Sunday, November 30, 2014

Housing in the City of Angels

   I’m real lucky.
   I live in a technically non-crowded (according to an analysis of Census Bureau data spanning 2008 to 2012, “crowded” defined as having more than one person per room, excluding bathrooms. What I don’t have is a bathroom), affordable (I live in a subsidized housing unit,  in a special, secret arrangement between Skid Row Housing Trust (SRHT, the property management provider) and the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (whose stated mission is to: “preserve its existing affordable housing supply of 75,000 units while ensuring these units are both safe and decent and will spearhead a collaborative effort to increase the supply of affordable housing in LA by 30,000 units within fifteen (15) years [It is unknown when exactly this statement was written, and if this goal was met]. HACLA will collaborate with residents and public, non-profit and private entities to create viable, healthy communities and to empower able residents to achieve financial independence.” Isn’t that wonderful!)) box, or for the purpose of this post, room.
   I’ve lived in this room for 11 years come January 6th, longer by far than I’ve lived anywhere else. 
   I like it here. It serves the few purposes I need it to serve, which includes a safe place to sleep, privacy when I want it, cable TV to monitor the news of the day, and most importantly it is a platform from which I work, or rather, write these posts, all of which that have been written on Joyce’s Take (808 posts so far (with a few duplications) except three that were written at my sister’s house in Bullhead City, AZ) have been written in my room. 
   My room is only big enough to accommodate one person... me. Two people, unless they absolutely had to, could not comfortably live in my room for any appreciable length of time without coming to blows. I do have my invisible cat Herkimer, but he takes up so little space that one wouldn’t even know he was there unless one looked real hard... real hard. Harder than you can imagine.
   I live on a fixed income (dividends from an abandoned uranium mine in Botswana, and royalties from my invention of nonfat lard), and the subsidized housing that I have is the only way I could live in L.A. County without a roommate (I’m basically and sadly unsociable and can’t stand roommates, as they would represent a certain loss of control of my environment, and I’d have to talk to them probably, and acknowledge their existence, on and on).
   We discussed food security on the 22nd, and might as well discuss housing today, since both are equally important topics.
   I sponsor a little girl through Children International who lives in Guayaquil,  Ecuador. Her name is Meivelyn Noemi Cacao Mendoza. That’s a picture of her above. Isn’t she a cutie? She’s 8 years old now, and I’ve had the privilege of being her sponsor for a little over two years, and I intend to remain her sponsor, if she stays in the program, and if I remain alive, until she becomes 18. 
    Meivelyn attends school, and enjoys art and mathematics. She also likes to play soccer with her friends, and baseball, as do I. She is just now learning how to use a computer, which is very exciting. She has a younger brother, Johan Jose, who is 7 years old. She has told me that she likes to help her mother, Cecilia, a homemaker, with daily chores, like sweeping. Her father, Jose is a bricklayer, like Sir Winston Churchill, who laid bricks as a hobby. The median expected annual pay for a typical Bricklayer in the United States is $47,666. Not so in Ecuador. The annual income of the Mendoza family is approximately $3,816 American dollars (In 2000, Ecuador changed its currency from the sucre to the U.S. dollar following a banking crisis)... quite a difference. Well, what does this demonstrate Rick, considering a host of variables could and do have huge differences in comparison of the two countries? Well you’re absolutely right, whoever asked that question. There could be a difference in the training involved between a bricklayer in the U.S. and a bricklayer in Ecuador, quality of life differences, differences in the cost of staples such as food and housing, and so on, that could possibly affect standard wages. Be that as it may, Jose’s income, it would seem, is not very great within his own country. 
   Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador, with an estimated 2010 population of 2,710, 915.3 people. In the United States ideally the Mendoza family would live in their own home, or a three bedroom apartment. The average monthly disposable salary in Ecuador (after tax) is $359.04, so Jose is making $41.00 a month less than the average at $318.00 a month. 
   The average monthly cost of a 3 bedroom apartment outside of the city in Ecuador is $543.91 (as of November 2014). The average monthly cost of a 1 bedroom apartment in the city is $342.00. So a 1 bedroom apartment isn’t even affordable to those who make an average salary (not even counting for the cost of  food, utilities, clothing, cable, etc.), after taxes, let alone Jose, who makes less than the average salary. Accordingly, the Mendoza family lives in what is described as a “ multi-use room,” constructed of split cane and concrete block, the floor made of wood and concrete, the roof made of corrugated metal, most likely mild steel (as opposed to spicy steel). Their room enjoys running water, regulated electricity, whatever that means, a portable gas stove, and 3 wooden beds. 
   The end result being two adults and two children sharing what amounts to a studio apartment in the United States, the mom and dad sharing one bed, and the two kids having their own. 
   Some in the U.S. would think that the Mendoza living arrangement was fairly tough, and somewhat confining, even claustrophobic, akin to an entire family living within the confines of my tiny room. 
   And they would be right, and the situation will only get tougher as the children get older.
   During my first 12 years of life, or so, I lived in a 2 bedroom apartment in North Hollywood, which is a neighborhood north of Hollywood, and northwest of downtown Los Angeles where I currently live. I shared a bedroom with my younger sister, my parents had the master bedroom. We also had a living room with an adjoining kitchen, and two bathrooms. It was comfortable, I didn’t feel cramped or inconvenienced in any way. It was what my father could afford, being the owner of a nearby liquor store located across the street from the famous Universal Studios.
   After my father passed away my mother eventually remarried to a life insurance salesman, and we moved into a 4 bedroom house in Northridge, where the earthquakes are. There my sister and I had our own bedrooms, which I have to admit was really cool, the first time in my life that I had a space to myself.
   I would listen to Beatles music in there, and perform other nefarious activities, as required of a teenager.
   Like I’m saying, I was, and am lucky.
   Many people, I’d say the majority by far, aren’t as lucky as I am.
   Okay, why wouldn’t I be able to live in Los Angeles with out a roommate? Good question!
   Because, as former presidential candidate Jimmy McMillan III has said repeatedly, “The rent is too damn high!”
   Just as it is in Ecuador.
   The difference between Guayaquil and L.A. being population density. But we’ll get back to that in a moment.
   According to the good folks at NUMBEO, the average monthly cost of a 1 bedroom apartment in Los Angeles is $1,667.96 (with a range of between $1,283.00 and $2,000.00). The average cost of a 1 bedroom apartment outside of the city, in North Hollywood, or Northridge let’s say, is $1,159.33 (with a range between $900.00 and $1,400.00). The average cost of a 3 bedroom apartment in the city, right around where I live, is $2,805.88 (with a range between $2,200.00 and $3,500.00). I won’t even go into buying a house.
   The average (and I agree, averaging probably isn’t the best way to compare this information, median being preferable, but averaging is what I’ve got) disposable monthly income in Los Angeles is 3,686.14, after tax. 
   There exists such a thing as what is known as the 30% rule (some say 28% or even 25%), which states that no more than 30% of one’s income should go towards housing costs (and there’s some controversy with this rule. David Bieri, assistant professor at the University of Michigan says, “It’s essentially an arbitrary number. It creates more distortions than it actually solves.” And currently almost 41 million U.S. households spend more than 30% of their income on housing)
   30% of the L.A. average monthly income is $1,105.00. Clearly even the cost of a 1 bedroom apartment within the city is beyond the means of the average individual, hence the need to share a living space with a roommate, let’s say. Or a significant other, or spouse, or a wealthy invisible cat. My lovely friend and ex-case manager Erin, who once worked for SRHT, at one time had to share a flat with three other girls (which is to say the good folks at SRHT all need a raise). 
   So one actually needs to be rather affluent in order to rent an apartment in this city. 
