Tuesday, February 27, 2007
This is a love-letter to all the people who sent me advice regarding how to deal with my old, sick, ailing feral cat. Thank you Joe, Neal, Leona, JoAnne, Barbara, John, Wendy, Maggie, Hanna, Ilmi, Julia, Chica, Michael, Mike, Nancylee, Lisa, Toni, Chris and everyone else I might have forgotten to mention and even Greg who called me a moron.
Some people advised me to let Slim live out his last days in peace. Some people said to put him out of his misery. I wasn't sure what to do. I was torn.
But today was my father's birthday. He would have been -- Rats! Where's my calculator! -- 95 years old today had he lived. My pop was a giant of a man. He built an entire log cabin all by himself when he was 72 years old. He was larger than life. But then, in the year that he turned 85 years old, he had a heart attack and his health quickly went downhill after that. Three months before his 86th birthday, he was an emaciated shell of his former self, a whole foot shorter and only weighing about 90 pounds.
On December 2, 1998, Pop was in the ICU at Summit Medical Center, all hooked up to wires, tubes and machines. "This is no way to live!" he stated to me. Then he waited until visiting hours were over and calmy and systematically pulled out all his wires and tubes. He was dead within the hour. We RAN to the hospital, screeching into the ER parking lot in a Tokyo drift. But it was too late. Pop was gone. My youngest daughter drew hearts on his arm so that when Pop got to Heaven, the angels would know he had been loved here on earth.
My father chose to die. And today was his birthday. So I chose to let Slim die in peace on this day too. I called up the City of Berkeley animal shelter and described Slim-the-Cat's condition. "His nose is all rotted out and his ears are all shredded and abscessed."
"Is he a white cat?"
"That explains it. White cats get skin cancer and that's what happens to them. You are making the right decision. I'll send someone out."
An angel in a blue uniform arrived on my doorstep an hour later, carrying cat food, a trap, a cage, a net and a sheet. "We try to make this as painless as possible," said Marcy. "I understand that this is not easy for you so let's make it as painless as possible." She did. I did. Slim-the-Cat enjoyed his last meal, entered the cage without a struggle and Marcy took him off in her truck.
I walked Slim and Marcy to the van. Slim and I said goodbye. And I walked back into my house, tears in my eyes. So. What to do now? I know! I'll drive over and visit my father's grave! It was a brilliant idea. Pop was buried at Skylawn Cemetery, up in the mountains on the way to Half-Moon Bay. It was pouring down rain. Pop's grave was not easy to find. I found my mother's grave first. I could tell. This was going to be one of those days! I just couldn't stop crying.
"Mom," I cried. "You and I never really got along while you were alive. And now I don't get along with my children either, but Lord knows I tried. You must have tried too. Too bad it never worked out. For any of us. But now that's water over the bridge. And what I really want from you now doesn't have anything to do with parent-child foul-ups. Or even Slim-the-Cat. PLEEZE, Mother. Please. Use your influence in Heaven to bring this poor benighted planet world peace!" Sorry, Mom. I know you taught me to be polite and make small-talk first, but I'm going straight for the hard stuff.
Soaking wet and pathetic, I found Pop's grave next. "Hi, Pop. I miss you. Watch out over Slim?" Then I stole some daffodils off the grave next to his and prayed for my father, for the poor sod in the grave next to him, for all the souls in the graveyard and for WORLD PEACE.
When I got back home, Slim-the-Cat was not waiting for me up on the roof like he usually does when I drive up.
Monday, February 26, 2007
My neighbor is suing me in small claims court, claiming I'm discriminating against her because she drives a Lincoln Navigator! Lots of people have been discriminated against for lots of things but, trust me, this is a first!
So. What does this mean? This means that my crime is so unusual, so bizarre, so weird that my neighbor and I have actually been invited to appear on the Judge Judy show! Seriously. We are scheduled to be on the air around the end of March.
Being discriminated against for owning a Lincoln Navigator got me sidetracked into thinking about discrimination in general. I've been discriminated against because I was a woman. I've been discriminated against because of my children. I've been discriminated against because I was old -- how come all those hot guys never ask ME out? -- but I've rarely personally experienced the burning soul-searing rejection that African-Americans still suffer from as a matter of course. Maybe they no longer experience the lynchings and beatings so much any more, but still....
My son's school principal, a consummate professional woman who is dedicated to her work and who is making extraordinary changes in the lives of the children in her charge, once told me, "Even now, even in today's modern America, whenever I walk down the street in a white shopping area, I can see the women I walk past visibly start clutching their purses -- as if I'm about to steal them. When that happens to you on a regular basis, it's hard to keep your sense of self-worth from being affected."
While I was sitting there thinking about racial bias and what it all means, I got a call from my friend Toni who teaches African-American history and I started telling her my thoughts on racial (and Lincoln Navigator) discrimination.
"Jane," Toni relied, "Americans are not getting the big picture here. Half of America has Black DNA. They just don't know it. Or won't admit it."
" Yes. During the bad old days of the Jim Crow segregation laws -- not to mention the bad old days of slavery -- circumstances for African-Americans were so cruel, so unjust and so out of hand that a very large number of 'Negroes' who looked at all Caucasian simply changed their names, moved somewhere else, passed over the color line and mixed with the white population."
Wow! Half of America! Do you know what that means? It means that, to do it right, you gotta discriminate against five out of every ten Americans!
Fascinated by Toni's new information, I did some scientific research, went to Google, typed in "Passing for White" and up popped an article by someone named Steve Sailer.
"Is mixed-race ancestry fairly typical for an American?" asked Sailer. "In two ways, it is. First, more than 50 million whites, according to [molecular anthropologist Mark D. Shriver's] analyses, have at least one black ancestor." 50 million Americans? Wow. That's one out of four. No wonder my sister's hair is so dark, thick and "naturally curly"! Maybe I am African-American too. How does one find out?
Fascinated, I e-mailed my friend who is a genealogist and got her on the job. It seems that my great-grandfather suddenly appeared in Oklahoma in 1900 -- from out of nowhere. There is NO census record of him anywhere in the United States before that time. Maybe he too was one of those folks who moved from one place to another or changed their names in order to try to "Pass for White". Maybe my high cheekbones don't just come from my Cherokee great-grandmother. Maybe my daughter Lorraine isn't the only one in my family with African-American blood.
