Thursday, December 31, 2009

How I Love That I Was Bad

Okay, like every other lame-o in the universe, I am making New Year's Resolutions. The List is Long.
The Longer the List, the Less Likely they will happen. So I'm stopping now. I'll do something that will improve me: let's just leave it at that.

Now to the Fun Part: one of the tacky things I have done.

One day my mom shipped all my old report cards, etc, for me to keep. I looked them over before I tossed them to the winds. Nope, not a straight A student. Not disruptive. Just too prone to looking out the window.

I guess now they would call it ADD. Personally, I think the deficit was on the opposite side: they didn't give me enough to pay attention to. In second grade, I started reasoning out theological arguments to dispute nun statements about who went to heaven and why. Silently. In third grade, I distinctly was dubious over the now-defunct biological theory of Protoplasm. How did it reconcile with Atoms? I couldn't make it work. And thinking through these things takes time, you know, while class marches on.

Introducing Mrs. Grim:
I was five, maybe four. We were doing some book page "One is not like the other". I was supposed to circle the unlike. Okay. But we had to wait so long for the next thing. I drew all over the book while I was waiting.

"Which one of these was circled?" Mrs. Grim was upset again. It was obvious to me, but I pointed to the appropriate figure: a top, as opposed to a ball, a world, and something else that was round.

"You wait here after class," she ordered. Okay.

At day's end, the woman streaked out of the classroom and ran to the curb, looking for my mother. She grabbed my mom by the shoulders, shaking her and yelling. "Your child does not pay attention!!" Meanwhile, out of assault range, I waited (again) in the classroom. Swear I didn't light any fires, pull out any toys, or steal my teacher's lunch money.

On the way  home, my Mom said, "Ann, you really need to pay attention in class."
"Okay." I distinctly remember looking out the car window. Green grass and stuff.

Flash forward: the Christmas Pageant!! We were going to be every animal. I wanted to be a deer, but no: Mrs. Grim determined I would be one of the cows. I was mortified. I had to make a mask for myself in a species I did not want to be, and practice cow steps. Just torture.

Maybe that was the year I learned I was not the center of the universe. Nah. Socialization takes longer than that.

The pageant was on a stage with light bulbs along the edges. Mrs. Grim told me not to step on the lights. I tried not to, but you know: little legs, adult stairs. [Crunch.] She rolled her eyes. Her mouth was a flat line.

I was determined to show her I was special to somebody.

"My mother dressed me in my lacy pants," I informed her, and mooned her, right on the stage, to a full house.

I got applause, mind you! Perhaps that was the defining moment of the year--
So, my New Year's Resolution: this Rebel is going to be BAD  . . . . it's in my constitution . . . .

This Year's Stern, Tragic Beauty

"Traveler, take this word to the men of Lakedaimon:
We who lie buried here did what they told us to do."

The things that make us proud often do not make us happy. I don't know how else to say it. A stern joy, perhaps. A better understanding of duty, be it large or small. An understanding of the cost of freedom--not in the jingoistic way that phrase is used, but in the way of knowing our room to breathe is made up of other people's efforts and frequently their sacrifices.

For the most part we don't know them as individuals. But they served our community and were injured or died for us. That's a kind of love they gave us.  This post is here to sternly and lovingly acknowledge it.

Here at home:
One hundred and twenty U.S. law enforcement deaths in 2009.

Four Canadian law enforcement officer deaths, 2009.

Ninety-two U.S. firefighters killed in the line of duty, 2009.

Out in the battlefields:
These are military deaths in Iraq.
One hundred fifty-one deaths by coalition forces in 2009.

One hundred fifty deaths by U.S. servicemen and women in 2009.
More than six hundred wounded in 2009.

Military deaths in Afghanistan, but also in peripheral areas.
Five hundred and twenty deaths in coalition forces in 2009.

Three hundred and nineteen deaths by American forces in 2009.
One hundred thirty-eight deaths by Canadian forces in 2009.

And a moment for their loved ones, who still grieve.

A moment for people of good will who decided not to be a bystander, who acted from principles of virtue.

For the innocent don't feel innocent any more. You may be tarnished. You're all the more important because of it. Allow us to bumble our way to you.

References: Simonides of Ceos, Trans. Richard Lattimore; the Officers Down Memorial Page. and the same organization for Canada; the USFA Firefighters Memorial site. Canada has the Fallen Firefighters Foundation: no information for 2009 yet. You are not forgotten.
Military figures from, a site that was dedicated to counting and remembering the fatalities in this war, long before anyone else would try. Photo: zento.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

short fragment from Alcman of Sparta, (c. 600 B.C)

Counterbalanced against the iron is the sweet lyre playing.