   The majority of people in this city are not affluent.
   Last April the second part of the Los Angeles 2020 Commission Report was published at the behest of the Los Angeles City Council. It revealed that 40 percent of families either make poverty wages or are unemployed. In the author’s own words, four out of every ten residents live “in what only can be called misery.”
   Gabriel Black writing for states, “For a family of four, the federal poverty line is set at $23,850. This is a grossly inadequate income. In Los Angeles, rents and living costs are especially high. An inexpensive two-bedroom apartment in a working class area can easily cost $15,000 to $20,000 a year. Therefore, the assertion that 40 percent of the area’s population live in misery, as extraordinary as it is, sharply underestimates the proportion of city residents struggling to make ends meet. Los Angeles, the report notes, has suffered greatly in the past few years. The percentage of people living below the derisory official poverty line in Los Angeles County has climbed to 19.1 percent. According to the report, ‘the poverty rate in Los Angeles is higher than any other major American city, and the number is rising.’”
   Take a look at the first chart above, provided to me by the lovely people at the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing, or SCANPH (pronounced “scanph”) which clearly indicates a growing gap between the rising cost of housing and the decline of real income.
   No matter what some may tell you this is not a good thing.
   Household income is an economic measure that differs from the average disposable monthly income amount in that it takes into account an entire household (as defined by the Census bureau, “the income of every resident over the age of 15, including wages and salaries, unemployment insurance, disability payments, child support payments received, regular rental receipts, as well as any personal business, investment, or other kinds of income received routinely.”), with more than one individual adding to the total monthly or annual amount of income the household takes in, and is a twidge higher than individual income. Median household income was $51,939 last year, compared to $51,759 in 2012, more or less unchanged. However, it has trended down since the financial crisis of 2007/2008, falling 8% from the pre-recession peak of $56,436, and is well below the 1999 record of $56,895.
   Even with this increased measure the ability of a median household to afford a 1 bedroom apartment in Los Angeles is just barely attainable, and does not take into account matters of “crowding.”
   Indeed, the wage and benefit growth of the vast majority of Americans, including white-collar and blue-collar workers, and those with and without a college degree, has stagnated since the 1990‘s, while corporate profits are at historic highs. It would appear that the only people experiencing real income growth are those who don’t need it, the wealthiest among us, the richest 1% of the population. 
   Yet, American households have increasingly turned to the rental market for their housing, especially after the beginning of the Great Recession. From 31% in 2004, the renter share of all US households increased to 35% in 2012, bringing the total number to 43 million by early 2013 (according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)). Many factors have helped to contribute to this trend. Immigration, affordability, home foreclosures, Gypsy prevalence, sustained unemployment, etc. Los Angeles has the most renters in the United States  and the least affordable rents (one-third of renters flat out ignore the 30% rule and spend more than half their income on rent). 
   Those who lost their homes, millions of Americans, after and during the financial crisis, flooded the rental markets. "With more people trying to get into same number of units you get an incredible pressure on prices," says Shaun Donovan, the former secretary of HUD for the Obama administration.
   And the pressure Mr. Donovan is talking about is upward in nature, creating a sellers market, with demand far exceeding supply. Under these conditions the seller, or landlord, due to the scarcity of available rental units, can demand higher prices.  
   Economics 101.
    Take a look at the third chart above, also supplied by SCANPH, which illustrates the discrepancy between the amount of, in this case, low, and extremely low income households in Los Angeles County, compared to available housing that they may be able to afford, or what we like to call, affordable housing, often subsidized housing through programs administered by agencies like HUD. Me and Herkimer live in affordable housing for instance (in my case partially subsidized by the cities Housing Authority, which in turn receives funds from HUD). 
   Alright, we have a sellers market here in Los Angeles, and the rest of the country for that matter. As we’ve seen, individuals who are not affluent will have a hard time finding housing without a second income earner also living with them to share expenses. Low income, and extremely low income families will have a harder time finding suitable housing for their entire families, and often resort to living in crowded conditions, and severe crowded conditions in order to get by.
  Exasperating the situation is the fact that nearly two thirds of all the City's apartments are either studios or 1 bedrooms, leaving only one third with 2 or more bedrooms even if one could afford them. 
   That’s true. L.A. an Orange Counties are epicenters of overcrowded housing. 
   I mean look at the second picture above (by Christina House, for the L.A. Times). That looks crowded to me. 
   It looks just as bad or worse than the old “Star Trek” episode that dealt with overcrowding, “The Mark of Gideon.” 
   The article shines a little light on Monica and the other 6 members of her family that inhabit a room about the size of a two car garage, sharing a kitchen and one bathroom. They live in South-Central Los Angeles, described as “one of the most crowded neighborhoods in the country. Nearly 45% of the homes there are considered ‘crowded.’ Almost one home in six is severely crowded, with more than two people per room.”
   "This is an example of poverty that can go unseen in our communities," said Jason Mandell, United Way of Greater Los Angeles spokesman. "It's easy to miss if you're not paying attention."
   Here is an interactive map you can play with that emphasizes the dire nature of overcrowding in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas. 
   Monica and one of her brothers is in high school. Imagine trying to study in such crowded conditions, or do anything else for that matter. A life without some semblance of the availability of privacy may be a form of torture.   
   It’s not hard to believe that overcrowding can have many detrimental effects upon those living within those conditions, anyone, but research shows it adversely affects children to a greater degree, as they are experiencing developmental issues.  
   Gary Evens, a Cornell University environmental and developmental psychologist, is one of many who have conducted studies examining the effects of the physical environment on children’s well being and development. 
   For instance children’s reading abilities, cognitive development, physiological outlook, and motivational factors are effected by exposure to noise. Kids exposed to on going loud noise also experience a rise in blood pressure and stress hormones. And it’s stressful enough just being a kid. Crowding has an effect on interpersonal behaviors (getting along with others), mental health, motivational factors, cognitive development, and biological functions. Population density, or number of people per room is the crucial variable for measuring the effects of crowding on a child’s development. Families living in high-rise housing as opposed to single family units, have fewer relationships with neighbors, resulting in less social support. Elementary school aged children who live in crowded conditions seem to experience patterns of withdrawal from social settings, higher levels of psychological distress, and depression. Overcrowding increases chronic illnesses, respiratory infections, more than likely transmission of disease between other children and adults. Parents in crowded apartments or homes are less responsive to their children, which can strain the relationships they have with their kids, negatively influencing social, emotional, and biological attributes in said children. And so on.
   All of which points to one conclusion... living in crowded, or extreme crowded conditions, like Monica and her family, is not good for anybody involved.
   Yet 32 neighborhoods in Supervised District 1, represented by Board of County Supervisor Gloria Molina, are in the top 1/2% of communities for housing overcrowding nationally.
   30 neighborhoods in Supervised District 2, represented by Mark Ridley-Thomas, are in the top 1/2% of communities for housing overcrowding nationally.
   20 Neighborhoods in Supervised District 3, represented by newly elected Sheila Kuehl, are in the top 1% of communities for housing overcrowding nationally.