Would I be upset if I suddenly discovered that I might be part "Colored"? Hell, no. If I found that out, I would be delighted!
Now if I could only find out that I am part Chinese too. Why? Because I want to have as many diverse genes in my DNA gene pool as humanly possible. The larger the gene pool, the more one has room to swim!
And also, isn't it high-freaking-time for all of us to start to "live in a nation where we will not be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character"?
PS: I'll let you know when me and my neighbor duke it out on national TV. I'm really excited about this! I get a hotel room, paid meals, a free plane ride to Los Angeles and 15 minutes of fame! Plus maybe someone will give me a Lincoln Navigator too -- so that I won't have to be discriminated against for not having one either -- although I'd much rather have an electric car and hang out with Al Gore.
PPS: But what about Stom Thurmond? Apparently, according to an article that my friend Larry just sent me, Strom is directly related to Al Sharpton. How sad. Thurmond spent most of his life being a bigot -- toward his own kin.
Friday, February 23, 2007
Well, The Savo Island Board of Directors, controlled by a group I usually refer to as "The Alliance", has violated yet another Savo bylaw -- and just missed violating one more by the skin of their teeth. So. At what point in time do I just shrug my shoulders and stop keeping track?
Obviously not yet!
Our bylaws require that Savo Island hold its annual meeting and Board election annually and there is no way of getting around that (although "The Alliance" did manage one time to stall an annual meeting off for three whole years.) In any case, a date was reluctantly set -- March 3, 2007. So far so good. But our bylaws also require that the annual meeting agenda be sent out to all residents 10 days in advance of the meeting itself. February 21, 2007 was the last possible day!
At 3:00 pm on February 21, there still was no sign of an agenda. So in desperation, I knocked on our Board secretary's door to tell him that according to our bylaws the agenda HAD to be out that very day. He replied that he had gotten an e-mail to that effect from our management company but had thought that the meeting announcement he had sent out a week ago had covered the agenda requirement too. Not!
As I was pretty much going ballistic on his front doorstep, our Board secretary finally did concede that yes the bylaws DID call for an official agenda to be given to the residents ten days before an annual meeting. Whew!
I then gave the Secretary a written verbatim copy of what the bylaws say MUST be on the annual meeting agenda and he then said he would send out the agenda on time -- which he did.
However, when I got the secretary's agenda, there had been some tampering. The bylaws state that the actual, required agenda MUST include the following item: "Election of inspectors of election". But the secretary had conveniently changed this item to read, "Appointment by President of election officers". WHAT!
That's blatantly messing with the bylaws! Again! Arrgh!
And why in the world would they want their own hand-picked person to be in charge of counting the votes? What with the President and two other Alliance members up for re-election, one would think they would want an impartial supervisor to make sure that the election was fair.
PS: Regarding our current Board officers' sudden spiteful obsession with getting rid of a well-constructed and property-value-enhancing window that I had installed in my unit in 2003 and which had already been documented as being a necessary "reasonable medical accommodation," I recently asked the Board to reconsider their sudden hard-line stance again. Good grief! You would think that I had asked them to spit on the flag!
Anyway, the window issue will still be a sore spot with me unless the Board can prove to me that they are not discriminating against me because of my whistle-blower status -- which they cannot. So I trundled off to see my doctor again this week to get another medical accommodation letter and he gave me one stating that I "would benefit from living in a well-lit environment with adequate daylight lighting".
That freaking window has been keeping me from getting Seasonal Affective Disorder for the last four years! Now if only that freaking window could keep me from getting "Savo Island Board of Directors Affective Disorder" too, I'd be eternally grateful!
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Since 2000, George Bush's foreign policy has been visible, steady and consistent -- to seize every oil-producing country in the world by any means necessary. And so far, Mr. Bush is proving the old addage, "Nothing succeeds like success."
Snagging Saudi Arabia was a snap. Bush simply continued the policy employed by his father -- kissing the Saudi royal family's collective ass. It's a simple technique but quite effective. Check Saudi Arabia off the list.
Iraq was next. Strategy? Kill off all the Iraqis and the last one standing signs over the oil. So far, it's worked like a charm.
The Sudan was easy. Just give massive amounts of weapons to its leaders and let them do the dirty work.
Nigeria? Send in the Robber Barons, create anarchy and seal the deal.
Let's see. Who is next? Venezuela. No-brainer on this one. Plot a CIA coup. The first one didn't go too well but it's still early days.
Iran is a cinch. With 10,000 missiles trained on its oil fields, they are kidding themselves if they think they stand a chance.
Who else has oil? Russia has lots of oil. And China. But like virgins accidentally stumbling into a biker rally, they are gathering in their skirts. Unlike said virgins, however, China and Russia are armed -- locked and loaded. Bush hasn't quite figured out his strategy here. Yet.
This leaves just one more major oil-producing country left on the list. America. Which techniques will Bush use here? Booty-kissing? Check. Robber Barons? Check. Send in the CIA? Check. Try to incite civil war? Check. 10,000 missiles? Check. Arm the leaders with massive amounts of weapons? Check....
When Bush came for the Saudis, we did nothing. When he came for Iraq, we did nothing. When he came for the Sudan, Nigeria and Venezuela, we did nothing. Now he is going for Iran. Then Russia, China and the US?
Bush's foreign policy has been visible, steady and consistent since he took the White House in 2000. "Then they came for me -- and by that time no one was left to speak up."
Pastor Martin Niemöller's famous cautionary message is more profound than ever today:
In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me —
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Hazard pay: Comparing a stateside CEO's job description with a Marine's in Iraq
Let's review the obvious once again. George Bush's spectacular boondoggle -- artfully known as The War on Iraq -- has gone on longer than World War II, has cost MORE than World War II and is totally disorganized, unplanned, and unfair. And, even more important, Bush is losing this war. Eisenhower never did that.
