Monday, August 31, 2009

On Fire

You may not believe this dear readers, but where I live catches on fire almost every year.
Talk about being redundant!
Not my box specifically, no its constructed of water and fireproof, super tough and allergenic cardboard, secretly developed by the Halleburton Company for use as body armor for our soldiers fighting overseas.
Not even downtown Los Angeles, although it has its fair share of fires in buildings from time to time.
I'm talking about all of the brushland and mountains that surround the city and its suburbs. Wikipedia tells us this about L.A. "The most prevalent botanical environment is coastal sage scrub, which covers the hillsides in combustible chaparral." The key word there is "combustible."
The temperature here lately has been in the high eighties, to low nineties, with not a great deal of humidity (damp air). Just a few weeks ago as I was riding the bus downtown back to my box on a nice sunny day, like today, and the thought of wild fires entered my vapid head, thinking this was just the right weather for them. At the time there were none. There are now.
I was speaking to my lovely sister, Cheryl, on the phone Saturday afternoon, and we spoke briefly of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. She had driven through the affected area a short time after the storm hit and witnessed its devastation first hand. She lives in that area sometimes, and we have great friends of our family who live in Alabama. At one point the discussion turned onto the choices we make on where we live.
Some people choose to live in areas that are prone to natural disasters. Those people certainly don't want to get hurt, or lose their homes or property. They live there because they've always lived there, or for most of the time everything is fine. Only occasionally do circumstances get real, real bad.
I live in such an area (to some degree no geographical location is completely exempt from possible harm. I could live in the most geologically stable area on the planet, with a solid history of mild weather, and get smacked by a moderate meteorite while walking the pooch). The whole west coast of the United States suffers large earthquakes every decade or so. I've lived through two of them in my almost 46 years in the area. The first was in 1971, the Sylmar quake, that occurred in Sylmar, a small suburb northwest of downtown L.A. It struck at six o'clock in the morning and me and my dog, Buttons, slept right through it, sort of. I was living in Northridge, which was very close to Sylmar, and we had structural damage to our house, the waves in our pool reached six feet high, and the cupboards in the kitchen opened up, threw everything out, then closed up again. My psychotic stepfather at the time ran out of the house naked, which shows a great deal about his character.
We had to evacuate that house that day because of the fear that the damn Van Norman Dam, which was made out of dirt, would burst, sending four feet of muddy water into our living room.
It didn't, but that quake totaled two hospitals, two freeway exchanges, killed at least 65 people, including 49 in the Sepulveda VA Hospital, which shows a great deal about the structural integrity of VA hospitals.
That was a 6.6 magnitude earthquake. The other major quake I experienced centered where I used to live in Northridge, in January of 1994, when I was living at the Salvation Army in Pasadena. All that one did to me was to knock all of my books out of my closet onto the floor, but that one was a 6.7, and nearer Northridge caused about 20 billion in damage, killed 72, and injured about 8,700.
Earthquakes happen everyday around here, but most of them are so small you can't notice them, and I've experienced many that you could notice which didn't cause any damage. But the big ones, from 1971 to 1994, don't occur very often.
People who live on the east coast of the country though, especially Florida and the Gulf Coast, can expect hurricanes every year. People who live on the plains in the country's interior can expect tornadoes as often. Still they choose to live there. They hope the hurricane will land somewhere else, or the tornado will pass them by, and I hope so too. But it remains a pretty chancy deal.
We have fires around Los Angeles almost every year, but I choose not to live, or buy property where they most often break out. If for some reason I had to live near these brush fire prone areas I'd make sure my house was equipped with an independent water supply and sprinkler system, tied into the public supply, that hopefully would provide some measure of protection against expected fires (plus a Star Trek Force Field). Otherwise, I wouldn't live anywhere around there, no matter how pretty it was, or peaceful when not on fire.
But that's just me.
My Uncle Hank and Aunt Ruth, lovely people, used to own a home that was propped up on stilts on the steep slopes of the Hollywood Hills, not too far from where I live now. My family used to visit them every Christmas Eve and have dinner. All the opulent houses around them were prone to the effects of landslides, and fire. The houses were all very nice and the view of the city below was fantastic, and nothing ever happened to them as far as I know, still I would have second thoughts about actually buying a house like that for myself and family. I'm weird.
But the fires we have are no joke. The current ones we are experiencing have killed two firefighters so far, destroyed 21 homes, and have forced thousands to evacuate.
This is the largest of the fires currently plaguing the state, but there seem to be seven others, with one north of the capital, Sacramento, which has burnt 60 structures over the weekend. 5,000 acres have burned inside Yosemite National Park, and a 1,000 acre fire is threatening 2,000 homes east of L.A. in San Bernardino County.
Some people near the fires in Los Angeles and the Angeles National Forest have refused to leave, and have now got trapped. 5 are currently stuck at a ranch and have not been able to be rescued yet. 2 thought jumping into the backyard hot tub would save them. They're currently being treated for severe burns.
This fire is expected to reach the top of Mt Wilson tonight, where 20 or so broadcasting towers are located which transmit a good deal of the television and radio for the city. Their ability to broadcast will most likely be interrupted. And there's a little observatory up there where in 1929 discoveries occurred that made the idea of an expanding universe acceptable.
Fortunately the winds have been light, and the temperature is slowly decreasing. Still, the last time I saw the figure, this fire has only been 5% contained, and the Weather Service has extended a weekend warning of extreme fire conditions in the central and southern California mountains.
I sincerely hope these fires are stopped in the shortest amount of time, and I extend my sympathies to all of those who have lost their homes, or property, and those who have died or been injured. And I applaud the efforts, skill, and determination of all of our fine first responders.
Yet it might be a good time to consider, just consider, moving somewhere else.
For the time being... I'm going to continue living right where I am, waiting patiently for the next big one.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


