Wednesday, January 29, 2014

President Obama and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Puttin' on a Happy Face

I watched the POTUS' State of the Union Address from Honolulu. It was 4 pm, stormy and windy outside, and my husband was taking notes on the back of a discarded print-out of a dated news story. I leafed through a coffee table photo book of Hawaiian surf icons and made wisecracks at the well-delivered platitudes of our president during the applause that more than 80 times erupted from admirers in the House chambers.

I was impressed at the obviously well-rehearsed delivery. And wasn't it nice to hear unrelenting good news? He said the deficit was reduced by $2.5 trillion dollars! How wonderful, and how did that happen? The sequester...oh wait, our president says everyone agrees the sequester was "a really bad idea."

Pres. Obama says "the biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population." And of course Obamacare adds to that coverage for stuff people don't necessarily want or need, while spending millions of tax dollars to cajole reluctant, healthy younger people to sign up. Advertising doesn't affect the debt much, I guess. But perhaps his never-mentioned $787 billion Stimulus Package might have?

Our president had a long wish-list of items to accomplish. "High Quality" preschool for all. "Redesigning America's high schools." Incentives for companies to hire the long-term unemployed. "A chance for every responsible homeowner in America to save $3,000 by refinancing at today's rates." A national minimum wage of $10.10."Tax credits, grants and better loans" for college students. Rewarding colleges for offering programs that lead to jobs. Why do I doubt whether any of these things should be a national responsibility rather than a state or local concern?

Teasers from the White House before the speech suggested bold moves by the President with a "telephone and a pen." No phone or pen earned mention in his speech, and his only pledge was to use his executive powers to work around the legislative process. That sounds pretty ominous, dodging the people's representatives.

Didn't our Founders limit the federal government to activities only an overarching power can accomplish, like defending our country, crushing terrorists, maintaining interstate highways and regulating immigration? Instead, I hear our President has a plan for every corner of life, and seemingly a commission, strategy or executive order to enact it. Just as the iconic character "Julia" benefited from government largesse from birth to death, if the State of the Union can be believed, no phase of our lives will escape the warm butter of Obama's soothing protection.

Unless we become successful and earn a lot of money, and then we face closed loopholes and more expensive prescriptions. I was relieved that Pres. Obama omitted the term "income inequality" from his speech. "Income Inequality" is the new code for last year's reviled "1%," the new bon mot of the politics of envy. Thankfully, we were spared the redistribution of wealth; could that be related to the president's reported $20 million advance for his memoirs?

Pres. Obama sure sounded polished. He paused expectantly for applause. He lilted in a perfect, practiced cadence with occasional 'hood inflection. He acknowledged the camera and nodded to his imported "example people." He seemed confident, with only a minor flub with "My IRA." I still don't know if it's pronounced "Myra" or separately, "My IRA."

Cathy McMorris Rodgers, getting to know you
Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who I've met several times, is as sweet as she seemed, though not nearly as syrupy. She had a tough job as Republican "responder" to the POTUS' pronouncements. Without knowing the content of his speech, she needed to appear on top of things in words written in advance. Instead of labeling her talk as "response," it should have been called "Alternative view," because her real charge wasn't answering the Pres, but offering the GOP as the viable and welcoming alternative to Obama's Democratic advertisement. Rep. McMorris Rogers successfully showed  Republicans as salt of the earth, hard-working and earnest. And not much more, because the positions she offered were vague enough to sound compatible with the president's.

Both Obama and McMorris Rodgers want immigration reform and closed borders. They both want more jobs and economic responsibility without debt. They both want health care, but Republicans disdain Obamacare restrictions. Hers was not a response to Obama's content but rather an introduction--a youthful, feminine face for a party many identify with wealthy, out-of-touch, old white guys. If you wanted a response to the President, you had to go to post-event commentary by Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz (who seemed to me surprisingly on target).

