Friday, July 10, 2009

On National Health Care and the For-Profit Nursing Home Nightmare Part I

My mother spent four months last year in for-profit nursing homes in 2008-9. Before that, I had researched statistics that the U.S. health care system is 1/3 more expensive than any other industrialized nations but our health is the worse of any industrialized country. I knew those statistics, but seeing up close how my mother was treated in two nursing homes, I began to understand exactly why we pay so much but get so little from our privatized health care system.

My mother, who had been in fairly good health, in her 86th year fell, broke her hip, and had immediate surgery. The surgeon instructed the nurses to get her walking the next day, and I watched as two nurses helped my mother up and gingerly walk two steps to a chair. His instructions were she needed to walk as much as possible and shouldn’t stay in the hospital. She was moved the next day to a nursing home I will call Bel Air Nursing Home (not its real name) but it is located in one of the most expensive areas of Los Angeles.

Bel Air at first glance looked like the Rolls Royce of nursing homes. The cafeteria had attractive wooden tables and chairs; there were two attractive outside patios carefully landscaped with plants in planters and more tables and chairs. The gym for physical therapy was large and well-equipped. My mother had two roommates but her own TV and phone on a bedside table in fairly large room.

The actual nursing care stank. Besides needing to walk daily to relearn how to walk, My mom need to be walking or at least sitting in a wheelchair or she’s get bedsores, but the first two days every time I visited she was in her hospital gown not even dressed. Nobody showed her how to use the overhead TV while the phone was on the bedside table outside her reach. An aide put down a pudding on her bedside table where she couldn’t reach and refused to listen to my request to put it on the overhead tray. If she was having physical therapy, nobody told me when it started but sometime it did start, I guessed.

My mom said a male patient sexually harassed her. I sat next to her while a male patient in a wheelchair wheeled into her room, wheeled past her, and then stopped by the middle patient for about 10 minutes. Finally, he wheeled his way past me out the door. I went and complained to the RN that male patients shouldn’t have such access to my mother’s room.

My mother complained that her Certified Nursing Assistant verbally insulted her. The actually nursing is done by Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), immigrant or black women who got a little training, do all the hard work, and are paid barely above minimum wage. Most of them seem hard working and deserve a raise but one had insulted my mom. In the central station are the Registered Nurses (RNs) whom I never saw work with the patient. Daily whenever I came in I asked the RNs how my mother was and they would read off her chart—they didn’t know my mother at all. The licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) give out medication and also I never saw any work with the patient. All the six nursing homes I saw were organized this way. After my complaint, the RN removed the offensive CNA from working with my mom.

At this point I figured the only way to get my mother dressed and out of bed was to demand a meeting with the head of nursing which I did. Preparing for the meeting, I discovered online that Medicare does inspections of all the nursing homes in the country and puts the results online ( including a listing of “Nursing Home Resident Rights.” I learned it doesn’t matter if the nursing home is located in the most expensive neighborhood in the city with the fanciest decorations. If you want to know what it’s really like, read Medicare evaluation online.

According to Medicare inspections in June 2008, Bel Air rated one star out of five (much below average) for health inspections, one star for nursing home staffing, one star for quality measures.My mother was there October 2008, a few months after the report. Most interesting was to me was two out of four (“minimal harm or potential for actual harm”) for two categories: “Make sure that residents with reduced range of motion get proper treatment and services to increase range of motion” and for “Develop a complete care plan that meets all of a resident's needs, with timetables and actions that can be measured.”

I downloaded the report and handed it to the director of nursing in our meeting. Her male associate said, “We’re working on it.” Since they were unable to come up with a complete nursing care plan, I wrote up one and handed it to the director of nursing (cc’d a copy to her doctor) asking for reasonable items such as the CNAs dress my mom daily and wheel her to the cafeteria for meals and daily activities such as bingo. The director of nursing took my written out nursing plan, headed upstairs with me beside her, and handed it to the RNs, telling them to do it. From then on my mother was dressed daily and taken to the cafeteria for meals and bingo.

A week later I was called into a meeting with the social worker, RN, and physical therapist. Naïve me thought they would tell me how my mom was doing. Nope. They all three asked me again and again and pounded at where I was taking my mom because in a week they would expel her. They harassed me verbally and viciously for ½ hour. I mentioned the name of the only other nursing home I knew called F nursing home. They ignored me and pounded at me with their questions. Two days later the physical therapist told me to go ask the social worker to arrange transfer to F nursing home. At this point the social worker who had beaten me up verbally then was amazingly efficient arranging the transfer. After using up two weeks of my mother’s topflight medical coverage, they expelled my mom to another nursing home.

Bel Air was, I learned, did the lowest level of custodial care—letting her lay in her hospital gown being taken care of a poorly paid poorly trained overworked staff was fine. It saved then money. The RNs did nothing until I complained. Then one of them harassed me. I like RNs—my mother was one and many of her friends were. I thought the CNAs most of them were hard working and deserved a raise. It’s the executives of the company that design the policies that provide poor nursing care but great profits for the companies. This is for-profit medical care in the nursing home—extraordinarily expensive designed to give profit to the company and extraordinarily bad for the patient. But the decorations were fine!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Wrestling with Zionism"

Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon, the co-editors of "Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," say in their introduction that they wanted to read a book of dissident American Jewish responses to the Palestinian-Israel conflict. No such book existed so they created this anthology of essays and poem which was published in 2003. The book has an impressive roster of contributors of American Jewish poets, playwrights, and academics including Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, Adrienne Rich and many others. This anthology ably documents the 100-year historical tradition within the Jewish community of those Jews who criticized first Zionism and then Israeli policies; however, the book’s last section “Resistance and Activism” has weaknesses.

Section I reprints the writings of three neglected left Zionists: Ahad Ha’am, the creator of spiritual Zionism; Judah Magnes, the founder of the Hebrew University, and Martin Buber, the philosopher. Before 1948 all three men rejected Jewish military might and a Jewish state but instead championed a cultural Zionism in a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Judah Magnes went the furthest in advocating a binational state in which all groups—Jews, Arabs, Moslems, Christians—would have equal rights. Magnes’ binational state where Jews would have no special privileges was indeed a Zionist position though many Israelis now treat the idea like anti-semitic heresy.

These historical writings show that before 1970 American Jewish progressives as well as Ahad Ha’am, Magnes, and Buber severely criticized mainstream and right-wing Zionists. The editors happily rescue from oblivion the 1948 letter where philosopher Hannah Arendt, Albert Einstein, Sidney Hook and over 30 American Jews roundly condemned Begin’s right-wing group, the Irgun, for the massacre at the Arab village of Deir Yassin and they called the Irgun fascist. Adding to these earlier criticisms, journalist I.F. Stone develops an anti-imperialist critique of Israel in 1967 describing how mainstream Zionists offered themselves as outposts in the Arab world to imperial powers: the Turks in 1900; the German Kaiser soon thereafter; and the British in 1915.

Section II “The Contemporary Crisis” provides excellent essays both analyzing and criticizing current U.S and Israeli policies. Joel Benin in “The United States-Israel Alliance” describes how after 1967 Israel in return for carrying out U.S policies got U.S. arms. Michael Massing’s “Deal Breakers” discusses how two right wing American Zionist organizations effectively lobby U.S. presidents and the Congress. Seth Ackerman’s “Israel and the Media” shows how U.S. mass media in the 1970s-1990s became ardently pro-Israel. Finally, Phyllis Bennis in “Of Dogs and Tails” analyzes the four pillars of this U.S.-Israel alliance: Israel’s acting as U.S. #1 Middle Eastern ally; the Christian Zionists support of Israel; the neo-conservatives politicians; and the defense industry’s advocacy of increased military aid. These essays are a must read for anyone seriously interested in a critical understanding of the U.S.-Israeli alliance.

The third area where this anthology does good work is documenting a thirty-year right-wing Zionist assault on American Jewish dissidents. Michael E. Staub’s “If We Really Care About Israel: Breira and Its Limits” is a fine essay describing how in the 1970s right-wing Zionists destroyed the moderate Jewish peace group. Though Breira was quite mainstream (it never identified as left-wing and was often led by moderate Hillel rabbis), right-wing Zionists assaulted it in the media, libeled it as pro-PLO, resulting in Breira’s destruction. Staub argues that after Breira was destroyed the American Jewish community splintered: many Jews left the community physically or spiritually. The anthology's essays point out how right-wing Zionists again and again resorted to smear attacks from smashing Breira in the 1970s to attacking Jewish anti-war critics of Israel in 2003, which Esther Kaplan discusses in “Globalize the Intifada.”

Section Four in particular deals with right-wing Zionist charges that criticism of Israel is anti-semitic. UC Berkeley professor Judith Butler takes on Lawrence Summer’s statement that calls for boycotts of Israeli are anti-semitic. Butler argues that when criticisms of Israel’s policies are called anti-semitic, the charge is both an attack on freedom of speech and an act that undermines attempts to fight real anti-semitism.

In the same section Phillip Green in his essay argues that the left is not anti-semitic but when right-wing Zionists make Israel and Jewishness synonymous, it is they—and not the left—who have sown the dangerous seed of the new waves of anti-Semitism. This is all too clear in Europe today, where the nationalist ideological equation [Jews = Israel] has helped to inflame some youth who commit most of the anti-Semitic outrages attributed by American propagandists to “the French”—among whom, contrarily, it is chiefly the student left who participates in marches against anti-Semitism. Both Butler and Green construct powerful, coherent arguments that right-wing Zionists make bogus claims that they defend Jews from anti-Semitism.

Many of these writers--Tony Kushner, Alisa Solomon, Adrienne Rich et al.—decry the attempt of right-wing Zionists to impose ideological conformity as harmful to the American Jewish community. Furthermore, Kushner et al. refer to Jewish sources demanding justice for all in their criticism of Israel, particularly the centrality of justice in both secular and religious Jewish thinking. Harvard researcher Sara Roy, a child of Holocaust survivors, and poet Irene Klepfisz, a Holocaust survivor, both argue that the best way to honor Jews who died in the Holocaust is to keep alive their vision of justice for all and their outrage against injustice, as Klepfisz says, “apply it to all situations, whether they involve Jews or non-Jews.”