   23 neighborhoods in Supervised District 4, represented by Don Knabe, are in the top 1% of communities for housing overcrowding nationally.
   And 15 neighborhoods in Supervised District 5, represented by Michael Antonovich, are in the top 1% of communities for housing overcrowding nationally.
   One of these neighborhoods is the downtown area of Los Angeles... my home.
   That’s 120 out of approximately 189 districts, unincorporated areas, or neighborhoods in Los Angeles County that suffer from overcrowding (Los Angeles County consists of 88 cities officially) . 
   The situation is dire.
   Of course this problem is not restricted to Los Angeles, but effects the entire nation in one way of another. Here are a few examples in Chicago, Boston, and New York.
   Still any type of housing is preferable to being homeless. Trust me, being homeless is boring, lonely, degrading, and dangerous, for both individuals and families. There are many resources in the downtown area of Los Angeles that attempt to help the homeless, and provide services, such as providing meals and referrals, which is why those without any form of housing tend to congregate in the downtown/Skid Row area. But having one’s own home, apartment, room, whatever, is much preferable to living on the streets, and is actually more cost effective as well.
   Those living in the streets tend to use publicly funded services, such as mental health facilities and hospitals (which in Los Angeles would be the Twin Towers Jail Complex), other hospitals, shelters, substance abuse facilities, etc. A study in Illinois observed 177 supportive housing residents during a 4 year period. Analysis compared the 2 years before they entered supportive housing with the 2 years after. There was a 39 percent reduction in the total cost of services from pre- to post-supportive housing with an overall savings of $854,477. This was an average savings of $4,828 per resident for the 2-year time period or $2,414 per resident, per year.
   Accordingly, those in authority within local and state government should be in favor of doing everything possible to increase the amount of affordable housing in the city and state, not only for humanitarian and political considerations, but because affordable housing simply saves the county and state money.     
   That does not appear to be the case, however. Funds for affordable housing seem to be dwindling each year. 
   Take a look at the last chart above. Money from housing bonds like Proposition 1C, (the successor to the 2002 measure known as Proposition 46, and part of a $37.3 billion package of four public-works bonds put on the ballot by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the State Legislature), is drying up. From $247 million annually at the beginning of the 2007/2008 financial crisis, down to $10 million during the last two years, a 96% reduction in funds. There was no housing initiative on the November 4th ballot to provide relief, and besides, California voters have a history of wanting and appreciating increased services, but are reluctant to approve bond measures that will pay for them.  
   Redevelopment agencies that had provided funding simply don’t exist anymore after a 2012 California Supreme Court decision dissolved them. Gov. Brown argued that the state could no longer afford redevelopment during a budget crisis, and the court sided with him rather than the redevelopment agencies and cities. Accordingly $251 million dollars annually that had been allocated for affordable housing projects is no longer available. 
     Federal funds... well, there’s certain political party in Washington D.C., and I’m not naming names but it’s not the democrats, that philosophically has issues with providing funds for social programs, like food stamps, unemployment insurance, and affordable housing. I’m almost positive that if they could they would do away with these programs altogether, stating they just make people dependent on the government, which discourages these same people from finding work, if they’re unemployed, or better jobs, and thus providing for themselves. In their world view they are doing these people a big favor by pushing them in the direction of self sufficiency. They won’t pass any job legislation mind you, that would help these people become self sufficient, for various political reasons. These poor, disadvantaged people just have to work the problem and figure out how to get good paying, living wage jobs when there are none to be had, or very few available. 
   So, programs like the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), and The HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), which provides formula grants to States and localities which  communities then use for activities that  include building, buying, and/or rehabilitating affordable housing for rent, or homeownership, or providing direct rental assistance to low-income people, are diminishing. CDBG funds for affordable housing in Los Angeles that equaled about $158 million in 2007/2008, now equals around $116 million, and HOME funds have experienced a 50% decrease during the same period, from $76 million annually to $38. In total with just these four programs, more than half a billion dollars ($567.620,000 to be almost exact) has been lost for affordable housing in Los Angeles County.
   Alright we know the problems with housing exist, and will only get worse if not dealt with in an effective manner. So what do we do about it?
   Collecting recyclables probably is not the answer. That is labor intensive, takes too long, and more trouble than it’s worth. Armed rebellion? No. That’s probably against the law. 
   It has been suggested that we get our politicians, like the County Board of Supervisors for instance, to get working for affordable housing in the county. They all say they’re for affordable housing, and some actually are doing something about it. 
   Supervisor Gloria Molina announced last year the creation of a $63 million affordable housing trust fund (co-authored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas) using remaining dollars from the now defunct Community Redevelopment Agencies, which would be a small part of the county’s $25 billion Fiscal Year 2013-2014 budget. 
   But much more needs to be done. $63 million hardly makes up for a half billion shortfall. 
   The answer seems to be the same though. A grassroots movement must be developed and maintained to keep pressure on local, state, and federal authorities to maintain sufficient funding towards affordable housing goals in L.A. and the rest of the country. Perhaps a professional lobbyist, or lobbying firm should be hired in order to attain this end. If the fossil fuel industry can do it, why can’t we?  
   Or perhaps you have some ideas, dear readers. Please leave a comment if you do. I’d sincerely like to hear from you.
   Or contact the good folks at SCANPH. I’m sure they’d like to hear from you as well.
    I was invited to a November 21st meeting sponsored by the Residents United Network (“In early 2013, representatives of nonprofit affordable-home developers, resident-service providers, and a variety of advocacy organizations held a series of meetings to discuss the vision and reality of developing a first-of-its-kind, statewide resident base of power in California. These meetings resulted in the creation of the Residents United Network (RUN), which was unveiled in April  2014 at Housing California's Annual Conference.”), ostensibly to to discuss the results of a RUN initiated voter drive held before the November 4th mid-term elections.
      Pizza was involved so I of course attended. And it was good, both the meeting and the pizza. We did discuss various techniques used to get people registered to vote, to educate mostly low income residents on voting in general, and to sign them up to vote by mail specifically. I personally had a hand in getting 14 previously non-voters registered. Hooray for me.
   At one point the meeting’s focus changed dramatically to that of affordable housing in Los Angeles, with the arrival of the lovely and talented Lisa Payne, the Policy Director for SCANPH. We spent the entire last half of the meeting discussing affordable housing in L.A., the evaporating funds regularly allocated for affordable housing, and possible strategies for regaining that lost revenue.      
   At another point Daniel Rizik-Baer, Skid Row Housing Trust’s dashing young Community Relations Manager, with whom I am associated with through the SRHT Ambassador Program (yes it’s true, I am an ambassador, and can be referred to as Ambassador Rick from here on), and who knows the difference between average, median, and mode... and furthermore who cares, volunteered me to possibly write a piece on affordable housing in Los Angeles via this blog. Well, until I get around to doing that I offer the above for the time being, and hope it will suffice in shedding a little light on this significant problem we face here in Los Angeles, the rest of the country, and as we’ve seen, the world.
   And now I must go out and play soccer with my friends. So long, and may the Housing Force be with you.

