one of these camps. He sent his family back to Britain, but stayed himself to teach in the internment camps. Fascinating story.) Another thing little thought about is that there wre a number of Korean conscript laborers who died in the bombings. If asked how they felt about dying to end the war, their answer may have been very different than that of a Japanese citizen.When you start adding up the numbers, I think the amount of suffering that a prolonged war would have involved is something that people should take into consideration. The economic devastation to Japan would have been massive. More shades of grey.

And I could have respected if my classmates and professor had taken those things into account. But instead they were flippantly dismissing the suffering and deaths of millions of people saying that that kind of thing never would have happened. That was the only argument I heard from anyone is that that type of thing never would have happened. It was very disturbing to me that these people could sit in cushioned chairs in a classroom 61 years after the end of the war and smugly pass judgement on who should live and die as if they were taking the world's easiest multiple choice test and a scantron would instantly spit it back out with "100%" printed in neat little letters. And I am left with the eerie sense that somewhere some very angry people who haven't met me may have already decided that because my being here may have cost the lives of Sadako Sasaki and people like her, that I don't have any business being here. And the idea that these people may have died so that I can be here is something very sobering to me. If my life cost that much, I think I should really do something great with it. It's the only memorial I really have to give. I can't say my life is better than any of the people who perished (and I'm pretty sure Sadako would have lived a better life than my grandfather), but the idea that we think we can pass judgement so easily on matters of life and death bothers me more than anything. To me, this is an issue of greys, not a black and white test paper.

If you want read some books/ watch some movies about the last days of World War II, I highly recommend the following: (Warning: these are all tearjerkers. Keep your tissues handy)

Year of the Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi- About a Korean girl growing up during the last days of Japanese occupation of Korea and the start of the communist takeover of North Korea.

Sayonara- A movie about two American GI's and the daughter of a diplomat in Japan for the American occupation and the relationships they develop with Japanese friends/ lovers/ wives.

Empire of the Sun- This is hands down one of my favorite movies of all time. One of Steven Spielberg's best. It's a coming of age story about the son of a British diplomat living in China when the Japanese takeover. He's separated from him his parents and ends up in a Japanese internment camp. This was actually Christian Bale's debut performance as a kid and his performance was so amazing a special award was created for him for this movie. If you watch closely, you'll see Ben Stiller in a bit part in the internment camp.

A Bridge to the Sun- Unfortunately, this beautiful love story is very difficult to come by nowadays. I saw it on AMC at my Grandma's house when I was in high school and I think it's still on there once in a blue moon. I am happy to report that it is now on DVD and you can buy it on Amazon! The book is also on Amazon. This movie is based on the memoirs of Gwen Terasaki, an American woman who married a Japanese diplomat living in America before the outbreak of WWII. After Pearl Harbor, her husband is sent back to Japan and she and their daughter go with him. Mr. Terasaki later became the liaison between the Japanese Emperor and General McArthur.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Lesson From World War II Aviation History As A Metaphor For Life (Guy Friendly Post! Nothing in here about my adorable chubby cheeked toddler, herbs, or healthy desserts!)

Have you ever heard of the Memphis Belle? She was a B-17 bomber plane from early days of World War II European bombing missions. She's notable because her crew did what seemed impossible: they completed 25 missions and they all survived.

OK, that's cool, you're thinking. Flying bombing missions into Europe is dangerous stuff. That's amazing that they all survived together. Oh, but when you actually find out why it was so dangerous, that is when you begin to truly appreciate how remarkable the crew of the Memphis Belle were.

See, in the early days of bombing campaigns in Europe, being on a bomber crew was almost a matter of when you would be killed, not if you would be killed. B-17's were flying from Britain into Germany unescorted, meaning the bombers would fly in together in tight formation without any fighter planes to fend off the German air force (Luftwaffe). The Luftwaffe was waging a pretty successful bombing campaign against Britain's manufacturing centers (which is why many children were sent to the countryside like you see in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Bedknobs and Broomsticks), and they never sent any bomber on a mission without a fighter escort. The Messerscmitt B-109 and B-110 fighters were relatively agile planes and when a pack of them found a formation of big, heavy unwieldy bomber planes, it was only too easy to pick them off. They were basically sitting ducks. Fish in a barrel. This was quite obviously a big problem.