Marc Ellis, a controversial founder of Jewish liberation theology, contributes some of the most original ideas in the book. Prior to 1948 the large majority of Orthodox (highly religious) Jews were hostile to Zionism. Ellis argues that in the 1950s some Israel right-wing theologians have created a branch of Orthodox Judaism—the religious in the settler movement-- in service to the state and its power. In reaction to this religion-serving-the-state Judaism, Ellis calls for the rebirth of the prophetic voices to criticize Israel just as the prophets in the past did. He gives a Jewish theological blessing for the “secular Jews of conscience who have come into solidarity with the Palestinian people.” When these writers’ advocate that American Jews put the struggle for justice for all at the core of their values, they open up a safe space for both secular and religious Jews critical of Israel.

The editors of this anthology have wisely included writers with different opinions. Some essayists have sounded important minor themes. I. F. Stone and Adrienne Rich are only two of the book's over 50 Ashkenazi Jewish writers who point out the importance of Arab Jews (Jews from Arab lands such as Tunisian Jews, Iraqi Jews etc.) to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Stone argued in 1967 that one of the first steps needed to be taken toward peace is “the eradication of prejudice that greet the Oriental and Arabic-speaking Jews in Israel …” Adrienne Rich salutes what Israeli novelist Shulamith Hareven calls “Levantine” cultures or that rich mixture of cultures in the Middle East, which Rich likens to American multi-culturalism. Yet this book only includes two Arab Jewish writers. Iraqi Jewish American Ella Habiba Shohat eloquently describes those Jews born in Arabic country who learn to speak Arabic as their first language and who identify with many parts of Arabic culture. Ammiel Alcalay in his essay “No Return, which is a linguistic tour-de-force, describes key moments in Arab Jewish intellectual history of the last forty years.

The American Jewish progressives of Wrestling with Zion need to include more Arab Jews such as writers Sami Shalom Chetrit and Jordan Elgrably. In Los Angeles Moroccan-Jewish American Elgrably has worked with Arabs, Armenians, and Persians et al. to create a Levantine Center that promotes many Middle Eastern cultures. Such centers are crucial to helping the American Jewish community redefine itself as well as to help make peace in the Middle East.

Only I.F. Stone and Phyllis Bennis discuss how, as Stone says, Israel “is creating a kind of schizophrenia in world Jewry.” Stone pointed out that outside of Israel “the welfare of Jewry depends on the maintenance of secular, non-racial pluralistic societies” while many Diaspora Jews defend within Israel a society where “non-Jews have lesser status than Jews, and in which the idea [of the Israeli state] is racial and exclusionist.” Stone wrote in 1967 when many Jews marched for civil rights in the United States, helping to promote a secular, non-racial society.

Much later Phyllis Bennis writes in 2002 about right-wing American Jews have an alliance with some Christian fundamentalists who call themselves Christian Zionists. Bennis quotes Robert Zimmerman, president of the American Jewish Congress (AJC) that the Christian fundamentalist have a domestic agenda that “threatens ‘the freedoms that make Jews safe in America.’” Bennis points out that all other major American Jewish organizations ignore AJC’s fears. Now American Jews need to take more seriously Bennis’s arguments that alliances with Christian fundamentalists potentially harm American Jews.

Finally, the weakness of book is in its discussion of current activism as of 2003. A whole section of this book debates the so-called “Law of Return,” the Israeli law whereby any Jew in the world can settle in Israel, claiming full citizenship that includes rights and privileges denied to Palestinians who used to live there but cannot return to live. Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz intellectually wants to refuse the law of return while Letty Cottin Pogrebin, one of the founders of Ms. magazine, defends it. Throughout this debate neither Kaye/Kantrowitz nor Pogrebin looked at how the Arabs’ fear of an ever-expanding Israel are increased by the Law of Return encouraging world-wide Jewry to return to Israel. After 47 British Jews in August 8, 2002, rejected the right to return to Israel, Kaye/Kantrowitz still ends her essay with an “imaginary” renunciation of the right to return. One wonders why not a real renunciation?

Also a section on Israeli politics would improve this book, particularly critical analysis of three areas: what social classes/ethnic groups support the major Israeli political parties and how has these changed in the last 30 years? how did the settler movement including its religious elements develop in the last 30 years as a political force? what groups comprise the Israeli peace movement and also how have they changed over the last 30 years? Also an essay on how American Jewish critics of Zionists could work with Israeli peace groups would be an addition to the book. Only Psychiatrist Dr. Robert Jay Lifton’s excellent essay on why he founded Friends of Courage to Refuse to support the Refusniks, Israeli soldiers who refuse to fight in the occupied territories, speaks to this point.

The book ends with “Doing Activism: Working for Peace: A Roundtable Discussion” with eight activists representing small dissident groups from Boston, New York, Chicago, and the Bay Area as of 2003. Yes, these groups have bravery and moral vision but they have hardly any presence outside a few urban centers in 2003. Steven Feuerstein from Chicago’s Not in My Name said most of these groups’ anti-occupation demonstrations were ineffectual since these groups lacked defined political goals and strategy to obtain their goals. Most of these activists wanted to reduce or eliminate U.S.’s financial support for Israel’s West Bank settlements, but Feuerstein argued that they lacked “the political will or power” to do so. Instead of discussing Fuerstein’s criticisms, most of the others debated among themselves rhetorical strategies, the uses of history, and even the definition of Zionism. Nobody in these 2003 or pre-2003 pieces took up Feuerstein’s criticisms that a small number of dissident Jewish groups based in a few big cities who disagreed among themselves lack the political vision, strategy, or power to change the nearly 40-year old U.S.-Israel alliance. How should these small groups go in coalition with others in? Which others?

The virtues of this anthology far outweigh its flaws. This is a crucial, important, and informative book. Though published in 2003, the book still has many important historical essays still extremely relevant today.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Telling Congress to Vote Against the Awful Wars

Your Blog entry has been created.
Telling Congress to Vote Against the Awful Wars
by Julia Stein

June 8, 2009, 8:16 am

So this morning in my email, there was an email telling me that 40 House Democrats can stop these wars by voting against the $95 supplemntal billion for Iraq/Afghan wars. So they asked me to email my Congresswoman to tell her to vote against the $95 supplmental billion bill for the wars.

I did so.. I clicked the click, and low and behold my Congressman Diane Watson had already vote agains the supplemental bill. Hurrah for Diane Watson! Hurrah for Diane Watson! Hurrah for my Congresswoman! Also, I told the my representatives to not let Obama pass a bill that would make it illegal to make public the torture photos. Also, I clicked and told my two U.S. SENATORS to vote for single payer health insurance not warware. we desperately need single payer (I will blog about that soon)

The places to click are below. If you are against these wars, just click and send messages to your Congressperson. Remember, all you Californians out there and everyone else that we need the billions from Congress for your schools and parks and we need to vote down this supplmental bill.

1. 40 House Progressives Can End the Wars

This week, Congress will vote for another $95 billion for the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan (Af/Pak).

But 40 House Progressives can end these wars if they simply vote NO. That's because all 178 Republicans opppose $5 billion added for the IMF, and 178+40=218, a House majority.

Tell Congress: Healthcare Not Warfare

On May 14, 51 Democrats voted NO. Now those 51 are under immense pressure to switch to YES. Don't let them switch! Check if your Representative is here:
Then call and report the response you get using the webform.

If you use Twitter, you can "retweet" my messages to key Members of Congress:

Post your commends and look for updates here:

Thanks for all you do!

Bob Fertik

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

My Illegal Abortion

I had an illegal abortion when I was nineteen. I went to Juarerz, Mexico, because I wanted to have a doctor, anesthesia, and a nurse. When I returned to Los Angeles I started to hemorrhage and then was running out of blood, so I had to be rushed to Cedars hospital to save my life. In the hospital I contracted mononucleosis, and then was sick for the next five months. I would encourage all other women to tell publicly about their abortions—both legal and illegal.

I wrote along poem “When the Clock Was Smashed” about my illegal abortion and published it in my first book of poetry Under the Ladder to Heaven, my first book of poetry published in 1984. In that book I also wrote a poem about Rosaura Jimenez, the first woman to die from a bad abortion after abortion was legalized. In 1977 Jimenez couldn’t afford a legal abortion (she was a college student in Texas planning to be a teacher) so she went to an illegal abortionist. The anti-abortionists caused cutbacks in funding for abortions for low-income women so Rosaura Jimenez couldn’t afford to pay for a legal, safe abortion. Jimenez’s illegal abortion gave her an infection and her suffering was intense; her death was totally unnecessary.

I am 100% pro-abortion because legal abortions save women ‘s lives and save women’s health—particularly saving women from hemorrhaging like I did and save them from bad infections that killed Jimenz.

The Los Angeles Times yesterday June 1, 2009, has an excellent article “A History of violence on the fringe,” detailing the violence of the anti-abortionists: “Bombings. Butyric acid attacks. Sniper shootings. Letters filled with fake anthrax.” The Times reported that the National Abortion Federation “documented more than 6,100 acts of violence against abortion providers in the United States and Canada since 1977. The group classifieds as ‘violent’ not only acts of murder, attempted murder, bombing and arson; but also vandalism, burglary, and stalking among others.” The anti-abortionists aren’t pro-life. It’s not pro-life to bomb, shoot, or set fires. They are anti-life.

The anti-abortionists have murdered eight abortion workers in the U.S. or Canada including four doctors. Dr. David Gunn was shot and killed in Pensacola, Florida. Dr. John Britton and a 74-year old clinic worker were killed in 1994. Also in 1994 “John Salvi III shot up two Boston-area clinics killing two receptionists and injuring five other people.” In 1998 an anti-abortionist murdered a clinic security guard and injured a nurse in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1998 obstetrician Barnett Slepian was murdered in Amherst, New York. Just a few days ago Dr. Tiller was murdered in church in Wichita, Kansas.

When you next think about the anti-abortionists, call them anti-life. Nine people are died: Rosaura Jimenez and eight clinic workers. Nine people who should be alive.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Governor Schwarzenegger Wants to Bring Back the 19th Century

Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed cuts of $5.1 billion would wreck havoc on the lives of millions of Californians while President Obama told California to refuse to help California at all with its budget deficit of $21 billion. Schwarzenegger’s cuts could cause tens of thousands of Californians to go hungry, to be homeless, and to be without medical care—he’s bringing back the 19th century for the poor.

Schwarzenegger’s cuts will end the safety net for poor children. The cuts would end CalWORKS, the welfare program for 521,000 families who now get $526 average monthly grants. After eliminating CalWORKS, Schwarzenegger also plans to eliminate Healthy Families, the program that gives children from low-income families health insurance. The cuts also would reduce Medical insurance to the very poor. These cuts aren’t even cost effective as they would cause California to lose billions in matching funds. The Governor’s proposed cuts are both cruel and stupid.

