Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Inside

New Year's Eve

There is an Indian proverb that says that everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, an emotional, a mental and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time, but unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sex workers aren't "asking for it."

On December 27th, two police officers on foot patrol discovered an unconscious woman under a bush in Springfield, Massachusetts' South End. She had been raped and severely beaten, and in the frigid weather, her body temperature had fallen to 80 degrees. She was the third woman since October to be found raped and beaten into unconsciousness.

"If it were a half-hour later, we would have been investigating the city's 15th murder," said Sgt. John M. Delaney, aide to Police Commissioner William J. Fitchet.

The victim is a white woman with a long history with police, Delaney said, though he did not detail her arrest record.

"I hate to say it, I don't want to make her a victim twice," Delaney said, while cautioning the public that the attack did not bear the marks of a "typical" serial rapist.

"The general public should know that this was a woman who engaged in risky behavior, not someone who was abducted at random," he said. Stephanie Barry, Springfield Republican.
What Sgt. Delaney was trying to say, without coming right out and saying it, was that the woman was a prostitute. Similar statements made in October about the other two victims implied the same thing. What Sgt. Delaney was careful not to imply was that in spite of her "risky behavior," the woman was "asking for it." That particular judgment will be made by far too many others in the community.

Women's advocates know that no woman is safe from rape and murder. One out of every six women in the U.S. has been the victim or a rape or attempted rape in their lifetime, and the murder rate for women is 1.35 for every 100,00 women.

But yes-- violence against sex workers is way out of proportion to that of the general population.

The most recent victim's brutalization took place exactly ten days after the 6th Annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. The event was initiated to commemorate the more than 90 victims of the Green River killer Gary Ridgway, who targeted prostitutes because "I knew they would not be reported missing right away, and might never be reported. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught."

"Violence should not be an occupational hazard!" The Sex Worker Outreach Project, along with many others, believes that laws that criminalize prostitution help to put women in harm's way. Perpetrators often count on sex workers not going to the police for protection (there are occasional exceptions: see my post on Officer Jacobson) and the stigma creates the idea that sex workers, especially street prostitutes, are a disposable class of people.

Sadly, as women as a whole experience less discrimination and greater possibilities, the women's movement, if it even still exists, shows little or no solidarity with women who use their bodies to make a living. Radical movements to prevent violence against women have turned into service providers with close ties to the state. I have heard no outcry from the YWCA, no word from any battered women's shelter or rape crisis center. My own organization, Arise for Social Justice, , used to frequent places where we would find sex workers and pass out flyers about safety and resources, but our own resources have been very thin of late. Thinking about this, I have to ask myself if we could have done something to make these womens' assaults less likely.

The real question, though, is what can we do now?

Photo from SWOP-Tuscon.

Monday, December 29, 2008

22 points of view: Homeless bloggers speak out

Once a year, at Christmastime, housed people give homeless people a little more thought-- and a little more charity-- than usual.

As appreciated as that charity is, the end of December and the beginning of the New Year is sometimes bitter and sometimes sweet for homeless people and their closest allies.

On or near the longest night of the year, cities and towns around the country commemorate the lives of homeless people who have died. The Nashville Homeless Power Project lost one of their own leaders this year so their memorial on Dec. 13 was especially poignant. The New Hampshire Under the Bridge Project has a list of people who have died in New Hampshire every year since 1994. This year's list has 36 names.

Many homeless groups are organizing and fighting back against community antipathy. In Sacramento CA, the People Project reports on a Deccmber 23rd march organized by the homeless themselves against discriminatory laws that make their lives miserable. Take Back the Land in Miami, FL is reveling in some good publicity about their movement, has been liberating public and foreclosed land and homes since 2006. The 13th Juror reports on a lawsuit filed in Laguna Beach CA charging the city with a campaign of harassment against homeless people. Ordinances prohibit homeless people from sleeping out anywhere within the city yet Laguna Beach only provides an overnight shelter between december and March. Save Feral Human Habitat is supporting an effort by the homeless and advocates to seek an extension to the city's planned January 23rd ordinance forbidding the city's homeless from sleeping out on the grounds they have nowhere else to go. Victoria BC,'s A Room of My Own is posting the minutes of organizing meetings to get a tent city established. But in the tradition of "One step forward, one step back," Chosen Fast lambasts Des Moines IO's destruction of wooden huts built by Hope Builders and the homeless themselves, because one of the huts was slightly damaged by fire.

Again, this time of year, homeless blogs pull their thoughts together to think about the policy-- and lack of policy-- that affects homelessness. Diane Nelin at Invisible Homeless Kids discusses a new report on the increase in child and youth homelessness. Wandering Vets has the 2nd part of an in-depth look at homeless veterans. SLO Homeless has a painful look at increasing family homelessness. The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty analyzes how Ontario's government "has led the way in the deterioration of income adequacy for people on assistance. "

Is passing out $13,000 in $10 bills to residents of LA's Skid Row doing people any good? Joel John Roberts at LA's Homeless Blog doesn't think so, and he explains why. Tim Harris at Apesma's Lament remarks on how policymakers just have to stay positive about the progress being made to end homelessness, even when they have to stretch the truth, and the Homeless Family's Blog isn't buying the line that homelessness is decreasing, either.

