Monday, May 31, 2010

"Pirates of the Mediterranean" alert: One more ship is still sailing to Gaza

Question: "When Israel's navy forcibly boarded an international fleet carrying humanitarian goods to Gaza last week, was this a justifiable military action or was it simply a case of hijacking on the high seas?"

Answer: "I don't know. I'm not Captain Jack Sparrow. If you want to know about the finer points of piracy, you had better ask him. But to a mere land-lubber such as myself, it does seem to be a bit dicey that Israeli commandos attacked a humanitarian fleet in international waters, killing ten people and injuring a lot more in the process."

Perhaps the answer to this question lies in the fact that the boarding attempt took place in international waters? Israel's violent invasion of a ship sailing in international waters seems an awful lot like piracy to me. One would think that Israel's navy could have at least waited until the fleet entered the territorial waters of Israel or until the fleet posed some sort of threat to Israel itself. Israel's premature action has pretty much led the rest of the world to begin to think in terms of hijacking and piracy -- and that's just not cool.

Let's leave hijacking to Somalia, okay?

However. We may soon have an instant replay of this whole event -- wherein Israel may be getting a second chance to show that it is or is not still acting like Bluebeard or flying the Jolly Roger. An Irish cargo ship, the "Rachel Corrie," is still steaming full speed ahead toward Gaza and it also contains humanitarian aid in its hold. So. What will the Israeli government do this time? Will it negotiate with the Rachel Corrie? Will it let the good ship Rachel Corrie go through? Or will it repeat last week's disaster?

We'll soon see.

But whatever happens during this instant-replay drama on the high seas coming up and whatever the government of Israel decides to do to the "Rachel Corrie," all of this "Pirates of the Mediterranean" behavior on behalf of the Israeli government is still rather short-term stuff -- and perhaps it's time for the Israeli government to look at what is happening over the long run as well.

Perhaps it is time for the Israeli government to look at the big picture here, back off on its ill-conceived siege of Gaza and get OVER the fact that Hamas actually did win the 2007 Gaza elections fair and square. Perhaps it's time for the Israeli government to forget about "Talk like a Pirate Day," stop pretending that a country approximately the size of New Jersey has the same power, resources, invincibility and chutzpah as Russia or China or America -- and to stop alienating all of its neighbors and more than a few of its friends.

At some point in time, Israel's government may need to finally realize that it is NOT Johhny Depp or even Erroll Flynn, and does not have the wherewithal to indefinitely keep up all this swagger and booty-hunting -- without pissing a whole bunch of people (and nations) off.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New York Book Expo: Duchess Sarah & 40 pounds of free books!

The 2010 New York Book Expo moved into full swing today. Last night Barbra Streisand gave the keynote speech and I positively hung on (and wrote down) every single word. But it will take me forever to transcribe all that, so you will just have to wait to find out what "La Streisand" actually said. However, here's a sneak preview factoid: She is 67 years old -- that's my age -- but looks like she's around age 40 at most.

This morning I heard Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, give a talk. She was wonderful. Her books are geared toward children. "As some of you already know," she added, "I don't get along very well with adults." Poor Sarah is in the news right now for allegedly taking bribes from people who wanted to meet her husband. If I had a famous and hottie husband, I'd be taking bribes too!

At the event, news photographers swamped all over the hall while frantically looking for photo ops of Sarah, but I scooped them to the best shot. Ha. But Sarah then offered up a great one-liner regarding her recent experiences with the American press. She simply referred to the title of one of her earlier books, "Ashley Learns about Strangers". And I also got a great photo of Sarah signing copies of her new book. She had a smile and something nice to say for everyone who wanted a copy of her book, "Emily's First Day of School".

I also got an autographed copy of Oscar Hijuelos' new book, "Beautiful Maria of My Soul." Hijuelo also smiled a lot. Joyce Carol Oates was supposed to autograph books too but she didn't show up. But I still got a copy of her new book, "Sourland". Sometimes Oates books are a bit too sad to read, but you gotta admit that her command of the English language is superb.

Then I went off to hear a panel discussion regarding young adult paranormal and vampire books. "They take metaphors and actualize them. They also heal the split between magical and real worlds. Paranormal books have the strength to cross over between the two -- and they also define what the reall world COULD be like. Paranormals also stand in for the difficulties that teens face -- like that you don't have any power over what is happening to your bodies. It also supplies strong female role models." That's definitely true. It doesn't get much stronger than becoming a vampire. I myself always thought that vampires were an analogy for Big Corporations sucking America dry, but apparently not.

Also Cory Doctorow gave a talk about his new book, "For the Win". It's about virtual sweatshops in Asia where poor nerds play video games night and day and then sell their wins to exploiters who then sell them for big bucks to American kids who want to appear to be gamer geniuses. Who would have thought?

And Mitali Perkins talked about her new book, "Bamboo People". It's about child soldiers in Burma. She said most books are either "mirror" books or "window" books. They can either mirror your own life and help you understand it better, or they can take you away to someplace else. Or they can do both.

I wonder why I always like to read murder mysteries? Are they window books or mirror books for me?

Then I met Gary Trudeau, who signed a lithograph to my son Joe. "Hey, Joe! It's for you!" And got a book autographed by Ridley Pearson, and one by Chris Hedges and another one by someone named Lemony Snicket. But all the librarians standing in line for his autograph assured me he was really a real person.

Keith Richards has a book coming out in October. And I got a book called, "The Zen of Social Media Marketing". I could use that. I need to market my book! And I also got a book by James Howard Kunstler about a post-oil world. "With the oil spill and all this book could be rather timely," I said but he just laughed and commented that nothing he had ever written was timely -- but who knows.

PS: Even while I'm running around and doing all this stuff in New York City, I still keep totally tuned in to my wi-fi, trying to find out what is happening to my friends who are sailing to Gaza with an eight-ship international flotilla filled with 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid. "We finally just left Athens!" they e-mailed me this morning. Yaay! "We expect to arrive in Gaza by Saturday." That is, if the flotilla doesn't get stopped by the very formidable Israeli Navy.