The cuts would phase out Cal Grant tuition assistance for 200,000 college students: no new grants and existing grants reduced. UC and California State University systems would have further reduction in budgets of approximately $333 million apiece. Within the community college students the cuts would lead to 250,000 students forced out of the system and huge spikes in fees. The cuts would destroy programs including student services and end part-time faculty office hours, heath insurance, and pay equity. Also, new students including veterans and unemployed would be shut out of the community colleges.

The proposed cuts would severely reduce In Home Social Service aid to disabled and elderly people which subsidizes in-home health care workers. It costs $12,000 to keep a disabled person in the home but $60,000 to keep them in the nursing homes, so the cuts would drive disabled and elderly out of the homes into institutions, causing California either to spend more money or let the disabled suffer horrific 19th century conditions.

The cuts would severely reduce education, drug rehab and vocational programs within the prisons as well as let nonviolent, nonserious offenders go free a year early.
The cuts would close 70 of the state’s parks.

Governor Schwarzenegger and the Republicans have refused all tax increases including refusing to impose a tax on yachts.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Unemloyment Rises... A poem by Carol Tarlen

Inflation Achieves a Single Digit
Unemployment Rises to 8.9%
By Carol Tarlen

Our hands complain of protein deficiency as
David slices more than his ration of ham
5 ½ lbs of meat per person per month in Poland
Pass the navy beans, please
They are pink and slushy
Legumes are good for the soul
The free enterprise of a well-balanced amino acids
The dialectics of eating
Alicia denounces bland cabbage soup
History gets a C- at your fashionable
Bourgeois Butcher Block Table
When the grade drops to a D+
We steal a loaf of bread
Then we build barricades

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Poets Imagine Peace

The anthology Come Together: Imagine Peace edited by Phillip Metres, Ann Smith, and Larry Smith was published in 2008 is produced after United States has been in wars for six years. The anthology brilliantly shows U.S. poets in the past and present write compelling peace poetry. The anthology is a companion volume to Metres brilliant book of literary criticism Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront.

In Behind the Lines Metres has an excellent discussion of 20th century American peace poetry while in "Section one: Some Precedents" in Come Together the editors have a wonderful selection of poets whom Metres discussed in his criticism. The editors begin with a lovely Sappho lyric, share a short Whitman poem, have Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Conscientious Objector,” include Lowell on fear of nuclear war in 1961, and share Muriel Rukeyser’s wonderful “Poem” where she confessed “I lived in the first century of world wars/Most mornings I would be more or less insane.”

The editors have three eloquent but quiet poems by William Stafford as well as Denise Levertov’s poem “Making Peace” where she says “A voice from the dark called out, ‘the poets must give us imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar/imagination of disaster' … Grammar of justice,/syntax of mutual aid.” Levertov to me is central both to 20th century peace poetry and to 20th century poetry in English.

The editors include Ginsberg’s amazing poem ”Wichita Vortex Sutra,” which is one of the great anti-war poems of American literature. Ginsberg first calls on all the gods to help him and then says “I hereby declare the end of war.”The first section of the anthology then goes on to include important poems by Audre Lorde, June Jordan etc. The first section of great poems is absolutely wonderful and reason enough to buy this book.

The editors have heeded Levertov’s advise to include poets who imagine peace which is a splendid way to organize an anthology. Section Two are Poems of “Witness and Elegy” including Karen Kovacik’s marvelous poem “Requiem for Buddhas of Bamiyan,” lamenting the great sculptures the Taliban blew up: ‘for fourteen centuries you stood fast/still as Siddhartha/on the night of his enlightenment/as much a part of this valley as the wind.”

Section three “Call and Answer: Poems of Exhortation & Action” include such wonderful works by Bly, Rich, Heyen, Espada and Ferlinghetti along with new poets. Other sections of the book dealing with “Poems of Reconciliation” in section four, “Poems of Shared Humanity” in section five, “Poems of ritual & Vigil” in Section Seven, and “Poems of Meditation & Prayer” in Section Eight. So the many poems included are imagining peace through elegy, witness, exhortation, ritual, vigil, meditation, and prayer.

Another excellent feature of this book is to include poems about Palestine/Israel including Palestinian, Israeli, and U.S poets in a rich dialogue. There are marvelous poems by Palestinian poets Mahmoud Darwish and Taha Muhammad Ali as well as Israeli poets Yehuda Amachai and Aharon Shabtai. The anthology also includes Arab-American poets such as Elmaz Abinader and Angele Ellis as well as Jewish-American like Karl Shapiro and Enid Shomer.

Further, the editors wonderfully include both U.S. poet Steve Wilson and Palestinian poet Deema Shehabi writing ghazals, a poetry form going back to 6th century Arabic verse using rhyming couplets. When a book of peace poetry includes both Whitman and ghazals, the poets at least are beginning to imagine a peaceful meeting in literature. Hopefully in future anthologies U.S. poets will continue to learn from the long tradition of Sumerian, Arabic and Persian poetry.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Guilty as Charged by Carol Tarlen

I'm going to put up a poem/week by my poet friend Carol Tarlen who died in 2004 leading up to the reading the S.F. poets are doing July 10 in her honor in S.F.
Today's poem is Tarlen's poem "Small Deaths."

"Small Deaths" by Carol Tarlen

I tear my hair like the
mad queen of hearts. "What? you
used a whole cube of butter
to fry one eggs?" Leah's eyes drop;
I refuse to see the lashes cast
shadow on her cheeks, too busy
thinking, I must wipe dust
from under the coffee table, and
I'm tired, my gaze sagging on the
electric wires splintering
the pale blue sky. Her voice
trembles, "I'll go to the store,
Mommy, and buy it with my allowance."
Another small death, this time caused
by the misappropriation of fifth
cents worth of cholesterol.

Last night my obscene "friend"
called to awake me with silence.
The telephone company will charge
eleven dollars for a new number.
Friday the boss will sign my
paycheck at three minutes past
five. The bank opens at ten a.m.
Monday morning. This weekend
marks our conversion to
vegetarianism, Sunday dinners
of brown rice, inexpensive
walks on the beach to quiet
our taste for blood.
And this evening, when the bus
winds up and down city hills,
pushing me closer to my 5/6ths
psychiatric hour, when I will discuss
the hostility inherent
in my passive aggressive
overdue bill, I will be grateful
for a seat by the window;
I will be grateful for the sun's
heat on my cheek, it's light
slipping through the yellow
and red strands of hair that
I stretch around my fingers
so that I may sing
there are rainbows in me yet.
I am pulling the cord, steeping
onto littered sidewalks, furtively
searching for two-way mirrors,
hidden microphones as I slouch
on the therapeutic chair, pleading:

Guilty of screaming at my child
Guilty of stealing the office stamps
Conspiracy to cheat Landlords of Cleaning Deposits
Writing Rhetorical Poems with no Metaphorical Content
Refusing to tend my garden, instead
Proclaiming the aesthetic purity of weeds
Guilty of even the inability to fantasize rape
The nonownership of a vibrator
Yes I am guilty of
Refraining from reading the NYSE Daily Quotations
Choosing instead to watch fog seep through the heavy
branches of cypress trees, dark green foiaage weted
darker green. Yes! Yes!
guilty of the desire to raise my fist to Montgomery Street's
Skyscraped glare, shouting "Next year in Madrid!"
and most of all
Guilty of keeping my mouth shut
Crossing my legs in public
Ignoring the wind's cry as it sweeps grease
from tankers mounting the ocean's dying waves.

The doctor wipes his glasses on his
imported Italian shirt and suggest
redefining options,
acceptance of limitations,
a course in assertiveness training.
I shrink back on the cushions
and cop a please. "Nolo contendere."

I am thrusting the key in the
hole, turning its toothy blade.
Leah is linking her hands
around my belly. I flop
rag dolled on the couch as
she removes my shoes, her
fleshly padded fingers de-
manding, "Play with me."
It's no game, kid, this living,
no accident that profit
is mined from dirty phone calls.
OK, pumpkin, do I bury you
with the wasted butter
or do we buy guns? You're
right. It's too early
to go to bed. Even fifth
graders know the earth is not
a pyramid, but a porous,
shimmering egg dropped
monthly from between our legs,
giving and taking the pounding
of our feet and we dance
round and round, sweat
circling our throats, our faces
lifting to the moon dripping
juicy on our tongues flagging
cars that screech past
the window, yes, our wet, red,
throbbing anarchist tongues.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Dunya Mikhail, first contemporary Iraqi woman poet translated into English

Dunya Mikhail’s The War Works Hard (New Directions, 2005) is the first contemporary Iraqi woman poet translated from Arabic into English. Her poetry is brilliant.

She is an Iraqi Christian whose first two languages are Aramaic and Arabic, and she learned English during her long exile in the United States. Mikhail began publishing in the 1980s and has published five book of poetry. After Mikhail published her second book Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea (1995) in Baghdad, she suffered harassment from the dictatorship and fled into exile in the United States.

Mikhail writes in The War Works Hard about war, dictatorship, and exile of a forty-year war. In the Introduction Saadi Simawe, who edited in English Iraqi Poetry Today, said, “… [T]to many Iraqis, the American war against Iraq actually started in February 8, 1963 when the Baath junta, aided by U.S. intelligence from Kuwait, too over Baghdad. During the first two days of battle, more than 30,000 Iraqis who fiercely resisted the fascist coup were massacred.” Mikhail was born two years later after the coup in 1965 and attended college in Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq war. The poems from the two earlier books Psalms from Absence and Almost Music reprinted in this volume come out of Mikhail’s experiences during the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War of 1991, and the period of U.S. sanctions against Iraq.

The poems from Psalms from Absence, Mikhail’s earliest book, are highly metaphorical renderings of her experiences with war and dictatorship where the metaphors eluded the Iraqi censors. In these earliest poems the poet has a child’s voice describing “the red puddle/under a child’s feet” in “Transformation of the Child and the War,” the ruins of war in “The Chaldean’s Ruins,” a nun leaving her convent where the church bells are dead in “The Nun,” and the dictatorship where “He plays general. She plays people./They declare war” in “Pronouns.”

