Wednesday, August 30, 2006
I begin to doubt my experiences are typical. . .
When I was a little girl, my mother dressed me in pretty dresses (lots of yellow ones, for some reason) and shoes and barrettes and all the girly things that little girls are dressed in. I don't remember much of it, but there are pictures, so I know it is so. When I was old enough, I stopped wearing dressed. I don't like them. I don't like skirts, either. It's hard for me to move in them, it's hard for me to sit comfortably and I don't like the picture of me they present to the world at large. Part of that is because my mother wears dresses every Sunday and gets all prettied-up when she goes out and entertains. And, well, I had a decided need to rebel against my mother. But that was when I was a teenager. To this day, I don't wear dresses unless I have to. Why? Because I don't like them. I honestly don't. I don't feel comfortable in them, I don't like that it tells the world I'm a "girly" girl (because I'm so not). I don't like the expectation that I'm going to wear them, just because I'm female.
But mostly, it's comfort. I like the way pants feel. I like the way shorts feel, too. Even though the world wants to tell me I'm too fat to wear shorts, I don't care. They're comfortable. When it's hot, they're cool. I want to be cool and comfortable, not hot and cranky. Ergo, I wear shorts in the summer and pants to work. I don't think about if they make me look sexy. I don't think about if they'll make people look at me. I just think I want to be comfortable.
Some of that comes, I think, from growing up on a farm. There was a lot of work to do and you might as well be comfortable doing it. I also prefer to go barefoot. Because that feels better to me. I like the feeling of the grass or the rock or the dirt under my feet. The first thing I do, every day, when I get home from work, it take off my shoes. And the shoes I do wear are very specific -- sandals in the summer, boots in the winter. I don't wear tennis shoes or jogging shoes and I absolutely, never, ever wear heels. I cannot walk in heels, they make my feet hurt and why would I do that to myself?
I like bright colors and soft fabrics. I like funky patterns and interesting jewelry. I hate mainstream fashion, partially because none of it is made for a body like mine and partially because, aethetically, I find it displeasing. But where do those preferences come from?
I think what I'm asking is, the portion of our choices made because we simply like something, how much is that influenced by where we come from? If I hadn't grown up on a farm or had a mother who is stereotypically feminine, would I still have the same preferences I have? If I had grown up in a city and had a mother who eshewed 'girly' things, would I still prefer a bohemian look? Or would I be one of those women who wears heels and hose and make-up everyday?
I'm not making any judgements on what any woman wears, by the way. I'm assuming, at least on some level, that she dresses the way she dresses because she's getting something out of it. Maybe she enjoys it, maybe she's using it to send certain messages, maybe she's dressing to get ahead in her career. Who knows? I certainly don't, no more than she knows why I dress like I do. I'm just wonder if society, in general, has as big an impact on our clothing/appearance choices as some bloggers suggest. I'm not doubting it has an impact, but I'm wondering if maybe our family of origin has the bigger influence.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
A prayer for the dead
but you are not alone.
We are here with you,
the beloved dead await you.
You go from love
Carry with you
May our love carry you
and open the way.
I hate anniversaries
I had driven to work at 6 a.m. I didn't have to report that early, but I'd been unable to sleep and then the power went out. And why would I stay at home in no power when work has it's own generator? So, I drove to work with the wind howling and the rain drizzling. It hadn't really started raining here yet, but it was coming. I got to work, before anyone else, and got started on updating our Web site. I was pulling photos and wire stories -- all the while thinking it was rather silly to be doing all that, when pretty much our entire service area was out of power and couldn't read it anyway. But, I did it. People started drifting in around 7 a.m. and the day got rolling. It was hard, stressful, but not all that bad, since this time last year, the levees were intact.
The next day, the nightmare began.
I went to work at my regular time, 8 a.m. And heard rumors that the levees had broken. So, I started looking around...and found out it was true. The levee broke. Other people, having witnessed what happened when the levee broke, understand what that means. But at the time, only the local newscasters seem to get the enormity of just what that meant. The levee broke. In Louisiana, all over, it was like every just stopped breathing. We knew, all of us, that it meant New Orleans was gone. Not just that parts of the city would flood, but that it was done. Over. And then the pictures started coming in and the rest of my day is a blur. Photo after photo showed the same thing. And the people. All those people trapped and dying and begging for help. It was horrible.
It got worse. We kept waiting, kept looking, for news of what was being done to get those people out of there. Of course, we thought, there will be a rescue. Of course, we thought, there are people in position to go in, now that the storm is gone. But no one went in.
A year later, it's better, but not by much. Over 40 percent of the city doesn't have power yet. Over 60 percent has no gas. Mounds of rotten debris line the streets in many neighborhoods. People are living in trailers, that are as good as gone if another hurricane hits the city. And no one is sure just yet where TS Ernesto is going to go, although it looks like it'll hit Florida and leave us alone. But who knows? There are months left in the storm season.
Today was a horrible day for me, and I couldn't figure out why at first. I've been ready to just cry for the last week, even though there nothing terrible loaming over us. I realized it wasn't loaming, it's covering us. The rest of the world thinks it's got Katrina fatigue? Try living in the middle of it.
You may get tired of reading about this, over and over again. You're lucky, you get to turn the channel, flip the page, click on over to another blog and it's gone for you. I wish I were so lucky.
Katrina, by the numbers
900,000--People who changed addresses by Oct. 5
$50-70 billion--Total economic loss
220,000--Initial jobs lost
11.6 inches--Amount of rain generated by Katrina in Louisiana
Third--Katrina's ranking in size and strength in U.S. hurricanes
24 percent--Estimated increase in New Orleans birth rate nine months after Katrina
118 square miles--Coastal land lost
2.1 million--Number of Louisiana households that lost electricity
1,464--Total number of deaths in Louisiana attributable to Katrina
10,746--Number of citizens found alive
135--Total number of citizens still missing
892--Bodies autopsied at the state morgue at Carville and St. Gabriel
56 percent--Percentage of African-Americans identified at state morgue
40 percent--Percentage of Caucasians at the state morgue
2 percent--Percentage of Hispanics at the state morgue
455,000--New Orleans population before Katrina
230,000--Estimated New Orleans population as of July
266,000--Statewide population loss
DONATIONS AND VOLUNTEERS
100,000--Estimated number of out-of-state volunteers in Louisiana this past year
$3.3 billion--Estimated Katrina-related charitable donations worldwide
$2.1 billion--Amount of those donations that went to American Red Cross
$129 million--Amount of money raised by the Clinton-Bush Katrina Fund
$14 billion--Insurance paid out as of June 30
$13.2 billion--Federal flood insurance paid out in Louisiana
$140,000--Average federal flood insurance claim
$5.1 billion--FEMA grants to individuals
1.6 million--Number of Louisiana individuals receiving FEMA assistance
$450 million--Amount of state's share of FEMA's grants to individuals
32--Number of families still living in FEMA-paid hotel rooms
$3.6 billion--FEMA housing assistance grants
$367.5 million--Disaster Food Stamp Benefits
$320 million--Disaster unemployment paid
173,000--Louisianans receiving disaster unemployment
252,072--Louisianans receiving unemployment benefits on Sept. 24
32,800--Average weekly statewide employment claims prior to Katrina
173,000--Average weekly statewide unemployment claims post-Katrina
619,000--Total statewide non-farm employment, June 2005
425,200--Total statewide non-farm employment, June 2006
$5 billion--U.S. Small Business Administration loans to renters and homeowners
$34,7 million--FEMA grants for crisis mental health counseling
17,000--Rescued pets by Louisiana SPCA and partners
Up to 10,000--Estimated number of drowned pets
204,500--Total of homes affected
63,500--Owner-occupied homes severely damaged
43,000--Rental units severely damaged
106,500--Housing units with severed damaged
169,000--Number of homes with major flooding
101,000--Number of homeowners who have applied for The Road Home rebuilding aid
95,441--Number of FEMA trailers in Louisiana
81,245--Number of occupied FEMA trailers in Louisiana as of August 16
90,388--Number of evacuees who went to Texas
18,966--Number of evacuees who went to Mississippi
18,229--Number of evacuees who went to Georgia
6,309--Number of evacuees who went to Arkansas
$9.3 billion--The Road Home housing grant program
60 percent--Percent of former customers in New Orleans with reconnected electricity
41 percent--Percent of former customers in New Orleans with reconnected natural gas
22 million tons--Debris estimate
8.7 million tons--Estimated remaining debris
13--Number of times the debris could fill the Superdome
25--Number of times the debris of the World Trade Center
1.5 million--Units of refrigerators, dishwashers, washers and dryers discarded curbside
350,000--Flooded and abandoned cars
Sources: Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, Ochsner Health System, Louisiana Recovery Authority, Louisiana Association of Non-profit Organizations, Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Louisiana Department of Insurance, Council for a Better Louisiana, Louisiana Family Recovery Crops, New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Louisiana Division of Administration, Louisiana Society Prevention of the Cruelty to Animals, National Hurricane Center and U.S. Minerals Management Service.
