Friday, November 24, 2006

My Mother and the War in Iraq

This Monday my mother was on the phone when she heard on the TV that the U.S. government might send 50,000 more troops to Iraq and she fell to the floor. My mother has been against the war from the beginning. At 81, she hadleft me to do the active demonstrating. Now at 84 she is quite frail and even more against the war. We both voted this November hoping to signal our being against this war and were happy when the Democrats won. But hearing the news of a possible troop buildup she fell.

Hearing this, I immediately drove over there. She has severe osteoporosis and a fall could mean a broken bone. She had, thank God, only bruised herself.

Driving to my mother's house all those protests I went to before the war started: the two street corner vigils at Friday twilight at Sunset, Hollywood, and Virgil intersection to hold up signs to the oncoming cars to say "No War in Iraq." I remembered a young couple who brought their two toddlers, gave them two signs, so mom, dad, and the two toddlers held up anti-war signs to the cars of Los Angeles. I was afraid that any war would have a devastating effect on the health care system of Iraq as well as stop us in the United States from improving our damaged health care system. Next I went to the huge protest of 40,000 down Hollywood Boulevard believing up god just maybe we could stop this war. A week later when I joined the candlelight march on Echo Park Lake, one of thousands of anti-war candlelight marches around the world, it was obvious that we global protestors weren't going to stop this war. I took photos of these marches because I knew we were making history.

The day the war started I taught my classes, and then went to the Federal Building in Westwood since there is always an anti-war building at the Federal Building in Westwood. Yes, demonstrators stood on all four corners of this huge intersection on Wilshire with young people sitting down in the middle of Wilshire Boulevard. Immediately cops arrested them to clear the intersection. I had my camera, but it was twilight and my camera without a telephoto lens couldn't get enough detail for decent photos so I merely watched: our last gasp, our new beginning of protest.

After the war had started, the U.S. troops had got to Baghdad and President Bush had delcared victory; then I visited my good poet friend Carol Tarlen in San Francisco. Carol had Type I diabetes since she was a teenager and also heart surgery. In 2003 her heart was clearly worsening: it was difficult for her to walk up two flights of stairs to her apartment. Still, she marched 3 miles with me in a big peace march down Market Street that spring. Two days later in North Beach she, I and 5 other poets got together for another candlelight vigil in Washington Square Park. Of all my protests and vigils this tiny gathering was my all-time favorite. We seven stood in the darkening park trying to light our seven candles in the wars wind and sai a poem or a thought.

Carol's a Quaker, and we spoke spontaneously Quaker style. My mother for many years sent money to the Quakers though she is Jewish. Both my mother and Carol are near-pacifists. Both of them were horrified by the war. Both of them were ill.

Winter, 2003, I went to the Modern Language Associationg(MLA) convention in San Diego, the biggest U.S. academic association of professors in the modern languages--English, French, Spanish, German etc. I have long been a member of the radical caucus of the MLA, and for this convention I had promised to introduce the anti-war resolution asking for the MLA to call for an end to the Iraq war and transfer of war funds to health and education. Right before I left my brother who has Parkinson's was given at his Safeway the wrong drug that almost killed him; he was taken to this small country hospital in Northern California, but twice the hospital didn't look at the perscription he was taking and sent him hom to continue taking the wrong medication. Finally, he flown in a helicopter to the hospital in Redding in northern California. I dropped everything, flew up to Redding to see my brother over Christmas, and then went to San Diego to the MLA where I argued for our anti-war resolution saying the MLA should endorse a call for ending the war and switching the monies to health and education.

Yes, I told the members of the resolutions committee I want better health care for my friend Carol, my brother, my mother, and all other Americans. Yes, I've taught 14 years in higher education, and have seen the free higher education system I enjoyed privatized and tuitution gone up and up. In the fall of 2003 I and my co-presenter of the MLA resolution Pat Keaton had laboriously documented the rise in U.S. military spending and the decline in U.S. health care spending and cuts in funding U.S. education, particularly higher education, over the last two decades. From 1980-2004 federal government had cut 20% of its monies to higher education, causing huge raises in tuition. I argued that health of U.S. citizens, documented by statistics such as longevity and infant mortality, was worsening. We have worse health care statistics than all other industrialized countries. I argued we will pay for this war in worsening health care and more expsenive education.

Well, the Delegates Assembly, the MLA legislature body, passed the Radical Caucus's anti-war resolution. We were elated! We did it! But a few months later the MLA Executive Committee led by Michael Berube threw out the anti-resolution, saying our documentation was insufficient. We hadn't proven exact correspondances between the increase in Iraq War spending and a specific decrease in federal health or education spending. We lost in spring 2004. June 2004 my friend Carol Tarlen died in San Francisco: her heart gave out.