The child’s voice matures into a young woman’s voice in the next volume Almost Music whose world is even darker and claustrophobic. The poet says “I sit on top of death/like a pile of smoke/and cry” in “An Orange.” The poet is imprisoned with her sisters as pomegranate seeds” whose “losses increase each day.” The voice is afraid “we will rot before anyone thinks of us.” The titles tell the story of living inside the dictatorship: “A Tombstone” or “The Departure of Friends.”

In the poems written after the fall of Saddam Hussein in The War Works Hard Mikhail’s poet voice is less allusive and much more direct in confronting the wars. Her voice becomes powerful in the poem “Inanna” speaking as the ancient Sumerian Goddess claiming her city, searching on the Internet for the graves, ordering “you sons of the dead! Stop fighting/over my clothes and gold!” In “Urgent Call” she calls the American soldier Lynndie England ordering her to immediately go home.

In some of the poems Mikhail sounds like one of the Trojan women from Euripides great play The Trojan Women: the mother in “the Prisoner” waiting at the prison’s entrance to see her son and who doesn’t understand why he’s imprisoned; the women in “Bag of Bones” at the mass grave site having the good luck to find “his bones./The skull is also in the bag/the bag in the hand/like all other bags/in all other hands. His bones, like thousands of bones/in the mass graveyard …”

Mikhail is great and sorrowful like Eurpides so get her book and read her book.

Monday, May 11, 2009

John Leech and the Onyx Cafe in Los Angeles

Memorial for John Leech, co-founder of the Onyx Café

Sunday I went to the wake for John Leech, co-founder of the Onyx Café, which was the best artists café in Los Angeles for the past forty years. John, beloved by hundreds of hundreds of artists, died March 17. The Onyx itself lasted from 1982-1998—it transformed both the Los Angeles artists’ scene and the Los Feliz neighborhood.

The first time I wandered into the original Onyx next door to the Vista Theater must have been around the mid-1980s when the Reagan right-wing firmly dominated the culture. The Onyx was a small space with about 5-6 tables and could seat maybe 30 people. It had a black-and-white checkerboard floor, lovely color mismatched Fiesta ceramics on the tables, and a jewel of a desert case. Later I learned that Fumiko, who had studied ceramics with internationally known artist Peter Shire had hand-made the dishes. There was art hanging on the walls, of course. John and Fumiko taught me who Peter Shire was and had a show of his tea cups.

John and Fumiko wanted to have a café like that cafes John had known in San Francisco and Fumiko admired the Onyx jazz club in New York. John and Fumiko were a contrast. John was a tall, balding, bulky expatriate Englishman always wearing a fatigue jacket. Fumiko was petite, gorgeous, late twenties, and always the most beautifully dressed in the room in outfits! They created an art gallery supported by coffee—the café name was a disguise. While Los Angeles galleries charged 60% for the artists to show, the Onyx never charged the artists anything for its 16 years. They intended us all to mingle and we did.

After a while coming to the café, I would know ½ of the 20 people there. Since there were so few tables, you were forced to sit next to a new person and usually started talking to them. The people I met! First, the visual artists: Gronk, Linda Gamboa, Jeffery, Daniel Martinez, Fumiko Robinson. I was free-lancing for art, literary, and weekly newspapers, and was meeting the people I was reading about. Then, I met musicians. I always enjoyed talking to Bill Roper, the tuba player for the avant-garde group Fat and Fucked Up. I met other musicians: Vinsula, Michael Whitmore, Guy the piano player etc. There were film people: Jim Balsam was a special effects cameraman was well as bass player while Lucas Reiner was a painter and filmmaker. Some of us were showing in the galleries, putting out our first books, or performing in the clubs. The Onyx was my Paris—I was a poet among the artists! The Onyx was our living room.

My writer friends Lionel Rolfe and Nigey Lennon organized an event in the upstairs annex—for 12 hours people read and performed music. When Lionel and Nigey wanted to start the event, they asked me to be the first reader, and I read my poetry. Los Angeles Times architect critic John Pastier was haranguing against some ugly establishment building to a rapt audience. Cartoonist Matt Groening had his art work up on the wall before he went on to fame and fortune. KPFK was talking about the event as it went on so people kept coming the whole 12 hours. Downstairs Fumiko and Mary McAndrews, an Otis art student, were making coffee. Spoken word and music had taken off at the Onyx and would go on with new curators and many new musicians and many new spoken word organizers.

Fumiko moved to New York but John carried on. The original Onyx was evicted. I was writing regularly for the weekly newspaper LA Reader, and my editor let me write an article about the Onyx where I interviewed the owners and participants of a friendly demo outside of the Onyx with Chicano artist Gonk making up the slogan, “Coffee united will never be defeated. “ John lost the Onyx but then opened up months later on Vermont.

The Onyx on Vermont was much larger: two store fronts. One was a café and the second was a gallery. John nurtured a whole generation as artists, giving jobs so people could get through college and art school. At the memorial one person said he was an angel with bad manner. He could be gruff and rude, but then he would have free bar-b-ques where he would feed all of us. So what if cafe was scruffy a bit. People from the Westside looked at the scruffiness but rarely looked at the art, and the art was a whole new generation speaking out. Manuel Ocampo, a Filipino artist, had a painting show which was an utter knockout: his powerful paintings combed surrealism with a political edge. Ocampo was soon having a big exhibit in Spain and then all around the world.

Gronk was in the big Los Angeles Country Museum Chicano show, and held court from the table in front of the café. Onyx regulars came up to congratulate him. One of us! At the biggest museum in town. John gave us all a space when we all needed it most and helped launch hundreds of people. No wonder he is still so loved. No other café in Los Angeles even came close to the Onyx. John’s shows were multi-ethnic before the major museums did that. They had cartoonists like Matt Groening and often a pop sensibility in the paintings. They were a populist visual arts show off the streets heading toward the major museums.

By the mid-1990s Westsiders were coming more and more to hang out on that block in Vermont, with the Onyx, the great Skylight bookstore, Skylight Theater, the Los Felix movie theater, and the Dresden Room down the block. More people were moving into the neighborhood and rents were rising as gentrification was setting in. Of course, it’s an old story. First, the scruffy bohemian arts and then the bourgeoisie. John had a few crazies who hang out. He would throw out anyone who criticized them. He never made much money.

Of course, he was evicted again. The Onyx had made that neighborhood and now the rent was going too high. I remember a closing music performance listening to Jim Balsam and his musician friends play rock ‘n roll. It was mournful and sad and the end of the era.

Here is John’s own words about the Onyx:

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My poet friend Carol Tarlen came from a Quaker background and took me once in San Francisco to a Quaker meeting house where we sat as traditional with the Quakers in a circle of silence waiting for someone to speak. The Quakers have been pacifists for two hundred years. Many were also abolitionists and suffragettes. Below is her poem about her family's background

In Circled Silence by Carol Tarlen

In circled silence
My people came
Quiet colors, Quaker hats
In peaceful witness
They plowed their light and
Built a freedom train that
Stretched in secret from
Basement to hayloft to
A slaveless border
Gently lawless
My people came
In circled wagons
My people came
Quilting a pattern across
Yellowed plains and greensprung valleys
Gentle gypsies who peddled
Pots and plows and peace
These children of the Light
Friendly seekers
My people came
In circle chains
My people came
Suffragettes and pacifists
Scorned, beaten, forcefed in prison darkness
Drenching a blinded nation with their
Inward Light
Gentle Warriors
My people came
In silenced circles
My people came
Centuries ago
From a Europe I do not claim
These Children of the Light
They came
In peaceful witness to a
Dark skinned earth
And I am rooted to their light
I am their witness to this
America I cannot deny
I am the sound of their
Circled silence

Friday, May 01, 2009

Today, on this day, when I took, with pay, the day off

Today in honor of May Day a poem by Carol Tarlen


today I slept until the sun eased
under my eyelashes. The office phone
ran and rang. No one answered. ..
I sat in the bistro and sipped absinthe
while Cesar Vallejo strolled past,
his dignity betrayed by the hole
in his pants, and I waved, today

and the dictaphone did not dictate
and the files remained empty
and the boss's coffee cup remained empty
while the ghosts of my ancestors
occupied by chair and threatened all
who disturbed their slumber

today, when I sat in bed, nibbling
croissants and reading the New Yorker
in San Francisco, and I did not make
my daughter's lunch, I did not pay
the PG&E bill, I did not empty the garbage
on my way out the door to catch the bus to
ride the elevator to sat at my desk on time
because today I took the day off

And rain drenched the skins of lepers
and they were healed.
Red flags decorated the doorways
of senior centers, and everyone
received their social
security checks on time.
and I walked the streets at 10
in the morning, praised the sun
in its holiness, led a revolution,
painted my toenails purple,
mediated in solitude,
today, on this day, when I took,
with pay, the day off.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Torture and the English Language

Los Angeles Times April 26, 2009, has as it’s lead front page story “Harsh Tactics Weren’t Analyzed.” What are “harsh tactics”? That’s doublespeak for torture. George Orwell defined doublespeak as language that lies in order to hide difficult truths. So why can’t the Los Angeles Times says “Tortures Weren’t Analyzed.” That’s too truthful and upsetting. Well, torture IS upsetting.

In paragraph eleven the newspaper article finally spells out what the torture victimes suffered: “depriving prisoners of sleep for up to seven days; throwing them up against walls, forcing them into tiny boxes and subjecting them to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding.” But even this description doesn’t fully describe the horror of the tortures used. Hemingway said after World War I the writer must avoid abstractions but write with exact names, colors, sizes. According to Brian Tamanaha, Professor of Law at St. John’s Univeristy, on the blog “Balkanization” on April 19, 2009, the tactics were

1) throwing a prisoner’s head and shoulders against a flexible wall “twenty or thirty times consecutively when the interrogator requires…”’;

2) dousing detainee in constant flow of cold water; 41 degrees for no more than 20 minutes, 50 degrees for no more than 40 minutes, and 59 degrees for no more than 60 minutes;

3) sleep deprivation “may continue to the 70 to 120 hour range, or possibly beyond for the hardest resisters, but in no case exceed the 180 hour time limit.” (The prisoners were kept awake by chaining them in a standing position so that, if they dozed off, they would be awakened by the sense of falling and by the jolt of the weight of their body against the chains.);

4) a maximum of two waterboarding sessions (strapped to the board) a day on a prisoner, each session lasting no longer than two hours; no more than 6 episodes of waterboarding per session; and no single continuous dose of water exceeding 40 seconds;

5) for cramped confinement, “confinement in the larger space [standing room] may last no more than 8 hours at a time for no more than 18 hours a day; for the smaller space [sitting room only], confinement may last no more than two hours."