Addendum: 12-12-14: NYC Luxury building installs "Poor Fences" to seperate middle income residents from wealthy resident
Addendum 6-30-15: Economic Apartheid in America
Addendum 6-30-15: Affordable Housing Crisis Grows Across the Country as Apartment Rents Skyrocket
Addendum: 7-28-15: Poor diet lowers intelligence in kids
Addendum: 7-29-15: Housing crisis just getting worse

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Skid Row Diary 36

22   October   2003      Wednesday    Day 102

   “Mu is a third possibility, beyond  'yes and no.’ It says that affirming or denying will not answer the question. Such replies would be too limited for the truth of the answer.” -Shan T’sing

   I woke up late and immediately checked to see what Giselle was wearing. Jeans. Fortunately, Kelly Ripa was wearing a beautiful white dress, and I happened to tune in as she was giving Regis a good “What For,” for being a sententious dick.
   I tuned into the last half hour of the Mark and Brian Show, but they were playing so many commercials I thought I had tuned onto Howard Stern by mistake, so I switched the radio off for fear of being contaminated.
   I made myself a nice ham sandwich and cup of coffee before taking off for the DPSS. I walked past Harbor Light, but didn’t see Clyde, or anybody else I wanted to talk to.
   After waiting briefly in two lines, passing the security check point and metal detector, I asked for an appointment to see the SSI advocate. I showed one gentleman, who was hiding behind some plexiglass, the letter I had received requesting my appearance. He circled the telephone number on the letter and told me to call it.    
   Now why hadn’t I thought of that?
   I left the building feeling rather stupid and upset, and walked north to Alameda on my way to the clinic.
   I was early for the ASAP meeting, so I caught a DASH downtown. At 5th and Broadway there was situated recently two pay telephones that only cost 20 cents to use. The very last in the entire country. A few weeks ago the telephone company began to meddle with them,  raising the charge to 25 cents. Still reasonable, as most pay phones cost 50 these days. But when I arrived today I noticed two things. One of the phones had been removed completely, and the charge had been increased to 35 cents on the remaining phone.
   I couldn’t stand the stress and said to hell with it, and walked to 9th St, and the One Stop to use their phones for free. 
   I checked my voice mail... nothing. I called the SSI advocate number, was put on hold, then after a couple of minutes was asked what it was I wanted.
   “I need to make an appointment with the SSI advocate,” I told them. “I missed an earlier appointment and need to see them.”
   “Okay. Just come in with the letter and tell the person at the window you need to see the SSI advocate.”
   “I was just there! They told me to call you.”
   “You need to bring the letter to the window.”
   I returned to the VA clinic on a DASH.
   I was still an hour early for the meeting, so sat down and wrote in the ASAP waiting room until the meeting began.
   The so-called medium, John Edwards, who made a living speaking to dead people from “the other side,” was on the television. Let me tell you about John Edwards...
   Fortunately for me, and you dear readers, a commercial for AIV University came on, and I happen to be enamored with their spokesperson, the lovely and talented girl with the bright smile, who keeps telling me there’s three reasons for me to get off of my lazy ass and call AIV so I can start an exciting career doing one thing or another of which I may or may not have any talent or aptitude for. She’s so cool. She inspires me.
   She used to work for The California Institute of Culinary Arts, but you know how touchy feely those cook bastards are, so she defected over to AIV.
   I’ve contacted The California Institute of Culinary Arts, and asked for her name, but they won’t give it to me. 
   They do however keep trying to get me to become a chef. 
   We discussed emotions, beliefs, and giving power to words which are intended to harm us, in the ASAP meeting.
   I returned to the Weingart afterward and read from the paper and exercised while listening to Sophie B. Hawkins. And I took a few minutes to fill out my food stamp reaffirmation form... nosy bastards.
   Beef stew for dinner. Upon returning to my room I noticed the music playing in the elevator was a Sophie B. Hawkins song. “As I Lay Me Down,” her biggest commercial success.
   You know you’re getting old when the music you’re currently interested in is already elevator music before you’re finished being interested in it.
   I fed and watered my pet gnat, Wally, and watched Jackie’s weather report to check out... to find out when this heat wave will end. I watched the second part of “Traffik,” and came to understand that Steven Soderbergh had transformed the Pakistani farmers story into Benicio del Toro’s Mexican police character. It may take me awhile but I’ll get it eventually.
   I also watched “The Gilded Cage,” episode of “The Avengers,” then a PBS special on making a pilgrimage to Mecca. Three devotees were followed as they made their way to Saudi Arabia, in order to circle the Kaaba. Along the way they get to interact with 2 million other pilgrims wanting to do the same thing... throw rocks at Satan, cause thousands of poor defenseless lambs and sheeps to be slaughtered, all because an angel was reported to have substituted Abraham’s  son with a lamb after God ordered Abraham to kill his son. The city, the rituals, and the followers sincerity were beautiful (except for the lambs, which were not silent), and in the middle of watching all of this, the grandeur and majesty, I thought to myself, who is this Dennis Miller? Why is he popular? Why is he famous? Is it just me, or does this guy have no talent, is not funny, and a pompous ass to boot. He wasn’t funny on “Saturday Night Live.” Lorne Michaels must have been on acid when he hired him. Why was he given his own show on HBO? I have no idea! Do you dear readers? If so, please let me know. Really I need to know. He was obnoxious as hell on “Monday Night Football,” He’s not a very good actor. All this guys got going for him is an undeserved reputation for being some type of hip observer, and upholder of common sense, when in reality I am the only one entitled to that position!
   I’m always amazed by the unconscious mind.
   When I’m conscious of it.
   After the pilgrimage special I watched a 2 hour documentary on T.E. Lawrence. I must admit I didn’t know anything about him. What a remarkable story. A British officer familiar with the Arabian desert because of a brief stint as a photographer and archaeologist, he became the liason to Arabian tribes in rebellion with Turkish occupiers near the beginning of World War I. 
   An arrangement was made by the British through Lawrence to assist the Arabs, and if victorious, to grant their independence. France and Britain ultimately renigged on the agreement of course. Limey’s and frogs are not to be trusted... ever! They divided the territory between themselves, and allowed the founding of Israel. Their betrayal leading to many of the problems in the Middle East that are still apparent today.
   Lawrence, Britain’s agent, but sympathetic to the Arab cause, returned to England a broken man, shunning the celebrity inflicted upon him by the American journalist, Lowell Thomas. He died at the age of 46 in a motorcycle accident.
   His story would make a hell of a movie.
   I dreamt I was walking through the deserts of Tatooine with the girl from the AVI ad. She was describing to me the three reasons I should get off off my lazy ass and attend the California Institute of Culinary Arts, when C3PO and R2D2 jumped out of a sand dune and captured us. We were taken into a great vehicle that looked like a giant wheelbarrow, and given to their queen, Bunnie Bleu, the lovely and talented star of “Ghosts,” “Demolition Woman,” and many other fine films. The AVI lady and I were made into slaves and never seen from again. 