I still went on anti-war marches in Hollywood Boulevard, but instead of 40,000 in 2003, 2004, and 2005, they were only a few thousand people. The war in Iraq has worsened over these years. All my fears about the war harming the health care system of Iraq has horribly come true. On November 23, 2006, Juan Cole on his blog quotes a health care educator who fled Iraq saying that Iraq now has no neurosurgeons, no cardiac doctors, and few pediatric doctors--all have fled or been killed. At one time Iraq had one of the best health care systems in the Middle East but no more. If a person in Iraq had heart problems like my friend Carol had, there are no cardiac doctors for her in the whole country. That is a catastrophe. The U.S. came to Iraq to "save" the country, but the war our country started has destroyed most of its health care system. Iraq had never threatened us, but this war is making us less secure, shredding our security net of hospitals and schools in both U.S. and Iraq.

As a minor note, in 2006, the Bush Republicans cut college student loans--clearly a result of the bankruptcy of the U.S. government as a result of the Iraq War. At long last I could stay there is a clear correspondance in increase in war spending and decrease in federal education spending. But I think it's too late. The MLA should have stood by the anti-war resolution that the Delegate Assembly passed December, 2003, but the Executive Committee refused.

I am daily horrified reading about the violence in Iraq. I think the U.S. clearly blundered again and again: first by starting this totally unncessary war and then by its incompetent handling of the war and occupation. Nearly 3000 U.S. soldiers have died as well as 600,000 Iraqi civilians. On Thanksgiving Day in Iraq Juan Cole says 233 Iraqis died. Iraq has a much smaller population than the U.S. , so if a similar amount of U.S. citizens would die it would be 2563, close to the 2971 U.S. citizens killed on 9/11. That is just one day in Iraq!

After my mother's fall, I told her that we can't hope for any immediate changes in Iraq policy because the Democrats won't even take office until January. Even then, the President makes foreign and war policy, but the Congress controls the budget. What the Democrats do is control the funding for the war, and they can if they want cut off the funding, but I don't see the Democrats cutting funding now. I don't have a crystal ball and can't predict the future. I told her can't expect miracles, but we can only write our Congresspeople that we want the funding cut off the war. Congressman Waters is my Congresswoman, and I will write her.

On Monday, when my mother heard people talk on the TV about the U.S. government sending 50,000 more troops my mother fell. I have a whole list of gifts I want this holiday 2006. I want a heart patient like my friend Carol to be able to go to a cardiac doctor in Iraq or the US. I want the cardiac doctors to be back in Iraq. I want no more Safeway pharmacists giving the wrong medications throwing U.S. patients into the hospital. I want the pharmacies improved. I want the hospitals rebuilt and improved in Iraq and U.S.

I want the tuitions reduced in the all the colleges in the U.S. I just saw the video "Arlington West" about Veterans for Peace putting up crosses each Sunday on Santa Monica Beach for all the soldiers dead in Iraq. Many of the soldiers and veterans who came to pay respects at Arlington West said they had joined the military to get G.I. benefits to go to college. They risked their lives for a college education. I want the school system in Iraq to be rebuilt. Once the war is ended I don't want the war monies to go to for more arms and missiles but for nurses, hopsitals and schools. Lastly, I don't want any more of my friends to die during this war. I don't want my mother getting so upset from the war she falls again.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Where I Live

In October, 2006, when I fractured my elbow I couldn't drive for two weeks, so I started walking my neighborhood both to buy my groceries and vitamins and to give myself some exercise. Starting at where Melrose Avenue meets Western Avenue, I went a few doors west of Melrose to the Melrose Cafe Bakery that sells delicious fresh pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread) baked on the premises.

After enjoying pan dulce, I started walking south down Western Avenue through blocks of small Korean-owned furniture shops with Korean/English signs along with a few Latino-owned shops with Spanish/English signs. In the surrounding blocks the largest ehtnic group who live here are Latinos, then Asians--Koreans and Filipinos-and lastly Anglos.

After two blocks of Korean-owned furniture shops, I arrive at Rincocito Guatamalteco Restaurante, which has a a big sign saying "Bienvidos" (welcome), 473 No. Western at Maplewood Avenue on the northwest corner. A few weeks ago I ate at this small Guatemalan restaurant having a great meal of chicken with onions, beans, rice and Guatemalan tortillas. Next door to Rincocito Gautemalteco is Las Amigas (The Friends) market, one of many small markets, with a sign "carniceria" (meat) on the outside. Sure enough, Las Amigas has a butcher section having chicken, fish, and meat as well as produce, canned goods, and sundries. Across the street is a 7-11 minimarket with a ATM. Even with my arm in a half-cast, I have no problem getting groceries or fast cash from nearby ATMs.

Across the street on the northeast corner is Korean Sah Buddhist Temple, a tan building with a blue and gold cupola and a big sign that for few months this year celebrated the Buddha's birthday. On the southeast corner is a minimall with Thai B-B-Q original restaurant, and, yes, the barbeque chicken lunch was inexpensive and quite good. On the southwest corner is a Korean b-b-que restaurant. I've eaten there also: excellent Korean b-b-que where the beef, chicken, and vegetables were cooked at a little stove at our table. I'm not alone in my love for the diverse foods of this city. Los Angeles even has restaurant critic, Jonathan Gold, whose writing about the city's ethnic foods in the "La Weekly" won him a Pulitzer Prize, so my fascination with international foods is widely shared in my city. Gold has shown us that we live in a gastronomic wonderland of international foods in Los Angeles; my neighborhood is right in the middle of this wonderland.