Of course there are Bush's glaringly obvious mistakes such as losing 363 tons of $100 bills, killing 665,000 Iraqi citizens in cold blood, getting caught red-handed with forged intelligence documents and looting the U.S. Treasury for the benefit of his war-profiteer cronies and his Swiss bank account -- those are a given. But what REALLY infuriates me is the way Bush mal-treats, mis-uses, exploits and neglects America's finest and bravest Marines who are now fighting in Iraq.
I have a friend who has a son in the Marines, currently serving over in bloody Anbar province, and he writes home that his unit isn't even being issued body armor -- let alone Swiss bank accounts!
Trust me. The Marines themselves, the ones who are doing the actual fighting and laying their lives on the line, are NOT getting their pockets lined off of this war. Not at all. In fact, they are being taken advantage of, exploited, used and abused.
To illustrate my point, let's look at our loyal and brave Marines from another point of view -- not as soldiers and fighting men but as workers who are performing their jobs for a wage. Let's then compare the work that they are doing (and the wages that they receive) in Iraq with equivalent workloads, benefits and pay that workers receive here at home in the USA.
Let's pull out some job descriptions here.
Your typical average Marine's job requires him to work up to (and sometimes more than) 18 hours a day and to work in hazardous conditions -- even coal miners never had it this hard. Farm workers' jobs are easy compared to a Marine's. He is routinely subject to hazardous materials, hazardous equipment, hazardous housing, hazardous work environments, hazardous food rations, hazardous overtime and hazardous assignments -- but NOT HAZARD PAY.
What American working stiff would put up with that kind of job description for even a minute!
Not since slavery was abolished, coal mine safety was instituted, "Robber Baron" monopolies were broken up and child labor was outlawed have American workers performed their jobs under such hazardous conditions for such little pay -- and under the thumb of such avaricious, scheming and cruel bosses -- as do our proud Marines serving in Iraq.
NO ONE would do this same job stateside for less that $100,000 a year. And doing it for $200,000 a year would still be a steal. Yet these loyal, trustworthy and skilled employees get HOW much take-home pay for the slave-labor they perform in Iraq? It's laughable.
Now compare a Marine's job description with that of a stateside CEO who takes home more than a million bucks a year. He sits behind a desk. He persuades teenagers to spend their parents' money on junk they don't need. He acerbates global warming. He outsources American jobs to overseas. And he gives money to lobbyists to corrupt our Congress. And he gets PAID bigtime to do this.
On the one hand, Marines are performing higher quality work at a much harder job. And they are laying down their lives FOR A LIE so that George Bush and his friends in Washington can line their Swiss bank accounts with our taxpayers' money. On the other hand, who in America is making 250 times more than their hard-working employees -- just for sitting behind a desk and making a few phone calls?
Who do you think performs the greatest service to America? And who do you think should be getting the highest pay? The CEO or the Marine? The Marine!
But in the corrupt and crazy world that the Bush neo-cons have created, who is actually getting the life-time gold-plated healthcare plan, the limo rides to the airport, the haute couture, caviar and fine wines? And who is lying in their own filth in Building 18 of Walter Reed hospital after returning as an amputee from their "job" in Iraq, living in trailer parks and eating PB&J sandwiches just to survive on the meager pension they are given and waiting for MONTHS just to be seen at the VA?
America, get your priorities straight. Marines? Join a union! CEOs? You need to remember that America is giving you all the big gifts that you demand and you're living LARGE now -- but you still put your trousers on one leg at a time just like the rest of us. And also remember that trousers aren't the only things that come with two legs. Orange jumpsuits do too.
My young friend Nathan just got out of juvie after having just turned 18. "So. Nathan. What are you going to do next? Go to community college? Get a job? What have you got in mind for the rest of your life?"
Well, it appears that Nathan had already been making long-term plans and already had his eye on a full time job -- and not just any mere stop-gap employment gig either. What Nathan had in mind was a whole big CAREER. It seems that during all of those childhood years he had spent in brat camps, so-called behavior modification programs, group homes and juvenile halls, Nathan had been developing a finely-tuned set of skills and now he was ready to begin a life-long career that would not only allow him to put those skills to use but to be provided with life-time job security too!
"Last week," Nathan boasted, "I was gang-banging with my homies and the Albany cops busted us and sent us to jail." Oh, Nathan. Oh no.
"You shoulda seen me out at Rita." Santa Rita is the local county jail. "I was so cooool. Some dude come up to me and asked me was I gonna be in his gang." Apparently the name of his gang was the Woods. "I told him no, no way! Then he gets all up in my face and I get all up in his face and...." Oh great.
Apparently, a Wood is prison slang for a peckerwood. Did I really need to know that?
"At Rita, the black guys hang out with the black guys and the white guys hang out with the white guys. And this guy wasn't sure what I was because I looked white but talked black." Nathan, the new Eminem. "I ain't like that, but at Rita you don't get no choice. So once I understood the situation, I was all good."
Yes indeed. After spending the last five or six years of his childhood learning how to fit into the "institutional lifestyle" without getting jumped too often, Nathan definitely had skills. Our Nathan had found his calling all right. He was ready. He was trained. He was a specialist. And he had discovered the exact place where he could put all his well-honed job skills to work -- the California Department of Correctional Facilities. In a flash, I saw the hand-writing on the wall. Nathan was going to be spending the rest of his life in jail.
HOW'S THAT FOR JOB SECURITY!
"Then," Nathan continued, "they dropped all the charges and I got out." But not for long. Three days later, Nathan was back in jail. And will probably be there for the rest of his life. I guess that he just can't resist the PERKS!
America has the highest jail population in the world. Something like one in every 32 American adults is now in jail, on probation or on parole. That's seven million people on the prison employment fast track!
So. The next time you watch COPS on television, don't just see all those police patrol officers as cops out arresting bad guys. Think of them as employment agency headhunters -- using the latest recruitment techniques!
