(cross-posted at CureThis)

Last night, CNBC featured a segment on “Is Health care a right or a privilege?” and invited two speakers to debate the question.

One of the speakers was Dr Mai Pham, senior policy advisor at the National Physicians Alliance (NPA). The NPA fimly believes that health care is a human right and its campaigns and mission speak directly to that. The other speaker was Michael Cannon, director of health policy at the CATO Institute, a free-market, libertarian organization.

Make your own conclusions about some incendiary statements made in this debate, but I must highlight one here.

“Saying health care is a fundamental human right is one of those simplistic nonsense slogans” — Michael Cannon, CATO.

Unbelievable. No it’s not. Saying health care is a fundamental human right is an important statement that we must embrace fully as a society (and to an extent have already embraced).

As guerillamamamedicine recently blogged:

i do not deserve a good job, or a beautiful home, or health care because i went to school and got my degree. i deserve them because i am a human being. if i were to say that i deserve them because of how many years i spent in school, or how much money i paid to go to school, or the number of letters behind my name, then i am saying that i deserve basic human dignity because of my educational privilege.

- – - – -

I applaud Dr. Pham’s calm and composure in the debate. There is much to loearn from her regarding how to stay on point and how to debate an issue articulately.

In any case, it was a pleasant surprise to see this issue covered by CNBC; perhaps the station will cover such issues in the future.


I penned a piece for LAist.com on last week’s White House Regional Health Forum – held at the California Endowment in downtown Los Angeles, and the well-populated single-payer rally outside the event. Thanks to Dr Susan Partovi for the photos.

Check it out! If you’re a registered user at LAist, you can comment or recommend the post.

Alternet has a short news/analysis piece on the 1,500 farmer suicides in India and the contributing factors. It’s a good read, albeit disturbing.

At the end of the article is a well placed quote from Vandana Shiva, one of the most outspoken and articulate critics of bioengineered crops, and one of the most ardent supporters of honest trade and land rights for Indian farmers. Here’s the excerpt:

A few weeks ago, I was in Punjab. 2,800 widows of farmer suicides who have lost their land, are having to bring up children as landless workers on others’ land. And yet, the system does not respond to it, because there’s only one response: get Monsanto out of the seed sector–they are part of this genocide — and ensure WTO rules are not bringing down the prices of agricultural produce in the United States, in Canada, in India, and allow trade to be honest. I don’t think we need to talk about free trade and fair trade. We need to talk about honest trade. Today’s trade system, especially in agriculture, is dishonest, and dishonesty has become a war against farmers. It’s become a genocide.

Please check out the complete interview that Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! conducted with Vandana Shiva (read the transcript or watch the video). I *heart* Vandana Shiva, saw her speak at the World Social Forum in Nairobi and she is a RIGHTEOUS passionate woman who knows her shit. She is NOT one to be messed with. Love her.

Yesterday I posted K’naan’s written perspective on environmental injustice, post-colonialism, and Somalia and pirates. Today, the one and only Mr Davey D posted two interviews he conducted with musician K’naan. The lessons for me: We are presented with such an unbearably skewed perspective in the West. And in the West our lives are worth more than others, and we can throw our shit wherever we want to, with no regard to the effects on the world. Here’s the 2nd video:

(the first video can be found here).

Musician K’naan (born in Somalia, grew up during the civil war, proponent of human rights) recently penned a piece on why the pirate situation in Somalia is at best quite complicated. His piece is extremely well-written and shares a perspective we don’t hear from the mainstream media’s reporting on the situation. Check out his piece, published at the Huffington Post. It deals with environmental injustices, the attitude of the west towards lives in post-colonial countries (worthless), and peoples’ self determination. I share it because this is a viewpoint that is completely missing from the general discussion in the West. (Side note: no pirate’s captives have been harmed as of yet).

Great thanks to K’naan, (check out his music website).

Here’s an excerpt from the article, check out the whole piece:

Already by this time, local fishermen in the coastline of Somalia have been complaining of illegal vessels coming to Somali waters and stealing all the fish. And since there was no government to report it to, and since the severity of the violence clumsily overshadowed every other problem, the fishermen went completely unheard.

But it was around this same time that a more sinister, a more patronizing practice was being put in motion. A Swiss firm called Achair Parterns, and an Italian waste company called Achair Parterns, made a deal with Ali Mahdi, that they were to dump containers of waste material in Somali waters. These European companies were said to be paying Warlords about $3 a ton, whereas to properly dispose of waste in Europe costs about $1000 a ton.