23  October   Thursday    Day 103

   I got up at 3:45, and made coffee before showering away the little sleepies in my eyes.
   I returned to my room and meditated while classical music issued forth from one of my radios, then wrote for an undetermined amount of time, switched the radio over to the Mark and Brian Program on KLOS, exercised, and wrote some more. During the best of the previous days show, M & B were interviewing the comedian Carlos Mencia, who I found somewhat annoying. When the real show began at 6:00, Kelly Gates, the lovely and talented News Central person, almost had a heart attack. She had checked her Super lotto numbers, and was one number off from winning 46 million dollars (American). She did win $1,100 (Hong Kong), which is pretty cool, and not bad for a $1 (Suriname) investment.
   You know how much I won? I won exactly... diddly-squat, that’s how much. I didn’t even get one damn number! That $46 million would have helped nicely with my retirement plans.
   Oh, I know I’ll win one day. If I make it past the age of 52, when my counselor from the Rancho San Antonio Boys Home, Don Vose, predicted I would die from a second, fatal heart attack. I’ll probably win when I’m 87 or something, and ready for the boneyard. The shock of winning will more than likely do me in, and all of the money will go back to the state.
   Sons of bitches! Let me win now! I need it. I’ll create a trust that promotes human rights, the advancement of space exploration, and to help third world children. I swear. That would be so much better than sitting around on my ass here at the Weingart. I might as well apply to the California Institute of Culinary Arts. 
   Anyway, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish Johnny Carson, formerly of “The Tonight Show,” a happy 78th birthday. Happy birthday Johnny! Please come back. It hasn’t been the same without you. Come on. All you do is stand around and play tennis. Might as well attend the California Institute of Culinary Arts, and be productive.
   Anyway, when it was breakfast time I went downstairs and ate. Scrambled eggs and sausage. I hadn’t come down to breakfast for awhile and it was good.
   Afterwards I walked over to 4th Pl, to the DPSS office. There wasn’t that many people there today. I saw one former employee of Harbor Light, the Salvation Army’s facility. His name was Ross, but I didn’t say anything to him.
   I waited two hours before my name was called. I was directed to Booth 9. I sat down in the booth and pretty soon an Asian gentleman took a seat behind the plexiglass barrier.
   “Do you want to see me, or your GROW worker?” he asked me.
   Neither. I showed him my SSI summons. “I want to see the SSI advocate,” I told him.
   He looked at the letter. “SSI? Okay. I’ll tell them you’re here.” He got up and walked off.
   What the hell had I been waiting two hours for?! Couldn’t they have told the SSI people I was here when I first arrived? Fuck! I guess not. 
   I returned to the waiting room and continued reading Dean Koontz’s story about Golden Retrievers and a sad, homicidal, alligator/monkey, from his novel, “Watchers,” which some say is his finest.   
   Not me though.
   Fairly soon I was directed to the infamous Window 17 (many have gone there, and few have returned), where I met my SSI advocate, Maria Teresa Facundo, a young Hispanic woman of the Latin persuasion, slight of build, pretty, with long hair, who reminded me we had met before when I was in the hospital last year avoiding living on the streets. We did then what we were doing today, applying for SSI insurance payments. For me, not her. She was working and didn’t need any SSI.
   I didn’t either, in my opinion, nor did I have any desire to collect SSI disability payments. I’m certainly not impotent, and am perfectly capable of going back to work... I’m just not suited for it. You can’t tell these government agencies anything though, and if they want you to file for SSI, then by God you had to do it, or else, as in my case my GR payments would be terminated, which I did need... for a little while at least.
   Maria asked me a lot of questions and filled out a lot of forms. She looked at the samples of medication I had brought, the prozac and wellbutrin. She seemed interested in my depression, and began talking to me about her own anxiety disorders, which had temporarily overwhelmed her, causing her to become nonfunctional, and which she now treats successfully with meds. I appeared to be interested in what she was saying, but it was very difficult hearing her through the plexiglass, and someone in an adjoining booth was yelling and screaming, thereby increasing the already raucous level of noise. I nodded when it seemed appropriate, and said things like, “That’s true,” a few times. It is so rare when one of these DPSS people become a real person, one has to savor it.
   She eventually gave me a form to fill out, which asked me how my disabilities kept me from working, and if I was able to dress myself. Disinclination for the first question, and only when the lights are on for the second. Our business concluded, I asked her to fix my records so that my GR would be reinstated. She already had, she said. We said goodbye, and told each other to look after ourselves, now brother and sister in medically controlled mental illness. 
   I got out of there shortly after 11:00, having missed the Job Super Search Meeting... again. Oh well. I returned to the Weingart for lunch. Fish and rice, and then went to ASAP.
   Kathy started off with a question for me.
   “I know you’re interested in astrology,” she asserted.
   “Astronomy,” I corrected.
   “Have you heard anything about five planets aligning themselves in such a way as they’ll resemble a six pointed star on November sixth?”
   Some of her acquaintances had told her this was to happen, and on that day one could ask for and receive special dispensation.
   I told her I’d look into it though, and get back to her.
   At the library I discovered that during April and May of last year, 5 planets, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter, had aligned themselves in such a way as they could be seen in a single glance from the northern hemisphere of Earth . 3 of them, Venus, Mars, and Saturn, at one point, would form a perfect (sort of) triangle. But nothing like this would occur again until 2040, and no Star of David was expected for the foreseeable future.
   I exercised upon return to my lonely room. Beef stew for dinner. I then read the paper and watched Jackie’s weather report to check out... to discover when the heat wave would abate.
   I watched the third installment of “Traffik.” As I was doing so the lovely and talented Stephanie Powers, my favorite girl from the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement (U.N.C.L.E.),  arrived for the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, up on 2nd St. and Grand. “Gorgeous, breathtaking, and about time,” she said.  
   Across the street several people picketed the proceedings, protesting the $274 million (Namibian) spent on the new building.
   “So mush money and talent went into creating this splendid concert hall. They could take the same amount of money, and the same amount of talent, and do something about the people sleeping in cardboard boxes a few blocks from here,” said Alice Callaghan, director of the Skid Row Community Center Las Familias Del Pueblo Group, and founder of SRO. Housing Trust. 
   I tend to agree.
   The T.V. lied to me again. Flat out lied! It told me that Christina Applegate would guest star on tonight’s episode of “Friends,” and that Rosanna Arquette, half of the infamous Arquette Sisters, would be on “Will and Grace,” but it was not so. They were not on. I was suckered into watching more than half of “Friends (which quite frankly I believe to be overrated. NBC is tearfully advertising the show as “the last season,” as if salt were disappearing from the Earth forever),” and I didn’t see one beautiful blonde hair from the Applegate head. I didn’t wait around for “Will and Grace,” as a commercial told me that James Earl Jones would be this week’s guest. And as much as I like James, he’s no Rosanna Arquette.
   So I watched a movie I had borrowed from the library, Spencer Tracy in “The Old Man and the Sea,” my favorite Hemingway story. America’s best actor for his era, in a film in which he appears in almost every frame. Watching it made me want to go to Cuba and hunt and kill poor defenseless marlins who are just trying to get along.      Afterwards I watched the very first Avengers episode with Diana Rigg. No introduction of her character was bothered with, or explanation as to why Catherine Gale changed into Emma Peel. Apparent;y Elizabeth Sheppard was first considered for the role, and had in fact filmed the episode I was watching, which had to have been filmed twice, another time after Diana had Elizabeth killed.
   In any event, like many of my favorite television shows, “The Avengers,” creates it’s own world and rules, in which the constraints of reality play no part. “Star Trek,” in all of it’s manifestations, being the best example of what I’m talking about. “Northern Exposure,” “Get Smart,” “The X-Files,” “Married with Children,” “Fox News,” even the under appreciated “Green Acres.” 
   Oh Eddie and Eva, we need you now more than ever.
   Before going to bed I chastised myself vigorously for spending too much time watching videos.
   Tonight I dreamt I was sitting in the first row at tonight’s performance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Stephanie Powers sat on my left, Diana Rigg on my right, and playmate Lynda Wiesmeier on my lap. A hush fell over the crowd as Dianne Reeves sang “The Star Spangled Banner.”