On the eastside of Western for the next blocks is the World Mission University and Theological Seminary, a three-story brown brick building, and its attached Oriental Mission Church, a one-story brick building. These two buildings take up the whole block. On the westside of the street is a row of one-story shops: Joy Curtain, a curtain store; Angie's Beauty Salon; Royal Rug Gallery; Canu Picture Frame shop, which also sells antique Japanese teapots; and Kappa photo studio. The first weekend in my cast, I decided to give myself a treat, so I went to Angie's to have my hair washed and curled--I sure felt better!

Now we're at Rosewood Avenue and Western with a minimall in the southwest corner that has two interesting shops: Tiji Hair Salon, which uses natural beauty products; and Coffee 'n More, a tiny Korean coffee house tucked in the corner. I love to pick up a English-language newspaper at 7-11 (the newstands only hold Korean and Spanish newspapers). The clerks at 7-11 are Bengali speakers. Then I hole up at Coffee 'n More with green tea and a muffin. The minimall has another tiny market, a Korean video/DVD store, and a make-up shop.

Going south on the westside of Western I pass A & B Motors Group Inc. which rents cars and takes up the rest of the block up to Elmwood Avenue. The namer of the these streets loved tree names: Maplewood, Rosewood, Elmwood. Across Elmwood is a Giant Dollar store, just like a 99 cents store but one penny more. Last time I visited I got Alta Dena milk, milk from one of the best dairies in Southern California, as well as a Halloween mask. I love that store! The huge Western Coin Laundry-Lavenderia- takes up the rest of the block--two huge coin laundromats, but I didn't need it as I have a washing machine and dryer in the basement of my apartment building.

Across Western is a Kentucky Friend Chicken within great postmodernist architecture--the most beautiful building housing a Kentucky Fried Chicken in the world! A huge gray metal rectangle faces the 1st story; the 2nd story is a weird gray stucco boat-like-shape that seems to be sailing out over Western; and the third story is small rectangular square topped with a little triangle hat. No segment has anything logically to do with any another segment! Great! This building is a piece of sculpture!

South of KFC on the eastside of Western there is a line of one-story shops including Juan's Shoe Repair. I took some old shoes to Juan's but he said they were too old to repair. On the westside is another line of shops including on the corner a dry cleaner/alterations shop; Jun's Watches, which sells, repairs and cleans watches; and Clinical Central de Accupuntar with signs for accupuncture in Korean, Spanish and English. Beverly Boulevard is the northern edge of Koreatown, the shopping center of Los Angeles's large Korean population.

We're now at the next main street, Beverly Boulevard. After I first fractured my elbow, I walked to buy Vitamin E from Ethical Drugs, a small Korean-owned drugstore, that occupies the southeast corner. As I left, I realized how few small drugstores/pharmacies are left since many have been driven out of businesses by the huge chains. Just south of Ethical Drugs is Piper Restaurant, a 24-hour old-style Anglo coffeeshop, which has been in this spot for decades, long before this area became Koreatown. Novelist James Elroy grew up in this area before it became Koreatown and wrote about the neighborhood before the huge waves of immigrants from Korea and Latin America reshaped this part of Los Angeles.

In the next block of Western just south of Beverly Boulevard on the eastside is Coffee Inc., a little coffeehouse with sidewalk tables, and Music House, a store that sells Korean DVD/CDs. On the southwest corner of Western and Beverly is Center Bank, a bank with Korean signs on its facade; Walter Kim Optomery; Kids' Furniture, which sells awfully attractive furniture; and Hills Beauty Club, a three-story yellow stucco building that looks intruiging. Is the beauty club a private Korean spa? Continuing down the westside of Western I pass another minimal including Pho 2000 restaurant with a sign advertising "Vietnamese original noodles." Yes, I would love to eat there one day. Past the minimall is World Pet and Grooming shop.

I usually hurry past the shops on this block because I want to get to two shops on the next block. I head down to HK Supermarket, one of the institutions of Koreatown--a huge supermarket with a pharmacy, a fast food Korean deli, a huge fish selection, a line of newspapers stands, and it's open from 7 am -12 pm. In China I visited a tea village, sampled green tea grown in the village, and bought a box of green tea leaves as a gift for my mom but she had run out. At HK Supermarket they had a great supply of boxes of green tea.

Across from HK Supermarket on the westside is a minimall with the French Baguette, a Korean bakery/cafe that bakes and sells wonderful French and Asian pastries which I recently ate. The bakery, open from 7 am-8 pm Monday-Saturday and 7 am-7:30 pm Sunday, has a few tables inside and a tiny patio outside, fresh organic regular and decaf coffee, and a sign outside telling what pastries or breads are freshly baked hour by hour. The French Baguette as well as HK Supermarket are beloved neighborhood institutions.