PS: It is a sad commentary on the economic viability of America today that, for all too many of us, the top job you can get -- with the best health plan, the best housing perks, the best working conditions and the best job security -- is as an inmate in jail. It's not as dangerous as meat-packing, not as tedious as stoop labor in the fields and definitely more secure than being homeless and unemployed.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
I attended a big fancy dinner last night -- one of those lavish affairs at the local country club where everyone is wearing a suit -- except for me. And they served salmon! And baby potatoes with wine sauce. And raspberries with crème brûlée! But I digress. What was the occasion? One of our most prominent and respected judges was retiring and all the best legal minds in the area were there to send him off. And me too.
Towards the end of the banquet -- best decaf coffee I've ever tasted -- the retiring judge gave a speech, outlining some of his impressions regarding what the future held in store for our American judicial system. But first he set the groundwork for exploring what might come next by talking about the various cases ruled on by the Supreme Court in the past several months. And hearing him describe all the weird goings-on being reviewed by the Supremes suddenly made me really, really jealous! Good grief! Those nine justices were up there in Washington DC, just WALLOWING in hot gossip! I wanna become a Supreme Court justice! I wanna be in on all the latest information. Those cases are better than Oprah!
The judge described cases about drug smuggling, wife beating, insanity, DNA evidence, Guantanamo stuff, stuff that happens in prisons, campaign bribes, illegal search and seizure, victim remorse, combative attorneys, sex and violence, a church-going murderer, Tom Delay and even Anna Nicole Smith! It doesn't get much juicier than that!
Then the judge got down to brass tacks. "What do I see in store for America's judicial system? Frankly, things could go either way. Currently Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appears to be doing everything that he can to have an emergency judicial system ready in case we have another 9-11. Does he know something the rest of us don't know? He's already got all the gears in motion in case of a second and even a third attack." That's scary.
"As things stand now, our judicial system and our country are in trouble, deeper than even Bush is responsible for. I don't think even he and his little bunch of neo-cons had planned this far ahead regarding the systematic and detailed attacks on our civil rights and our Constitution that are happening now. These things have been in the works for years; probably even decades. Trust me. Things are bad now. And they are going to get even worse." Wow.
"So. Is there any hope that a Constitutional democracy will survive in America? Yes. I still hold out hope that the Supreme Court will step up to the plate even if no one else does. And I don't think it will be the more liberal judges on the Supreme Court who will save us. It will be the conservative judges that will save us. Right now, it looks like Justice Alito could be the one to finally be conservative enough to want to preserve the Constitution. But I'm also thinking that maybe with Chief Justice Roberts guiding the Court, there is still the possibility that he will...." Will what? The waiter had just brought the dessert and I got distracted!
"What did he SAY?" I asked the lawyer on my right.
"Something about Chief Justice Roberts rising to the task. That because this is such a turning point in our nation, that Roberts could possibly become one of those legendary Chief Justices whose knowledge and wisdom guide this great nation though the greatest legal crisis in our history."
Let us hope so.
PS: I purposely didn't mention this judge's name here. I certainly don't mean to plagiarize his ideas on the one hand and I feel bad about that. But on the other hand, I don't want the poor fellow carted off to Guantanamo either!
Thursday, February 15, 2007
and graduating from college with a degree in filmmaking.
PS: I just ran into someone who knows my daughter's sleazy boyfriend and he said, "Man, you gotta stop TRIPPIN' about your daughter! I seen her and the boyfriend together and the straight truth is that SHE is the one who beats HIM up!" Whew. I'm certainly glad to hear that all those years of martial arts I forced her to take when she was a kid are finally being put to good use.
27 years ago, our wonderful Berkeley Section 8 housing project was founded as a co-op where each of its 57 families held a share which apparently entitled us to convert to condominiums and actually own our homes once the mortgage was paid off.
That dream has vanished. More and more, it's looking like our mortgage will NEVER be paid off.
About 20 years ago, our co-op Board of Directors was taken over by a group of residents who ran it with an iron hand. The co-op feeling disappeared; we were forced into receivership for non-payment of taxes; we went through approximately eight management companies who were either fired when they disagreed with the "Board" or quit in disgust; the once-prosperous co-op, well on its way to paying off its mortgage, went downhill financially and the physical structures went into decline as the "Board" focused on -- to them -- the more critical issue: How to pursue their own self-interest.
However, with the help of our local community, this wonderful housing co-op might still be able to get back on its feet! We are having an election of five new Board members on March 3, 2007 and most residents here are either too intimidated or too fed up to run for a seat. But according to our much-ignored bylaws, you don't have to be a resident of the co-op to run for election.
So. Will anybody from our community who is impartial, with no personal axe to grind and can at least count to ten PLEASE consider running for our Board of Directors? We only meet one night a month!
Please call the Savo Island Co-operative Homes, Inc. site management office (841-4595) and tell them you are interested in running. Or call me -- at 843-0581. And thanks.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
In the last few months, I have been totally pissed off with all those Muslims in Iraq who have been slaughtering each other wholesale. Geez Louise! Baghdad has become just like a re-run of the bad old days back in 16th-century Europe when gangs of Catholic "Christians" and gangs of Protestant "Christians" murdered, tortured and slew each other with gleeful abandon, totally forgetting what true Christianity is all about.
I have been TOTALLY disappointed with Iraqi Muslims lately. Totally. Why should I keep trying to be a good Muslim when grown men like that are setting such a bad example? I might as well be a "Christian" like that serial killer George W. Bush -- or even a pagan!
I was just beginning to think that if that's the way Muslims are gonna act, then forget it! Buddhism was starting to look good...or even atheism!
But now I am all back to being a Muslim again. Why? Because that blood-thirsty neo-con Israeli idiot Ehud Olmert -- the nincompoop who gave us that brutal and totally unnecessary war on Lebanon -- has managed to piss me off EVEN MORE than the Islamic idiots in Iraq!
Iraqi "Muslims" are acting like they've never even HEARD of the Qur'an. Israeli "Jews" are acting like they never even heard of the Talmud! And the "Christians" in Washington DC? Hundreds of thousands of women and children in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Darfur are being slaughtered for oil? And possibly Iran is also going to be joining Bush's "Christian" parade of bloody bodies and overflowing morgues really soon? What in the world ever happened to the principles, ideals and wonderfulness of religion? Lord only knows!!!!
But I digress.