In 2004, after a tsunami washed ashore several leaking containers, thousand of locals in the Puntland region of Somalia started to complain of severe and previously unreported ailments, such as abdominal bleeding, skin melting off and a lot of immediate cancer-like symptoms. Nick Nuttall, a spokesman for the United Nations Environmental Program, says that the containers had many different kinds of waste, including “Uranium, radioactive waste, lead, Cadmium, Mercury and chemical waste.” But this wasn’t just a passing evil from one or two groups taking advantage of our unprotected waters. The UN envoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, says that the practice still continues to this day.

UPDATE (4/13): Johann Hari has a piece in Alternet today that shares a similar perspective: “We’re Being Lied to About Pirates.”

Yesterday as I was purchasing my afternoon coffee, I saw a copy of the New York times at the local coffeehouse, featuring an article on its FRONT PAGE entitled, “With Advocates’ Help, Squatters Call Foreclosures Home.” Check out the short article. Thanks to folks like Take Back the Land’s Max Rameu, the Miami Workers Center, Women in Transition, sheriffs in Ohio who refuse to evict people from their houses, the Poor Peoples’ Economic Human Rights Campaign, and others working together in their communities to preserve a little human dignity in this recession. It reminds me of the question that Travis Koplow brought up about a Los Angeles neighborhood council meeting and foreclosed houses:

Is it so important that we protect capital itself? Is the protection of property is more important than the safety and protection of people?

My friend Saba shared a comment on that previous post, with the website for Take Back the Land. Here’s the latest video, an interview on CNN.


…and now find out that conservatives are into teabagging? From DailyKos TV, “Fox Has a Teabagg’n Problem”:

Words are hard to find.
(but this video is hee-haw-larious!)

Check out this powerful and moving plea for healthy development and environmental justice, from Majora Carter — an inspiring and courageous activist and organizer in the South Bronx. This talk, entitled “Greening the Ghetto” was given at the TED conference in 2006.

“Environmental justice goes something like this: no community should be saddled with more environmental burdens, and less environmental benefits, than any other.”

Carter links unjust urban development to health problems, talks race, and discusses the potential and the imperative for Americans to move towards REAL and just sustainable development.

She ends with a bang, stating that communities affected by environmental injustices must be at the decision-making table regarding local and national strategies. Check it out in the video, here’s here ending paragraph, it is SO absolutely true, whether the issue is environmental justice, health care reform, city planning, or schools:

“I spoke to Mr [Al] Gore, the other day after breakfast. I asked him how environmental justice activists were going to be included in this new strategy. His response was a grant program. I don’t think he understood that I wasn’t asking for funding; I was making HIM an offer. What troubled me was that this top down approach is still around. Don’t get me wrong, we need money. But grassroots groups are needed at the table DURING the decision-making process. Of the 90 percent of the energy that Mr Gore reminded us that we waste everyday, don’t add wasting OUR energy, intelligence, and hard earned experience to that count.”

ok, second most, after my brother and my lovely friends: the wide varied options for experiencing live music on a DAILY basis, in this great city. Joshua Pressman, LAist music editor, threw down a sampling of this coming week’s live music.

this is the number 1 reason why we need more public transportation (and train stations) in los angeles. (cross-posted at Cure This, a website you should get to know)

I recently made my nth trip (of the past few years) to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where my friends run an amazing, innovative, and quite revolutionary medical clinic (fair-priced; integrative; acupuncturists and naturopaths and midwives in addition to docs and NPs) for the uninsured. I’ll write more about that experience, but I may move to ABQ, NM to work in this clinic (and at a rural hospital). So this news, caught on my twitter feeds, piqued my interest:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — About half of Hispanics and Native Americans in New Mexico were without health insurance for at least a month and up to two years in 2007 and 2008, according to a new study from Families USA.

The study states only 28 percent of whites said they were uninsured during that same period.

Families USA, a health reform advocacy group, says 49.5 percent of Hispanics were without health coverage at some point over the two years.

And 56 percent of people who described themselves as Native American or as members of more than one ethnic group said they went without coverage sometime during the period studied.

New Mexico Human Services Department spokeswoman Betina Gonzales McCracken said the department recognizes that ethnicity does play a role in the uninsured.

(From KOAT local news in ABQ)

These are absolutely shocking statistics. The Families USA document that’s referred to can be found here (.pdf file).