So what did the aircraft powers-that-be do? They added more guns! Lots and lots and lots and LOTS of guns. They added so many guns that the B-17 became known as "The Flying Fortress". The idea was that with the fighters flying in tight formation with a whole lot of .50 caliber machine guns would create a crossfire that would fend off the enemy, allow the bombers to fly in and bomb German factories and then fly back to base. It sounded so good on paper.

Unfortunately, hitting a smaller, fast moving German Me-109 from a turret inside an airborne fortress proved to be extremely difficult, whereas hitting a gigantic, slow moving B-17 while zipping around the skies in said Luftwaffe fighter proved to be really easy. Bomber casualties kept mounting, many of them crewed by teenagers on their very first bombing mission. It was in this environment that the Memphis Belle miraculously completed 25 missions without losing a single man. If you have any ancestors who were killed during the first part of WWII flying bombing missions in Europe, this is why.

Obviously, something had to be done- and it couldn't be adding more guns since that wasn't working. It became apparent that the US Army Air Force was going to have to take a lesson from the Luftwaffe and get escorts for their bombers. You'd think they'd have gotten a clue sooner, before the horrendous losses of bomber crews began rising, but in their defense, extensive use of aircraft in a war was very new. The last war America had fought just over twenty years earlier was still using cavalry horses. I think they were hoping guns would be enough because USAAF at the time simply didn't have the range to fly to and from Germany. They could escort only part way at best. But it was becoming apparent that America would have to make a fighter that could go the distance. This was a time when an Allied victory seemed uncertain. It was scary. A lot of people were giving their all to prevent a psychopath from taking over the world and it was unsure whether that would be enough.

After some development work, the P-38 Lightning and P-47 Thunderbolt rolled off the factories and hit the skies. These were newly equipped with special drop tanks to allow them to fly greater distances and proved to be successful in defending the bombers on their missions. An even better fighter, the P-51 Mustang followed soon after and America was finally able to start really contributing to the Allied strategic bombing campaigns. By this time, it was 1944 and as you know, victory wasn't too far off because the USAAF was finally using the right tools in the right way.

I think life is a lot like this. We're faced with a big, seemingly insurmountable problem. We keep trying things that sound good on paper,  but don't work well in practice. Often the solution is something we want to run away from rather than towards and it requires a lot of hard work and growth on our part. But once we start utilizing the right resources in the right way, success can be ours, even relatively quickly.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Well Mannered Toddler and Managing My Emotional Eating

Our society has become tolerant of disrespect these days. I was raised old school when it came to manners. My parents made a lot of mistakes, but they taught me to say "please" and "thank you", talk politely, and obey traffic regulations. I've always wanted the same from Duckling. Malamute and I have come to the conclusion that if you want to teach a child something, you need to  pretty much start when they have popped out of the womb; immerse them in an environment that encourages a particular behavior and they will learn.

So when Duckling started to talk, we started teaching him to say "please" and "thank you". Duckling was an early talker so it's been a long road. We just kept plugging away asking him to say "please" and "thank you" and modelling it for him, even when he didn't seem to get it. We are finally starting to see the fruits of our labors. Duckling has been using his manners very frequently over the past few weeks. Yesterday when we were coming out of the grocery store after buying meat for our dogs, the automatic doors opened and Duckling yelled, "Thank you!" That's my boy!


I have been stressed out my entire life. I once saw a naturopath and he said he didn't need to test hormones in my particular case, he could tell just from my symptoms that my adrenal glands were severely depleted. Finding ways to effectively deal with stress has been something I have struggled with my entire life. 

Unfortunately, Malamute and I have had to work through a lot of issues (especially financial) since we got married and it has led to a whole lot more stress. Living with his parents has compounded that stress because from the temperature of the house to where we can put things, there is very little we are allowed to control about our living situation. There's a lot of baggage between us and them and really no way to fully resolve it until we get out and make a life for ourselves. Sometimes I've felt so many demands on my time, energy and emotions that Duckling does something small and I yell at him and then cart him off to Grandma for a bit so I can decompress because I just can't take the pressure of trying to hold our marriage, finances, and sanity together and get him another bowl of cereal at the moment. Often,  I made treats just to relax and do something  fun because life seemed so depressing. I used to stop eating when I was stressed, but since getting married I've gone the opposite direction. (And then Duckling asks Grandma for bunny crackers and I tell Grandma to give him whatever he asks for because my whole life seems to be falling apart and can't fight the battle of the bunny crackers at the moment, so then Duckling develops an emotional connection with the bunny crackers.) (In case you hadn't figured it out, this is not a blog a la Seriously So Blessed. Some people's lives seem to sound a whole lot more fun in Wordpress or Blogger. My probably sounds less. But that's OK because things are actually getting better overall!)

