Monday, June 30, 2008

Innocents Abroad: Richard Engel's new book and going off to Najaf in Iraq....

(Photos are of a famous graveyard in Najaf and Ali's holy shrine; Richard Engel, etc. at the Book Expo; and me and my son, my three daughters, two granddaughters and daughter-in-law having our four-year reunions at my housing co-op and Epicurious Gardens in north Berkeley while eating Ciao Bella gelato. My two oldest daughters are the ones who look they might have even come close to beating me in the hair-growing contest! But I won.)

Yep, I'm still writing about the 2008 Book Expo. There was so much to learn, so many authors to meet and so MANY free books being given away at the Expo that I probably will be writing about it for the rest of the summer. Word.

When I was there, I went to an authors' panel featuring Ariana Huffington, that Daily Kos guy and Richard Engel. Kos said, "Back in 2002, we thought we were all alone [in the fight against Bush corruption] so I started a blog just to get things off my chest. And now, thanks to the internet, we no longer need a gatekeeper to tell us that we need permission to write about what we want to say. The media asked me what my credentials were but the people who read me didn't care. Now we are engaging people on the cutting edge. One and a half million people per month read the Daily Kos." Well, if what Kos said is true and Bush's corruption is now hanging out there for all the world and its wife to see, then why isn't George Bush in jail?

Then Ariana Huffington spoke. "In America today, right is wrong. Something very dramatic has happened in American politics today and the media has missed it. How come when the Right is so obviously bankrupt then why are they still dominant? 'Right is Wrong' is my attempt to answer how the Right has hijacked America. Why isn't the media telling us that Iraq is the greatest policy catastrophe in American history? Along with the idea of the world being flat, [this is the most hyped-up lie ever told]. These are not issues of Right or Left. These are issues of truth or delusion."

Then Huffington talked about John McCain. "He used to be a good guy back in 2000 but that John McCain no longer exists. The hero who was tortured now VOTES for torture. He is the oldest candidate ever and Iraq is his Viagra. My advice to him? If the war lasts for over 100 years, pull out!"

Then Huffington spoke about using fear as a control mechanism. "Without the use of fear, Bush would never have been elected." Guess what, Ariana? Bush WASN'T elected! "McCain is using fear already. This is both laughable and loathsome."

Next she talked about amnesia and how Americans keep forgetting all the many times in the past they have been duped. "These guys have no credibility left," yet Americans keep forgetting about past fiascoes and/or lies fed to them by the Bushites -- and then actually start getting ready to believe the next ones.

"The Democratic leaders have not lead in the past. But all we have to do [in 2008] is tell the truth relentlessly and repeatedly because the Right isn't at war against the Democrats. The Right is at war with reality. Make the McCain voters look at the facts. We cannot afford a third term for George W. Bush."

Then Richard Engel, an NBC correspondent working out of Baghdad for the last five years, spoke about the "war" in Iraq. "I have had the opportunity to see what has unfolded in that country from the beginning. People there now are ready to move on -- with a lot of healing and reconciliation. Violence is down 70% from a year ago -- although the gunfight in Sadr City was one of the fiercest I've ever seen."

But has Bush's "war" on Iraq helped Iraqis? "I was in a home with a boy whose leg had been shot off. How has the last five years improved his life? People have been through such incredible hardships that I don't know how they survive. My translator's wife doesn't leave the house, he's terrified of every militia man on every corner and resents that he is dependent on US troops for his safety. It is an incredibly complex picture. In my new book, I have tried to show all this -- how things have developed over time."

I went up to Engel after the talk and asked him if he really thought that things in Iraq were getting better. He looked me in the eye and said yes. He was really a nice guy, open and easy to talk to. Plus I got a free copy of his book!

I had planned to write up my report on this authors' panel as soon as I got back from Los Angeles, but then Life got in the way and I spent most of June pushing a shopping cart back and forth between my old apartment and a new downstairs unit in my housing project where I moved because of my bad knees, spending time with baby Mena and being visited by my two older daughters, so I didn't even get around to reading Engel's book -- let alone writing about it -- until 3 am this morning!

My daughter Ashley had loaned me her copy of the new Janet Evanovich book, "Fearless Fourteen," and I'd been reading it all evening and laughing so hard that I thought the neighbors might end up calling the cops on me for disturbing the peace -- especially the part where Stephanie and Lula do backup in a bounty-hunter reality show and get attacked by an over-sexed monkey! But then I couldn't get to sleep because I had been laughing so much, so I pulled out Engel's book on Iraq, figuring it would be dull enough to lull me to sleep.


Engel's book was a real page-turner. Plus it put Bush's "war" into perspective too. Apparently, what happened in Iraq as a result of Operation Iraqi Freedom has had very little to do with bringing democracy to that country, and everything to do with unleashing religious animosities that have existed just below the surface in Iraq since way back in the day, right after the death of Mohammed (PBUH) back in the seventh freaking century! Apparently, Bush had no clue what he was getting into there five years ago -- and, sadly, he still doesn't have any clue.

Then Engel wrote about the sacred city of Najaf and how Najaf was, aside from Mecca, the holiest city in the world to millions of Muslims. You might remember Najaf -- the city that Bush and Rumsfeld endeared themselves to in the hearts of Iraqis forever (NOT!) by bombing the heck out of it? But now the officials in Najaf are building an international airport there so that pilgrims can come from all over the world to pray at the holy shrine to Ali.

Here's an excerpt from Engel's book: "When General Cardon walked into [the governor of Najaf's] office, the governor wanted to talk about one thing: the airport. He said Najaf needed an international airport to receive pilgrims and tourists from around the Shiite world. For centuries, Najaf has lived off caravans of Shiite pilgrims who come from Iran, India, Lebanon, and the Gulf to worship and bury their dead.... 'I want to open flights from Najaf to New York,' the governor said. 'They should be direct flights.... We're expecting six or seven million visitors.'"

So. Pilgrims are now pouring into Najaf -- directly from NYC. That's good news. That's news I can use. I want to go on a pilgrimage to Najaf! At last, here it is -- a quick and easy way for me to safely go to Iraq and actually meet real Iraqis, which doesn't happen too often when you go over there as an embedded journalist. So I immediately googled for information on tours. Apparently, you can join a tour group in Britain, Dubai, Kuwait and Jordan. Tours originating in Iran were also mentioned. But I couldn't find any tours from New York. Maybe the international airport hasn't opened yet. But if a tour of Najaf is anything like a tour of Mecca, there will probably be a Hilton Hotel involved -- at the very least. Hot dog!

Now all I got to do is figure out how to pay for this tour -- I could apply for a grant, get sponsored by Fox News, win the lottery or something and I'm there! Maybe Bush will send me over on a fact-finding tour -- because its clearly obvious to me after reading Engel's book that Bush could definitely benefit from being exposed to some REAL facts about Iraq.


Here's an eight-day tour leaving for Najaf from Tehran. It sounds interesting and includes Qom and the grave of the poet Omar Khayyam:


Day 1 Tehran: Arrive at the airport meet & transfer to Hotel. PM city tour including Saad Abad Palace Museum ziarat of Emamzadeh Saleh and shopping. O/n at hotel

Day 2 Tehran: Morning H/D city tour. After lunch ziarat of Hazrat Abdul Azim. Continue towards Qom, en route visit Emam Khomeini's shrine & Jamkaran Mosque. Ziarat of Hazrat Masoomeh. O/N at hotel.