24   October   Friday   Day 104

   I slept in until 4:50AM, showered and meditated. I wrote while listening to Mark Thompson describe how his Labrador puppy had disabled his satellite television system the day before yesterday by happily chewing threw the feed cable in his backyard.
   MARK: Frankie [Sontag]  called me and asked, “What’s up?” I told him I was sitting there watching my dog eat a pice of wood.
   BRIAN: I’m surprised he didn’t ask to come over and watch.
   FRANKIE: I thought about it.
   Due in large part to our current heat wave, lack of humidity, and Santa Ana winds, huge brush fires are ravaging large areas of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, including Santa Clarita, where Mark lives, and Rancho Cucamonga, where my beautiful and innocent friend and co-editor, Michelle Chandler, was last seen.
   Moving on, I seemed to be in a lousy mood for some reason this morning. I don’t know why. It happens sometimes.
   Scrambled eggs for breakfast. That was the high point of the day. 
   I attended the Relapse Prevention Meeting at ASAP, which drifted from the topic toward partisan drug legalization. Nothing at all to do with staying sober.
   During the three hours between meetings, I returned to my room to write and watch another Avengers story.
   Baked chicken for lunch. I took my borrowed videos with me back to ASAP. Kathy received my report on planet alignments with calm authority and acceptance. Ronald McCree showed up late and sat next to me. He told me his doctor had evaluated a recent x-ray of his and alerted him to a 7 millimeter long spot on one of his ribs.
   “Rib cancer, the worst kind,” I exclaimed.
   “Rib cancer! Don’t say that man.”
   “Well, what the hell else could it be?”
   “Man, don’t say that.”
   He’ll be going to the VA hospital in Westwood next week to check out his rib cancer. I hope everything turns out okay.
   I took a DASH to the library, returned the videos I had, and borrowed some more, and then walked to the Rite-Aid for Milky Way bars and the paper. 
   Upon my return to the Weingart, a note from Labrean in my box informed me that my housing was in jeopardy because I had missed my weekly session with her.     
   She’s so silly.
   I tried to watch a Linda Thorson Avengers tape, but it was in such bad condition my VCR player would  not load it no matter how much I fiddled with it. I watched broadcast TV instead, and fell asleep almost instantly.
   I dreamt I was sitting in the DPSS office waiting room with Hilary Swank, the lovely and talented star of such films as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and “Quiet Days in Hollywood,” seated to my left, Patricia Kennedy, the talented and lovely star of “Pawn Shop,” and “Secret Services,” seated to my right, and playmate Rosanne Katon, the beautiful, funny, and talented star of “City Girl,” and “The Swinging Cheerleaders,” on my lap. We waited and waited until finally we were all called to Window 17. “Oh no!” I cried.

25   October    Saturday    Day 105

   “We cannot ultimately stop the supply of heroin, or cocaine, or any other drug. We can only limit the demand for it. And in the long term that will mean making a decent life for people. And producing a decent society that people want to live in and not to escape from. And that my friends... will not be easy.” -Jack Lithgow, as told by Simon Moore in “Traffik”

   I was experiencing symptoms of depression, which was rather depressing, although I didn’t feel depressed. 
   I slept in very late. Every time the noise from the street below, or the light from my window brought me to wakefulness I would consciously force myself back to sleep. I did this until I couldn’t do it anymore, getting out of bed and showering at 11:30.
   I went down to lunch because I was hungry. I had already eaten a Milky Way  bar earlier but was still hungry. Splattered chicken was served.
   I wrote for much of the afternoon, taking a break to walk downtown for cigarettes and more Milky Way bars. I stopped writing at 5:30, and watched the last two episodes of “Traffik.” This is an incredibly good story, written by Simon Moore, and exceptionally well acted. Although thoroughly Americanized, the Soderbergh movie paid homage to this 1989 mini-series by reproducing the story line almost verbatim. If any lessen can be gleamed from this fascinating and oppressive tale, it is that the trafficking of illegal drugs has a tendency to ruin the lives of everyone connected with the trade. From addict to drug lord, no one escapes, no one wins. And like alcohol and cigarettes, illegal drugs do not only harm those who deal and use them, but all of those who live on the periphery of their lives, friends, relatives, and employees, as well. Dogs, cats, and so on.
   I fixed myself some microwave popcorn and watched one of my favorite films (although back in 1976 I hoped “Barry Lyndon,” would win Best Picture), Miloš Forman’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,” starring Jack Nicholson in an Academy Award winning performance. Christopher Lloyd made his feature film debut in this movie. And this would be the only time we see Danny DeVito as a shy and retiring type. Louise Fletcher also won an Oscar for Best Actress. Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay. A picture wouldn’t win all of the major awards again until 1991 with “The Silence of the Lambs.”
   Of all of the amazing performances in this film that of Sydney Lassick as Charlie Cheswick really stands out for me. He would appear as  Chuck Forsch in the “X-Files,” episode "Elegy,” as well. Unfortunately he passed away here in L.A. last April.
   I went to sleep and dreamt I was in my old bedroom in the house on Nordhoff Street in Northridge. It was 3:00AM, and I couldn’t get to sleep due to all of the cross top whites I had taken during the previous day. My friends De Ette Smith and Robin Scarrow were with me. Two lovely teenage brunettes who I had a crush on at different times. My love had gone unrequited and these two had done their fair share of torturing me with their blatant sexuality and indifference. They were the queens of the hive that me and my friends revolved around. I wish them well. Kari Fox, the beautiful and talented star of “Crystal Balls,” “A Little Romance,” and many other fine films, was also with us. We just sat by my large window that looked out onto the shadows of the empty street. We drank beer, listened to The Doors on the radio, and ate Doritos. Every now and then cars would drive by in both directions, very fast, the Doppler sound of their passing absorbed into the night.