He was only twenty two, yet he had a wife and daughter, Bibi Rashida. He also had a mother, a father, three sisters, and a brother who said this of him; "Dilawar was a quiet, hard-working person. A good and honest man. From the time he was a little boy, he loved to drive the tractor." His name comes from the Persian and roughly translated means, "One who has Heart."
"We are peanut farmers," his brother continues, "but we told him; we work the fields and you can drive the taxi."
I was able to see the remarkable documentary, "Taxi to the Dark Side," last night, which told part of Dilawar's tragic story, which I had not known of before.
The United States invaded the country of Afghanistan on October 7th, 2001, as a direct response to Al-Qaeda's attack in New York on September 11th. I was living in my car at the time, drinking beer in a 7/11 parking lot, soon on my way downtown. "Oh God," I said, listening to the news on my radio.
The stated purpose of the invasion was to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, and other high ranking members of his organization, and to displace the Taliban regime, who had harbored Al-Qaeda and it's operations.
Citing the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists resolution, passed by Congress in September of 2001, President Bush declared that those prisoners caught on the battlefield of Afghanistan (and later, Iraq) were Enemy Combatants, defined as "an individual who was part of or supporting the Taliban or Al Qaida forces, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners. This includes any person who committed a belligerent act or has directly supported hostilities in aid of enemy armed forces."
Enemy Combatants, by the definition hoisted upon them by the U.S., are stripped of the protections afforded to Prisoners of War, and not subject to the articles of the Geneva Convention. Thus these prisoners were in a legal limbo, not protected by the writ of Habeas Corpus, and could be held indefinitely without charge or trial, at the mercy of the Bush Administration.
President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and others within the administration, needed proof that Al-Qaeda was deeply connected with the regime of Saddam Hussein in order to justify an attack on Iraq. Orders were given from the White House and the Defense Department to use any means necessary to get this proof, which resulted in the torturing of prisoners. Bush had Justice Department lawyers, primarily John Yoo, redefine torture to mean anything that Bush wanted it to mean, thereby attempting to throw a blanket of legal authority over the actions taken upon by the CIA to get information, including the use of sleep deprivation, stress positions, forced nudity, sexual harassment, humiliation, exposure to extreme temperatures, sensory deprivation or overload, brutalization, use of attack dogs, threats against family, and water boarding, among others. We've discussed this before (see Gitmo, and Torture).
Indeed, the use of water boarding resulted in actionable evidence in the cases of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubayda, water boarded 183 and 83 times respectively, and gave information Colin Powell used in his 2003 speech to the United Nation's Security Council to build the U.S. case for invading Iraq. It worked. We invaded that country the same year, and we're still there.
It is well known that when under going torture one will say anything to stop the torture, which seems to be the case with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubayda as no credible evidence exists that links Iraq to the Al-Qaeda organization. Hell, I'd give up the recipe for Bush's Baked Beans if I was being tortured, and George never gave it to me.
But I digress.
The lowest level military personal are assigned as interrogators at the behest of their superior officers and the CIA, who were being pressured by their superior officers, who were in turn being pressured by the Defense Department and the office of the President and the Vice President, and used as scape goats, and as of this date have been the only ones held accountable for prisoner abuse and death. President Obama's Attorney General is paying lip service to investigating the international war crimes of the previous administration. Obama still sanctions the use of "rendition," the act of taking prisoners to foreign countries for interrogations. He has not released further photographs of prisoner abuse, despite his campaign promises of transparency. Indeed, he is breaking the law by not forcefully investigating the crimes of George Bush and his minions (in fact Donald Rumsfeld has called for the prosecution of those responsible for prisoner abuse vehemently, we should oblige him. And Dick Cheney has admitted authorizing illegal torture techniques on national television. What needs to be done to apply the law of the land, and world to bear on these criminals!?).
Dilawar of the small town of Yakubi, Afghanistan, was given by his family a used Toyota sedan to be used as a taxi. "I will take the taxi and bring the family meat and potatoes in the evenings," he said. In December, four days before the Muslim holiday of Id al-Fitr, his mother asked him to collect his three sisters from neighboring villages to bring home for the holiday, but he needed money for gas, and decided to drive to the provincial capital, Khost, to see if he could get a fare. There he found three men who needed a ride back near Yakubi, and Dilawar had his gas money. On the way they passed Camp Salerno, a base used by American troops that had suffered a rocket attack earlier in the day. Afghani militiamen stopped and searched the car and men, and a electric stabilizer used to regulate an electric current was found in the trunk (Dilawar's family said it was not theirs, and at the time were living without electricity). The four men were taken into custody and turned over to American soldiers at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility, where they spent their first night chained to a fence in order to deprive them of sleep. On May 20th of 2005, the New York Times wrote, "On the day of his death, Dilawar had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days. A guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling. "Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying. Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned that most of the interrogators had in fact believed Mr. Dilawar to be an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time."
The cause of death was determined to be "blunt-force injuries to lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease." The injured muscles in his legs had become "pulpified."
Before his death a British born prisoner captured in Pakistan in a nearby holding cell stated that while chained and confined, Dilawar screamed and rambled, sometimes calling for his mother, sometimes pleading for help, and sometimes talking to his wife who was not there.
Dilawar's body was returned to his family in Yakubi, with an American issued death certificate that they could not read, it being written in English. Upon seeing it, an American reporter asked if they knew what it meant. She explained the the box marked "Homicide," had been checked as the cause of death. Despite this the military publicly claimed he died of natural causes (just like Lavena Johnson. Look her up).
In February it was disclosed that Jan Baz Khan, the commander of the militiamen who had arrested Dilawar, had himself been arrested, suspected of attacking the military base himself, then turning over innocent travelers in order to ingratiate himself with the American forces.
The three passengers of Dilawar's taxi were released from Guantanamo Bay 15 months after their capture, with documents stating they were no threat to American forces.
Lead Interrogator, Specialist Glendale Wells pleaded guilty of pushing Dilawar against a wall, and not stopping other soldiers from abusing him. He was sentenced to two months in a military prison. Other soldiers received bad conduct discharges and no prison time.
The superior officers of these enlisted men were not charged with any crime.
Their superior officers were similarly not held accountable.
George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, and a host of other high level members of the Bush administration that had ordered and sanctioned the use of the techniques that led to the death of Dilawar, have not been charged with any crime and remain free.
And Osama bin Laden has either died of natural causes, or still walks the in mountains of the Kurram Valley.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Four Years Gone

It began as Tropical Depression 12 forming over the Bahamas on the afternoon of August 23, 2005, a Tuesday, combining with the remains of Tropical Depression 10 north of Puerto Rico, making a new, advanced system. The depression was upgraded the next morning to tropical storm status. That's when it was given a name. Katrina, a variant of the name Katherine, which means "pure" in ancient Greek. It continued to move northwest towards Florida while gaining strength from the warm ocean waters.
Katrina became a full fledged hurricane only two hours before it made landfall, and many were caught unaware, although warnings had been issued at 31.5 and 19.5 hours before it reached the shore, and the Governor of the state, the President's brother, issued a state of emergency the day before it made landfall on Thursday August 25 at 6:30 in the evening. It struck between the cities of Aventura and Hallandale, Florida, as a Category 1 hurricane, with winds reaching 80 miles per hour, and rainfall recorded at 14 inches in some places. Katrina continued on its path toward Coral Gables and southern Miami, spawning tornadoes in its wake, then moved southwest through the unpopulated Everglades, and exited the state at its southern tip. Up to 14 deaths were reported in Florida due to the storm.
Losing energy over land, Katrina was downgraded again to a tropical storm as it entered the Gulf of Mexico. That didn't last long. At 5:00AM the storms winds increased to 75 MPH, and Katrina became a hurricane once again.
By the early afternoon of Friday, August 26th, the storm's predicted path was moved from making landfall a second time in the Florida Panhandle, to the coast of Mississippi and Louisiana, and Governor Kathleen Blanco declared a state of emergency for the later state. By 11:00PM the National Hurricane Center estimated Katrina would strike the town of Buras-Triumph, LA, 66 miles southeast of New Orleans.
By 5:00AM, Saturday August 27th, Katrina had reached Category 3 intensity, continuously fueled by the unusually warm waters of the Gulf, with winds between 111 and 130 miles an hour. By 10:00AM voluntary evacuations were recommended in Louisiana, particularly low lying areas. By 5:00PM the mayor of New Orleans declared a state of emergency and also recommended voluntary evacuations, opening the Superdome as a shelter of last resort. Blanco requested that President Bush declare a state of emergency for the state, which he did, and which opened federal assistance and funds under the control of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It also allowed for 1,701 Army National Guard and 932 Air National Guard to be deployed to assist.
At 12:40AM Sunday the storm had reached Category 4 proportions, with winds reaching 145 MPH. By 7:00 it had reached Category 5, with maximum sustained winds of 175 MPH, gusting up to 215. At 10:00 Mayor Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation of all the parish of New Orleans, stating, "We're facing the storm most of us have feared." President Bush declared a state of emergency in Alabama and Mississippi, and a major disaster in Florida.
At 6:10 Monday morning Hurricane Katrina made landfall again as a strong Category 3, with sustained winds of 125 MPH, near Buras-Triumph. By 7:00 Am. in New Orleans, water was seen rising on both sides of the Industrial Canal.
The levees in the city failed in more than 50 places. Nearly every levee in metro New Orleans was breached as the hurricane passed just east of the city limits. Eventually 80% of the city became flooded and also large tracts of neighboring parishes, and the floodwaters lingered for weeks. At least 1, 836 people lost their lives due to the storm and its attendant flooding, with 705 missing, making it the deadliest storm in the United States since the Okeechobee hurricane of 1928. Of the 60,000 people stranded in New Orleans due to the floods, the Coast Guard rescued more than 33,500. The storm surge from the hurricane caused severe destruction along the Gulf coast from Texas to Florida.
"Hurricane Katrina weakened as it moved inland, but tropical-storm force gusts were recorded as far north as Fort Campbell, Kentucky on August 30, and the winds damaged trees in New York. The remnants of the storm brought high levels of rainfall to a wide swath of the eastern United States, and rain in excess of 2 inches (50 mm) fell in parts of 20 states. A number of tornadoes associated with Katrina formed on August 30 and August 31, which caused minor damages in several regions. In total, 62 tornadoes formed in eight states as a result of Katrina (Wikipedia)."
The criticism of the federal response to the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina is well known. President Bush was forced to cut short his vacation for a couple of days, and was provided with a DVD which documented the damage done to New Orleans, the death and suffering, and responded by flying over the affected area on Friday in Air Force One, 4 days after the storm hit. Michael Brown, a law school graduate and former Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association who was forced to resign, was selected by Bush to head FEMA, with the resulting disastrous consequences.
Looting, rape, murder, and other criminal activity occurred in New Orleans after the storm dissipated, which the police and military were helpless to control, their attention being targeted toward rescue efforts. Random sniper fire was reported directed toward police officers, rescue workers and helicopters. The Superdome's normal seating capacity lies between 69 thousand and 72, but 26,000 to 30,000 emergency refugees sought shelter there over several days. Similar overcrowding occurred at the Convention Center.
Body collection throughout the city began on approximately September 9th. Prior to that date, the locations of corpses were recorded, but most were not retrieved.
4 years after Katrina many communities are still struggling to rebuild. Displaced residents are still returning to New Orleans. President Obama said this today, "None of us can forget how we felt when those winds battered the shore, the floodwaters began to rise and Americans were stranded on rooftops and in stadiums," he said. "Whole neighborhoods of a great American city were left in ruins. Communities across the Gulf Coast were forever changed. And many Americans questioned whether government could fulfill its responsibility to respond in a crisis." He promised to come visit before the end of the year.
The World Meteorological Organization officially retired the name Katrina on April 6, 2006 at the request of the U.S. government. It was replaced by Katia, to be used during the 2011 hurricane season.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Lion