Day 3 Qom: Drive to Tehran to fly to Mashad. On arrival, meet& transfer to hotel. Excursion to Tus to visit tombs Ferdowsi, Ghazali & Harunieh. PM ziarat of Emam Reza's shrine. O/N at hotel.

Day 4 Mashad: Excursion to Neishabour, visit tombs of poets Khayyam and Attar & Qodangah. PM ziarat of Emam Reza. O/N at hotel.

Day 5 Mashad: Day at leisure for ziarat. O/N at hotel.

Day 6 Mashad: H/D city tour & ziarat. PM fly to Tehran. O/N at hotel.

Day 7 Tehran: Excursion to Qazvin City tour for ziarat of Emamzadeh Hossein (son of Emam Reza ). O/N at hotel.

Day 8 Tehran: Excursion to Bibi Shahrbanoo (Emam Hosssein's Wife). PM city tour & shopping. Late evening transfer to the airport for return flight.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Buried in the back yard: Dig anywhere in Iraq & find wall-to-wall weapons caches?

Anyone who has ever read anything I've written since George W. Bush stole the presidential election in 2000 will know that when it comes to writing about Bush, Cheney and the neo-cons, nothing is sacred. I've lampooned them, criticized them, exposed them for the crooks and liars that they are, demanded that they be put in jail IMMEDIATELY and made jokes at their expense. However, I've always had the utmost respect for the American military and have never ever made jokes at their expense.

Until now.

I'm sorry, guys, but I just can't resist.

Several months ago I got an e-mail from a US military press information center in Baghdad, asking me if I wanted to be on their "Press Release" mailing list. Sure! Maybe I could get some hot tips. And I did. What I discovered was that, according to these daily press releases, apparently there is nothing but wall-to-wall weapons caches lying just underground all over Iraq! Dig anywhere in that country and instead of coming up with oil or date-palm roots or garbage or sewer lines or graves, you will find nothing but weapons caches! Judging by these press releases, the whole country is one big freaking "cache cow"!

Enclosed below some samples of the press releases I have received over the space of only one week. Admit it, guys, this really IS good satire material. Apparently, according to the releases that are flooding my inbox daily, all you gotta do is dig down more than one foot deep anywhere in Iraq and you'll find mortar rounds, rocket launchers, machine guns, dynamite, detonation cords, hand grenades and/or IEDs.

So. After reading approximately 40 or 50 of the US military's press releases listing all kinds of weapons caches buried in Iraq, what have I learned? I've learned that either the US military is really good at digging up stuff, that the insurgency is still going strong even after five long hard bloody years of occupation, or that the weapons manufacturers of the world have a HUGE demand for their products and are experiencing yet another year of fabulous profits!

But there is an up-side to the weapons-cache situation in Iraq. According to journalist Tom Engelhardt, Bush and Cheney are now building or have already built approximately 200 permanent American bases and mega-bases there. "By now," stated Engelhardt, "billions have evidently gone into single massive mega-bases like the U.S. air base at Balad, about 60 miles north of Baghdad. It's a '16-square-mile fortress,' housing perhaps 40,000 U.S. troops, contractors, special ops types and Defense Department employees. As the Washington Post's Tom Ricks, who visited Balad back in 2006, pointed out -- in a rare piece on one of our mega-bases -- it's essentially 'a small American town smack in the middle of the most hostile part of Iraq.' Back then, air traffic at the base was already being compared to Chicago's O'Hare International or London's Heathrow -- and keep in mind that Balad has been steadily upgraded ever since to support an 'air surge' that, unlike the President's [sic] 2007 'surge' of 30,000 ground troops, has yet to end."

So. We can now rest assured that not ALL of the ground under Iraq contains wall-to-wall weapons caches. All those vast expanses of Iraq that are now covered with American military bases -- or which will be covered with even more American military bases in the near future -- are gonna be cache-free. Whew! That's a relief!

Here are the promised samples of press releases regarding weapons caches found in Iraq -- and this is just a example of what I get in my inbox within the space of any given week.

CAMP STRIKER, Iraq -- Soldiers from 4th Battalion, 25th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division found a cache of multiple mortar rounds near Abu Hamid, about 30 kilometers southwest of Baghdad, May 1. Acting on a tip, the soldiers found a cache in two different holes that consisted of over 40 mortar rounds, a 120 mm artillery round, 12 boosters, one canister of TNT and various illumination round components.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq -- Coalition forces found a weapons cache of explosively formed penetrators in the southern Baghdad community of Warij May 2. Soldiers from 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division were on patrol in Warij when they discovered four EFPs hidden in a closet shelf in a factory office. A brand new 107 mm rocket was also discovered. The EFPs were covered with foam and had wires leading from the back. The cache also included 40 pounds of unknown bulk explosives, a rocket sled and blasting caps.

BAGHDAD -- A local citizen's tip led to a cache find in Kartani Fahal village in Sadr al-Yusifiyah, about 25 kilometers southwest of Baghdad. After receiving the tip, Soldiers from 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), arrived on the scene to find Abna al-Iraq, or Sons of Iraq, already recovering the cache, with Iraqi Army troops providing security. The cache contained 36 mortars, 17 rocket-propelled grenade rounds, 11 rocket-propelled grenade launch motors, an improvised rocket launcher, two rockets, a hand grenade, seven 50-pound bags of homemade explosives, over 300 rounds, and 400 blasting cap primers, a mortar tripod and three mortar tube sites as well as other bomb-making materials.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq -- Multi-National Division -- Center soldiers discovered a weapons cache while patrolling the town of Wardia, Iraq. The cache belonged to a local criminal group known for targeting Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition forces 50 miles northeast of Baghdad. Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, and 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, found the cache through tips from Abna
al-Iraq, or Sons of Iraq, and National Police sources. The cache included Iranian rocket-propelled grenades, RPG launchers, propellant, multiple trip flares, a heavy machine gun, ski masks and ISF uniforms.

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi Army Scouts with 1st IA Division, advised by U.S. Special Operations Forces, discovered three weapons cache sites in al-Karmah, approximately 27 miles northwest of Baghdad. IA conducted an operation in the area to find and recover al-Qaeda in Iraq weapons caches in the area. Three separate caches were found containing a total of 24,000 .50 caliber rounds, 50 mortar rounds of various sizes, and 2,000 gallons of nitric acid, a substance used to make homemade explosives.

CAMP VICTORY, Iraq -- While conducting operations in Warij, a local Iraqi led soldiers to a munitions cache. Three criminals were also detained. Two have been linked to indirect fire attacks against Coalition forces south of Baghdad. The cache contained four mortar rounds, a bag of machine-gun ammunition, three cans of DSHKA ammunition and a rocket-propelled grenade motor.

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi Security Forces, Sons of Iraq (Abna al-Iraq) and Multi-National Division -- Baghdad soldiers seized caches and recovered weapons across Baghdad. At approximately 9:20 a.m., SOI members in Adhamiyah discovered a possible improvised explosive device that had been inadvertently picked up by a sanitation truck. The SOI found two 81 mm projectiles, a 120 mm Hera Mark I mortar, a projectile booster and detonation cord.