So. What has that idiot Ehud Olmert done to so TOTALLY piss me off? That idiot Ehud Olmert has just started "excavating" under the Al Aqsa mosque! "We're just looking for archaeological treasures," he said. Well! If there is one thing that Palestinians have learned in the past 60 years, it's that whenever Israeli militants start spouting off about archaeological "excavations", it means only one thing -- that your home, your mosque, your store, your olive orchard or whatever is about to be confiscated, bulldozed, destroyed or invaded by the Israeli Occupation Force and there is nothing you can do about it without getting shot at, imprisoned or killed.
So why is everyone making such a big deal about the Al Aqsa mosque, you might ask. Let me tell you. The Al Aqsa mosque is one of the most holy Islamic shrines in the world. It's right up there with Mecca's Kaa'ba. Al Aqsa is to Muslims pretty much what the Sistine Chapel is to Catholics. Historic. Sacred. Profound.
So when Ehud Olmert started talking recently about "excavating" around Al Aqsa mosque and then started laying out the construction cones and cordoning off the "site", Palestinians knew exactly what that meant: Al Aqsa mosque had just been issued the Israeli neo-con code word for "You're screwed".
Let me explain to you what is happening in the Holy Land right now. Here's an apt analogy that will help you understand why Palestinians -- and 1.3 billion Muslims all over the world as well -- are totally upset with Ehud Olmert (I surely would hate to have 1.3 billion people upset with ME!)
Having Israeli neo-cons "excavate" around the Al Aqsa mosque would be pretty much the same as if Muslims had arrived in Italy 60 years ago, drove most of the Italians off their land, stole their cities and villages and made everybody in Italy learn to speak Arabic or else. And when Italians began to protest and try to fight back against this brutal occupation, the invading Muslims built a huge wall around Rome to keep all Italians out. And then the Muslims started declaring that they needed to "excavate" under the Sistine Chapel. Now why would they want to do that? Because Muslims claimed that their ancestors used to live in Italy three thousand years ago and that gave them the right! Didn't Homer mention some ancestors of Muslims in the Iliad? Or was it the Phoenicians or Romulus and Remus they were descended from?
Well, obviously the answer could only be discovered by "excavating" under the Sistne Chapel. Hence the bulldozers outside the Vatican. And what was the fuss all about?
Bottom line: "Muslims" need to stop killing Muslims in Iraq. "Christians" need stop trying to enslave the world. And "Jews" need to keep their freaking hands off of Al Aqsa mosque.
Between George Bush, Ehud Olmert and all the idiots in Iraq, I'm tempted to resign from practicing any form of religion altogether -- and if we don't stop killing each other and don't start evolving really quickly, I might even consider succeeding from the human race altogether.
It's time for us to stop acting like territorial two-year-olds and start acting like Abraham and Jesus and Mohammed wanted us to act -- like adults!
Friday, February 09, 2007
Editor's note: When I took a writing seminar recently, The Chief assigned me the job of writing about India. I did a pretty good job at first but then the assignments got more complex and I had to ask for HELP on the details from my friend Jane at Straitwell Travel Books. Here is our third and last essay assignment. And The Chief DEFINITELY likes her better!
On getting promoted: From American drudge to the Laughing Goddess of India!
"Your next writing assignment," said The Chief, "is to write an essay on Scenic India." I'm on it like white on rice!
By Jane Stillwater
India is scenic. It is really scenic. It is the most scenic place in the world.
After reading my essay, The Chief just frowned, shook his head and sent me back to writing rude diatribes about George W. Bush. "Jane," said The Chief, "stick to what you know." Whew!
Then Jane Straitwell took over and did an amazing job. Don't you just hate when that happens? Show-off! Teacher's pet.
By Jane Straitwell
Today we drove south through Indian farmland on a road that was rutted, half-paved and only one vehicle wide. If you see a truck coming in the opposite direction, you just close your eyes and pray that the other guy swerves first.
We passed a boy at the edge of a mustard field. He had his back to us and was obviously relieving himself -- but when he saw us drive by, he switched his peeing apparatus to his left hand in midstream so he could wave to us with his dominant hand. Priceless. Good grief, this place is scenic as hell.
Between the villagers, the camel carts, the ruins of ancient forts, the temples, the decorated tractors and the herds of goats sharing the road, you feel like you've been set down in the middle of a great work of art -- and that you are lucky to be here as well.
This brings up the age-old travelers' question. "Would you rather stop the bus, get off, stay here for the rest of your life and become part of this landscape -- or would you rather only drive through it?" I don't know. I might consider staying here. Could I get an internet connection?
A pig and seven little piglets just crossed the road. This place is SO scenic! Little kids in blue uniforms trudging off to school. "When sacred cows die, they have a funeral for them and then they bury them," someone just told me. "In India, only humans are cremated." Good idea. Cremating a cow would just be too much like BBQ.
I saw decorated camels, motor bikes loaded down with whole families, vegetables spread out on blankets or being sold off of carts. Women on roofs putting cow patties out to dry to be used later as fuel. And everywhere you look, there is the flash of brightly-colored saris and mirror cloth.
"Always lean backwards when you get up on a camel," I was told, "and hold on really tight." Then we stopped at the Abhaneri step-well. That place is really hard to describe but I will try.
Imagine a giant city-block-wide hole in the ground, about a football field deep. Down in the hole, on one side of the hole, is an exquisitely-carved summer palace. You with me so far? Then on the other three sides of the hole are about 100 flights of criss-crossing stone stairs that in the sunlight and shadows look just like an Escher painting. And at the bottom of all this is a pool large enough to train the high school swim team in. "This well was built in the ninth century and it took 50 years to complete. It is famous for having one thousand stairs." Nope. I can't even begin to describe this step-well in mere words. You will have to have been there. The Taj Mahal is gonna have to work very hard to beat this one!
Then we drove past a Hindu temple with approximately 200 women in front of it, dressed in multi-colored saris -- bright orange, fluorescent pink, turquoise, yellow, chartreuse. Can it get any more scenic than this? Good grief!
Then we went on a tiger hunt. And we found a real actual tiger! How scenic is that! The big cat walked out in front of approximately160 camera-ready tourist paparazzi; posed left, posed right and then walked back up the "catwalk". It was all very America's Next Top Model. And scenic as hell.