Last but not least, this is at least one time of the year when homeless people allow themselves to wax philosophical about the ending of the old and the beginning of the new. At The Adventures of Homeless Girl, the author thinks about the pursuit of happiness and what it takes to catch it. Kevin Barbieux at The Homeless Guy is not feeling too good about his life these days. Jamie's Big Voice from London has a poem to share, as does an anonymous author at Stone Soup Station. Ryan Garou at On Homelessness in America looks at an article about how to democratize powerwhile Homeless in Abbotsford BC explores the idea of generosity. Finally, the author of Homeless Man Speaks posts the plain words of his homeless friends and paints a picture with them.
Please take the time to learn something directly from homeless people by visiting these incredible blogs. Remember that thoughtful comments are always appreciated. It means somebody is listening.

Photos: Tony shoveling snow from Homeless Man Speaks; mourners from Nashville Homeless Power.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

No animals allowed in homeless shelters

When Springfield's Sanctuary City was active, a few of the homeless people who tented there had pets. Only one person actually brought a pet into homelessness-- a woman whose white rat rode her shoulder. Everyone else found their pets, who were as homeless as they were. Steven had a kitten he discovered in an abandoned building which he tucked under his coat in the daytime and cuddled with at night. He still had his kitten when he found a place to stay.

Over at Change.org, Shannon Moriarty has a post about homeless people and their pets. Pets can be lifesavers for homeless people-- a live being who cares about you and needs you can keep you from giving way to despair-- but can also threaten their lives because pets are not allowed into homeless shelters. And it goes without saying that the life of a homeless animal is not easy, either.

Only two homeless shelters in the U.S. allow pets. Read more about it at Change.org.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Home again, home again

Back from visiting my daughter; glad to be with her and glad to be home.

While catching up on my messages, I found a link to a new Western Mass blog, and that led to another link, and that led to another link...most of them focused on poetry and arts.

Funny how we make choices without even realizing, at the time, that they are choices. When I was twelve, I thought I'd grow up to be a poet. Instead, I'm a community organizer who writes poetry.

All the new links I discovered have inspired me to share two poems.


Opal is sleeping
in an abandoned building
still has electricity praise god
who knows for how long.
She borrows a pan from the office
to boil water on her hotplate
to wash her hair.

I notice her cutting is getting worse
arms crisscrossed like her life
but she keeps me laughing.
"Don't even have a dollar
for a library card so I pretend to read."
She is twenty-four.
"See you tomorrow at the rally,"
she says, slamming my car door.


Everything’s damp this morning:
The crib, the bread, the floors:
It rained more hard at 6 a.m.
than ever I’ve seen before
& a fishhead keeps appearing
that my cats set free
from the next door Spanish garbage.
Thrown over the porch, it surfaces
Under the t.v.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

40 things that only happen in the movies

Here's a few; check out the rest at Cinema-Pedia.

  • Television news bulletins usually contain a story that affects you personally at the precise moment it’s aired.
  • The Eiffel Tower can be seen from any window of any building in Paris.
  • Any police officer about to retire from the force will more often than not die on their last day (especially if their family have planned a party). (Caveat: Detectives can only solve a case after they have been suspended from duty).
  • You will survive any battle in any war UNLESS you show someone a picture of your sweetheart back home.
  • Anyone can land a 747 as long as there is someone in the control tower to talk you down.
  • If you are heavily outnumbered in a fight involving martial arts, your opponents will wait patiently to attack you one by one by dancing around you in a threatening manner until you have defeated their predecessor.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism also known as Economic Imperialism is when the USA takes advantage of cheap labour in third world dictatorships helps poorer countries develop their economies. The United States, along with the IMF and the World Bank gives generous loans to dictators poor people with the only condition of giving America all of their resources access to their economy. Many dictators countries have benefited from American style neoliberalism. These wealthy nations such as Haiti and Colombia have benefited immensly from neoliberalism. In communist nations on the other hand, people have had to endure a free burocratic and state managed healthcare system, free socialist brainwashing propaganda education, and public transit because in communist countries none can afford a car . Neoliberals such as George Bush hope that one day, the entire world will be free from government and all their social programs using your own money for you . George Bush intends to liberate socialist countries that oppose brutal and oppressive democratic principles such as economic subservience to the United States Neoliberalism. George Bush has placed many socialist countries on the axis of evil because their policies interfere with his profit margin they violate fundamental human rights. Any individual or group who disagrees with America attempts to sabotage the American economy will be brutally massacred dealt with accordingly. The United States of America will oppose all forms of marxist reforms tyranny and will unilaterally invade and personally bitch slap all the socialists liberate any country that does not implement neoliberalism respect the rights of its people. The United States believes it has the God-given right duty to steal resources from developing nations oppose human rights abuses all over the world.

See more at Uncyclopedia

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Being Alive

from Preface to Leaves of Grass, 1855
Walt Whitman
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.

