Monthly Archives: November 2013

Thanks for This?


In April of 2010, Sarah Palin, the former (part-time) Alaska governor and 2008 Republican Party vice-presidential nominee, told the Women of Joy conference in Louisville, Kentucky, “God truly has shed His grace on thee – on this country.  He’s blessed us, and we better not blow it.”  She was criticizing the notion of separation of church and state; a tenet essential to the establishment of the United States.  She insisted, as right-wing evangelicals do, that this is a Christian nation; founded on biblical principals.  If that’s the case, then her oldest daughter, Bristol, should be stoned to death for getting drunk, having sex out-of-wedlock and giving birth to an illegitimate child.  That Bristol went on to condemn gay marriage – even though she and her baby’s father never could set a wedding date – is typical of conservative hypocrisy.

If Palin, or anyone else in her camp, were so concerned about the application of Christian ideology, then they should look at the startling rise in both poverty and food insecurity in the U.S.  Food banks have been running low on supplies and are working (even more than ever) on shoestring budgets.  To worsen matters, President and Obama and the U.S. Congress made cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  A family of 4 could lose on average $36 monthly in food assistance.  It’s even more astounding when you consider that many of these families are not welfare brats, but among the “working poor” – a new class of individuals created almost involuntarily in the past decade.  These are the people who haven’t benefited from “trickle-down economics.”  Capitalism hasn’t functioned quite so well for them.  In the late 1990s, more people moved up out of poverty than ever before in this nation’s history.  But, thanks to the incompetence and corruption of the Bush Administration, practically all those gains have been lost.

It’s, of course, the skewered tax policies the Bush Administration instituted, beginning in 2001; a financial structure retrofitted to favor the wealthiest individuals and largest corporations.  Coupled with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the almost complete deregulation of the financial and housing industries, and it shouldn’t be too surprising that the U.S. is still in the grips of the worst economic downturn in 80 years.

While conservative extremists are obsessed with injecting creationism into science curriculums in schools and stopping queers from getting married, my biggest worry is the number of people who struggle daily with food insecurity.  As much of the U.S. winds down the Thanksgiving holiday with bloated meals, hectic travel schedules and “Black Friday” shopping excursions, here are some sobering statistics, as of 2012, about the state of many kitchens across the land.

Food Insecurity and Very Low Food Security:

  • In 2012, 49.0 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33.1 million adults and 15.9 million children.
  • In 2012, 14.5% of households (17.6 million households) were food insecure.
  • In 2012, 5.7% of households (7.0 million households) experienced very low food security.
  • In 2012, households with children reported food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than those without children, 20.0% compared to 11.9%.
  • In 2012, households that had higher rates of food insecurity than the national average included households with children (20.0%), especially households with children headed by single women (35.4%) or single men (23.6%), Black non-Hispanic households (24.6%) and Hispanic households (23.3%).
  • In 2011, 4.8 million seniors (over age 60), or 8.4% of all seniors were food insecure. [1]
  • Food insecurity exists in every county in America, ranging from a low of 2.4% in Slope County, ND to a high of 35.2% in Holmes County, MS.[2]

Overall, the U.S. sported a rate of 14.7% for households with food insecurity.  Following are the top 10 states that exhibited statistically significant higher household food insecurity rates than the U.S. national average, which is from 2000 – 2012 in this study: [3]

Mississippi                 20.9%

Arkansas                     19.7%

Texas                          18.4%

Alabama                     17.9%

North Carolina          17.0%

Georgia                       16.9%

Missouri                     16.7%

Nevada                        16.6%

Ohio                            16.1%

California                   15.6%

Use of Emergency Food Assistance and Federal Food Assistance Programs:

  • In 2012, 5.1 percent of all U.S. households (6.2 million households) accessed emergency food from a food pantry or soup kitchen one or more times. [4] 
  • In 2012, 59.4 percent of food-insecure households participated in at least one of the three major federal food assistance programs – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly Food Stamp Program), The National School Lunch Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). [5] 
  • Feeding America provides emergency food assistance to an estimated 37 million low-income people annually, a 46% increase from 25 million since Hunger in America 2006.[6]
  • Among members of Feeding America, 74% of pantries, 65% of kitchens, and 54% of shelters reported that there had been an increase since 2006 in the number of clients who come to their emergency food program sites. [7]

If the U.S. and all other democratic societies are serious about strengthening themselves, they’ll spend less money on wars against foreign nations and homosexuals and more on the real threats to stability: hunger and poverty.  Otherwise, “The Hunger Games” won’t be as much a movie as a way of life.