Friday, August 25, 2006
I think I've reached my expiration date
And I used to. I really did. My family was all about me finding a man and settling down, even after my baby brother got married. (He got married at 23, for gods sake!). And they were always 'well, you know, when you have a baby of your own...' whenever I expressed a desire NOT to have children. They just went on and on about it....and then, suddenly, they stopped. Just cold stop. I haven't heard a word about marriage or children from my family in nearly two years. Since I turned 30.
So, I'm wondering, do they just assume I've hit my expiration date? That now that I'm over 30, well, I won't be getting married or reproducting even if I want to?
I don't really think that's the case, but....I don't know. Everyone in my family was married well before they hit 30. And we are Southern, which has its own baggage for women past 30. I like to believe they finally just got it. They finally just realized, 'Hey, she's been saying since she was 12 that she didn't want to get married or have children. Do you think she actually meant it?'
Amanda over at Pandagon also brings up the social pressures, outside of family, on women who marry. I think she's a bit extreme, believing there's no way for a woman to opt-out of the cycle and still marry, but I do take her point. It's one of the reasons I've been resistant to marriage my whole life. Given the way our society prescribes the proposal, the wedding, the spousal roles, it really does put women in a position of subserviance, even if the man she marries isn't into power trips. I felt that, instinctively, as a child, even though my parents have a remarkably equal marriage. (Particularly for people in their faith, it's amazing how equal it really is and how utterly feminist my father is. But gods help me if I ever told him that. I think my father would pass out if I told him he's a feminist.) Inside my home, my parents were equals. Outside? Well, I noticed that my mother was always referred to as Lee's Wife or Zan's Mother. I noticed how people just assumed she was the one who did all the housework (She was, alas, for quite awhile. But my father had a job that took him out of the house for over half the time so she took on a lot more responsiblity than usual.) They assumed she would adjust her schedule for him, that she'd just do whatever he wanted her to do. Why? Because she was the Wife.
I never wanted anyone to call me that. I never, ever wanted anyone to assume I'd just turn over my life to someone else. And, being the stubborn and completely-incapable-of-keeping-my-opinion-to-myself girl that I was, I announced that. Loudly and often. Did I want a boyfriend? No. (Well, I did. But not on the terms I had available to me.) Did I want a husband? No, I did not. Did I want a baby? Hell no! What I wanted was to get good grades, go to college, earn my degree and live my life on my terms.
Thing is, my parents always encouraged me to do just that. Sure, they wanted me to get married too, but they were almost as insistant as I was that I was going to go to college and get my degree and be able to take care of myself, dammit. Part of that was they got married extremely young. My mother was 17 and my dad was 19. They had me when mom was 20, and my brother was born 18-months later. They had it really rough starting out and they wanted better for us. And never, ever, did either of them suggest I couldn't do what I wanted because I was a girl. (Partially because they honestly believed that, partially because they didn't want to piss me off.)
So, my parents have this amazingly equal marriage. So does my brother, come to think of it. Both of them subvert gender roles in their own ways. My brother is much more willing to do his share of the housework and spends lots of time with his daughter. He's not one of those men who 'babysit' their own children. So, I've got this solid image of equal partnership and I know it can work. So, what's my hangup?
It's that social thing. I know that, should I ever get married, I wouldn't marry a man who would see me as anything but his equal and full partner. I also know that it won't matter how we see each other, in the eyes of society (especially down here in Southern Jesusland) I'm always going to be the lesser partner. People will assume I have to be manipulative to get my husband to do what I want. They'll assume I make demands on him that are unreasonable, but 'that's just what women do and really, you can't live without 'em'.
I'm finding, as I get older, that what society thinks of me and my relationships matters less and less. I haven't been able to completely shake myself free of that fear/pressure/whatever you want to call it. I'm at the point where I can see a time, maybe in the distant future or maybe not so far away, where I'll be able to. It feels like a big step to me, the realization that -- maybe I could handle being married. I'm still not sure, honestly. And I'd have to be with someone who understood that. Someone honest and authentic, who doesn't buy into all the romantic claptrap we're sold.
A huge diamond ring? Why? Buy me something simple. Silver, with amber or pearls or orange topaz. Or a simple band with interesting etching. The rest of that money can go for a downpayment on a house. A huge wedding? Why? Let's elope, make it a combo wedding/honeymoon and save some money. Which can be used for a downpayment on a house. Or whatever we decide to spend it on.
I'm a thoroughly non-traditional girl. Give me a beach at sunset, let me go barefoot, throw some flowers in my hair and bring out the JP. We'll have a bar-b-que afterward and dance around the fire. My friends, my family and that's it. Simple, easy and perfect. And none of that holier-than-thou religious crap either.
Then again, maybe I have reached my expiration date after all. Which isn't so bad. At least my parents don't seem hurried to get me married anymore.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Add this to the list of things we'll never see W doing
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Sen. Barack Obama will take a public HIV test at a remote Kenyan clinic this weekend to promote HIV/AIDS prevention in a country where an average of 700 people die each day from the disease.
Obama, the only African-American in the Senate, was to arrive in Kenya Thursday and take the test in the western village of Nyangoma-Kogelo, where his father — a goat herder who went on to study at Harvard — grew up and his grandmother still lives, said Jennifer Barnes, a spokeswoman at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.
Two million of Kenya’s 33 million people have HIV, although the number of new infections has recently declined. Around 1.5 million people have died from the disease — and western parts of the country are the worst hit.
That's just a crazy number of people dying each day, from a disease that is -- largely -- preventable. It's a sin (and I don't use that word often, because I generally don't believe in sin) that these people don't have access to the medications they need to turn AIDS into a chronic illness, instead of a fatal one. It's a sin that we're more concerned about killing one set of brown skinned people and ignore the suffering of another. (Yes, I realize W pledged to spend lots of cash on the African AIDS crisis. He just hasn't ponied up yet. Which should suprise no one whose been paying attention. Hell, he can't even help out Louisiana hurricane victims and we could drive up and knock on his front door.)
I'm also a little caught offguard that Obama is the only black person in the Senate. How the hell does that happen? In 2006? That's just...wrong.
Can I tell you, if Obama ran for prez, I'd likely vote for him? I think he's doing a pretty good job of being...sane? I don't necessarily agree with him on everything, but I don't get the skeevy feeling when I look at him like I do with pretty much all Republicans.
Fat will so kill you!
Confessions extracted under torture are notoriously unreliable. A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine illustrates this point well.
The study analyzes the relationship between weight and mortality risk. In particular, it tries to determine whether being “overweight” (this is currently defined by our public health authorities as 146 to 174 pounds for an average height woman, and 174 to 208 pounds for an average height man) is associated with an increased risk of death.
This is an especially controversial issue for two reasons. First, most Americans who the government claims weigh too much are in this “overweight” category. Second, many studies find either that there is no increased mortality risk associated with being “overweight,” or indeed that the risk of death among the so-called “overweight” is actually lower than among so-called “normal weight” individuals.
In particular, a 2005 study led by CDC researcher Katherine Flegal found 86,000 excess deaths per year in the United States among “normal weight” people, when comparing their mortality risk to that of so-called “overweight” persons. Because of the current panic over fat, this study caused quite a furor, even though its findings were consistent with many other investigations of the same issue.
It seems the authors of the new study in the New England Journal of Medicine were determined to refute Flegal’s findings — even if they had to subject their data to techniques that violate the scientific equivalent of the Geneva Convention.
The researchers collected data from 527,265 AARP members, who were followed for ten years. What they found was exactly the same result reported by Flegal and her colleagues: Among both men and women, “overweight” people had the lowest mortality risk. This result, however, was clearly unacceptable. So they began torturing their data.
First, they threw out any subjects who had ever smoked. The justification for doing so in studies exploring the relationship between weight and health is that some people smoke to remain thin, so increased health risk among thin people may be a product of smoking rather than thinness. (In fact, in this study the percentage of “normal weight” people who had never smoked was higher than the percentage of “overweight” and “obese” never-smokers, but never mind.)
Yet even after limiting their analysis to never-smokers, the authors found no increased mortality risk among the “overweight” when compared to so-called “normal weight” people. So they then engaged in the methodological equivalent of waterboarding. Bizarrely, rather than using the weights of the subjects at the time they entered the study, the authors asked the subjects what they had weighed at age 50, and used this weight instead (all the subjects were over 50 at the study’s start, and some were as old as 71; 40 percent did not even respond to the question about what they weighed at age 50, which says something about the reliability of the responses the authors did get).
This, at last, produced a (modest) increase in mortality risk associated with “overweight,” thus allowing the authors to draw their conclusion that “overweight is associated with an increased risk of death.”