Image from University of Leeds

Monday, December 22, 2008

Consumerism

From the Christmas Resistance Movement.

Moving on up - from cardboard box to minishelter cart for homeless

Earlier this month the L.A. Times reported on a new invention: a shopping cart which can convert to a small shelter for a homeless person. The mobile shelter is called an EDAR (short for Everyone Deserves a Roof) and was developed as the result of a competition sponsored by movie producer Peter Samuelson.

As you might suspect, a number of objections have been raised to this and similar undertakings. Don't want homeless people to get too comfortable, or they might have no incentive to seek more permanent solutions. (So meanwhile, it's OK for them to be subjected to rain and snow?) And where would you put them, seeing as there is no "unowned" land left anymore?

About 60 EDARs have been produced so far for a cost of a little under $500. The manufacturing cost could come down if a government or agency decided they'd be a good solution for temporary housing in a war or natural disaster.

Here's a website and video about the EDAR.

A lot of links....

I just added a new blog, New Dream, to my blogroll under "A world to live in." The blog links a multiplicity of issues to sustainability and the environment. Check it out.

I realize I have a lot of links, seems like more than most bloggers. The thing is, I'm sure I've barely touched on what's available in the blogosphere...but when I find something good, I want others to know about it.

It's just about time for another round-up of news from the homeless blogs; hope to get to that soon. In the meantime: Read! Explore! At the least, you'll wind up feeling grateful for the number of people committed to creating a better world.

Photo from ~Dezz's~ photostream at Flickr.

Protest Gentrification, Stop the Anti-Panhandling Ordinance 285-53


The following is a post from the Northampton, MA-based group Poverty is Not a Crime.

Host:
Poverty Is Not a Crime
Type:
Network:
Global
Time and Place
Date:
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Time:
4:15pm - 6:00pm
Location:
exact congregation location TBD

The Anti-Panhandling Ordinance Is Just the Beginning!
Stop the Business Improvement District!
End Rascist and Classist Gentrification!
Community Resources, Now!
True Economic Development: For People, Not Profit!

Ordinance 285-53 would restrict “aggressive solicitation” and ban solicitation in much of downtown Northampton through severe restrictions on zone. Originally directed only against panhandling, the word "panhandling" was replaced with "solicitation" in a plastic response to one of our demonstrations to make it seem less classist. Anyone who violates this ordinance will face a fine ranging from $50-$300. Since most panhandlers are obviously unable to pay these fines, they will face incarceration, which entails jail time and future exclusion from shelter opportunities and social programs.

This ordinance is part of a larger program by city officials and select business owners (most are on our side) to gentrify Northampton. Gentrification is the process of whitening and making the area "more upscale" by violently displacing the poor into slums, ghettos, and jails. The reason they want to do this is to make the area look "cleaner" and bring in more tourists. This involves of forcibly removing panhandlers (we know the police isn't after the Salvation Army) from public spaces through the use of force--such as the threat of incarceration or forced treatment this ordinance suggests. Another agent of this gentrification is the proposed Business Improvement District (BID) that outlines this ordinance in its program of twisted 'economic development." The BID also seeks to increase police patrols and hire "city ambassadors"--which exist many other cities across the US as a team of off-duty cops who help tourists get directions while "cleansing" the street of anyone whose race or class isn't quite right. It should also be noted that two of the members of the Downtown Steering Committee that came up with and pushes the BID--Suzanne Beck and Dan Yocuzzo--are the two biggest proponents of the ordinance. It should also be noted that 3 out of the 4 people who spoke in favor the ordinance at the last City Council meeting are also members of the Downtown Steering Committee.

the Business Improvement District Plan:
http://northamptondowntown.com/pdf/NohoBID_OperationsPlan.pdf

Rascism: "the potential customers of the BID are...mostly white" - page 22, under the section "Target Customers"
Classism & business control of gov't: "the City of Northampton will participate in the BID as a member...includ[ing] participation in panhandling intervention efforts and ordinances" - page 9

Another agent of gentrification is the "All Roads Lead Home" plan to "end homelessness" that Mayor Higgins, as well as other area mayors, signed onto. This program approaches ending homelessness entirely from the perspective of profit, and featured only one homeless person on its forming committee.

"All Roads Lead Home":
http://www.northamptonma.gov/gsuniverse/httpRoot/mayor/uploads/listWidget/5979/All%20Roads%20Lead%20Home.pdf

On page 26, this plan talks about "host towns" for low income housing to raise property values...meaning that the housing these city governments are building are not based on where the homeless actually are and what helps them, but instead based on moving them out of town. Seeing as the motivation and direction of this proposal is making money, this housing will most likely be slums and ghettos.

City Council does not have the authority to pass this ordinance or the BID! It is not their choice. The people must unite, and declare our demands: stop the anti-panhandling ordinance, stop the BID, and community resources (adequate food, shelter for human beings not profit, and social services) NOW!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Homeless Memorial Service Monday

Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day

Remember our neighbors and friends who have died without homes

December 22, 2008,1:00 p.m.