Odds of Dying in a Terrorist Attack

You are 13 times more likely to die in a railway accident than from a terrorist attack

You are 12,571 times more likely to die from cancer than from a terrorist attack

You are six times more likely to die from hot weather than from a terrorist attack

You are eight times more likely to die from accidental electrocution than from a terrorist attack

You are 11,000 times more likely to die in an airplane accident than from a terrorist plot involving an airplane

You are 87 times more likely to drown than die in a terrorist attack

You are 404 times more likely to die in a fall than from a terrorist attack

You are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack

You are 1048 times more likely to die from a car accident than from a terrorist attack

You are 12 times more likely to die from accidental suffocation in bed than from a terrorist attack

You are nine times more likely to choke to death on your own vomit than die in a terrorist attack

You are eight times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist

From John Baker’s blog.

This week on LA Metblogs, Travis Koplow wrote a post about his participation in/observation of the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council. On the agenda for the meeting he attended was the issue of squatters in foreclosed homes. He said this:

But last night I went to my neighborhood council meeting for the first time and the discussion there raised an issue that I do think is worth us thinking and talking about more. Among the other topics on the plate was the growing number of squatters in foreclosure homes. There was a policeman present at the meeting, as I guess is usual, and he was talking about crime in Sherman Oaks, and one council member was asking him about people living illegally in empty homes. The policeman (I cannot bring myself to say “peace officer,” sorry folks) said that it was something to be on the lookout for, that if we suspected such a thing we should let the police know. There are several boarded up houses within a few blocks of my apartment and I get not wanting them to become crash pads for crack addicts or meth dealers. I get that. But then the councilman elaborates, saying that it’s important to be on the lookout, that sometimes it is hard to tell. Some of the squatters have kids and SUVs and dogs. Let me interrupt myself here to say, this post is in no way meant to disparage the SONC. It was my first time there, but I was made to feel welcome and the neighborhood council is clearly functional and positive and inclusive. But what I wonder is this: why is it so important to call the police on those families that look just like “normal” families? Is it so important that we protect capital itself? Is the protection of property is more important than the safety and protection of people?

Interesting. I know that squatting vs crime and other issues is a complex issue (for example, more break-ins into cars near an area where someone’s squatting at a foreclosed home can increase pressure on a community to better address these crimes and the causes of them) and I have great respect for the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council, but I always find it refreshing when the question of priorities re: property protection vs protection of people is brought to the forefront of the discussion. Thoughts?

Below: Step 9 of the 10 steps a country takes as it moves towards fascism. The clip is from the forthcoming documentary The End of America, based on Naomi Wolf’s book and speaking engagements. Naomi Wolf = brilliant.

Also check out the official movie trailer at the official The End of America documentary website.


“And I also find it ironic that some of those who rail most loudly against this bill because of earmarks, actually inserted earmarks of their own, and will tout them in their own states and their own districts. These practices hit a peak in the middle of this decade, when the number of earmarks had ballooned to more than 16,000 and played a part in a series of corruption cases…

In 2007, the new democratic leadership in congress began to address these abuses by a series of reforms, that i was proud to have helped write. We eliminated anonymous earmarks and created new measures of transparency in the process so Americans could better follow how their tax dollars are being spent. Any earmark for a for-profit private company should be subject to the same bidding requirements as other federal contracts…

Rewarding of earmarks to private companies is the single most corrupting element of this practice, as witnessed by some of the indictments and convictions that we’ve already seen.”

Came across this video by the Gap Band. Love it. I can’t embed it (the youtube user has disabled embedding) so check out the link…

And this is why:

Dambisa Moyo is someone to look out for in the coming months, she’s coming out with a book called Dead Aid. NYTimes magazine interviewed her, I agree with some of her points about dependency and exploitation but strongly disagree with her neoliberal thoughts and microfinancing-as-a-panacea ideas. Still, I’m looking forward to the book, as it will flesh out her ideas in more depth than the very short interview linked here. Excerpt below:

You argue in your book that Western aid to Africa has not only perpetuated poverty but also worsened it, and you are perhaps the first African to request in book form that all development aid be halted within five years.
Think about it this way — China has 1.3 billion people, only 300 million of whom live like us, if you will, with Western living standards. There are a billion Chinese who are living in substandard conditions. Do you know anybody who feels sorry for China? Nobody.