Truth be known, the whole thing was a yawn unless you're already a politico. How many viewers watched the entire State of the Union Speech without interruption? Don't know but ratings show the 2014 event with the lowest number of viewers since 2000, 33.3 million people. Second lowest was last year's speech, with 33.5 million. Clearly, folks are losing interest, which parallels the President's favorability ratings. By contrast, the Super Bowl this Sunday is expected to break all records, including last year's high of 111.3 million viewers.

Admittedly, during the State of the Union, I took a phone call and missed a bit. Someone with me had his eyes closed at one point. Was there anything new or shocking or worth tweeting other than the sheer predictability of the event?

Pundits manufactured their comments, as expected, and until elections later this year, we can look forward to the same old, same old. In the meantime, I'm heading to the beach..

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Placenta...with some Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti...

"She lived in Portland, and ate her placenta, with some fava beans and a nice Chianti...szz-szz-szz-szz!"

Sounds even more disgusting than eating her liver with the same accompaniments. But wait, this is not cannibalism, it's...reality! The State of Oregon has actually passed a law that explicitly approves mothers' taking their fresh placentas with them when they leave the hospital.  Oregon Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer introduced the notion in HB 2612, which passed 56-0 and took effect January 1.

Now you can do what you want with your placenta, and Portland doula Raeben Nolan's company, Tree of Life Placenta Services, will happily transform the meaty organ into tortilla soup, lasagna or, when dried and ground, little placenta pills. An article from the Los Angeles Times shows Amanda Englund, "who prepares women's placentas for consumption" and also makes them into wall art.

Raeben Nolan at work on a placenta
Beth Plymale, who paid Tree of Life $250 for a package of services including supplements made in her kitchen from her son's placenta, appears in a Portland news video swallowing a capsule with a healthy swig of water from a mason jar. For her money she also got some Tincture of Placenta for use "later in life, maybe menopause, when she feels the need for a hormone boost." As an $80 option, Nolan will make you some Miyeok Guk Soup, traditional Korean post-partum fare, though usually made with seaweed.

Only one study, in anthropology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2013, researched benefits, side-effects or drawbacks from "placentophagy," the term for consuming placenta. Most of the study's 189 "overwhelmingly white, married, college-educated" mothers had their steamed placentas made into pills, after home-births. Seventy-six percent of the survey respondents had a "very positive" experience, though 57% reported negative side-effects, mainly lack of appeal, unpleasant burping and headaches. The researchers now hope to document placenta nutritional contents and their effects.

Placentophagy is fast becoming cool. Las Vegas reality star Holly Madison blogged that she
planned to encapsulate her placenta so she might optimize her recovery. Mad Men's January Jones gobbled her own placenta pills, saying, "it's not witch-crafty or anything! I suggest it to all moms!" Kim Kardashian, before the arrival of little North West, considered whether to consume her placenta to gasps and cheers at a family dinner with the Jenners (on ETOnline video).  Raeben Nolan thinks eating her own placenta after her daughter's birth prevented the post-partum depression that followed her previous delivery, but New York Times blogger Nancy Redd found her placenta capsules caused "tabloid-worthy meltdown" that disappeared when she quit eating them.

Placentas have a rich history in folklore. Cambodians bury them to protect the child's soul. The Navajo and Maori of New Zealand also bury them, while The Kwakiutyl tribe of the Northwest would put a girl's placenta near the tide line so she'll be good at digging clams. Boys' placentas were left out to be eaten by crows, which they thought brought foresight and wisdom.

Amanda Englund with a placenta print suitable for framing
I will confess: I was a placental explorer. Giving birth to my third child in 1992 in Los Angeles, I requested that my placenta be available, and my obstetrician gave me a tour of it, if you will. While my son was being weighed and all the other stuff hospitals do, she explained its wondrous functions as we examined it. That's how I know that its inside is magically pearlescent, offering an unseen rainbow of metallic colors to the developing baby. The side facing the mother's body is a dark-red color, plain and steak-like. My husband grimaced at my interest and wouldn't watch, but when seeing it I was filled with awe and gratitude, already overcome by the miracle of my child's entry into the world and now doubly amazed at the astounding home that sheltered him. I declined the obstetrician's offer to take it home.

