27 April, 2007

Take Back the Blog!

The only thing in my mail cubby was a small piece of white paper, folded in half. I reached in and could see the dark ink of the handwritten not through the paper. I unfolded the paper and knew something was not quite right. In jagged handwriting dug deep into the fiber of the paper somewhat had left me a clear message.

"You f***ing c***. Keep you f***ing ugly pie hole shut. Shut your ugly f***ing face....You better watch the f*** out. Watch you f***ing back. If you don't keep that ugly c*** of a mouth shut I will slit you f***ing throat."

The note rambled on calling me all sorts of things and threatening me again and again to keep my mouth shut. I had obviously made an impression. I didn't know what to do. I just stared at the paper and at the letters scrawled angrily in black across the page. I stood in the student lounge, other students bustling around me, holding this note in my hand, and suddenly realized I was shaking. It wasn't the name calling. It was the threat of physical violence; this was completely foreign to me. I couldn't fathom what I'd done or to whom; couldn't think of anybody I had made this angry.

It was 1993 and I was in the second semester of my freshman year at college. I was attending Prescott College, a small liberal arts school with a reputation as a hippy school. As a freshman, I had been assigned to a peer group with five other new students and a faculty adviser. My group happened to be all guys and I took the note to our next meeting. Their overwhelming righteous indignation over it was somewhat comforting. They asked what if I wanted to take the issue to the administration; where I wanted to take it; said I had to take it to somebody because it was unacceptable. Ultimately I just let it go, but maybe I never really did if it's still that vivid all these years later.

This was pre-Internet (for most of us). I had never even heard of email at this point; wouldn't send my first for another year; my first blog post would come over ten years later. Now you can reach out and threaten somebody for what they say with even greater ease and anonymity. The mounting emotional and physical threats against certain female bloggers, often sexual in nature, are unacceptable. Period. Disagree with me. Debate me. Hate me. Fine. The people making these threats and worse, forcing some bloggers to shut down, have crossed a line. None of us should let things like this slide, whether it's a handwritten note or an organized campaign of intimidation. We all need to rally around these bloggers, these voices; we need to speak up ourselves and fight back.

Be sure to check out some of the other posts in the swarm, such as Blue Gal's, WebWeaver's, Netzkultur (in German), Essential Estrogen, Ladyfest Romania (English/Romanian), Clipped Wings, even the men are getting in on it. I look forward to reading the other posts throughout the day as they pop up.


Don't be shy, please

Just a note about commenting. I know there are folks looking at this site now and then. I would be delusional to say I have the world's best site and doubly delusional to claim I am the definitive authority on things. I would hope that if you are out there and you agree/disagree with me, like/hate a photo, want to discuss or know more, have a good question, or just want to say "Salaam" that you will leave a comment. For those of you for whom English is not your language, feel free to leave me a note in your language. I know enough people that can help translate for me.

And I would love to know what some of you are creating out there. I received a positive comment the other day from a person with an awesome Italian cooking blog in Italian; the pictures left me very hungry and the rest will get translated by a friend from Milan.

So, welcome. This site was begun in the hope that I might foster some discoveries and dialogues; in that sense I hope to make it yours as much as mine.


26 April, 2007

More Syria photos

These are some photos I shot in late spring of 2006 for FIRDOS, a Syrian NGO, in four villages around the city of Homs. The schools were celebrating the end of the school year and their completion of community development projects the students selected, designed, and implemented in their villages. One school focused on protecting trees and the environment, another on an anti-smoking campaign. Officials from the education ministry, the regional government, and FIRDOS visited the four villages to celebrate the successes of the students projects. The joy of these celebrations was overwhelming. The welcome I received from the residents I met and spoke with was remarkable.

Universal constant: if you have a camera, the kids will find you. These guys refused to let me get in the car without one last photo.

This soldier was awesome to watch; huge smile and infectious groove. He reminded me of that expression, "dance as if no one is watching."

My role model for growing old. I did not see him sit down the whole time we were there.

The little girl in the middle stuck her tongue out just as I took the photo. She seemed quite proud about cracking me up.

Watch Buying the War Online

For those of you who are unable to watch Bill Moyer's new documentary Buying the War on television the entire program is available free online. I am thrilled, since our local PBS affiliate buried it at 2:30pm on Sunday. Again, I highly suggest you watch it one way or the other.