What do you think has held back Africans?
I believe it’s largely aid. You get the corruption — historically, leaders have stolen the money without penalty — and you get the dependency, which kills entrepreneurship. You also disenfranchise African citizens, because the government is beholden to foreign donors and not accountable to its people.

Bobby Jindal, the offensive Republican governor of Louisiana just refused, yes *refused* to accept $90 billion in federal stimulus funds. Why? Maybe because he’s trying to be a Republican standing on principle? (like the republicans in congress who refused to vote for the federal stimulus bill). We need some accountability here, of all Republicans who don’t care a hoot about any class less than the wealthy. This is complete and utter bullshit. Brad DeLong wrote a post on this issue, and ends with this comment:

Jindal believes that this grandstanding–at the expense of the interests of the people who elected him–will raise his chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. I urge all Republicans to reflect that political loyalty ought to run both ways: a politician–like Jindal–who has no loyalty to his supporters who voted for him is not a politician whom any voter has any business supporting.

Jindal was the worst mistake for Louisiana’s people (I can’t believe that he and others are thinking about a Presidential run in the future). Anyway, I’d like to see how folks in the state react to this “principled” act of “courage”. This pisses me off to no end. Thoughts?

Damn. I’m moved by Rodney King’s forgiveness of the LAPD cops who beat him and who sparked the 1992 LA riots (killing 56 people and seriously wounding a city). Though I don’t forgive the cops for their brutality that continues through today (re: badly named “Safer Cities Initiative” and other forms of police brutality in Los Angeles).

Thanks to LAist for the video.

I lived in NYC for two years and nearby in Newark NJ for another few years, and the NY Post is not a reasonable publication by any means, and has never been. And this week it published a very controversial cartoon. Sam Stein and Baratunde Thurston are articulate and to the point with the connotations inherent in this cartoon. Check out the video above.

Baratunde Thurston also published an essay in the Huffington Post, where he expands on Dr Phillip Goff’s research on the very real brutality/racism effects of psychologically likening blacks to monkeys.

And Dr Goff’s full essay, “Little Things are Still a Big Deal” can be found here. It’s VERY interesting. Here’s a snippet:

For the better part of the past seven years, my colleagues and I have conducted research on the psychological phenomenon of dehumanization. Specifically, we have examined cognitive associations between African Americans and non-human apes. And the association leads to bad things. When we began the research, we were skeptical of whether or not participants even knew that people of African descent were caricatured as ape-like — as less than human — throughout the better part of the past 400 years. And, in fact, many were not. However, even those who were unaware of this historical association demonstrated a cognitive association between blacks and apes. That is, when they thought of apes, they thought of blacks and vice versa — when they thought of blacks, they thought of apes.

But the fact of this cognitive association was not the most disturbing part of the research. Rather, it was the fact that the association between blacks and apes could lead to violence.

In one study, participants who were made to think about apes were more likely to support police violence against black (but not white) criminal suspects. The association actually caused them to endorse anti-black violence. Most disturbing of all, however, was a study of media coverage and the death penalty. Looking at a sample of death-eligible cases in Philadelphia from 1979 to 1999, the more that media coverage used ape-like metaphors to describe a murder trial (i.e. “urban jungle,” “aping the suspects behavior,” etc.) the more likely black suspects, but not white suspects were to be put to death.

Something to mull over…

The sheer number of articles in mainstream press about the social networking platform “Twitter” are cause for nausea. (Twitter is a platform by which one can send out 140-character messages, known as tweets, to however many other people are following their page. Some call it “microblogging”).

I dig Twitter and I use it to share articles with friends, reflect on medicine and public health, and share thoughts / events / passions about Los Angeles and the world around me. I’ve learned a wealth of information and have been led to innovative web-based technologies regarding health, based on short communications on twitter. I follow folks on Twitter whose opinions and article-sharing I like, I receive feedback on questions I pose, and I have a healthy relationship with this kind of experimentation of newer models of information sharing and reflecting.

So back to these articles. Seriously? Aren’t there more important issues to cover in the world? Most pieces I’ve seen about Twitter proclaim it to be the Next Best Thing. It’s been placed on some grotesque pedestal, but then again, much of media is in the business of sensationalizing. But most recently the alt press site Alternet.org, a website I have much respect for and read regularly, featured a commentary on Twitter entitled, “Twitter Nation Has Arrived: How Scared Should we Be?” by Alexander Zaitchik. I didn’t expect Alternet to post a commentary like this. Not because it’s disapproving of twitter and attempts to make larger philosophical points. But because it’s so poorly written, not well fact-checked, and is FULL of spite. The seething hate emanates from the article in very non-subtle ways. And the assumptions are far-reaching and presumptuous.