At approximately 10:45 a.m., Iraqi National Police, along with soldiers from the Company D, 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, seized munitions found in an abandoned mosque while conducting a patrol in east Rashid. MND-B soldiers secured the area as the Iraqi Police obtained permission to enter the mosque. The Iraqi Police entered the abandoned mosque and seized two containers of home-made explosive, a rocket-propelled grenade with launcher and a smoke grenade, along with an Iraqi Army uniform.

At approximately 6:50 a.m., soldiers with Company C, 4th Battalion, 64th Armored Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, discovered a weapons cache containing three 107 mm rockets, five RPGs, a 60 mm mortar and 200 rounds of PKC light machine gun ammunition during a combat patrol in west Rashid.

At approximately 4 p.m., soldiers with Co. B, 4th Bn., 64th Armored Regt., discovered a weapons cache consisting of eight 155 mm projectiles and five 60 mm mortar rounds while on patrol in west Rashid.

PS: Did you note that bad guys in Iraq are no longer being called insurgents, terrorists, Al Qaeda, militias or even The Enemy in these press releases now? Now they are simply being referred to as "criminals".

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The corporatists vs. the grandmothers: UC Berkeley regents play hardball with the tree-sitters

(Photos are of a UC Berkeley policeman -- standing ironically in front of a statue of the bear mascot that represents UC's fine academic tradition -- on one side of the road and grandmothers "loaded for bear" on the other; tree-sitters and trees hemmed in by Cyclone fences and barbed wire; and me, my daugher Ashley and my granddaughter Mena tasting a free sample of gelato)

This morning me and my six-month-old granddaughter Mena went for a walk, over to the College Avenue section of Berkeley. First we went to Nabalom bakery for a blueberry bran muffin for me, then cruised through Sweet Dreams toy store, saw a high chair that had possibilities for sale at a yard sale, bought cookies at the Move-on bake sale over on Prince Street and ended up at Whole Foods buying a jar of organic baby food for young Mena. Sweet potatoes.

Baby Mena wasn't sure if she liked sweet potatoes or not but while she was trying to decide, and I was deciding whether or not we were going to need to get hosed off when we got home because there was mushed baby-food sweet potatoes everywhere, a woman about my age came up to us and started chatting with young Mena. "I've got a granddaughter too," she said. Instant bonding!

"My daughter adopted my granddaughter in Uzbekistan," the woman informed me. "It used to be that single women could adopt from China but not any more. You need to be married. And it's getting harder and harder to adopt from Guatemala. So Uzbekistan is the place to go now."

Interesting. "How old was the baby when she was adopted?" I asked.

"Six months. They are very rigid over there. You have to go there for six weeks to make sure that you are bonded with the baby before you can actually adopt. It's an expensive and time-consuming process. But worth it!" The grandmother smiled. "My little granddaughter is intelligent, has a wonderful personality, can recite most of the alphabet and is cute as a button." What? At only six months old? "Oh, no. She's two years old now." Whew!

"But when we first got her, she was living in an orphanage that was understaffed and she hadn't been held a lot. And, frankly, we were quite worried about her. But she turned out fine."

Meanwhile baby Mena was smiling at the other grandmother at the same time that she was spitting sweet potatoes out, having decided that she liked them but didn't quite know what to do with them -- or how to keep them in her mouth. Then she stuck out her tongue. "Mena, I can't feed you if you stick out your tongue!" Then Mena helpfully gave me a Bronx cheer.

"Well, I've got to run," said the other grandmother. "I'm on my way to bring food to the tree-sitters up at the university."

"Hey, yeah," I replied. "I saw that on TV the other night. How are they doing up there."

"Basically, the university Board of Regents has decided to starve them out." OMG. The regents are so intent on building that gym/sports complex that they are willing to kill people to do it? I was shocked.

"They have been up in the trees for three days now, during this heat wave, with no food and no water. There are a bunch of us grandmothers who are going up there today at 2 pm to try and bring them supplies."

Building a sports facility is now more important than human life? Let me take this in for a moment. First you have one of the most beautiful groves of old oak trees in the world. Then you have corporatists controlling the University of California who want to cut them all down. Then you have the fact that the gym complex is right on a major earthquake fault. Then you have tree-sitters who are willing to risk their lives to protect the ecology but are being described on the evening news as just some sort of fanatic fringe element who are living up in the trees. Now what does all this have to do with learning and academia? What kind of message are the Regents sending UC students? That corporate growth is more important than trees, more important than human life....

And the Regents are teaching us this lesson less than half a mile from the very place that Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement made their heroic stand back in 1964. "There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!"

44 years have passed and nothing has changed.

I wanted to just cry.

I had moved to Berkeley in 1966 and had missed the original Free Speech Movement. Well. This time I wasn't going to miss it again! "Come on, baby Mena! Let's go put our bodies upon the gears and stop the wheels!" As long as I get you back home by 2:30, that is.

So me and my daughter Ashley and baby Mena went up to the old grove of oaks. On one side of the street were the campus police and the barbed wires and the Cyclone fences and the cherry-picker cranes. And on the other side of the road were the grandmothers. It's the corporatists vs. the grandmothers! Who will win? Shouldn't we all be asking ourselves that question right now?

PS: Ashley had to get to work so we didn't get to stay long at the oak grove but the grandmothers did look determined. I'd put my money on them! And baby Mena got to have her first taste of gelato once we got Ashley to work. But this time both her aunt and her grandmother were more prepared, standing around with napkins this time, ready to clean up the mess. But who will clean up the mess left on our planet by the corporatists?

It looks like it's going to be up to the grandmothers. Again.

Friday, June 20, 2008

An October Surprise: Some thoughts on robbing a bank and going to Iran....

(Photos are of downtown Tehran and two banks that somebody else has already robbed)

Global Exchange is an American organization that sponsors friendship-engendering, people-to-people tours of some of the world's most controversial hot-spots -- places like Cuba, North Korea, Palestine and Afghanistan. And someday, when Iraq is finally stabilized to the point where outside visitors might feel safe enough to travel behind its wannabe "Iron Curtain," I bet that Global Exchange will start up its tours of Iraq once again. In fact, I imagine that the first way that we will truly believe that peace has finally come to that poor war-torn region won't be when George Bush or John McCain delivers yet another phony TV speech telling us that Iraq is now perfectly safe. No, it will be when Global Exchange announces that it is once again offering its guided tours of Baghdad. But I digress.

"We have just set up a tour of Iran for this October," said GX's tour coordinator. "Interested in going on it?" You bet!

"October would be perfect," I replied, "because Madame Jane has predicted that Bush won't bomb Tehran until November or December." But how in the world am I going to pay for this tour? I know! I'll go rob a bank.

You are probably thinking that said bank robbery would include stuff like shotguns and ski masks and getaway cars and video surveillance cameras. No way. That kind of bank robbery is SO old school, so out-of-date! No, I'm going to rob these banks the NEW way, the way that the Bush family does it. I'm gonna go apply for a job with the Federal Reserve. Or Bear-Stearns.

Iran here I come!


Here's some info on the GX tour to Iran: Iran: Citizen Diplomacy, October 13, 2007 to October 26, 2007. Why a Reality Tour to Iran?
Did you know that more than half of Iran's university students are women? That Iranian films are considered among the best in the world? Or that despite censorship, most Iranians openly express their views about their government? Since the 1979 Revolution and overthrow of the US-backed Shah, Iran and the United States have severed ties and few Americans visit Iran to explore the country's rich historic legacy and the complexity of its society.

