Friday, September 30, 2005

Conspiracy Theory

Why is it that on the day you set aside, say yesterday, to prepare for a trip to, say Germany, the universe decides to conspire against you?

I set up a play date for Hayes with one of his best friends; the day before we are to play, we get a call that said friend is sick and we won't be able to play after all. Damn! I was hoping for that time to pack Hayes without his constant input. Oh well...I hope she feels better soon.

I oversleep and don't get the chance to do my morning journaling, which is a vital component to the Artist's Way. I'll just have to get it done later. By the way, this is always a bad sign for me, the get it done later thing.

I decide I had better get myself ready for the day. The toilet is in revolt -- 15 minutes of searching for the plunger and taking care of whatever disagreement the plumbing may have had, I am back to my morning routine.

Hayes and I are late getting to school because I forgot to ask him to pee and he decides he can't possibly wait until we get to school, so we stop at the Starbucks to take care of business. I have stopped feeling guilty that we don't buy anything as the line is far too long to wait in. Hayes realizes that we are late and he won't get time on the playground before the day begins. This causes tears and nail biting. I may loose my mind.

I arrive home with the intention to pack and get an anxious call from my husband -- would I please call the travel agent to get the overnight train tickets? I thought that was taken care of long ago. No, it's not easy to do it online. Fine, no problem, I can do it. Now we have to pay for overnighting them, but nonetheless, they are purchased and will be in hand.

In my packing frenzy I find the zipper of my new toiletry case is stuck -- filled with cotton to be precise, from the copious cotton balls I tried to stow in the upper compartment. My bad. I'll have to fix it when I get back from picking up the boy. I am late now, again. I hate to be late.

Hayes whines all the way home, as I have made the huge mistake of telling him there are some surprises for the trip to Baltimore. He needs to see them now; he must see them now. It seems as if his universe might cave in if he doesn't get the chance. Arrgh!

Finally a break! Hayes decides he will, in fact, take his Leap Pad to Baltimore. Thank heaven; it's the most versatile and fun toy we own.

The last load of laundry does get done and dinner is ready by 5:30 and it seems miraculous that I have packed for Hayes and myself today despite all the craziness surrounding us.

Tomorrow I am getting up on time.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

In Absentia

Much has been going on, but with little time to write. So here are the main lessons that life has been teaching me lately:

1. Don't count your chickens before they hatch; Penrod was on an unfortunate weekend. Sales were extremely low, but there is hope for next year. We shall see...

2. Synchronisity is real -- listen; I have purchased and accordion to alter. I mentioned to my DEAR FRIEND, Amy, what a wonderful thing it was to see someone playing the accordion (we went to a concert together). She told me it would be the coolest thing to alter and that I should do it. The idea appealed to me, but really, I wasn't sure I could do it. Then, I put in my newest Netflix movie (Bread and Tulips) and discovered it was about an accordion playing woman. The next night we sat down to dinner and turned on the music only to hear German accordion music! Sunday I got on eBay and purchased an accordion. I'll be altering it right after we get back from Germany/Paris! Amy says if I hadn't purchased one, the next day someone would have shown up at my door selling accordions.

3. An open mind is an open door; I have been stressing over two things lately: Germany (as in, will I be ready and where did I put my passport?) and my art (as in, what is my true artistic voice anyway?). So, to combat the German stress I made copious lists, did massive research, lost or misplaced most of the information and decided to let the chips fall where they may. Why can't a person just do what she finds interesting? I have a few addresses, two great guidebooks and know where the train station will be. That's enough. It has to be. Also, I am proud to say that my dop kit as shrunk to be 8" x 5" x 5". I will have room for both French and German wine! To combat the art stress I have begun reading The Artist's Way. I thought it was going to be this strange new age approach to finding the artist within. Actually, it has a very Christian bent with some very practical tips and exercises. I've just started but I hope to be "unblocked" as the author puts it, in my beliefs about my own art and in experimenting with my own voice. Will keep you posted.