Christ Church Cathedral

35 Chestnut St., Springfield, MA

Reception to follow

My nephew's at Guantanamo-- what I wish I could tell him

My nephew and I have lived in the same house for probably half his life. As a teen he was into heavy metal, sci fi, paintball, martial arts and hanging with his buddies. He also had a wicked tender heart-- still does, I imagine-- particularly for his cousins and stray neighborhood kids and animals.

Two and a half years ago he joined the Navy. Like many young men, he saw the service as an opportunity to have a future and as he'd like to be in some kind of law enforcement when he leaves the service, he became part of the Naval Security Force. Five months ago, he was transfered to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.

I had a hope, which I didn't dare examine too closely, that because he was in the Navy, in a bay, that he'd be spending much of his time on board a ship, away from the detention camps.

Well, it turns out that the Navy runs security for the camps now-- it used to be the Marines, but not any longer.

My nephew called home the other day and talked to his mom. Of course, for security reasons, there is much he can't say. What he did tell her, however, was about the excrement thrown at him and his fellow security force members by the detention camp prisoners as they walked between the rows of cells.

Here's what I wish I had a way to tell my nephew-- not only tell him, but have him hear.

You are a good person and you don't deserve to have excrement thrown at you. However, it will be nearly impossible for any prisoner at Guantanamo to see you as anything other than a representative of a government that has incarcerated him for seven years without access to the due process of law. No matter what else you may be, you are their jailer.

The United States has just come through nearly eight years of incredible lawlessness. You were barely into your teens when Bush was elected, but I wish you had had a chance to get to know this country before the war. Perfect it definitely was not. Yet even I, cynic that I am, couldn't have guessed how much damage could be done to civil rights.

The Senate Armed Services Committee released a bipartisan report this week about how torture, abuse and death became commonplace in the prisons where "enemy combatants" were held.

Do you know that many of those held prisoner in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere were incarcerated on the word of informants who were rewarded with cash? For many there was little evidence to begin with, and torture produced no worthwhile information. At Guantanamo, of the peak population of 775 at Guantanamo Bay, only 250 prisoners were still there as of November 20; more than two-thirds have been released.

When torture began in those prisons, high government officials including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales used two main strategies to justify it.

First, they changed the definition of torture so that even techniques that could lead to the death of the person being interrogated were not out of bounds.

Second, they announced that the Geneva Convention did not apply to those who were captured in the "war on terror." You probably learned in basic training that the Geneva Convention protocols would protect you if you were ever captured in war. Many of us with family members in the armed forces feared that other countries would change their definition, too.

You will be happy to know-- if you don't already-- that every branch of the armed forces protested that the torture of prisoners violated the law. According to a New York Times editorial commenting on the Senate Armed Services Committee report, Rumsfeld rescinded some of the worst practices at Guantanamo "only after the Navy’s chief lawyer threatened to formally protest the illegal treatment of prisoners." But "by then, at least one prisoner, Mohammed al-Qahtani, had been threatened with military dogs, deprived of sleep for weeks, stripped naked and made to wear a leash and perform dog tricks. This year, a military tribunal at Guantánamo dismissed the charges against Mr. Qahtani."

The bottom line, of course, is that the armed forces must obey the Commander-in-Chief, and you must obey your commanding officers. But how I wish you weren't there, at Guantanamo, in an environment drenched in the moral corruption of torture. Affairs may have improved, but the past cannot be undone. When the a prisoner at Guantanamo looks at you, he sees all seven years of his incarceration, every humiliation he and his fellow prisoners have suffered, every pain, every snarling military dog, every sleepless night. He does not see the nephew with a tender heart that I know and love so well.

Please just keep remembering who you are, and come home soon.

Saturday, December 20, 2008



From The Zero, the website of Andrew Vachss

New acupuncture service in Worcester

When my daughter Emily Konstan went back to school for three years to learn acupuncture and Chinese medicinal herbs, I knew she'd be an excellent practitioner but worried that many people who would benefit from acupuncture wouldn't be able to afford it.

Well, she's opened shop in Worcester, MA with a practice based around community acupuncture! Community acupuncture is done in a relaxed group setting and fees are sliding scale, $20 to $40.

The name of her practice is River Valley Acupuncture. Be sure to check out the News and Events section, which discusses the most recent news about acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatments.

Holiday party rescheduled

Well, my sister and I have phone calls to make and emails to send, but I will announce here also: our solstice get together, which was scheduled for tomorrow, Sunday, has been postponed to the Sunday after, December 28. If you live in or near Springfield, MA, and consider yourself a friend, we hope to see you!

The lovely graphic in this post is from Moonrabbit, where there are many nice prints for sale. Check them out!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

No smiling

What being homeless means

This is from the Love Wins Always blog. You can read the rest here:

Being Homeless

Being homeless means wearing clothes you did not pick out.

Being homeless means eating what they give you.

Being homeless means having to hear a sermon before you can eat.

Being homeless means being asked for your ID by the police for being in the park.

Being homeless means hiding everything you own so no one will throw them away.

Being homeless means spending most of your day with addicts and the mentally ill, even if you yourself are not.

Being homeless means people are surprised you have an opinion on the presidential election.

Being homeless means walking several miles to eat.