Contrary to popular Western perception, the vast majority of Iranians are eager to rebuild relations with the United States and are extremely hospitable to Americans. In this time of increased political tension between the US and Iran, American travel to this misunderstood country helps establish the people-to-people ties that facilitate understanding and peace between the countries.

Join Global Exchange's Reality Tour to Iran and: Learn about women's advances and struggles under the Revolutionary government and the work of non-governmental organizations. Explore Iranian poetry, music and bazaars. Experience the warmth and hospitality of the Iranian people. Embrace the beauty of Iran's mosques, palaces and natural landscape. Become fascinated by Persian history on a journey from modern-day Tehran to ancient cities. For more information click here.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Moving Day report to our housing project's site manager: Juliette, here's a sample invoice for my HUD fair housing complaint....

Well, I checked on my new unit on Saturday and someone was over there painting the back bedroom. The toilet was in place. The linoleum was laid. Then I checked again today and the back room was finished. Now it just needs the kitchen painted, the rug cleaned and stretched and a few other touches. The move-in is looking good for Monday night -- but more likely Tuesday. Thanks again for your help.

And I spent all day Saturday fantasizing about getting moved by real movers and having help from personal home organizers and packers and googling around to check on their services and rates -- but then it hit me. That's not going to happen. I'm moving on Monday. Forget the packers and planners and the four strong men with the truck. Too late for that. It's gonna be me and Joe and Ashley and a shopping cart.

So. Here's the invoice I'm thinking of sending to HUD. In addition, I am also considering a further demand that Mel, Elsie, Evelyn, Waldo, Sasha (BTW, the police were at her home Friday, looking for someone "out of control") and Sukey "volunteer" to resign from the Board as part of the settlement. And also perhaps I should add a change-order stating that $100 a day be added to my invoice for every day that the Board doesn't settle this case. Yes, I'm that angry. But I'll get over it. Honest! Well, maybe....

PS: Page 7-29 of the Occupancy Handbook ("....if a tenant is transferred as a **reasonable** accomodation to a household member's disability, the the owner **must** pay the costs associated with the transfer....") seems to say that landlords are responsible for moving costs in a situation like mine -- whether or not there is a Fair Housing complaint involved. Am I interpreting this wrong?

Invoice from Jane Stillwater for moving expenses regarding 2817 Milvia Street:

1. Costs of spending several extra months in unnecessary pain caused by having to struggle up and down a flight of stairs 15-25 times a day because my new home has been unavailable due to various Board delay tactics.

2. Costs of spending two days calling movers for estimates and researching moving companies, personal home organizers, packers, computer nerds, etc. on the web and daydreaming about how nice it will be to have professional movers take care of this huge operation and I won't have to worry about it and my knees wouldn't be under any strain. (See Page 7-29 of HUD's Multifamily Occupancy Handbook, Item B-2: "....if a tenant is transferred as a **reasonable** accomodation to a household member's disability, the the owner **must** pay the costs associated with the transfer....")

3. Costs of realizing that my HUD Fair Housing complaint wasn't anywhere near being settled; that the Board was perfectly capable of stalling it off for months if not years; that I was supposed to start moving on June 16, 2008; that I wouldn't be getting awarded moving costs in time to pay people to help me move; and that what was actually going to happen was that I would be going over to the Berkeley Bowl Marketplace, "borrowing" a shopping cart and making the freaking move all by myself.

4. Costs of being able to offer (not bribe!) my grownup children with lots and lots of pizza in order to encourage them to help me move the heavy stuff.

5. Costs of having to report to my doctor to see what he can do to ease the pain in my knees caused by having to move everything myself.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The future of books: Amazon's president talks about electronic books you can snuggle up with...

(Photos are of Jeff Bezos giving his lecture, me asking him about the future of the bookstore while wearing my coolness "Al Asad" T-shirt, holding an actual Kindle at the Amazon booth and my oldest daughter in front of the L.A. convention center)

I was standing in front of the bulletin board at the 2008 Book Expo in Los Angeles last week, trying to decide which talk or lecture I should go to next, when the guy standing next to me started practically going into spasms. At first I thought he was having an epileptic fit, but it turned out that he was just excited. "OMG," he cried. "Do you SEE who is giving a talk next? Jeff Bezos!"

"Jeff who?" Never heard of him.

"You've never heard of Jeff Bezos? WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN! He's the freaking president of Amazon!" You mean that he's from Brazil?

"He's the president of!" Oh. That Amazon. Okay. Since the man was practically drooling by now, I decided to follow along. At least I might be able to keep him from swallowing his tongue.

Bezos kept talking about someone named "Kendell". Hey, the little girl who lives next door to me in Berkeley is named Kendell. Maybe he's talking about her? I highly doubt it. She's six years old. "Kendell Kendell Kendell." Well. It turns out that I also got the wrong "Kendell" too. And it's spelled K-I-N-D-L-E. And it's the name of a new electronic book put put by Amazon. And apparently it is selling like hotcakes.

"The first day we put the Kindle on sale, it completely sold out -- and it took us ten months to get it back in stock." At $359 a pop, that's impressive. "What we tried to design was a purpose-built reading device and this is it." But did he have one with him to wave around so I could see what it looked like? No.

"We wanted to design an electronic device for reading books," Bezos continued. "We wanted a paper-like display that would be readable in sunlight, have a low battery consumption, allow books to be easily retrieved, have the look, feel and heft of an actual book and have the capacity to change font size. And what we came up with is the Kindle."

Apparently this book is wired like a cell phone instead of a laptop, can download books in 60 seconds wirelessly from anywhere you can get cell phone reception and currently has 125,000 titles available. "Travelers on airplanes are big fans of the Kindle. Some of its users have rated it right up there with Häagen-Dazs and sex. People who love to read will find that the Kindle makes reading easier. It's a gateway drug to reading, getting people hooked on buying and reading books. And our goal is to have every book ever printed available to our readers. In any language. We are aiming for 20 million books." Wow!

"And another great feature of the Kindle is that it can make textbooks, out-of-print books and niche books with small markets readily available at reasonable prices. And it's revolutionized the e-book market as well. I've been selling e-books on Amazon for ten years now and up until now you practically needed an electronic microscope to read our sales reports on them, but the Kindle has changed all that. Reading e-books is now a whole different experience. Plus you don't have shelf-space constraints. And nothing ever goes out of print."

At first, according to Bezos, publishers were unhappy with the Kindle because they were worried that it would cut into their profits. But apparently that not only hasn't happened but their profits have grown. "They found that people are buying the same amount of actual physical books PLUS the books they buy on Kindle. In addition, because the Kindle cuts down on the use of paper when people buy electronic books, it's also good for the eco-system."

Hey, I'm a book publisher -- sort of. And I want Kindle to publish MY book! So Bezos told all us writers and publishers in the audience how to get our books listed on his new toy. "Just go to the Amazon website and click on the link." Hey, I'm gonna be published on Kindle -- as soon as my friend Alex Farr can figure out how to upload the text. [Shameless plug -- make sure that you read my book "Bring Your Own Flak Jacket" on that new Kindle that you are just about to run out and buy -- and also read Alex's book too. It's called "Metro" and it's all about being a taxi driver in Oakland.]

