Tuesday, September 27, 2005

More on why A.N.S.W.E.R. usually sucks but today rocks

Via Juan Cole, the Next Hurrah responds to liberal folks who are complaining about the lack of focus in protest programming.

"Think street protests are in and of themselves counterproductive even if there's no reference to Palestine or Haiti and the only speakers are grandmothers and war veterans and ex-generals? OK. But that doesn't let you off the hook."

Monday, September 26, 2005


My plane ticket home for my father's birthday did work out, miraculously the ticket was still open and for a fee they were able to change it to this weekend. The whole e-ticket thing leaves too much room for error for cocky people like me who place too much stock in their organizational capacity.

Everyone has left the office for the day, and I put in a extra hour in at work, so I think I can spare a few minutes to blog. This weekend I went to the March on Washington against the war. I was impressed by the numbers, the focus of the programming, and the subdued yet determined tone of the participants. I think that United for Peace with Justice is maturing into a very effective organization, with the capacity to summon large numbers of people across class and cultural lines, and provide them with substantive information and commentary. From back in late 2002 and early 2003, when I did a few hours of volunteering with them, they have really developed their capacity to pull off a dramatic and large scale event with no apparent problems. International ANSWER, of which I am not as fond , co-sponsored the event, so they obviously deserve considerable credit as well. For more on the ANSWER and UFPJ dynamics, and the protest in general, see this article at Salon. com.

For instance, the speeches at the post-march rally and concert, did an excellent job of showing how the current administrations tax cuts, underinvestment in public spending, foreign policy and the disaster on the Gulf Coast are all linked together. [UFPJ also has a page of alternative funds for Hurricane Relief, for those of us who would like to support ensure our donation goes to do more than line the coffers of the Red Cross.]

Along with the 100,000 + anti-war protestors, there were a couple pockets of counter protestors, reported to be numbering 300, who of course have gotten roughly equal attention in the mainstream media. I have to say that that was the most troubling moment of the day for me. There was a big segment of them lining the front of the F.B.I. and I'm still chewing on my responses to some of their signs. One sign that I saw frequently said "Freedom isn't Free." Another one showed a sweet-faced, young G.I. and said, "If you want Peace, let them do our job." This idea bothers me so much, that the peace movement is somehow blocking the progression of freedom. How narrow must someone's view of the world be for someone to take the position that this war is a necessary evil in order to bring about peace and justice?

In another counter protest of sorts, which the NY Times covered today, Tom Wolfe, said this about his colleague, E.L. Doctorow, who declined to join Laura Bush for a breakfast and a dinner in conjunction with her National Book Festival, which was happening on the Mall at the same time:

"Ed Doctorow is a great guy, a wonderful writer, great company - he's just being fashionable, that's all," Mr. Wolfe said in a brief conversation at the Library of Congress dinner on Friday night. "In this country, there's nothing daring about going against the government."

What is wrong with people? Because our lives aren't put in danger by protesting the government, we are fashionable when we exercise our 1st amendment rights? I can't believe I ever read Bonfire of the Vanities, even in the 8th grade.

All in all, I found it one of the more gratifying protests I have been in. I was energized and happy to see that after two years of being ignored and maligned, people are still willing to come out and contribute their time and presence. It made me less pessimistic about the generally apathetic state of the country. There are a bunch of folks in it for the long haul, and they are getting smarter and better organized everyday.

My favorite sign of the day: "Frodo Failed: George Bush has the ring!"


My family doesn't know about my blog. So it won't matter if I reveal that I was planning to go to North Carolina for my Father's 70th birthday. His sisters are coming to town from all over the country, dinner reservations have been made. It's a big deal and as of right now, all a surprise to him. And it won't matter to reveal that I just discovered this morning that I do not have a plane ticket, which will be a not entirely pleasant surprise for my mother. The travel agent I used booked me on a flight for last weekend instead of the one coming up. I'm waiting for her to call me back. Fuck.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Which Amendment was that?

Yikes, Cindy Sheehan's protest Monday evening Union Square was shut down. I swear the NYPD has it in for the anti-war movement. If I had gotten myself organized to go, then I suppose I would have know about this earlier. I am definitely happy to be going to D.C. to raise a ruckus in opposition to the war this weekend.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


I have had the last day and a half what may be the worst episode on allergies in my entire life. Yesterday, my office mates made little trips down to my office to watch my convulsive and explosive sneezes. It's actually quite scary when you sneeze five times in a row without pause. Its unfortunate because it came during a week in which I needed to be super productive and am instead moving very very slowly. Today I am properly medicated, but very achy, and my nose it bright red and very tender.