4. Happiness is contagious; my dad has lost over 80 lbs. now and is wearing pants that he no longer has to find at the big and tall store. Just writing that makes me want to weep. It has been such a long hard slog. He is so happy, and the rest of us are grinning too. Yesterday he went to his school to deliver apples to the teachers (his September tradition) and the secretary followed him down the hall thinking that he was a visitor who hadn't checked in. He's been teaching in that school for 18 years and she didn't recognize him! I can't communicate the change in him both physically and emotionally. He's a new man.

Enough for now. Perhaps I'll blog from the continent!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Man-Made Disaster?

I recieved this article from a friend today. It got me thinking about the state of things, not just in New Orleans, but in America in general. I'll post the full article and my response here -- so it'll be long. But hey, it's my blog right? Love your thoughts, if you are so inclined...

An Unnatural Disaster:
A Hurricane Exposes the Man-Made Disaster of the Welfare State
by Robert TracinskiSep 02, 2005

It has taken four long days for state and federal officials to figure out how to deal with the disaster in New Orleans. I can't blame them, because it has also taken me four long days to figure out what is going on there. The reason is that the events there make no sense if you think that we are confronting a natural disaster.

If this is just a natural disaster, the response for public officials is obvious: you bring in food, water, and doctors; you send transportation to evacuate refugees to temporary shelters; you send engineers to stop the flooding and rebuild the city's infrastructure. For journalists, natural disasters also have a familiar pattern: the heroism of ordinary people pulling together to survive; the hard work and dedication of doctors, nurses, and rescue workers; the steps being taken to clean up and rebuild.

Public officials did not expect that the first thing they would have to do is to send thousands of armed troops in armored vehicles, as if they are suppressing an enemy insurgency. And journalists--myself included--did not expect that the story would not be about rain, wind, and flooding, but about rape, murder, and looting.But this is not a natural disaster. It is a man-made disaster.

The man-made disaster is not an inadequate or incompetent response by federal relief agencies, and it was not directly caused by Hurricane Katrina. This is where just about every newspaper and television channel has gotten the story wrong. The man-made disaster we are now witnessing in New Orleans did not happen over the past four days. It happened over the past four decades. Hurricane Katrina merely exposed it to public view.

The man-made disaster is the welfare state. For the past few days, I have found the news from New Orleans to be confusing. People were not behaving as you would expect them to behave in an emergency--indeed, they were not behaving as they have behaved in other emergencies. That is what has shocked so many people: they have been saying that this is not what we expect from America. In fact, it is not even what we expect from a Third World country.

When confronted with a disaster, people usually rise to the occasion. They work together to rescue people in danger, and they spontaneously organize to keep order and solve problems. This is especially true in America. We are an enterprising people, used to relying on our own initiative rather than waiting around for the government to take care of us. I have seen this a hundred times, in small examples (a small town whose main traffic light had gone out, causing ordinary citizens to get out of their cars and serve as impromptu traffic cops, directing cars through the intersection) and large ones (the spontaneous response of New Yorkers to September 11).

So what explains the chaos in New Orleans?

To give you an idea of the magnitude of what is going on, here is a description from a Washington Times story:

"Storm victims are raped and beaten; fights erupt with flying fists, knives and guns; fires are breaking out; corpses litter the streets; and police and rescue helicopters are repeatedly fired on.

"The plea from Mayor C. Ray Nagin came even as National Guardsmen poured in to restore order and stop the looting, carjackings and gunfire...."

Last night, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said 300 Iraq-hardened Arkansas National Guard members were inside New Orleans with shoot-to-kill orders." 'These troops are...under my orders to restore order in the streets,' she said. 'They have M-16s, and they are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will.' "

The reference to Iraq is eerie. The photo that accompanies this article shows National Guard troops, with rifles and armored vests, riding on an armored vehicle through trash-strewn streets lined by a rabble of squalid, listless people, one of whom appears to be yelling at them. It looks exactly like a scene from Sadr City in Baghdad.