Then we stopped for the night at a tented camp. And it got even better! A camel ride to the nearest village where I watched the sun set over a mountaintop fort from under a tree in a terraced field being tended by women in saris holding babies while they worked. In the twilight stillness of the outdoors 50 miles from the nearest electricity? Magical.
"I'm afraid to get back on that camel," I whined.
"Well then don't," replied our guide. "Just walk back to the camp." But then I'd be a wimp. But I AM a wimp. But I didn't want to admit it so I climbed back up on my camel.
Sitting on the back of a kneeling camel when it stands up is a humbling experience. Not for the faint of heart. But much to even my own surprise, I started to laugh! Joyfully! And I realized that I hadn't laughed like that in years! For all the luxury of American life, it took me a trip to a backward village 500 miles from nowhere to teach me to laugh again the way I had laughed as a child. Plus the camels were really funny too. And the fields in the twilight and the fresh air. If they only had an internet connection and a branch of the Berkeley Public Library, I could live here forever.
What's next? A cooking demonstration back at the camp. Chapattis -- they're sort of like wheat tortillas. Flour and water kneaded together, fried in a pan and then placed on the open burner for a few seconds on either side.
Curry? You heat the mustard oil then add cumin seeds and onions. Turmeric, coriander, chili pepper and salt. Cooked in a wok. Stir-fried. Lots of vegetables. I almost forgot. There were vegetables too.
Then there was the evening campfire and music and dance. Tabla, harmonium, trumpet and RUM. How can it POSSIBLY get more scenic than this? Full moon. More rum.
Then things suddenly got a little TOO scenic. One of the dancers, a graceful young woman in a lovely fuchsia sari that glittered and glowed as she moved, was dancing with a pot of flames on her head when the flames leaped out of the pot and set her sari on fire. "I don't think this is part of the act," someone said. Yikes. But somehow the drummer managed to put the fire out and the lovely lady then went on to dance on ground glass.
You want to win the "scenic" award, Chief? Come to India!
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
200 Concubines: In India, it's hard not to think about sex!
By Jane Stillwater and special guest travel editor Jane Straitwell
The Chief was at it again. "Jane, I now want you to stretch your writing skills a bit and write about sexuality in ancient and modern India. In 500 words or less."
I can do that:
SEX IN OLD AND NEW DELHI
There was sex all over the place in ancient India. They did the nasty like rabbits. There is, however, no sex in India today.
"But," the Chief pointed out, "if there is no sex in India now, then where did its current population of one billion people come from?" Immaculate conception? The stork? I don't know. Go away, Chief! I do NOT want to write about sex!
For the last 20 years, I've pretty much lived like a nun. I like it that way.
"But Jane," you might ask, "you used to be a Flower Child in the 1960s. What made you change?" Humm.... Maybe it was because I finally realized that whether you call it "free love" and think you are making a glorious philosophical statement about being sexually liberated or whether you are just "sleeping around", women pretty much end up at the bottom of the food chain reputation-wise if they appear to be "easy" -- and I was tired of that. Forget about sex. So 20 years ago I decided that it was time to move on to SUGAR as my addiction of choice.
And then I went to India. And when you are in India, it's hard not to think about sex!
I shoulda known that my stodgy set-in-stone ways were about to get all shaken up by Mother India and that there was going to be a bumpy road ahead when, 30,000 feet above the Atlantic, that really hot Indian guy in the seat next to me on the plane to New Delhi started chit-chatting about the advantages of the Mile-High Club.
Then, when we got to Jaipur, my friend Nancy dragged me off to a Bollywood movie and while we were all standing in line waiting to buy tickets, all the local teenage boys were busy outrageously flirting with all of the local teenage girls. You could just feel the electricity of repressed hormones in the air. It's hard not to think about that kind of stuff when everyone else obviously is! Plus everyone knows that a Bollywood movie is ALL about sex -- or at least about passionate love.
And it also doesn't help keep one's mind off of reproductive functions at all when there are something like 500 handsome young men hanging out on every block of every street in Delhi. I have never SEEN so many men in one place at one time.
And as if modern India wasn't bad enough, we started looking at ancient India too -- beginning with the most famously romantic place in the known world, the Taj Mahal. "This building was constructed by Shah Jahan in the sixteenth century," said our guide, "to honor the woman he loved." You can't get more romantic than that! Then of course after his wife died the old lecher consoled himself with 200 concubines but oh well.
After that, we went to the Agra Fort and saw the emperor's palace where they had a bunch of niches built into every wall. "Concubines in transparent saris would sit in every niche all day long," said our guide, "looking lovely for the Moghal emperors. The emperors also played Parcheesi from their thrones, using concubines as pawns. And whichever concubine was left on the Parcheesi board at the end of a game got to sleep with the emperor that night.
But the Moghal emperors were freaking Puritans compared to the ancient Hindus! You ain't seen nothing until you've seen the Chandali temples at Khajuraho. Everywhere you looked, there were sculptures portraying jaw-dropping sex! They've got temples there that are eight stories high and every inch of every one of them is covered with statues of beautiful women and handsome men having sex. Unbelievable positions! OMG. How do they DO that!
"Here we have a woman being held upside down by two other women," said our guide, "while her male consort is making love to her while standing on his head." Holy cow! They should have tried that on a trans-Atlantic jet! However, I'm sure that these statues and friezes were merely intended as instruction manuals on how to get your wife pregnant and, well, if pleasure was involved somewhere along the way, that was just an unwanted side effect.
From Khajuraho, I went on to Varanasi to watch cremations on the banks of the Ganges River. Whew! In such a holy place surely no one will be thinking about sex. Wrong again. The Sadhus on the ghats (steps) leading down to the river were running around in only their loin cloths. Plus all these guys bathing in the Ganges were COMPLETELY naked. Most of them were old, fat and ugly. But some of them were totally hot -- and well-endowed too!
And when we went to Sarnath, where, according to statues created in the first century BC, even the freaking Buddha had a package.