How about the opening sentence of the Los Angeles Times front page story: “The CIA used an arsenal of severe interrogation techniques on imprisoned Al Qaeda suspects. “ What is “severe interrogation techniques” ? It is, of course, another form of doublespeak for torture: the torturer could throw the person against the wall 30 times at one sitting, douse the person in 41 degree cold water for 20 minutes, sleep deprive the person for eight days, confine them for two hours in a small space, and waterboard twice/day. So a more honest version would be the following: “an arsenal of torture techniques.” An “arsenal” of techniques sounds like metaphorical guns, bombs, weapons as if the writer finally was getting a little truthful in his metaphors.

Calling the victims “imprisoned Al Qaeda suspects” tries to justify that they deserved to be smashed against the walls 30 times. Dilawar, the taxi driver tortured to death at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, was innocent of all connection to Taliban or Al Qaeda. He arrived at Bagram prison on December 5, 2002, and was declared dead on December, 2002. The New York Times reported regarding the day Dilawar died,

On the day of his death, Dilawar had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days. A guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling. "Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying. Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned that most of the interrogators had in fact believed Mr. Dilawar to be an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

We need more facts such as how many people were tortured to death?

Paragraph 5 of the Los Angeles Times article discuss how to experienced interrogator ‘ever took a rigorous systematic review of the various techniques—enhanced or otherwise….” Using “enhanced techniques’ to describe torture is rather like describing a enhanced toothbrush that gives us cleaner teeth. “Enhanced” sounds like its better or cleaner or improved like enhanced detergent that really cleans one’s dishes. I had a friend who was waterboarded.

In paragraph 13 the article says “interrogation approaches” as if throwing someone against a wall again and again is an “approach” as in a approach rather like an approach to dating.

In paragraph 17 the article says, “A U.S. intelligence official who defended CIA interrogation practices” so now torture is obscured by the word “practice’ as if talking about tennis practice or piano practice.

In paragraph 23 the article says “Bush said that ‘alternative’ interrogation methods have been crucial to getting Al Qaeda … to talk.” “Alternative” gives the impression of a softer way such as questions over tea.

In paragraph 21 the reader learns that the “alternative interrogation methods” was not chats over tea but waterboarding and that two Al Qaeda suspects were waterboarded 263 times. In paragraph 23 the article says “the report faulted how agency operatives applied the methods, dumping large quantities of water on prisoners’ faces ….” Now we finally learn what happened. 263 times water was dumped on two prisoners’ faces making them believe they were almost drowning.

So let’s think of exactly what happened in these torture sessions. Let us be upset. Let us not use doublespeak. Let us abandon the vocabulary of “enchanced techniques.” Let us remember Dilawar who had daughter who lost her father.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Los Angeles Times alleges huge fraud which isn't there

The lead article on the front page of the Los Angeles Times is an April 13, 2008, article "Fraud infects state in-home care." The article alleges fraud in the In-Home Supportive Services, a California program in which the state pays wages from $8.00-14.66/hour so that elderly and/or disabled can have in-home health care workers and stay in their homes, which is a lot cheaper than a nursing home. Nursing homes cost $7000-20,000/month, so the state paying $400 to home health care worker for an elderly for disabled people is much much cheaper for the state. That's what the state pays my brother's home health care worker--he's alloted ten hours/week or 40 hours/month at $10/hour or $400.

Despite all the allegations of prosecutors "alarmed by the ease with which people are taking advantage of the program," when you look at the figures, the program is budgeted at $5.42 billion. Sen Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), a member of the committee looking at the costs, said at a hearing recently that the state had recovered in prosecutions "one one-thousandth" of the overall spending, Leno says that since 'we seemed to have misplaced $50 billion in the rebuilding, it is an amazing low figure."

At the end of the news report the LA Times does have both prosecutors and a Sacramaento Grand Jury admit that only a small amount of fraud has been uncovered and "only a small number of cases accepted for prosecution" but still they say there's some huge problem for which they have absolutely no proof.

As for my brother, he has had Parkinson's for ten years and needs a walker to walk forthe past couple years. December, 2007, he had pneumonia and was in the hospital. August 6, 2008, he came down to with neuroeplitic trauma, had a temperature of 107.5 and pneumonia again. He's lucky to have survived such a high temperature. Pneumonia regularly kills Parkinson's patients. My brother did survive the pneumonia, and then went to rehab. He returned home and the In-home State Services alloted him a health care worker for ten hours/week. He has someone come in 5 days/week in the middle of the day who helps him with his food and drugs. He has to take numerous drugs 4 x/day like clockwork or he's paralyzed--can't move and can't walk.

Also my brother is often paralyzed a lot in the evening but the in-home worker has gone home. I think he needs more help from the state, and I hope he gets it. I'd like to help him but I spent all 2008 helping him and my mother who broke her hip, and then I got sick for most of November and December. Besides working my job, I have to take care of my health more my doctor told me, and doctor ordered me to exercise 7 days/week to help with the stress of two very ill relatives. i need to see my mother in her board and care, so I can't help my brother that much.

Also, my brother for the last two weeks has changed medications, always difficult for someone on Parkinson's. A friend who was a nurse in a neurological hospital in London told me that in England when Parkinson's patients change medication, they are hospitalized, but not here in the United States. Instead, my brother was paralyzed many days, and calling the overworked doctors who helped him a lot with his medications. My experience is exactly the opposite of the Los Angeles Times article; my brother has a legitimate claim for more help than he gets. Also, he has a 15-year old daughter, so the more he's helped, the more he can be there for his daughter.

I think that the prosecutors should have more evidence of fraud before they make allegations to the press. Also, the Los Angeles Times lacks the evidence for its headline and shouldn't print such headlines on such weak evidence.I don't want already very ill people to suffer more; if the state cuts this great program the ill and disabled will suffer more. Also IHSS saves the state tens of thousands of dollars, and has probably saved the state more than the fraud than was found. So overall the state has saved money through this program paying for in-home help for elderly and disabled people.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Afghan War Is Bad for Women and Children

Dear President Obama,

I’m writing you to stop the escalation of United States military forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This escalation will be a disaster most of all for the women and children of Afghanistan. What I’d like to address is how the increase in military spending would increase the already present disaster for the Afghan women and children. Your advisers are using as one rationale for this war is United States is helping Afghan women. Your advisers are ignorant. After seven years of United States ousting the Taliban and occupying Afghanistan, the United Nations Children’s Fund and Ministry of Public Health in Afghanistan reports that the country “is second only to Sierra Leone in terms of having the world’s worst maternal and infant mortality rates. Many young mothers and children die of malnutrition-related diseases ….”

According to News Archive of Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), reprint of a March 17, 2009, report a woman in Herat, Afghanistan, tried to kill herself by burning herself and burned 80% of her body, but survived. According to a RAWA news archive March 27 report many Afghan women try to kill themselves: at the “ Ibn-e Sina Emergency Hospital in Kabul more than 600 incidents of suicide attempts have been referred to this hospital during the past 12 months.“ Dr. Abdullah Fahim, spokesman for the Ministry, added, ”Famliy violence, poverty, mental ailment and weak religious beliefs provoke self-murder in Afghanistan .” Islam forbids suicide. After seven years of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, Afghan women are increasingly trying to kill themselves to escape their devastating circumstances. Afghan women suffer from malnutrition, high food prices, drought, lack of electricity, lack of safe water, lack of jobs, domestic violence, rape, and insecurity.

According to March 31, 2009, Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRNI), a news service which is part of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 550,000 Afghan women and children are malnourished and need food aid: “Some 24 percent of lactating women are malnourished, over 19 percent of pregnant women have a poor nutritional status …and about 54 percent of under-five children are stunted, according to a joint survey by UN agencies and the government.” Last July, 2008, a food appeal was made asking for $404 million from international food donors to help the malnourished women and children and 70% of the amount was donated. By March, 2009, the donated food still has not reached the hungry women and children and is scheduled to reach the hungry in May, 2009. The hungry women and children got through the difficult winter without any aid. Oxfam says March 29, 2009, over a ½ million pregnant and lactating women and ½ million children are still starving.

April 3, 2009, INRI reported eleven international non-government organizations in Afghanistan made a report to NATO: ”Much of the international aid to Afghanistan over the past seven years has been spent to achieve military and political objectives ….” OXFAM, one of the NGOs commented, “The agencies recommend a phase-out of militarised aid and a substantial increase in development and humanitarian funding for civilian institutions and organisations,…” In plain words seven years of United States dominating Afghanistan has laid to military aid but leaving the country’s women and children in devastated economic circumstances. For seven years the United States has not helped women and children.

On Democracy Now, a reporter in Afghanistan interviewed Afghans who do not want any U.S. or NATO military escalation. Instead they want economic aid, not more military violence:

Increasing military aid to Afghan will only increase the suffering of Afghan women and children. So President do not send 17,000 more troops. Do not spend over $1 billion for hardened bases in Afghanistan (the annual budget of the Afghanistan government). Do not send in thousands of private security contractors.Instead spend $1 billion on non-military aid to help the Afghan people. As many have suggested, have a peace conference will all the forces within Afghanistan. A leading Taliban commander said after 30 years of war many Taliban are war-weary. Instead have a regional conference of neighboring states and make peace.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Put People First March Londoners Speak to G20 Leaders March 28, 2009

March 28, 2009, 6:03 pm

I'm very cheered to hear about 35,000 marchers in the Put People First March in London March 28, 2009, gathered together to tell G20 leaders meeting this week in the city that Jobs, Justice, and Climate should be the priority of the G20 meetings.
The march was organized by over 100 trade unions, church groups, charities, and environmental groups aimed at speaking to G20 leaders. The photos on the Guardian newspaper website for March 28, 2009, are stunning.

It's good to see English-speaking people use their free speech to articulate what is important to them and to tell G20 leaders the priorities of people on the streets. It was a very peaceful but huge march. The organizers had hoped for 10,000 but 35,000 came.

The London march comes just after this huge but peaceful general strikes in FRances, so both France and England are beacons of hope. Also, people in the French Carribean Island of Guadalupe had a 44-day general strike which they one to improve their wages, another hopeful sign. Amy Goodman had a good report on her show last night on the Guadalupe general strike.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Obama's Policies Are Like Herbert Hoover's

In September, 2008, when Bush’s Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson proposed the first giveaway of $800 billion to the banks I started writing articles against the giveaway as 99 out of 100 U.S. citizens were against the giveaway. Unfortunately, Obama has supported the first giveaway to the banks of $800 billion and then given away TRILLIONS more to the banks and AIG.

