What do we do next?

Yesterday I saw the documentary, Chasing Ice. It’s probably the most beautiful and the scariest film I’ve ever seen.

In the spring of 2005, acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog headed to the Arctic on a tricky assignment for National Geographic: to capture images to help tell the story of the Earth’s changing climate. Even with a scientific upbringing, Balog had been a skeptic about climate change. But that first trip north opened his eyes to the biggest story in human history and sparked a challenge within him that would put his career and his very well-being at risk.

The film is so important it should be required viewing for every member of Congress and every person in the country. People who are skeptical about global warming and all employees of oil, gas and coal companies should be required to view it twice. View the trailer, go to the website, see the film and you will understand why I found it so scary. We are surely destroying the world we live in and no one seems to care.

I’ve been mired in politics

I can’t remember when I’ve watched so much television. I’ve also become enchanted with MsNBC. I didn’t have cable before I moved so never got to see them. Now I’m forced to have cable and they almost make it worthwhile.

I’ve also become mired in sewage, actually, sewage and storm water. Pittsburgh has big sewage problems. The sewer system is old and inadequate and the city and/or county have been fighting with the EPA for years. They finally had to get down to business, maybe just realistic. They are proposing something like the deep tunnel system Chicago has been working on for some forty years: deep tunnels and a three BILLION dollar construction project. Even if the project is implemented basements and streets won’t stop flooding. The tunnel project will store the runoff from rains as little as 1/10th of an inch, and keep it from going into the rivers. In order to prevent flooding the city has to embrace green infrastructure: green roofs, rain gardens and pervious pavement. Of course, if this was done, we wouldn’t have a need for so much tunnel construction. So, as usual with complex problems we’ve opted for the simplest, costliest, but hardly the most effective solution.

So what do I have to do with all this, besides trying to be a good citizen? Not much, really. I don’t have a basement that floods and I haven’t noticed my street flooding. The parking lot next to my building becomes a river when it rains, but it doesn’t affect me. I have a friend who is an environment lawyer and is active is attempting to implement green solutions. She’s been dragging me to meetings and my mistake was to start asking questions. This is probably the first of many posts about sewage. It’s actually a fascinating topic. I have to go to a meeting in 15 minutes. See you later.

No apologies

I hate to admit it but I’ve been busy on Facebook. They finally got my attention. I don’t love Facebook, and I’m not sure I fully understand it, but several weeks ago, about the time Scott Walker was busy alienating unions in Wisconsin, I found a group called “One Million Pissed Off Women.” I realized I have been pissed off since I was about 10 years old and discovered my brother had better toys than I did. I won’t go into detail but be assured I was convinced at an early age that boys/men had it better than girls/women. I joined the group. Next I found myself fighting against the war on women. All of this keeps me very busy reading and sometimes talking to other women about it. I’m planning to march with them. I think it’s about time someone did it.

I’ve also been busy working on my move. I am buying a condominium located between University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon. I’ll be able to walk to all my classes, lots of restaurants and many events in the area. I won’t close on the apartment until the middle of next month and won’t actually move until the end of May. I’ve begun clearing things out of this apartment. I gave a porchful of stuff to the Vietnam Vets. I’m working on a large stack of books that I hope will go to a used bookstore. I’m losing my two built-in bookcases from this apartment and no replacements in the new one. I have some ideas about what I’d like to do in the apartment, like getting rid of some of the wallpaper and changing some of the lighting. I’ll try to keep posting as things happen.

Election robocalls

I am so disgusted with those calls I am ready to promise I will not vote for anyone who calls me with a recorded message. "Friends of Rich" this year's Democratic bozo running for Allegheny County Executive, called me at least six times on Sunday. I went to their website and sent an email telling them one more call and I wouldn't vote for him. They called at least twice on Monday. This evening, half an hour after the polls closed, they called again. I didn't vote for Rich. I voted straight Democratic then unchecked his name. I will do it again, I promise. I think we should all get together and promise not to vote for anyone who insults us with robocalls.

Past pollution meets present day corruption

I often speak to my ESL students about democracy. Most of them don't really understand what we are all about (I'm not sure I know lately, either), and most of them are unrealistic about the US, loving us, or hating us too much. I am always pleased when I have an opportunity to demonstrate some of our professed values in action.

Back in December, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette ran a series of articles about air pollution in Western Pennsylvania–how fine particulate in the air causes asthma, lung cancer, other lung diseases and heart disease. They told stories about the problems individuals and families living near our coal fired power plants have, and presented statistics showing a huge number of deaths above the national average from these causes. You can read the series here.