Just before midnight last Tuesday, Senator Edward (Teddy) Kennedy died at his home in Hyannis Port, at the age of 77, just two weeks after his sister, Eunice passed away. He died of brain cancer which he had been diagnosed with in May of last year.
He was a Senator from Massachusetts since 1962 after winning a special election to replace his brother, John Kennedy, who had been promoted to President of the United States. He stayed a Senator until his death, and was the third longest serving Senator in U.S. history at nine terms totaling 47 years.
He was born in Boston in 1932, the youngest of nine children of Joseph P. Kennedy, a prominent and wealthy businessman of Irish ancestry and dubious ethics, and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, also coming from a prosperous political Irish/Catholic family in Boston. His eldest brother Joseph died when 21, 170 pounds of Torpex, an explosive used in torpedos, prematurely detonated in an airplane he was in during World War II. His sister Kathleen also died in an airplane crash when Edward was just sixteen. His sister Rosemary suffered a failed lobotomy when she was 23 and would remain incapacitated and hospitalized for the rest of her life. His brothers John and Robert were both assassinated.
After getting caught cheating on a Spanish test in Harvard he was expelled and joined the Army as an enlisted man, and while stationed in Europe he climbed the Matterhorn, not a small feat as at least 500 climbers have lost their lives attempting to reach the summit. He reentered Harvard and graduated in 1956 with a B.A. in history and government. He graduated law school in 1959. Ted managed his brother John's bid for the Presidency in 1960, in the western part of the nation. In 1962 he took over John's vacant Senate seat, and was reelected to a full term in 1964. He lost John to an assassins bullet in 1963. He survived a plane crash the next year, suffering back injuries (which would cause him chronic pain for the rest of his life) a punctured lung, and broken ribs. In the Senate he helped pass the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which ended a quota system based on national origen, which would eventually have a huge impact on the demographic makeup of the nation. In 1968, just after winning the California primary for President of the United States, Robert Kennedy was shot and killed. His brother Edward, who had a reputation for oratory prowess, said this at his brother's eulogy: "My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world. As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: 'Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.'"
In 1969 his car accidentally drove off a bridge into the Poucha Pond, a tidal channel on Chappaquiddick Island, which killed his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, a 28 year old teacher and campaign specialist. Edward was able to swim to safety but left the scene of the accident without reporting it until the following day. He was married at the time to Joan Bennet Kennedy, the mother of his three children, and rumors of infidelity and drunkenness were cast in the media and his upcoming reelection bid was in peril. He pleaded guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident, and received a suspended sentence. And in 1970 he easily won his second full term to the Senate.
Like his two older brothers, Edward ran for President in 1980 against the incumbent member of his own Democratic Party, President Jimmy Carter. His campaign though was disorganized and ineffective and he lost the nomination.
In his following years on the Senate Kennedy was a tireless worker for national heath care reform, stating the goal of universal health care "his life's work." The most visible Democratic figure unapologetically embracing liberal and progressive ideals to pass into law legislation he believed would benefit the entire nation, not for the corporate power brokers or the billionaire elite.
Wikipedia tells us: "He became known as "The Lion of the Senate" through his long tenure and influence. More than 300 bills that Kennedy and his staff wrote were enacted into law. He was known for working with Republicans and finding compromises among senators with disparate views. Kennedy played a major role in passing many laws, including laws addressing immigration, cancer research, health insurance, apartheid, disability discrimination, AIDS care, civil rights, mental health benefits, children's health insurance, education, and volunteering. In the 2000s, he led several unsuccessful immigration reform efforts."
Edward Moore Kennedy was not a perfect man. Events in his personal life dogged him throughout his career. But he never stopped. He always worked hard to make ours a better and richer life. We have all been affected by the laws he helped pass, and by the force of his character. In his own words: He need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, and saw suffering and tried to heal it.
Even in death his influence is still being felt. His passing may be the motivating factor, and rallying cry for the Democrats to buck up and pass public option health care reform.
It would be fitting that his life's work would be advanced at this time. He shall truly be missed.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Night Out

I thought my lovely case manager, Erin, had fallen ill again Monday morning as she did not show up for our nine o'clock Garden Club meeting. Neither did case manager Paul for that matter. Not until nine fifteen at least. Not that there was much to do. There wasn't. Our new crop of Jack o' lanterns (that's what the picture on the pumpkin seed package showed. I expect pre-cut jacks come the fall) was growing nicely, with 16 to 20 little plants peeking up out the garden dirt and horse shit where Erin and Paul had planted them 2 to 3 weeks ago. Our corn stalks were now at a towering 3 inches high. Pepper plants were still growing peppers (the only plants that have to date grown anything worth while), and various plants that are reaching huge dimensions and taking up valuable space without producing a damn thing, including one monster squash plant who's leaves are spreading out of control, but refuses to produce anything that resembles a squash.
Paul eventually came out and began shoveling garden dirt into a bricked off area he had previously built (I think Paul should seriously consider becoming a mason, as he is very fond of laying bricks without mortar, relying on gravity to keep his creations intact. And maybe he could find that National Treasure deal). I harvested some nice green peppers, tied up one pepper plant that was leaning all over its neighbor, then stood around wondering what to do next. Hardy did what he always does, which is rake the leaves that have fallen during the week. Robert helped out by hanging up his laundry all over the place to dry, including branches of some trees in the midst of the garden, and then sitting down on his voluminous butt while watching us work.
"They're going to get wet," I told him upon first entering the garden and seeing what he was doing.
"If my laundry gets wet then we're going to have a problem," he replied, a not to veiled threat of forth coming violence. I was so scared.
"Then we're going to have a problem," I told him. Although Robert weighs a good 100 pounds more than I do, he is shorter than I am and his bulk is a hindrance to his athletic abilities, not a facilitation, and my fancy footwork would quickly leave him shaken and in the dust.
We soon came to an accommodation, and I told him I would try not to get his clothes too wet if he insisted on leaving them where they were. He provided nothing in return.
I finished watering. Paul and Hardy had wandered off, and I was about to leave this abbreviated session of the Garden Club, when Erin made an appearance.
"I was a little late this morning, Rick. I was coming out after getting my stuff together... I didn't realize you'd all be finished already."
"Yeah, yeah. How convenient. You show up just as we're putting everything away..."
"Now Rick, you know I..."
"Hey, Erin," Robert called out, "want to see my underwear?" They were right there on display for anyone to see.
"No Robert."
"I wrote you a poem," he said.
"For me?"
"Yeah. Wanta read it?"
"Sure Robert. Come to my office later."
Wrote her a poem... makes me want to throw up.
I invited Erin to check out our new pumpkin crop.
"Wow. There's so many," she exclaimed.
"Yes," I said.
Erin found an NSA listening device attached to the Dwarf Orange Tree.
"What's this?" she asked.
"An NSA listening device," I told her.
"Damn that NSA," she replied.
And I asked her how her weekend had been.
"It was very good... I went to this great thing, Rick, oh, but you already commented on it."
She was referring to an entry she had made on her Facebook page that I had read and commented on.
"Yes, I did," I then broke out into a raucous chorus of "Singing in the Rain," with Erin joining in. We danced and frolicked as we sang, just like Gene Kelly, much to Robert's horror (FYI: Erin is a much better at frolicking than I am).
She had attended a screening of that film last Saturday evening in the Hollywood Cemetery, and told everybody about it on Facebook.
The Cinespia cemetery, at 6000 Santa Monica Bl. is screening non-contemporary films on Saturday evenings in a picnic setting. You are asked to bring blankets and pillows. Alcohol is permitted. I had considered going to an upcoming screening of "Being There," but have decided not to. I've seen too many Zombie movies to fall for the old movies in the cemetery trick.
"I was just a few blocks north of you, on Hollywood, at the Pantages," I told her.
"Really. What were you doing?"
A few friends took me to see the musical production of "Legally Blonde," a Broadway play now making its national tour.
It was great. I don't usually go for musicals, but I hadn't been to a play for a long time, and it was wonderful. A vibrant production with exquisite stagecraft, and a terrific and hard working cast. So much energy is expended by the actors during each performance I don't know how they do it 8 times a week. The plot followed the movie's fairly accurately, the musical numbers though made it a unique and special experience.
"I used to do that," Erin told me, "though probably not as good as they did."
Watching Erin frolick convinces me otherwise.
I enjoyed the play so much that I downloaded an MTV taping of the Broadway cast's production, and gave a copy to Erin, thinking she may enjoy it (as well as a copy of "Woodstock," last week. She is so fortunate to have me as a client).
She rewarded me by flaking out on our Tuesday excursion to the Hippie Kitchen, citing paperwork that was over due. "You and Jose have a good time," she said.
"Yeah... thanks."
Jose's a nice man, and a wonderful friend, but he'll never look like my daughter.
Then she flaked on us again, canceling the Drama Free Support Group later in the afternoon after she had told me that she had thought up something interesting to do besides watching her put together puzzles at the speed of light.
She is such a tease.
I will have my revenge soon enough. I am not a man to be frolicked with lightly.
I will end with a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Erin's friend, the lovely Courtney, who celebrated her birthday last Monday, the 24th. Happy Birthday Courtney!!!
I am not beyond the use of extra exclamation marks when the occasion warrants.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Welcome Maryn