With history like that, can you BLAME Indians for thinking about sex? What would America be like today if George Washington had owned a harem and Mount Vernon was carved up to look like the Kama Sutra?
As for sex in modern India, I can't tell you anything from personal experience but you know that it exists because where else would those one billion babies have come from? Cloning? Probably not. But Indians as a whole are generally very modest and discrete as far as I can tell. No mini-skirts, no breast implants, no Viagra ads everywhere and definitely no stuffing their flight suits with socks.
PS: With all the rumors flying around that Bush, Cheney and Olmert are gearing up to nuke Iran, I have got just one thing to say: "MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR!"
PPS: My friend Nancy just handed me an article from the Hindustan Times [www.hindustantimes.com] entitled, "NH 28: Death Zone for Sex Workers". Apparently when National Highway 28 was remodeled, all the huts by the side of the road used by "sex workers" were demolished. Now, according to the Times, "in order to catch [their truck-driver customers], these sex workers have also become mobile. Not only is the deal finalized in the moving truck, but also the customer is satisfied inside the moving vehicle." This leads to extreme danger for the sex workers -- many of whom are under-aged; some even as young as ten years old.
"'When the huts were there, we had nothing to worry about. The hut owners provided both space and security,' said one sex worker. 'Now once we get on a truck, our life is at risk. Truck drivers force us to have unsafe sex.'" Many of them are killed and dumped by the side of the road.
Sunday, February 04, 2007
You must think that I spend all my time watching television because I'm always reviewing the latest TV shows. Well, you're wrong. I spend all my time playing Free Cell solitaire. Humph.
But sometimes when even I get bored or -- more likely -- get carpal tunnel syndrome from playing too much Free Cell, I have been known to turn on the TV. Thursday night especially has a good lineup of shows. First I watch "Beauty and the Geek" and "Gray's Anatomy". Then I tape "Men In Trees" so I can watch it the next morning when I'm all tied up like a pretzel doing yoga and need something to keep my mind off the boredom and the pain.
So. In "Men In Trees," there's this young guy named Patrick who is always worried about how he is going to support his family but then his dad gives him some fatherly advice.
"You've got to take responsibility, son. You've got to MAN UP."
Hey. That's what George W. Bush needs to do! He needs to finally take responsibility for the big mess he's made of our economy, international relations, alternative energy, global warming, his various "wars", election fraud, honoring our religious beliefs, 9-11 and corruption in Congress -- just to mention a few of the areas wherein he's failed bigtime.
George, it's time to "Man Up"!
Stop blaming everyone else for your mistakes, stop trying to blow up Iran, stop the secret deals with Halliburton, stop spying on Americans, stop gutting the Constitution, stop using Christianity as an excuse for torture and genocide, stop lying compulsively and stop robbing the piggy bank. "Man Up."
If George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy could do it, then maybe you can too.
So. What TV show am I going to review for you next? That's a no-brainer. "Everybody Hates George".
15 years ago a feral cat named Spiderman snuck into my postage-stamp-sized back yard and gave birth to four kittens. The other three kittens were soon socialized and went off to good homes but Slim was always a scardy-cat and wouldn't let anyone touch him. So him and I easily bonded -- I was that way too and understood him perfectly.
For the last 15 years, Slim-the-Cat and I have rubbed along just fine. For my part, I've put out food for him twice a day. On his part, he has refused to let me cuddle him and has avoided tracking cat hair and fleas into my house. It was a relationship made in Heaven!
Then Slim got cancer. Then he got attacked by a raccoon. Weighing only around four pounds and looking like Skeletor, I figured it was time to put him to sleep. So I fed him a whole Tylenol with codeine cleverly concealed in some fabulous raw tuna and he ate the whole thing. Nothing. The freaking cat didn't even stagger. That dose would have knocked me out like a light for a week. Hummm. This cat really wants to live.
So then I fed Slim some steak and while he was occupied with that lure, I snuck up behind him, scooped him up, put him in a box and closed the lid. "Slim, I got you now!" No I didn't. Using super-strength that he got from who-knows-where and using his skinny pathetic cancer-ridden raccoon-scratched-up paws, he clawed his way out.
I figured that if anyone wanted to hang onto life that badly, who was I to play God. So I gave Slim-the-Cat a reprieve and a chance to die peacefully in his little postage-stamp-sized backyard domain.
That was four months ago.
Caution: Do not read this next part unless you have a really strong stomach.
Since that time, Slim's ears have rotted off and his nose has rotted off and half of his tail has rotted off and he is all infected and filled with cancer and pus. This is a Hall-of Horrors-looking cat. But underneath all this grossness, he is still the same, sweet Slim-the-Cat. But enough is enough. "Slim, no matter HOW badly you want to hold on to life, you really need to be put out of your misery."
So here is my question: How do I go about doing it? What should I do? And HOW do I get the courage to do this to my old friend? And please please please, while you are down on your knees praying for our brave troops in Iraq and that somehow America will someday have sane people who are legally elected living in the White House, also please pray really hard for Slim-the-Cat.
Friday, February 02, 2007
Sometimes we get sidetracked by the standard histories we read in grammar school and miss out on some of our country's true history. I got sidetracked for sure by the all stories of the white "Rosie the Riveters" for whom a national park in Richmond, California was founded and named -- but my friend Betty Soskin didn't get sidetracked at all. She knew. She knew that buried beneath the slums and sad decay of what is now Richmond, California's abandoned dock-sides and poverty-stricken Iron Triangle, was to be discovered a most amazing story. Of course it was the story of the heroic white Rosies who worked long and hard hours in those World War II shipyards, but it was also the story of the African-American Rosies too. And what a story they have to tell.
Did you even KNOW that there had been African-American "Rosies"? I didn't.
Recently Betty sent me a short video entitled "Lost Conversations," a sample of the work she has been doing, putting together a visual scrapbook of the stories of the African-American heroes of the World War II Richmond shipyard. These photos and snippets of film are unique. Please consider pausing to watch this video now. You'll be glad that you did -- and you may even see your father or grandmother here!