In order to keep the message alive a meeting was held at Chatham University, attended by me, my two students and several hundred others. The reporters gave an overview of the problem and several of the affected individuals told their horrifying stories—children suffering with asthma, proliferation of lung cancer deaths within their communities, well water polluted so that it was not only not drinkable, but caused skin rashes when they showered with it corroded pipes and faucets so badly they had to be replaced every two years. 

I was hoping to show my ESL students that this is the way democracy should work. What did we learn? My Chinese student learned that the Chinese aren't the only ones with pollution problems. He was clearly impressed with that. My Russian student lived in Sweden for twenty years before coming here. I'm not sure what she learned. I learned, not for the first time, that our elected officials have no shame and don't care about what happens to their constituency, so long as the industry involved continues to support their tenure in office.

The lessons are clear: in the name of creating cheap power we allow the industry to be lax and shift the cost away from all of us and on to the backs of a few individuals who pay dearly. The most obvious lesson is the ineffectiveness of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which seems to be protecting only the companies creating the environmental problems.

All of this has to do with rectifying past sins, but we have learned nothing. The day after the meeting, the head of the Pennsylvania DEP announced that all permits and enforcement actions for Marcellus shale drilling would be issued by his office. We know he isn't concerned about air or water quality. His only concern is to give the gas drilling industry the greatest freedom possible. Pennsylvania is not taxing or taking any kind of removal fee. The only authority looking out for the public interest is the DEP and they sold out. See the links below for more information.

We haven't learned our lessons from air pollution, now we will poison our water supply.

This is the story I told during my fifteen minutes of fame at the Waffle Shop. But I made one mistake. The interviewer asked me what she could do and I talked about contacting elected officials. That's obviously hopeless. These college kids should be out marching in the streets, just like they are doing in the middle east. It's their water and their air we are poisoning. Because of my age and the fact that I already have heart disease, it won't matter so much to me; it should matter hugely to them. We have allowed our democracy to be sold to the highest bidder. Our children will pay more dearly for this than they will for the debt the Republicans are screaming about.

Ronni Bennett, at Time Goes By, has a wonderful post about the choices we face for our democracy. If you haven't read it, go there now.


Post-Gazette Air Pollution series

The sell-out











I’m tired of “liberal” being a dirty word


My friend, The Subversive Librarian, has a great post based on another great post at Cuppa with Candace. Both are replies to a typical conservative email making the rounds about being tired of "how terrible it is that conservatives have to pay their fair share in taxes while we lefties undermine the American way of life and Completely Ruin Things For All Future Generations." If you want to know more about the email author, go to one of those other blogs. I don't want to write his name.

Here is Candace's post, with permission:

“I’m 57, and I’m Tired, Too”

By Candace Van Auken

     I’m 57. Until I became disabled in 2001, I worked hard at different jobs, routinely putting in 50 to 70-hour weeks. I did call in sick some days as my inflammatory arthritis worsened, but my employers just patched me through to meetings via telephone — there being no rest for the weary white-collar employee. For years, I made a very good salary, and I didn’t inherit my job or my income. In fact I had to work twice as hard to make 3/4 the salary of the average male employee. Now, given the economy and my disability, I’m probably going to end up living under a bridge, and that thought makes me feel both scared and tired. Very tired.

     I’m tired of being told that I’m a parasite when I spent many years paying taxes and Social Security. (I noticed, one year, that according to a newspaper article, I was paying three times the amount in taxes as a politician who earned twice what I did. Unlike him, I paid my fair share.) I was told by the government that I had worked for my Disability insurance, but according to people lucky enough to have never been seriously ill, I’m a drain on society. I’m tired of being told that conservative congressmen will take the money I paid in, and give it to the most obscenely profitable industry in the world — the oil companies — as “subsidies” necessary for “the creation of new jobs.” (It’s a fact: As oil companies profits have risen, the number of people they employ has decreased, a reality that apparently doesn’t trouble conservatives.)

