Thursday, November 30, 2006

HIV/AIDS by the numbers

Friday, December 1st, is World AIDS Day. Let's keep the promise, and end this disease. This is not a Gay disease. This is not the disease of IV Drug users. This is a disease that knows no boundaries, and is everyone's responsibility. Here are some facts:

15 million children have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. That's more than the combined total of all the children under the age of five in 48 of the 50 states in the U.S.

96 percent of all HIV cases are in the developing world.

25 million in Sub-Saharan Africa are HIV positive.

Every 60 seconds a child dies of HIV/AIDS related diseases.

14,000 people contract HIV worldwide every day.

75 percent of all the young people infected are women and girls.

Since HIV was first identified a quarter of a century ago, it has been a stigmatised disease, resulting in silence and denial. Every day someone with HIV experiences discrimination at work, in healthcare and among family and friends. Stigma discourages people from testing for HIV or disclosing their status to their partner, which fuels the spread of the disease.

Support World AIDS Day

Holiday Gift Giving

Well, we are deep into THAT season: overbearing television commercials; large crowds at the various malls; insipid piped holiday music blaring everywhere you turn; television "specials" with plenty of product placement; movies about Santa in various hijinks; and most important, buying more junk we can't use or don't want.

For the last several years, several of my friends and I have gotten together for a holiday dinner. We exchanged gifts the first years, then we moved to just drawing names from a hat; then last year, we all donated to an interesting charitable organization in all our names. So here's a list of suggestions of things you can do:

Heifer International is a wonderful organization that provides means of ending hunger throughout the world by supplying sustainable food sources and income to people in need. They also provide education, and, more importantly, recipients must agree to share offspring of gift animals with others in need. This is truly a gift that keeps on giving in a wonderful way.

Habitat For Humanity, one of my favorite organizations, is another way to help people help themselves. Their goal is to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world, and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action.

The International Crane Foundation is an ecological organization committed to protecting all species of the rarest birds on earth, Cranes. By protecting habitat, and by raising cranes at their headquarters in Baraboo Wisconsin, they are reintroducing these magnificent birds into their natural envirnoments. If we protect the earth, we protect us all.

At any rate, those are three of my current favorites. If you have other ideas, please let us all know!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Victory for Fair Use

It seems that the lawsuit against Stuart Frankel and his Barney parody website has been settled. I feel so much better. "Lyons Partnership (the corporation behind Barney and all his marketing arms) sent four threatening letters to a New York musicologist and computer repair technician who created a parody website that suggests Barney's affable public persona masks a secret double life. An image on the site depicts what the cute and cuddly Barney might look like offstage — with horns, sharp teeth, a pentagram and the devilish number 666 emblazoned on his chest."

There is a growing corporate assault on fair use rights, and Lyons Partnership's attack on Frankel is an example. Frankel sued them with the help of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit group of passionate people — lawyers, technologists, volunteers, and visionaries — working to protect our digital rights. Fair use allows copyrighted work to be used in parody as long as there is no commercial gain and it does not replace the market for the original material.

EFF has also taken on the Department of Homeland Security and passport monitoring; and they also have filed a brief saying the government must have a search warrant before it can search and seize emails stored by email service providers.

"Aside from the fact that this is a great story about Barney the purple dinosaur who sings 'I love you, you love me' and yet his lawyers are out there spreading anything but love, there's a bigger point out there," said Fred von Lohmann, attorney for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation. "For every case like this we find out about, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of situations that go unnoticed where free speech is chilled off the Internet."

I am serious when I say I can sleep better knowing there is EFF out there for us all.

Please remember to email your photos to me at jkblue at by Friday for this weekend's Good Planets are Hard to Find photo gallery.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Dzongs and dongs; chillies and willies; and forests of prayer flags: images of Bhutan

It's Wednesday, November 8th, and I am seated at one of the two dial-up computers at the Riverview Hotel in Thimpu. Thimpu, the capitol city of Bhutan, home to the king and his four wives. The king lives by choice in a log cabin while his four wives each have their own palaces, but I digress. Next to me is one of the people from the Crane Foundation trip, and he's equally frustrated with dial-up, but we want election results. It's Tuesday November 7 back in the states. Our guide walks into the room and says "Only Democrats seem to come to Bhutan." Then he laughs and leaves us to our search. My neighbor says "We've got the House, we've got the governors, what's with the Senate?" At dinner, our three little groups have a victory party.

Bhutan is the last Bhuddist Kingdom in the Himalayas. Their form of Bhuddism is Tantric Bhuddism, and our guide keeps telling me that the highest form of enlightenment is sex without desire. Then he giggles. He tells me that penises are on the exterior of every home as a way to keep the ego in check. Think about this, gentlemen. If I have to explain, well, it spoils the fun.