But notice how this result was produced. Since the “overweight” people in the study still had the lowest death risk — even after the authors tossed out 70 percent of their subject pool by limiting their analysis to never-smokers — the study found “overweight” associated with an increased risk of death only among a particular subgroup: people who had been “overweight” at age 50, but were at a “normal weight” when they later entered the study.
In other words, what the study really found is that for middle-aged “overweight” people weight loss increases the risk of death significantly! (This, by the way, is a very common finding in studies of this sort.)
The authors, needless to say, fail to note this awkward fact, which does not merely contradict, but actually inverts, the public health message their study is intended to bolster. Will journalists covering the study manage to figure this out on their own? Fat chance.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Well, technically it's not a draft...
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Marine Corps said Tuesday it has been authorized to recall thousands of Marines to active duty, primarily because of a shortage of volunteers for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Up to 2,500 Marines will be brought back at any one time, but there is no cap on the total number of Marines who may be forced back into service in the coming years as the military battles the war on terror. The call-ups will begin in the next several months.
The Army has ordered back about 14,000 soldiers since the start of the war in Iraq, but this is the first time the Marines have resorted to an involuntary recall.
So, after you've served your time and fullfilled your obligations, you can still be recalled. I know this is a facet of military life, but damn. Technically, this isnt' a draft, but really...isn't it? It's just drafting from a smaller, more select pool. Your draftees have better training than average, but they're not coming voluntarily. Which, I think, is part of the point of a draft.
The Bushies have bungled things so badly, no one wants to enlist anymore. You'd think, if we had thinking people in government, this might give them pause. Why would no one want to enlist? But, no. No, there's no reconsideration of strategy or troop deployment, no reconsideration of if we should be in Iraq in the first place. No no. We're not leaving Iraq while Bush is still in office!
Sunday, August 20, 2006
And now for something completely different. . .
There's no reason to post that. It just cracked me up. And laughing is good, otherwise you'll go insane. And frankly, I could use some Ducky Minions!
Let's see....in the vein of 'no angst for a few days' I've decided to join a few dating sites. Why? I don't know. I think I need at least the illusion that other people find me desirable. (Go with me here, I'm having a rather rough time of it these last few weeks. Most people around here have, actually. You add the insane heat with the Katrina anniversary and everyone's on edge. So, indulge my...whatever...for a few days. I'll be back to myself in a little while. Once this anniversary is past.)
So, I decided to join www.bbwharmony.com. No, it's nothing like eharmony, as far as I can tell. It was at least fun filling out the profile and stuff, because it's very detailed and asks you your opinions on things like abortion and gays in the military. Very cool. Never had one ask me that before. You can list your sexuality, but you can't do a search for men and women at the same time, which bites, but most sites don't let you do that. Huh. Anyway, who knows? Maybe I'll find people to flirt with. That always makes me feel better.
I'm also going to see Snakes on a Plane this weekend. Why? Because it looks so bad it's gonna be good. Plus, Sam Jackson. Come on. After I see it, I may have to post a review. I'm declaring this weekend a No Angst Zone. There'll be plenty of annoying things to catch up with come Tuesday, so...
Oh, got the results from my civil service test back. Not high enough for the job I wanted, but I shook that off and found a couple more to apply for. So I mailed those yesterday, going to mail some more off soon. So. I'm getting a new job, somehow.
Does anyone know how to add music to Blogger? I have some songs I want to put up, but I can't seem to find a program that will allow me to do that. I'm kinda new at the coding, so it needs to be something relatively easy....any help would be appreciated. Thanks!
Saturday, August 19, 2006
We just can't win, can we?
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Low-income women have been slow to return to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina and many who have returned are not benefiting from the recovering city’s construction labor market, a report released Friday said.
“Those who have managed to get back are clearly struggling,” Avis Jones-DeWeever, director of the Washington-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research, said at a news conference in front of City Hall.
She cited a quadruple increase in food stamp use in the metropolitan area as evidence of the hard times for many women in the New Orleans metropolitan area.
Gleaning its findings from recent U.S. Census and other government data, the report said the number of single mothers in the area has dropped from 10 percent before Katrina to about 6 percent now.
The report also said the number of low-income female-led households dropped from 35 percent before the storm to 18 percent after.
The report said women in Louisiana earned less than men and had fewer opportunities than men before Katrina, and that their plight will be worsened with the unequal playing field that was created after the storm.
One way of changing this would be for women to be hired in the construction fields, new City Council woman Shelley Midura said.
“Women can break Sheetrock, women can wire homes, and women can drive trucks,” Midura said. “These are good-paying jobs.”
Beth Willinger of Tulane University’s Center for Research on Women said the labor force needs to be “totally integrated” both in terms of gender and race.
“But first we need to bring our women home,” she said.
Jones-DeWeever was joined by several prominent women, including Midura and state Rep. Karen Carter, a Democrat and a contender in a Nov. 7 congressional race for the seat of U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, who is running for re-election.
It's absolutely true that women can do construction work, for the most part. I don't do construction myself, so I don't know about the entire realm of construction jobs, but women can certain drive trucks and swing hammers and do electrical work and...well, just about anything. But, they don't get the job training and, if they do, they don't get hired. Why? Well, because there are men wanting those jobs too. Men with wives and children they need to take care of, ya know. And well, men are just better at these sort of things. Why don't you go get yourself a nice secretarial job, huh? Sure. I'm sure she would, but you have to have businesses for those kinds of jobs and hey, aren't you building those businesses right now? So, if they don't exist yet, how does that 'women's work' exist yet? Right. It doesn't. But you won't let her have a hammer or the keys to the forklift, so what's she supposed to do?
Of course, this isn't anything new. It's pretty standard operating procedure. And it's a shitty practice when things are running smoothly, but now? Now when you've got insane unemployment, very little government assistance and -- I love this part -- a government that doesn't want to rebuild it's assistance programs...(Seriously, we had people debating on whether they should rebuild assisted housing in New Orleans. They just didn't want to do it. Because then those poor people would come back. And they've suspended most of the social welfare programs, or at least they had. Some of them may have been reinstated by now.)
I fear that New Orleans, when it's rebuilt, is going to be a white-washed, personality-less Generic City. More men than women, more white than black, more bland and boring than colorful and alive.
Friday, August 18, 2006
Who needs water when you have Mardi Gras?
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The most-devastated section of the Lower Ninth Ward, a poor area that was torn apart by Hurricane Katrina and floodwaters, is still without drinking water nearly a year after the storm.
Following a meeting between residents and the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board on Thursday, community activists said there is no indication of when the problem will be solved.
“That was an utter waste of my time,” ACORN organizer Tanya Harris said moments after the meeting. “I wasn’t given any clear timeline, a damage assessment, a partial damage assessment, nothing concrete.”
Because of the extreme devastation in the area, crews have been unable to open major valves that would move water and reveal pipe leaks, said Tommie Vassel, the board’s president pro tempore.
Repairs also have been slow because it took weeks to pump the area dry after Katrina on Aug. 29 and again after Hurricane Rita on Sept. 24, Vassel said.
After the water was drained, much of the area was off-limits after lawsuits were filed to stop demolition of ruined houses. Now that homes are being razed, demolition crews have torn more pipes from the ground, contributing to the difficulty of pinpointing infrastructure problems, Vassel said.
Harris said the board told residents that crews have been working seven days a week in some sections to repair pipes, but she had never seen any workers while visiting her neighborhood daily.
Harris also was critical of the S&WB spending almost $200,000 to install underground leak-detection devices in the French Quarter, the Central Business District and the Warehouse District while work has lagged in the Lower Ninth Ward
“I understand that those areas are important to our city, but we are important to our city,” Harris said. “We are important people, and we count.”
Do what we say or else!
WASHINGTON (AP) — Anti-abortion groups are urging President Bush to withdraw his nominee to head the Food and Drug Administration, angry that the agency may allow nonprescription sales of the morning-after pill.
Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach already is facing a roadblock from the other side of that issue. Democrats are upset that the FDA has long delayed settling the three-year debate over whether at least some women could buy the emergency contraceptive without a doctor’s note.
Amid the political accusations, the FDA is contacting both the anti-abortion groups and their main opponent, Planned Parenthood, to hear their last-minute arguments over the fate of the drug, called Plan B.
“I gave them an earful,” said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, which has led opposition to nonprescription sales of the emergency contraceptive. She believes that her earlier input, during an official public comment period, was ignored.
“It is very late in the game and that adds to our fury over this,” Wright said.
Her earlier input was ignored? I'm sorry, didn't she get what she wanted? Hasn't the FDA stalled and stalled and stalled some more in letting women purchase a research-tested, perfectly legal medication? Didn't she get what she wanted in all those pregnancies that could have been avoided but ended in abortion were concieved anyway? Didn't she get what she wanted in the fears and panic of all those women who had to endure those pregnancies and/or abortions? I mean, that is what she wants, isn't it? Oh sure, maybe not in a blatant, pre-thoughtout way, but that's what her policies will allow to happen. The truth is, condoms break. People get stupid and have sex without protection. It's dumb, it's arguably irresponsible, but it's no reason to force them into parenthood when they're not ready. Nor is it a reason to force them to undergo an abortion when they're not ready. And yes, I realize no one is literally putting a gun to women's heads, but come on. If you don't have the economic or emotional resources to carry, deliver and raise a child, that's force too.