"Affordable" Housing Up In Flames

I was saddened to read in this morning's Miami Herald that Umoja Village, the shanty town erected six months ago in the Liberty City neighborhood as a form of protest, burned to the ground last night. These were people unable to afford average rents of $1200, ridiculous home prices for the shoddiest of structures, not to mention hurricane-influenced homeowners insurance rates and outrageous property taxes. The fire, started by a burning candle left unattended, displaced 44 residents. Residents of Umoja voted on their issues, grew and tended gardens, and started a library with books donated from local students. They refuse to leave the site for fear City of Miami officials will seize the land and bar them from rebuilding. They say they will rebuild and continue their efforts to press for affordable housing and government accountability on housing issues. I truly hope they will.

25 April, 2007

Baraka for Barack

So, I recently attended a rally for Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama. He is the young Senator from Illinois who is setting fires beneath many jaded Americans and spreading hope that we, as a country, can live up to our ideals. I am young enough to have missed the 1960s, but to listen to people talk about why this man either has their support or is tipping them in his favor I am reminded of newsreel footage of supporters of Robert Kennedy during his tragic campaign.

For those of your overseas or who simply aren't up on American politics (unfortunately a whole lot of registered voters), Obama is the bi-racial son of an American mother and a Kenyan father. He's written a great book about his life and struggles with identity. Some people believe, thanks to the idiots at the news networks often substituting "Osama" for "Obama", he is Muslim, which he's not. I have heard more than one nervous call to C-Span or whispered question put to me about this. These are the same fools that still can't deal with Rep. Keith Ellison's election to US Congress and continue to go nuts about his use of Thomas Jefferson's Quran in his private swearing in ceremony. In other words, no friends of mine or, in my opinion, this country. I digress....

Our rally drew 20,000 people (later reported to be his largest so far) to a local college campus despite threats of thunderstorms. People streamed through the streets of downtown towards the grassy expanse. Students, elderly, all races and at least several creeds (including the young Muslima standing near me and the Quaker that brought me), and people in various military uniforms. The latter was interesting in light of Sen. Obama's original NO vote on the war and continued criticism; you can lead a recruit through basic, but you can't stop him/her from thinking for themselves (thankfully). My friends attended a rally for Bill Clinton in the heart of his first campaign and said it was nowhere near as large as the crowd we stood in the middle of. The local paper later said Clinton drew about 10,ooo and Bush the Younger only drew 2,200 to a rally in a nearby town in 2000.

As is often the case at one of these things, everything was off schedule. A young woman from the campus campaign for Obama tried diligently to get us roused after an hour and a half wait. I will say the selection of music being blasted over the sound system was better, I suspect, than what you might hear at a Republican rally; all of it could have made it to my iPod and some already resides there.

The first to speak that day was Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, one of the greats from the movement for civil rights in this country. He asked us to bow our heads and join hands; every single face turned to the earth as a stunning quiet rolled across the crowd. Even the woman who insisted on jabbering away uselessly on her mobile through his remarks lowered her voice. He voice was like two strong arms reach out around us, encircling the crowd and drawing us together. Dr. Lowery spoke eloquently and mournfully of the state this country is in and what those of us in the crowd are seeking. He called Sen. Obama a "voice crying out in the political wilderness". Dr. Lowery moved many of us to tears with his message. I do not believe you find many men like that these days.

Sen. Obama took the stage and I can tell you the man gathers cheers as though he has already won the election. He is, indeed, a rock star. He is also a phenomenal speaker. I read that he is one of the few politicians in this country who writes his own speeches. I also heard a political commentator note that he is one of the few politicians whose speeches are typically less effective when written by others.

He made a lot of promises: end the war, open dialogues with those our current government has been unwilling to budge on, make the country energy independent, make America what it should be. It was eloquent, hopeful, and inspiring. I appreciated his reminder that nobody, not even he, can do what need to be done on their own. He called for people to get involved and take action. I am hoping to hear a more well-rounded environmental platform from him; his energy plan is focused on higher fuel efficiency for cars, which is good, but not the end-all-be-all in that discussion. I will admit, I walked away from the rally riding quite a buzz. Hope is infectious. However, it's still early and I am doing my homework carefully before picking a suitor.

I like him. I also like New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Unfortunately, Gov. Richardson seems to be getting lost in the shuffle as the media helps whip up the Obama vs. Clinton frenzy; pretty much presenting them as the only candidates. Maybe they throw in a mention about former Sen. John Edwards, but the spotlight is already squarely on Senators Clinton and Obama. I think this is unfortunate; not because the two candidates are unworthy, but because it's still early. This will be one of the most crucial elections in our history and the voters deserve the opportunity to hear from each of the candidates at this point.

Be a citizen; go do your homework and decide for yourself.

24 April, 2007

So much to be sad about

I folded myself into the narrow, clear Plexiglas lined cubicle for two and logged into my email. Sitting in stations like this draws my eyesight into a sharply focused tunnel vision that renders those around you only blurs of a variety of colors. This cafe was one of many that lined each storefront along the abbreviated street that began with the Syrian immigration and passport office at the corner, near the law and fine arts schools.