Photograph of member from the Westboro Baptist Church at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, on the day of Pope Benedict's address to the UN General Assembly. Original photograph by David Shankbone. URL: http://blog.shankbone.org/about/
     I’m tired of being told that Christianity is a “Religion of Love,” when frequently I can read dozens of stories about members of the Westboro Baptist Church calling Catholic priests “vampires” and the daughters of our current president “satanic spawn…of a murderous bastard.” The Supreme Court just upheld the group’s right to stand outside the funerals of military heroes holding signs that say, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” The group launched a Web site called “Priests Rape Boys,” and they don’t just save their venom for Roman Catholics. They have claimed that Orthodox Christians are indistinguishable from Catholics, and they also criticize Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and other Baptists. After a 2008 earthquake in Sichuan China, the group issued a press release thanking God for the number of people who had lost their lives, and in 1996 they protested at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. saying, “Whatever righteous cause the Jewish victims of the 1930s–40s Nazi Holocaust had…has been drowned in sodomite semen.” And in case you haven’t figured it out, yet: They are just as “typical” of Christianity as Al-Qaida is of Islam.

     I’m tired of being told that out of “Tolerance for Free Speech and Freedom of Religion” we must look the other way when conservative politicians encourage the murder of gay people in Uganda or aggressively proselytizing American Christian missionaries offer to rebuild areas of Sri Lanka devastated by a tsunami only if the homeless and destitute residents abandon their faith and convert to Christianity. (And when Sri Lanka’s government complained, the Bush administration threatened to cut off aid and credit to the country.)

     I’m tired of hearing that American workers must lower their standard of living and give up the right to bargain collectively as union members in order to slow the number of jobs being shipped overseas. Ending up with a living standard comparable to Bangladesh has never been part of the “American Dream.”

Prohibition era poster
     I’m tired of being told that that we can “Win the War on Drugs,” when it is obvious that the millions we pour into it are working just as well as Prohibition did in abolishing the sale and consumption of alcohol. And I am tired of being treated like a criminal whenever I go to buy OTC Sudafed at my local drug store. Are middle-aged, chronically ill women with stuffy noses the leading edge of a new crime wave?

     I, too, am tired of hearing wealthy athletes, entertainers and politicians talking about innocent mistakes, stupid mistakes or youthful mistakes, when we all know they think their only mistake was getting caught. I’m tired of people with a bloated sense of entitlement, rich or poor.

     I’m really tired of people who don’t take responsibility for their lives and actions. I’m tired of hearing conservatives blame “big government” or “reverse discrimination,” for all their problems.

     Yes, I’m sick and I’m tired. But I’m also glad to be 57. Because, maybe, I’ll live long enough to see people catch onto the many ways that conservative Republicans pretend to serve US citizens while actually doing the bidding of the large international corporations and interests that fund them. I sure hope so.

Candace Van Auken is a middle-aged woman disabled by autoimmune diseases, who was mightily ticked off by Robert A. Hall’s essay — now going the e-mail rounds — “I’m 63 and I’m tired.”
There is no way this will be widely publicized, unless each of us sends it on! This is your chance to make a difference.

Photo credit:

Copyright © 2011 by Candace L. Van Auken. All rights reserved.

Here are my friend's additions to the list:

  • I'm tired of being told that when corporations with near-perfect information and superior bargaining power join forces to lower wages, eliminate regulations, reduce benefits, and send jobs overseas, that's patriotic, free-market capitalism; but when employees respond by negotiating wages and work conditions collectively through unions, it's Marxism.
  • I'm tired of being told that when a public employee accepts a lower wage than she could earn in the private sector, in exchange for job security and retirement benefits, and then does that job for 30 years even if it sucks, she's a lazy good-for-nothing bureaucrat who has a lot of nerve expecting the state to fulfill its contract.
  • I'm tired of being told that government can't do a single thing right, and that only the private sector will provide quality products and service, by people who have apparently never had to deal with Comcast or AT&T customer service.
  • And I'm tired of hearing the chant of "WHAT PART OF ILLEGAL DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND?" to justify splitting up families and denying basic human rights to children.

And me? I'm tired of all the lies, half-truths and stupidities: Obama is not a Muslim, He's certainly not a Socialist (I know, because my Chinese students think I am, and they should know), and all the other nonsense. We have so many important problems to solve. It is tragic that we have to be involved with these slogans, sound bites and obfuscation.

Flying, or not, and listening

I have a $250 certificate from United Airlines that will expire next month. This was my booby prize for that terrible trip home from Japan last year. I hate to let it fade away, so I've been trying to figure out some way to use it. Truth is I haven't wanted to get back on a plane. Our recent flight to Chicago was OK, but I think this was unusual luck. I have to complete the round trip before December 19. I'm still thinking about it, but the only way I can use the certificate from Pittsburgh is to make at least one plane change before I get to my destination. They won't let me use it on any non-stop flight. I can go to New York, making a stop in Chicago, or Atlanta. I just can't see doing that in December. It would probably be easier to drive. I'd like to go to New York before Christmas; I'll probably take the train. With any luck I'll never fly United again.