“If the president pushes for this nominee, he is only going to undercut the support his own party needs in the elections,” said Paul Chaim Schenck, director of the National Pro-Life Action Center.
If we don't get what we want, we won't vote for you again! Then see how you like it when those evil Democrats take over and women get to have sex, sex, sex all the time and don't have to pop out babies!
Plan B is a high dose of a drug found in many regular birth control pills that, taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, can lower the risk of pregnancy by up to 89 percent. If a woman already is pregnant, the pills have no effect.
The pills prevent ovulation or fertilization of an egg. They also may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting into the uterus, considered the medical definition of pregnancy, although recent research suggests that’s not likely. However, if true, pill opponents argue that would be tantamount to abortion.
A year ago, the FDA indefinitely postponed a decision on Plan B, saying it needed to determine how to enforce age restrictions on the drug’s sales, a process that would require the writing of new regulations.
On July 31, von Eschenbach told Plan B manufacturer Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc. that step was no longer necessary. He said the FDA would consider allowing nonprescription sales of Plan B, but only for adult women. It would remain prescription-only for those 17 and younger.
Dear, Gods! Did a news report actually get the details of Plan B correct? No proof it prevents implantation? No effect on already existing pregnancies? Perish the thought of truth!
And it's annoying that young girls need to have 'scripts, but it's also fairly simple to get around. I'd happily buy pills for any of my young cousins that need them, and they know that already. Still, it's not a complete win. And it's still not a done deal. So who knows? Maybe the forced-pregnancy forces will win anyway.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Death by (non-existant) rescue
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The son of a 91-year-old woman who died in her wheelchair awaiting rescue from a shelter in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina sued the city and the state on Thursday.
Herbert Humphrey Jr. filed a lawsuit in state Civil District Court in New Orleans accusing numerous state agencies and the city of New Orleans of willful misconduct in the death of his mother, Ethel Freeman.
Freeman died sitting in her wheelchair outside the city’s Convention Center, which was overwhelmed with desperate evacuees. Her body, pushed to one side and covered with a poncho, became a widely noted icon of the botched hurricane response.
Humphrey’s lawyer, John Paul Massicot, said Freeman was instructed to go the fetid Convention Center — even though there was no aid available and no way out.
“Let’s not forget, she survived the storm. The storm didn’t get her. She didn’t survive the rescue,” Massicot said.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
The Ebb and Flow of Attraction
Lately, it seems all my friends are dating. A lot. Not a single one of my friends seems to be dateless. It's strange to me, because I'm not dating. I'd like to, I think, but it just doesn't seem to happen for me. And I'm pondering a bit why that is.
Attraction is a tricky thing. Personally, I've noticed I have 'types' that I get hooked on. I'm trying to work out just why I like what I like, but I can't always put my finger on it. Physically, I like men with wide shoulders, dark hair and dark eyes. I like women with dark hair, too. Big, expressive eyes. Lush lips. Plenty of curves. I want a partner I can really get my hands on, really feel. I don't like super-skinny, because I'm honestly afraid I'll hurt them. But attraction isn't strictly physical. There's something about a person. Something about the way he smile or she laughs. I like women with attitude, who are certain of who they are, a little aggressive. I prefer my men on the sensitive side, but not wimpy or spineless.
What makes a person attractive? What makes me attractive to other people? And frankly, why isn't it working lately? (I'm not intending a rant here. I'm just a bit caught offguard how suddenly, everyone I know has gone from being happily single to being in a Date-a-thon. If I go a bit off tangent, forgive me.)
I fight, as most fat people do, against the society-implanted impuse to believe I'm single because I'm fat. This is demonstratable untrue. I have always been fat, but I haven't always been single. These friends who are dating? None of them are skinny women. Ergo, fatness itself is not a detractor. And I'm pretty open about what I find attractive too, even though I do have preferred types.
So how does it happen? What makes one person click with another? My friends tell me I'm too cautious and they are probably right. And yet, I can't escape wanting to be wanted. It's a human enough reaction, but for some reason part of me feels....annoyed by it. I'm complete on my own. I'm perfectly capable of handling my life and all it's many, many fuck-ups.
Part of me is angry. Not that I'm single. That's fine. But part of me is angry that I've gone through so much on my own, how dare anyone else presume to know what that's like? How dare they come into my life now? Where were they when I needed them? Where were they when I was on a revolving door of doctors and tests and lab results and medications? Where were they when I was in so much pain I couldn't move? Where were they when I cried myself to sleep night after night because everyone thought I was crazy, but I knew I was sick? It's almost like, if she/he couldn't be bothered to show up then, why do I need them now? It's a whole irrational feeling, I'm aware, and yet there it is. I went through the hardest period of my life on my own. It wasn't easy, but I did it. And I survived and created something decent for myself out of that mess I was working with. So, now, what could a partner offer me?
And yet, another part of me is scared. What if I meet someone and they don't value what I've been through? What if I open up and trust someone and they don't realize just how huge those experiences were? And will continue to be, seeing as how I've got a chronic illness? Or if I meet someone when I'm healthy and then get sick and they bolt? Sure, it's survivable, but why would I want to do that?
Of course, I won't date assholes. I'm repulsed by them, truthfully. So those fears are, mostly, unfounded. But they show up, every time. I think I've dampened the part of me that registers attraction. It's been ages since I've meet anyone I was geniunely attracted too. Why is that? Is it because I'm really not attracted to that many people? Or is it because of some deeper fear that just won't let me go there? Is that what people are picking up on? I've been told all my life, by men anyway, that it's clear I don't need them. Which is true. I don't need another person in my life, but that doesn't mean I don't want one.
Does wanting trump needing? In my mind, it does. I'm much rather be wanted than needed. Needing means there's a task, a role to be filled. Which means anyone could do it. Wanting is more specific, it's tailored to the person. You want me because I'm me, not because I'm there. Is it possible to want someone with all their flaws? No one is perfect, yet it seems that's what people are expecting. Is it so strange that I prefer people with flaws? That I like them? That I mistrust 'perfection' on it's surface?
How do you know Bush is lying? He's breathing.
Nearly half of New Orleans was still under water when President Bush stood in the Crescent City’s historic Jackson Square and swore he would “do what it takes” to rebuild the communities and lives that had been laid to waste two weeks before by Hurricane Katrina.
“Our goal is to get the work done quickly,” the president said.
He promised to spend federal money wisely and accountably. And he vowed to address the poverty exposed by the government’s inadequate Katrina response “with bold action.”
A year after the storm, the federal government has proven slow and unreliable in keeping the president’s promises.
The job of clearing debris left by the storm remains unfinished, and has been plagued by accusations of fraud and price gouging. Tens of thousands of families still live in trailers or mobile homes, with no indication of when or how they will be able to obtain permanent housing. Important decisions about rebuilding and improving flood defenses have been delayed. And little if anything has been done to ensure the welfare of the poor in a rebuilt New Orleans.
How has the government performed in the most critical areas of the recovery and reconstruction effort?
EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE: A June report by the Government Accountability Office concluded that FEMA wasted between $600 million and $1.4 billion on “improper and potentially fraudulent individual assistance payments.”
Government auditors found that debit cards distributed to Katrina victims were used to pay for things like Dom Perignon champagne, New Orleans Saints season tickets and adult-oriented entertainment. The audit also found that people used fictional addresses, fake Social Security numbers and the identities of dead people to fraudulently register for assistance. FEMA also double-deposited funds in the accounts of 5,000 out of the nearly 11,000 debit card holders.
CLEANUP: The job still isn’t done. More than 100 million cubic yards of debris have been cleared from the region affected by Katrina. So far the government has spent $3.6 billion, a figure that might have been considerably smaller had the contracts for debris removal been subject to competitive bidding.
Working through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA gave each of four companies contracts worth up to $500 million to clear hurricane debris. This spring government inspectors reported that the companies — AshBritt Inc. of Pompano Beach, Fla., Phillips and Jordan Inc. of Knoxville, Tenn., Ceres Environmental Services Inc. of Brooklyn Park, Minn. and ECC Operating Services Inc. of Burlingame, Calif. — charged the government as much as four to six times what they paid their subcontractors who actually did the work.
HOUSING: In his Jackson Square speech, Bush said his goal was to “get people out of shelters by the middle of October.”
By and large that goal was met, with all but a few thousand of 270,000 Katrina evacuees out of shelters by mid-October.