  1. Ziliak, J.P. & Gundersen, C. (2013.) Spotlight on Food Insecurity among Senior Americans: 2011. National Foundation to End Senior Hunger (NFESH).
  2. Gundersen, C., Waxman, E., Engelhard, E., Satoh, A., & Chawla, N. (2013). Map the Meal Gap 2013, Feeding America.
  3. Coleman-Jensen, A., Nord, M., & Singh, A. (2013). Household Food Security in the United States in 2012. USDA ERS.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Cohen, R., J. Mabli,, F. Potter & Z. Zhao. (2010). Hunger in America 2010. Mathematica Policy Research, Feeding America.
  7. Ibid.
  8. U.S. Department of Labor.Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2012 Annual Average Unemployment Rates.


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Happy Hanukah!


“Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu,

Melekh ha’olam,

shehakol nih’ye bidvaro.

Blessed are You, Lord our God,

King of the Universe,

by Whose word all things came to be.”



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Happy American Thanksgiving!


“Treat the Earth and all that dwell thereon with respect.

Remain close to the Great Spirit.

Show great respect for your fellow beings.

Work together for the benefit of all Mankind.

Give assistance and kindness wherever needed.


Do what you know to be right.

Look after the well-being of mind and body.

Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater good.

Be truthful and honest at all times.

Take full responsibility for your actions.

Let us greet the dawn of a new day,

when all can live as one with nature,

and peace reigns everywhere.


Oh Great Spirit, bring to our brothers and sisters,

the wisdom of Nature and the knowledge,

that if her laws are obeyed,

this land will again flourish,

and grasses and trees will grow as before.


Guide those that through their councils,

seek to spread the wisdom of their leaders to all people.

Heal the raw wounds of the Earth,

and restore to our soul the richness,

which strengthens our bodies,

and makes them us in our councils.


Bring to all the knowledge that great cities,

live only through the bounty,

of the good earth beyond their paved streets,

and towers of stone and steel.”


Native American Commandments

– Jasper Saunkeah, Cherokee

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One More Hero – Officer J.D. Tippit


President John F. Kennedy certainly wasn’t the only person to die on November 22, 1963.  But, only one other individual associated with his death also lost his life that day, Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit.  Moreover, Tippit died at the hands of the same madman, Lee Harvey Oswald, who shot the officer on a street in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas less than an hour after Kennedy died.

Born to a farming family in Red River County, Texas on September 18, 1924, Tippit grew up hunting and making do with life in a rural community, often devoid of telephones and electricity.  In July of 1944, he joined the U.S. Army, like so many young men of his generation.  After being injured in the Rhine Valley in January 1945, he returned to the U.S. to await deployment to the Pacific.  But, in 1946, he was discharged and returned to Texas.

On the day after Christmas that same year, he married his high school sweetheart, Marie Frances Gasway.  Shortly afterwards, the young couple moved to Dallas to start their life together.  They briefly moved back to Red River County, but returned to Dallas in 1952.  With 3 children to support, J.D. quickly found his true calling: police work.  Being a police officer in Dallas, even in the 1950s, could be dangerous.  He almost lost his life at the hands of a demented man in April of 1956.

On November 22, 1963, Tippit returned to his home to have a quick lunch with Marie.  Then, word came about the shots in Dealey Plaza and a description of the suspected gunman.  Tippit didn’t stand a chance against Oswald’s lunacy.

On November 20, 2012, the city of Dallas honored Tippit’s sacrifice with a historical marker.  A few days ago I was surprised to learn that Jacqueline Kennedy had sent a letter to Marie Tippit shortly after the double tragedy, expressing her condolences.  At the same time, both women became widows, each with young children, under the most horrific of circumstances.  Each man died doing their jobs: Kennedy making a goodwill visit to Texas as president of the United States, and Tippit hunting a killer.

This is for all the law enforcement officials whose lives often end amidst such horror.  Their watch may end on a certain day, but their legacies of service and responsibility go on forever.


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Kennedy’s Presidential Limousine – The Lincoln X-100


I mentioned this last year, on the 49th anniversary of Kennedy’s death, but I wanted to bring it up again on this special occasion.  My car fetish knows few bounds, even though it’s limited to most anything pre-1980.  That includes the vehicle Kennedy was riding in that fateful day: a 1961 Lincoln Continental X-100.  It was a 4-door convertible, and X-100 was its Secret Service code name.