Allergies suck.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

More from our Houston correspondent

Emily sends updates. Sorry again that this is late. Emily is checking the blog, so you can post comments to her, or forward any messages to her via me.

Sat, 10 Sep 2005

"Hi everyone-- Things are going well here. Spirits have been lifted in the past couple of days (way better than our first night here--ugh). The improvement we think is due mainly to people getting debit cards from Red Cross (b/t $350-1250 or so I heard, depending on family size) and from FEMA (I think for $2000 but could be wrong on both counts--accuracy of information is questionable--different info about everything, esp. numbers.) Speaking of questionable information (oops), things to correct/clarify from the previous email:
  1. 250,000 ppl have been processed in Houston--not necessarily all still in Houston.
  2. Reliant Park (the complex that holds the astrodome, Reliant Arena, Reliant Center, and giant Reliant Stadium) was in fact on lock down b/c Red Cross was distributing above mentioned debit cards--not some security breach we thought/were told? it could have been.
  3. Turns out about 97,000 folks have been processed through Reliant Park. I believe about 6,000+ remain (?) and many are moving out as they receive debit cards and are able to get some housing secured (apartments or otherwise). There are still about 1200 or so folks in the Convention Center.
  4. Reliant Arena--the bldg. that was emptied of folks (except for some medical stations, including isolation) was making room and bringing in cots for more folks. before i give you misinformation about where those folks are coming from (New Orleans? elsewhere in the Reliant complex?) I'll just say that maybe we'll find out today and get back to you.

I know you guys can read about all of this stuff (probably not super accurate either, it's hard to get facts for sure), so I'll stick to non-news stuff, except for this little comment in this here "Emily's Political Corner:"
You have likely read that Dick Cheney (your fave and mine) is supposed to visit Texas (Austin, not Houston) today (Saturday). After reading about his tour of Mississippi and hearing that the response there was "impressive" I bristle to imagine what he says about Texas. I don't know what things are like at Austin's convention center--but they doubtless won't be as good as he says they are. I suppose it's not revelatory to say that the Dark Lord's li'l tour are purely politically motivated: look how great the response is/look how organized we are/look how excellent our administration is/nevermind Iraq and the lack of National Guard/talk to Chertoff about any accountability, not me!/vote Republican in 2008! People have been here a week and Cheney (not even Bush who took his sweet time to go elsewhere) shows up today...for two minutes. It just seems any concern is feigned. Disgusting. I mean Oprah and Chris Rock were in Texas days ago. I'm just saying.
[End sanctimony.]

It's not terrible here, organizationally-speaking but far from perfect and very very far from coordinated; response activities and orgs are operating fairly autonomously. The net result of this is that single things like medical response or law enforcement are pretty well underway with each single goal being met with success, but there's not much discussion between any of these groups and seemingly not much communication with the residents (evacuees) about what's happening next. So, things like handing out debit cards (which has been stopped), the times and locations of which was announced in the local paper, didn't trickle down to other people within the complex (so the paper's our only source of info too).

A lot of the interviewing is quick, people say they're fine, I get their age, check that there are "no problems" on my sheet and move on. During these stretches, it's easy to forget that the many of the people we are interviewing lost their homes and/or contact with their family members. Just a series of short exchanges that help you get data and remind them of medical and mental health services. Most have been to medical and I've come across more folks who have used mental health as well and others who are open to it, which is good. For some reason, the mental health counselors aren't allowed to walk around and talk to people which is truly unfortunate because some people sure are talking. Not conversational so much as thinking out loud, heads full of working out tons of logistics to get established, constantly running down plans to get their family members together. One woman was going to use a free Continental ticket (how awesome is that?) to get her son to Houston from Corpus Christi since she has a bag full of medication for him. Chances are, if he's in a shelter there, he has maybe been able to get his meds, but of course his mother's going to worry, right? I met another woman who was in her cot and hadn't had food or water since the day before (it was 7 pm at this point) and felt totally alone b/c her husband was out all day taking care of logistics, etc. She talked about losing her house and everything she owned. I went and got her some food (smoked sausage, green beans and bread that looked GOOD) and snuck it to her cot. She was so grateful and this look on her face was so hopeful and thankful and looked so different than it did before, all teary and hopeless and sad and yeah yeah none of this is about me, of course of course, but that second sure felt like it was and it was great. (I know his this must sound.)