But that didn’t solve the monumental housing problem created by Katrina. Most of the people who had been in shelters went to hotel rooms, with FEMA picking up the bill. About 50,000 families who had evacuated to other cities were promised a year of rent assistance, though in April FEMA began cutting off some who the agency said did not qualify for the program. More than 100,000 families moved into trailers or mobile homes parked either in the yards of their damaged houses or in makeshift compounds.
Meanwhile, FEMA flailed and flip-flopped on its contracting policies for trailers, mobile homes and other temporary shelter. The first big contracts were handed out non-competitively to four well-connected companies — Shaw Group, Bechtel Corp., CH2M Hill Inc. and Fluor Corp. Then in October FEMA director R. David Paulison promised to rebid the contracts after Congress complained that smaller companies, especially local and minority-owned firms, should have a chance to compete for the work.
A month after that, FEMA said the new contracts would not be awarded until February. That deadline came and went, and then in March a FEMA official announced that the contracts weren’t going to be rebid after all.
A week later FEMA reversed itself again, giving up to $3.6 billion in business to small and minority-owned firms.
“I promised Congress I was going to bid them out, and that’s what I’m doing,” Paulison said.
REBUILDING: Despite Bush’s Jackson Square promise to “undertake a close partnership with the states of Louisiana and Mississippi, the city of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities,” state and local officials had a hard time reaching a deal for federal aid to help residents rebuild their ruined homes.
In January the administration rejected a $30 billion plan for Louisiana as too expensive. The White House also balked at subsidizing the reconstruction of homes in flood plains, a policy that would have excluded all but a small fraction of Louisiana homeowners whose houses were significantly damaged.
The state finally won funding in July for the $9 billion ’Road Home’ program, which pays homeowners up to $150,000 either to repair their damaged property or rebuild elsewhere in the state. People who leave the state are eligible for a 60 percent buyout. The money, which is being distributed through escrow accounts to prevent fraud, is just becoming available a year after the hurricane.
LEVEES: The federal government hasn’t broken any promises with regard to flood protection — mostly because it has assiduously avoided making any.
White House Katrina recovery czar Donald Powell has said that the administration intends to wait for the completion of a $20 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study, due in December 2007, before it decides whether to enhance the flood protection system in southern Louisiana enough to resist a Category 5 hurricane.
A preliminary draft of the study released in July was widely criticized because it omitted five projects that state officials say should be started right away. At the same time, it focused on a massive levee that would stretch hundreds of miles along the Louisiana coast while paying only lip service to the critical task of shoring up the state’s vanishing wetlands, which provide a natural barrier to hurricane flooding.
“We’re wasting our time and money and attention contemplating large-scale levees across the entire state,” said Tim Searchinger, an attorney with the advocacy group Environmental Defense.
The federal government has committed about $6 billion since Katrina to repair and improve the Big Easy’s existing levee system. The first goal was to bring the levee system back to “pre-Katrina” levels by the beginning of the 2006 hurricane season on June 1. That goal was largely achieved. The next step will be to make improvements that will bring the system up to what is variously called Category 3 or 100-year protection by 2010.
But planners and state and local officials say that the levees need to be brought up to Category 5 protection, a level that would cost up to $30 billion, if people are to have confidence moving back to areas destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
POVERTY: Bush offered three proposals in Jackson Square to help combat poverty around the Gulf Coast region. Two of them never went anywhere — the creation of “worker recovery accounts” that would help evacuees find work by paying for school, job training or child care while they looked for employment, and an Urban Homesteading Act that would give poor people building sites for new homes that they would either finance themselves or obtain through programs such as Habitat for Humanity.
A third proposal, the creation of a Gulf Opportunity zone, did come to pass. Signed by President Bush in December, the legislation gives $8.7 billion in tax breaks to developers of low-income housing projects, small businesses and individuals affected not just by Katrina but by hurricanes Rita and Wilma as well. The law also provides debt restructuring for financially troubled local governments in the area.
Let's see...waste, fraud, massive piles of shit still piled, lack of housing, lack of water or electricity or heat in most of the city. And $30 billion is too much to pay for New Orleans, but how much are we paying to level Middle Eastern countries? And they keep trying to downgrade Katrina, saying she wasn't really a Cat 5. She was only a Cat 4. Or no, wait, she was just a Cat 3. Why? So they can justify not building the levees up enough to withstand another one. Because we're not worth it. But I bet if New Orleans gets taken over by wealthy white people, those levees will be able to withstand higher than a Cat 5.
The right to play football trumps a little brain damage
KENTON, Ohio (AP) — A judge decided two high school athletes can complete the football season this fall before they serve 60-day jail sentences for a car crash caused by a decoy deer placed in a country road. Two teens were injured.
“I shouldn’t be doing this, but I’m going to. I see positive things about participating in football,” Judge Gary McKinley said Tuesday.
Dailyn Campbell, a 16-year-old quarterback for Kenton High, and 17-year-old teammate Jesse Howard will serve their time in a juvenile detention center. They were also ordered to write a 500-word essay titled “Why I Should Think Before I Act.”
Last November, teens stole the decoy from a man’s home, created a base to help it stand upright because it had only two legs, and then drove up and down the road, watching as drivers swerved to avoid it, prosecutor Brad Bailey said. He said Howard did not stop the prank.
Robert Roby Jr. crashed his car into a pole and broke his neck, collarbone, arm and leg. His passenger, Dustin Zachariah, suffered brain damage, Bailey said.
Campbell and Howard pleaded no contest to vehicular vandalism and other charges. Three other teenagers are awaiting trial in the fall.
“None of these guys will ever know what our sons have gone through,” Roby’s mother, Mary, wrote to the court. “If they get nothing for what they’ve done, they’ll do something worse later. They need more than a slap on the wrist.”
Both Campbell and Howard apologized at their sentencing.
“I think every day that I hurt someone, and that hurts me inside,” Howard said.
A broken neck. Brain damage. And this is what they get?
Now, I'm all for giving people second chances, especially kids. And 60 days in jail? Okay. But...fucking football? Do you know how screwed up that is? "Well, boys, I know you screwed up the lives of two other people. And they're going to have to live with that damage for the rest of their lives. Gods, with brain damage, you may have completely altered one fella's life. But you know...the team needs ya. And football is king!"
Fuck that. What sort of message does that send to the victims? You're important, but not as important as winning the state tourny? We understand your pain, but can you put in on ice? Just for a few months? Please.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Nothing is forgotten
What some Katrina survivors taught us through their faith, resilience
They were strangers to us, just stories to be told.
They had lost everything in Hurricane Katrina — shelter and shoes, electricity and air conditioning, running water and working toilets. And there we were, asking for something more.
We had been dispatched — Allen to New Orleans, Vicki to Mississippi — to collect the stories of people as they waited in line for food and rooted through piles of cast-off clothing for something that would fit, trying not to feel ashamed.
Many of Katrina’s victims had been too poor or too stubborn to flee when the monster storm closed in. Most had no idea how they would start over. Some wanted to die, and some we feared might.
They’ve haunted us — because brief as our time together was, it was enough for a real exchange.
They gave us much more than quotes to fill a story. What did we give? Not much, it seemed. Pop-Tarts for children running barefoot in the Mississippi mud, the chance to make a cell phone call from the hell of the New Orleans convention center to tell a loved one they were still alive.
We wondered what became of them. Did they give up? Or, when tested, did they discover in themselves something they didn’t know they had?
We went back to find out.
In 18 years as a journalist, I’d never felt so helpless.
“Tell someone to come get me, please,” the man begged over the crackling phone connection as the wind howled outside. “I want to live.”
And then he added: “Pray for me.”
From the darkened hallway of my French Quarter hotel, Katrina had seemed until then just another near-miss hurricane, like Ivan had the year before. Then I heard Chris Robinson’s panicked voice.
The water in the ranch-style house Robinson’s parents had built in the Lower Ninth Ward was almost to the ceiling. He grabbed some bottled water, canned sausage, an ax, hammer and crowbar, and climbed into the cramped attic.
I felt like a vulture, using up this man’s precious cell phone battery to get a few quotes. But as far as I knew, Robinson’s anguished pleas were the first confirmation that Katrina wasn’t just another glancing blow — that it might be “the big one” we’d all been fearing.
After Robinson hung up, I called 911. The dispatcher said there was nothing she could do.
He’d asked me to pray for him. But if the police and fire departments couldn’t help, I thought, what good were my prayers?
Recently, I dug out my wrinkled, water-stained notebook and called that same New Orleans cell phone number. I was a little surprised when Robinson answered.
“Alive and breathing!” he said in a voice that seemed too jolly for someone who’d been through what he’d suffered. No longer worried about using up his battery, I asked Robinson about his ordeal.
The 47-year-old father of two told how he’d watched through a louvered opening in the eaves as water pouring from a gap in the Industrial Canal levee snapped the spine of his neighbor’s house. He talked of fish swimming around the attic with him, and how he finally punched a hole in the roof and climbed out.
Sitting on his roof, Robinson talked on his cell phone until the circuits got overloaded and the battery ran out.