I've recently (not more than a week ago) discovered I have a Cousin Glen. Apparently his father and mine were half brothers. He lives in Illinois, and of course I've never met him, but we have Emailed each other exactly twice.
We were put into contact due to another cousin of mine, who I have met. But very long ago, like forty three years long ago. Her name is Janet, and she is as lovely as I remember her. I just recently got into contact with her, through my lovely sister, Cheryl.
Now back to Glen. He is married to a lovely young lady (I've seen her picture) who's name happens to be Erin, a name I've become very familiar with. And yesterday, at exactly 12:53PM local Illinois time, a wonderful thing happened.
My new first cousin once removed, Maryn Margaret (pictured above), came into the world. She was born weighing 5 pounds and 9 ounces, and 19 inches long (I have not been told how thick she was). She was very young at the time. Being so little she will be staying at the hospital for about a week to make sure everything is okay with her, but all indications look good, and everyone is very pleased and excited about her arrival (plainly it had been expected, but it certainly was news to me!) Erin (not my Erin, my lovely case manager, but Glen's Erin) is doing well, and already up and about.
Well I think that this would be a good time as any to welcome Maryn to the world.
Welcome Maryn! You are certainly a lovely little baby girl, and I wish the absolute best for you, and hope for success in all of your future endeavors. If I can ever be of service just let me know, and I'll see what I can do.
You are a very lucky little girl. Why? Funny you should ask.
First of all, you were born a healthy human being. It is very good to be a human being on this planet because they are the dominant life form here. They are at the top of the food chain, which is a very good place to be. Just try to avoid open savannas in Africa, and swamps in the Everglades, and swimming off the shore of Australia, and you should be alright and stay right on top of that food chain (and please stay away from mountains. They are good places to avoid if you can help it).
Human beings have a unique advantage to all but a few of the other animals that inhabit the planet with us. Human beings are self aware. You may not be right now, so much, but you will gradually become more so as you get older (and in the next few years it might be a real good thing to start learning, not only English, your native language, but other languages as well. As many as you can, for during the first few years of your life your brain will be very receptive to leaning difficult things such as languages. Believe me, it will be a lot harder later on in Middle School. Might as well learn how to play the piano as well. Once you learn these things you'll always be able to get a job as a translator and rock musician).
Many animals and insects are self aware to some degree (that's why bugs run away when you try to smack them), but human beings are especially so. They can understand the world and what's happening around them to such a degree that they can plan ahead! Some other animals can do this a little bit, but we humans can do it a lot, so much so that we can fairly accurately predict what is generally going to happen in the future, which is very good because we are able to avoid things that are bad for us, which is very important.
We live on a big round rock that goes around a bigger burning star that provides all of the light and energy that we need to stay alive and be happy, and is not too close to the sun, or too far away. How lucky is that!? It's kind of a weird situation to be in, but that seems to be the case and I invite you to learn all about astronomy so you can learn more about where we all live. Oh yes, 99.999999999998 per cent of the whole universe does not even know that it is there. So we are very lucky indeed!
You are also very lucky to have two fine parents who love you and will always look out for you and your best interests. Try to be nice to them.
You are also very lucky to have been born here in the United States, because this is a fairly affluent country, and the chances of your growing up, learning more stuff at school, not getting nasty diseases, and doing what ever you decide to do in your life are very good. A whole lot better than if you were born somewhere else. Even if you stay in this country, and haven't figured out what you want to do yet, you will still have a better standard of living than about 95% of the other people living on this planet with us. So please remember how lucky we are, and be nice and try to help those who are not as lucky as us, through no fault of their own.
There are so many other things to be thankful for because we are so lucky, but you will discover them in time. For now I wish you and your parents all of the best, with love and peace, and a great big welcome from all the rest of us!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Procession

"A procession (via Middle English processioun, French procession, derived from Latin, processio, itself from procedere, to go forth, advance, proceed) is, in general, an organized body of people advancing in a formal or ceremonial manner."

And it's also a band. Two bands actually, and not marching bands (I don't think. At least none of the pictures on their My Space page shows case manager Paul strutting down a lane, playing keyboards and twirling a baton) as the name would indicate, but a contemporary indie band, with a sixties, melodic, wacky flavor, that I found to be engaging, original, clever, and most of all, fun to listen to.
The Procession consists of case manager J. Paul Zawacki (the lanky one on the right in the picture above, taken at a Laundromat while washing their pillow cases), John Schreffler, Andy Creighton, Jesse Carmichael, and Greg Jong. They unapologetically stole the name from the 1960s Australian jazz/rock band with Mick Rogers (later of the Manfred Mann's Earth Band) and Craig Collinge. Indeed, today's The Procession seems to be heavily influenced by the music of the 60s. They say so themselves, stating their influences to be: The Lovin' Spoonful, The Beatles, Queen, Chicago's Wilco, Rod Argent's The Zombies, tape machines, The Kinks, and early Weezer (as opposed to late Weezer). I'm not exactly sure how tape dispensers affected The Procession, but I'm sure they were a healthy influence as Paul is a vegetarian and does not drink.
I've known Paul was a musician for a long time (see, Erin's Birthday Party), and I knew he played in a band as well. But he rarely speaks of it at work. He's so self effacing and unpretentious... but crafty. Now that he's recently engaged maybe his fiance will knock some of the unpretentiousness out of him.
Anyway, after Movie Day last Friday ("Beerfest," the amazing true story of American exceptionalism. While watching the film and munching some nice hot popcorn with my lovely case manager, Erin, she asked me if this made me want to drink again. I told her no, I eat popcorn all the time), Paul gave me a CD with five of The Procession's songs on it. He explained that this was his band, and that he hoped I would enjoy the music. So, this morning while washing my pillow cases, I had a chance to listen to his CD, and I did enjoy the music... very much!
Now I'll let The Procession tell you in their own words how they got started:
"Hi, we are The Procession. Two of us (Paul and John) started this whole thing back in Michigan, in 2003. We spent a long, fun time recording a handful of songs on an eight-track, which became an E.P. [We] then found us a manager and a publisher and a label and a whole slew of other exciting things that sound like they are a big deal. It also found us a sixteen-track, which sounds like it isn't a big deal, but it is. Anyway, time passed, and we started to think that we were pretty clever, so we made a record called Musique Magnifique [that means magnificent music, for all of you Anglophiles]. Shortly thereafter, Musique Magnifique, in conjunction with Manager and Publisher, gave rise to other important entities and alliances, such as California, British Record Label, and Additional Bandmates (Greg, Jesse, Andy). Before we knew it, we were us and we had a lot more than we had when we started. Now, we are playing a lot more music than we used to--which is a good thing--and we are, most certainly, having a good time. We are also meeting a lot more people than ever before, and we'd love to make your acquaintance, too. Come out to a show and hang with us or leave us a comment or a message. We will try our best to get back to you. Thanks for stopping by and, please, stop by again. Best wishes and thanks for reading."
You can buy their stuff on, and I invite all of my dear readers to visit The Procession's My Space page to get a taste of their fabulous music, and give them the Joyce's Take bump in the process:
And now for an added post bonus, Erin's recipe for Crisp Lemon Chicken (recipe #683) which she borrowed from Doreen Randal, and which we enjoyed at last Thursday's Cooking Club (I was in charge of the rice. Very important):
For 4 to 6 servings.

2 egg whites
1/2 cup cornflour
2 tablespoons water (2 atoms of hydrogen, 1 atom of oxygen)
350 grams (not 349 or 351) chicken tenderloins (Erin says, "I use breast slices." Rick says, "I bet you do, Erin.")
1 table spoon oil (cooking)
spring onion, chopped
1 tablespoon cornflour
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon rind, grated
1 & 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon ginger, grated
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Now, for the lemon sauce: mix cornflour with lemon juice. Mix the lemon rind, stock, ginger, brown sugar, and cornflour mixture together in a saucepan. Bring it to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Set aside while preparing the chicken as it needs to be prepared.
Crisp chicken: Lightly beat the egg whites, cornflour and water together. Dip the chicken in this mixture. Heat the oil in a wok, or frying pan and fry the chicken until the juices run clear.
Next: Place the nice chicken over the rice that Rick has so thoughtfully prepared for you, then pour the lemon sauce on top and garnish with some chopped spring onion.
Erin says, "No onion for me, Rick, they're yucky!"
Rick says, "Okay Erin. This is the best lemon chicken I've ever had!"
Erin says, "Thanks Rick."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Las Muertas de Juarez