I asked Betty if I could share the URL of this video and she was delighted! "Yes, of course" she replied. "Do with it what you will. Let's get this story out! And please send as many viewers to the site as you can so I can brag to my bosses when the counter numbers rise." And if the counter numbers rise, maybe the project will get more funding too -- that is, if there is anything left after Bush gets done sucking every red cent in the U.S. Treasury off into his private Swiss bank account.
"There is little real information about Richmond these days," continued Betty, "except for the negative stuff. We are working as hard as we can to change all that."
"But where did all these photos and documents COME from?" I asked.
"Most of the footage was collected from Berkeley's Marguerite Roles, widow of the secretary-treasurer of Boilermakers Union A-36," Betty replied. "The photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. was taken by George Harris Jr. when Martin visited Easter Hill United Methodist Church on Cutting Blvd. And the one of Lena Horne is from Marguerite's collection as is the one of the Port Chicago burial ceremonies. Plus there are a few pictures I picked up here and there and a few were from the Library of Congress. The research was a blast to do. I still have tons of material that I haven't used yet and I plan to lengthen the video and add them to the re-write."
Betty also came upon a photo of C.L. Dellums at age 17 from a historian who is with Kaiser Permanente. "I don't even know if [Oakland Mayor] Ron [Dellums] has it. And wouldn't you love to get into the papers that document the naming of the Toussaint L'Overture! That decision was made in Richmond at the shipyards and we're searching high and low for the records. I only have the ship's logs that list every ship launched in Richmond with the dates of the launchings. 747 ships were built in less than four years"
Betty, who has an amazing history herself -- of over a half-century of civil rights work -- is delighted with this project. "I'm havin' a ball doing this research! It's like being turned loose in a candy store... Please spread the word."
For more information about the "Rosie the Riveter" National Park and how to visit it, please go to http://www.nps.gov/rori/planyourvisit/index.htm. There is now no good reason for all these important connections to stay lost!
The news from Iraq is TERRIBLE these days but you wouldn't know it from reading the newspapers because President [sic] Bush and the Pentagon employ hordes of public relations teams to keep the American public in the dark about what is really going on over there -- and they even try to make it sound all heroic. For instance, just look at the outrageous spin the neo-cons perpetrated recently on the "Battle of Najaf".
At first the American public was told that our brave American troops had fought heroically against great odds, just barely surviving a huge firefight outside of Najaf wherein 250 cult crazies working for Iran and Al Qaeda were killed before they could "occupy Najaf and then topple the Iraqi government". That's heady stuff!
But gradually the truth came out -- that what really had happened was that some local village families were on a pilgrimage to the holy city of Najaf when Iraqi troops opened fire on them for some unknown reason and when the pilgrims fought back instead of just standing around waiting to get slaughtered, the Iraqi troops telephoned American occupation forces and told them that they were being attacked by Al Qaeda. American fighter planes then arrived and bombed all the pilgrim families to death.
This kind of lying and scheming against America's best interests is shameful. And for all of you "Ugly Betty" fans out there, let me put this outrage in terms you will instantly understand. "Not even Wilhelmina Slater could make up such an evil, scheming, misleading, conniving bare-faced lie!" Yet Bush, Cheney and the Pentagon condoned all this false reporting without even batting an eyelash (or letting duck "hormones" get in their way....)
What exactly is GOING ON over in Iraq? "Ugly Betty" fans will immediately understand the situation. To put it simply, "Bush and Cheney are acting like the evil Alexa!"
For the uninitiated, Alexa Meade -- who used to be Alex, a wealthy publishing magnate's son who had supposedly died in a skiing accident but who has now come back from the dead in a woman's body and in the middle of Fashion Week! -- is out to seize the Meade publication empire from his good-guy brother Daniel, Ugly Betty's boss.
Meanwhile Alexa, who up until the last episode we didn't know was alive because we had only seen her lurking in the shadows behind a veiled curtain and plotting her take-over move, has been manipulating her loyal puppets at Mode magazine -- that would be Wilhelmina, Amanda and Marc -- from deep cover, behind the scenes.
And like Alexa at Mode, Bush and Cheney are also plotting and planning and lying and manipulating clandestinely in order to destroy their enemies. And so far, their enemies appear to be the people of Iraq (and the people of America too -- but let's save that plot for next season). And like the way that Alexa is scheming to take over Mode's bank account, Bush and Cheney are scheming to take over Iraq's oil.
So. What if Alexa DOES take over Mode and ousts Daniel and Ugly Betty? Will Mode then become a better magazine? Not. Like what happened to America when Bush and Cheney seized control, Mode's quality will go way down while its prices will go way up. Why? Because Alexa and Wilhelmina, bless their hearts, are scheming liars and fakes but Ugly Betty, like most stout-hearted Americans, is honest and reliable and virtuous and REAL.
If GWB took over Mode magazine, even the staunchest fashionistas would stop reading it because it would just become some stupid propaganda rag without an original thought -- tacky.
If Bush and Cheney ran Mode the way that they have run Iraq -- four long, painful years of bloody and expensive failure -- that magazine would be in bankruptcy in less than six months. Right now, the only difference between the evil schemers at the White House and the evil schemers at Mode magazine are:
1. At the White House, Ugly Betty isn't there to save the day;
2. While the evil Alexa is only playing around with Prada and Jimmy Choo, the evil GWB is playing around with people's LIVES. The evil Alexa is only trying to destroy a fashion magazine. But person by person, house by house, street by street, farm by farm, village by village, shrine by shrine, marketplace by marketplace, school by school, hospital by hospital, child by child -- George Bush's lying and manipulation and John Negroponte's "Salvador Option" have destroyed Iraq.
PS: Here are some of Molly Ivin's last words: "The president [sic] of the United States does not have the sense God gave a duck -- so it's up to us. You and me, Bubba. I don't know why Bush is just standing there like a frozen rabbit, but it's time we found out. The fact is WE have to do something about it. This country is being torn apart by an evil and unnecessary war, and it has to be stopped NOW."
PPS: Rebecca Romijn (pronounced "Romaine"), the statuesque blond actress/Victoria's Secret supermodel who plays Alexa on "Ugly Betty", went to our very own Berkeley High School -- so she can't be all THAT bad!