Being homeless means you hope the crazy street preachers show up because it is Saturday and the soup kitchens are closed.

Community of veterans

Just saw the public service announcement that hasn't failed yet to choke me up-- from a new organization, Community of Veterans, an association for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Check out their site at Community of Veterans and if you know a veteran, let them know about it.

Army Staff Sgt. receiving the Bronze Star. Photo by Victor Maccharoli, Palo Alto Daily News.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Angry? Homeless? Must be a "behavioral health" issue!

Today Lamont, one of Arise's members, was going to a city-sponsored meeting about what to do about homeless people who are banned from the Worthington St. Shelter; I'll hear what happened tomorrow, I imagine. This is becoming a very serious issue because if men are kicked out, they might be able to fit into the Taylor St. Shelter, if it isn't full and if it isn't a weekend, when Taylor St. is closed. However if women are kicked out, they have absolutely nowhere to go.

The city had framed this meeting as a discussion of homeless people with "behavioral health" problems!!

Perhaps that euphemism is meant to be kind but of course it just obscures the reality of how homeless people act toward the non-homeless and how they are judged by them, with all social context removed. Some people are banned for violence or drug and alcohol use; I suppose one might call this a behavioral health issue. Some are banned for theft, some for back-talking a staffperson, some because they are unfairly accused by another person, some because they are standing up for their rights, some because they are cursing their misfortune.

While I understand that shelters need to be safe for everyone, banning a person from shelter is a potentially life-threatening act. There has to be a better way.

I'm watching A Christmas Carol as I write this, and Marley's ghost has just appeared to Scrooge.

"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

It held up its chain at arm's length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.

"At this time of the rolling year," the spectre said "I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!"

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Visa Commercial I'd like to see

By Jim Moss at the Seminal

Amount spent each year in Europe and the United States on pet food: $17 billion

Cost per year to achieve basic health and nutrition for the entire world: $13 billion

Amount spent on perfumes each year: $12 billion

Clean water for all the world: $9 billion

Amount spent on cosmetics in the US: $8 billion

Basic education for the world’s children: $6 billion

Total amount the US spends on Christmas each year: $450 billion (or 16 years worth of food, water, and education for the world)

Initial cost of the US Government bailout of failing financial institutions: $700 billion (or 25 years worth of food, water, and education for the world)

Coming to grips with the alarming disconnects of our consumerist society: Priceless

Where I've been

If there's one thing most bloggers know, it's that when you stop posting-- and I've posted less than half of the days this last month-- people stop reading. So when you start posting again, getting readers back takes time. That may be just as well for the moment.

Patterns do seem to replicate themselves, whether with friends, family, pets, passions, work or writing. When I'm not doing well taking care of myself, I can only cover the basics for everything else. The last few months I've been all over the place and only now feeling like I'm coming back to my center, though much of the landscape has changed.

I'm sure I'm seeming deliberately obscure. This blog is not my journal. My journal is a relationship to myself; my blog is a relationship to others. So I hope to renew that relationship through our mutual presence on this page.

Almost the solstice-- my birthday-- the darkest night and then the day lengthens.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

U.S. maintains lead in incarcerating its people

756 of every 100,000 U.S. residents are behind bars, the highest rate of incarceration in the world, according to the latest report by Human Rights Watch, leading to a whole host of questions we need to be asking ourselves:
  • Are more people "bad" in this, the "greatest country in the world?" Why?
  • Are we criminalizing too much of our behavior?
  • Why haven't we developed alternatives to incarceration?
President-elect Obama should lead a national conversation on crime-control policy. It’s time to turn away from the failed policies that have made the United States the world’s leading jailer.
David Fathi, US Program director, Human Rights Watch
Read the rest of the report at Human Rights Watch.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Israli youth resist oppression

I don't usually reprint entire emails, but I think it's important for people to know that just like in the U.S., there are many in Israel also protesting the oppression of Palestinians. There's an easy action for you to take, also.

It's hard to believe that people all around the world are learning about my 19-year-old son Yuval. I know that I'm proud of him. I just never expected the world to be proud of him. I can't thank you strongly enough

Send a letter to the
Israeli Minister of Defense.

I am Yuval Ophir-Auron.
I am one of the Shministim.
I need your help.

for your words of support for Yuval and his fellow activists and friends.

As I write this, Yuval's in jail, serving his second term. We don't know how or when this will end.

When Yuval was 9 years old he met Palestinians for the first time while we were visiting them after being liberated from jail as administrative detainees. I think this was probably the first time something in his naïve conception about good and bad was broken and he began to ask questions.

It's hard to be a mother of a kid like this. I want him to be enjoying his teenage years. I want him to benefit from the fruits of my and Yuval's father's labor, and I want him to live in a world where he doesn't have to serve in a military that occupies another people. I am sad that I haven't been able to create that world for him. But I am proud that he's trying to create it for himself.

Here's why it matters that the rest of the world is paying attention to Yuval, Raz, and the other Shministim.

The Israeli government would like nothing better than to believe that everyone in the world supports Israel unconditionally. Hell, even people in Israel don't unconditionally support it.