Speaking of movies, last night I was fortunate enough to watch the film, "Bordertown," (2006) written and directed by Gregory Nava, who reunited with actress, Jennifer Lopez (he directed "Selena," which rocketed Ms Lopez to national prominence in 1997, sandwiched in between interesting performances in "Blood and Wine," (1996), with Jack Nicholson and Michael Caine, and "Anaconda,"). Martin Sheen, and the ever underrated Antonio Banderas, also appear in the film, as well a startling performance by Maya Zapata.
The film deals with the very real murders of large numbers of mostly young women since 1993, in the city of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua Mexico, right across the border from El Paso, Texas.
According to the Organization of American State's Inter-American Commission on Human Rights:
"The victims of these crimes have preponderantly been the state of young women, between 12 and 22 years of age. Many were students, and most were maquiladora (factory) workers. A number were relative newcomers to Ciudad Juarez who had migrated from other areas of Mexico. The victims were generally reported missing by their families, with their bodies found days or months later abandoned in vacant lots,outlying areas or in the desert. In most of these cases there were signs of sexual violence, abuse, torture or in some cases mutilation."
And from Amnesty International:
"In a significant number of cases, the brutality with which the assailants abduct and murder the women goes further than the act of killing and provides one of the most terrible examples of violence against women. Many of the women were abducted, held captive for several days and subjected to humiliation, torture, and the most horrific sexual violence before dying, mostly as a result of asphyxiation caused by strangulation or being beaten. Their bodies have been found days or even years later, hidden among rubble or abandoned in deserted areas near the city. 'When we found her, my daughter's body told of everything that had been done to her," said Norma Andrade the mother of Lilia Alejandra, whose body was found in February 2001, on waste ground in Ciudad Juarez next to the maquilal where she worked. Like Lilia Alejandra, most of the women, some with children to support, come from poor backgrounds and have to take long bus journeys to reach their places of work or study. Sometimes, they have no choice but to walk alone across unlit waste ground and streets where they are at greater risk of possible attack."
The estimate of the number of victims varies. Amnesty International reports that as of February of 2005, 800 bodies had been discovered, with over 3,000 women still missing.
The film "Bordertown" (which was released overseas, but went straight to video here in the US. The film did have its problems, long dialogue scenes in Spanish without subtitles not the least of them), lays the blame for these murders primarily in the hands of Bill Clinton, and his signing into law the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the exploitation of poor workers in other countries that have no protections against unfair labor practices, hence the growth of the maquiladora factories along the U.S. Mexican border, which receive imported parts on a duty free basis, manufacture these parts into a finished product, then ship them back to the originating countries for large profits. Workers typically make approximately $110.00 a week, during a 48 hour work week (but they have medical! Mexico enjoys universal health care, something its neighbor to the north has been unable to provide its citizens to date).
Still, although NAFTA was probably his worst mistake during his tenure as President, it is hard to pin the blame for "The Dead Women of Juarez" (the title of this post translated) entirely on Clinton.
No, one must take into account the actual murderers of these defenseless women and children. As John Steinbeck pointed out in "East Of Eden," there are monsters among us. Those who committed these crimes are literally human monsters, and should be hunted down and treated as such (or maybe not. Maybe the designation "human" is too good for them).
There are probably many factors contributing to the confluence of violence against women in the tiny geographical region of Ciudad Juarez, including the availability and quantity of easy prey, gang and drug related criminality, a culture of domestic violence and the treatment of women as property that is ignored by authorities (which is not peculiar to Mexico. This horrible tendency is endemic in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and countries like Afghanistan and India), genuine "Hostel" like killing by those who think of it as a sport perpetrated by monsters above and below the border, sexual aggression taken to its ultimate limits, as well as the general victimization of the weakest among us.
I believe the largest propagator of violence resulting in the murders of these women in Juarez, and elsewhere around the world is the irrational idea that is okay to treat women in this manner because they are less than. And I believe this idea is born out of the fear and ignorance of what women's equality and the power it would represent to the male population in these areas would mean to males, often reinforced by religious dogma that conveniently places the role of women beneath that of men.
My belief is in itself reinforced by the lack of fervor displayed by the local authorities in Mexico in the prosecution of those responsible for these horrendous crimes. Pitifully few arrests and prosecutions have been enacted considering the number of victims, and possible victims. The general tone of law enforcement in Juarez seems to be hostile toward the victims and their families, and foreigners who visit in order to investigate or publicize the murders. Nava's film crew, while shooting in Ciudad Juarez, were threatened, and thousands of dollars of valuable equipment vandalized. This would indicate a common disregard for the rights and safety of women embedded within the culture (unless of course it is their own mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters involved). Indeed, "On May 30, 2005, President Vicente Fox told reporters that the majority of the Juárez killings had been resolved and the perpetrators placed behind bars. He went on to criticize the media for "rehashing" the same 300 or 400 murders, and said matters needed to be seen in their "proper dimension."
The BBC reported 28 women had been killed by November of 2005.
In August of 2006, the Federal government in Mexico dropped its investigation of the murders in Ciudad Juarez.
Through my involvement with Amnesty International I've been aware of the situation in Juarez for many years, and have done what I could, written letters to local and Federal authorities in Mexico, as well as officials in my own government, signed petitions, etc. Whatever I could do.
Even though the preponderance of violent crime worldwide targets men more than women, more than two thirds so, I don't seem to get all worked up about men killing each other, although violence in all of its forms is still appalling. I abhor violence against women. They are men's partners in life, and they should be cherished and protected for all of the love, beauty, intelligence, and grace that they bring into this hard world.
I invite you dear readers to join the fight at Amnesty Internationals site below.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Taking Care Of Business

Channeling Pika

Speaking of movies, I managed to watch the film, "District 9," last night, directed by Neill Blomkamp, and produced by Peter Jackson.
"Who's that?" my lovely case manager, Erin, asked me yesterday as we walked back from Yoga Class. She had seen the movie the night before with her conservative boyfriend, Shane (what kind of name is "Shane" anyway? Sounds like some 1950s cowboy movie).
"He's a director, producer. You may have heard of some of his work, like 'The Lord of the Rings,' and 'King Kong...'
She was familiar with his work.
I thought the film was great. Inspired by certain actual events in South Africa during apartheid, the movie told the story of a ship of extraterrestrial refugees who take sanctuary in that country, who soon become a problem for the local population and are subsequently segregated into their own little district, District 9, where they buy cat food as a delicacy off the black market and struggle to survive while being treated like crap by humans. One bureaucrat who takes on the job of forcibly evicting and relocating the aliens (in a remarkable performance by South African actor/producer/director/talent scout Sharlto Copley) accidentally becomes infected with an alien virus that slowly transforms him into one of the aliens, and his point of view towards the extraterrestrial visitors understandably alters somewhat.
There is a lot of CGI (Computer Generated Images) special effects, explosions, and people getting shot and blown up, so it would be a perfect film for our Movie Day. Accordingly some critics have dismissed the film as just another alien shoot'em up fest. And their right to a degree, but its much more than that.
Erin and I both recommend it. Our tastes are exceedingly discerning. Besides, how many movies come out set in South Africa?
I can't believe they made the movie for only 30 million dollars! Ten years ago the budget for a film like this would have been over 100 mil. As I write this, Box Office Mojo tells me District 9 has made $50, 178,081.00 since it opened last Friday, foreign and domestic.
Also yesterday, during our walk to the Hippie Kitchen, I told Erin that it was the 40th anniversary of Woodstock.
"I wish I was at Woodstock," she told me. See, she really is a little hippie girl.
Later, I Emailed to her the picture of the Channeling Pika, pictured above. She loves pikas.
We also finished (finally) the 1000 piece picture puzzle we had been working on for better than a month at the Drama Free Support Group. Hardy, Jose, Paul, and I labored laboriously for each and every piece we infrequently found, while our breezy friend, Erin discovered piece after piece without difficulty, snapping them into place, while exhorting, "Yeah!" or some similar irritating exclamation, again and again. It was like watching John Nash effortlessly decipher code in "A Beautiful Mind."
"She gets so many because she cheats," I told Jose. "She looks at the box." I was referring to the picture of the box cover that represented the puzzle when completed.
"That's not cheating, Rick." Erin told me. "That's what you're supposed to do."
"That's too easy, we should really be doing this while blindfolded."
It took awhile, and Erin stayed until after five o'clock, something totally unheard of, in order to finish the puzzle.
And like all puzzles of this nature, there was one piece missing. One freaking piece!
I've had enough of jigsaw puzzles for a while.
Later that night, just after watching the District 9 film, and finishing up a little administrative work (I've fallen behind in my RSCON paperwork (Residential Service Coordinator (case manager) Observation Notes, and was in fear that the Client's Committee would chastise me quite harshly for falling behind), when I injected a blank DVD into my computer in order to burn part of the "Woodstock," movie for Erin. Nothing happened. Usually when one inputs a blank DVD disk into a computer, something happens, usually an automatic prompt asking what to do with the disk. But nothing happened. I tried a different blank disk, Nothing. What the? It had been working earlier in the day. I tried a DVD movie, then a CD, still nothing. I rebooted, I tried to troubleshoot, I tried different methods of intervention. Nothing. I gave up and went to bed, watching Stephen Colbert discuss the upcoming marriage of Archie and Veronica on TV.
Up at four the next morning, I tried it again. Nothing.
I hate it when stuff like this happens. I decided to take it back to Frys, where I bought it.
I have until December 7th on the warranty I purchased after buying my HP Slimline, so money was not an issue. And this clearly seemed to be a hardware problem (possible optical reader failure), not software, which is not covered under the warranty. But Frys is all the way in Burbank, near the airport there, and a long and boring bus trip awaited me.
I bucked up though. I left my box just after seven, taking my collapsible dolly (conveyance consisting of a wheeled platform for moving heavy objects) incase I had to cart a loaner computer back home. I took my computer in my backpack) with me, was at Frys by eight twenty, was told that what was causing the problem was just a software glitch which was easily adjusted (so Windows was at fault. Damn you, Microsoft!), he adjusted it, and it now works, left Frys and was back downtown by ten.
And back in my box typing. As a matter of fact I'm typing this right now.
I'll type some more later.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