Let’s look at figures showing how the U.S. people are doing in the last six months. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said that the overall unemployment rate has risen from 6.0% in the third quarter (May-July) 2008 to 8.1% in February 2009. For blacks, the unemployment rate has risen from 10.7% in May-June 2008 to 13.4% in February 2009. For Hispanics, from 7.8 % in May-June 2008 to 10.9%. In Los Angeles, California, where I live, the Los Angeles Times reported that the overall unemployment in February 2009 for California was 10.5% while in Los Angeles County it is 10.9%.These are the worse unemployment numbers for the U.S since 1982-3.

As for foreclosures, the U.S. Foreclosure Market Report reported in 2008 foreclosures in the United States were a 81% increase over foreclosures in 2007 and 225% increase over foreclosures in 2006. From January 2009 to February 2009 foreclosures increased 6%. The U.S foreclosure rate of February 2009 forclosures increased 30% over February 2008 rates.

Declining real estate prices cause declines in school budgets. In Florida, the huge decline in real estate prices have meant a 20% decline in school budgets, so teachers get laid off. That pattern is appearing nationwide as declining real estate prices mean less funds for school budgets meaning over 400,000% teachers nationwide have gotten layoff notices this spring.

February 17, 2009, Obama’s $787 stimulus package was passed. According to CNN Money February 17, 2009, “The official benchmark estimates from the White House: 3.5 million jobs will be created or saved over the next two years, and over 90% of them will be in the private sector.” So the White House plans the $787 billion stimulus package to generate the federal government hiring a mere 350,000 people over the next 3 years.

Economist such as Mark Zandi, chief economy at Moody’s, disagrees, with White House estimates: “Indeed I expect the economy to lose another 3 million jobs with stimulus but over 4 million without it." So the U.S. economy could shed another 3 million jobs in the next 2-3 years. Most of the Obama stimulus spending on jobs in transportation or construction or updating health records won’t take place until 2010. If Zandi is right, the economy twill shed 3 million jobs throughout 2009 and 2011 while the government hires 350,000 people. That’s s really bleak unemployment outlook.

Obama has not imitated FDR in his economic stimulus program but Herbert Hoover in letting the masses of U.S. citizens lose their jobs , their homes and teachers for their children. FDR, in contrast, ordered in 1933 Harry Hopkins to have the government hire 4 million people; by January, 1934 Hopkins had hired 4 million people on government programs. According to National Review online FDR reduced unemployment from 33% in 1933 to 7% in 1936 to 3% in 1940 to 0.5 % in 1942. Another economist James K. Galbraith says, “The Roosevelt administration reduced unemployment from 25 per cent in 1933 to 9 per cent in 1936.” The federal government from 1934-1940 was the largest employer in the country.

What did all these people working for the federal government do? James Galbraith said that the workers on federal projects “built or renovated 2,500 hospitals, 45,000 schools, 13,000 parks and playgrounds, 7,800 bridges, 700,000 miles of roads, and a thousand airfields. And it employed 50,000 teachers, rebuilt the country's entire rural school system, and hired 3,000 writers, musicians, sculptors and painters, including Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. Obama is not following FDR but in following Hoover in letting millions go unemployed along with a paltry stimulus with a tiny amount of jobs.

What we need now is a program like FDR’s that will hire 3 million people to do exactly what the WPA and CCC did in the 1930s: build bridges, roads, schools, parks, post offices etc. I’m looking for a demonstration to go to in Los Angeles to voice my opposition to Obama’s paltry stimulus and to ask for a jobs program to hire not 350,000 but 3 million in the next six months. Be like FDR! Hire 3 million people now!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Iraq War Started Six Years Ago

I was one of millions who was busy protesting the Iraq War six years ago before it started, so now thinking back all those memories came back. We started the protests in January, 2003, when the federal government rounded up thousands of Muslim men because of alleged violations of immigration rules. Immediately a protest was called at the West Los Angeles federal building the day it rained. The protest was held despite the heavy rain. When I got there hundreds were lined up on Wilshire Building holding up umbrellas, trying to shield each other from the pelting rain. It was an extremely friendly picket line as we all suffered in the rain, all tried to help one another keep dry.

People around Los Angeles neighborhoods were holding Friday evening picket lines, so I joined mine in Silverlake/Los Felix where Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards meet Virgil Avenue. When I got there around six about 50 people stood at the intersection holding up picket signs, and some of the bus drivers saluted as they drove by. I started photographing the anti-war movement that evening. A mother and father brought their two young children--about four and six--gave them picket signs, so all four lined up along Wilshire Boulevard. I returned again to picket the next week.

Then just before the war started millions marched against the Iraq War. Our big march in Los Angeles was through Hollywood, starting at the subway station at Hollywood and Vine. I went with a friend, and by the time we got to Hollywood and Vine we had to wind our way through a big crowd. My friend who spoke Spanish picked up a sign "No mas guerra" no more war. When this huge march of 30,000 started down Hollywood Boulevard it was just amazing as this was the largest march I had even been on and we took over the whole large boulevard for blocks on blocks. The hit of the march was the Butoh dance troup "Corpus delecti" all in white rags and white power who came at the end dancing the corpse or showing in their dance the sufferings of the dyinng in this war we hoped to stop. We believed for a moment with all those millions marching we really could stop the tide of war.

Bush kept on his juggernaut for war, so then with war only days way I participated in the candlelight vigils held around the world. Our candlelight vigil was at Echo Park Lake and about 200 showed up at 7:00 holding candles as we marched around the dark lake. Still I guess we hoped upon hope we could still despite all the evidence stop this war if kept marching if we kept marching. After we finished circling the small lake, we milled around . Pastor David Farley from the Echo Park Methodist Church was there with his flock. Some left their candles on the stop to burn through the night.

Bush started bombing on March 19, 2003, so I went with my camera to the West Los Angeles federal building for the protest . In big events it is inevitable that there will be a protest at the federal bulding. Sure enough, hundreds were there on all sides of the huge intersection holding up anti-war picket signs along with hundreds of police. I was on the northwest corner with my camera watching UCLA students march into the middle of the intersection and sit down against the war. I didn't have a telephoto lens, couldn't get a good shot in the dusk so I just watch the police march up to the sitting students and arrest them. US planes were bombing Iraq. We had failed to stop this war. All I had left was a lot of photos, a lot of memories, a lot of sadness.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

In Memory of Kalman Bloch

Thursday night I heard that my family's friend Kalman Bloch has just died. Kalman was partner of my mother's close friend Molly Zucker. Kalman is a classical clarinet player. Though over ninety, Kalman had been active playing his clarinet in public performances, social gatherings, and family gatherings. He was like a musical uncle to me.

My family is not musical and nobody plays an instrument. I grew up a rock 'n roller, listening only a little to classical music. Kalman once told me that musicians put all their emotions into playing classical music. I was stunned, thinking that classical music was just like rock 'n roll: emotions put into sounds. Another time Kalman played a Brahms dance. I had always thought Brahms the most boring of composers, but because it was Kalman, I actually listened to the lively dance music--Kalman helped me to enjoy Brahms for the first time.

I remember going about 10 years ago with my mother to hear Kalman play at the anniversary of Skylight bookstore. I, the rock 'n roller, listented with great joy to Kalman play in a clarinet quartet all these classical clarinet pieces. I didn't even know that the clarinet had all this music. Another time I went with my mother to Kalman's house for Thanksgiving. The dinner was excellent, but even better than the food was Kalman after dinner begin to play Hebraic melodies. Then his daughter Michele, who played in the Los Angeles Philarmonic, started spinning Gershwin out of her clarinet. I felt this was one of my greatest Thanksgivings listening to the two of them play. I invited Kalman to my garden birthday party once, and he played a Debussy piece which he dedicated to me. I was very touched because nobody had ever dedicated a music piece to me before.

I often tell my students what I call the Kalman Bloch story he told us once over dinner. In the depths of the Depression in 1936 he was studying clarinet in New York with Simeon Bellison, the first clarinetist of the New York Philarmonic. He was soon going to be needing a job, and thought it was impossible to get a job playing music, so he should start studying to be a dentist. Even in the Depression people needed dentists. His teacher told him to send out 100 resumes to orchestras all over the United States, which he did. He only heard back from one: the Los Angeles Philarmonic gave him an audition. Being poor he couldn't afford to travel to Los Angeles, but then he got lucky. His brother had gone to Los Angeles where he had gotten engaged to a young woman. Soon his brother would have a L.A. wedding, so his family decided to all go to the wedding. He wrote the Los Angeles Philarmonic to ask for his audition. In Los Angeles, he did the audition, was hired, and started in 1937.

He taught clarinet to many students including his daughter Michele who became co-principal clarinetist of the Los Angeles Philarmonic. So the Block family for 70 years has been working for this orchestra. I tell my students this because if there was a job for Kalman in 1937, there is a job for you now!

Kalman has enriched so many lives with his music. He will be missed.

Here is a snippet of Kalman playing Glick's "Circle Dance" and Hebraic melodies from Garageband;

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

UC Berkeley physical education classes cut

Last weekend in Berkeley I heard that that jobs of physical education instructors at UC Berkeley are under attack. The Daily Californian, the student newspaper, said, "next fall, the program is set to lose half of its courses and reduce most of its faculty to half-time, prompting backlash from instructors and students."

Students started a letter writing campaign to protest the cuts, are circulating a petition, and also have started a Facebook group. Also, an Associated Student's bill criticizing the cuts was introduced to the student government.

Sue Johannesen, a fitness instructor, said 4,300s students tried to sign up for physical education classes but were rejected "due to limited capacity of the classes." Dance instructor Jason Britton said "the cut will slash his classes-- and perhaps his income--in half may force him to look for outside work."

Mark Schlissel, Dean of the Division of Biological Sciences, heads the division overseeing physical education. After the administration imposed $250,000 cuts to the Division of Biological Sciences, Dean Schlissel chose to cut physical education because the chancellor "recommended that academic programs be spared." UC Berkeley has been cut this year "$65-75 million."

At the same time Chancellor Birgeneau is encouraging students to attend"Mind-Body Week" March 9-16 to participate in lectures, activities, and workshops that improve the mind and body. Surely, physical education classes are part of part of improving the mind and body that Chancellor Birgeneau thinks are so important.