Two things have helped with this. First, Malamute and I have resolved that we are going to get the hell out of my in-laws basement instead of viewing it as something we need in order to survive in the world. We've finally realized that we don't need his parents to succeed. It's a very freeing feeling. We've had a long, hard road, but every day I feel like we discover some new treasure of insight into why we've made so many mistakes and what we can do to have the kind of life that will truly make us happy. The second thing is that I have resolved over the past week to eat when I'm hungry and not when I'm stressed. There have been particularly stressful times when I have actually felt my colon spasming, which does not seem to be a very good environment for proper digestion. But when I wait until I have calmed down, I feel better and enjoy my food more. 

I guess the sum total of both of these subjects is that it's often the little things that you do day in and day out that make a big difference.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

They Say It Can't Be Done And Drinking My Words

When we were first married, Malamute and I used to go to the gym a lot and work out. He always had a goal of getting really fit and I knew weightlifting was good exercise so I came along too. All the sports nutrition stuff he read said that you need massive amounts of animal protein to put on muscle, so he was drinking a lot of whey protein shakes and I started doing likewise. But we didn't feel the best after drinking them and eventually, he got to a point where his health just crashed. We couldn't understand it. We were doing everything the conventional wisdom said you needed to do to be fit- extra protein, lots of supplements, working out several times a week- and he was doing worse than he ever had in his life. He was fatigued, developing aching muscles, brain fog etc. Later Malamute took a personal training class from Brian Biagioli, a professor of Exercise Science at some university in Florida.

Brian was a former competitive powerlifter and he offered one interesting piece of advice: ditch the protein shakes. He said that most Americans are getting enough protein, or even an excess and that the protein powders and shakes out there aren't good for you. So we stopped. A couple of years later, we heard about a consumer report that tested protein shakes and powders and found that many of them contained dangerous levels of cadmium, lead and arsenic. Turns out that the two highest poison brands, Myoplex and Muscle Milk were Malamute's drinks of choice and sometimes he would have several a day. Basically, my husband was being slowly poisoned.We swore off protein powders. never, ever, ever again. It was completely unnecessary. (BTW, if you read this report, you may notice it says that potatoes, sunflower seeds and spinach can have very high levels of cadmium due to chemical fertilizers. Organic products are grown without chemical fertilizers, yet another way to avoid cadmium.)

(If the heavy metals haven't scared you off yet, you might be interested to know that the largest nutrition study in history, the Oxford/Cornell China Project, found that people who ate a diet of 20%+ animal protein had massive rats of cancer, autoimmune disorders, and shortened life expectancies whereas people who ate a diet of 5% animal protein had much better health and energy and lived longer than expected. Oh, and you know all those "ultra-healthy" soy bars and soy protein drinks? They contain soy protein isolate, a highly refined soy by product which is produced by processing soybeans with hexane, a chemical which has been classified by the CDC and EPA as a neurotoxin and air pollutant. Soy protein isolate is in Clif bars, Luna Bars, Power bars, the list goes on. I used to eat these all the time. I had a Luna Bar a day when I was in my first trimester with Duckling because it was one of the few things I felt like eating. Next time you reach for a protein bar, check the label!)

So now we are back at the gym. We got a three month membership for the local rec center and have been going three times a week. At this point, we are eating pretty much vegan (we have been known to have small amounts of meat occasionally during the winter and once in a blue moon I will have have a little dairy) and we don't eat any soy. Conventional wisdom would say that we are not getting enough protein and shouldn't see any good results with weightlifting. But in fact, things are going better than before. Malamute especially has been increasing the amount of weight he lifts every time. We've been back to weightlifting for about three weeks now and he has already hit a new high doing 155 on the lat pull down. He's recovering well each time and bursting with energy! If you don't believe that you can put on muscle without eating soy, whey, or meat, I submit for your approval Storm Talifero.

Guess how old Storm is?

Are you sitting down?


Storm and his family are very strict raw vegans (he won't eat any nuts he hasn't shelled himself; I'm not that hard core). He has been eating raw for over thirty years.

Stephen Arlin a.ka. Thor Bazler is a raw vegan bodybuilder. He has written a book called Raw Power! about weightlifting and eating raw.

It can be done! And we are doing it.

I know we swore off protein powders, but as fate would have it, we've been sucked in again... in a good way. We went to a Green Smoothie Girl class and Malamute entered us in a drawing and we won a bag of Chocolate SunWarrior Blend protein powder.