In addition, his facts are not researched. For example, the author states that Twitter was based on Facebook’s status update model. Nope. Twitter was around for almost a year before Facebook started incorporating status updates into its model. One of several simple facts that the author had completely wrong.

The article makes some interesting anthropological points that I agree with (and I’m always interested in discussions about how we’re becoming post-human). He also reveals some of the silliness of Twitter (honestly I don’t always get why people share what they do, and oftentimes the TMI syndrome comes into play — Too Much Information about your personal life, I don’t care — but that’s easily remedied by not following that individual’s stream). But interspersed his otherwise interesting points are volcanoes of rage (ha! did I just say volcanoes of rage? awesome!) which dilute any point he’s trying to make. Anyway, here are some of the author’s rants that I thought i’d share: (more…)

(cross-posted at Cure This)

William Easterly — author of The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good — is now blogging over at Aid Watch. Aid Watch’s tagline is “Just Asking that Aid Benefit the Poor”. Interesting tagline, eh?

Exactly two years ago, I found a copy of his book at a hostel where I was staying when visiting and working with other doctors in Shirati, a small village on Lake Victoria in Tanzania. It immediately piqued my interest and it was no less immediately relevant. The book bitingly critiqued Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty and railed against multifaceted broad-ranging and top-down foreign aid programs. I only got through half of The White Man’s Burden before leaving Tanzania (and opted not to steal the book from the hostel), but I liked Easterly’s premise and found much of it refreshing (though I cringed at some of what he wrote — too cynical, a shoddy economic analysis, and attacks on some aid programs that were effective). I cannot make any larger comments on it since I haven’t finished the second half, but I just recently bought a copy of the book. Hopefully soon I’ll sit down with both the first AND the second half of it, but his blog will certainly be a space for ongoing discussion — as he’s already responded to several peoples’ comments on his first blog post. Off to a healthy start, I’d say.

Two legends of American folk, Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen, sang “This Land is Your Land” (along with Pete Seeger’s grandson, Tao Rodríguez-Seeger) at the Obama Pre-Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial in DC. However, they say the original lyrics, which includes two verses by Woody Guthrie that are not as well known (the verses about private property and the hungry Americans at the relief office). There were half a million people in the audience at this performance, and the video is quite moving. We share it with you here. Feel free to sing along, it’s better that way.

This Land Is Your Land

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Here’s a link to Woody Guthrie’s website with lyrics. And the Wikipedia entry for This Land is Your Land, with a bit of history (including why Guthrie wrote the famous folk song).

Check out this poster, starting with “389 Years ago the first slave ship lands in the American colonies.” And ending with “And on November 4th 2008, the people of the United States elect their first African-American President and his name is Barack Obama”.

Thanks, folks at Wallstats, for putting it together and for celebrating progress.

…oh wait, we can. Is it just me, or is even the mainstream media in the US documenting the Gaza massacre and its aftermath in a more journalistic manner? Like, photos of people being shelled, photos of the destruction, the actual effects of a war?

Anyway, check out these extensive photos taken during a whole week of the massacre. They were on the front page of MSNBC all day yesterday. Imagine if we saw photos like this from all the various wars going on in the world (including America’s unjust occupation and bombing of Iraq with some estimated 1 million Iraqi civilians killed). We’d kick the asses of people who were pro-war and diplomacy would be the RULE.

I just read Muammar Qaddafi’s op-ed in the New York Times last week about a One-State solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. You know, Qaddafi, the leader of Libya. Here’s an excerpt:

A two-state solution will create an unacceptable security threat to Israel. An armed Arab state, presumably in the West Bank, would give Israel less than 10 miles of strategic depth at its narrowest point. Further, a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would do little to resolve the problem of refugees. Any situation that keeps the majority of Palestinians in refugee camps and does not offer a solution within the historical borders of Israel/Palestine is not a solution at all.

I personally love the one-state solution, but still maintain that it can only be a theoretical solution now. It likely would have been a whole lot more do-able way back in 1948 than it is now. It’s good to see it in the news though, and it might be prudent to include it in possible long-term plans for the area. Check out the whole piece, it’s interesting (especially the beautiful picture of a tree growing out of the division of a larger tree).