Ford Motor Company assembled the car at its Lincoln plant in Wixom, Michigan in January 1961.  Hess & Eisenhardt of Cincinnati, Ohio customized the vehicle to function as a presidential parade limousine; literally cutting it in half, reinforcing it, extending it 3½ feet in length and making numerous other modifications.  Ford Motor Company and Hess & Eisenhardt collaborated on engineering and styling.  It debuted at the White House in June 1961.  The car remained the property of the Ford Motor Company, which leased it to the Secret Service for $500 per year.

The car, equipped at the Lincoln plant, would have retailed for $7,347.  Custom built, it cost nearly $200,000.


Special features on the limousine included:

  • Removable steel and transparent plastic roof panels
  • Hydraulic rear seat that could be raised 10½ ” to elevate the president
  • Massive heating and air conditioning system with auxiliary blowers and 2 control panels
  • Dark blue broadcloth lap robes with gray plush lining and hand-embroidered presidential seals in special door pockets
  • Four retractable steps for Secret Service agents
  • Two steps on rear bumper for additional agents
  • Flashing red lights, siren
  • Blue Mouton rug in rear
  • Indicator lights when door was ajar or steps out
  • Two flagstaffs, two spotlights
  • Auxiliary jump seats for extra passengers
  • Two radio telephones
  • Interior floodlights

I have a replica of this car by Yat Ming, which is part of its “Presidential Limousines” collection.  Yes, it’s made in China, but I love it anyway.  And, I know owning such a thing sounds macabre, yet the vehicle is an indelible, albeit tragic, part of our nation’s history.

My replica of the 1961 Lincoln X-100.

My replica of the 1961 Lincoln X-100.

The Strange Saga of the JFK Assassination Car.”

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Through a Tiny Window

On November 22, 1963, I was just less than 3 weeks old.  At the time, my parents and I lived in an apartment above a garage owned by father’s oldest sister and her husband on the northern edge of downtown Dallas.  Through the small bathroom window, my mother caught a glimpse of President Kennedy’s motorcade, as it raced towards Parkland Hospital.  She had no idea at that moment what tragedy had just unfolded.


That siren; that God-awful siren!  It came from down the hall, and I had no idea why.  I had just turned on the TV to watch my show, “As the World Turns.”  My older sister got me hooked on it while I was on “maternity leave.”  Actually, in those days, there was no such thing.  Women just had to quit work and hope they had a job later, if they wanted it.  That’s fine, I’d told myself.  At that moment, with my new baby boy, I didn’t care about going back to a desk to argue insurance claims.

I’d almost died having him.  I wasn’t supposed to have him.  The doctors told me I just couldn’t have a baby.  But, my husband and I didn’t listen.  We turned our hopes to a higher authority.  I was almost 31, when he was born; so old to be a new mother back then.  I cuddled him close, as he quietly nursed; a diaper over his head.

It had been so hot – since summer!  Advice to future mothers: don’t get pregnant until summer passes.  Just a thought.  I had to sleep sitting up; otherwise, I’d choke to death.  We had a floor fan blowing all night to keep me cool.  My husband wore pajamas to bed that summer; the fan would make the room so cold for him.

But, why were those sirens so loud?  So many of them.  I scooted towards the bathroom window and looked to my right.  Through the trees in the back yard and the neighbors’ back yards I saw a flash of red lights and black cars.  Just a blur; a long streak of red and black.  For a second, I thought I also saw a flash of pink.  But, I think now it was just my imagination.

I knew President and Mrs. Kennedy were in town.  It would have been nice to go downtown to see them, but I couldn’t with the baby.  And, my husband had to go to work.

I went back into the front room, and the show had already started.  “Nancy” (Helen Wagner) was speaking to her father.  I don’t remember what they were talking about.  Then, without warning – in one of those moments that sears into your mind – Walter Cronkite interrupted the show.

And, said President Kennedy had been shot.

But, he was just here!

In Dallas.

The motorcade – that flash of red and black.  That’s what it was.

But, it was just there!

I’d just seen it.

I rushed back to the bathroom window.  I could see more traffic on Harry Hines.  I went back into the front room.

Walter Cronkite looked as if he was about to cry.  How do you announced something like that to millions of people and not break down?

I suddenly became terrified.  I had to call my husband.  Still cradling the baby, I dialed the phone from the bedroom.