Then Bezos talked about some of his other favorite back-to-the-future ideas. "We're working now on developing an elastic compute cloud." What is that? Not a clue. "It allows software guys to buy computer time. Why generate your own massive data center when you can use a centralized data center and just rent computer time from us." Bezos is also working on developing a space center. "I've been fascinated with space since I was a kid and I want to develop a spaceship so that people, including me, can go up into space. But I'm a coward so it has to be safe."

Bezos gave an interesting lecture and I was glad that I came. But one question kept burning through my brain that he hadn't answered or even touched on, so I went up and talked with him afterwards. "If everyone starts to use Kindles instead of actual physical books, then what will happen to our bookstores and libraries? Will they be forced out of business? Or will they just become small empty rooms that sell only the Kindles themselves?"

Bezos considered my question for a moment and then answered, "I'm not sure exactly how this will evolve but things always DO evolve -- so we will just have to see." Or words to that effect. Then I ran off to the Amazon booth in the main exhibit hall, dragging my oldest daughter (the computer whiz) with me and we got to play with the new Kindles there. And guess what? They really DID have the heft and feel of a book. Sort of.

PS: I am aware that on one level Bezos' speech wasn't anything more than a glorified info-mercial, but it did get me to thinking about more important things as well -- such as "If there is a future for books, then there must be a future for other things too." Don't you just hate it that most human beings aren't allowed to see what Fate is going to throw at us next? I really resent that I have to freaking GUESS what kind of stuff going to happen to me further on down the road. It makes me feel insecure. I HATE feeling insecure.

But if books have a future, then I must have one too. "Things do evolve."

PPS: One of things I would love to know about in the future is if I will ever be able to get dental work done. "That's no problem," said my daughter Ashley. "You just commit a crime, go to jail and get your dental work done there." Hmmm. If I did that, then I wouldn't have to worry other things either such as gas prices going up, food prices skyrocketing and housing foreclosures. All I have to do is rob a bank -- in the grand old tradition of the Federal Reserve and Charles H. Keating, Jr -- and my future's secured!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The special "Hell's Kitchen" edition of my housing co-op newsletter

(Photos are of the burned office building next to the Savo island Cooperative Homes' dumpster)

If Chef Gordon Ramsey, the star of that TV reality show called "Hell's Kitchen," were in charge of running my housing co-op, I can just imagine what he would say about the place. "Shut it down!"

"But Chef! Why?"

"Because it's a [bleeping] fire hazard, that's why!" And Chef Ramsey would be right. My poor sweet little housing co-op actually almost DID turn into Hell's Kitchen last week. Here's the story:

Last Wednesday night, some dumpster diver was apparently using his Bic lighter to illuminate his search for bottles and cans and accidentally set one of Savo Island's dumpsters on fire. Boy, you shoulda seen it. "Fi-yah!" Unfortunately, one whole side of the three-story office building next to us is now toast.

If Chef Ramsey had been there, I bet he woulda said, "You freaking moron! You almost set the whole neighborhood on fire!" But what Chef Ramsey didn't know was how close to the truth he actually came. Because there has been almost no infrastructure maintenance at my housing co-op during the past ten years, the place is dry as a tinderbox and it came THAT close to going up in flames too.

"Everyone needs to evacuate the facility," cried the firemen as they broke down the door of the handicapped unit closest to the dumpster. "Everyone out!" People came streaming out of our housing project in their nightgowns. One resident heroically ran back into her apartment to save the life of her pet white rat! It is only blind luck that our homes didn't burn to the ground. And if Chef Ramsey had been in charge that night, there would have been Hell to pay! Can't you just hear him now....

"Who the [bleep] let those shingles get that dry?" he would have screamed at our Board of Directors at the next Board meeting. "And why was the re-hab stalled for a year and a half because some Board members fancied ecologically impractical wooden shingles instead of FIREPROOF fiber-cement siding -- even though the wooden ones only last half as long as fiber-cement, have already been proven ineffective in Bay Area climate, are not nearly as fire-retardant and cost approximately $150,000 more? And why have you [bleeping] Board members been delaying this [bleeping] rehab, using every phony excuse you can think of, for the past six or seven years, until the price of labor and materials have gone up approximately three million dollars! I don't want to hear any more excuses!" Calm down, Chef! Just calm down.

"Out of my kitchen!" Chef Ramsey would have shouted. "This whole place is a death trap! Shut it down!" No, no, no, Chef. Please don't shut it down. This place is my HOME. Just shut down that do-nothing Board of Directors -- who even now, with the re-hab service almost completed, are still not working together to get it plated and served.

But Chef Ramsey still wasn't done castigating the Board, even after the fire was out. "What have you morons gone and done NOW!" the Chef snarled. "How hard can it be to just complete the [bleeping] re-hab!" What new disaster in Hell's Kitchen has caused Chef Ramsey to lose his patience with the Board? Stay tuned and find out.

After Board members had blocked my request to move to a downstairs unit -- due to my medical accommodation needs -- for so long that I had to file a Fair Housing complaint in order to light a fire under them to force them to comply with HUD regulations, the Board is now refusing to settle that complaint, causing the re-hab to get stalled once again. "But Jane, why should that be a problem for the re-hab?" asked Chef Ramsey.

"Because, Chef, the loan for the re-hab won't go through until this complaint is settled. And so now the Board is blaming ME for stopping the freaking re-hab. At the last Board meeting, they actually told me that I was the one who was keeping the re-hab from happening. Me! I've been trying for the last freaking DECADE to get this re-hab going and now it's MY fault? Hardly. This Board is really hard to work with, Chef. They are charged with running a co-op but don't want to cooperate."

For instance, during the last Board meeting, one Board member even rose up from her chair like some Old-Testament prophet, fixed me with a bone-chilling stare and started chanting, "God knows all. God sees all. God never sleeps. He never sleeps. God never sleeps. Never sleeps. Never sleeps. God never sleeps...."

"But, Chef, I SWEAR it wasn't me holding up the freaking re-hab. All the Board has to do is resolve the HUD Fair Housing complaint brought against them because THEY violated HUD rules, and we could have that re-hab loan TOMORROW. But they won't. Why should they? If they settle the complaint, the re-hab will go through and -- judging by the Board's actions over the last seven years -- that seems to be the very last thing that they want. And now, apparently, even God is on their side. Chef Ramsey, although I dearly love watching Hell's Kitchen on TV, I truly don't want to go to Hell itself! What should I doooo...."

"Jane, you are missing the obvious solution. Your housing co-op needs to fire that Board and get a new one. Immediately."


Sunday, June 08, 2008

Thomas Friedman's new book "Hot, Flat and Crowded": From the "War on Terror" to a "War on Global Warming"?

(Photos are of Thomas Friedman giving his keynote speech at the 2008 Book Expo, the front cover of his book, my son Joe practicing up for Fathers Day with baby Mena in a front-pack, and a self-portrait of me hanging out with the Undead.)

Okay. Suppose that you are Noah -- yes, that Noah, the one in the Bible. And you know that a huge flood is coming. But instead of building your ark, you spend your days shopping for high heels at Wal-Mart. This is the best analogy that I can come up with in order to point out to Americans which dangers threatening us today are urgently crucially real -- and which dangers are pretty much trumped up.