When I went to UC Berkeley, I took Advanced Modern Dance all four years, and the classes were my salvation. I felt encouraged by these dance classes more than any other classes that I took, and started me on a lifetime of always exercising, so the dance classes had a lasting impact on my life. I think that the physical education classes are utterly necessary and shouldn't be cut and that all the instructors should work full-time.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Los Angeles Bike Summit

Los Angeles is having a bike summit this weekend. It's hard biking in Los Angeles and bicyclers need more rights. Also, there are too many cars and the city has the worst traffic in the nation. Here's the information;

Los Angeles Bike Summit:

Bike Summit LA Home - Bike Summit LAL.A. BIKE SUMMIT
Saturday March 7, 2009 from 9am to 4pm
Los Angeles Trade Tech College


Please Pre-Register by Monday February 23rd to reserve lunch

The Bike Summit says, "In Southern California, the growth and interest in bike riding and bike advocacy has increased to the point that the movement could significantly benefit from the formation of a common agenda. Bike organizations, including policy and grass roots groups, need to present a stronger, more unified front and a shared vision by combining communication, outreach, research and educational resources. This partnership will help to not only strengthen the presence of biking as an alternative to driving and a source of physical activity, but will help to create a more livable and sustainable region.

The Los Angeles Bike Summit is the next step to facilitate this discussion and collaboration of bike organizations, support groups, and advocates."

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Blues for Central Avenue

Last night I saw Will Manus's play Blues for Central Avenue, which celebrates Los Angeles's famous Central Avenue after World War II, at Write Act Repertory Theater, 6128 Yucca Ave, Hollywood. During the 1930s and early 1940s Los Angeles was a Jim Crow town, with severe housing segration written into housing convenants all over the city and with blacks confined to the Southcentral ghetto. African-Americans created on Central Avenue the hottest night life in Los Angeles with jazz clubs, restaurants, hotels that regularly hosted Duke Ellington, Count Basie, T-Bone Walker, and Lionel Hampton as well as birthed the next generation of jazz greats like Charlie Mingus. By the late 1930s and 1940s whites including Hollywood elite would go to the Central Avenue clubs just as some whites in 1920s New York went uptown to the Harlem clubs. The most original music out of Los Angeles has for decades come from Southcentral.

The playwright Willard Manus in the notes said he learned about Central Avenue listening to Johnny Otis's radio show in the early 1980s where Otis, himself a wonderful musician, had on his radio program "such Central Avenue stalwarts as artist Cal Bailey, sax player Buddy Collete, trumpeter Dootsie Williams, vocalist Caroline Harlson, and dancer Clarence 'Frenchy' Laundry talk about their experience" on Central Avenue. The play's director Ken Cosby also reminesces in the notes that after he graduated high school in 1989 he jammed with his idol Jimmy Knepper, who had been Charlie Mingus' s trombonist. The notes also has reproduction wonderful paintings by Rich Hyman of musicians playing in Central Avenue. African-American artists in Los Angeles through this play are paying homage to their past and to our past.

The play is not caught up nostalgia for the past but focuses on the crucial turning point for Central Avenue right after World War II. Then black servicemen returned to Central Avenue like the play's hero Lowell Swift, a wounded veteran, returns with the dream of founding a recording company to record new Central Avenue singers. Black woman like the heroine Roberta Youngblood had war jobs making good money but were laid off as she complains to Lowell so the jobs could go to returning veterans. Zoot suits are still in fashion, as the hero has to shed his army clothes for a zoot suit. Roberta enters the singing contest at Club Alabam and wows the audience, leading to Lowell making her first record as these characters rush for their dreams in post-war Los Angeles. Wallace Demaaria acts wonderfully as Lowell Swift showing his charm, his dreams, his persuasiveness, his love for Roberta, and his frustration that his record company has no distribution so he can't pay his singer anything. A Hollywood producer and his entourage come to the club, hear Roberta, and the producer convince her to leave Central Avenue to go uptown to be in the movies, leaving Lowell devasted.

The play's bittersweet climax is when one character rushes in saying the courts outlawed Jim Crow housing convenants allowing blacks for the first time the right to buy or rent any property anywhere in Southern California. The play's characters celebrate this great victory, now having even bigger dreams of going to live in rich white neighborhoods. Yet this moment of triumph is bittersweet as Lowell Swift says in a great monologue to the audience. In Central Avenue and Southcentral blacks had built their own clubs, hotels, restaurants, nightlife, newspapers, and insurance companies, but by 1955 Central Avenue would end as blacks moved out over the city. The whole nightlife scene would vanish. The play celebrates the Last Hurrah for Central Avenue in the last 1940s and early 1950s and illuminates why and how the Black Broadway of Los Angeles ended.

Blues for Central Avenue

Write Act Repertory Theater

6128 Yucca, Hollywood, 323-469-3113

Run through March 7.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The War Economy, the MLA, and My Brother Who Has Parkinson’s

In the late 1970s I was involved in the anti-nuclear movement, wanting to work to reduce military budgets after the Vietnam War was over. I read Seymour Melman who predicted in that huge military budgets of what Melman called The Permanent War Economy would bankrupt the two Superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States. Melman predicted that the two Superpowers, putting most of their resources in military hardware, would have declining education and health services until they bankrupted themselves. Few people in the Superpowers were listening to Melman and his small groups of followers in 1980.

In the late 1980s the Soviet Union had declining health for its population, was bankrupt, and finally collapsed, with whole provinces spinning off into independent states. Melman’s prophecies about Superpower #1 going bankrupt was right.

In 1980 the United States began the 1980 Regan military buildup and has had ever increasing military budgets along with declining wages and declining health care. I’ve very concerned with health care since my brother got Parkinson’s in 1998. At that time the United States was at peace; Congress had allocated for the first time $100 million for research in Parkinson’s. Researchers told my brother with five-ten years there would be big breakthroughs in Parkinson’s treatment or even a cure. In 2003 the Iraq War stated. I knew immediately that the money wouldn’t be spent on research and that there would be no big breakthroughs in treatment in this disease.

December 2003 my brother, a dedicated father who lived ½ time with his 10-year old daughter, was given by a Safeway pharmacist a wrong medication, overdosed, and nearly died. First, he went to the hospital in rural California which misdiagnosed him twice. Locals make jokes that you go to this hospital to die. He survived because he was helicoptered 50 miles away to the nearest trauma center.

I flew up to visit him in the hospital, and then went to the MLA convention in San Diego. I am member of the Radical Caucus of the Modern Language Association, the largest association of professors in languages—English and other languages. Pat Keeton and I were going to present to the MLA Delegates Assembly our Radical Caucus resolution: the MLA should come out against the Iraq War and ask the money spent not on war but instead on health and education.

Before you present a resolution the MLA, you document it. Keeton and I presented 60 pp of documentation showing decline of public spending of higher education from 1980-2003 (13% decline in state spending on higher education; 1% decline in federal spending = 14% in spending). We also showed statistics on U.S. health as measured by infant mortality and how long men and women live comparing the U.S. versus other countries. In 2003 U.S. has worse health statistics than any other industrialized nation . We were about the same in our health statistics as Costa Rica.

I show up at the MLA to help argue for our resolution. The Delegates Assembly, the Congress of the MLA, approves our anti-war resolution. Hurrah. A few months later the Executive Committee of the MLA throws out the resolution. They say our documentation hadn’t proven that the Iraq War spending caused cuts in health and education spending. They said that such a resolution was not sanctioned by the MLA Constitution and was out of bounds.

My brothers out of the rehab hospital, gets out of a board and care and struggles on insufficient funds to take care of himself, but is never able to live again ½ time with his daughter. He gets pneumonia in winter 2007. He goes to the small rural hospital which was unable to diagnose pneumonia and is again saved because he was helicoptered out to the nearest city hospital. He gets pneumonia in summer 2008 and nearly dies. He makes it through both times. In fall 2008 Joseph Stiglitz, Noble Laureate economist, publishes a book The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict saying the spending on the Iraq War is ruining our economy, There have been no breakthroughs in Parkinson’s research—I was right about that. Many Parkinson’s patients die from pneumonia.

Now it’s not just some marginalized peaceniks saying this but a leading U.S. economist. Now 50 million U.S. citizens have no health insurance and another 50 million had such inadequate insurance that they forego getting treatment regularly. That’s 1 in 3 Americans lack health insurance and adequate health care. Most rural health care is pathetic. Melman was right in 1980! Oh yeah, Melman thinks deindustrialization of the United States along with our Permanent War Economy has helped bankrupt our country. Our Permanent War Economy has led the U.S. to bankruptcy and led to suffering from disease of our citizens and our death for many.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Laying Off Teachers/Throwing Away Students

Laying Off Teachers/Throwing Away Students
by Julia Stein

February 18, 2009, 9:40 am

Throughout the fall of 2007 and winter of 2008 I've been hearing stories of teachers being laid off in Orange County, Bay Area, Sacramento, Florida, and of small groups of trade unionists fighting to save teachers jobs. I teach at a junior college, and only now this spring have a small number of classes been cut at my junior college for the first time.

Still I wasn't aware of how many teachers were threatened with losing their jobs nationally until I read Nicholas D. Kristoff's editorial "Our Greatest National Shame" last Sunday, Feburary 15 in the New York Times who quotes a University of Washinton study that "the recession would lead to cuts of 574,000 school jobs without a stimulus." In the stimulus package just passed through Congress was $100 billion toward education, so this stimulus will save some of this 574,000 endangered jobs. Probably not all jobs will be saved. How many teachers jobs will be cut in 2008? I have no idea.

I've been teaching as an adjunct in higher education, and have survived layoffs in my job four times. Since I started teaching in 1990, I was just hired in time to face the layoffs in the recession of the early 1990s where the ESL program in a Southcentral Los Angeles junior college I was teaching in was threatened to be totally cut three times. Three times we instructors and students saved the program. I used these experiences to write a series of poems about teaching during cutbacks and layoffs in my last published book of poetry Walker Woman.

After the book was published, I got a better teaching job and sincerely hoped my period of fearing for my job was over. I didn't want the poems to be prophetic of teacher job cuts in the future. No way.

No such luck. In 2003 California had another budget emergency. Santa Monica College, where I now was teaching, had a president in spring 2003 who wanted to cut 400 teachers, staff, and downsize the college 6,000 students. The president also wanted to end the vocational programs like auto repair, tourism, fire safety for future firemen, or criminology for future policemen through which students got job in Santa Monica. The faculty and staff fought for months to save the jobs and save the vocational programs but we lost.