The assistant manager – the owner’s brother-in-law – answered.

“I just saw on the news,” I told him.  “President Kennedy’s been shot!”

He was silent for a second.  “Is this a joke?”

“No!”  Why would he even ask that?  We didn’t joke about those things back then.

“Cathy, turn on the radio!” he said.

I looked at my baby, still nursing, oblivious to the world around him.  Is this the world he would inherit?  Where the president of the United States gets shot in broad daylight?


My husband came home early.  His boss had closed down the shop.  He was happy to see me and the baby.  But, he was as shocked as me – and angry.  “What’s wrong?”

“Some dumb son-of-a-bitch at work said he was glad Kennedy had been shot!”

Who would be happy about that?

That whole weekend – that entire, awful weekend – all we saw on TV was about Kennedy.  None of us could believe it.  My husband’s family gathered at his parents’ home to watch the funeral.  The black horse that wouldn’t cooperate; the long procession; the masses of people.  When John-John saluted his father, we all just about lost it.  This wasn’t really happening, was it?  I couldn’t say it out loud.  This couldn’t be happening – right?

Then, amidst the sadness and completely out of nowhere, one of my husband’s sisters-in-law asked, “Why are the flags only halfway up the poles?”

We all thought for a second or so and then, just looked at her.  Here she was, a hair dresser at an upscale salon, earning thousands of dollars every month when most people in those days only got by on a couple of hundred dollars, and she asks that.

My husband, sitting next to me, said, “Because they ran out of string.”

And, if I say we all felt guilty when we laughed, I’m not lying.  We literally burst out laughing.  Only my husband could say something like that and get away with it.  He then picked up a box of tissue and began offering some to everybody.

If I think about it now, it really hurts.  How could that happen?  Here!  Why did that happen?  That baby I held is now a half-century old, and the world is a much more violent place.

I close my eyes and think for a moment.

And can hear those sirens.

And see that flash of red and black.

And Nancy’s face.

And Walter Cronkite’s twisted mouth.

All from that tiny window.

My mother and I on December 1, 1963.

My mother and I on December 1, 1963.

© 2013

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Now Dallas, You Can Move Forward


For the past half century, the city of Dallas, Texas has been defined by three elements: the Dallas Cowboys, the television show “Dallas” and the assassination of the country’s 35th president, John F. Kennedy.  I’ve always admired Kennedy.  He was a true military hero who barely survived World War II.  He was witty and charming with a strong vision for America’s future.  In his inaugural address, he uttered the most inspirational words I’ve ever heard: “And so, my fellow, Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  It was a challenge for a country that – although already accustomed to them – to do more.  It’s certainly something this nation, filled with self-righteous individuals, needs today.  It’s why I vote regularly and speak out when I see injustice.  If you want your society to work for you properly, you have to be willing to do something right for it.

Several years ago, while working my first job as a package clerk at a nearby grocery store, a woman from California asked me how I felt about the city of Dallas.  It was a curious question.  But, it was her first trip to Texas, and she just wanted to know.  She mentioned that, in her native California in 1963, her fellow citizens immediately came to loathe the city of my birth and the entire state of Texas.  She saw people hurtle rocks and bottles at a couple of cars that bore Texas license plates.  Then, I told her I was only 17 days old on the day Kennedy died and that my mother had seen the presidential motorcade race by the garage apartment where we lived on its way to Parkland Hospital – though at the time, she had no idea what had just transpired.  She was nursing me and had sat down to watch “As the World Turns” – a program she’d become addicted to while on maternity leave – and just happened to hear the sirens in the distance; blaring through the open bathroom window.  Not until she returned to the front room to resume watching her show and Walter Cronkite interrupted did everything change.

The California woman – a blonde in her early 40s – froze.  The event became personal again.

It’s a good thing for a city to be associated with a great sports team.  After the horror of the Kennedy assassination, the Dallas Cowboys had the burden of transforming the city into “America’s team.”  Its image as a real estate and oil metropolis were certified in “Dallas,” one of the cheesiest programs the American entertainment community has ever produced.  Fortunately, I know the real Dallas, and I’m happy to announce it’s not that bad.  This place of nearly 2 million people is a blue enclave in a red state.  The city boasts a non-White majority population that still trends Democratic in presidential elections.  In 1995, Dallas elected Ron Kirk as mayor, the first Black to hold that office.  In 2004, Dallas County elected Lupe Valdez as its first Hispanic, female and openly gay or lesbian sheriff.  Two years later it elected Craig Watkins as its first Black district attorney.  There are two schools named after Kennedy here: Kennedy-Curry Middle School and John F. Kennedy Learning Center.  It’s a city with a diverse population and an international reach.  Yes, it boasts its share of crackpots.  Show me a city this size that doesn’t and I’ll show you a pile of rocks.