Two and one half hotels have elevators in Bhutan. The half is being constructed. I climbed stairs, and more stairs, and then more stairs. I hiked at elevation, I rode a horse at elevation, and climbed more stairs. In nine days, I rode on one elevator, and that was when I did a hotel site inspection. Who needs a stairmaster? Let me send you to Bhutan!

For some reason, blogger is limiting me to three images on this post. I will have to publish others later. The Dzongs, fortresses with both a government and monastic section are imposing features scattered around the country. Chillies drying on rooftops, or next to doorways. Celebrations of the king's birthday with dancers and games. The Black Necked Crane Festival in the Phojbika Valley (at 9000 feet, I found it hard to call it a valley.) Forests of prayer flags along mountain passes, rivers, streams.

Bhutan doesn't have a GNP. Instead, they measure their GNH: Gross National Happiness factor. A very poor country, but somehow people are happy, cheerful, friendly. They are at peace with themselves, for the most part. In 2008, the king is retiring and his oldest son (first wife's son), the Crown Prince, will ascend the throne in what will become a strictly ceremonial role. The king has decided Bhutan needs an elected government, so along with his retirement, the Bhutanese will vote for the first time. And as he moves his country toward a more modern direction, the king has encouraged improvements to the infrastructure. Currently, roads (which are hand-built) are almost all one-lane, twisting, death traps through this extremely mountainous country. I watched crews of Indian workers breaking rocks along the roadside as roads are being widened. Several luxury hotels are coming in, or have already been built: Aman Resorts have a group scattered strategically around the country; the Uma Paro is part of our hotel group; Taj is putting a property in Thimpu.

But travel is controlled. Mountaineering is not permitted after yak herders complained: after Jimulhari, the highest peak in Bhutan (24,000+ feet) was climbed, yaks began to die, avalanches killed yak herders, illnesses crept in. The government outlawed mountaineering. You may not travel independently in Bhutan: you must have a visa, and a guide at all times. And while there are many cheap hotels and guest-houses, backpackers are discouraged.

The air is clean. Trash is limited. Dogs are feral and everywhere. Mountains, forests, rivers, birds - I saw a white-bellied heron, one of only twenty left. I saw the most beautiful hornbill. I saw other birds I can't name. And of course, the black-necked crane, making a comeback - up to about 150 now.

I recognize how lucky I am to be able to travel as much as I do. Yes, it's a part of my job as a travel agent, but so many of my collegues limit their travels to easy destinations that I wonder why they bother. This was not an easy trip. Nothing was familiar, but everything was inspiring. I live at sea level, so I was short of breath for the entire trip, but my god, did my butt get a workout on those stairs! And everywhere I turned, it was beautiful, inspiring, and amazing. Bhutan is the next really hot destination - and only a handful of travel professionals will be able to send people there with any real knowledge. I'm still processing this trip, it was so exotic, I don't have words for all of what I feel. But my heart feels at peace, and I know that comes from this trip.

playing catch-up

I'm behind. Way behind. Just got back from Thanksgiving with Ellie Bean. Still have to write up my Bhutan experience. And haven't been able to update anything, anywhere.

Haven't even visited all y'all! Forgive me.

But: for the month of December, I will be hosting "Good Planets are Hard to Find", an on-blog photo exhibit of your photos of this gorgeous earth, taken locally or when you travel. Email them to me at jkblue at and I will be happy to post. This incredible weekend exhibit was started by The New Dharma Bums several months ago, and nurtured by them. Now they've sent it out to the blog universe to be shared and sponsored by other bloggers. December is my turn. So please email me your photos for selection, and I will post as many as I can each weekend.

Also: Bean has given me three names. M-Ah (which also means Elmo); Baba; and Gamma. She climbed stairs without holding anyone's hand. She waved bye-bye and said bye-bye. And she drank milk from a cup - a real cup, not a sippy cup.

That's as far as I can go right now. The rest later.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Bhuddas and brothels -- three days in Bangkok

Hot. Steamy hot. Humid. Garbage, air pollution, people selling crap in the streets, all wearing face masks against the smells. Taxi drivers who cheat on fares. Shop keepers who follow you through the store, insisting you buy something. Crowds of people. People shoving. People shouting. People walking. Smoking. Coughing. Shouting. Busy. Hot. Steamy hot.