Can't the Israeli government come up with some better way to act than stopping this flotilla? Perhaps instead they could say something like, "Chocolate? The flotilla is carrying chocolate? We want all children to have chocolate, and even the children of Gaza. We're neither unfeeling nor inhuman. And therefore, out of the goodness of our hearts and our belief in the Talmud, we are going to let this relief through."

I know that the Old Testament mentions something about an eye for an eye, but where does anyone anywhere say anything about banning CHOCOLATE?

In the Christian Science Monitor, that's where.

According to the CSM, "The Israeli rights group Gisha successfully took the government to court on May 6 over its Gaza policies. Why is chocolate a security risk?" Apparently, Gisha has "compelled Israel’s ministry of defense to reveal information about how it formally manages the blockade for the first time. After nearly three years of secrecy, government attorneys conceded the existence of an official defense ministry list of items approved for transfer into the enclave.... Gisha had requested the government reveal on what basis it approves or rejects goods destined for the Gaza Strip, after items like chocolate, notebooks and jam were consistently barred without explanation."

I am hoping that my friends' "cruise" to Gaza goes well. But just in case that it doesn't, maybe they had better take Sarah Ferguson's advice and "Learn About Strangers" too.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I (heart) New York!: The 2010 Book Expo, Lower East Side & Gaza

New York is absolutely throbbing with energy and excitement! When I get back to Berkeley, I'm gonna have to hide under the bed for WEEKS just to recover from this trip. The very first thing that you do after landing at JFK is to get lost on the subway at least twice. Then I stayed at the Gershwin Hotel's conveniently-priced youth hostel -- with three Swedish girls and an Argentine science major. None of them snored. And just TRY to get hooked up to the free wi-fi at McDonalds. Not happening. No.

I really wanted to get an internet connection so I could find out what's happening to my friends who are sailing to Gaza with hundreds of tons of humanitarian relief stuffed into a bunch of cargo ships. They were supposed to sail on Saturday. And then Tuesday. What is happening? Have they sailed yet? Or not.

Finally, around 10 pm last night, I located an internet cafe. Nope, they haven't sailed yet. But they had better do it soon if they plan to get there any time soon. The Israeli navy has already promised to give them a Warm Reception -- and it might be impolite of them to miss that. Joe Meadors, a survivor of the USS Liberty disaster, is also on board the same ship as my friends. Perhaps he is hoping to do one of those veterans' reminiscence thingies and relive another Israeli attack? Let us sincerely hope that THAT doesn't happen!

Anyway, bright and early this morning I ran, er, hurried up to the Jacob Javits center to get my Barbra Streisand ticket. Score! And there's a photo of her on the ticket, all in blue velvet and sitting on a blue velvet couch next to a fluffy little white dog. Her new book is called, "My Passion for Design". I hope they give out free copies. My apartment could really use a face-lift.

Here's a quote from Barbra's editor at Viking: "She devoted as much time to this project as to anything else she's done in her life. You can really hear Streisand's voice when reading it. It's as much fun to read as it is to look at."

I'll report back to you later, after I've seen her speech. No photographs are allowed, however. Rats.

Now for the fun stuff. After registering and checking in at the Book Expo, I jumped on the crosstown bus and transferred to the Second Avenue bus down to the Lower East Side. I used to live on the Lower East Side! Back in 1965. B&H Dairy is still there, still selling rice pudding.

Then I went to see my old neighbor, Ben Treuhaft. He has a piano repair shop down on Ridge Street, down past Orchard Street. And, boy, has Orchard Street changed too. Insead of all those old funky stalls and pushcarts, it is now officially New York's "Bargain District". And Alphabet City, which used to be a notorious junkie heaven where you took your life in your hands just to walk down the street past 8 pm, is now all co-op apartments, Yuppie daycare centers and designer boutiques.

I was almost raped on the corner of Houston and Second, back in the day. My, times have changed.

Anyway, it's just no longer "Second-hand Rose, from Second Avenue...."

Ben, my ex-neighbor, caught me up to speed fast. "I've married and had two children since I saw you last...." That long ago?

"What about your Piana to Havana program?" Ben used to collect hundreds of used American pianos and ship them off to Cuba so that school children could take lessons on them.

"I'm not so involved in that any more. And besides, I'm leaving for Japan in four days." His wife Olga, a biologist, will be working on a brain-study program over there for a few years.

"Wow! That's exciting!" Then I volunteered to let his wife study MY brain too -- free of charge. Anything to have an excuse to go visit Japan.

Then I asked Ben if he knew anything about how the huge oil spill disaster was effecting Cuba, but he didn't know. However, he did say that Cubans are highly innovative in matters like that and could probably have the equipment and know-how to plug the leak ASAP. But we all know that asking Cuba for help just isn't going to happen -- just like what happened in Haiti, all that cutting-off-one's-nose kind of stuff.

Then I jumped onto the Chambers subway line at Essex Street and scooted back up to the Javits Center again, to see if they were handing out any more free books. No luck so far but the Book Expo doesn't officially kick off until tomorrow.

I just love New York!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Breast cancer update: What to expect if you've got it

For years now, my face has been disfigured by an old skin cancer scar. Yuck! Don't you just hate getting cancer? Most people do. But instead of just sitting around hatin' on cancer, my local hospital is taking action against the disease. Not only have they developed a super-duper traditional cancer-fighting program of the first order, but they also utilize almost every other kind of cancer-fighting technique they can get their hands on. I'm impressed.

At my local hospital's comprehensive cancer center they also offer acupuncture, massage, Jin Shin Jyutsu, guided imagery, yoga, chi gong and mindfulness programs along the lines of Jonathan Kabot-Zinn. They want the best for their patients and they want their patients to get well. And surprisingly enough, a goodly majority of them do get well. The number of funerals here seems to be way down.

The other day, my hospital also sponsored something called a "Mock Tumor Board". That's when various cancer specialists demonstrate how they usually get together as a board and consult each other on how a particular patient should best be served by all of his or her doctors working together to help the patient get well.