I often listen to podcasts of the Brian Lehrer show from WNYC in New York. Here he is interviewing Bernie Sanders, an Independent Senator from Vermont, who has sponsored a bill to deal with those "too big to fail" financial institutions, and also talks about our healthcare mess, including a unique take on the death panels. He's probably the most rational senator I've ever heard. Too bad there aren't more like him.


Memoir and thoughts about Congress

This is my tenth post. I'm glad November has only 30 days. As this day got older I thought of several things I wanted to say; now I can't think of anything.

My memoir class met this morning. We are supposed to write a new story: someone who made a difference in our lives in grade school or junior high. I came to a big block on that one, also. Of course those teachers made a difference in my life. But it all seems ordinary to me now, looking back. I can't think of anything to write.

There is a wonderful post about Congress at Time Goes By today, written by Saul Friedman, who always writes wonderful posts. I agree with everything he writes about the buffoons we send to Washington, but I would add one thing. He speculates about why we keep these guys in office. One thing he doesn't mention is the terrifying lack of choice, or perhaps it's just terrifying choices when it comes time to vote. I think decent people just don't run for office. For instance: if I don't vote for Arlen Spector next year, all of my potential choices are worse. It's very depressing.

Podcamp 4: a great weekend event

This weekend was Pittsburgh Podcamp 4. The first
was a down home kind of thing concerned mostly with do-it-yourself
instructions for podcasting, blogging and using video. I had already been
blogging for 2 years and I wasn’t really interested in podcasting, but it was
fun. People were nice and I learned some new stuff. I never got to 2 or 3; I
was in Japan or somewhere. Podcamp has grown up and evolved. Five hundred people were signed up for this
one. The people are still nice, although much more businesslike than those
original geeky types. It all ran very smoothly and was much more sophisticated.
Technical discussions were limited or non-existent. Do-it-yourself concerned
using social media and focused on content, with lots of concerns about marketing. One of my goals in attending was to learn more
about Twitter. I did, not because there was a class about it, but whole thing
seemed to run on Twitter.

The most impressive presentation was given by Priya Narasimhan, a
professor at Carnegie Mellon. She just blew me away. I don’t know whether it
was who she is, what she is doing, or the fact that she became a sports fan
when she got to Pittsburgh, probably all three. This fandom has driven the product she created, Yinzcam, an enhancement, using your mobile device, to your ice hockey game experience. Here is a brief version of the speech she gave us, which I found on YouTube. She made this presentation in August. If they get her presentation up on the Podcamp website, it's worth watching. There's a lot more about edemocrary and iburgh.


The idea for iburgh, the second device she speaks about, evidently came from City Councilor Bill Peduto, who gave the keynote address on Saturday morning. He talked about using the information on the web to make government more transparent, something sorely lacking in the 'burgh. Peduto's presentation is also worth watching.

I met Amie, who sometimes comments on my blog. That was really fun. She's the second of my blogging friends I've met in person. Also took a class called "Refinding Your Blog Voice." Maybe it will help me post more often. All told a good weekend.

Fenced in by the G 20

The powers that be in Pittsburgh tell us this is great PR for the city; we will finally get known for something other than being a smoky city. I don't think they meant the steel city would be known for our fencing and steel barricades, but that's how it looks to me. Tuesday, walking to class, one of my classmates offered me a ride just as it looked like the rains were coming. She drove through Schenley Park near Phipps Conservatory and already the park was being fenced in–or we were being kept out. Yesterday I went to a noon colloquium at Frick fine arts, the Pitt building closest to the Phipps. It was surrounded by fencing with only one way to get in (or out). I felt like I was in some kind of prison. Pitt is closed today and all of my classes at CMU have been canceled. Sculpture in front of the Carnegie Museum looks like it has been crated. All of this because there will be a welcome dinner tonight at the Phipps. How welcome is that!

They say it's because of all of the protests and the damage done in other cities. Here are some links about the protests: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/sep/23/g20-usa



If I was coming here from a foreign country I would certainly wonder about all of these impediments to free movement in our supposedly free country. And why don't these government ministers from all over the world wonder what they have done to make so many people so angry.