Even Noah, if he thought long enough, should be able to tell the difference between the minimum level of danger that America is now facing from "terrorists," and the HUGE level of danger that America is now facing due to global warming, population growth and the disintegration of civilization as we know it -- or, as author Thomas Friedman calls these three critical dangers -- "Hot, Flat and Crowded".

If America withdraws from Iraq, what is the worse that can happen? Some Sunni and Shia tribesmen will kill each other, Iran will become a "Superpower" (like that's ever gonna happen), Israel will be forced to stop running a mini-Auschwitz in Gaza and the price of oil will either go up or go DOWN.

But if America becomes "Hot, Flat and Crowded," everyone here will be screwed -- forever. Noah, stop shopping for trinkets and start building that freaking ark. The big flood is HERE.

I dearly love the US military. But it is WASTING ITS TIME fighting foreign wars and Bush's so-called "War on Terror" when the real danger to America is lurking right here at home like some sort of zombie. Or vampire. Or what other form of Undead that is your current favorite right now. Werewolves? Frankenstein? "How about brain-sucking pod-people, mind-slaves and savage alien invaders!" my daughter Ashley calls out from the next room. Sure. Those too.

While America is being purposely distracted by Bush's puny, paltry and poor-spirited "War on Terror" and Noah is out shopping for Gucci knock-offs at Target instead of keeping an eye on the ark, our country is being left defenseless, unprotected and without lifeboats while the biggest Flood ever is rapidly heading our way. "Noah! Get your freaking arse in gear!" I scream at the top of my lungs -- but nobody ever listens to ME. However. Maybe someone will listen to world-renowned New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman.

Even though Friedman apparently claimed back in 2003 that the "war" on Iraq was totally necessary when it was NOT, he now appears to be trying to redeem himself by trying to warn us about an actual REAL danger. And I think that this time he finally got it right.

"But Friedman did not just sell us out on Iraq," stated one former Marine that I correspond with regularly. "He is also a full-blooded globalist who wants to use the Marines to further globalization. Globalization is his God. Friedman is blinded by religion -- and his religion is corporatism."

"Really? I thought that the book he wrote about Beirut made some pretty good points. And now he is one of the few mainstream journalists who is actually talking about the gravest danger to civilization since Genghis Khan." Or perhaps Freddie Kreuger.

"Give it up, Jane," my friend replied. "Friedman is no ecological hero. If you are going to write about Friedman out of the context of what he has been preaching for decades, that's a mistake. The guy flies to India for one week, visits a few tech centers, overnights in New Delphi and then flies back to New York where he writes about the blooming glories of India. How about the 800 million Indians living in absolute squalor with no education and less of a future thanks to 'globalization'? Friedman was too busy to see them. The man should be put in a cage and stuck up on a lightpost at 57th Street and 7th Avenue to entertain tourists." Okay. I get the picture. There are some people out there who are definitely NOT Friedman fans.

Be that as it may, Thomas Friedman was giving the keynote speech at the 2008 Book Expo and I was totally looking forward to that. So I ran up and down a bunch of endless hallways at the L.A. convention center, located his room, pushed my way past three or four hundred booksellers and librarians to an empty chair in the third row, got out some scrap paper and started to take notes.

Here's what Friedman said: "If we want things to stay as they are here in America, things have GOT to change. And fast. Our country has lost its groove and we can get it back by helping the world change too. Global warming and global flattening -- that's what happens when poverty meets crowding -- are the major disasters facing us today. It's like the developed world has filled the bathtub and now India and China have just turned on the shower. And in our lifetime, the world's population will triple."

Hey, this is good stuff. I took notes as fast as I could on the back of a flier put out by Random House about John Zogby's new book because I had just run directly from Zogby's lecture to Friedman's and had nothing else to write on.

"There are five major trends driving us today -- energy supply and demand, petro-dictatorships, poverty, food supply and demand and biodiversity loss. We will have one billion more people on the planet in the next 12 years. And if we gave each one of those new people one single incandescent light bulb, we would need 20 more power plants just to turn on those billion bulbs. The 'Common Era' is over. Today's date is EC 1." I missed what Friedman said that EC stood for but I assume that it was something not good.

"Can the world hold three billion more American-level consumers?" Friedman asked. I guess not.

"Another thing happening these days is what I call global weirding. We can no longer tell the difference between an act of God and an act of man. And as for our energy conservation efforts here in the states, China and Doha can use the equivalent of all the electricity we save here in one year -- in less than one day."

Then Friedman blatantly stole my Noah analogy! "Our generation is the first one that needs to think like Noah because right now we are both the ark AND the flood. And this isn't just our grandchildren's problem either. Everyone in our time is going to have to pay the true costs of the world's poverty, etc. Not our children and grandchildren. Us. So what can we do to turn this tide around? Let's make America the leader. We need to work at transforming our country the same way we would work out for the Olympics. And even if we DON'T make the Olympic final cut and global warming turns out to be a hoax and Rush Limbaugh is right, we will still be stronger from having made the effort."

Sounds good to me. So I rushed off to the press room to type up my notes. And I typed, ate free bagels, cursed because they had run out of cream cheese, fended off other reporters who wanted to use my computer, typed some more and then voila! I had typed up my article. Perfect.

But then when I took the # 40 bus back to where I was staying in Inglewood that night, I discovered that I had missed a whole other page of notes with even more and juicer Friedman quotes. Crap. Now I gotta re-write the whole thing again.

"The future is still our choice, not our fate," continued Friedman on page two of my notes. "This really IS our problem. Our clear and easy paths are all closed now. But America could be the one to show the rest of the world how it's done." And then he quoted Charles Bukowski! "What matters most in life is how you walk through the fire."

So. What will the United States do when the world becomes "Hot, Flat and Crowded"? Will we become heroes? Or will we wimp out?

"America needs a Green revolution," Friedman continued, "and you can't have a REVOLUTION without someone getting hurt. Exxon is staging a Green PARTY right now -- not a revolution. A Green revolution only happens when companies need to change or die. There is no easy way to save the earth." Coincidentally, the sub-title of his book is "Why we need a Green Revolution -- and How It Can Renew America".

While the first half of Friedman's new book is devoted to describing and diagnosing the hot, flat and crowded nightmare that is currently heading straight at us, the second half of his book explores different ways and means to actually meet these challenges and to create and execute an Energy Revolution at home and abroad. "There is going to have to be some fundamental political changes here. If only we could be like China for a day...." In China, if the leadership decides to do something, they just order someone to get it done, a condition that we do not currently have in the United States. "We now have a choice of becoming a democratic 'China' or being a B.A.N.A.N.A. republic -- Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything."

I have used the Noah's ark analogy here but at his Book Expo speech, Friedman also brought up the Titanic. "Americans are still in a state of disbelief -- but we have already hit the iceberg. So. When are we going to get into the lifeboats?" Before or after it's too late? This was great stuff! Highly quotable. And, hopefully, I had captured it all down word for word. BUT. When I finally got back home to Berkeley and was digging through my suitcase for a copy of Richard Engel's new book on Iraq, guess what I found? You got it. Yet another page of my Friedman notes. Double crap. Now I gotta revise this whole freaking article again -- and it's already too long! Nobody's going to read an article this long.