This is my report on a "mock" breast cancer tumor board. This is how a breast cancer tumor is treated these days -- from beginning to end. And since something like one in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer sooner or later, this is stuff you should know.

At this particular demonstration, the board only discussed traditional Western medical approaches to cancer. If you want info about the use of yoga, chi gong guided imagery, etc., that will be another report altogether. This is only a report on the mammogram/radiology/chemotherapy type of stuff.

There were no refreshments served at this board.

"Today we have a medical oncologist, a breast surgeon, a radiologist, a pathologist and a radiation oncologist," announced the moderator. "They would like to give a demonstration of what an actual breast cancer tumor board is like -- when, once a week, these experts come together to decide on a treatment plan for each new breast cancer patient case we have here."

The case under discussion today was a 64-year-old woman with a history of hypertension, kidney stones and use of hormone replacement therapy. "She has three children, works as an administrative assistant, used to smoke but quit, weighs 220 pounds and had a 4 x4 centimeter mass in her right breast."

The radiologist spoke first. "Our facility uses digital mammograms now, which are as good or better than screen mammograms. However, sometimes we don't see lesions on a mammogram even if there are lumps, so if this is the case we then do a sonogram to make sure." He then showed us a PowerPoint presentation of various sonogram photos of an actual cancerous breast tumor.

"We look for a mass that has architectural distortion," and some other things which I missed because I was too busy taking notes. "We look for irregular margins." Yep. The mass looked more like an amoeba than like a cyst.

"Notice that the mass is shaped irregularly -- whereas a cyst has a more regular shape." The next step, after a suspicious mass has been isolated, is to have the mass biopsied. "It used to be that surgical biopsies were the only accurate forms for obtaining accurate specimens but needle biopsies are very accurate now. Surgical biopsies are no longer necessary." Whew.

I had a surgical biopsy back in 1976 and it was large and hurtful and scar-producing and nasty. Fortunately, however, my biopsy turned out to be negative.

If the biopsy proves to be positive, then they do an MRI next -- to see how large the tumor actually is. "MRIs can define tumors even more clearly." Then the surgeon will know what to expect when he or she operates.

The patient (hopefully not you or me) is next seen by a surgeon. "From this MRI photo, you can see that there is a solitary lesion here. Then several questions immediately arise. Where is it located? Can it be removed cosmetically? Can it be gotten out with a clear margin around the lesion? Will it lend itself to a lumpectomy instead of a complete breast removal?"

Also doctors now can do a sentinel lymph node surgery so they don't have to remove all underarm lymph nodes. The surgeon also works with a plastic surgeon to get good cosmetic results as well as stopping the cancer.

"After the surgery, the pathologist receives the tumor for analysis. Are we sure that the tumor has been taken out completely? Are the margins clean? The pathologist makes slides from a cross-section of the tumor."

Then the pathologist showed us a photo of a tumor. Yuck! You don't even want to know. Chicken intestines come to mind.

The specimen is then processed to look for stuff. What kind of stuff? "The presence of overstimulated estrogen and progesterone, cancer cells, etc."

We are then shown a slide of a normal breast's cells, milk-producing glands, fatty areas and ducts. "Note that the cells and the architecture are regular and round and well-differentiated."

Then we saw photos of cancerous breast cells. "Here's a slide from our patient. I'm going to show you now what an invasive carcinoma looks like." The cell structure has broken down -- bigtime! "They are very disorganized." Fascinating. It's like the breakdown of civilization.

"The patient had a lumpectomy but it was a complex situation."

There are three factors that a pathologist looks for in a tumor: "Its architecture, the nuclei and..." something else. That cancer surely has taken over and fouled things up. You don't have to go to med school to see the difference between normal and cancerous cells in these photos. The pathologist's presentation made it clear that cancer is pretty violent stuff. "Sometimes tumors become more aggressive as time passes." Yeah duh.

After the pathologist, the patient is taken to the medical oncologist, who looks at various pathological aspects of the tumor. "If a person has a lot of estrogen and progesterone receptors, a patient tends to do much better." They also look at the age of a patient and the presence of other health risk factors -- co-morbidities.

This is the point when the doctors decide whether or not to give chemotherapy. "This patient may not need chemotherapy but will definitely need hormone therapy. With only a lumpectomy and radiation, she would have an 18% chance of relapse." And that's not good enough. The doc also looks at the patient's various genes via Mamoprint and Oncotype DX tests to see what her genetic disposition toward cancer is. "A low-risk patient has less than 10% risk."

"What is hormone therapy?" someone asked.

"It blocks estrogen production." Did I hear that right? Estrogen production is a bad thing? Or only a certain type of estrogen production? Remind me to Google that later. "Hormone therapies block the production of estrogen..."

"In this case, the patient's oncologist decided not to use chemotherapy which is toxic, but it is more art than science to make this call at this point." And apparently they keep an eye on breast cancer patients for the next 30 years -- just to make sure that the various specialists did make the right call.

Next came the radiation oncologist. "This patient opted to conserve her breast. If there is a clean margin -- of at least one millimeter -- around the tumor, then radiation is an option over a mastectomy."

Radiation therapy takes place five days a week for about seven weeks. Studies are showing that a radiation course may be shortened, but there is only about five to ten years of follow-up available on the long-term results of decreased radiation."

When getting radiation treatments, a patient, by holding her breath, can apparently push her lungs and heart out of the way of the radiation and thus lower its effects on those organs. But even so, radiation is still a rather fierce treatment. "Radiation can cause scarring and changes to ligaments and skin."

Next, the surgeon spoke again about the benefits of holding tumor boards. "When we all meet to consult, we discuss each case carefully. And sometimes we don't always agree on treatment. But we do combine our knowledge to the patient's best advantage."

"What is the success rate of surviving breast cancer these days?" I asked.

"There is a declining morbidity rate now, based on early diagnosis, hormone markers, targeted therapy, etc. Most women these days do NOT die of breast cancer."


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Greek general strike: Is the Gaza flotilla caught in the middle?