Cure This, a project that a few of us started over a year ago, has experienced some slow but immensely beautiful growth. We’ve got some exciting plans for 2009, and they’ll be shared shortly (and we’ll eagerly be awaiting your thoughts on our thoughts), but first a quick look at the 3 newest posts in the ’09, head there to read them:

Moving and Remembering — by brownfemipower. An excerpt:

And how can women who are ready to do deeply intensive work on their muscles/body be supported emotionally and mentally through the many issues that work may bring up in them-without demonizing women who aren’t ready, feel no need to ever be ready, or whom this situation simply doesn’t apply to?

Why it’s Time II: second first same as the first
— by cameronpage. An excerpt:

So really, this story is for those who live in fear that single-payer healthcare will give us long waiting periods. Let’s be clear about it: we’ve already been given long waiting periods. The HMOs gave them to us. But what the HMOs giveth, we can taketh away. We just have to decideth to.

Obama chooses “shiny” Sanjay Gupta as Surgeon General — by los anjalis. An excerpt:

Clear conflicts of interest prevailed in Gupta’s discussion of the health care system. As a journalist, I’m sure he would have fact-checked better — if not nudged by CNN’s advertisers interests. I’d like our top doc in the White House to be conflict-of-interest free, in the name of restoring integrity to our public health system.

Head over to Cure This to check out the full posts! Please feel free to add constructive comments, we could use some more discussion at the site. It’s easy as 1-2-3 to set up an account. You can also write your own “diary” that’s posted on the right side of the page and folks can vote on it, recommend it, discuss it! As you take a look at Cure This, if you have suggestions for improving the site, please feel free to drop them here in the comments until we have a formal feedback process housed there. Lastly, please share the website with friends and colleagues. More to come for the ’09!

“If I Had a Heart” by Fever Ray. First video from Fever Ray’s self-titled debut album.

“My umi says shine your light on the world. Shine your light for the world to see. My abi says shine your light on the world. Shine your light for the world to see. Oh black people to be free, to be free…”

My friend Ramdasha shares her favorite queer music of 2008 (not necessarily from queer identified artists).  She says, so aptly:

to me, music becomes queer by possessing that certain something that hits you right in the gayplace. the same place that tingled whenever the ellen show came on. That’s ellen the sitcom, not the talk show. i mean, bonus if they experiment with music norms but really, its like-does this make me feel awesome and gay? or does it make me feel like queen latifah playing will smith’s love interest in the fresh prince of belair. booored.

right on!  check out her selections.  they definitely hit me in the gayplace.

Yolanda Pierce of The Kitchen Table, on the selection of Elizabeth Alexander as the inaugural poet laureate:

I am celebrating this news because it honors a black woman we both know and deeply respect, a woman who has dedicated her life and work to not only writing, but training the next generation of writers. Alexander’s volume The Venus Hottentot, remains one of the most influential volumes of poetry I’ve read and I use it for my own teaching.

I am celebrating this news because Obama seems to fully grasp the idea that words and language truly matter. By restoring poetry as a central feature of his inauguration, Obama gives hope to those of us who believe that art is always important and necessary, especially during hard times. Artistic expression is as necessary and as vital as bread and water.

I am celebrating this news because our African American ancestors articulated their struggle for freedom and dignity in verse: poetry, song, and prose. And so, through poets like Alexander, we can pay homage to Phillis Wheatley, and Jupiter Hammon, and Lucy Terry Prince – 18th century black poets who dared to sing a free song, while their bodies were still enslaved.

I’m enjoying exploring some of Elizabeth Alexander’s poetry. Fitting for this site, here’s a beautiful poem she wrote about Los Angeles:

Stravinsky in L.A.

In white pleated trousers, peering through green
sunshades, looking for the way the sun is red
noise, how locusts hiss to replicate the sun.
What is the visual equivalent
of syncopation? Rows of seared palms wrinkle
in the heat waves through green glass. Sprinklers
tick, tick, tick. The Watts Towers aim to split
the sky into chroma, spires tiled with rubble
nothing less than aspiration. I’ve left
minarets for sun and syncopation,
sixty-seven shades of green which I have
counted, beginning: palm leaves, front and back,
luncheon pickle, bottle glass, etcetera.
One day I will comprehend the different
grades of red. On that day I will comprehend
these people, rhythms, jazz, Simon Rodia,
Watts, Los Angeles, aspiration.