"We have exactly enough time to avoid catastrophe if we start NOW," continued Friedman on page three of my notes. "The issue here is not just about saving the whales any longer. This is about saving US." Apparently human beings have become the new whales. "We can no longer continue to do things the old way, mining the world's economies. We are ALL pilgrims right now, sailing on the Mayflower again, off toward a whole new world. And if we get on board now, we will not only survive but thrive."

Arks, Titanics, Mayflowers, whatever. But after I had finished listening to Friedman's keynote speech, gone through all my poor coffee-stained and wrinkled-up notes several times, slept on the matter for a few days and then added my own twist to the mix, what I came up with was this: If we are going to survive the huge threat of a "Hot, Flat and Crowded" new world that is almost upon us right now, whether we are in an ark, on the Titanic or back on the Mayflower, we are desperately going to need lifeboats. And if we continue to allow our so-called leaders -- be they American, Arab, Chinese, Israeli, European or whatever -- to keep on ignoring this vitally urgent imperative to start a Green Revolution NOW, and to foolishly wallow in the cruel and decadent luxury of "war" instead, we are definitely not going to float ANYONE'S boat!

PS: I just spent this morning up on my soap box again, bouncing some of my own theories about global warming off of my son Joe. "Remember back in the 1980s, when Reagan and Bush Sr. managed to scare American taxpayers into supporting a multi-billion-dollar 'War on Drugs' -- which was totally ineffective regarding drugs but very effective regarding creating a lot of new millionaires out of Reagan and Bush's corporatist campaign donors?" I asked. Hypothetical question. Of course Joe didn't remember. He was in freaking kindergarten at the time.

"And then Bush Jr. managed to terrify American taxpayers into supporting his new 'War on Terror'. And we all know that corporatists made a ton of money on that one too -- and that it too was a failure. Are we any safer now than we were in October 2001? Absolutely not."

"So, Ma, what's your point?"

"What if the corporatists, neo-cons, etc. who now run this show have started realizing that Americans aren't getting appropriately scared enough of 'terrorists' any more? For example, Bush is not only the most unpopular president [sic] in history but Congress has already started the process to get him impeached! So now the corporatists are all looking around for something even MORE scary to scare us with. And frankly, this global warming thing IS really, truly terrifying. On a scale of one to ten, it is a ten and the Iraq 'war' is only a two."

"So you are thinking that the Next Big Thing to terrify American taxpayers enough to allow corporatists to happily go back to picking their pockets will be a 'War on Global Warming'?" Joe is not only a good son but he also catches on fast.


I think that the corporatists, the neo-cons and their Bush-Cheney-McCain tag team are getting ready to use our current ecological disaster as an excuse to grab even more money from us poor gullible taxpayers. And perhaps my Marine friend is right and Thomas Friedman is just being the globalization guys' cheerleader again after all. E tu, Thomas?

"Imagine what a 'War on Global Warming' would be like," I warmed to the subject. "There goes what's left of the Constitution, for instance -- Friedman has already mentioned something about having a democracy like China's. And the Department of Homeland Security would be replaced by a Department of Energy Security."

"And there'd be rationing," added Joe.

"And they would post Code Green warnings nation-wide every time small farmers tried to sell organic spinach at farmers' markets instead of genetically modified food! And instead of screening passengers for Qur'ans at the airport, they'd all be searching for Barbara Kingsolver's new book on how to get us all off the agro-business grid. And gasoline of course would be sold for $20 a gallon 'in order to protect the environment'. And if you used the internet to try to organize protests against the corporatists' highly profitable 'War on Global Warming', your electricity would get shut down...for your own good."

"But what would you suggest that we do about this?" asked Joe.

As usual, I have lots of ideas, hopes and plans. "Thomas Friedman is right. Americans DO need to make cleaning up the environment our Number One priority -- but we must also make absolutely certain that our vital efforts to protect ourselves against the horrors of global warming don't fall into to the hands of corporatists. This is too crucial an issue to allow it to become just one more price-gouging scheme by the folks who brought us the freaking environmental crisis in the first place."

"Go Ma!"

Friday, June 06, 2008

Gas prices, public transit & John Zogby's new book on America's future: My 2008 Book Expo Report, Part 2

(Photos are of John Zogby giving his talk, baby Mena with an "I voted" sticker on her hat and me standing in line with my ticket to receive a copy of the the new Salman Rushdie book, autographed by Mr. Rushdie himself)

Today's headlines announced that more and more people are taking mass transit these days because gas prices are so high that it's actually cheaper now to take the bus. And when I used public transit to get to the 2008 Book Expo in Los Angeles recently, I discovered that this was absolutely true. On the # 40 bus from Inglewood to downtown L.A., we were all packed in like sardines.

Ah, the Book Expo! 3,000 book publishers, 2,000 booksellers, 4,000 librarians, 1,000 authors and me, all filling up every nook and cranny of Los Angeles' gigantic convention center on the corner of Pico and Figuroa. For all of us who love and cherish the written word, the 2008 Book Expo is like dying and going to Heaven! But attending the Expo can also be quite expensive because hotel prices, like gas prices, aren't cheap in L.A. either. This year, however, I was lucky enough to be able to stay with some friends in Inglewood, about ten miles away from the main event. But then I needed to factor in the cost of transportation. The cost of taking daily cab-rides all the way across Los Angeles was far too expensive and renting a car was out of the question as well -- gas prices were too high plus there was nowhere to park. "Take the bus, Jane," said my friend. So I did.

In the four days that I attended the Book Expo, I talked with a lot of people on the # 40 bus and learned a whole lot of stuff. For instance NONE of the people I talked with were happy about the rise in fuel prices. And no one I talked to was happy about George Bush, the Iraq war, the cost of living, police services and a whole bunch of other things either.

One man on the bus talked about the job situation. "It's hard finding a job in L.A.," he said. "For every job that comes available here there are dozens of immigrants applying for it who are willing to work for half the wages that I would work for." And they probably work harder and do a better job too.

One woman on the bus, a grandmother, was be-moaning the fate of Los Angeles' downgraded schools. "Our mayor just fired 800 employees and used that money to employ more police. We don't need more police. We need better schools!" She worked at the county morgue. I was all jealous. Not only was she in an ideal position there to pray for the souls of the dead but she probably was there when they brought in the bodies of Nichole Simpson, River Phoenix, Biggie Smalls, Brad Renfro and Lord knows who all else.

When I finally arrived at the Book Expo, I looked through the list of the day's speakers and decided to go listen to pollster John Zogby talk about his new book entitled, "The Way We'll Be". Well. If Zogby is looking for a good place to conduct his polls in the future, I highly recommend the # 40 bus.

Based on information he obtained using various polling techniques, Zogby stated that, "America's younger generation is not interested in big 'issues' these days -- such as maintaining an empire, gays, illegal immigrants, abortion, etc. They want to judge each situation case by case," and not just lump people together under large 'issue' umbrellas.

"And this up-coming generation may not be the smartest in terms of geography," Zogby continued, "in the sense that they may not be able to find Darfur on the map. But they know what that issue is about. They are tuned into global events, global music, global fashions and the internet. They have passports. They travel. They are the first truly global generation. And they are secular spiritualists. They think there is more to life than just the accumulation of goods."