The sad fact is that the occupation is destroying us all- Israelis and Palestinians alike. Supporting the Shministim is a way to do your part to end the occupation and bring comfort and well-being to our peoples.

I am sending a letter:


Will you do the same? Please sign a letter now. Ask those you know to sign their names. Your support means so much to my son and his friends, to me, to all of us who want and deserve a real future in this part of the world.

Thank you,

Ayelet Ophir-Auron
Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam, Israel

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Update on killers of Wilford Hamilton, homeless man


In October I wrote about the arrest of two 14 year old boys for the beating murder of Wilford "Frenchie" Hamilton, age 61, in Pontiac, Michigan. When I wrote this post, I was unaware that one of the boys, Thomas McCloud Jr., is also being charged in the beating death of 65 year old Lee Hoffman Jr. this past August. Mr. Hoffman, who was beaten the day after Mr. Hamilton, spent two months comatose in a nursing home before dying on the day the boys were charged with Mr. Hamilton's death.

The Detroit News has an article about the complicated lives of the two 14 year olds. There will be no easy answers to the riddle of why they killed, and no easy solutions to lend themselves to prevention.

Photos of Thomas "TJ" McCloud Jr. and Dontez "Taz" Marc Tillman by Daniel Mears / The Detroit News

Friday, November 28, 2008

Would you kill someone in order to buy a Christmas gift?

Everyone knows about this by now, yet here it is:

5 a.m. on Black Friday at Valley Streams, New York and the doors to Wal-Mart swing open. Within minutes, a 34 year old Wal-Mart employee is knocked down and trampled, and pronounced dead shortly after. Four more people, including a pregnant woman, are also injured. Shoppers had to grab the hands of their children (children? at 5 a.m.?) to keep them from being trampled.

So what do you say to your family when you get home? Don't blame me, I only gave him a little shove, not the big one that drove him to his knees?

I guess the PC thing here would be to blame Wal-Mart, and there's certainly plenty of blame to go around. But tonight I'm thinking about the people, poor and middling, who think they're going to Wal-Mart to buy some happiness for the ones they love, who've absolutely been sold on the definition of celebrating the Holidays being synonymous with spending every penny you can get your hands on.

Here's my reality: Like many other Americans, I've always spent too much around the holidays-- spent, sometimes, when I wasn't sure how I'd pay the rent in January. Spent because so much of the rest of the year was just the bare necessities for me and my family: cheap shoes, generic food, second-hand clothes. So I do understand the impulse.

Yet the monetary poverty of my holidays has made me plan more around giving than buying.

Thanksgiving was never a family-only affair, but included unattached friends and sometimes near-strangers who had nowhere else to go.

Then, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, I'd make regular trips to all the second-hand stores, looking for pretty scarves and blouses, special jewelry, cast iron pans, silver candlesticks, retro pyrex bowls, crystal platters, wicker shelves, classic books, throw pillows and art for the walls. I'd refurbish, paint, polish, embroider and decorate.

I'm creative but not really handy, yet I made picture books, birch bark frames and seashell mirrors, winter weeds spray-painted in silver and white, bookmarks, drawstring pouches and potpourri. With nothing magnificently expensive to compare them to, these presents became treasures to my family and friends!

Then, near the Solstice, we'd wash windows and curtains, dust all the books and polish the woodwork, and invite everyone we knew to our Solstice Open House. We'd encourage people to bring food to share if they could, and we always had bounty.

I live alone now, my children are grown, and I'd like to think I'm better off financially than when I was on public assistance, even though, working full-time, I find I am still right on the edge. My daughters have less job security than they did this time last year and other family members are working only part-time or are laid off and looking for work.

A few weeks ago my daughters proposed that we each voluntarily limit our spending this season to $25 a person. It took me a moment longer than I'd have thought it would to agree to their proposal. A couple of times since then I've practically found myself rubbing my hands with glee at a clever idea or Goodwill find. And I won't have to worry (as much) about January's bills.

So why am I writing this? Certainly not to make anybody else feel bad. I love celebrating the holidays and all my adult life and for a lot of different reasons I've preferred second-hand items to new ones; it's just the way I am. I prefer to celebrate, find, make, grow and gather than to spend and buy.

If there is ever a year in recent history for us to think a little deeper about what it is we really love about the holidays, what the holidays really mean to us, this is it.

This year for the first time in several, I and my sister, who lives downstairs, will have a Solstice Open House. If we know each other, you are invited. If we don't, there's still time to become friends.

More work ahead to heal racial wounds

Wednesday night I went to a special interdenominational service at the Old First Church in Springfield, MA's Court Square to show solidarity to the Macedonia Church of God in Christ, which was burned in an act of arson on the night Barack Obama was elected our next president. I've been to interdenominational services before and always find them moving, and I was glad to see so many community members and organizations present.

So: we know that the fire that destroyed the nearly-completed new church was arson, but do we know it was a hate crime? No, we do not, and we may never know, unless the perpetrator is found.
But if it was a hate crime, we'd be in the dubious company of more than 200 hate-related incidents thaqt have taken place since Barack Obama's election, according to the Southern Poverty Law center. The Chicago Tribune has an article about it here.