When word about Kennedy’s death spread throughout my father’s workplace, a printing company on the edge of downtown, an older man groused that Kennedy deserved to be shot because he was Catholic.  My father, then in his early 30s and unafraid to speak his mind, snapped back, “You son of a bitch!  He was our president!”

Several years ago, while working as a contractor for a government agency, my company’s liaison – a hard-right Republican who almost got teary-eyed whenever he mentioned Ronald Reagan’s name – unexpectedly commented that the Kennedy assassination was “one of the best days in this country’s history.”  The three of us standing there with him – my supervisor, a coworker and me – were literally startled.  The statement had come out of nowhere.

Even I who despised Ronald Reagan got scared when he was shot in 1981.  “No!” I announced to the man, while standing beside my supervisor.  “The day Kennedy was shot was one of the worst days this country has ever experienced!”  I reiterated how, on the day Reagan fell victim to a crazed gunman, I was glued to the television.  My mother arrived home from work and sat down to watch a local broadcast – and began to cry.  It had only been a little more than 17 years since Kennedy’s death, and the nightmare had been rejuvenated.

I stormed out of my supervisor’s office, genuinely pissed off, and returned to my desk.  The man, twice my size with an equally imposing voice, followed me and meekly apologized.

Every major metropolitan area has its extremists; its cache of lunatics who are filled with vile against anyone and anything they don’t like.  There were certainly plenty of them in Dallas in the early 1960s.  But, the nation was at the start of a cultural tumult, and such types filled a lot of cities, especially in the Deep South.  It had been a century since the start of the Civil War, and many White Southerners didn’t like the thought of Negroes gaining equality.  When Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Claudia (whom Lyndon affectionately dubbed “Lady Bird”), visited Dallas in September of 1960, they were met, in part, by a hostile crowd.  Although a native Texan and then-Senate majority leader, Johnson was vilified by some folks as duplicitous in a liberal Yankee agenda (e.g. civil rights for Negroes) by agreeing to run on the Kennedy ticket.  As the Johnsons exited a downtown theatre, a young woman lunged forward and snatched Mrs. Johnson’s white gloves from her dainty hands.  Lady Bird’s face turned as white as the gloves that ended up in a sewer.  The senator hustled his wife into a waiting car and hurtled an invective back towards the angry crowd.

When Kennedy died, it had been 13 years since someone made a concerted attempt to assassinate a sitting U.S. president; 18 years since one had died in office; and 62 years since one had been killed.  At age 43, Kennedy was the youngest man ever elected to the U.S. presidency, the first born in the 20th century – and the last to die in office.  His death shocked the nation – and the world – into a new, more brutal reality.  Few could fathom such evil in those days.  Kennedy’s vision for a better nation held so much hope.  That a lone gunman with a Napoleonic complex could possibly destroy the beautiful stones of Camelot with three bolts of lead hadn’t entered the public conscious.

When I was a senior in high school, an English teacher told me everything that erupted in the 1960s had been brewing the previous decade; a time many still view through a delicate stained glass window.  Historians and various cultural observers now agree that Kennedy’s assassination is when the 1960s actually began.  The moment a bullet pulverized the skull of the handsome, young president and compelled his beautiful, glamorous wife to clamber onto the back of the limousine to gather the bloody fragments – like a tomboy collecting rocks – is when that stained glass window shattered.  The patriotism of the 1940s and the economic security of the 1950s collapsed into the reality of a cold, dispassionate universe.  As a whole, Americans realized the nation hadn’t lived up to its ideals of equality and freedom for all.  The Watergate scandal then seemed to confirm things aren’t always how they seem, and we needed to start questioning authority.

The exact moment when everything changed in America.

The exact moment when everything changed in America.

What’s often ignored about Kennedy’s visit to Texas is the overwhelming joy with which he and his wife, Jacqueline, were greeted.  When the couple arrived in neighboring Fort Worth late on November 21, a large, enthusiastic group had gathered in the rain to see them.  As the motorcade cruised through downtown Dallas on that bright, sunny Friday afternoon, hundreds of people lined the streets; waving and cheering.  At one point, Nellie Connally, the wife of Texas governor John Connally, turned to the president and gleefully pointed out that Dallas enjoyed the First Couple’s presence.  They did; they really did.