Out of the corner of my eye I registered someone new sitting down heavily in the seat next to me; a man, older, in a dark brown coat. In my periphery I noticed him reach into his coat for something, glance my direction, and hesitate.

"Excuse me," he said in a richly accented but perfect English; the fluidity of a second language that comes from living it not simply studying it. "Do you mind if I smoke?" He smiled generously like a father beneath his thick black moustache. He held a cigarette between his fore and middle fingers; his large hand curled into an loose fist as if to show me.

"Of course," I replied, returning his smile. "I've been here long enough to get used to it."

"Oh, please," he implored with a soft chuckle, "don't ever get used to this." He loosened his grip and wagged the cigarette between the fingers in his fist. "They will be the death of all of us,"he said jerking his chin to indicate the others in the cafe.

I laughed with him. "Thank you," he said simply before turning away slightly to light his cigarette.

"I only smoke when I am unhappy," he said, almost wistfully, "and we Iraqis have so much to
be sad about these days."

He was already engrossed in what was on his computer screen as he said it; the conversation had passed and I was left staring, speechless, at the too bright screen in front of me.

23 April, 2007

The Serious Business of Politics

My home state of Florida is looking for a new tune. Efforts are underway to ditch "Swanee River" by Stephen Foster, which has been the official state song since 1935. It seems most other folks now accept the fact that nobody in their right mind "longs for de old plantation," certainly not the "darkeys" Foster referenced in his lyrics. I will be happy to see it go; no song using the word "darkey" should be a state song any more than Confederate battle flags should fly over state capitols. Period.

Aside from the controversial lyrics and their revisionist history viewpoint - I challenge you to find me the narrative of any former slave who might refer to the plantation as "my good old home" - Foster never set foot in the state and even misspelled the name of the river. Suwannee not Swanee, Steve. Here are my suggestions.....

Most appropriate:
Lawyers, Guns, & Money by Warren Zevon
(because the shit long ago hit the fan)
Actually, the late, great Mr. Zevon has enough fitting songs to provide Florida with an official state CD.....

Deep Down in Florida by Muddy Waters because Muddy even makes Newberry sound cool.
Rednecks by Randy Newman because far too many people in Florida actually DO NOT "know their ass from a hole in the ground", usually those in charge of something important. Note: you do not have to be from the rural South to be a redneck. I have met candidates for the position far and wide.
Ball of Confusion by The Temptations
As much as I love Floridays, Migration, and Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season by Jimmy Buffett, beach bums can't afford to live here anymore and picking one of those seems disingenuous.

Perhaps when the state deals with this issue they can move on to the other pressing issues facing them like pardoning Jim Morrisson. Yes, that Morrisson. The dead one.

TV that is actually GOOD for you!

I am greatly looking forward to watching Bill Moyers' return to public television after an almost two year absence. I am a bit giddy, actually, but I was raised on PBS. Having Bill back is like the return of an old, wise friend.

Be SURE to watch his documentary Buying the War that will air on most PBS stations this Wednesday, April 25 at 9pm. Be sure to check your local listings to be sure; it doesn't air here until Sunday at 2:30 in the afternoon when most folks will likely miss it. After watching a few clips I believe it is not too much to say it may be the most important 90 minutes of TV you will see all year.


Welcome to Miami

When two seemingly endless wars (and a potential pending one) involving US troops cannot get much meaningful coverage in the press, how can we expect to hear about issues within our own country and communities?

According to The Miami Herald, Miami, Florida is the least affordable city in the US, due in part to the astronomical costs of housing. In addition to a lack of affordable housing the very people that are supposed to help those in need - the Miami-Dade Housing Agency - have been so inept, corrupt, and simply useless that US Department of Housing and Urban Development is fighting the county to take over the agency. You can read The Herald's recent staggering series of articles on the whole pathetic mess for yourself. I highly suggest you read the whole thing. It's an honest glimpse at some of the realities of life in the US that exist below the shiny exterior.

Also read this article by Lisa Arthur from today's Herald
A shanty town in the middle of a major US city may be surprising for some. Remember that some of these people could be your colleagues at work, the person sitting next to you at the food court; could even be you one day.

If you click on the heading for this post, you can go directly to the accompanying slide show.

I cannot say it better than the Vietnam veteran at the end of the article, "This shantytown here is Miami's shame. And it is Dade County's shame. And it is America's shame. Right here and right now.''

I grew up in S. Florida. I still love some of what's left of it. The place I grew up is gone; buried under asphalt, concrete, greed, short-sightedness, and apathy. You don't have to be from Miami; this should make us all mad as hell.