I was one of the lucky ones who kept my job but I had a friends who were laid off. The faculty and staff both had votes of no confidence in the president where we voted 8 to 1 no confidence. After the cutbacks I had discussions with students who said their friends who wanted to take vocational educational classes which had been cut were sitting at home looking for jobs or waiting until they were old enough to get jobs as policemen or firemen.

About a year and a half later our president voluntarily left and we got a much better president. I noticed that with the better president at my college and more amicable relations between faculty and administration we faculty turned our energy to developing new curriculum including a new class on California literature in our English Department--that's where we should be putting our energy. Again, I hoped never to see such layoffs again.

Nowe we face massive national layoffs of teachers. Yes, the federal stimulus package will help but still many teaching jobs have already be lost and more teachers will lose their jobs in 2008. We should have discussions on how to save teaching jobs. Of course. We should talk to our legislators. Of course.

We should remember the 1930s. Alfred Hayes published a wonderful poem in 1934 "In a Coffee Pot" about the young people who had no future at that time:

The bright boys, where are they now?

Fernando ... the school's big brain

He's a bus boy in the eat-quick joint

At seven per week twelve hours a day.

His eyes are filled with my own pain.

His life like mine is thrown away.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Reading 1930s Literature, Watching 1930s films, Looking at 1930s Photos

If one wanted to look at 1930s culture, a good way to start would be to watch two films:

1. Tim Robbins' The Cradle Will Rock is a fun account of the government's failed attempt to censor Mark Blitzstein's musical- everybody shows up in the film from Diego Rivera to Orson Wells to Rockerfeller

2. John Ford's Grapes of Wrath- Ford was a great American film director and this film is an excellent rendition of the novel.

As for poetry, Carey Nelson's wonderful Anthology of Modern American Poetry included such poets as Genevieve Taggard, Joseph Freeman, Lucia Trent, Sterling A. Brown, Kenneth Fearing, Langston Hughes, John Beecher, Kay boyle, Joseph Kalar, Richard Wright, Edwin Rolfe, Sol Funarof, Tillie Lerner Olsen, and Muriel Rukeyster. To me, the three most important 1930s poets are Langston Hughes, Muirel Rukeyser's US 1 with its great poem "Book of the Dead" about silicosis lung disease among West Virginia miners, and Kenneth Patchen.

Any look at 1930s culture should include photographers such as Dorthea Lange and Walker Evans, especially the photos from the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men written by James Agree.

For a good anthology , Paul Lauter's Heath Anthology of American Literature Modern Period 1910-1946 Volume D 6th edition has an excellention selection of poets and fiction. The book has "A Sheaf of Political Poetry in the Modern Period" including Joseph Kalar, Kenneth Fearing, Alfred Hayes, Tillier Lerner Olson, Kay Boyle Langston Hughes, Lola Ridge, Edwin Rolfe and Genevive Taggard. The fiction includes a selection from Michael Gold's Jews Without Money, John Dos Passos' USA, Albert Maltz's short story "The Happiest Man on Earth," and Meridel LeSueur's "Women on the Breadlines," an excerpt from Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, two Richard Wright short stories, and an excerpt from Pietro Di Donato's Christ in Concrete, one of the great works of Italian-American literature. The book also includes the 1930s most popular play Clifford Odet's "Waiting for Left," which was performed all over the country in union halls and community centers. Students can perform it in a classroom in about an hour and a half.

If one was interested in United States women writers of the 1930s, look at Charlotte Nekola and Paula Rabinowitz's excellent Writing Red: An Anthology of American Women Writers, 1930-1940. The book has three sections: fiction, poetry, and reportage, theory, and analysis. The book argues that the 1930s was a period of great growth for women's writings as women in the 1930s no longer just wrote about domestic issues. The female reporters like their male colleagues covered strikes, wars, revolutions. During the 1930s women made great strides as journalists, covering the world: Josephine Herbst reported from Cuba; Agnes Smedley from China; Tillie Olsen on the San FRancisco general strike; and Elaine Ellis on "Women of the Cotton Fields."

A hard-to-find but wonderful anthology is Jack Salzman's Years of Protest: A Collection of American Writings of the 1930s (1967, Bobbs-Merril Educational Publishers). The book includes a great range of 1930s poets, fiction writers and critics who included social or political issues in their writing in Part I: Alfred Hayes, Erskine Caldwell, Steinbeck, Woody Guthrie, James Agree, Dos Passos, Edmund Wilson, Clifford Odets, Hemingway, Auden and even Ezra pound. Part II titled the "Social Muse" includes argument by left, center, and right literary critics of the 1930s including Michael Gold, Archibeld MacLeish, John Crowe Ransom, James T. Farrel, and Malcolm Crowley. The last section "Blazing Sun" includes 1930s writers who avoided politics such as Henry Miller, Robins Jefferson, William Saroyan, Daniel Fuchs, Nathanel West, William Saroyan, and Henry Roth. Hopefully a publisher should reprint this excellent anthology.

For teaching an Introduction to Literature class, the anthology Understanding Literature edited by Walter Kalaidjian et al has a good selection "Critical Perspectives: A Casebook on Poetry and social Activism Between the Wars" including poets Kenneth Fearing, Langston Hughes, Alfred Hayes, Tillie Olsen, Genevieve Taggard, Edwin Rolfe, Mureil Rukeyser, and Joseph Kalar. The anthology also does a good introduction to postmodernist theories good for freshman students.

Two other films:

1. Scarface (1932) with Paul Muni starring, Howard Hawks direction, and screenplay by Ben Hecht-one of the very best on the 1930s gangster films

2. Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (1936)- Chaplin's wonderful comedy about the assembly line

Reading 1930s literature and looking at 1930s film can remind ourselves that despire the Great Depresion American fiction writers, poets, playrights, critics, filmmakers, and photgraphers did brilliant innovative work. Life carried on.

Anybody else have any ideas about favorite 1930s writers? films? photogrpahers?

Friday, February 13, 2009

I Was a Writer for the Government!

In 1980 I got a job as a writer on an oral history unit of CETA (Comprehensive Education Training Act). The Federal government during the really bad recession in the 1970s established CETA, which was a revival of the WPA of the 1930s. Both the WPA and CETA gave jobs in a variety of fields and job training including jobs for writers, artists, and performers. In the 1930s WPA was the biggest employer in the United States.

My oral history project was called American Profiles. We were housed in Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley and were part of American Dance Theater, which was a folk dance group in CETA directed by Joyce Aimee. We were supposed to interview senior citizens who had lived a long time in Los Angeles about their lives to gather information about Los Angeles history from 1900-1980. I was told that one could have the job for eighteen months, and the previous writers had done oral histories of Los Angeles seniors downtown and Culver City but not the San Fernando Valley, so we were supposed to find people to interview in the Valley.

Actually, this was a great job. At first we read histories of Los Angeles (though living in L.A. since I was a baby I didn't know Los Angeles had a history!). I read Carey McWilliams great history about the region "Southern California: An Island in the Sun." I read Robert Gottlieb's and Irene Wolt's "Thinking Big," a great history of the Los Angeles Times newspaper, which had dominated Los Angeles for nearly a 100 years. My whole view of my hometown was transformed! The only available histories of the San Fernando Valley were a couple short, superficial books, but I read those too.

In one of these books I saw a photograph of the Neggens family; the caption said that the Neggens were one of the first families to farm in Northridge circa 1910. After Los Angeles city fathers brought the water into Los Angeles first through the San Fernando Valley, the owners of large parcels of Valley property broke down the property into smaller parcels and sold off family farms. In the Neggens photo was a father, mother, and bunch of little kids. I figured one of the little kids was about 6 in 1910 he would be 76 in 1980. I looked in the phone book for Northridge, found a Menton Neggens, called. Yes, he had been a child in the photo. I interviewed him about growing up in a family farm 1910-1930, and then learned about his long career in the LAPD in the Valley.

I interviewed Abe Maymudes who had been an immigrant Jewish radical organizer in Boyle Heights in the 1930s-1940s and then a chicken farmer in Canoga Park in the 1950s. I interviewed Marion and Lucille Johnson whose grandparents, father, and uncle had homesteaded in the 1880s in the Big Tujunga canyon area of northeast Valley and who had grown up on a small farm in Big Tujunga canyon. I interviewed Robert Rowley, who father owned the first store in Sunland in the northeast Valley when Sunland was dirt farmers. I was the only one in my unit interviewing children of the farm families in the Valley. I was the only one I know about who interviewed these farmers in the Valley. By the 1940s developers were buying up the farmers, building suburban tract homes, and destroying all the farm life. I interviewed the last generation who remembered these small family farms which by 1980 had completely vanished.

As we were doing our research, interviews, and editing, President Regan was elected and one of his first acts was to end the CETA program. We were told instead of eighteen months we had been promised we would only have the job for 6 months, and had a month or two to finish up our interviews. I had published parts of my Maymudes interview in the "Big Valley" magazine. We could have published more if our program wasn't ended. Our director and editor made plans for all the oral histories to be housed in California State College Northridge archives and also in the Sunland-Tujunga library. As far as I know they are still there. We were pressed to finish editing down our interviews and our project of three writers, one editor, and a photographer produced a 249 page volume titled "Valley Portraits: The Living Past" which has ll interviews detailing history of all areas of the San Fernando Valley. Our publication was Volume III of our oral histories.

This job gave me a lasting fascination for history of Los Angeles. I kept on learning and read Los Angeles poetry and literature. I hiked through Los Angeles and learned the geology and botany of the area. When I begin teaching at Santa Monica College, I used my background in Southern Californian history to develop new English curriculum. I made out a list of 100 historical sites around Los Angeles and had my students research one site for a research paper as I was teaching the research paper. Some of my students did brilliant original research learning about buildings in their neighborhood for the first time. A couple years ago I was in the library and picked up a new history of San Fernando Valley, a much better history. Low and behold the author quoted my interview with Menton Neggens. I think it was important to interview the people we did and catch their history because they died.

The original WPA writers interview elderly people who had been slaves, and you can still read these interviews in the Library of Congress. Later historians took these WPA interviews and published books on African-American history. We in Los Angeles also interviewed elderly people capturing their history and helping later historians understand the history of Southern California. Without these two programs an important part of the history of the American people would be lost. The WPA Writers/artists Program should be revived as it made invaluable contributions to American culture.