Several friends of mine just left for Greece in order to join an eight-ship flotilla that plans to sail from Athens to Gaza at the end of May. The eight ships will be carrying humanitarian supplies designed to help break a four-year siege of the Gaza strip -- or at least that was the plan. But when my friends got to Greece, they suddenly found themselves right in the middle of a huge Greek general strike!

"The area where we are staying is right next to strike headquarters," one friend e-mailed me today. Oh crap! I could have been there, reporting my little heart out on one of the hottest stories in the world with the exception of the BP oil spill -- and instead I chose to go off to New York to hear Barbra Streisand. And now I'm missing all this freaking hot news! How disheartening.

Actually my bank account made my choice for me. Due to limited funds, I figured that going to see Barbra Streisand taut her new book, "A Passion for Design," at the 2010 Book Expo on May 25 and me staying at the Gershwin Hotel's youth hostel would be more in keeping with my budgetary requirements. Had I but known that such hot news was gonna be afoot in the land of Socrates, I would have run right out and got a freaking travel loan! Or hitchhiked to Athens.

"Jane," wrote another friend, "Greece is up in arms about the austerity measures the government is wanting to impose so that they can be bailed out by the EU. Recently a good left-wing government was elected but they have little choice, having inherited a disaster of an economy. How long the strike will last? It's anybody's best guess."

"Yes but," replied another flotilla-bound friend now in Greece, "does the Greek government really need 2,000 additional police, typically with ten or twenty of them stationed at main intersections, all throughout Athens? Seeing this up close, I can really appreciate how chilling an effect this has on the people."

Then another correspondent from Greece added her two cents. "If I could gently weigh in here, might I suggest that it’s not just Greece that is feeling the pain. It’s most of the other EU countries, too -- Italy, Portugal and Spain to name the more crucial ones. But the others are also coming to the entry gate -- bigtime. Thus, I think, in order to save its American-dominated economic structure based on military adventurism and profit at any cost, Greece has no alternative but to resort to 2,000 additional police. After all, the Greek people are really angry right now. And it doesn’t matter if their elected government is Left or Right -- both are based on the same American-model economic structure, and they both fundamentally base their existence on production for profit, not people. They both will thus do whatever it takes to protect that economic base. And if we in the U.S. ever get 'Greek Fever' too and start protesting too loudly, the same thing will happen in America as well -- only probably worse. And those 20-30 cops at each intersection will all be in place in America too, just in case we also get out of order."

But let's get back to the Shipping News. How is the Greek general strike going to effect the flotilla to Gaza? Hmmm. Here's a report from another flotilla member: "We are now in an apartment here and anxiously awaiting word on what to do next. Meanwhile, we can't get euros, since all the banks seem to be closed, and we can't contact anyone -- except through the internet which, thank God, we have in the apartment now -- since we can't get out to buy any cell phones! We have 10 euros, which is just enough to cover food for the next few hours. Otherwise, we are trapped."

I coulda been there! I coulda been trapped too! That could have been ME running out of food in Athens! Rats.

Not only that, but the Book Expo people in New York have just sent me an e-mailed stating that there are only a limited number of Barbra Streisand tickets available and they now are being handed out on a first-come-first-served basis. What? Now I'm going to miss the Greek general strike, a huge international flotilla going to Gaza that may or may not be blown to bits by the Israeli navy, AND I'm also going to miss Barbra Streisand as well?

That just sucks eggs.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Berkeley's Grassroots House helps send a boat to Gaza

The Berkeley Barb used to be my home town's most famous "newspaper of record," and we also had another hometown rag called "Grassroots". However, both these papers have been out of print for more than 40 years and now most of our local Berkeley newspapers have gone digital -- except for "Grassroots," which has bucked that trend and simply gone "residential". It has changed from being a newspaper into being, er, a building?

Located on Blake Street just below Shattuck, Berkeley's Grassroots House still does all that crusading-against-injustice type of stuff that the newspaper it was named after used to do -- only now it does it with shingles, wood and windows instead of with newsprint. According to a 2009 article by Lydia Gans in the Berkeley Daily Planet, "Grassroots a community building that provides office and meeting space for a number of social justice organizations." And one of those social justice organizations is the Free Palestine Movement -- which is currently helping to financially sponsor one-half of the cost of a boat in an international flotilla sailing from Greece to Gaza with medical supplies at the end of May.

Does this make Grassroots House "The place that launched a half a ship"?

Local Free Palestine Movement members Janet Kobran and Paul Larudee will be on board the FPM-sponsored half-boat when it -- and seven and a half other boats -- leaves Greece for Gaza in a flotilla meant to break Israel's four-year-long siege of Gaza by providing Gaza with various much-needed humanitarian supplies. And Ehud Barak, Israel's Minister of Defense, has promised to send almost the entire Israeli navy out to intercept this small flotilla.

Has Berkeley's Grassroots House once again gotten itself into hot water?

Like its namesake, the original Grassroots newspaper, it looks like the Grassroots House has once again assumed the role of a biblical David by attempting to take on a very formidable Goliath -- one who has threatened to use whatever force necessary to stop this humanitarian relief effort.

Oh well. That's Berkeley for you -- home to a whole bunch of us latter-day Davids. And although we may not win every round against the world's many Goliaths, we still keep on trying. And perhaps this time the FPM's half-a-boat will be successful in helping relieve the siege of Gaza.

(Here's a link to the FPM, where you can actually track the flotilla's progress via a coolness spot-locator:

PS: The City of Berkeley also recently announced that, within our city limits, a corporation is still NOT a person. Yaay!

PPS: When China successfully invaded America about a decade ago and established a strong beachhead in almost every town in the USA, it couldn't conquer Berkeley! To this day, Berkeley still does NOT have a WalMart.

Grassroots House members, from left John Selawsky, Henry Norr,  Jane Welford, Maya Drooker, Emma Coleman, Andrea Pritchett, Sean  Gallager.
Photo by Lydia Gans
Grassroots House members, from left John Selawsky, Henry Norr, Jane Welford, Maya Drooker, Emma Coleman, Andrea Pritchett, Sean Gallager.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Our Marines: Ridden hard & put away wet

Now here's a touchy subject -- recently there's been spate of suicides by Marines who have just returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan. But here's the really touchy part: These suicides have all taken place on stateside Marine bases. One Marine recently escaped from a hospital at Camp Lejeune, got hold of a gun somehow and shot himself right there on the base. And another Marine at Quantico jumped in front of a train.

