Thursday, October 09, 2008

River raft beds and other reflections (of life after a catastophe)

One day, it seemed that the crisis was over, the disaster passed, even if the situation wasn't completely at an end. Blue tented roofs covered well-lighted houses that received phone calls once again, and where the people within made breakfast, squabbled about what to do for dinner, ran showers a little too long, and folded laundry while watching reality TV. The traffic lights no longer dangled into the streets, bigger than you imagine up close, and just one more obstacle to drive around. And though they still flashed, instead of running the red, yellow, green cycle we expect, flashing made everyone stop, instead of allowing some to pretend it meant a free for all where you never have to halt. The big government trailers and trucks still hogged the roads and parking lots, but there were fewer of them. As the public sector moved out, the private sector moved in.

The big sailboat still leaned against the palm tree next to the hotel. I wondered if the owner had to drive by and see it there, on the edge of land and water, not quite enough a part of either to be rescued easily. I wondered what it must be to see the grand boat, leaning, stranded---the boat the family had taken out, maybe at the fourth of July to watch fireworks, or maybe at Christmas, to chase the Santa flotilla. The children probably complained about having to scrub decks or hold lines, but inside you knew they were thrilled to have a sailboat upon which they could skim across the water, head out to sea, feel the wet wind in their face, and smell the salt. What would it be to drive past her, the grand old sailboat, happy family memories peeling off her sides like the paint. Was the loss of the boat the family's biggest lost, or the least of it?

The traffic lines were long, still, behind the flashing lights on this major road, a highway, really, and I had plenty of time to stare at the water, and the boat, awkward and out of place. It was then that I noticed the interlopers, big salvage barges and their enabling tug boats. The barges lay heavy and flat across the smooth surface of the water, the tug boats comically short and squat next to them. Huge cranes rose in intricate lines above the rusty deck, somehow clean and graceful, a feminine counterpart to the masculine barge. They seemed too fragile for their work, which was lifting sunken ships from the bottom of the lake.

Later, when I drove by from the other direction, the barge was littered with dripping sailboats of varying sizes. The expiration date for owners to claim and rescue their boats had passed, and the salvage companies came in, waterbound vultures, picking remains. Still later, trucks with trailers hovered in the park parking lot, by the dock where the barges rested, crane rope limp as if in weariness. Men in long shorts and ball caps walked the deck, inspecting ships, all of which leaned to one side or the other, bowed bottoms not a fit for dry land. An auction, I thought. They are buying the broken pieces people had to leave behind.

At home, I sorted through one of the many piles of papers and mail that have collected since the hurricane. There are many stacks and piles, very deep, offers, bills, demands, notices, and more---the little things that add up if you don't see to them daily. One stack was from the schools my daughters attend. Somehow I had not understood when I first enrolled my children in school that I was also enrolling myself. I expected to help them learn, push them to complete homework, meet with the teacher, all of that. I just hadn't realized what a full-time job it could be, fundraisers, volunteering, reading forms and notes and letters. I sat down and started in on the school pile. It seemed important to get a handle on what we had missed or were about to miss, for school.

Like the mail, a good half of it is the paper equivalent of spam. I sorted that into the toss pile. Much of it involved dates or events already past. Toss pile. Quite a bit of it was hurricane related.

"Dear Parents, I believe that our school is more than a school, it is a community," wrote this year's PTA president in a memo, "As we begin to put our lives back together following the devastation left by Ike, the PTA wants to know how we can help. We would like to organize a list of the families that need support and a list of those who are able to assist. Whether it is a load of laundry, a bag of ice, a pot luck dinner, or some other need please let us know."

After that kind introduction, the memo turned into a form---you had two choices: NEED HELP or CAN HELP.

Everything gets sorted at some point.

I reflected on the memo. I know the people of my community. I've seen their strength and ability to carry on. I've read notes from people who lost everything, their homes and everything in it, and still they offer to help as they can.

I imagined this kind and caring PTA president receiving back forms from families, which she sorted into NEED and CAN piles, the CAN pile towering over the NEED pile.

The biggest contributions I've received when I asked for them were largely from Houston area locals.

I emailed the PTA President and said I had some gift cards, from a kind family who wanted to help. We agreed to a meeting time and place, and I brought the cards to her.

"This is really nice," she said.

"I know, people can really...reach out," I said.

We paused for a minute. I thought about strangers caring about strangers and going to trouble to help. I don't know what she thought about. We both ended the second of silence at the same time. Go ahead, she said.

"I have to run, school pickup for my younger," I said.

"Okay, thanks," she said.

As I walked away, I realized that neither of us asked the other how our homes and families fared during and after Ike.

More than the retreat of the trucks, the cleared debris, or the repaired traffic lights, that signaled to me that the crisis was over. We're past what happened and moving on to what we're doing to recover from it.

Note: The title of this post is from Nanci Kincaid's book of short stories, Pretending the Bed Is a Raft, which was made into an absolutely brilliant movie by Isabelle Coixet and Pedro Almodovar (one of my favorite filmmakers), titled My Life Without Me and that starred Sarah Polley and Mark Ruffalo, two of my favorite actors. It's a brilliant film. Brilliant. It catches the pace, emotion and relationships of people movingly. Watch with big box of soft tissues.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Today, you can listen to me on FOX News Radio and Blog Talk Radio

Today I'm going on FOX News Radio to talk, chat and take questions from listeners about a specific subject. I can't tell you what I'll be talking about (although I know!) but I can assure you it's a Big Topic On All Our Minds.