And a wonderful poem on poetry itself:

Ars Poetica #100: I Believe

Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry

is where we are ourselves,
(though Sterling Brown said

“Every ‘I’ is a dramatic ‘I’”)
digging in the clam flats

for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.

Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,

overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way

to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love,
and I’m sorry the dog died.

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?

She also wrote a beautiful piece on the legacy of poet and activist June Jordan. All these and more poetry, audio, and essays can be found at Elizabeth Alexander’s website.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell on the iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at president bush:

Every once in a while I witness something that fully captures my own emotions. Something that tells the story I wanted to tell with such insight and precision that I am embarrassed for not having done it myself. It might be a poem that reveals my heartbreak, a skit that reflects my humor, or an oped that captures my analysis. These moments feel like universal harmonic convergence. They are reminders of our deep interconnection.

Yes. I thought I’d just laugh at the video of the shoes being thrown, but instead the video moved me in an unusual way — a way that Melissa Harris-Lacewell captured above. Was I just “meta”? I just shared an excerpt of writing to express a bit of what i’m feeling, while that piece of writing is about finding that thing that says what you want to say but with more passion and articulation. I *think* that qualifies as meta… but correct me if i’m wrong.

(Below is cross-posted a post I wrote over at LAist.com)

Human Rights
Photo by tao_zhyn on Flickr

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UHDR), adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations. The 30 articles of this declaration were written after the Second World War and represent the first global expression of human rights worldwide. The UHDR is the most translated document in the world and has inspired many international treaties and laws.

Now is as good a time as ever to remind ourselves of the human rights issues prevailing abroad, in the US, and here in Los Angeles. Violence and human rights abuses exist around the world, currently in Zimbabwe, Mumbai, Gaza, Iraq and Afghanistan, among other regions. Millions go without clean water or enough food. And a global financial crisis is ever present.

It is easy to focus on human rights abroad, but here in Los Angeles we have our own slew of human rights violations, including a housing crisis, homelessness, ICE raids, police brutality, displacement of communities in the name of development, health care access problems, unprocessed rape kits, and an increasing disparity between the wealthy and the poor. At the same time, there is much reason for hope.

One shining local example of this is in South Los Angeles, the area formerly known as South Central LA, where a unique coalition of health care providers, promotoras, and dedicated community organizations recently teamed up to address “The Perfect Storm” – the combination of homelessness, the housing/credit crisis, public health, and law enforcement issues. The coalition, known as the Homelessness Prevention and Intervention Collaborative, conducted an exhaustive survey of homelessness in South Los Angeles. And in October, they announced the findings of a report — Taming the Perfect Storm — written by Dr Rishi Manchanda, Director of Social Medicine at St. Johns Well Child and Family Center and the coordinator of the collective. In addition to describing the problem, the report presents recommendations for human-rights based solutions to the crisis in South LA. The report is well worth reading and concludes with:

In the nation as a whole, persistent widespread homelessness and the health care crisis offer compelling evidence of a collective disregard for human rights. Few places exhibit the ill effects of this disregard like South Los Angeles. Conversely, no other community stands to benefit as much from a community-based human rights approach to health. With a firm understanding of the links between critical determinants of health like housing, public and community health resources, and law enforcement policy, we commit to build the political will and skills needed to tame this perfect storm of homelessness and poor health. In short, we commit to reclaim and redefine our community guided by the practical application of fundamental human rights principles. As an important stage of community dialogue on the right to health, housing, and security begins, we welcome all constructive comments and critiques of this report.

On a national level, our President-Elect Barack Obama has stated a commitment to shutting down Guantanamo, ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, strengthening the United Nations, improving diplomatic relations with other countries, and paying attention to the global crises of poverty and HIV/AIDS worldwide. And on this 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human rights, the official website of the United Nations notes:

“Following this historic act the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and ‘to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories.’”

On that note, I encourage you to read the 30 articles of the declaration. Aloud. To friends, family, anybody who will listen. In declaratory fashion. Try it. It’s quite compelling and a quick read. (idea inspired by my friend Linda who suggested this to me and 4 other friends as we were building and dreaming, during a break at a conference in El Salvador last year).