On the eastside of Western past HK is New World Camping store that also sells fish tackls, a 100% hand carwash, and Western Appliance for refrigerators, stove, and dryers. On the westide is Callahan's hardware, an independent hardware store. Callahan advertises on its facade that it sells supplies for plumbing and electrical work, has paints, and sells janitorial supplies. Inside are narrow stacks of hardware. They give advice too, telling me once how to fix a broken bookcase. After one has painted and cleaned an apartment with paints from Callahan, one can surely furnish one's apartment from the Western Avenue stores.

I continue south on to the Nat King Cole post office that looks like a fortress! The post office was named after the singer who was the first black resident of the wealthy nearby neighborhood Hancock Park. Some whites treated the great singer badly for moving into a white neighborhood. Los Angeles had housing segregation from 1920s to the 1950s; blacks, Asians, Latinos and Jews were forbidden from buying houses in white Christian neighborhoods, and Cole was part of the big battle against this white racism.

Mike Davis, a critic of Los Angeles, has an angry rant in his book City of Quartz about the new Los Angeles architecture that looks like fortresses as a result of 1992 riots that generated a lot of fear on the streets. Well, he's right about the Nat King Cole post office on Western that is just north of 3rd street. For 1/2 a block the brown stone facade encloses and protects the parking lot for P.O. trucks only. Past the fortress parking lot is more brown brick and then a tiny opening leading to the post office proper with another tiny opening on the opposite side leading to the back parking lot for customers. During the 1992 riots the Korean-owned stores in this stretch of Western were looted by blacks and Latinos; now the Korean owners seem to be reaching out more with Spanish signs and hiring Latinos as clerks in some of the small stores. Koreans, blacks and Latinos were all victims of white racism.

On the corner of 3rd and Western is a clothing outlet. I needed some socks once, so I entered, but it had only men's socks and women's and men's sports clothing. On the southwest corner is Western Village, a two-story minimall with Joyanne Sushi, NY pizza restaurant, a bridal/quincenera dress shop, a herb shop, and a medical supply shop. In the next four blocks of Western up to Wilshire the small furniture shops are replaced by bridal and medical supply shops yet the minimalls abound. The next minmall on the right has Coffee Break, another Korean coffeehouse I've tried. What distinguishes this coffeehouse is the huge lush light green chairs and table in the long, thin outer room with bamboo shoots on both walls. I felt like a queen sinking into a comfortable chair to drink my green tea.

At 5th street is California Market, another grand Koreatown supermarket with even better hours than HK: California Market is open from 7 am- 2:00 am. At 5th Street, two blocks before Wilshire, I see my first chain store in blocks: Carl's Junior fast food. And then a H& R block on the eastside of the street. I realize except for Kentucky Friend Chicken this mile-long strip only has small locally-owned stores for its residents but that changes as we approach the big office buildings on Wilshire.

As I come to 6th I do see on the eastide Gourmet Coffee that advertises "Seattles Best Coffee," but still looks small and locally-owned; Magic Tabacco and Cigarettes and Ace Hardware sit on the westside. Comida Saldorean Restaurant that advertises Salvadorean, Mexican and American food is on Sixth Street a few stores west of Western. The minimall at 6th and Western still has locally-owned shops--another acupuncture shop and a Korean restuaurant. But also I see more chain stores including Kidsland, a chain store for children's furtniture and toys, and a block away is a 24-hour Ralphs supermarket.

At Wilshire and Western is the subway stop and the Wiltern Theater in a beautiful green art deco building the the 1930s; a lot of people worked hard to save the Wiltern from getting demolished. Now, the glorious building glorifies the corner, and the Theater has great rock 'n roll shows.

I sit resting on a bus bench at the corner of Wilshire and Western. My neighborhood has within walking distance the basics: small grocery stores, a drugstore/pharmacy, a hardware store, a laundromat, a post office, a watch repair, a dry cleaners, ATMs, a beauty salon, a shoe repair, a 99 cents or a Giant Dollar store, and a 24-hour restaurant. Even with a fractured elbow I was able to walk to buy my groceries and vitamins, get my shoes looked at the shoe repair, repair my watches, buy stamps, have a good lunch at the Thai b-b-q, buy Halloween masks and gifts at the Giant Dollar, and have my hair done. Most of the shop are small, independent and Korean-owned but Latinos also have some splendid shops. Koreans and Latinos with their tradition of entrepreneurship revived this mile and 1/2 of Western with their many small shops.

What does this strip of Western lack? I pondered that once my arm healed and I began driving, yet I promised I would still walk my neighborhood. We lack a stationary store as well as few decent clothing stores where the neighbors can buy a pair of socks, a shirt, or pants. I'd also like to see a good bookstore and a $3 movie theater. Once upon a time this area did have movie theaters and also an ice skating rink, but what happened to them? Western Avenue also lacks amenities: a row of trees (or even saplings) and a few benches for weary walkers as on nearby Larchmont Boulevard, and a few miniparks such as on Santa Monica Boulevard West Hollywood.