However, the Marine high command at these bases is fully aware of this problem and is doing something about it. According to one official Marine publication, "Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the Marine Corps. Even one death by suicide is too many. It is a tragic and preventable loss, causing untold grief to loved ones and units, and is of highest concern to the public, legislators, the Commandant, and all Marines. In addition, suicide and suicidal behavior at all levels can take a tremendous toll on the readiness and resources of the unit involved. For all these reasons, suicide awareness, prevention, and intervention must be of highest priority to all Marines, and especially Marine leaders."

Returning troops at the major stateside Marine bases are now being routinely shown training films and PowerPoint presentations regarding how to deal with suicidal tenancies -- but still. You gotta be pretty damn desperate to jump in front of a train. How many more of our Marines are that desperate? And if so, how did they get that way?

Here's my personal opinion, based on time spent in Iraq embedded with the Marines. I may be wrong about this, but here it is. "American Marines compose the finest fighting force EVER. Forget about Romans and Spartans. Our guys are the best." So what happened? Why all the suicides? "Because our Marines are being stretched far too thin. American Marines are being asked to defend the interests of an international corporate structure that has its octopus-like tentacles spread out all over the entire globe. That's far too much territory to expect even our fabulous Marines to defend."

But what inflames me even more is that the international corporate structures that our Marines are so gallantly defending aren't even American corporations! Perhaps one day long ago they USED to be American corporations -- but that was back in the days before outsourcing.

Our Marines are being asked to stick their fingers in [dams] all over the world so that wealthy international corporations all over the world can reap the profits. It's not even Americans who are reaping the profits any more. No wonder our Marines are so stretched. They are daily and constantly fighting the never-ending battles of Endless War so that men who owe NO allegiance to America -- or American workers or American Marines either -- can make grossly disproportional profits off of others' pain.

Our Marines are being ridden hard and put away wet so that corporations who don't even pay taxes in America can still have their billionaire bottom lines protected.

And our Marines do this, day after day, year after year, serving hard time in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and Kenya. And WHY do they keep doing it? Because they are Marines -- the best fighting force EVER. And our Marines' abilities are not only being wasted by being spread too thin throughout the world to the point that when (not if) we will someday need them here at home, there may well be too few of them left to defend America proper and it will be too late.

The international corporations benefit from our Marines' presence. And the Marine Corps pays the price. And, apparently, individual Marines are paying an even greater price. This fractured practice of using and misusing our Marines has just got to stop.

According to the Jacksonville Daily News, "Camp Lejeune the aftermath of the death of a colleague who shot himself during a police chase aboard base Monday said instead of the needed psychiatric treatment they sought they were given a cocktail of antidepressants and sent back to work." Yes, nine long years of constant war does have a tendency to grind our troops down. Even World War II didn't last that long.

And we may have unearthed just the tip of the iceberg here. According to Jacksonville's, "A total of 48,086 mental health related visits for all Naval Hospital clinics aboard Camp Lejeune were recorded in fiscal year 2009. In fiscal year 2010, there have been 26,609 mental health related visits through March 31, said Lt.j.g. Tony Skrypek, department head for TRICARE Operations at Naval Hospital."

Also, according to Salon magazine, PTSDs may still not be getting properly treated at Camp Lejuene -- despite all the recent PowerPoint presentations going on. "Internal documents and e-mails show that Navy officials unfavorably doctored a psychiatrist’s performance record after he blew the whistle on what he said was dangerously inept management of care for Marines suffering combat stress at Camp Lejeune, N.C."

PSS: And here's a quote from my usually reliable Marine Mom source: "I've heard several Marines say that Afghanistan is the 'Worst place on earth'. So instead of sending our Marines out to fight in the countryside over there, let's start sending out the Afghan Army and Afghan police troops that we have been training for approximately 10 years -- and leave the U.S. troops back on base."

Marine Mom also sent me this video about the recent Nashville flood disaster: "Shouldn't some of our money have gone to help Nashville -- instead of pouring billions into Afghanistan?"

PPPS: The Marines aren't the only ones being ridden hard and put away wet. The American people are too. While corporatist lobbies are happily siphoning America's wealth off in order to protect their own interests, we could have used all that money on preventive infrastructure measures back here at home, so that the Nashville flood could have been prevented -- not to mention the Ohio flood and Katrina.

Please vote for me ASAP so that I can get a scholarship to the Netroots Nation convention in Las Vegas this July! Vote here:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"Justice" photo by

Debt forgiveness: Do loans, like milk, have expiration dates?

I just got a call from Judge Joe Brown's producer. "We are interested in having your small claims court case on our show. What's the case about?"

"Well," I replied, "I loaned someone some money and she promised to pay me back and then she didn't."

"Sounds like an interesting case. How long ago did you loan her this money?"

"Approximately ten years ago."

"Sorry," the producer replied. "That's too long ago. We can't take your case."

"!" I stammered -- but the producer had already hung up.

Then I got to thinking about my case. It's an airtight case. My case is an excellent case! The only thing wrong with it is that I had been too much of a softie and allowed the person who had borrowed the money too much time to pay me back. Does this mean that loans, like milk, have expiration dates?

According to Judge Joe Brown's producer, apparently they do.

Does this mean that if it takes forever for a person to pay off his or her home loan, then their home will automatically revert to becoming the debtor's property after a certain number of years -- whether this person pays on the loan or not?

Does this mean that all those third-world countries that were strong-armed into borrowing money from the World Bank are now free and clear of their debts -- because it took them too long to pay down their loans?

Does this mean that the Mob can no longer knee-cap you if you don't ever pay back your bookie?

Does this mean that the U.S. government will no longer have a seven-trillion-dollar deficit if we just wait long enough for it to become the next generation's problem?

Sure it does.

Judge Joe Brown rules!