The Bridge on the River Kwai. The King of Thailand made a deal with the Japanese during WWII, thinking it beneficial to his people. The Japanese forced labor from starving prisoners of war - Brits, Australians, mostly, a few Canadians, some US soldiers. The museum focusing on this sorry history has on display the diary of a dying Dutch soldier. His drawings of both POWs and the Japanese captors showed compassion toward everyone. He wrote in his diary that he had no room for hate. He could not hate his captors, and as I read his words, I wept.

These creatures stand guard at the Grand Palace.

Hot, steamy hot, on the river, at the floating market. She's selling vegetables from her canoe. Another woman sells sticky rice with cold mango - it was incredibly refreshing. People washing dishes in the river. Hot. All the guides are named Nancy. 200 guides from this one company, all named Nancy.

The Reclining Bhudda is too long for my camera. He is over 40 feet long, and his face and posture serene. I cannot capture his essence. I am in awe of his grace.

Three days in Bangkok, with jet lag, and no sunscreen, and no hat. Hot, steamy, gorgeous, horrible, kinky, layered, textured, exotic, fragrent, stinky, spiritual, graceful, Thailand. I can't wait to go back.

Pictures to follow

Back from Bangkok and Bhutan. Talk about a contrast in cultures - Bangkok was all turmoil and clutter; Bhutan was quiet, clear and cool.

Briefly: Arrived Bangkok on 11/5 and hit the ground running. Hot, humid, exotic and modern, Bangkok is "in-your-face" vendors hawking everything from fine silk to little children for sex. After visiting the Reclining Bhudda, in a coffee shop, saw an older white man with a very young thing - either a real girl or a "lady-boy", it wasn't clear which. Tour companies offer outings to "lady-boy" shows. It was exhausting. Spent the first three days in Bangkok sorting through a cacophany of sounds, smells, waves of heat and humidity, all trying to recover from jet lag, and accompanying dizzy spells. That is new for me, when I get so jet lagged I now get waves of blinding dizziness. No time to get out of the city into the real Thailand, that wasn't this trip. Bhuddism in Thailand has merged with Hinduism, there are elements of both. All houses, hotels, buildings have a small "spirit house" outside to invite good fortune. I have no real take on Bangkok as it was too fast, and I was too tired to think. After three days, three nights, I flew to Bhutan. That is a post still percolating.

I missed you one and all.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Friday Grandbaby Blogging

My Gramma is busy packing for her trip to Bhutan, which is really far away and I won't be able to say "doggie" to her til she comes home in two weeks. But she asked me to fill in for her today and I have an important message.

Vote on Tuesday. Vote as if your life depends on it, or at least mine. Because my future is in your hands. Somehow a crazy man who isn't too smart wound up as your President, and he's got some very mean friends who don't like to take care of the earth and who hate everyone who isn't like them. And so if you vote for the nice people, then we might be able to stop polluting the air, and we might be able to bring the soldiers home from Iraq, where they are getting killed and maimed and worse, made to be crazy people who lose their souls.

So please vote, because I am too young to vote still. I'm only 19 1/2 months old, really, and Gramma had to translate this, because what it sounded like was "Hi, doggie doggie bah bah bah." But it's what I meant.

XXOO. Oh, and she said to tell you it's an open thread til she gets back. Peace.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Perfect Post Awards

The Fat Lady Sings has gone and nominated me for October's Perfect Post Awards, a nod from one blogger to another to honor their writing. This was started by Lucinda at Suburban Turmoil and MommaK at Petroville. Each month, any and all bloggers can nominate other bloggers for their writing - you need to let Lucinda and MommaK know you intend to present - and everyone nominated is awarded. It's not a competition, but it is really a nice nod to various efforts.

For me, it's particularly gratifying because when I first moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, I felt as though my voice had disappeared. No. It felt as though I'd swallowed my voice. The first four years out here were a terrible struggle for me to adjust. I was accustomed to a vocal political group; to variety; to choice. And I found myself surrounded by loving people who were stuck in a routine, and who were very Republican in nature. But they were friends of long standing, and while they welcomed me and my Democratic ways, they had no interest in my history. I fell silent.

And then I took a trip. I went to Australia for the umpdedumpth time, and it was a life changing experience. I eventually got politically active, through blogging. I found my voice.

At any rate, while she was flattened by a bad back, The Fat Lady asked several bloggers to guest post, and I was one of them. So on one of the days that I pitched in, I posted my description of the experience, The Never Never, and voila, The Fat Lady awards me with one of the Perfect Post Awards for October. I'm honored, and flattered, and grateful.

Beanie goes Trick or Treating

And afterward, she said to me by telephone "Gramma, I had the best time, and got lots of candy, and Happy Birthday, and I love you very much." Which sounded like "Babah bah ba ba bah bah doggie doggie bah bah."