Initially I was hesitant to do this---all progressives know to be leery of FOX, and watching Hannity's Radicalism in America (aka How To Fan the Racism and Xenophobia Flames Against Obama) show last night, followed by an exploration of the economic crisis (squarely blamed on Democrats, because we all know problems and solutions are always single partisan) didn't assuage my fears that much. If FOX has a commitment to fair and balanced reporting, you can call me a monkey's mother.

I expressed these concerns to the executives at FOX and Blog Talk Radio. Apparently, I wasn't the only concerned progressive (there are four of us).

We were assured that this is a legitimate, Crossfire-like debate, not an ambush or setup.

And to their credit, I believe them. I think it's a great idea, and I am glad they are committed to providing a straightforward competition that furthers the discussion about key issues in our nation today.

I also don't think there's a problem with partisan reporting. I do it every day at MOMocrats.

Of course, I do think it's essential that you be transparent, open, and honest about where your beliefs fall.

Whatever else you can say about FOX News, on FOX News Radio the talk show hosts are pretty clear about where they stand.

Many of us are more in the middle, in fact, if Bell Curves are to be believed, most of us are in the middle. I count myself right there too. When I talk current events with people around me---and you can believe where I am the majority vote red---I find our concerns and values are fairly similar, the big difference is in how we think we need to pursue the doing of things, and which party we think best addresses that.

I know many people haven't got the time to parse the immense amount of data and information that comes along about every current event, and many of us rely on news to triage this for us, and tell us the salient points.

From news we get facts, from other media sources such as talk shows we get opinion, and an out loud parsing of the information.

You all know I am a big fan of the critical thinking process. I think through constructive discussion and debate, we can think critically through information and arrive at intelligent, well-formed opinions.

This is why I am a huge supporter of bi- and miltipartisan politics.

So today, hopefully I contribute a little something a little positively towards this multipartisan and critical thinking process.

Come listen if you have the time, and please do cast a vote for me to keep me going through the process.

Many thanks!

Here's the scoop as written by a fellow MOMocrat:

On Monday, October 6, MOMocrat Julie Pippert will be squaring off against fellow progressive Lynne Lupien of Left in Lowell in a unique opportunity to become America's Best Blog Talker. Help a MOMocrat out by listening in and voting for Julie!

Julie was selected by FOX News Radio as one of eight of BlogTalkRadio's most passionate and incisive hosts to voice their opinions about Election 2008 in the mainstream.

Beginning Monday, Oct. 6 at 2 p.m. ET, four hosts from Blog Talk Radio's Heading Left Channel and four from Heading Right will square off during a week-long, one-on-one tournament that will determine the best blog talker from each side of the political spectrum. Election 2008: Battle of the Blog Talkers unfolds on FOX Across America, hosted by Spencer Hughes and carried on and Sirius XM Radio.

In Round 1, Spencer will moderate a debate between Julie and Lynn, who will each have five minutes of uninterrupted time to respond to the same topic. Listeners then vote (via mobile-text message and online poll) for their favorite blog talker, who in turn moves onto Round 3. Meanwhile, two Heading Right hosts square off in Round 2, with the most popular moving onto Round 4. And in Round 5, the Heading Left and Heading Right victors go head to head. It's like the "American Idol" of talk radio!

You can listen in live at Fox News Radio or at Blog Talk Radio. Just be sure to listen and vote for Julie!

Online and mobile voting will open at 3pm Eastern on Monday, Oct. 6th. Go to Fox News Radio for instructions on how to vote.

Presented by FOX News Talk Radio and

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Displaced by Ike? Worried about voting? Get your INFO and FACTS here!

From the State of Texas website (Secretary of State, Hope Andrade):

Election Procedures and Information Following Hurricane Ike

TO: Voter Registrars, County Clerks, and Elections Administrators
FROM: Ann McGeehan, Director of Elections
DATE: September 22, 2008
RE: Election Procedures and Information Following Hurricane Ike

The Secretary of State and her staff would like to extend their sympathy to all Texans affected by Hurricane Ike. As emergency relief efforts continue, we would also like to provide basic information with regards to the upcoming November 4, 2008 election. As we learn more about the situation in all affected areas, we will provide updated information. In the meantime, the following general information may be helpful to you.

Voter Information
We realize that evacuation is a difficult experience and that voters may not be certain of their future living arrangements, neither short nor long term. Voters who have been displaced have several options for voting in the November election.

* Voter Registration and Residence. Regarding residence, our advice to people displaced by the storm is the same as to any other person—the voter is the one who decides what the voter considers to be home. If a voter relocated to another county before the storm and has decided to stay in their new county, they may register to vote in their new county. Voters in this situation must submit a new voter registration application in their new county of residence no later than October 6, 2008 in order to vote in the November election. However, if a person has been relocated due to the storm and is unsure when they can return to their home county, but intends to return, then that person can maintain their voter registration in their home county (or apply to register if not already registered).

* If a voter is able to return to their home, they will likely vote as usual in their county. The counties hardest hit by the storm are still evaluating the state of their polling places, and there will likely be changes in voting locations, but it appears that all counties will be able to conduct voting during early voting and election day. Adversely impacted counties are still trying to restore power and assess damage, so it may be a few more weeks before final polling places will be ascertained.

* A voter away from their county of residence may apply for a ballot by mail from their home county. Voters wishing to vote by mail must submit an application for ballot by mail to their county election office; the application must be received no later than Tuesday, October 28, 2008. On the application, the voter must indicate that they will be out of their home county during early voting and on election day. Voters need to provide a mailing address for the ballot which is outside of their home county.

Our office will continue to work with local election officials to ensure that all Texas voters are able to participate in a fair, credible, and efficient election. Voters with specific questions may contact the Elections Division, toll-free at (800) 252-VOTE (8683) or visit our website for updated information.