As I write this at seven in the morning, exactly forty years ago today, Jimi Hendrix had just ended his two hour set at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, the final act of the four day event (it was billed as 3 days of peace and music, but due to many factors it stretched out to four), arguably the greatest concert ever produced, at least the best known. He was scheduled to begin at three in the morning, but again due to delays, began near eight o'clock local time to a diminished crowd, as it was now Monday morning and many of the concert's weekend attendees had to, or already had departed. The festival's producers had offered Hendrix a midnight spot, but realizing the magnitude and historic nature of the concert, he desired to keep the position as the final performer.
And he dominated. The film "Woodstock" begins and ends with Hendrix guitar licks (except for the song, "Woodstock," played during the end credits), he will ever be linked to this event, and his rendition of The Star Spangled Banner will remain a symbol of the concert.
He died exactly 13 months later, on September 18, 1970.
Last night I spent a little over three and a half hours watching the musical documentary, "Woodstock," and considered it time well spent. Although the concert was a tad before my time (I am glad there at least a few things that remain before my time, the Vietnam War being one of them. I was only 13 years old at the time of the concert, and most likely oblivious of the event), though throughout my later teens and twenties I became familiar with the festival and its music, by the film and the albums.
But watching the movie again aroused my curiosity, and the film hardly represents what actually occurred during those four days in August of 1969.
And I can't tell the whole story here, but I can tell a little, and this is what I found out.
The film rightly states the the concert was a commercial enterprise, meaning the promoters wanted to make money. The bands wanted to make money. Max Yasgur, the owner of the property that the concert took place on, a dairy farm, wanted to make money. Everyone wanted to make money. Whether they did or not is not known. Certainly the producers didn't, the reason being, too many people showed up, and they had not anticipated the crowds, did not plan far enough ahead, were basically caught with their pants down, and were pretty much forced to declare the concert as being "free."
The band, Creedence Clearwater Revival was the first act to sign up for the festival, agreeing to play for $10,000.00. In all 32 acts performed before crowds estimated between 300,000 to half a million. The local community was overwhelmed. Traffic was at a standstill, sanitation facilities were inadequate, as was the availability of food and medical care. At least two fatalities were reported, one a drug overdose (yes, they may have used illegal psychotropic substances at Woodstock, I'm shocked to report), and one person asleep in a nearby hayfield was run over by a tractor. To balance things out, two births were recorded at the event. Sadly four miscarriages were recorded as well.
By watching the movie you would think that the music stopped every evening, then began again the next day, with only one band, Jefferson Starship, obviously beginning its set early in the morning and waking the slumbering crowd. That was not so. It was a 24/3&1/3 concert, with top name bands playing one after the other, around the clock (weather permitting, it rained a couple of times).
Creedence, for some reason only known to John Fogerty, wanted a 3AM slot, and insisted on not being included in the film.
Other artists included: Joan Baez, one of the few acts my lovely case manager, Erin, would be familiar with, was the last scheduled act of the first day's performances; Santana, and The Who, which I've seen both in concert here in L.A. The Who was great... Santana, not so much; The Grateful Dead (not included in the film, although shots of Jerry Garcia holding up a joint (marijuana cigarette) are in the movie); Janis Joplin (who died just 13 and a half months later, 16 days after Hendrix, both of drug overdoses); Sly and the Family Stone, who I once partied with in a hotel in Hollywood (long story); Joe Cocker; The Band (also not in the film); Ten Years After; Crosby, Stills, and Nash (their second public performance, and without Neil Young, despite what Wikipedia says), Hendrix and 21 other acts.
Notable acts of the time that were invited to attend, but declined, were The Doors; my favorite, Led Zeppelin (although I will always admire them for their work in the studio, rather than their live performances); another favorite, Jethro Tull (too many "unwashed hippies," for Ian Anderson, strange sentiment for the writer of "Aqualung"); Joni Mitchell, who wrote a song commemorating the event, aptly titled, "Woodstock," which became a major hit for Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; The Byrds; The Moody Blues; and Bob Dylan, who's recently been burglarizing houses in New Jersey, so I'm told.
They've cleaned up the mess left by concert's attendees over the years, and a plaque has been placed in the field where the concert took place in honor of the historic event, as well as memorials for Hendrix, Joplin, and Jerry Garcia (who passed away in 1995). Wikipedia tells us: "The Museum at Bethel Woods opened in June 2008. The Museum contains film and interactive displays, text panels, and artifacts which explore the unique experience of the Woodstock festival, its significance as the culminating event of a decade of radical cultural transformation, and the legacy of the Sixties and Woodstock today."
I will offer a copy of the film, "Woodstock," to my lovely case manager, as I believe her to be a little hippie girl at heart (her "Free Love" blouse proves it), and quite possibly a reincarnation of one of the lovely ladies who attended Woodstock, forty years ago today.
Even though I don't believe in reincarnation.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dancing Through Minefields

First of all, a question/remark/observation for my lovely case manager, Erin, who hails from the frothy shores of New Jersey. What's up with your state?!
First there are the arrests of 44 people in a sting operation for corruption charges, money laundering, and trafficking in human organs, including 2 state assembly members, the mayors of Ridgefield, Secaucus, and Hoboken, and a bunch of Rabbis!
Now it seems that poor old music legend Bob Dylan was taking a stroll through Long Branch, New Jersey recently, just passing the time before his next show, looking at houses, when stopped and harassed by the local police department, who did not recognize him. Since when is walking through a neighborhood scouting, I er mean, checking out houses with no ID, and carrying a bunch of burglary tools a crime? What has this country come to Erin, I ask you, WHAT HAS IT COME TO? I certainly will not be visiting the garden state anytime soon. Especially with my EZ Snap Lock Pick Gun.
I saw the film, "The Hurt Locker," over the weekend with a friend of mine, Heather, and her boyfriend, Gil. We saw it at what is now called the Arclight Theater, in Hollywood. This used to be called the Cinerama Dome, as the theater looked like a big box with the top third of a huge golf ball sticking up through the roof, before it became a multiplex. I've gone to this particular theater throughout my life. My father took me there to see the James Bond film, "Thunderball," when it first came out. I saw both, "2001 A Space Odyssey," and "2010," it's sequel, fifteen years later, under the dome. Most recently I've been there to watch "Reservation Road," the exceptionally depressing film concerning a tragic hit and run incident, starring Jennifer Connelly and Mira Sorvino, and of course now, "The Hurt Locker."
This film follows the exploits of an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team of the U.S. Army, in Baghdad during the Iraq occupation, in 2004. The picture above is taken from the film. It is of a soldier wearing a bombsuit, which is designed to protect him while trying to defuse bombs.
And there are a lot of bombs! All over the place. One particularly harrowing scene involved the protagonist attempting to defuse a bomb he has found buried in a dusty street. After defusing it he finds more wires leading to other possible bombs. Instead he finds more wires, eventually pulling up from the earth six or seven bombs surrounding him in a circle.
"Oh, my," he says.
He manages to defuse them, but that scene was early on in the film, and there are a lot more chances for everyone to get blown up.
Or shot. A lot of people get shot in this movie. As a matter of fact, if you are offered a cameo appearance in this film, dear readers, I would seriously consider turning it down.
I think the point of the movie is to demonstrate what a dangerous environment our soldiers are working in while deployed in Iraq, and that you rarely know who the real enemy is because everyone looks the same. It also documents the mentality one must maintain in order to survive, the toll of living under constant stress, and the special skills one develops in these unique situations, skills that are hardly transferable to civilian life. It also tells a very interesting story about some very interesting characters, almost essential in films.
I have never had to defuse a bomb while serving in the Navy. But I did serve on a minesweeper once. For an entire weekend. Let me set this up.
Fresh out of Boot Camp, and after a failed attempt to finish electronics school (booze), the Navy lost my personnel records, thereby stranding me at the Navel Training Center, in San Diego. I was assigned to the Transient Barracks Unit, which was where those folks awaiting orders, like me, or just passing through, lived. I was made the manager of the place, checking sailors and sailorettes in and out. My boss was a Master Chief Boiler Technician (snipe). My supervisor was a First Class Boatswainsmate (the guy who steers the ship).
I liked the job, mainly because I didn't have to do much, and I had the run of the place. The Master Chief thought I was his son for some reason, and let me get away with anything, the First Class was another story.
After catching me in the laundry/pool hall area slugging down a cold one during working hours (by the way, they have beer vending machines on military bases, at least on that one they did, the greatest invention ever made!) one day, he thought up and interesting punishment, which I'm sure amused him greatly. He had me and a friend of mine assigned to a minesweeper during its weekend exercises.
This would have been the first ship I'd actually stepped foot on after joining the service. That was okay, might even be fun.
Except I came on board so hung over I could hardly move, and would remain sick throughout the voyage.
This is what I remember of it. Being dragged out of my bunk, and told to report on deck for minesweeping exercises. And this is what we did.
A minesweeper is the only U.S. Navel vessel that is made out of wood. It is made out of wood so as not to attract magnetic mines and get itself blown up. A minesweeper sweeps mines in two ways. First, it drags a looped thick cable behind its stern (looped meaning the two ends of the cable are both kept attached to the deck of the ship). This cable, apparently transmits a pulse that detonates magnetic mines.
We couldn't manage to keep both ends on deck though, one end breaking off and winding into the sea (not my fault). We spent the rest of the day retrieving it (it was really big, long, and heavy).
The other way a minesweeper sweeps mines is to drag out two submerged chains behind it in a V pattern, each chain fitted with explosive catches at equal intervals along the chain, the idea being as the ship sweeps a submerged mine field (assuming the ship doesn't hit one) mines attached to cables will get caught in the explosive catches, which cut the cables, releasing the mines which float to the surface, where they are simply shot at until they explode.
We did that the second day.
The night before, of course, still sick as hell, I was awarded the mid-watch (midnight until four), outside as a lookout, in an actual crows-nest, the highest point on the ship which was constantly swaying back and forth, up and down, sideways and byways. Four hours. Barf City.
When it was all over, me and my friend congratulated ourselves on a job well done, then headed for a bar.
Ah, the memories.
After the movie we went dancing in Hollywood at the Knitting Factory. Synchronized Hip Hop!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The State Of The Future