I had no inclination to eat, bury or plant my son's placenta, and I'm skeptical of a state law that explicitly authorizes hospitals to send mothers off with them. Given absence of data supporting ingesting placenta, and the circumstances of its removal and then subsequent transport, I doubt the wisdom of encouraging placentophagy. Certainly this is something that might be addressed on a case-by-case basis; there's enough controversy about the benefits of supplements of all sorts to warrant screening of vulnerable new moms who would blithely seethe their placentas for soup in expectation of health benefits.

But now in Oregon, as one blogger noted, your doula might well ask, "And would you like placenta with that?"

Monday, January 13, 2014

Mazel tov! Wedding Show Fun (Just add 50%)

Well, my son proposed to his girlfriend after four years together. He's 21 and she's 24, so I suppose it's to be expected, and his bride is wonderful...but that my youngest child should be the first of my three to wed is as bizarre to me as the fact that I can no longer claim to be 25.

So today my son and I went to our first Wedding Show.

If you believe the entrepreneurial spirit is clipped by this slow economy, you're wrong; economic malaise heightens competition. And in our state of Washington, same-sex marriage has been legal for a year, bringing a new market of locals and customers from out of state to a burgeoning crop of vendors seeking their share.

In addition, weddings entice families to splurge, with the justification that it's a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. Two studies found that vendors charge significantly more when the same event is called a "wedding" versus a "family party." Photographers, party gear rental companies, caterers and musicians all add a surreptitious surcharge just because they can. Potential profit drew all sorts of businesses to rent booths at the Seattle Convention Center, and their presence spurred brides and their emotional moms to shell out $17 each to enter.

Which my son and I did today. What did we find? Long rows of colorfully-decorated booths with brochure-thrusting attendants. Tables of samples of cakes. Performers plucking harps or repeating soppy standards on violins. A fashion show of wedding gowns and tuxedos, punctuated by choreographed jazzy interludes of groomsmen cavorting with brides in matching black fedoras. A section filled with wedding dresses to try on. None of the gowns I saw, in the entire showroom floor and hundreds of feet of racks, had any type of sleeve, and the vast majority were low cut and strapless.

The chaos was oppressive, like sitting in traffic while everyone's honking. The cacophony of musicians and boom boxes blaring from booths, the voices of hustling vendors, the squeals of delight and disgust melded to a headache-inducing mélange, visually amplified by ubiquitous bouquets of orange, magenta and lime. Each product played into the romantic ideal with its own twist. One invitation company imbued its papers with seeds so its recycling would flower. One decorator created an arch of old books, rentable for about $900. A party goods company offered rustic cedar tables, mismatched tableware and mason jar glasses. Travel agents peddled Eco-honeymoons and photo-booth purveyors snapped freebie samples of passersby borrowing feather boas.

I discovered my son likes purple and white floral arrangements. That he doesn't want a
photo booth, and he'd like a friend to take pictures. Being kosher, all the caterers with their fake hors d'oeurve platters couldn't lure us, and venues like an old castle, an inn on Hood Canal and a barn won't be replacing our synagogue. What we learned is that too many unnecessary options distort the focus of weddings from the spiritual toward the material, and that false requirements can cause couples to spend on accoutrements ultimately forgotten except when paying off credit cards.

One's definition of a "perfect wedding" can be elastic. I recall my own wedding planning, so entranced by my future husband that I didn't assert any preferences, borrowing a dress I'd never seen and letting him choose our wedding rings, simply because nothing really mattered at the time, except that I marry him. In about two weeks, we will celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary. I remember many aspects of our wedding, but not the menu, not the table decorations (generously executed entirely by friends) and certainly not the honeymoon, which we skipped in favor of the Jewish tradition of "sheva bruchos," seven nights of celebrations hosted by friends and family. The most costly wedding expenses were the most forgettable, and the most important were irreplaceable and come without price.

The Wedding Show was fun and informative, but my son and I agree we've been there,
done that, and his gentle-spirited bride has been spared its chaos. My son and his fiancee have plenty of decisions to make, but religious precedence removes much of that pressure, and keeps them focused on the centerpiece of their life together.