It's an organic, plant protein powder that is free of solvents (like hexane) and other junk like radiation, herbicides, pesticides, etc., so we figured we had nothing to lose by trying it, but didn't think we'd see much of a difference. I made us a shake before we headed to the gym one day and was pleasantly surprised by how good we felt afterwards. We didn't feel as fatigued and had lots of energy to take Duckling swimming afterwards. We felt surprisingly, GOOD. We're thinking of trying some more SunWarrior powder in a little while. It's all about finding the good stuff. So while I swore off protein powders before, I find myself quite happily drinking my words now. =)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


We got a membership for the local rec center and as part of it, we get access to fitness classes. One day, we entered the rec center to go swimming as a family and I was stopped by a big blue poster announcing that there would be a hula fitness class on Tuesday evenings. I was entranced.

"I'm going to go," I said to my husband. I don't know why. I have never given much serious thought to hula-ing. But I was drawn like a moth to a flame.

And I went yesterday!

I've taken lots of dance classes before. I love dancing. My Malamute and I met and fell in love dancing. But when I took dance classes before, I was always stressing about whether I looked good and what the teacher and the students thought of me. I had some teachers who were quick to point out what I was doing wrong, but slow to offer any help. I spent a lot of time berating myself for how bad I was and so I really struggled to improve.

This time, I just decided to let it go. I focused on learning the best I could and having fun and even though there is a big window into the room that puts you on show for everyone entering the rec center to see and  some of the other women in the class had done a lot of Polynesian dancing previously, I didn't stress about it. I just get focused on learning and having fun. After all, according to the teacher, if you make a mistake in Polynesian dance, you just smile really big because no one is looking at what you're doing they're just looking at your big smile.

Attitude is everything in life, I've decided. And if you have a good attitude, everything else will fall into place.

Monday, July 2, 2012

World's Cutest Toddler + World's Tiniest Walker = Lots of Attention

When a couple finds out they are going to have a baby, a certain set of expectations and dreams sets in. Most of the time, those dreams don't include a birth defect. I think most parents go through a mourning period when they find out that the child their having doesn't fit the one they had imagined they were having (but since when do any of us fulfill all of our parents' expectations?) Some parents never move on. When Duckling was in the NICU, his bed was next to a little boy who had been there for several months because his parents were stalling on taking him home. I'm sure that taking him home would have represented the final death of that dream baby and the reality that the baby they  had was a special needs child.

We mourned too. The doctors told us that Duckling would maybe be able to walk with braces and probably need a wheelchair a lot too and that he would need lifelong catheterization for urinary dysfunction, multiple shunt revisions, and literally constant antibiotics, not to mention bowel problems and probably learning disabilities. Oh yeah, and that he would be infertile. I am happy to report that none of those things seem to be coming to pass and he has exceeded everyone's expectations. (We'll have to wait about ten years before we know about that whole ability-to-father-children thing...) Duckling is pretty much a normal little boy except that he is still having trouble walking and standing on his own and that he seems to be exceptionally gorgeous. (We get comments everywhere we go about his eyes. I don't know what I did to deserve such an incredible little boy. Not only is he beautiful, but he's smart and friendly and courageous as well.)

So now that he is big enough, we decided to get him a walker. Believe it or not, they actually make tiny size walkers for toddlers. There is a company in North Carolina that manufactures them. You have to order over the phone, but that means you get to talk to a sales rep with a fantastic Southern accent. We had to get the smallest size for him.

Malamute had already introduced him to the idea of a walker by showing him youtube videos of other toddlers using their walkers, so when it showed up, Duckling got right in it and started zooming around! (I've taught him how to say "Zoom zoom!" when he's cruising around. It's fun!)We bribed him to walk more by offering him Healthy Chocolate Mousse if he would walk over to us again and again.

Now every time we go out where he can walk around, we take the walker with us and let him work out his wiggles. (He sleeps so much better now that he can get lots of exercise walking around!) And of course, it makes him stand out. People always comment on how cute he is and how big he is walking around in his walker. Truth be told, I like it. I like people seeing that my son is capable and that just because he was born with some challenges doesn't mean he can't live life to its fullest. And when he has an audience, Duckling lays the charm on thick and performs well, which means he walks even more when he's got strangers oohing and aahing over him rather than just boring old Mommy and Daddy. So we have now officially entered a new stage as parents: we have a walking toddler!