Then he talked to God.
On July 30, he moved his family back to New Orleans from Houston.
He has used the tools that were his salvation to gut his parents’ home, which was battered but intact, in preparation for rebuilding.
Answered prayers, he’s sure.
Margaret Pertuit could see the sunshine from her bare mattress in the flooded-out motel room in Bay St. Louis, Miss. The elderly widow could hear the National Guard offering food and water. But all she could smell was mud and mold.
All she wanted, she told me, was to die.
“My mind is OK, but my body won’t let me do anything,” she said. “I get so depressed.”
I recognized the deep purple bruises on her arms, the kind caused by blood-thinning drugs. I’d seen them before, on the arms of someone I’d loved and lost.
I asked her if she had her medicines, and she said she’d stopped taking them. She was hoping for a clot that would kill her quickly.
She had survived Katrina’s flood, thanks to younger, stronger people. But the days passed slowly after the water receded. She had grown weary of the desperate life she was barely living, trapped in a room with no running water, no working toilets, no air conditioning.
I told her she wouldn’t be stuck here much longer — hoping it was true.
“Keep taking your medicine,” I said. “You’ve got more living to do.”
I kept wondering about her. Worrying. But a week later, when I returned to the motel to check on her, she had vanished. People who’d noticed the ambulance thought maybe she’d had a heart attack, but no one knew for sure.
It turns out she ended up at a hospital in Pascagoula, where she slept in a chair until one of her daughters found her through a Red Cross registry. Her heart was fine. It was anxiety that had overcome her.
She rented a room in Gonzales, La., then used half her life’s savings to buy a three-bedroom house in an older subdivision.
She’s been back to Bay St. Louis twice but will never live there again. Her garden washed away, and her house broke apart. About all she could recover was her grandmother’s century-old crystal punch bowl.
Now 86, Pertuit tires easily. She thinks about going out to eat, then wonders if it’s worth it.
But to her, depression is weakness. She’d rather not remember that day at the motel, and she tries not to think about the things she’s lost.
She’s learning to start over.
With New Orleans descending into chaos, we were hearing reports of carjackings — even boatjackings of rescue workers. In fear that we would lose our car, our food stores or the precious cans of gasoline we’d hoarded since before the storm, photographer Eric Gay and I zigzagged around refugees. We avoided some neighborhoods altogether.
But something in Evelyn Turner’s face made us stop.
She had been waiting hours for someone to take away the body of the man she loved, her companion of 15 years, who had died when his oxygen ran out. She needed a ride to the police station.
Gay and I watched as she pleaded in vain with the police. “Oh Lordy!” she cried when they told her they were too busy with the living to worry about the dead.
We offered her a ride back. When we arrived at the spot on St. Claude Avenue, we came upon a scene that stunned us.
There on the median was the body of 57-year-old truck driver Xavier Bowie — wrapped in bedsheets, lying on the improvised raft of two-by-fours and plywood that Turner had used to float him out of their flooded neighborhood.
It was the first time I’d seen a corpse outside of a funeral home.
Turner went to the raft, weeping into a dirty rag — and Gay’s photo of her captured the extent to which civilization had collapsed.
When we last saw Turner, she was sitting beside Bowie’s body in the back of a flatbed truck on her way to the morgue at Charity Hospital. But her ordeal was just beginning, I learned when I contacted her recently.
Turned away from the flooded hospital, she asked the driver to take her to city hall, where she lay Bowie’s body on a grassy median. She stayed with him another eight hours before National Guard troops loaded the Navy veteran’s body into a military dump truck.
It wasn’t until October that she learned his body had been claimed by his wife and children.
He was buried in Florida. The death notice said they were unable to track Turner down.
Turner, 55, welcomed me into the three-bedroom rental home she now shares with four relatives in Shreveport, La. In the living room sits the overstuffed chair in which Bowie died. She keeps it, not for sentimental reasons, but because she cannot afford a new one.
At the kitchen table, Turner pulls a piece of paper from her wallet and unfolds it. It’s a copy of Gay’s photo.
For months, it was the only picture she had of Bowie.
Hurricane Katrina was the first time I felt I had to make a choice between doing my job and being human. I can’t forget the people we passed by.
Evelyn Turner reminded me that you have to be human to do the job.
I could tell from looking at him that Gary Turner was the kind of man who had moved through the world without attracting much attention. Skinny and shy, with weathered skin and downcast eyes, the 52-year-old carpenter had sometimes silently wondered what good he could possibly be to anyone in a crisis.
After Hurricane Katrina, he found out.
In the storm’s aftermath, he was one of hundreds who sought refuge in an unofficial shelter at a high school in Bay St. Louis, Miss.
Like everyone else, Turner could smell the stench of human waste wafting from the school’s auditorium. He could hear the pitiful moans of elderly people lying alone and in misery, unable to walk.
Unlike almost everyone else, he decided to help.
He followed a woman’s sobs into the darkness, where an arthritic hand latched onto his with all the strength the swollen knuckles could muster. Darlene Casanova had been asking God to send her someone.
“I think you’re my guardian angel,” she told Turner.
He and several strangers formed a rescue team, helping the frail and forgotten onto potty chairs, then into fresh air. They gathered food and water. They talked and they listened.
By the time I found him, his work was done. Hours earlier, ambulances had carried Darlene and the others away — where, he never learned.
Turner was exhausted and angry, but he shared the story. The suffering was horrific, the scrap of cardboard bearing Darlene’s shakily scrawled name heartbreaking.
But what Turner and a handful of others had done gave me hope that someday, Mississippi would recover.
As I walked back to my car, I saw that debris on the road had punched a hole in a tire. I turned back to the school, where Turner was already on his feet.
He and another man removed the flat and mounted the spare. I offered money or food, something to feel I wasn’t just taking.
Turner said I’d already given him something. I’d made him feel useful again.
In the steaming mass of humanity at the New Orleans convention center, she stood out. Sitting in the rain on a hard folding chair, her tiny face poking forlornly from the folds of an American flag blanket, Milvirtha Hendricks seemed to say it all without uttering a word.
I looked at the frail 85-year-old woman and saw my own mother-in-law. They were the same age.
I wondered what I would do to get her out of this hell hole. I wondered if she could have survived out here in the searing sun and the filth.
Seeing Hendricks, wrapped in that star-spangled coverlet, also made me wonder about my country. How could this be happening in one of America’s great cities? Angry young men raged around her that they were being treated like Third World citizens, but there sat Hendricks, wrapped in the flag, as if to say: This is happening right here.
Blessedly, the now 86-year-old widow remembers almost none of this.
“Everybody tells me it’s better that I couldn’t remember the water or nothing,” she said recently from the apartment she and her eldest daughter share in Houston.
Hendricks lived with her daughter on Tennessee Avenue in the Lower Ninth Ward, just a few blocks from the Industrial Canal levee. As Katrina approached, she packed a suitcase and left the home she and her late husband bought in 1970 — the only one she had ever owned.
When water forced her to evacuate to her son’s home in New Orleans East, she boarded a rescue boat and lost the few belongings she’d managed to take with her.
The next days and weeks are a fog.
“They tell me I went to Arkansas and stayed there two or three days,” says the woman who bore 10 children and fed them on her laborer husband’s salary.
Hendricks is surprised to learn that director Spike Lee wanted to use the convention center photo in documentary. She had no idea it had been used in newspaper ad campaigns to raise money for storm victims.
A framed copy of the photograph sits on the dresser in her bedroom.
She often stares at it, trying to remember what many of us wish we could forget.
After a week on the Mississippi coast, the sheer number of stories around me came crashing down. Feeling overwhelmed, I called my best friend. How could I see this, day after day, and do nothing to help?
Just do what you’re doing, she told me. “You’re doing God’s work now.”
I’m not exactly the churchgoing type. So for me to believe that seemed arrogant.
Then, a week later, I got an e-mail from a woman in Georgia. She had read one of my stories and decided she would open her home to a family of strangers. She used almost the same words my friend had.
A week later, I heard the message again.
It came from the Rev. Thomas Ruffin Jr. in a church in Biloxi. During a eulogy for a family member, Ruffin asked God to bless and watch over me in my work.
But not just me or photographer Darron Cummings. It was a prayer for all the journalists who had converged on the Gulf. He thanked us for coming, for doing what we were paid to do, for sharing their stories with the world.
I’d covered many funerals. At some, I’d even wept. But never in 18 years had I been thanked.
Main Street Baptist Church, where Ruffin is assistant pastor, has changed since then. During a recent trip, I visited the new sanctuary, built by strangers from another city with more than $100,000 in donations.
Half the original congregation has left, their homes gutted or gone. But the pews are nearly full every week, mainly with volunteers who are helping rebuild. They come month after month.
“God is showing us through others this is the way it should be — everyone helping each other,” Ruffin says.
His godmother had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized over the summer. Ruffin himself listens to the public service announcements on the radio offering counseling and wonders if he should call.