My boss was working in the pediatrics clinic and met a guy working there who was evacuated and was totally alone. He apparently was sort of lost and the folks at the pediatrics clinic got to know him, found out he was handy and asked him to put in some plumbing and install a sink. He did. They also found out he was a substance abuse counselor in New Orleans and so he has been able to provide some counseling to some residents going through withdrawal and other issues. So, this fella works at the peds clinic everyday and goes home to the astrodome to sleep at night. In a couple of days, he is going to use a free airline ticket (shout out to Continental) to go to California, where two of the nurses there are from. The hospital where they work has promised him a job ("we’ll find one, we promise.") and one of the nurse's sisters has a room where he can stay. Amazing.
Not to be too rosy, because there are a million sad circumstances surrounding these rare good outcomes, but isn't incredible how people can look out for each other? It's very humbling to see how generous people can be. This: I met a volunteer who's from New Orleans, was evacuated and has no idea where he family is. She said she's helping out because it helps her to think that someone else could be doing the same for them.

Another resident said that when she went to get mental health counseling she ended up helping more than she was helped because she was okay and not as bad off as others and they need her help and she feels better helping them anyway.

In addition to the debit cards improving spirits, last night Reliant Park opened "Reliant Town Square" a makeshift entertainment/amusement area with tents (some with A/C) of NEW board games, free video games and pinball machines (including the Adams Family one which is AWESOME), basketball courts, moonbounce-esque big slides and other such things that I TOTALLY want a turn on, but given they're for evacuated children, well, it'd be slightly inappropriate. But they look like they're having a great time--yay! Nettie (a colleague) and I were giddy when we left that area b/c it was so exciting and fun and felt just like a summer fair. It seemed like a lot of the kids felt that way, too, which is awesome.

Lots more to tell but this is way too long as it is, so I'll update once more in a day or two. We leave tomorrow morning (instead of Monday) since thankfully there are less and less people to interview (84 first night, then 53, then 31). Love to you all, thanks for your nice emails and I'll be in touch soon. Kisses! emilyo"

The View from Houston

Guestblogging today is my fine friend Emily O. Smith who spent several days collecting data on Houston Survivors of Katrina. Apologies for posting these a bit late.

Thu, 8 Sep 2005

"I am in Houston working (at least part-time)at the Astrodome interviewing Katrina victims. I am with work. We got here yesterday and plan to stay until Monday morning--if they need us that long.

The Astrodome has been on lock-down today (my colleagues couldn't get in) due to security--I think some folks were trying to hand out debit cards or something, not sure what the deal is. I haven't been there yet today.

Right now, I'm at UT Houston doing work for my everyday job. Our shift doesn't start until the evening and though there are projects we can do During the day, my bosses want me to get some jobby-job stuff done first. may get to help out with the extra stuff tomorrow: interviewing older folks to see if they need to be moved to assisted living places, Interviewing folks for mental health issues. Blah blah anyway we did go to the astrodome last night. the good news is that volunteers are packing away cots as ppl find other places to go--a lot of church groups in Houston are organizing for members of their congregation To take people into their own homes. pretty incredible of people to do that--take in complete strangers. i don't know if i could do that, honestly.

Otherwise, we have been talking to the ones still behind--about 7500 at the astrodome's three facilities. i was the talking to the folks on the main floor of the astrodome itself--weird to imagine big sports events and concert there--so many cots and cops and germs everywhere. kids are running around and being kids, adults waiver between surly and grateful. one guy made me want to cry because he was mean (as if i should take it personally) and a few others made me want to cry because their stories were so sad--esp the older folks. i talked to an 80 year old woman, a 76 yr old man, a 72 yr old man, and a few others. Imagine these folks getting through floods and a hurricane! unbelievable. I am only supposed to ask people how old they are and if they are sick and if so how. Then I am to fill out my little checklist o'symptoms for what they feel and move on. mostly that's what I do, But sometimes they talk to you and you stay to listen.

Luckily the folks here (UT Houston folks who we're here to assist, not FEMA (my bad)) encourage us to listen for awhile before pointing out the counseling area, which is highly unused. I interviewed 84 people in the span of 2 and 1/2 hours, about four of whom were white or mixed, one latino, and every one else was african-american. Some were less than 1 year old and up to 80 as I mentioned. They're the hardest to talk to. I mean, it's easy b/c they talk and talk but hard because what they say is so sad. The hardest was the 76 year old who doesn't know where his wife is and is only with one of his sons--he doesn't know Where his other children are, either. He had a chance earlier this week to leave the astrodome (presumably on a church bus to go to someone's home) but didn't go b/c he didn't know where his son was at the minute and didn't feel right about taking off. He talked about other things too--knowing the levee broke b/c there's no way that stuff is rainwater and he didn't want to go and didn't think it'd be so bad but it just kept getting worse and worse and...--and so on. He was just so consumed by it all and was very shaky and had tons of medicine with him (luckily). Not everyone had their medicine when they evacuated. They got their prescriptions filled at the makeshift CVS pharmacy which is a trailer pulled into a warehouse area of the astrodome. Some of the medicine is generic (or not generic) and looks different than what they take and they don't want to take this new stuff because their old pills were white and red and this one's orange and MAYBE it's the right thing, but you never know... So there's more than a little distrust of the health system, which is both sad and unsuprising. (If I undertood him correctly, my 76 yr old friend seemed to have some doubts about the levees breaking and if it was an accident.)