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Monday, May 10, 2010

My kids' mom is SO Berkeley that...we actually survived Mothers Day!

Did you know that there's a website out now that is completely devoted to jokes about Berkeley moms? Blond jokes and Polish jokes are out now. Berkeley Mom jokes are in. "My mom is so Berkeley that...."

Hey, I'm a Berkeley mom.

So when my daughter Ashley and son Joe asked me what I wanted to do for Mothers Day this year, I got to thinking about Berkeley. "Hey, I've got an idea. Let's drive around Berkeley to all the places we used to hang out at when you guys were kids." Tot lots? Soccer fields? Elementary schools? No way! My kids had different kinds of memories about their pasts.

First we went to the Cafe Mediterraneum up on Telegraph Avenue, where I used to sit and gossip in the 1970s and drink caffe lattes while my kids played under the table. Other kids may have gone to Blue Fairyland for daycare but not mine!

"My mom is so Berkeley that she raised me at the Med."

Then we drove by People's Park. "I was there when we first started to plant its gardens back in 1969," I told the kids. "I was there for the riots and the tear gas. And I got my picture on the front page of the Berkeley Barb during our victory parade."

That's just great. "My mom is so Berkeley that she was a cover girl for the Berkeley Barb...."

Then we drove by the University of California. I always measure my life by this benchmark: "Am I having as much fun now as I did while going to Cal back in the 1960s?" And the answer is still always no.

"My mom is so Berkeley that she used to take us to hunger strikes up on Sproul Plaza." And I still do.
(Photo courtesy of

Next we drove down past the old Mandrake's nightclub, where I first met one of the backup guitarists for a band called Joy of Cooking. Two months later I was pregnant. "That's not my child and goodbye," said the lead singer for a band named Commander Cody and The Lost Planet Airmen.

"My mom is so Berkeley that she spends our entire Mothers Day making us listen to stories about when she was a Flower Child." Damn straight. And before that I was a Beatnik. And don't you forget it.

Next we drove past the law office where I used to work. "Remember when I used to work for Bob Treuhaft? He was a lawyer for the Free Speech Movement." And his wife Jessica Mitford had gone to Spain to fight against Franco in the 1930s.

"My mom is so Berkeley that she used to take us to reunions of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade."

Then we drove past the infamous Woolsey Street House, where Alan Ginsburg, Chogyam Trungpa, Timothy Leary and Country Joe McDonald used to hang out in the attic with the crew of the Floating Lotus Magic Opera.

"My mom is so Berkeley that she can remember taking LSD back when it was still legal."

Then we drove past the now-defunct Mothers Motors, where I first met Ashley's father. He and I used to go on road trips on his Velocette. And I tried to learn to drive his old Triumph Bonneville.

"My mother is so Berkeley that she gave us motorcycle helmets for our birthdays and I went on my first chopper ride when I was three weeks old." Not only that but you were conceived after a Grateful Dead concert.

But now all that's changed. Berkeley is starting to become just another bedroom community. One of my daughters has rebelled and become a Yuppie. And I myself have become just another aging and forgotten recluse who doesn't even own a cell phone -- let alone an iPod.

"My mom is so Berkeley that she's beginning to talk about being buried in the back yard when she dies...."

Next we drove up toward Tilden Park to Lake Anza, the merry-go-round and the Little Farm. How many times have I dragged the kids up there when times got tough for me, the ultimate Berkeley single mother? I can't even count them. And we used to go to Edy's for hot caramel sundaes when things got tough too but Edy's went out of business. As has Mr. Mopps, Berkeley's legendary toy store.

"My mom is so Berkeley that she used to read Sartre while we swam in Lake Anza."

Then there were all those scholarships. I must have applied for a million scholarships so that my kids could go off to camps in the summer. Camp Tuolumne near Yosemite, the YMCA's Camp Gualala, Cal Camp down near Santa Cruz, the Lawrence Hall of Science. Even the official NASA U.S. Space Camp. Did I leave anything out? Day camps. Overnight camps. Girl Scout camps. Science camps. Martial arts camps. Music camps. My kids went to Cazadero and Ashley learned how to play the saxophone. Joe played electric guitar back then. He still does.

"My mom is so Berkeley that we never even saw her during the whole month of July." Hey, I believe strongly in the curative powers of fresh air.

Then we drove by the Cheese Board. Remember that old Berkeley band called The Energy Crisis? With Phil Marsh? He used to sing a song called "Telegraph Avenue," and the band used to play at one of my my daughters' birthday parties when she was young. We had tons of chocolate chip cookies (I used to make them at the old Freight) and made up ten gallons of Tequila Sunrises as well. Those were great parties. Wesley Tanner printed the invitations. But then some of the band members got distracted and opened the Cheese Board instead.

"My mom is so Berkeley that she managed to make a three-year-old's birthday party into an event that has been talked about for decades!"

And to finish off our fabulous Mothers Day Berkeley tour, we went off to the Albany Twin to see that movie "Babies". It doesn't get much more Mothers Day than that. Then we went to the Cafe Tibet for dinner but it was closed so we ended up at an organic Thai food restaurant that served pumpkin curry and brown rice.

"My mom is so Berkeley that we all grew up on Edy's sundaes and brown rice."

And I am also still enough of a Berkeley mom to still hope for -- no, demand! -- world peace. "Imagine a world where EVERY child is wanted, nurtured, protected and loved: World Peace in one generation!"

Screw all these people who still think that violence and neo-fascism and "war" is the answer. It is definitely not. All we have to do is make a graph that will project into the future all current Pentagon expenditures for weapons and all death by violence in all countries where Washington sends military aid or is currently conducting this or that "military action" -- and what we will see is a red line going up and up and up until there is nothing left of the whole human race.

"My mom is so Berkeley that she still thinks that nonviolence is still the only answer."

I'm also so Berkeley that I can't stand living without some kind of hope that there will someday exist a better world for my children.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Gaza or bust: Hey, that's my Promised Land too!