Our planet, our civilization, our future, and the future of all living things on this planet, face many growing problems that if we choose to ignore because of political inexpediency, or lack of foresight and courage, we place ourselves in great peril. At no other time in recorded history has the risk been so great, and the penalty for non-action so unforgiving.
Probably the best known of the many issues and challenges that face us as a species is that of global warming. It certainly has received its fair share of media attention, and the debate of whether global warming exists, whether it a man made phenomenon, and what actions need to be taken to minimize global warmings detrimental effects (like extinction of the American Pika), has been going on for decades.
I've discussed this issue before (see, Global Warming), and will now quote myself from that post: "Most of the current credible scientific opinion overwhelmingly agrees that global warming has been taking place over the last two hundred years. A recent survey by the University of Illinois at Chicago polled 3,146 earth scientists and 90% agreed that warming is taking place, and 82% agreed that human activity is a major contributor to this warming effect."
Still there are business factions, and their political allies who would do nothing about this vast, global problem. Their goals are short-sighted and irresponsible, grossly so. Due to the large amount of financial resources available to these factions, and the political influence that money can buy in our current system, the debate continues, and a large percentage of an uninformed populace are told to believe what these business interests want them to believe, and thus exert unfounded political and social pressure.
So there is a debate when there should be none. Even if global warming is a completely natural process, we would still need to deal with its various effects, such as rising ocean levels, crop failures, increased disease and pestilence, on and on. Our recent history indicates that our country is hesitant to act to alleviate these circumstances and the problem as a whole.
Global warming is one problem, one issue that faces us. There are others.
The World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) was founded in Luxemburg in 1946. The United States is a member.
The objectives of the WFUNA are:
To be a peoples' movement for the United Nations.
To coordinate and further the activities of its Members and to promote the establishment of new United Nations Associations.
To cooperate, where appropriate, with other organizations whose objects include the support of the United Nations and its development.
To promote tolerance, understanding, solidarity and cooperation among men, women and children throughout the world without distinction as to race, sex, language, religion or political orientation.
To contribute to the removal of obstacles to peace, to work for justice, security and disarmament, and to promote the development of peaceful coexistence and cooperation among nations.
To strive for the recognition of and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the world and for the recognition of the responsibilities and duties which those rights involve for individuals, groups, and States.
To promote economic development, enhancement of social progress and better standards of life.
To promote research, information and education about the goals of the Charter of the United Nations and the work of the United Nations system.
One activity of WFUNA has been the Millennium Project, which is a think tank, and now exists in 32 countries, which consist of independent organizations and individuals from different institutions, such as government, corporations, non-government organizations, which cooperate with each other, and the Project, to provide a global perspective to the problems we face today as a species.
The Project publishes an annual "State of the Future," report, now in its thirteenth edition, containing close to 100 printed pages, and over 6,700 CD pages of research and analysis.
This report identifies 15 "Global Challenges," that have been tracked since 1997, which are updated annually, and are deemed to be vital concerns that humanity as whole now faces, and will continue to face in the predictable future. The descriptions of each challenge include a review of the current state of affairs, approaches to address the challenge, and regional perspectives. The 15 global challenges are as follows:
1. How can sustainable development be achieved for all?
2. How can everyone have sufficient clean water without conflict?
3. How can population growth and resources be brought into balance?
4. How can genuine democracy emerge from authoritarian regimes?
5. How can policymaking be made more sensitive to global long-term perspectives?
6. How can the global convergence of information and communications technologies work for everyone?
7. How can ethical market economies be encouraged to help reduce the gap between rich and poor?
8. How can the threat of new and reemerging diseases and immune micro-organisms be reduced?
9. How can the capacity to decide be improved as the nature of work and institutions change?
10. How can shared values and new security strategies reduce ethnic conflicts, terrorism, and the use of weapons of mass destruction?
11. How can the changing status of women help improve the human condition?
12. How can transnational organized crime networks be stopped from becoming more powerful and sophisticated global enterprises?
13. How can growing energy demands be met safely and efficiently?
14. How can scientific and technological breakthroughs be accelerated to improve the human condition?
15. How can ethical considerations become more routinely incorporated into global decisions?
Over the upcoming weeks we will explore each of these challenges individually, but then what?
It is not enough to identify a problem, or to research and analyze it. Action must be a result. There will always be factions that will resist action and attempt to maintain the status quo.
It is time for humanity to grow up, become pragmatic, and deal with the problems it faces, which are largely due to its own activities. To do otherwise is to provide a worried and uncertain existence for our children, grandchildren, and all future generations.  