26   Octover   Sunday   Day 106

   “I know you. I swear I do. You’re just like me.” -Venus Hum

   I woke up one hour before the sign in deadline, but I did not move until it had passed. 
   Tomorrow I would sign in. Tomorrow. Always tomorrow.
   I made some coffee, then headed for the showers. I spent much of the morning catching up on writing, and listening KPFK, and  Blase Bonpane roast President Bush for starting the war in Iraq. He criticized many in the current administration for implying any criticism of the President’s policies were unpatriotic, quoting Theodore Roosevelt, "To announce there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." Bonpane’s guest, the American historian  Howard Zinn, author of “Terrorism and War,” pointed out that the American public’s definition of “terrorism,” seemed to be, a terrorist was anybody acting violently against the United States. The American public has not learned to consider that from the point of view of many in the Middle East an Asia, America is a terrorist nation, bombing Afghanistan, imposing a 10 year embargo against Iraq (and Iran), then going to war with the country. The American mainstream media helps to propagate and maintain the notion of American exceptionalism, that this country is some how morally superior to all others, and rarely offering viewpoints that differ from that of the federal government. That’s left to PBS, NPR, and  the BBC, and thank God for them.
   Ian Masters came on just after Blaze, and continued beating up on the President, referring to Bechtel Corp’s contracts to administrate in Iraq. That it must be nice to be in a position to start a war for no good reason, put the Democrats on the defensive while improving you approval rating, then make all of your rich friends richer by awarding them multi-billion dollar no-bid contracts. What a racket! 
   He pointed out the the sole purpose of government  is to promote the general welfare of it’s citizens. Has Bush done this? According Ian and his guest Bush has taken a projected 5 trillion budget surplus, the largest in American history, and turned into a 3 trillion dollar deficit, then attempted to blame Bill Clinton for it. Bush has lied to the American public about the need to go to war, went to war against the wishes of the United Nations, and is now crying for them to help bail him out of the mess that he has made. And all the time, everyday, American soldiers die for no good reason, paying for the President’s stupidity with their own blood.
   At 12:30 I went down to eat lunch. Veggie burgers. Another veteran, John, sat with me. A tall white guy with a mustache, about my age (young), but not nearly as good looking as I am. We found out about each other. We both like to write. I asked him who his favorite author was, and he said Dostoevsky. Everybody likes Fyodor, that happy go lucky bastard! He likes Poe and Balzac as well. I’ve never read anything by Balzac, and immediately scheduled that on my things to do list for March 2005.
   We would continue our pleasant conversation at dinner (beef and noodles). Perhaps I’ve made a new friend. 
   I walked to the library to exchange my videos. The day was hot, and the sky hazy due to the southern part of the state being on fire. 
   Upon returning to my lonely room I watched Christopher Guest’s first directorial effort, “Waiting for Guffman,” starring Parker Posey, about a community theater production. All three of his films are wonderful, but all variations on the same theme, fake documentaries on quirky subjects. 
   In the film they mentioned a “Remains of the Day” lunch box. I certainly want one of those.
   I really do.
   I ate cacahuates con chile y limon peanuts while watching the movie. At times the sirens from the fire engines and ambulances from outside would pass by and hurt my ears, and the Whistler would walk up and down the hall outside my room, taunting me, forcing me into wanting to kill him.
   Next, a bad copy of “War of the Worlds,” with Gene Barry, from “The Name of the Game," television series, and Ann Robinson. A true account of the Martian invasion of 1952, the film won an Oscar for it’s special effects, which still hold up pretty much today.
   Fucking Martians! Always wanting to stir up trouble. A bunch of rabble rousers if you ask me.
   Next, Roland Joffe’s first effort, “The Killing Fields,” the story of Cambodia’s overthrow by the Khmer Rouge in 1973, and the massacres that followed. A brilliant  film, focusing on the relationship between New York Columnist  Sydney Schanberg and Cambodian journalist and interpreter, Dith Pran, whose attempt to escape from his own country into Thailand was documented. Dr. Haing S Ngor, who plays Pran, was himself a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime and the labor camps. He won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He lived nearby in Hollywood, until 1996 when he was murdered during a mugging by street thugs. He apparently refused to give up a locket that had a picture of his deceased wife in it, and they killed him. 
   He once said, “It doesn’t matter if I die tomorrow. This film will last forever.”
   Indeed it will.
   I watched Myrka Dellanos on her 10:00 Sunday night show for awhile, but had difficulty understanding what it was she was saying as she was speaking in Spanish.
   I don’t speak Un-American.      
   I meditated, read, and smoked. I would smoke my last half of a cigarette near 4:00AM.
   I turned off the television at midnight and listened to Frank’s Impact program on the radio. He too had harsh things to say about the President, siting fake letters actually written by propagandists within the administration and  purported to be written by active soldiers stationed in Iraq. The letters expressed a plea for confidence in the President, asking Americans to trust his all knowing, faith based judgment and authority, and to “stay the course.”
   Frankie continues to call for Bush’s impeachment, and I agree wholeheartedly. Put Schwarzenegger in the Oval Office. He’ll handle Al Qaeda. He did in “True Lies.”
   Frank discussed other issues with his callers as well. It was one of his better shows. He was in a fairly good mood, which is always helpful. He played some great music. I listened until about 3:00AM or so, then turned it off to read.
   I finished Koontz’s “Watchers,” which I enjoyed, although not caring for the ending all that much. Dean had two different antagonists chasing the main character. One you could sympathize with to a point, the other not so much. He dispatched both of them (rather too easily in my opinion) one at a time for the book’s climax. I would think it would have been more effective to deal with them both together and at the same time, with “the Outsider,” dispatching the hit man perhaps, and then in turn being done in by Travis... or Nora. But what the hell do I know? Koontz has sold a lot more books than I have.
   I turned the radio back on after finishing the book, and laid down. After a while I heard Frank Sontag say, “Hey Rick, Rick! wake up!”
   “Wake up, man. Someone’s here to see you.”
   “Who?” I asked the radio. I looked at the clock. 4:55AM.
   “You’ll find out. Oh, happy birthday by the way.”
   “Thanks. Frankie, is that really you?”
   “Yeah man. Who else would it be? Hey, I thought you were gonna call in tonight.”
   “Ah, next week... maybe. Who wants to see me?”
   “Go into the hall and find out.”
   “Okay.” I got up and dressed.
   “Take care man,” Frank said. “I’ll catch you later.”
   “Sure Frank, sure.” I opened the door and walked out.
   My beautiful friend Michelle Chandler was out there waiting for me. She told me she had gone through her own trials and tribulations after leaving as a counselor at the Pasadena ARC, realizing that she too was an addict, and dealing with the problems of which that situation posed. She had married, and also worked as an airline stewardess, so she took me on a trip through the friendly skies to Washington D.C., where we picketed the White House, calling for the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When that didn’t work we threw rocks at it until we ran out of rocks, then took another trip to Morro Bay in central California, walking along the beach, and swimming in the mighty Pacific, where the fish live.        

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

I welcome the chorus of voices calling for an end to the violence that affects an estimated one in three women in her lifetime. I applaud leaders who are helping to enact and enforce laws and change mindsets. And I pay tribute to all those heroes around the world who help victims to heal and to become agents of change. -UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 2013

The struggle for women's rights, and the task of creating a new United Nations, able to promote peace and the values which nurture and sustain it, are one and the same. Today - more than ever - the cause of women is the cause of all humanity. -UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 1993