With regard to job trends, Zogby stated that, "21% of Americans now work at a job that pays less than their previous job. And they seem to be going through the same stages [regarding employment] that Elizabeth Kübler Ross said that people go through before death -- anger, denial, acquiescence and then seizing control of their own destiny. Americans today also know that they are going to live longer, that a larger portion of their life will occur after they retire and that they want to use the last third of their life to do what they always wanted to do, to spend that time more fruitfully."

Another trend that Zogby noted was that Americans increasingly have a need for authenticity. "I see the decline of 'spin' and the end of the negative campaign. Hillary Clinton's numbers went down when she went negative. Americans are fed up with hearing about Ken Lay, Barry Bonds and [the White House/Pentagon spin on] Pat Tillman, Jessica Lynch and WMDs."

Zogby also noted that there has been a 30-fold change in energy consciousness between the 1970s and now. That's huge. "A new set of values is being internalized. People recycle, have stopped smoking, etc. And American businesses need to take note that the best way to reach consumers in the future is to appeal to the best in us. Respect the public. Because Americans are now moving into a better future on their own." And Green is also good business.

Here's a quote from Zogby's new book (I have three copies!) "Despite all the dire predictions that we will fall into hopeless self-indulgence, despite even the raw greed that seems to grow like mold inside so many CEO suites and corporate boardrooms these days, the United States is inhabited by a sober, caring, honest, ethical people."

Here's another quote. "People want better lives, not more things to fill their hours with. Surprisingly, in ratcheting the dream downward, Americans are finding contentment in a land of less plenty."

Zogby also talked about how various roles change rapidly in America and we must be prepared to acknowledge these changes. "The road to hell is paved with stereotypes," he said. "For instance, Christian conservatives are being stereotyped today based on what they used to be like in the past. Young Christian Conservatives today want to stop talking about the three Gs -- God, guns and gonads. We need to see where Americans are now, not where they used to be."

Meanwhile, back on my # 40 bus, I too was not trying to stereotype bus riders but here are a few stereotypes I came up with anyway. In Los Angeles, most bus riders are polite and friendly. Most bus drivers are helpful. Most passengers are sane and normal but some bus riders are truly weird. And most bus riders are Latinos, students on their way to school, young mothers, retirees and blue-collar workers -- as of now. But as gas prices continue to skyrocket, we probably won't need a Zogby poll to tell us that in a few years all that is definitely going to change.

PS: Once the # 40 bus dropped me off near the Book Expo and I went inside the two main exhibit halls, I noticed that there were a lot of publishers' booths which featured events where various authors would give you autographed copies of their new books. And gathered around each event were long lines of booksellers, librarians, book-lovers and fans, waiting to have this or that author autograph individual books. "To Jane -- from Neil Gaiman." But the one that seemed to have the longest line -- over 350 people, even more than were in James Patterson's or Salman Rushdie's lines -- was the line of people waiting to get their hands on a copy of Vincent Buglioli's new book. It's title? "The Prosecution of George W. Bush For Murder".


If you want one of my copies of Zogby's book, they are for sale to the first two people who pony up $200 toward my next trip to Iraq. E-mail me at and put in your bid.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The special "Clean House -- Home Makeover" issue of my housing co-op newsletter

Someone just told me about that TV reality show called "Clean House". What a great idea. On this show, its hosts Niecy Nash and Mark Brunetz bring a clean-up and renovation crew into people's homes and help them get their junk under control. I want someone to come in and get my junk under control too! Niecy! Where are you? I NEED you!

"Okay, Jane," I bet that Niecy would say if I called her up. "Just exactly why should we clean up your mess instead of helping other, more deserving people who really need it? Spill."

"Waaaa!" I would cry. "Because I'm desperate? PLEEZE?" After 15 years of fighting my housing co-op's Board of Directors' alliance with no results, the worst has finally happened. ALLEGEDLY (that's a legal word that one needs to throw in every once in a while so that one won't get sued for slander -- even though everything I've whined about regarding these Board members for the last 15 years has been absolutely true), this do-nothing Board alliance has totally let Savo Island Cooperative Homes fall into wrack and ruin in order to (allegedly) keep their market-rate rents as low as possible at the expense of the rest of us. But I've warned residents about this constantly ad nausea and still no one here has done anything to get rid of this (allegedly) self-interested Board.

And now HUD has finally stepped in and is threatening to shut us down if the Board alliance doesn't comply to their requests. "But Jane," stated Niecy, "that's really sad and all that, but does being threatened by HUD entitle you to a Clean House makeover? I think not."

But wait. It gets worse. "Not only has this Board alliance refused to raise the rents and schedule an annual election as required by the State of California, but they have (allegedly) done everything in their power to keep me from moving into a downstairs unit -- including (allegedly) lying to HUD -- after I have told them again and again that my poor pitiful knees don't take kindly to stairs. So I hit them with a HUD Fair Housing descrimination suit and now I'm finally getting to move even despite the alliance!"

"That's nice," stated Niecy. "then you got a happy ending here, right? So you don't need us."

Oh but I do.

"Please! Wait! Don't hang up!" I shamelessly begged. "I NEED you! Now more than ever! My current place is a mess. I have enough junk to stock a Salvation Army store. But it's MY junk and I love it. I love it ALL. I love my doll collection. I love my boxes of documents. I love my...."

"Jane! Focus!" Niecy snapped back. "Enough is enough. You gotta man up here. Just throw the freaking junk all out by yourself. You got brains. You got a dumptster. Just do it." But I can't. I just can't. I really tried. I'd rather go get shot at in Iraq or lobby Congress to impeach George W. Bush than deal with all this junk. Cleaning house to me is like waterboarding -- pure torture. I must have been terrified by a vacuum cleaner when I was a tot.

"Sorry, Jane," said Niecy. "We gotta turn you down here." Sigh. But I still need some help. What about you? Are YOU doing anything this Saturday? Wanna come over and help me sort things out? We can use my old coin-tossing trick? Wherein you flip a coin over each thing in your home? Then if it lands on heads, you toss it. And if it lands on tails, you keep it. You can exchange things of equal size from each pile but that's that. Unless you would have to immediately go out and buy something else to replace it, everything that lands on heads goes.

Does anybody want to come to my coin-tossing party? Saturday, June 7, 2008, from 2 pm to 5 pm? I live right behind the community room at Savo Island in Berkeley. And Niecy and Mark, you can come too.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Dear Kos, thanks for your Book Expo speech -- and WAS Sadr City just flattened? Or not?

Dear Markos:

I just finished reading a galley copy of your new book, "Taking on the System". My opinion so far? Great introduction, I liked the "mobilize" advice, got a little lost around the Cindy Sheehan chapter, glad you wrote it, jealous because people are gonna buy your book like hotcakes but nobody will buy mine!

Currently, I just got back from Anbar province in Iraq and things are going well there. But apparently the great Anbar Awakening all started when the US military flattened Fallugah. And now I've been hearing rumors that they have flattened Sadr City as well -- and, if so, could that have been the cause of it being so "quiet" in Baghdad recently? Richard Engel told me on Saturday that fighting was down 70 percent. So. What I want to know from your readers is this -- WAS Sadr City actually flattened in April? Or not? And where is Scott McClellan when we need him most!


Jane Stillwater

PS: I live on Stuart Street, over next to the Berkeley Bowl.