Instead, he keeps busy.
As a contractor, he rebuilds. As comforter-in-chief to a congregation, he soothes frazzled nerves with a gold-toothed smile and the words of Scripture.
It’s hard to imagine Ruffin’s heart wasn’t always as big as the man around it. But he insists that by sending Katrina, God gave him more compassion.
I still don’t go to church. I don’t read a Bible. But my heart feels somehow bigger, too. And more than once, I have given thanks for being sent to Mississippi.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen G. Breed is a national writer, based in Raleigh, N.C.; Vicki Smith is the AP’s correspondent in Morgantown, W.Va.
Didn't Jesus say to pray in your closet, not in public?
Once again, the legal system has struck down the invoking of Jesus' name in public prayers. If you're opening the city council session with a prayer (which frankly, I think we shouldn't be doing anyway), you cannot pray to Jesus specifically. Or, you can, you just can't say so. Why? Because you're speaking for a government body, not yourself. Even if you're a preacher and insist you're speaking on your own behalf.
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A federal judge dismissed a Fredericksburg City Council member’s lawsuit challenging the council’s nonsectarian prayer policy.
Judge James R. Spencer ruled that prayers delivered at the start of council meetings are “government speech” and therefore cannot promote Christianity or any other specific religion.
The council adopted its policy last year after one of its members, the Rev. Hashmel Turner, insisted on invoking the name of Jesus Christ whenever he gave the opening prayer. The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia had threatened to sue if the practice continued.
Instead it was Turner who filed suit. He claimed that he offers his prayer as an individual, not on behalf of the entire council, and that the new policy impermissibly restricts his speech based on his religious viewpoint.
Spencer disagreed, noting that the opening prayer is listed on the council’s agenda and that it cannot be delivered until the speaker — an elected official — is recognized by the mayor, who presides over the meetings.
“Contrary to Councilor Turner’s assertions, the ultimate responsibility for the content of the speech rests upon the City Council on whose behalf the prayer is offered,” Spencer wrote in an opinion issued late Monday.
Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, said he was pleased with the decision.
“This ruling does not affect Reverend Turner’s right to deliver sectarian prayers at any time other than the few moments that he’s the voice of the Fredericksburg City Council,” Willis said.
The Rutherford Institute, a conservative group that often takes on religious freedom cases, is backing Turner’s lawsuit. John W. Whitehead, president of the Charlottesville-based organization, said Spencer’s ruling will be appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and, if necessary, the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I had no expectation we’d win at the first level,” Whitehead said. “The fundamental question is: This government speech doctrine, how far are we going to let that go? How far is the Supreme Court going to let it go?”
Spencer cited several higher court rulings to support his position that “legislative prayers” must be nonsectarian to avoid violating the U.S. Constitution’s establishment clause, which prohibits government promotion of one religion over others.
Whitehead said, however, that there are fundamental differences between the facts in Turner’s case and those in the cases cited by the judge.
“We think this is viewpoint discrimination,” he said.
Turner, a minister at the First Baptist Church of Love, was re-elected to a second four-year term in May. The council removed him from the prayer rotation after he refused to alter his invocation.
I seriously want to see what happens when a witch or pagan wants to offer a prayer to the Goddess at a council meeting...Oh. Wait. that already happened. Even though she had no intention of mention Goddess, she was refused because her believes are pre-Christian. But that's not discrimination. And I'm sure Rev. Turner wouldn't have a problem with her being denied her right to free speech....because, you know, it's all about Jesus. Even though he specifically said not to pray in public, but to pray in secret. Clearly, the Lord God misspoke and needs to be corrected by the fine Christians of this world.
Monday, August 14, 2006
Thank you, but I'm my own moral agent
First, you're born wrong. Corrupted. You're never going to be a good person, not on your own. Sure, you may do good things, but that doesn't make you good. Nothing in this world can make you good. In the fundamentalist world, Mother Theresa is burning in hell because she wasn't a "born-again" Christian, she was just Catholic. Also in the fundamentalist world, a serial killer who accepts Jesus on his death bed is going to Heaven, regardless of the things he did in this life. That's how it works. People are powerless on their own. They cannot be anything other than sinful and corrupted. Moreover, they are joyful in their sin, making them even more wretched and vile. There is no complete list of sin, so you can never make certain what to avoid. The rule of thumb that I used when I was still involved in the church was this: If it makes you happy, and it isn't centered around the church, it's probably a sin. Or close to one, so you should confess anyway. It's standard procedure to pray for forgiveness for sins you weren't away you committed. Because you did committ some, being human and all.
Then, because you cannot be good on your own, it stands to reason that someone has to make you be good. That would be God's job. Now, God could do this by being loving and giving you rewards and being accepting. But no. That's not how it works in this world. You are punished for stepping out of line. Not just for major transgressions. No, for anything. Look at a man who is not your husband? Bad! You'll be zapped for that. Tell a lie to get out of detention? Ha! Punishment is on the way. Forgot to read your Bible? What are you, stupid? You are so going to get in trouble for that. And don't even think of skipping church. Even though you want to, even though you disagree with what's being taught. That just means you're not faithful enough. It just means you need to pray harder. You just need to be better. Because if you don't, you'll be punished. And how does God punish you? Well, that could be anything, really. That new promotion you didn't get? That was God. The car accident? God too. Not getting into the college you wanted? Should haven't sworn at your mother.
There are rules, so many rules. No one can follow them all. But if you don't follow them, then you could get cancer. Or your child could be sick. Or maybe your teenage daughter will get pregnant. All punishments from God. Nothing could just happen. No way you could be responsible for your actions. You can't be. You aren't good. You can't make good decisions. You have to be told what to do.
All other faiths are cults. Catholics? Not christians. Mormans? Definately a cult. Unitarians? Ha. Everyone goes to Heaven? Clearly, they must be of the Devil.
Oh, yes. The Devil. He's more powerful than you can ever imagine. Clearly, he's as powerful as God, otherwise why does the church spend so much time talking about Him and so little talking about God? Sit through a sermon on any given Sunday and you'll hear about sin and Satan and punishment. What you won't hear about, until the very end when they're trying to get you to come forward and be saved, is the God loves you. God Loves you? What sort of love is it that is going to send most people to Hell for eternity? What love is it that inflicts all this punishment? What love is it that tells you you were wrong from birth and there's no changing that fact?
They truely believe that, if left to their own devices, humans would do nothing but run around killing and raping and doing the worst things possible. Because they honestly believe that's our true nature. Our true natures is to be animals.
And that's why Fundi churchs are loosing young people at a rapid rate. Because no one can live like that. No one can stand the stress and the pain and the anger and the self-hatred for an entire lifetime, not if they really think about it. No one can look at their fellow human beings and see depraived animals constantly and remain sane. So, those of us who value our sanity run far, far, far away. Fast.
Friday, August 11, 2006
More tears over New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — They said she was too frail. That the mold growing on the warped walls of her flooded house would make her ill. That she shouldn’t bother since her mottled, mud-filled home would likely be bulldozed anyway.
But Willie Lee Barnes, who recently turned 94, didn’t listen.
Standing outside her flooded house in the Louisiana sun, she clasped her rosary in her frail hands and prayed. “Lord,” she said, “I’m not asking that you climb the mountain for me. I’m only asking that you give me the strength to do it myself.”
Strapping on a dust mask, she grabbed a shovel and with all her force, began pounding the deformed walls of her living room until they came off, falling to the floor like the rinds of a desiccated orange. She filled buckets with the broken drywall, which her son ferried outside. Bucket by bucket and week after passing week, she kept at it, resting occasionally on a stool, the only piece of furniture in her house to survive the flooding. Flanked by a worn statue of the Virgin Mary, hers is now one of the few houses that’s been gutted in the city’s most destroyed neighborhood, the Lower Ninth Ward.
Ask her to explain how a nonagenarian succeeded in doing what thousands of younger families have failed to do, Miss Barnes offers an analogy: “I’m like bad grass. Because it never dies. You gotta pull it up and even though you do, it still grows back. I don’t care how hard something looks, I’m still going to try.”
In a city that still lies largely in ruin, life is pushing through like ’bad grass,’ forcing its way through cracks in the pavement. One year after Hurricane Katrina laid waste to New Orleans, the city is fighting to come back.
In each instance, it’s the perseverance of one person, or family, that led to one house, one tiny patch of New Orleans becoming whole again.
Those who choose to return do so in spite of the city’s broken infrastructure, which a year later remains in tatters: Nearly 60 percent of homes and business are still not receiving electricity or heating gas. Only three out of nine New Orleans hospitals have reopened. Only 56 of 128 public schools will enroll students this fall.
The city itself still has no master plan.
Those attempting to rebuild their homes have yet to be told how high they will have to raise them. And it’s still unclear if the city’s patched levees will hold back future floods.