Walking I learned to love this part of Koreatown with its two beautiful buildings--the Wiltern and the Kentucky Fried Chicken postmodernist chicken shack. Finally, I loved its diverse reasonable wonderful restaurants, and all those coffee houses, bakeries and cafes. My city neighborhood goes beyond the basics to have great food and some wonderful architecture! I love its richness in food and culture: Mexican, Guatemalan, Korean, Thai, Japanese, Italian, Vietnamese, Anglo-American, and Salvadorean. Besides, Western Avenue from Wilshire Boulevard to Melrose Avenue is a great neighborhood to walk in!

California Food Revolution

On Thanksgiving I'd like to thank Alice Waters, who started both a restaurant called Chez Panisse in Berkeley in 1971 and a California food revolution.

For the last year every Sunday I go to the huge Farmer's Market in Hollywood to buy fruits and vegetables as I've been inspired by Alice Waters who argued that one should only buy in season frfom local farmers. I've long heard of Waters as we were both in Berkeley at the same time and both arrested in the huge Free Speech Movement sit-in, but I left Berkeley in 1969, a few years before she started her restaurant.

After Waters graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in French in 1967, she then spent a year in France and returned to Berkeley to start Chez Panisse with a group of friends--her restuarant clearly was inspired by French cooking and named after the character Panisse in classic Marcel Pagnol French movie. From the beginning of the restaurant she haunted the farmer's markets, searching for the best organic fruits and vegetables to serve in her restaurant. She developed a philosphy that one should buy only fruits and vegetables in season from local farmers.

Three decades later she has developed relationships with many Bay Area farmers, fishermen and ranchers who supply her restaurant with wonderful produce, fish and beef. Her actions helped these farmers and ranchers make money using sustainable agriculture. She also wrote eight books including the famed cookbooks Chez Panisse Vegetables, Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook, and Fanny at Chez Panisse, a story and cookbook for children. Her work influenced the both home cooks and top chefs throughout California. In the coastal cities farmer's markets have sprouted like mushrooms after a good rain. In Santa Monica, for example, chefs regularly frequent the Santa Monica's farmers' market to get produce for their best meals.

Alice Waters had a larger vision of food, so she started her Chez Panisse Foundation in 1996. The Foundation ( tries to improve how children eat. They started by setting up the Edible Schoolroom at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, a Berkeley public school. The children work in the garden Chez Panisse created learning how to raise food, and then take cooking classes to learn how to cook the food they have grown. Over the decade 1000 schoolchildren have taken part in the Edible Schoolyard which also has attracted 1000 visitors and inspired "several hundred kitchen and garden programs around the country."

Water's Chez Panisse Foundation also started the School Lunch Intitative aiming that every child in the Berkeley school district has a freshly prepared lunch and wanting to establish a kitchen, garden, and lunchroom in every Berkeley school. They've eliminated almost all processed food from the school lunch menu and introduced fresh, organic foods yet staying within the district's budget.

Alice Waters works with with Slow Foods in Schools (, a program that attempts to do similar work on the national level. Slow Foods in School has 20 garden-to-table projects in schools nationwide. Waters, Chez Panisse Foundation, and Slow Foods in Schools have taken on the awesome task of trying to get junk foods out of the public schools and fighting the multi-national food corporations who spend millions advertising to children starting when they are pre-schoolers. Research has clearly shown that fast food eaten by U.S. schoolchildren result in the current epidemic of obesity and its related diseases like diabetes, so Alice Waters, Slow Foods, and their allies are fighting the good fight for the children. Here in Los Angeles two years ago the Los Angeles Unified School District banned soda from its schools--one small victory.

Besides schools that traditionally served awful foods, hopsitals also served wretched food. The October 30, 2006, Newsweek has an article "Fresh Ideas About Ideas" describing how Kaiser Permanente's Dr. Preston Marin, chief of the Oakland Medical Center, has worked with John Silvera, head of the Pacific Coast Farmers Association, to start a farmer's market in 2003 at the Oakland Medical Center on Friday's that is frequented by 4,000 hospital staff, outpaients and Oakland community people. Next Dr. Martin started a pilot program August, 2006, to serve "fresh, local, sustainable grown produce to patients in Kaiser's 19 northern California hospitals."

Alice Water's ideas are slowly changing the foods served in both California hospitals and schools from processed junk to organic, local foods grown on sustainable farms. It's a long, slow revolution. Next Sunday I'll return to my Hollywood Farmer's Market to revel in the beauty of the foods there and buy my fruits and vegetables for the week. But this Thanksgiving I'll give my many thanks to Alice Waters, Chez Panisse, organic farmers of California, farmer's markets, the Edible Classroom, and Slow Foods.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Iphigenia Crash Lands

I see a lot of plays, and like to talk about one I've just seen.

November 11 I saw The play "Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart,"
Son of Semele,
The Studio Space, 1239 W. First St. L.A.
Friday, Saturday-8 pm, Sunday at 7 pm
Through December 3

Iphigenia is the pampered daughter of a Latin American dictator/general about to l0se the election so he decides to scrifice his daughter in order to get elected. She runs away to a rave. On the way she meets the ghosts of the mudredered women of Juarez. It's pretty fascinating in a a theater on a little hill just west of and overlooking downtown Los Angeles. I'm teaching the Hector Tovar's novel "The Tatooed Soldier" where its homeless Guatemalan hero camps out on a little hill just west overlooking downtown LA, and going to this theater I felt I stepped inside the novel.