What explains bands of thugs using a natural disaster as an excuse for an orgy of looting, armed robbery, and rape? What causes unruly mobs to storm the very buses that have arrived to evacuate them, causing the drivers to drive away, frightened for their lives? What causes people to attack the doctors trying to treat patients at the Super Dome? Why are people responding to natural destruction by causing further destruction? Why are they attacking the people who are trying to help them?

My wife, Sherri, figured it out first, and she figured it out on a sense-of-life level. While watching the coverage last night on Fox News Channel, she told me that she was getting a familiar feeling. She studied architecture at the Illinois Institute of Chicago, which is located in the South Side of Chicago just blocks away from the Robert Taylor Homes, one of the largest high-rise public housing projects in America. "The projects," as they were known, were infamous for uncontrollable crime and irremediable squalor. (They have since, mercifully, been demolished.)What Sherri was getting from last night's television coverage was a whiff of the sense of life of "the projects." Then the "crawl"--the informational phrases flashed at the bottom of the screen on most news channels--gave some vital statistics to confirm this sense: 75% of the residents of New Orleans had already evacuated before the hurricane, and of the 300,000 or so who remained, a large number were from the city's public housing projects. Jack Wakeland then gave me an additional, crucial fact: early reports from CNN and Fox indicated that the city had no plan for evacuating all of the prisoners in the city's jails--so they just let many of them loose. There is no doubt a significant overlap between these two populations--that is, a large number of people in the jails used to live in the housing projects, and vice versa.

There were many decent, innocent people trapped in New Orleans when the deluge hit--but they were trapped alongside large numbers of people from two groups: criminals--and wards of the welfare state, people selected, over decades, for their lack of initiative and self-induced helplessness. The welfare wards were a mass of sheep--on whom the incompetent administration of New Orleans unleashed a pack of wolves.

All of this is related, incidentally, to the apparent incompetence of the city government, which failed to plan for a total evacuation of the city, despite the knowledge that this might be necessary. But in a city corrupted by the welfare state, the job of city officials is to ensure the flow of handouts to welfare recipients and patronage to political supporters--not to ensure a lawful, orderly evacuation in case of emergency.

No one has really reported this story, as far as I can tell. In fact, some are already actively distorting it, blaming President Bush, for example, for failing to personally ensure that the Mayor of New Orleans had drafted an adequate evacuation plan. The worst example is an execrable piece from the Toronto Globe and Mail, by a supercilious Canadian who blames the chaos on American "individualism." But the truth is precisely the opposite: the chaos was caused by a system that was the exact opposite of individualism.

What Hurricane Katrina exposed was the psychological consequences of the welfare state. What we consider "normal" behavior in an emergency is behavior that is normal for people who have values and take the responsibility to pursue and protect them. People with values respond to a disaster by fighting against it and doing whatever it takes to overcome the difficulties they face. They don't sit around and complain that the government hasn't taken care of them. They don't use the chaos of a disaster as an opportunity to prey on their fellow men.

But what about criminals and welfare parasites? Do they worry about saving their houses and property? They don't, because they don't own anything. Do they worry about what is going to happen to their businesses or how they are going to make a living? They never worried about those things before. Do they worry about crime and looting? But living off of stolen wealth is a way of life for them.

The welfare state--and the brutish, uncivilized mentality it sustains and encourages--is the man-made disaster that explains the moral ugliness that has swamped New Orleans. And that is the story that no one is reporting.

For the record -- I was appalled by this article.

My Reply:

I used to work in Camden NJ -- a place I am sure could rival New Orleans in numbers of welfare "parasites," as this article puts it, who filled the city. What strikes me is this thought that people who subsist on public assistance are somehow people who “lack initiative” and who wear a mantle of “self-induced hopelessness.” In all my time in Camden, the people I saw and worked with were holding down two and three jobs each; their kids were forced to help raise their siblings because mom or dad or the other adults living in the house (or car) were not there to do so -- because they were working. This wasn’t what they wanted for their families, it was what they could manage. In spite of al this, they saw a glimmer of hope, if not for themselves, at least for their children. They believed, as hopeless as it seemed to me, that the neighborhood wouldn't eat up their children.