Barack Obama's election was a huge step forward for this country but we still have a lot of work to do.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Got a couple bucks? bad neighbors want to take away disabled boy's pony

Seems like usually when I'm writing about Ontario, it's about homeless people...but BoingBoing turned me on to this....and again, I don't usually suggest to my readers that they send a few bucks here and there, because where do you stop?....but I'm making an exception today.

In Caledon, Ontario, a three year old boy with cerebral palsy who cannot walk or crawl gets a great deal of pleasure-- and rehabilitation, in riding his miniature pony. But, because of complaints by a neighbor of a bad smell, the town is threatening to make the boy's family give up their pony because of its smell. (The neighbor's property, by the way, abuts a cattle farm.)

The boy's single mom needs over $1,000 to make a special appeal to the town. you can read more at the National Post.

Photo of Sam and Antonia Spiteri and their pony Emily by Peter Redman, National Post

Monday, November 24, 2008

Solidarity and hope: service Weds. night with Macedonia Church

I received an email announcing "A Service of Thanksgiving and Hope" and wanted to pass it on. Here's a way to show that Springfield can act in solidarity, can envision a future where we are united, not divided.

A Service of Thanksgiving and Hope Responding to the Burning of the Macedonia Church of God Wednesday November 26 7 to 8 pm Old First Church, Court Square, Springfield

The Macedonia Church of God in Springfield was burned to the ground on election night, November 4, 2008.

As Thanksgiving approaches, please join the community to say all of us can work and live together in peace. The entire community of Greater Springfield is invited to respond with a reaffirmation of solidarity and hope. The homily will be given by Bishop Bryant Robinson from the Macedonia Church of God. Clergy of every faith are invited to robe and process.

Invite your friends and family. Clergy, alert your congregations. The time is short, but the message is critical. Yes we can!

"How good it is for brothers and sisters to stand together." Psalm 133

Info: Fred Rose, Pioneer Valley Project, 827-0781, generalpvp@verizon.net.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Gratitude

I'm tired tonight, long day, tired and happy. My older daughter and her best friend and my younger daughter and her husband came down for the second weekend in a row to do whatever I needed them to do, that I am temporarily incapable of doing or which would take me an inordinate length of time to do. last weekend was more personal needs, but this weekend was look-ahead weekend: look ahead to the Holidays, to next year, and to some number of years after that.

So: my doors and several windows are winterized, my windows and curtains washed, shelves bought and constructed for my crafts, groceries purchased, et cetera.

Between my daughters and my sister and a few special friends, I have been very well taken care of. Thank you.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Drop your racist lawsuit!

OK, you're a Canadian railway with more than $2 billion in net income whose rail line runs through 33,000 acres of land coercively taken from Tyenindaga Mohawk land in 1820. When three Tyenindaga Mohawk block your tracks in protest, what do you do? Sue the activists for $105 million in lost income! You can read the whole story at No One Is Illegal. (Double-click the above photo for more details.).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

NYC: Sleep Out so maybe others won't have to


I've been thinking a lot about Springfield's homeless and what they are facing this winter-- and knowing their ranks will grow with people who simply couldn't have pictured themselves homeless a year ago.

So sometime "picture the homeless" means picture yourself homeless.

My stringbean friend was over visiting tonight. He was out canning to get some money in his pocket. but is actually very happy to have a room in somebody else's apartment right now tonight-- paying $270 a month.

"How much will you make?"

"If I can stay out there, I can make 50, maybe 60 bucks. It's cold but after a while you don't feel it. So I can pretty much cover my rent.with canning and some yard work for people. Did you know Kentucky Fried Chicken just laid off 170 people?"

"No, I didn't know that," I said, thinking I was going to have to find out more, thinking about the email I had from my boss today wondering if she thought i might be able to work out of my home so we could give up our office and save money.. Glad to have a home.

This Tuesday the homeless-led organization Picture the Homeless will be holding a sleep-out protest on the streets of Harlem.

From their press release:
WE NEED YOU. Meet us at the State Office Building, 163 West 125th Street (corner of 125 and Adam Clayton Powell) at 4PM. Dress warm and bring sleeping bags and blankets if possible.

We will also be handing out our first annual BIG TURKEY AWARDS, to elected and appointed officials whose actions (or inaction) lead to the perpetuation of poverty.

ALSO! We are excited that the musical group Heroes Of The Dancefloor has chosen Picture the Homeless as one of two organizations to receive all proceeds from the release of their latest album, "Torch." Check out the press release, as well as the group's website and MySpace page!

www.heroesofthedancefloor.com

www.myspace.com/heroesofthedancefloor

Click here for a sixty-second Public Service Announcement on YouTube.

Photo from Robert the Bear's photostream at Flickr.

The Law

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. Anatole France

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why leopard frogs and other amphibians are dying: closer to understanding

You know how the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts? ScienceDaily is reporting that ten popular pesticides in use in the United States, although they may not cause a die-off of frogs and tadpoles individuaally, become deadly when combined.