The theater had a large stage hung with huge video screens on two sides and a DJ to the left front. As we watched the action, we often saw the same characters on the video. The playwright says the play exists in a'world where Greek tragedy meets modern media, rave culture, androgyny, and the oppressed." Well, the playwright's 100% right. The Greek tragedy about the general Agamemmon sacrificing his daughter Iphigenia to get a wind to sail his army to conquer Troy seemed to be brilliantly updated in this fictional Latin American dictatorship where women are routinely sacrified so men can advance in power. Go see this one if you can.

When I called up the number to order the tickets, the voice said Brown Bag was a fair trade ticketing company, and asked if I was a union member, senior, or student. I said, "Union member." So the ticket was $16 rather than the normal price of $18.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Getting More Good Jobs: We Need Nurses!

I accompanied my mother to a routine doctor's visit where her doctor said the reason for the long waits in emergency rooms is the lack of nurses. Though registed nurses make an average salary of $56,888, the U.S. has in 2005 a shortage of 126,000 nurses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that this country should have 800,000 too few nurses by 2020. So why such a lack of nurses? According to Joan Fitzgerald's "Getting Serious About Good Jobs" in November 2006 The American Prospect 500,000 nurses have left the profession. Why? Health care industry has not increased salary for nurses, but insisted on higher patient loads, mandatory overtime, "greater speedups, stress, safety worries"--so these deteriorating working conditions drive RNs to leave.

So what has been the federal government's response to the nursing shortage? The Bush Administration and the hospital lobby want Congress to pass the Brownback Amendment which means removing all caps on hiring foreign nurses. Also the Republican Congress and the American Hospital Association has refused to support nurse's unions legislation to set nurse-patient ratios and eliminate mandatory overtime. The Republican Congress had, of course, underfunded existing programs to give loans and scholarships to student nurses.

My mother was a RN for many years, and her salary as well as my father's was crucial for our family. She started studying nursing when during World War II, when the U.S. government was facing another nursing shortage so the Congress country passed the Bolton Act setting up the Cadet Nurse Corps to train nurses. My mother joined the Nurse Corps in Pittsburgh. Through this program the federal government gave student nurses like my mother room, board, a free education, and a small monthly stipend of $20 for spending money. Cadet nurses had to promise they would nruse in military or civilian programs for the duration of the war.

The federal government also gave funds to nursing schools willing to accelerate their program of study and provide student nurses with their primary training within two and a half years. For the last six months of training cadet nurses worked in civilian or military hospitals, alleviating the critical nursing shortage. When the program was discontinued in 1948, it had graduated 150,000 nurses. In the middle of her program, my mother got pregnant. Since pregnant women weren't allowed, she had to drop out, but she finished her nursing degree years later at the free-tuition Los Angeles City College's RN program, which was discontinued (nursing programs are money losers for the community colleges).

I have many students now studying in the junior colleges to be nursing, but they struggle paying much higher tuition than my mother paid and much higher book costs than my mother did. The government isn't doing anything to help them. So now we have Democrats in Congress who should make it priortity to change federal policy in order to train more nurses. In 5 years we could wipe out the nursing shortage just as we did in the mid 1940s.

Currently the Nurse Education Loan Repayment Program repays 60-85% of a student loans for nurses who will work for two years in a hospital with a staff shortage while the Nursing Scholarship Program provides scholarships to students who make the same committment. Both programs are terribly underfunded, turning away 82% of applicants for loan repayment and 94% of applicants for the scholarships. The Democratic Congress could fully fund these two programs and even increase the funding of both programs. Thousands of high school and college students would be attracted to nursing programs if they could get loan repayment or scholarships.

A second problem is U.S. nursing programs rejected 150,000 qualified applicants since these programs lack faculty, classroom or lab space, or clinical training sites. Nursing teachers are offered low-pay (less than what they would make outside teaching) so few nurses want to teach. Also, since nursing programs are money losers, they have either been closed like at LACC or kept very small. Fitzgerald said, "New York funds community colleges, hospitals, unions and other partners to advance into RN and other-health related professions." She reports that state of Washington provides money to two community colleges to increase nursing teacher salaries. The Democratic Congress needs to imitate the New York and Washington programs to increase nursing teacher salaries (no more part-time but full-time jobs), provide funds for more classrooms and labs, as well as fund hospitals to serve as training sites.

Finally, the Democratic Congress needs to have policy to improve job conditions to reduce the number of nurses leaving the profession. Because of the huge successful battle that California nurses fought against Governor Schwarzeneggar, California regulates nurse-patient ratios. The Democratic Congress can follow the recommendations of the nurses' unions to nationally regulate nurse-patient ratios and elminate mandatory overtime. If we don't reduce nurse workload, many will continue to leave nursing. Who wants to be in a hospital with too few nurses? Also the recent ruling throwing some nurses out of their unions because they were wrongly classified as "supervisors" needs to be overturned. Fitzgerald argues that nursing overwork is a problem that needs Congressional attention if we want to keep the nurses we train.