Health-wise most folks were fine. A lot of people had blood pressure they needed meds for and got. Diabetes was mentioned a few times as well...and many other pre-existhing things that need attention. And lots of folks had been feeling bad but got antibiotics and whatnot from "medical" a station in the astrodome and were feeling better. they had so far found 2 cases of var-something virus (nice health knowledge, emily) which apparently is serious and super-infectious and there have been 6 cases of bloody diarrhea (lots of regular diarrhea though i only came across 5 or 6 folks who mentioned having a problem with it, and only one currently had it still). They set up isolation areas for the really serious cases to prevent spread of infection. a lot of folks have swollen feet from standing a ton in lines (e.g. the line to thebathroom which was crazy long when i saw it) and dehydration. no one really reported anxiety or depression (though there's a bit of a stigma to these things that make people unlikely to mention it). Not everyone showed signs these things but it's fair to say that many many folks have some post-traumatic stress.

But there are some people who have great senses of humor (wrong term) about the whole thing. One guy said it's a waste of time being pessimistic and he's being optimistic and he appreciates the volunteers who have come from everywhere and so appreciates Houston for opening its arms to everyone and plans to relocate to Houston. And he laughed as his 4 year old daughter explained to me that she feels okay but her Cookies were sick (and showed me a bag of animal crackers). Another woman laughed a lot and asked me for a can of coca-cola and that would make her feel better (she was actually feeling fine, of course, and actually got a soda from some volunteer right behind me).

There are volunteers of all kinds and sometimes we had to wait for one of us to finish before the other one of us could start. It's got to be pretty exhausting talking to volunteers all the live-long day, so I Try to be brief when people are groaning to see you approach. I'd probably groan, too, but most people were accomodating--which is pretty nice when you interrupt their reading or card game or conversation (wince). It took the most energy to approach people and less to get the information. I wouldn't call it fun work but I like it and want to do more--at least for a few days. It's a pretty exhausting environmentwith lots of activity and near-constant overhead announcements of people looking for other people in the astrodome, etc. LOUD announcements.

Folks in our hotel came from New Orleans as well. One guy we talked to at check-in last night(midnight) left N.O. at 6 that morning and they were just arriving now. Traffic was terrible. He and his sister were there for the night on their way to CO where they had relatives and jobs lined up. So that's good. The mayor wants people out of the astrodome and other shelters and into better places--homes, assisted living, etc I'd guess--by Sunday. I have no idea if this is likely or not. Last night they were (I heard) moving folks from one of the astrodome facilities (the Reliant Arena) into another (the Reliant Center) so they could close one and consolidate. Why they were doing this at 9 at night is certainly a question onecould ask. Anyway, there are apparently 250,000 evacuees in Houston, so maybe they can find spots for these remaining 7500.

Have to run. Kisses all around!emilyo"


I am supposed to writing something for work, but judging by my progress today, I really never progressed much beyond eighth grade apparently. It's all an elaborate mistake that I am supposed to be composing prose about lofty and abstract ideas.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Weak in Review

My personal beef this morning is why hasn't Bush said anything about the 1000 deaths in Iraq? I watched CNN last night and it was all hurricane, justifiably since it is grave and important, but they didn't even do a round up of other news.

Josh Marshall has been discussing the fact that FEMA has been undermined and debilitated by the Republicans since Bush came into office. Here he is on why there weren't sufficient preparations for the levy's flooding:

"We're hearing again and again now that there just wasn't enough money for a lot of this stuff. Terrorism was our big focus. Some kinds of preparedness aren't simply a question of funds. They turn on less elastic resources. But most of what we're hearing about is dollars and planning. So when we hear, 'well, there just wasn't enough for this and terrorism', or 'we needed the money for Iraq', the real answer is 'nice try'.
The president cut taxes every year of his first term in office. He's trying to push through a major tax cut right now. So it's not terrorism that took away the money. It was tax cuts. And to a degree, same thing for Iraq.
Choices have consequences. And bad consequences require accountability."

Updated to add: