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Wednesday, December 29th, 2004

I just got back to America–to a headline in my daily paper assuring me that Nike and Intel factories in Sri Lanka were spared in the tidal wave. To Jan Egeland, UN emergency relief coordinator, wasting time apologizing for calling rich countries “stingy.” To my TV news showing sexy swimsuit pictures of the Czech super-model who survived. And to this headline on CNN.com: “Tsunamis shatter celebrity holidays”

WTF?

Tsunamis shatter what?

Nike factories? Celebrity holidays? Welcome home to America. Tens of thousands of people are dead and my country’s “free press” is deeply concerned about the fate of their shoes. Who will be Best Dressed this tsunami season?

Get your head out of your ass, America. I’m begging you.

Earthquakes and ocean furies are natural disasters, but decisions to spend billions on wars of conquest while ignoring simple measures that can save lives is not.

At least 80,000 people were killed by the tsunami that devastated coastlines from Indonesia to Somalia. Almost a third of the dead are children. Thousands are still missing. Millions are homeless. The drinking water is polluted. Bulldozers are digging mass graves.

Much of the destruction could have been prevented with a simple and inexpensive buoy system. Officials in Thailand and Indonesia say that an immediate public warning could have saved lives–but they didn’t know of the danger because there is no international system in place to track tsunamis in the Indian Ocean.

Such a system is not difficult or expensive to install. The detector buoys have been available for decades. The United States has had a monitoring system in place for more than half a century. Seismometers are scattered across the Northwest to detect and measure earthquakes that might spawn tsunamis. In the middle of the Pacific are six buoys equipped with sensors called “tsunameters” that measure small changes in water pressure and are programmed to automatically alert warning centers in Hawaii and Alaska.

Dr. Eddie Bernard, director of the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, says just a few buoys could do the job. Scientists wanted to place two more tsunami meters in the Indian Ocean, including one near Indonesia, but the plan had not been funded, said Bernard. The tsunameters cost only $250,000 each–a mere half million dollars could have provided an early warning system. Compare this to the $1,500,000,000 the U.S. spends every day to fund the Pentagon war machine.

Local South Asian governments had no real warning, but the U.S. gevernment did–and it failed to pass along the information. Within minutes of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Indonesia, U.S. scientists working with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suspected that a deadly wave was spreading through the Indian Ocean. They did not call anyone in the governments in the area. Jeff LaDouce, an official in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said they e-mailed Indonesian officials, but that he didn’t know what happened after they sent the e-mails.

E-MAILS???

Just this afternoon I talked to my Dad in Singapore, my girlfriend in Ecuador & my mom in Mexico. In an era of instant communications–controlled in a large part by the U.S.–we can communicate with anyone anywhere whenever we like. It is beyond belief that the officials at the NOAA could not find any method to directly and immediately contact civilian authorities in South Asia. Even a few minutes warning would have given people a chance to seek higher ground. The NOAA had several hours notice before the first waves hit shore. Tim Walsh, geologic-hazards program manager for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, said, “Fifty feet of elevation would be enough to escape the worst of the waves. In most places, 25 feet would be sufficient.” But the inhabitants of the area weren’t given the warning. As a result, television and radio alerts were not issued in Thailand until nearly an hour after the waves had hit and thousands were already dead. The failure to make any real effort to warn the people of the region is part of a pattern of imperial contempt and racism that has become the cornerstone of U.S. policies worldwide.

You’ll forgive me, then, if my heart isn’t with the celebrities and their holidays tonight.

*Oxfam is sending food and water . . . a reliable organization not overburdened with bureaucracy, you can send donations via their website or to 26 West St, Boston, 02111-1206.Oxfam

Help with Amma’s disaster relief

Reporting from the International Action Center

And now a few words from my high school freshmen . . .

Saturday, December 18th, 2004

The Struggle

By Paige

I remember hearing sirens

Outside my window

Feeling scared and ashamed of where I

Come from

I remember seeing the crackheads

On the corners, the prostitutes just

Down the street

I remember the foul smell when I got

On the bus and sat next to a homeless woman

I remember the taste in my mouth

From all the times I complained and I

Still had more than she did

I remember the struggle

I remember the times going without

My mom and step-dad fighting over money

I remember the lonely Thanksgiving

When it was just us

The family fighting

I remember the struggle

I remember all of the times my mom

Saying don’t do this or watch out for that

I remember the lectures every time

I had a boyfriend

Don’t get pregnant/ go to college

I remember the struggle

I remember my cousin moving to Vegas

To run from the police

I remember him calling late at night

Saying he loved us and missed us

His words were like angels whispering

All I needed to keep me going

I remember my mom crying every

Christmas when he didn’t come home

I remember even more how she cried

When he died

I remember the struggle

* * *

Almond Rocca

By Nela

Got a box of Almond Rocca

Supposed to sell it for the school

While president Bush sits on his ass

Not knowing what to do

Well, I guess you could say

He’s taken over half the world

While my dad sits at home

Slashing his legs with razor blades

My mom, I don’t think she even knows

Who or where she is

She takes life as it goes

I take life as it is

* * *

The Chair

By Alex

It wears a fresh coat of varnish,

Rays of light glistening

Like the sun off the calm and still waters.

It says nothing,

But wields people for eternity.

It eats nothing,

Just rocks steadily and reliably.

It has no living,

But to comfort its owner,

Rocking,

Rocking.

It dreams about lungs

To fill with cold air,

A heart

To pump warm blood through its body,

Legs to run and not rock,

And a brain

So it could dream about life,

Life not as a chair

* * *

Twins

By Ling Zhen

I was born in the People’s Republic of China

I later found a reflecting image of myself

Twins! Twins! It was the news!

I went to heaven and asked God, “Why me?”

I was the angel

My twin was the devil

I sailed across the horror Pacific Ocean with my family

To Washington

We walked through the timbers and the mountains

Then flew on the wings of an Eagle to Oregon

Ever so green, Oregon

We’re here! We’re here! We’re finally here!

Guad’s Day

Sunday, December 12th, 2004

Hey, it’s Virgin of Guadalupe Day–Patron of the Americas, Protector of Mexico, Queen of Heaven, Mother of the poor.

On Dec. 12, 1531, an apparition of the Virgin showed up on the hill of Tepeyac, just north of Mexico City where an ancient temple dedicated to the Aztec earth goddess Tonantzin had recently been destroyed the Spanish conquistadors. The brown-skinned Virgin, appearing to the Indian Juan Diego & speaking in his native tongue of Nahuatl, requested that a church be built in her honor.

Now, when Mary shows up & wants a temple, you have to go tell the Archbishop, so off Juan Diego went, but the Archbishop was pretty skeptical.

Dejected, Juan Diego returned to the hill, where the Virgin comforted him & filled his cloak with roses–out of season at the time. When he opened his cloak in front of the Archbishop the roses spilled out, exposing an image of the Virgin which had been imprinted on it. Miracle! The Archbishop ordered that a basilica be erected at the site at once.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is our lady of liberation, conquest, assimilation, and cultural identity, tying Latin Americans to their indigenous roots. She marched with the rebels in the Mexican Revolution & with the Zapatistas. She stands on a crescent moon, cunt goddess. She’s Tonantzin, she who has dominion over snakes; manifestation of the Earth Mother Coatlicue, big mama of all living things, conceived by immaculate and miraculous means. She is the giver of life & the devourer; Patron of childbirth & decider of death-days; the earth both mother and tomb.

“Let not your heart be disturbed. Do not fear that sickness, nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I not here, who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not your health? Are you not happily within my fold? What else do you wish? Do not grieve nor be disturbed by anything.”

– Our Lady to Juan Diego

Jet-lagger

Saturday, December 4th, 2004

In my 1980s high school yearbooks I wasn’t pictured, was listed simply under “Lagging Freshmen” in 1984 & “Lagging Sophomores” in 1985.

My failure to show up for picture day.

But this isn’t a story about high school.

Just lagging.

On Wednesday night, I climbed onto a plane headed for Vegas. Coach. Cut-rate airline. I’d agreed to go to New York to do a segment on a national morning talk show “but only if you fly me direct & first class.”

It’s not that I’m a total diva, but I am too old to take a red-eye from Portland to New York & look alive on TV, then fly home without so much as spending the night in the most beautiful city on the planet.

“Sure,” my publicist said. “They’ll make sure you’re comfortable.”

Unfortunately, I’d been reading the biography of Saint Martin de Porres, so when I got to the airport I was feeling very Catholic & accommodating. Hell, if Martin could work without complaint for 9 years as a lay servant–simply because he was too black to be admitted to the monastery as full brother–I could handle a night on a plane followed by a morning on TV.

Mercifully, my layover in Vegas was only ten minutes, so I only had time to lose $10 to the very shiny slot machines. Next plane. I had an aisle seat listed on my boarding pass–my favorite–but as I approached my row, my would-be seat-neighbor pleaded: “My friend is sitting back there–would you mind switching so we could sit together?”

No problem. Martin would do it. So I kept walking. The middle seat I’d agreed to take was wedged in between a single mama with a baby on her lap & her other 2 kids on the isle.

Across the row, a skinny lady sat by herself. I said to her: “Mind if I sit on this side? So this family has a little room?”

The single mama smiled gratefully.

The skinny lady said: “Whatever the fuck.”

Hmmm. “Thanks?”

So I settled in, giving the skinny lady two seats to herself & trying to make myself appear small.

She fell asleep quickly, but jolted awake just as fast: “I don’t owe you money, bitch!”

“No, you don’t,” I assured her. “We’re cool.”

And so the night continued . . . my high-on-something seat-neighbor waking every ten minutes, convinced I was someone else, someone who wanted money from her, or worse. “I don’t owe you a damn thing, you fucking bitch!”

“We’re cool,” I kept saying. “Just go back to sleep.”

Welcome to New York at 6 a.m. Traffic so thick we didn’t get into the city ’til 9.

The talk show people had booked me a limo & a fancy hotel room for a 2-hour nap. The fact that it would have cost them less to just fly me on a plane I could sleep on was moot at this point. I crashed.

Ring, ring . . . “Your driver is waiting, ma’am.”

Another giant limousine. I explained to the driver that I wanted to meet a friend for an early lunch–seeing as the show didn’t start taping for another 2 hours–but he wouldn’t have it. “I have to take you to the studio. Can’t take you no place else.”

I got through security at the studio, convinced the production assistant assigned to babysitting me to let me go–”Yes. I promise! I’ll come back.” Where did they think I was gonna go? Obviously I wanted to tell their audience about my books–I’d let a junkie yell at me all night for the honor!

Yummy lunch & I ran all the way back to the studio, thinking something would actually happen at the appointed time. Back through security & a production assistant led me into a green room where I waited . . . and waited.

Finally a few other production assistants showed up to run through the questions the hosts were gonna ask me. Bleary-eyed and disoriented, I tried to answer “quick & upbeat.”

Then to the makeup room where I was transformed into a drag queen.

“Camera ready!” the make-up artist proclaimed.

I was led into the studio where the live audience was being coached on how to applaud, how to laugh, how to look interested in what the guests had to say, how–and when–to give a standing ovation . . .

Must have been a good crash course, ’cause after the “red hot firewoman makeover” segment, they looked real interested in my 4-minute “How to be a Hip Mama” interview.

I stood up, answered the hosts’ mama questions in my sleepless drag-queen haze. Everyone clapped. & pretty soon I was in a minivan–no limo after the show–back to the airport.

Eight hours in New York & it was time to head home.

At the ticket counter I begged: “My flight isn’t for three hours–and it doesn’t get me home ’til 3 a.m. Can I get the earlier one? Through Pheonix?”

“Sure, honey,” the agent cooed.

On the JFK-Phoenix leg, an “importer” who lived in Arizona & worked in Connecticut wanted to know what had brought me to the city.

I half-explained my adventures.

“Wow,” he said. “You’re a real jet-setter.”

The sad truth is that I’m a jet-lagger.

While I haven’t had to pay for any of my endless travels in the past month, I haven’t gotten paid, either. I run around the country with big ideas in my head & arrive so tired i can’t seem to articulate ‘em.

Late arrival in Phoenix & I had to sprint to catch my puddle-jumper home. I boarded just before they closed the door. As I sat down, the passengers were all abuzz with some news about the flight.

“What’s up?” I asked the lap-top-preoccupied guy next to me.

“Captain just announced this plane’s getting diverted to Medford.”

“Medford?”

Now, it’s not like Medford is some suburb of Portland. Medford is like 6 hours from where I live.

“Yep. Weather. And we’re on our own once we get there. Act of God. No accommodations.”

& the little plane started wheeling down the runway. I didn’t asked for details. Instead I ordered three mini-bottles of red wine from young goth stewardess & fell asleep to dream of Greyhound buses.

A lot of hassell for four minutes on a talk show, if you ask me, but as we learned in Miami last week–We could feed and cloth the entire world population if we’d all just kill our TVs.

The Politics of Exclusion

Saturday, December 4th, 2004

A Nov. 30 message from teacher, writer & bad-ass medical intuitive Caroline Myss summed up these times rather well, saying: “We are living through a collision of orbits–the old and the new, the Piscean and the Aquarian, the rule-by-division power paradigm and the rule-by-inclusion power paradigm on the horizon.”

How predictable, then, was the controversy over the United Church of Christ‘s ad campaign the next day? That church’s motto? “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. Learn more about the United Church of Christ and find a church near you.”

Ooooh–inclusion?–scary as Haloween!

The UCC’s first 30-second television advertisement–part of the denomination’s new, broad identity campaign–began airing nationwide on Dec. 1, stating that– like Jesus–the United Church of Christ seeks to welcome all people, regardless of ability, age, race, economic circumstance or sexual orientation.

The ad has been accepted and will air on a mix of broadcast and cable networks, including ABC Family, AMC, BET, Discovery, Fox, Hallmark, History, Nick@Nite, TBS, TNT, Travel and TV Land.

But on the eve of the campaign’s launch, negotiations with CBS and NBC broke down after the networks deemed the UCC’s all-inclusive message as “too controversial.”

Imagine how they’d deal with Big Mamas’ Church. . .