Still, even in the worst-hit neighborhoods, where homes were ripped from their foundations and spit into the street, and where mattresses still lie impaled in the branches of trees, the rebirth is taking place.
On one street, one house may be gutted, while scores of others are untouched. Some are adorned with wooden crosses, a crude memorial to the dead.
Like pioneers that have survived a winter in an unforgiving wilderness, those that have returned to live here proudly proclaim their existence.
“I’m back. R U?” asks a sign in the window of a flooded pickup truck at a house slowly being repaired.
Down the block, past the flooded Victorian shotguns, another sign stands outside a gutted home. “I’m Coming Home,” it says — except “Coming” has been struck out with a bold, red line.
“This house is my soul,” explains Carolyn Parker, who says she violated a “look and leave” policy to move back into her broken home last winter. It has neither electricity nor running water, so each morning, until a government-issued trailer arrived last month, she walked to a nearby fire hydrant and screwed it open with a wrench. The water gushed out and she filled two buckets. Then, she carried them back, using them to bathe.
In neighborhoods that took a lesser hit, like Broadmoor, the pockets of health are deeper. Houses were not ripped off their slabs and so will not need to be bulldozed.
On a street that one year ago lay 7 feet under water, a young woman crosses the grassy median, pushing her 2-year-old daughter in a red stroller. On the same median come dusk, couples go jogging, sweating in the setting Louisiana sun, passing the same finished and unfinished houses as life moves on.
But what is visible from the street in the Lower Ninth Ward is sometimes hidden here: Behind their freshly painted doors, many families are still living in wounded homes.
“There are two types of people: Those that came back, and those that came back, threw up their hands and gave up,” says one Broadmoor resident, a 68-year-old man named Del who lives by himself in a lofty, two-story house, which from the outside appears repaired.
He’d give only his first name because he’s embarrassed of his living arrangements. To survive the oven-like heat — electricity is still out — he moves around his house naked, carrying a battery-operated fan from room to room.
Adapting has taken numerous forms. With large swaths of the city still without heating gas, many families are able to bathe only in cold water. But with electricity it’s possible microwave bowls of water to scalding, then mix that with tap water in the bathtub.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, in multi-story houses have moved into their dry upstairs.
Julie Quinn is one such homeowner. The state senator’s colonnaded mansion is in one of the city’s posh suburbs that flooded, and although the second- and third-stories are intact, the kitchen has yet to be repaired.
“I’ve become the queen of the Crockpot and toaster oven,” Quinn jokes.
Throughout the city, institutions have learned to adapt, too.
For more than 150 years, those who attended Sunday Mass at the Church of the Annunciation heard the scripture read in Elizabethan English. Now, the traditional Anglican church’s priest reads the ancient scripture, still dotted with ’Thees’ and ’Thous,’ inside a doublewide trailer, parked in the flooded Broadmoor neighborhood. Because there is no air conditioning, the clergy shed their ornate wool cassocks.
Still, the Episcopal bishop came carrying a tall, hooked staff and wearing green-and-gold vestments to bless the trailer.
“We do the best we can. But there’s only so much pomp and circumstance you can have inside a doublewide,” said the Rev. Milton Gibson, the church’s deacon.
Even though life is pushing through, it’s come at a cost.
Dentists are reporting that an alarming number of patients are arriving for checkups with chipped or grooved teeth, a result of grinding at night.
Funeral home directors say they’re seeing a disproportionate number of suicides, a rate that health officials estimate could be as much as three times higher than pre-Katrina.
Even in the unharmed French Quarter, where jazz tumbles into the street from ornate, cast-iron balconies, residents speak of a lingering depression.
“I can’t even remember how many going-away parties I’ve been to in the last few weeks. Every night I lay in bed, thinking, ’Should I stay or should I go?’” says Maggie Beal, the manager of a store selling 19th century French antiques. All day, she says, she waits for tourists to walk in, but there are few. And the ones who are in town rarely are interested in the expensive armoires and Louis XV furnishings.
Yet even in the Quarter, the day-to-day struggle has created a society of intense, highly committed, pro-city New Orleanians. Many have proudly hoisted City of New Orleans flags outside their 19th century shotguns. Bumper stickers proclaim “Proud to swim home” and “I love New Orleans.”
Even in a restroom at The Spotted Cat, a hipster bar just outside the Quarter, hope shines through graffiti: “Stay strong New Orleans. You are beautiful,” someone wrote with a black-felt pen on the door.
Throughout the city, those who stayed, who didn’t throw up their hands, are trying the best they can to make meaning out of the destruction.
When Miss Barnes first returned to her flooded bedroom, she hoped to find a crucifix studded with diamonds that for years she’d worn around her neck. She couldn’t find it.
Yet she was able to salvage one item: A present given to her years ago, still inside its gift box. It’s a porcelain angel, holding a battery-operated lantern.
Although the waters rose to the house’s cypress beams, the box must have bobbed on the surface and not gone under, because when she unwrapped it and switched it on, the lantern lit up — a soft, fuzzy yellow.
Holding the angel in her hands and straining to make out its inscription, she reads aloud: “You are the Lord. Keep my light burning and turn the darkness into light.”
Really think about that for a moment. An elderly woman tearing her house down. An elderly man hiding himself, naked, too ashamed to admit he's been reduced so very much. Miles and miles and miles of city with no electricity or water. Women walking to a 'well' with buckets for water. Does that seem like America? In 2006? Would anyone stand for this if it had happened to Los Angeles? Or New York? Or Boston? Denver? Chicago? San Francisco? Seattle? Dallas? Houston? But New Orleans? Eh. It's just full of poor and black people. We can afford to lose them, can't we? No. We can't. We can't afford to lose a single soul.
How are we supposed to snatch the light from the dark? How are we supposed to cope when we've been cut off, again. Rising suicide rates, rising domestic violence rates, more murder, more darkness. Can moments of light combat all that?
And New Orleans, depressed? That's just...wrong. New Orleans is the most colorful, joyful place I've ever been. Depressed? It doesn't fit the city. I think, sometimes, that the city itself is crying.
New Orleans needs tourists, but this? Is not what we have in mind
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — About two dozen protesters marched for an hour outside the American Psychological Association convention on Friday to protest the organization’s stand on homosexuality.
The group, which was sponsored by the conservative ministry Focus on the Family, was protesting what it sees as the APA’s views on the immutability of homosexuality.
“We disagree with the APA’s stand that people can’t change if they want to,” said Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a Los Angeles psychologist and president of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. “If someone wants to change, they say, ‘No, this is you, you must learn to accept it.’ We say people have self determination, they can make a choice.”
In 1974, the APA ceased listing homosexuality as a mental disorder. The protesters demanded that the APA change its current position.
Dr. Clinton Anderson, director of the lesbian, gay and bisexual office of the APA, said the group’s position is that homosexuality is not an illness and therefore not in need of a cure. The association is not opposed to people who decide to try to change their sexual orientation if it’s an autonomous decision, but would question the motives for such a desire, he said.
“If someone wants to change their sexual orientation, we feel that may be because of an atmosphere that is prejudice against homosexuality,” Anderson said. “We are concerned it is a coercive choice that has to do with pressure from their family, their community, or their church.”
Marchers, who stayed outside the convention for an hour carrying signs reading “Don’t tell me I can’t change,” and “Diversity includes me,” among others, were people who had changed from homosexuality, Nicolosi said.
Nicolosi, who works with people wanting to change their sexuality, said that he has found about a third of his patients experience no change, a third have what he called “significant improvement.” and a third adopt a heterosexual life style.
“They marry and are cured,” Nicolosi said. “They may have an occasional attraction, but not a major or constant one.”
The protesters also had a petition for the APA from a group of psychologists to accept both “gay affirming therapists and reorientation therapists.”
The APA does not believe the claim by Nicolosi and others that there is scientific evidence that people can change their sexuality, Anderson said.
“There has never been a well designed study to show that people can change,” Anderson said. “Our concern about the so-called conversation therapy is that it isn’t supported by science. There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.”
You know, I was going to say something reasonable and rational about this. How people can choose behaviour, but that doesn't change orientation and blahblahblah. But you know what? Fuck that. My sexuality is not an abhoration. Nor it is deviant. It's a blessing and I'm sick of fucknuts like this telling me otherwise.
I love men. I love women. And what does that say about me, other than I can love either gender? Nothing. Period. Well, it could tell you I'm less bound to rigid social roles. Or that I'm more willing to look at people for who they are instead of what they are. But you know...
So, fuck off, okay? All you people out there who think there's something wrong with me because I can love a person with a penis or with a vagina, can just Shut.The.Hell.Up. A mental illness? Please. I've been mentally ill. Being bisexual doesn't even come close. Being bisexual is a blessing, not a deviation. Sexuality is a blessing, period. It's not dirty, it's not shameful, it's not something to deny. It can be comforting or intoxicating or bonding or just plain fun. So why don't you go try it and leave the rest of us alone already?