   The Dominican Republic during the late 1950s, ruled by ex- President, military strongman Rafael Trujillo, an American marine trained dictator, who had brought  stability and prosperity to the country at the cost of the absence of civil liberties, murder, and brutal human rights violations.  
   The Mirabal Sisters, Patria, Dedé, Minerva, and María Teresa, who opposed Trujillo’s dictatorship.  
   The sisters grew up in an affluent family and were well educated at a time when most women did not receive such privilege.
   It was Minerva who first became involved in politics and the growing movement against Trujillo. She had been influenced by her uncle and a friend whose family had been imprisoned and executed by Trujillo’s army.
   She studied law, and was first arrested in 1949 after she refused Trujillo’s sexual advances and, along with her mother, was placed under house arrest in the capital and tortured by members of the regime. 
   Her sisters Maria Teresa and Patria soon joined with Minerva in the fight against Trujillo. That’s a picture of the three sisters above. They would become known collectively as The Butterflies. Along with their husbands they founded the Fourteenth of June movement, named after the day when exiled Dominicans attempted to overthrow Trujillo’s government and were defeated by his army.  
    Most of its members were arrested, including the sisters and their husbands at the end of the 1950′s. Other nations ostracized the Dominican Republic due to Trujillo’s behavior, and that scrutiny possibly saved the sisters and their families from disappearing altogether... for awhile. A younger generation desiring democratization generated an increasing anti-government atmosphere that pushed Trujillo to release the women from La Cuarenta prison in February of 1960.  Their husbands were kept captive though, and the sisters themselves were taken back to La Cuarenta on March 18th and sentenced to 3 years in jail.  However, they were again released  on parole on August 18th, 1960 as a result of the condemnation of  Trujillo’s actions by  the Organization of American States.
    On November 25th, 1960, Minerva, Maria and Patria were all returning to their home town of Salcedo with their driver Rufino de la Cruz, after visiting their imprisoned husbands. As they drove back home along the main highway between Puerto Plata and Santiago their Jeep was stopped by the secret police. 
   There is really no way to know exactly what followed on that rainy night. Yet there is the following narrative from one of the participants, one Ciriaco de la Rosa. This is an exert from the Dominican Encyclopedia 1997 CD ROM:
   “After stopping them we led them to a spot near the chasm where I ordered Rojas to pick up some sticks and take one of the girls, he obeyed the order and took one of them, the one with the long braids, that was Maria.  Alfonso Cruz took the tallest one, that was Minerva, and Malleta took the driver, Rufino de la Cruz.  I ordered each one of them to go to a sugar cane grove on the edge of the road, each one separated so that the victims would not sense the execution of one another, I ordered Perez Terrero to stay and see if any one was coming who could find out about the situation.  That is the truth of the situation.  I do not want to deceive justice or the state.  I tried to prevent the disaster, but I could not because if I had he, Trujillo, would have killed us all...."
   In the end the three Mirabal sisters and their driver were clubbed, beaten and then strangled to death. 
   If you would like to learn more about the Mirabal sisters, dear readers, there is a fictionalized novel of their lives, “In the Time of Butterflies,” by  Julia Álvarez. 
   “Code Name: Butterflies," a documentary by Chilean filmmaker Cecilia Domeyko, includes  interviews with the surviving sister, Dedé Mirabal and other members of her family.
   The lovely and talented actress Michelle Rodriguez, stars in (as Minerva) and co-produced the film “Trópico de Sangre (Tropic of Blood)," which recounts the lives of the sisters. Dedé, also participated in the development of the film.
   A 2001 Showtime television film based on “In the Time of Butterflies,” starring the talented and lovely Salma Hayek is also available, and was the movie that first made me aware of the Mirabal sisters and their fate. 
   For those who cherish a certain sense of justice, six months after the murder of the three sisters, on Tuesday, May 30th, 1961, Rafael Trujillo himself was assassinated by members of his own government when his car was ambushed on a road outside of Santo Domingo. 
   Today, November 25th, the date of the murder of the Mirabal sisters, has been designated by the United Nations as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (Resolution 54/134). In 1981, activists marked today as a day to combat and raise awareness of violence against women throughout the world. The resolution was adopted on on December 17, 1999. 
   The purpose for the designation is to raise international awareness that women are subject to widespread abuse, rape (also used as a weapon in war), murder, domestic violence, and other forms of harassment, from inside the workplace, or be it simply walking down a city street.  And that the continuance of such behavior and actions toward women are of course completely unacceptable in any way shape or form.  
   We’ve discussed this issue before here, and here. And it takes all but a cursory glance at the day's headlines to discover another incidence of violence directed toward women (and girls). 
   Two weeks ago in Nairobi, Kenya, hundreds of men and women marched in the streets wearing miniskirts (traditional male Kenyan clothing resembles a short skirt), demanding that the government discover the identity and deal with several men caught on video stripping and knocking down a woman because she tempted them by wearing a miniskirt. 
   At least the Kenyan government was responsive.  A Nairobi senator offered a 100,000 Kenyan shilling reward for turning in those responsible, and tweeted several messages in support of the woman, calling what happened to her as being unconstitutional and a violation of her basic civil  rights.
   But cultures in different nations are.. well different. In Kenya’s neighbor to the west, Uganda, the government actually sanctions such actions against women. After a Anti-Pornography Act was signed into law, a number of women around the country were stripped for wearing skirts. The police issued a warning to women to stop dressing provocatively if they didn’t want to face harassment. The nation’s Minister of Ethics and Integrity issued a warning to all of the  women in the country, letting them know that anyone wearing anything “above the knee” would be arrested.
   And I don’t have to tell you of the prevailing attitude toward women in Muslim countries, the more fundamental the dominant religion is, and how closely it is tied with the state, the worse it is for the women in said state. 
   Other examples:
   Acid thrown on the faces of girls whose only crime was attending school.
   High incidents of infanticide of girls in Asian countries and India. 
   A multi-billion dollar sex trafficking trade that currently thrives throughout the world, including the United States.
    Some estimates claim that 0.5% of the world’s population, about 36 million people, are bound in modern day slavery. Some of these are women.
   On and on. 
   Yes I know, there is violence committed against men as well, but I don’t care about them. They are for the most part the perpetrators of violence against women, and they are much better equipped to defend themselves from all forms of violence than their female counterparts.
   But men go to war Rick, in order to protect women and the country.
   Yes, they do. But unless they are drafted, which hasn’t happened since Viet Nam, they volunteer to do so, so whatever happens to them is on them. Those who go to war out of some sense of blind patriotic duty shouldn’t, for far too often the U.S. has used it’s military might at the behest of corporations whose financial interests are at stake. The oil industry for example, in the first Gulf War (no one except Bush knows the real reason we went to war in Iraq the second time, but military contractors, and their ancillary services, made billions). When one volunteers to fight for one’s country, one better understand the real reason for the conflict, and if those who would send you to war, at one time fought themselves. People like Senator John McCain, who did serve in the military, and whose claim to fame in the Viet Nam War was that his plane got shot down, would have us now in several new conflicts for dubious reasons. As it is the United States is pretty much in a state of perpetual war.
   Of course politicians will often lie about the real reasons for going to war, or wanting to go to war. One must be careful about that as well.
   And before I start getting a lot of comments or Emails, please remember I am a veteran who volunteered for service between 1978 and 1982, when the country was not at war.
    Anyway, the UN would tell you 35% of women and girls globally experience some form of physical and or sexual violence in their lifetime with up to seven in ten women facing this abuse in some countries. 
   It is estimated that up to 30 million girls under the age of 15 remain at risk from Female genital mutilation/cutting, and more than 130 million girls and women have undergone the procedure worldwide.
   Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children, 250 million of whom were married before the age of 15. Girls who marry before the age of 18 are less likely to complete their education and more likely to experience domestic violence and complications in childbirth.
   The costs and consequence of violence against women lasts for generations. 
   Violence against women is a human rights violation.
   Violence against women is a consequence of discrimination against women, in law and also in practice, and of persisting inequalities between men and women. 
   Violence against women impacts on, and impedes, progress in many areas, including poverty eradication, combating HIV/AIDS, and peace and security.
   Violence against women and girls is not inevitable. Prevention is possible and essential. 
   Violence against women continues to be a global pandemic.
   I abhor violence against women. I know they can be difficult at times (and I say that with much love and affection), but everybody is difficult at times. I abhor, and do not understand violence in general, and it’s manifestation is more than likely a hold over from our evolutionary past. Yet the reason we have laws is to guard against rampant  manifestations of behavior representative of our evolutionary past. 
   I turn off slasher films that target mostly attractive young females. I turn away from gross depictions of domestic violence. I don’t watch television shows like “The Sopranos,” or “Sons of Anarchy,” which seem to celebrate violence... the more the better. I am not violent towards women, although at one point in my life I was toward my sister and first wife. 
   I’m living proof that people can change. In my case, I think I simply grew out of it. Alcohol was involved as well, and I don’t drink anymore. 
   Still, change is possible. And if I can do it, so can other men.
   This year  the United Nations Secretary-General’s Campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women invites you to “Orange YOUR Neighborhood.” Take the UNiTE campaign to local establishments, businesses, libraries, 7/11s, Food 4 lesses, Pep Boys, Rite-Aids, neighbors, local stores, food-sellers on the corner of your street, gas stations, local cinemas, barbers, schools, and post offices! 
   From November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, to December 10th, Human Rights Day, 16 days of activism are planned, Activism Against Gender Based Violence Campaigns, to end violence against women and girls around the world. 
   Hang orange flags wherever you can, tie orange ribbons where you are allowed, and organize local ‘orange marches’ today through December 10th, to raise awareness about violence against women and discuss solutions that would work locally, in your community.  
   The violence needs to stop. 
   Say no to it. 
   Just say no.

Addendum: 11-26-14: How Gender-Based Justice Can Help Palenstinian Women Survive Violence
Addendum: 11-27-14: First Responders in Fiji Learn to Address Sexual Violence During Disasters
Addendum: 12-1-14: 23 year old woman beaten to death after defending teen girls from harassment
Addendum 12-1-14: Fighting Back