No doubt there are people who abuse the system – in fact, I would bet that we have all done something to the benefit of our own lives that was not to the benefit of the whole. We are human and humans tend to be good at self-seeking. But I am tempted to agree with the Toronto Globe & Mail that American individualism has contributed to this man-made disaster. Why don't these people who live with public assistance have property, or personal wealth? I firmly believe it has much to do with the fact that we like white, middle-class people working for us. We like the known and those who speak a foreign language or have not had the privilege of education are just not like us. It is a rare white-collar employer who will take a chance on one of these prospective employees. They are expensive people to hire -- they need some education and some training in most cases. They need to be educated about the work culture and what it means to hold a job. But the way I see it, these are not reasons to dismiss someone. In fact, what better thing could we do than help another human being?

Americans just aren't trained to seek out this helping opportunity unless something horrific happens, like Katrina. On any given day we seek our own best interests to the detriment of others. We just like to call it being "business savvy" or "turning a profit". I, too, think we have to stop blaming the government completely. We have a lot of work to do. Perhaps we can start the rebuilding process in more ways than simply with sheet rock and steel. Had these people felt a part of America from the start, there would have been no man-made disaster to debate.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Book Review: Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes

I finished a truly wonderful piece of YA fiction this week: Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes. It was recommended to me by my sister, who has unusually good taste in YA fiction. This book really grappled with the issues of faith and courage that we all face. It's about standing up for yourself and others and loving, truly loving your neighbor. The author, Chris Crutcher, is pithy and honest; a perfect combination for youth fiction. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a good read.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Naming of Things

Hayes has been so fun for me to be around this year. I keep remembering what Elaine said about a year ago, when I uttered something similar - "Just wait till 4. I thought I loved three, but I adore 4!" He is so much more self sufficient (which comes with it's own I-can-do-it battles) and even more verbal than before (we carefully choose our "at home words"), if such a thing is possible.

In that vein, he has started naming his stuffed toys. It used to bother me that he wasn't interested in them, even in naming them -- I wonder why that is? But never fear; Hayes has named many more of them to date. Please note, none of Hayes's brilliant names can compare to my niece Eleanor's doll Container (she just liked the way it sounded). Nevertheless, these are our new-found friends:

Christopher Bear -- who was the only named friend last year, named in honor of Hayes himself, make no mistake.

Uncle Pepper Bunny -- who has his own wonderful blog entry explanation

Jumpy -- what else? His stuffed frog puppet that actually croaks

Lovey -- not really a stuffed friend, but a cricket we found in our kitchen (not that I was in love with finding it mind you)

Tiki Waki the Polynesian Snowman -- I know, it's too good to be true isn't it? I think it's my personal favorite at the moment.

And I thought it was tough naming each collage. I should have been asking Hayes all this time. He's so amazing.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Ready or not, I have 34 pieces of art to take to Penrod. I feel that this is good, but that I should try to do even more. On one hand, this makes me feel like a crazy person, and on the other, it makes me so happy I am creating art. Saturday is the big day. It is far too late to try and shield myself from high expectations. I think that day died when my acceptance letter came in the mail. I am anxiously awaiting the big show.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Altered Lives

Spent some time with my dear friend Amy last night altering books and drinking Napa Valley wine. It was delightful! We had a chance to talk about what we believe and how the Katrina disaster along with the pandemonium in Baghdad makes life seem like there will never be any good news again. And yet I believe all these things are shaping us; for the good and the bad we are being altered by those things around us. That's why it is so important to have good friends (especially those with good wine) to talk with and find comfort in. We will have to see what sorts of conversations we are having a year or so from now.