One pesticide, though, is deadly alone and in nearly any concentration. Endosulfan kills 84% of the tadpoles and frogs exposed to it.

Surely a rescue plan for our planet must include a return to permaculture.

House Negro

My sister was pretty tied up in meetings today so just now when she came upstairs I (being temporarily housebound) was able to give her an informed running commentary on the news which was playing in the background. Al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's 2nd in command, was spouting off.

"Today he called Barack Obama a "'House Negro,'" I said.

"Yeah, that's right," she said, grinning, "A White House Negro, and they'd better not forget it."

Thanksgiving: time to challenge the stereotypes

Yesterday I was one of the group recipients of an email image (as part of a joke) that another person on the list found offensive but didn't say why. I asked her to spell it out and low and behold!-- it was a stereotype that hadn't even crossed my mind, although there'd been a different aspect of the image with which I was uncomfortable. This just goes to show that self-education and the education of our peers is ongoing and essential.

Thanksgiving brings out the worst of the stereotypes as regards American Indians. Somehow non-Indians can only think of indigenous people as they existed in the past. I'm sure sociologists have a word for it, but I call it the "frozen in time" syndrome. Once the European culture intersected the development path of American Indians, it became impossible to know how the culture would have developed without our presence. Would American Indians have developed a technology which would eventually bring them into conflict with their environment? The themes in Jared Diamond's Collapse suggest that as a possibility. (See a short video at Treehugger.) On the other hand they may have found a way to successfully integrate their spiritual values with their economic and social development . We will never know for sure, but we certainly can know that they would not have remained as they were 400 years ago. Even the image of American Indians astride their horses is an image of the interference of the European culture-- horses are not indigenous to the Americas.

American Indians understand this all too well and have their own struggle for authenticity. I found the picture in this postat Sociological Images.

A few years ago I had the great good fortune to attend the National Day of Mourning, held every year since 1970 in Plymouth, Massachusetts and sponsored by the United American Indians of New England. Young and old, white and black, native and non-native, fat and thin, women and men, limber and lame, pretty and plain, all of us there and everywhere stood on one side of the river and not the other-- and yet we stood together, knowing there was much we did not understand, yet oh so willing. The remarkable time in which we find ourselves now gives us room to explore our differences and our commonality. Let us not allow fear of mistakes keep us from walking this road together.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

When will Victoria's homeless finally get a break?

Victoria's Mayor-Elect Dean Fortin says that his landslide election, along with six others on a green and progressive slate of nine, shows is a clear mandate to get moving to tackle homeless and environmental issues in Victoria. He wants housing solutions for homeless people and those at risk. Janine Bandcroft at A Room of My Own doesn't feel very positive about his election, though, and says that only two of the councilors elected support a Dignity Village-style community as part of the solution, a solution that homeless people themselves favor.

One piece of good news for Victoria is the recent ruling by Judge Ross in support of homeless people's right to shelter themselves if the city fails to do so. You can read her ruling here.

A new mayor takes over in Vancouver, also, who is making a similar pledge about homelessness. Vancouver is particularly cash-strapped right now because the cost of security for the 2010 Olympics which Vancouver is hosting keeps on mounting. David Eby's blog has been tracking the impact of the Olympics on housing and homelessness.homelessness and security.

Graphic from StreetNewz, Victoria's street paper.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dada in my dreams; chickens and rabbits

OK, so I had major surgery last week and my body is full of all sorts of drugs including the still much loved and needed painkillers, but I must say my dreams for the last several nights have been quite bizarre...and also more hopeful than I'm allowing in my conscious mind, which I am forcing to "be realistic" but in any case, when I find a Dadaesque poem written on the walls of my bedroom, I have to take notice.

Anyone who has had the pleasure to be familiar with Dr. Ann Faraday's books Dream Power and The Dream Game knows that houses are generally oneself and the rooms in them, different part of oneself. Yesterday, naptime, I was living in this wonderful, mostly white, old-fashioned house on a grassy knoll (hmmm...) which I didn't own but was free to alter to suit my needs. I kept finding rooms I didn't know existed, upstairs, downstairs, all around stairs. One very nice feature about the house on the grassy knoll was that the previous owner had had friendships with many dogs, and those dogs still came to visit every day; we got to be friends without my having to be responsible for them.

By my evening dream, I was repainting the bedroom in my old house white, in preparation for taking some of the walls with me. I realized that my nephew had come into the room when I wasn't there and had painted different parts of the walls vivid primary and jewel colors. At first I thought he had "ruined" it, until I took a closer look. A panel on one wall was painted with the words:
zero equals dada
one is dada minus one
two is dada plus dada
three is dada
four is dada
five is dada minus five.

I'm taking that with me, I thought in my dream.

So, to bracket that dream, I found a video on BoingBoing that you simply must see of two chickens breaking up a fight between two rabbits. I don't have sound on my computer, but i think it goes something like this: Stop it, you bad rabbits! What do you think you're doing? Cut it out right now! How dare you waste my time like this? Don't you know you've interrupted my cluckada? Now, I'm going to stand. right. here. until I know you've stopped. Hhmph!
The White Room: Katherine Dutiel