Author's note: For years and years now, it's been really hard for me to write anything in favor of Palestinians because there are always so many repercussions. Sure, I don't receive death threats any more like I used to but there are still all those nasty e-mails to deal with. Bummer. Why bother? Why should I stick my cyber-neck out again and again for people who are living way over on the other side of the world? There are too many injustices here at home for me to object to. Why bother looking for them elsewhere?

And who wants to be unpopular? Who wants to buck the tide? Who wants to alienate the majority (once again)? Not me!

But now I've just learned that Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh, a former Associate Professor of Genetics, director of Clinical Cytogenetic services at Yale University School of Medicine and a professor at Bethlehem University (and also a Palestinian Christian), was just arrested by Israeli occupation forces for peacefully protesting land seizures and home demolitions in the West Bank near Bethlehem.

Here's Dr. Qumsiyeh's account of the incident:

And you can just bet that if someone who has been a professor at the prestigious Yale School of Medicine can get arrested for standing up for justice, then who can guarantee that anyone else is safe from arrest -- either in the occupied West Bank or even here in America, the country that basically pays for the West Bank's occupation.

So I decided to go ahead and post my latest blog essay on Palestine anyway. Screw the weirdos who send me threatening e-mails. A person's gotta do what a person's gotta do. Justice is on my side!

Gaza or bust: Hey, that's my Promised Land too!

I'm all scheduled to go see Barbara Streisand and John Gresham at the 2010 Book Expo in New York City on May 25. This is a terrible thing. Rats!

"And why, exactly, are you complaining about that?" you might ask. "Seriously, Jane. There are a whole bunch of people out there who would give their right eye-tooth to be able to see Barbara Streisand live and in person!" And I might even be one of them -- but my big problem is that now I've just developed a disasterous scheduling conflict.

"Guess what, Jane?" e-mailed my friend Janet. "An extra place has just opened up on the European boat flotilla that's sailing from Greece to Gaza soon, and I think they can fit you in. You'd be leaving for Greece on May 19. Can you do it?" Rats and double-rats! This means that I'm going to have to chose between Barbra Streisand and taking a boat trip from Greece to Gaza, where people are trapped and dying. Gaza today is like how things used to be during World War II. Everyone there is either busy reenacting the results of Nazis' siege of the Warsaw Ghetto or else the Nazis' siege of Dunkirk -- only without all those little English sailboats to the rescue, except, hopefully, for this new European Flotilla.

Plus this flotilla will set sail on the 70th anniversary of the relief of the siege of Dunkirk. How historic is that!

Who could possibly make a choice between Barbra Streisand and and the relief of Gaza? Not me!

So. What should I do??? Should I be getting my freak on with Barbra? Or is it time to go off to Gaza, fight against injustice, get a hot scoop for my blog -- and get a once-in-a-lifetime chance to regenerate my Muslim roots as well?

One of my pet peeves in life these days is when people keep sanctimoniously telling me what I can and cannot do. "Jane, you need to start going along with the crowd more," they say. That's not gonna happen. I'm too old for that.

I hate it when people tell me that I can't write about the Kennedy assassination or all those holes in the official 9-11 story. But even more than that, I really hate it when people keep telling me that I can't even MENTION stuff about injustice in Palestine and/or that individual Muslims all over the world are being demonized collectively.

Heck, I'm even afraid to even hint gently that perhaps -- just perhaps -- I might be a Muslim too. Why? Because whenever I do mention that fact, then people start pouring out of the freaking WOODWORK in order to call me a baby-killer or a communist or a terrorist or Lord-knows-what other kind of social or political leper. Well. Despite all this pressure to conform, every once in a while I become contrary enough to want to flaunt my Muslim-ish-ness -- if for no other reason than to remind myself that I'm not just one more mindless Teabagger sheep.

So get over it. I'm a Muslim. Burn a cross on my lawn if you must. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. I even wrote a book about Islam. "Mecca & the Hajj: Lessons From the Islamic School of Hard Knocks". Order it here: You can't get much more Muslim than that. Humph.

Not only that, but the various fundie wingnuts who now run the Israeli government with an iron hand are always ranting and raving on about wanting to seize what small bits of land that are now left to Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and Old Jerusalem -- and how these small bits and pieces now lived on by Palestinians need to be absorbed into the Israeli wingnuts' Promised Land too.

I hate to burst your bubble, guys, but, as a Muslim, that area you are trying to grab up is actually MY Promised Land. That's MY property you're talking about. Your claim to that particular patch of real estate has been invalidated by a more recent deed to the property. Doesn't anybody around here ever read the Talmud, the Bible or the Quran?

As a Muslim, my deed to the Promised Land is newer than the Israeli wingnuts' deed. My deed was written later. And any real estate broker will tell you that a newer deed always holds precedence. And that means that my deed to all this section of the Promised Land trumps theirs. Get over it.

Not only that but Old Jerusalem is a UNESCO World Heritage Site -- MY world heritage site. As a member of the United Nations, I get possession of Old Jerusalem too. You think not? Read the fine print.

So. Should I go over to Gaza and set everyone over there straight -- or should I just go see Barbra Streisand instead? I'm completely torn. What would YOU do?

PS: Someone from the Free Palestine Movement recently suggested the perfect solution to my dilemma. "All you have to do is just ask Barbra Streisand to come on the boat flotilla to Gaza with you." Works for me.

PPS: And while we're on the subject of Teabaggers and wingnuts, the wingnuts in Arizona all have a lot in common with Israel's wingnuts. First of all, both are in control of governments that have enacted laws that clearly support violence, intimidation and racism over democracy and the right of all human beings to be free.

Second, Palestinians owned the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and Old Jerusalem before the Israelis arrived -- and Mexicans owned Arizona before the Americans arrived. Both Americans and Israelis then seized possession of "disputed" territories by force. And now both American and Israeli wingnuts are all complaining and whining because the people that they originally seized all this land from still want it back.

Third, both the Israeli wingnuts and the Arizona wingnuts use false rhetoric to bolster their claims. If you disagree with Teabagger wingnuts, they won't argue the facts with you but rather will simply call you names -- claim that you are un-American or, shudder, socialist or whatever.