(cross-posted at LAist and Cure This)

Photos by jbhangoo via flickr; graphic and videos from Students for Bhopal

Today marks the 24th anniversary of the world’s worst industrial disaster — one that has been called the “Hiroshima of the chemical industry” and that took place in Bhopal, India. Around midnight on December 3rd, 1984, a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal leaked 27 tons of the deadly gas methyl isocyanate. Safety systems were not operational and the gas spread through the city. Thousands died that night, more than 20,000 have died to date as a result of the effects of the exposure, and over 100,000 people still suffer from ailments caused by the exposure. From Bhopal.org, a harrowing account of the fateful night 24 years ago:

Shortly after midnight poison gas leaked from a factory in Bhopal, India, owned by the Union Carbide Corporation. There was no warning, none of the plant’s safety systems were working. In the city people were sleeping. They woke in darkness to the sound of screams with the gases burning their eyes, noses and mouths. They began retching and coughing up froth streaked with blood. Whole neighborhoods fled in panic, some were trampled, others convulsed and fell dead. People lost control of their bowels and bladders as they ran. Within hours thousands of dead bodies lay in the streets.

“We all live in Bhopal” is a common saying among the environmental justice movement, and it is relevant to LA residents too. We have no lack of potential and real environmental injustices, and no paucity of corporate crimes. Also of interest, the first ever nuclear accident actually occurred in Simi Valley in 1959, as noted in LAist previously:

We had no idea that Simi Valley was the site of America’s first nuclear accident (obviously we should watch more History Channel). At the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, a liquid sodium reactor had a partial meltdown in 1959; the facts weren’t made public until UCLA investigated 20 years later. Researchers speculate that the radiation released was as much as 240 times that of the Three Mile Island accident. Exactly what was contaminated in the area, and by how much, was never accurately measured. Yikes, just 30 miles from downtown LA.

More on the Bhopal tragedy:

bhopal%20union%20carbide%20plant.jpg“The site has never been properly cleaned up and it continues to poison the residents of Bhopal. In 1999, local groundwater and wellwater testing near the site of the accident revealed mercury at levels between 20,000 and 6 million times those expected. Cancer and brain-damage- and birth-defect-causing chemicals were found in the water; trichloroethene, a chemical that has been shown to impair fetal development, was found at levels 50 times higher than EPA safety limits. Testing published in a 2002 report revealed poisons such as 1,3,5 trichlorobenzene, dichloromethane, chloroform, lead and mercury in the breast milk of nursing women. In 2001, Michigan-based chemical corporation Dow Chemical purchased Union Carbide, thereby acquiring its assets and liabilities. However Dow Chemical has steadfastly refused to clean up the site, provide safe drinking water, compensate the victims, or disclose the composition of the gas leak, information that doctors could use to properly treat the victims.”

And if you have the stomach for this personal story, Aziza Sultan, a community health worker at the Sambhavna Clinic shares her personal account of that horrific night.

The pursuit of justice around the Bhopal tragedy is also a study in effective strategizing for positive change. The courageous residents of Bhopal, also known as Bhopalis, have captured the energies of social justice activists and students around the world. Bhopali women and children have performed numerous direct actions aimed at the most powerful leaders in India and America. The Bhopal Medical Appeal and the Sambhavna Trust Clinic were created to provide treatment and rehabilitation for victims and their families. And the activists’ relentlessness has finally paid off, and last month the government of India promised to create an Empowered Commission on Bhopal and take legal action on the criminal and civil liabilities of Union Carbide and Dow Chemical.

In a movement of solidarity, students at colleges and universities around the world have for years engaged in online actions, sent letters and faxes to the Indian government, and hosted thousands of events at their own campuses around the issues of the Bhopal tragedy.

Awareness about this disaster in Bhopal is important not only for its historical and present significance, but also because the battle to clean up the site of the power plant, compensate victims appropriately, and to stop completely preventable disasters like this around the world continues. December 3rd is noted as the Global Day of Action for Corporate Accountability, in memory of the Bhopal tragedy. From Bhopal.net:

Dow, the creator of Napalm, Agent Orange and responsible for Dioxin related deaths and diseases worldwide is not the only corporation that kills and maims people and causes irreparable damage to the planet. Wherever we may live, corporate greed and industrial poisons affect our lives and health through slow and silent Bhopals. Justice in Bhopal means justice for the poisoned everywhere.

Below is a poster that was distributed worldwide during the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster:


Links of interest:
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal — Bhopal.net
The Bhopal Medical Appeal and Sambhavna Clinic — Bhopal.org
The worldwide student movement — Students for Bhopal

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