Also, Congress needs to reject the Brownback Amendment removing caps on hiring foreign nurses. That amendment will just drive the salaries of nurses lower; nurses will still be overworked and underpaid, and they will still leave nursing by the thousands. People will get worse care from harried, underpaid stressed out hurses.

Congress sets policy that effects whether health care jobs--nursing and others-- are decently paid with humane working conditions or so poorly paid with inhumane job conditions that trained people leave. A government should take care of our national welfare: making sure its making sure its citizens have good health care as well as making sure its trained health care professional have the good salaries and decent working condition so they can do good work. Just as we did in the mid-1940s we can easily erase the nursing shortage within a few short years.

Also, all of us or our family members or friends will end up in an emergency room or a regular hospital. Do we want poorly paid understaffed nursing? If we don't, we need to ask the newly elected Demoratic Congress to fund nursing scholarship and loan programs; pass legislations to increase funding for nursing training programs nationwide; nationally regulate nurse-patio ratios; elminate mandatory overtime for nurses; and reject the Brownback Amendment, keeping caps on hiring foreign nurses. It's about time we start fighting to improve our health care system since we all will rely on it.

Friday, November 10, 2006

California and the 2006 election

I need to talk a little about the 2006 election.

Many newspaper columnists have said that the only bright spot for the Republicans was Schwarzeneggar's tidy relection in California as Republican governor. That's nonsense.
After Schwarzeneggar's right-wing ballot propopsitions all were defeated in 2005 election,
he reinvented himself as a Democratic centrist, making deals with the Democrats who control both state legislatures and set the legislative agenda.

Because of Schwarzeneggar's deals with the Democrats, California passed a record-breaking bill to reduce noxious gas emissions and also put 5 ballot measures on the 2006 ballot to rebuild the state's crumbling infrastructure of highways and rapid transport as well as to cleanup its polluted waterways--all ballot measures passed. Now Schwarzeneggar is talking about working with the Democrats to extend medical coverage to California's uninsured. Since Schwarzennegar is now supporting centrist Democratic issues--extending medical coverage; improving highways and rapid transportation; and reducing pollution of waterways--I don't think Schwarzeneggar win was any great Republican victory.

The LA Times's Duke Helfand aruged in his November 10, 2006, article "Mayor to reap spoils of election victories" that Los Angeles' mayor Antonio Villaragoia is the big winner of the 2006
election--even though he wans't running. Helfand says that because of the recently passed
state bond measures, Los Angeles will get billions of dollars "in infrastructure money that will allow Villaraigosa to shape his vision of an eco-friendly metropolis with less traffic, more affordable housing, new trees and perhaps a subway to the sea."

At a recent press conference Villaragoisa said that L.A. will received $1 billion from the recently passed transporation bond which will allow him to build the Redline Subway from Western/Wilshire Avenue down to the Pacific Ocean. He also wants to take some of the other bond money to clean up the Los Angeles River and to build afforable housing for the homeless and low-income families. He also wants to take other bond money to make high-tech stoplights that will synchronize all the stoplights to relieve the city's bad traffic. He argues,"My focus is the city of Los Angeles … using my bipartisan relationships at a state and national level to benefit a city that for too long hasn't gotten its fair share."

Villaraigosa is very serious about his public works proposals to attack Los Angeles's problems: horrible traffic; lack of good rapid transportation; lack of affordable housing; lack of parks. For years a small group of environmentalists starting with Friends of the LA River have argued to build more parks/bikeways by the Los Angeles River; Villaraigosa agrees with them and now he has the money to begin this important work. He says,"L.A. will get its fair share," he said. "Make no mistake about it, because I intend to spend a lot of time in Sacramento, in Washington, now that we have a majority that's going to understand the needs of infrastructure in our cities." He was recently in Washington where he contraulated the Rep. Nacy Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid.

So Villaraigosa was the big winner because he finally got some money to implement some of
his proposals. Also, environmentalists are big winners because Sierra Club finally entered electoral poltics seriously and helped defeat Repubican Pombo (R-Modesto, CA), one of the most anti-environmental Congressman who has been attacking the Endangered Species Act. Since Pombo was chair of the House of Representatives Resources Committee, many environmentalists thought he was the Congressman who was the most dangerous to the environment. The Sierra Club fielded 300 volunteers in his district to help elect Jerry McNerney, a wind energy conslutant to go to Congress. McNerny won 53% to Pombos' 47%--a resounding victory. McNerney wants to help the country get off fossil fuels.

On a smaller scale I'd like to congratulate Andrew Walzer's election to the Santa Monica College B oard of Trustees. Walzer was a former part-time instruction at Santa Monica College who got a full-time job at Los Angeles City College (LACC). At LACC he worked with a student group that
successfully negotiated with the Metropolitan Transit Authority to get a low-cost bus/subway pass so for about $10 students at both LACC and LA Trade Technical College can ride rapid transit all semester.