Several years ago someone painted a white X in the middle of Elm Street, identifying the exact spot where Kennedy was hit.  Somehow that dubious insignia withstood rain, sleet, triple-digit temperatures and Dallas drivers.  Recently, however, the city paved over it as part of a concerted infrastructure improvement plan.  But, it was also a symbolic move.  No, Dallas can’t just get over what happened here on this day five decades ago; pretending it was nothing more than a rough afternoon.  Yes, we grieve today about one of the most tragic events of the 20th century.  That’s the honorable thing to do.  But, we also need to consider Kennedy’s view of a better world – and then move forward.  We have no other choice.


John F. Kennedy Presidential Museum and Library

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In Memoriam – John F. Kennedy: May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963


“Freedom lies in being bold.”

–  Robert Frost


John F. Kennedy Presidential Museum and Library

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Haiyan and the Resilience of a Community

Typhoon Haiyan: residents of Tacloban city

It’s been a little more than a week now since Typhoon Haiyan plowed into the Philippines.  With maximum sustained winds of 195 mph, Haiyan – also known as Yolanda – is the most powerful tropical storm system in recorded meteorological history to make landfall anywhere in the world.  The previous record had been held by Hurricane Camille, which packed 190 mph winds when it slammed into the U.S. Gulf Coast in 1969.

The Philippines are no stranger to typhoons.  Strategically situated just north of Indonesia, between the South China Sea and the Philippine Sea, this country of 96.7 million has to brace itself every year for tropical events.  But, this time things are much worst.  As far as storms go, Haiyan couldn’t have hit a more vulnerable location.

Barely a quarter century removed from the brutal, 20-year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippines still rank as a developing nation, even though it’s a relatively fully-functioning democracy.  Geographically classified as an archipelago, the Philippines are comprised of 7,107 islands.  But, it’s actually part of the overall Malay Archipelago, the world’s largest such areaHumans have occupied the Malay region for at least 30,000 years.  For centuries, though, the Philippines often served as a crossing point between mainland Asia and the larger islands of Borneo and New Guinea.  The arrival of Islam in the latter part of the 14th century changed much of the Philippines’ culture; a fact that remains even now, as the nation battles more radical Islamic elements.  In 1521, Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan became the first documented European to arrive in the Philippines.  He didn’t last long.  Barely a month later, local warriors killed him and several others who were part of his expedition during an intense battle.  But, the Spanish government, in its own bitter rivalry with Great Britain for world domination, persisted and launched more expeditions to the Malay area.  More battles ensued and more blood was spilled, but in 1565, King Phillip II succeeded in making the islands a Spanish colony.  It is him for whom the Philippines are named.  The Philippines remained a Spanish outpost until the 1898 Spanish-American War.  In 1935, the islands became a self-governing entity.

The “self-governing” part is always tricky for any nation that tries to set itself apart.  It’s especially difficult for those where democracy is an alien concept – which is pretty much most of the developing world.  After centuries of Spanish domination and Roman Catholic indoctrination, the Philippines weren’t a good candidate for automatic conversion to the democratic process.  I recall how a contingency of average Filipinos known as EDSA 1 toppled the Marcos regime in 1986, sending him and his family fleeing for their lives.  Even if his wife, Imelda, couldn’t haul her cache of designer shoes out of the imperial palace, the Marcos family had managed to siphon billions from national coffers before exiling themselves to Hawaii.  As the haggard clan disembarked from a plane, one Marcos relative clutched a bag of diapers, as if it was her only possession.  Then again, it’s quite possible fine jewelry and blocks of cash were hidden inside, so why wouldn’t she keep a tight grip on it?  In an attempt to make peace with the Philippines, the U.S. government indicted Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos on a series of racketeering and money laundering charges.  After Marcos died of cancer in 1989, the U.S. dropped all charges against Imelda.  She may have never got her shoes back, but at least she’s living in paradise.  Who says crime and corruption don’t pay?

When EDSA 1 finally rid the Philippines of Marcos, it installed Corazon Aquino as president.  Her husband, Benigno, had been a vocal critic of Marcos and was exiled in 1980 for his views.  When he dared to return to the land of his birth three years later, Marcos had him assassinated.  Thus began the torturous battle for freedom and the long slog towards a democratic state.  When international pressure compelled Marcos to call for elections in February 1986, Corazon Aquino was chosen as the opposition leader.