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Field Trip!
Yesterday we had our long anticipated Skid Row Housing Trust field trip to the soggy beaches of Venice (California). All tenants were invited, from all of the 21 hotels that SRHT manages. One problem... only one bus.
But it was a big bus! All in all about 60 of us showed up at the Simone Hotel, just south of San Julian Park, at 9 o'clock. We were on time, but the bus wasn't. It was about forty minutes late, and a line formed immediately to get on.
I usually don't participate in big bawdy events like this, simply because I can go to the beach anytime I want, and don't need SRHT to get me there. And since all the hotels were participating, this assured that I would know almost no one going. Still, I had told my lovely case manager, Erin, that I would go and meet her at the beach (she lives in Santa Monica so she would walk to the event).
I did know some of the people there. My neighbor Robert was there (free food would be provided, which assured his attendance). My new neighbor from across the hall was there. Rodney was there. And the case manager who interviewed me when I first came to SRHT for a box was there, Vincent is his name. That was over six years ago, and he still remembered my name, which goes to show what a memorable person I am.
Three tables were loaded on the bus, big buckets of ice and sodas, boxes of Fritos and Doritos were loaded. Front seats were reserved for staff (pompous bastards), then we were finally allowed to board.
I took a seat next to Robert, who is borderline narcoleptic, and who was soon drifting in and out of consciousness, while leaning his 280+ pound body against my left shoulder. I tried as best as I could to read from Peter Straub's novel Shadowland, as the bus got on the Santa Monica freeway.
It took about 40 minutes to get there. The driver was soon navigating the narrow streets of Santa Monica and Venice, which was not easy in so large a vehicle. She got a little lost once, and had to ask directions from a pedestrian at one point.
Erin had told me that we would be meeting at a place called Ocean Park, so it was with a growing sense of discomfort that I noticed us passing by the Ocean Park road, and drove further south into Venice.
Soon we entered a parking lot next to the beach, and parked at its southern most point. We disembarked, unloaded the supplies and tables, and set everything up in a grassy area next to the beach.
But there was no Erin, no Paul. No other staff with the hot food that was promised. I began to think that we were at the wrong place.
It was a sunny day, the temperature was mild, mid 70s, it being near the Pacific Ocean and all. There was a lot of locals walking about in various modes of dress, or undress. A bike trail separated us from the beach, which was used frequently by bikers and skaters, and which our lot from downtown did not get the concept of, as they kept walking on it.
There was a lot of sand on the beach.
It tends to accumulate there.
A police helicopter buzzed the beach flying very low.
I stood around, hands in pockets, next to Robert who was fully awake now. For about 20 minutes I stood around waiting for something to happen, while the others took up positions on blankets and lawn chairs.
"Where is my case manager?" I asked Robert. He didn't know.
He did take up a position next to the boxes of Doritos and Fritos, and a few who knew Robert called out, "Step away from the food, Robert. Step away from the food." He smiled at them but did not move.
And sure enough, within a few minutes he could not resist the temptation, and stole one pack of the chips and stood there eating them. Vincent soon noticed, got up and gave him a well deserved dressing down.
Robert is a Republican. A black Republican, who voted for McCain in the last Presidential election, even though he has benefited personally from Obama's extensions of Unemployment Insurance (he used to work as a security guard, a borderline narcoleptic security guard. Guess why he got fired from his last job). He is a friend of mine, but he is also the kind of person who if you are stranded in the middle of the Sahara Desert with, and you come across a glass of water, he will gulp the whole thing down as fast as possible, then apologize for it, promising to never do it again, then do it again. Totally selfish and self absorbed, but a champion of so called Christian ethics. He doesn't practice them himself of course, but he champions them.
Anyway, an SUV finally arrived with the food (chicken, beans, potato salad), and I asked the lady staff member who drove about Erin.
"She's walking up," she said.
Lunch was served and I got a plate, and sat down on some posts near the parking lot. About half way through my meal I saw Erin and Paul walking towards us on the pedestrian path.
"Where have you been?" I asked her.
"Where Veronica told me we were going to meet two weeks ago. About twenty blocks from here."
"Wow, we've been here for about an hour now, and I kept wondering, where's my case manager?"
"I know. Veronica didn't answer her phone when I kept calling her. No one cared... no one cared," Erin said.
"I cared."
"Thank you for caring Rick." Then walked off to meet with their peer/staff buddies.
I finished my meal, and read from my book a little, then thought about leaving and taking the 720 back home. I would have to walk quite a bit to get to the Santa Monica pier, where the 720 leaves, but that was okay. I'd rather do that then ride back on that crowded bus with Robert slumped all over me again.
Soon Erin came over and we chatted. Veronica came over and took a picture of her between me and Robert (with Robert holding up two fingers behind Erin's head). Then Erin took off again for a staff portrait (pompous bastards (not Erin. She doesn't have a pompous bone in her body)).
Paul came over and said he was leaving to go help some other client. I asked him if he could give me a ride to Wilshire, but he said he didn't have the time.
I will have my revenge on Paul soon enough. Didn't have the time!
Erin came back. Three other female staff members walked by and asked Erin if she wanted to take a walk with them. Erin said yes, and asked me if I would like to come along, which I did.
We walked Venice Beach's famous Boardwalk, where they have paddle tennis courts, shops that sell everything, Muscle Beach where weight lifters work out. It was very busy with people, locals and tourists. Erin lives close by but doesn't walk the Boardwalk much as it's "too touristy." There were a least two places where one could acquire a medical marijuana certificate from doctor's for a price if one wanted. I abstained.
It was all very nice, and I enjoyed walking with my friend Erin. She was wearing a sort of like tube dress, and sometimes the wind would fill it up and she looked like one of those plastic inflatable dolls one finds outside of tire stores sometimes, advertising a sale.
We got through about three quarters down the Boardwalk when the ladies decided to head back. I took my leave of them at that point, wishing them a good weekend, and continued south, walking to the pier in Santa Monica, and the big bus that would take me across the Los Angeles basin and to my home.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Erin Inspects My Box

Inspector Erin

Apple Enchiladas

Last Monday I got the inside of my box painted.
This was a harrowing experience, which I've experienced twice now while living in this particular box, and I hope not to go through it again for a very long time.
It needed painting, I freely admit that, and now that it is done I'm glad for it, but while it was happening it was a big pain in the butt.
What prompted this action was an anticipated inspection of the entire building in which my box is located, scheduled for yesterday, Thursday, by some outside agency, who is unclear, that the management of the building was very concerned about. Most likely money, or future funding was involved, which Skid Row Housing Trust did not wish to lose by gaining the displeasure of said outside agency.
The walls inside of my box were, I'm afraid to say, rather dingy, to say the least, and if the upcoming inspection did not prompt the painting of it, I would have requested it anyway.
Okay, so Monday morning arrived, just after Sunday night, which is quite ordinary around this part of the country, and I had some prep to do before the painter arrived.
Now my box contains a small library of books. Approximately 500 of them, hardcover, and paperback, which I thought best to remove from my box to get them out of the way. It all started around six in the morning, and didn't end until seven that night. I took all of my books, in stacks, out into my hallway, near the fire escape window, leaving a pathway incase there actually was a fire that day (unlikely, the building is made of brick, which does not easily burn). I also removed as many lose items as I could. Then I moved the furniture on the east side of the box toward the center (my bed, and work desk), disconnected my computer, stuff like that, and waited for the painter who I thought would be there right at eight.
At eleven thirty the painter arrived, looked inside my box, looked at me disapprovingly, then got to work.
At only one point during the painting process did the painter ask for my assistance, right at the half way point, to move the furniture from the west side of my box to the center (very heavy drawers holding canned goods, and a hutch). My friend, Jose, took pity on my while I was sitting outside in the hallway, and invited me to his box to watch a movie (The Unborn). Right after that movie ended, I saw the painter leaving with all of his painting paraphernalia, so he was done. This was around three o'clock. It took until seven to get everything back inside, and reconnected, and somewhat back to normal.
I slept with the fumes of paint that night, with all three fans turned on to their maximum. But my box looks great.
So good that I invited my lovely case manager, Erin, up to take a look, telling her she should do so as fast as possible before I had it all mucked up again.
This she did yesterday, at around two-fifteen in the afternoon (after the Cooking Club... Spinach Fusilli). I was, and am, very proud of my new box, and wanted to share it with her.
She had not actually been inside it before, although she had seen peeks from the hallway. Yesterday I invited her inside to share all of my treasures.
"Wow, Rick," she said upon entering. "It all looks... kind of yellow..."
"It's white, Erin. White."
I showed her the mountains of books, the computer that I send her copious amounts of Email from, the stores of food I maintain on site (enough to feed a community of 30 for two months), my microwave oven, my swamp cooler, the wading pool and fireplace, etc. She was struck dumb with admiration by my pictures of Marge Simpson, Jolene Blalock, and my friend Odalys Garcia.
I happened to have the picture of the benevolent pika as the background picture on my computer at the time.
"The pika!" Erin exclaimed. "I love him!"
So do I.
I also showed her how at that very moment my computer was searching for radio signals of an extraterrestrial origen with the Seti At Home feature. She was dully impressed.
She checked out some of the many DVDs I happen to own, then told me she approved of my box.
"I like your box, Rick!"
"Why thank you, Erin."
Then she left.
Of course, the inspectors did not choose my box to inspect (they got Jose though), and I'm happy to report that the building overall passed inspection, taking the worry load off of my lovely resident manager, Tianna.
Now as an extra post bonus, Erin's recipe for apple enchiladas (which she stole from Re Donna):
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Ready in: 15 + 20= almost 35 minutes
Servings: 6
Erin says: "Apples rolled into tortilla. VERY delicious, easy and fast to make. Every time I take this dish to friends they say its great, and wonder at all the time and work I must have put into it, when its actually the easiest dish I know how to make. Substitute apples with peaches or cherries if desired."
Rick says: "These were absolutely the best apple enchiladas I've ever had!"
Erin says: "How many times have you had apple enchiladas, Rick?"
Rick says: "Ah, er, I can't quite remember, Erin, but these were absolutely the very best! Why don't you tell us how to make these tasty apple enchiladas, Erin."
Erin says: "Okay, Rick!"
1 (21 once) can apple pie filling 1/2 cup white pimple causing sugar
6 (8 inch) flour tortillas 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/2 cup water
1/3 cup margarine
That's it!
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Spoon fruit evenly onto all tortillas, sprinkle with cinnamon. Roll up tortillas and place seam side down on lightly greased 8x8 baking pan.
Bring margarine, sugars, and water to boil in a medium sauce pan. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring constantly for 3 minutes.
Pour sauce evenly over tortillas; sprinkle with extra cinnamon on top if desired. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes.
Makes 6 large tortillas; may be cut in half to serve 12.
Rick Says: "Serve with some nice ice cream if desired."
Erin says: "Enjoy!"