The bus/subway pass should be enlarged so all students at all junior colleges in Los Angeles (over 120,000 students) could get one. I think Walzer's & the LACC students work helping junior college students get low-cost transporation is great as it both helps the students as well as help reduce traffic & air pollution. One New Yorker once said he owes his college education to the New York subway system as it allowed him a cheap, low-cost way to get to CCNY to attend his college classes. Thus, helping thousands of students get to their college classes in LA will likewise help these students get an education to get better jobs. Congratulations Walzer!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

To Guillin in China

Day 5 we flew to the south of China to Guillen, the city many Chinese love to vacation in--Guillin is like Yosemite, famous for its beautiful landscape. As we were on our bus driving in Guillin we crossed the Li River that bisects Guillin. We learned the Guillin is 400 miles north of Vietnam.

The next day while we drove in the bus outside the city a couple hours, our tour guide Huang, who was member of the Zhuang minority, explained that 90% of Chinese were Han, the majority people. In China as a whole 10% of the Chinese are minorities but Guillin is in Guangzi province, where 75% of the people are minorities. She explained there are a lot of minorities in the Guillen area; for example, the Miao people are clostely related to the Hmong in Vietnam. The Yao are another hill tribe like the Miao that the Han people conquered. Hwang said she was proud of being part of a minority that never bound its women's feet like the Han people did!

Huang pointed out that we were passing rice paddy fields, as Guillen was a rice growing area. Also she discussed agriculture, saying that the Communist Government, after taking the fields from the farmers, had returned the fields to the farmers, so farmers now on average owned a few acres--5-10 acre. Some she said were quite prosperous. Our bus stopped at a waterfront, and we disgorged, getting onto a tourist boat. There were many other tourists getting into big tourist boats.

Our boat then headed down the Li River through some of the most beautiful landscape in China: on each side of the river were limestone hillocks and small mountains in a fantastic variety of shapes. Mists half-covered some of the scultpured beautiful green mountains. This is the landscape--a river cutting through beautiful small green mountains covered in mists--that generations of Chinese painters and poets have celebrated. As the big tourist boats floated down the river, we saw tiny junks with two men and some goods on board. The junk banged into our big boat. A few minutes later one of the men from the tiny boat was knocking on the window trying to sell us souvenirs.

On the riverbank were small farms, docks, and stairs leading down to the river. We floated through more awesome sculpted tiny limestone mountains. Floating down the Li River reminded me of films I've seen of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam: a river meanders through a rice growing area of astonishing beauty. While we were floating downriver, we had lunch, and I got a chance to talk to Hwang as I wanted to ask her more about Chinese agriculture. She said Chinese admired U.S. agriculture better because of its greater productivity. She said they wanted to make their agricultural more productive. I was startled since I've grown up with criticisms of California agricultural for its mistreatment of farmworkers and its use of pesticides. I asked her if they had any large farms as she had stressed most farmers had small farms. She said the Chinese Army did have large farms.

Also, she said that Chinese wanted to develope beyond being factory laborers by developing a high technology industry, so they were pushing their children to learn English in schools like the Indian children do. They were aware the because Indians spoke English, they were getting the high technology jobs that moved to India from the U.S. Once Chinese children spoke good English they too could compete globally for high tech jobs.

A short while later our boat docked at Yangshao, a picturesque little village. We walked by the gorgeous riverfront which had lots of stalhs for tourists to buy stuff, but I wondered away from the stalhs to find one of my tourmates Linda and her husband surrounded by about four young Chinese, one of whom had gotten Linda to teach him English. I joined the group, but when I taught them an English word I had them teach us a Chinese word. It was fun participating in this Chinese-English language lesson.

After a bus ride back to Guillin, we stopped at a Teacher's College which had been a foreign palace with a lovely mini-limestone mountain for us to climb, but I declined. Instead I wandered around taking photos of the gorgeous old-stycle Chinese buildings and passed by a group of schoolchildren. As I took their photo, they all shouted to me, "Hello." "Hello," I responed. Certainly the children are learning English. A cave was carved into the mountain, and a large group of schoolchildren were led by their teacher into the cave. I followed. Inside they had sculptures of emperors with small tablets with writing on it to teach the children history.

That evening Hwang invited us to go to a theater performance of dances of minority people; I joined half the people in our group who went. The dances of the Zhuang, Dong, and Miao people were great! One was a dance based on planting rice! Another was based on courting. Many minority women (like the Vietnamese Hmong) are great embroiders and weavers making intricate multi-colored embroidered shirts, long skirts, etc. The costumes were quite beautiful, rather like Latin American folkloric dance and costumes but instead it was Chinese minority dance. I thought these dancers were so good that they should tour worldwide!

After that, Hwang said we could go see a 2nd event, but this time we boarded a boat to watch fisherman use the comorant bird to catch fish. From our big boat we watched a fisherman in a small boat with about 5 birds. He pushed the birds into the water. One by one they caught fish which resided in their mouth and then returned to the fisherman where they disgorged the fish, spitting it out until the fish lay on the floor of the boat.

That day in Guillin was my most perfect day in China.