But, as foreign observers feared, everything that could have gone wrong with the Philippine election process did.  Results eventually proved Aquino as the victor, but not before scores had died in rioting.  When the Marcos family fled, Aquino took her rightful place as president of the burgeoning democracy and spent her single, six-year term fending criticisms of ineptness and coup attempts by Marcos supporters.

With a labor rate that is about 52% services and 32% agrarian, it’s no surprise the Philippines continues to struggle against the tide of wealth inequality.  Roughly 26% of the population lives at or below the poverty line.  Thus, Haiyan’s arrival added to the misery.  But, that happens wherever communities subsist in states of financial insecurity.  When Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005, President George W. Bush received staunch criticism for his inaction.  True, as a lackluster president, Bush didn’t have the mindset to respond to a natural catastrophe.  No one in his administration did.  But, for years, scientists had been warning the state of Louisiana that its southern enclaves were vulnerable to devastation, notably low-lying New Orleans.  But, the Crescent City itself was already in a state of decay.  Most of its citizenry relied upon government assistance and menial cash jobs just to survive.  The people were ill-equipped to help themselves get out of harm’s way; e.g. rent a car or buy a plane ticket.  The endemic corruption in both the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana set everyone up for disaster.

As of now, the death toll in the Philippines from Haiyan stands at 3,631 – the “official” estimate.  With so many rural areas still cut off due to lack of electricity and telecommunications, the number of victims may be higher.  I see reports of how bodies were left to rot on city streets and I’m glad chances of that happening here in the U.S. are rare.  People were upset that so many damaged vehicles were left on the streets of New Orleans almost a year after Katrina.  But, human bodies and animal carcasses?

Every one of those bodies was once a person; an individual who had a family and friends; someone who had hopes for a better future.  When death occurs on so massive a scale, it’s often difficult to think of the deceased as individuals.  It personalizes the disaster for us, so it’s easier to think of the dead masses and just shake our heads at the horror of it all.

Governments can’t address each one of them, so it has to consider the entire calamity and do what it can.  But, it’s really up to the survivors and their communities to cope with the aftermath.  They have to deal with the destruction; they have to clean out their homes; they have to gather what food and water they can find; they have to tend to the injured; they have to defend what’s left of their world.  In other words, they have to care for themselves.  That sounds brutal, but in a brutal situation, who best to take care of you and your loved ones except you, if you’re able-bodied?

I do know this: despite the mess, people will survive.  Someone will always get through such disasters and continue with their lives by rebuilding their neighborhoods and therefore, their countries.  After the initial shock, they stand up and just keep going.  It’s hard and it hurts; nothing like that is ever easy.  They may never recover emotionally or even physically from the upheaval, but they go on for as long as they can.  It’s just human nature.

This post from fellow blogger, Donna Amis Davis, a long-time resident of the Philippines, provides more personal insight into the disaster.

International Red Cross.

Doctors Without Borders.

Project Hope.

International Fund for Animal Welfare.

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“Steamboat Willie” Goes for a Ride


On this day in 1928, Walt Disney premiered the first cartoon with synchronized sound, “Steamboat Willie.”  Crude by today’s standards, it was innovative for its time.  Walt Disney himself performed all the voices, although the dialogue is often hard to understand.  The cartoon was a parody of the Buster Keaton film, “Steamboat Bill, Jr.,” which was a reference to a 1911 song, “Steamboat Bill,” performed by Arthur Francis Collins.  The film lasts all of 7 minutes and 23 seconds and came out as the film industry was making the inevitable and sometimes difficult transition to sound.  “Steamboat Willie” also marks the first appearance of that Disney icon, Mickey Mouse.  With an estimated budget of $4,986, there were some initial concerns about the believability of cartoon characters producing their own sound.  Thus, Disney arranged for a preview of the film even before the sound track was produced.  The audience responded positively to it and subsequent audiences liked it even better with the sound.  The film would later become the subject of controversy because of perceived animal cruelty, including one scene where Willie swings a cat around by its tale.  But, it was just a product of its time.  Regardless, it remains a landmark of early sound cinema and a true pioneer in both animation and overall filmmaking.

A poster produced for the film’s 50th anniversary.

A poster produced for the film’s 50th anniversary.

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