And if you disagree with the Israeli wingnuts, they will simply call you antisemitic. End of discussion. Well, here's what I've got to say about that. "If the wingnuts, fundies and Mossad agents who currently run the Israeli government want to stop whining about the rise of antisemitism, then they had better stop acting in ways that endanger their reputations and actually encourage antisemitism. They had better stop acting like murderers and liars. Nobody likes a murderer or a liar, no matter what religion they profess -- be they Jews, Christians or Muslims. And lying and murdering with impunity in the Holy Land is giving Judaism a very bad name."

I would hate to see Jews worldwide become shunned and avoided solely because of the tricks that Netanyahu's wingnuts are up to. Plus don't you just hate it when hypocrites whine?

It's like when Sarah Palin advocates hunting wolves from helicopters and then whines about being slurred by environmentalists. Or when Palin goes to Arizona, stirs up a shipload of racism and then whines that she is being misunderstood by the press.

It's like when Bush and Cheney claimed to be goody-goody Christians and then set off a firestorm that eventually killed over a million people in the Middle East -- and then Bush and Cheney started whining that we Americans who advocated for peace were acting anti-Christian.

It's like when the Taliban burned down all those girls' schools in Afghanistan and then whined about Americans all being anti-Muslim when we objected.

You can't have it both ways, guys. Either you always take the moral high ground no matter what the cost -- or you don't. You can't just PRETEND to take the moral high ground. People have a way of eventually finding out the truth. Plus being able to master the art of being fair, moral and just, even if it kills you, is what separates human being from animals. And it is also the goal of ALL of our religions.

PPPS: And, no, I'm still not done venting about religious hypocrisy. Here are even more ventilations from me:

Just because some idiot Saudis may or may not have blown up the World Trade Center, I'm supposed to hate all Muslims? That doesn't make sense.

Just because some idiots in Israel blew up Jenin, Nablus, Lebanon (twice), Gaza and parts of Bethlehem, I'm supposed to hate all Jews? That doesn't make sense.

And just because some idiots in Washington who claim to listen to Jesus blew up Iraq and Afghanistan, I'm supposed to hate all Christians? That doesn't make sense either.

PPPPS: And while I'm still in tell-all mode, I might as well confess that I am even more of a pariah than just being a good Muslim in a time when all too many Americans consider Muslims to be terrorists. I am also a good Jew, a good Christian, a good Buddhist and probably even a good Hindu -- I take yoga one a week!

But what aggravates me most about Americans today is that, even after our great country has flourished and bloomed for the past 200 years under democracy and religious freedom, when the going starts to get tough for this generation all too many of us ignore both democracy and religion completely -- and turn to fascism.


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Monday, May 03, 2010

Madam Jane Predicts: No more war because no more gas!

Almost everyone in America knows which celebrity won "Dancing with the Stars" last time, that Sandra Bullock has just adopted a new baby and even that one of the Jonas Brothers is now married. But how many of us Americans are aware of the most important news event on this planet in the past 10,000 years? How many of us are aware of a new study by the U.S. military informing us that, worldwide, consumer demand for gasoline will outstrip its supply in just a year and a half, and that we could be almost without any fuel at all within just 20 years?

According to a report from the U.S. Joint Forces Command, "By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 million barrels per day."

This is the biggest news event in history -- even bigger than the recent CNN headline that Betty White has refused to pose naked!

Not all that many people have noticed the fact that we may be completely out of gas as quickly as even five or ten years from now. But Madam Jane has noticed. Why am I not surprised? Our cynical and surly Madam Jane always manages to throw a wet blanket on everything.

"Not only will there be NO gasoline in 20 years, but there will also be darn little electricity -- because you can't run generators (or even hybrids) without gas," predicted Madam Jane, having once again dusted off her old crystal ball. Nor will we have any food -- because we will be all out of the petroleum-based fertilizers that we now rely upon to grow food, and also there will be no way to get said food to market even if we were able to grow it. Plus you won't even be able to get YOURSELVES to the market -- without any gas for your cars."

Madam Jane is SUCH a drag. And she's no fun at parties either.

"Parties? What parties? When a gasoline-based world has no more gasoline, it's over. Who wants to party without disco lights, birthday cake or mp3 players? And with no access to people you could invite from your FaceBook page? Not me." That's a downer.

And that's probably the same reason why corporate-owned media news feeds haven't picked this story up yet. It's just too up-close and personal to appeal to the average American viewer. No one wants to hear about disasters that will personally effect us that intensely. We all love hearing about far-away tragedies like the earthquake in Haiti -- not tragedies occurring in our very own back yard. And because this hot story is being so ignored, Madam Jane doesn't even get to be on any talk shows either -- not even the liberal ones, not even Oprah!

She probably just made all this stuff up because she's tired of having all her other spot-on predictions be so blatantly ignored.

"But I know what I know," states The Madam. "And if no one believes me, then too bad for them. But if I was you, I'd be getting real busy stocking in a big supply of bicycles, canned food, Huggies and candles."

Ignore Madam Jane. Next thing you know she'll be telling us to start building bomb shelters like they did back in the 1950s. Ha!

"But some good things WILL come out of this catastrophe," predicted Madam Jane stoically. "I can clearly predict that there will be no more giant trans-global wars on the scale of Afghanistan or Iraq." Why is that? "Because armies cannot conduct wars of that magnitude without gasoline to run their airplanes and tanks. Look at Afghanistan for instance. It's pretty much landlocked and all of the Marines' equipment there -- from their Bradleys to the roast beef they are served at their DFACs -- has to be all flown in by air. And how long do you think that war will last without fuel for the planes?"

PS: Here's another really important multi-millennial story that is being largely ignored: "If that horrendous BP oil spill off the coast of Louisiana isn't capped, like, yesterday," flatly states Madam Jane, "all living things in the entire Atlantic Ocean could die out. All of them! And if something like that also happens to the oil rigs off Santa Barbara, there goes the entire Pacific Ocean too. And then there goes the planet...."

Madam Jane, you need to take a happy pill and start watching "Dancing with the Stars" more.


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