Into the Silence

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves: who am I to be brilliant, beautiful, talented and wonderful?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world.

There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to manifest the Glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us: it's in everyone.
And as we let our own Light shine, we uncnsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are limited from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

--Nelson Mandela


My condolences to the family and comrades of Deputy Kent Mundell of Pierce County. He was husband, father, law enforcement officer, a man who mattered to our world.
Respectful silence.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Manhattan for Christmas

You'd better

I had a wonderful time!
That's Macy's. They were closed, like most of the big-box stores. But plenty of other places were hopping.

Temperature: in the 30's. No rain until the last thirty minutes.
Miles walked: I think 3.6 miles, not including time spent in line at the Empire State Building (at least another mile) side trips, detours and ambivalent peregrinations.
Smiles received: at least a hundred.
Lousy pictures taken: 29. You'll see ( but only six). Apparently I stood crookedly for every one.
Items purchased: One cup of coffee, one Cafe Americano, one street dog. First sauerkraut in my life.

I went to the Empire State Building first. I am so afraid of heights. The guard rail is not too ugly and very high, very safe. I was not afraid there. Winds would gust, but I watched a seagull land on our balcony ledge in the middle of one particularly violent puff. A dip of one wing, two legs extended, and he was where he wanted to be. Just amazing.

It was cold. I took a minute in the inside observation room. The view reminded me of the Grand Canyon: so many magnificent views, it was hard to focus on anything but mass. I'll go back and learn how to do better.

Bryant Park, skating rink. Unlike me, the ice was perfectly level. People were sitting outside and drinking wine, or shopping someplace close. The skaters were having a blast! Big flirting scene for all ages!

Rockefeller Center was jammed: the kind of crowd that almost lifts you off your feet--hey, wait--lemme out--

And Radio City. I love neon signs. And you know, I was there, so . . .

I tried to thank everyone working that day. I think the maid particularly appreciated it. If you had to clean the Empire State Building, you'd need encouragement too!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Jimmy Welty

In the middle of the city of HotWinds, inside a bookstore: portraits of famous American authors, reproduced on canvas. A tall, black, and moody homeless man used to come by almost every day. He would also cadge cigarettes from employees outside on break. Sometimes, he would scare the hell out of them. That was when he was drunk.

Most of the time, he was in the company of other homeless men, and they would all sit on the sidewalk benches, laughing and arguing and drinking beer out of discarded Styrofoam cups. He had different names, depending on who he talked to. To me, his name was Jimmy, and you had to be careful not to sit on that bench if he was coming toward it.

One night, Jimmy came screaming into the store while I was dealing with a customer service issue--i.e., an unhappy customer. He immediately barreled over to me, yelling that something was wrong, something about Grandma, and that I was a bitch. The security guard threw him out.

That customer service issue evaporated pretty damned quick. Jimmy asked the security guard if I would talk to him. So about ten minutes later, I went outside.

“Jimmy, I don’t understand what you’re trying to tell me.”

“Look.” He led me away from the door and toward the window, which did not make me happy, since the security guard couldn’t see me. He pointed.
“Every night I lie on this bench and talk to Grandma,” he told me. “When I get tired, she watches over me. But now she can’t watch over me no more.”

I looked in the shop window.  Eudora Welty’s portrait had fallen off the wall.
“See,” he pointed again. “Grandma.”

“I’ll take care of it,” I promised.

The hanging screw and wire had come out of the back of the picture. I poked a new hole in the back of the frame and screwed it up tight. I rehung Ms. Welty's portrait. Made sure it was level. And he was satisfied, for months. If he screamed at me, he apologized immediately. He’d back down.

On December 27th that year, I heard he’d killed a man in front of a downtown fast food outlet on Christmas Day. I don’t know if that’s true. I only know I never saw him again.

I asked a police officer once on our beat. But Jimmy was not his name. It is only a name constructed for me to know him by.

Eudora Welty was a white Southern author, childless and unmarried. Her stories are told by unreliable narrators. In this way, she scammed her readers into learning more about human frailty, strength, and social relations than you can even add up. She never preached. She just told stories.

How thin is the barrier between sane and insane, violence and security? Her grandson knew.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Radiating Out

I just finished reading a post at The Roanoke Cop about the flip side of Christmas: people drinking and beating their housemates, people pulling guns in parking lots. At Second City Cop, one commenter mentioned trying to restore order in a holiday domestic disturbance where "the kid has a new X-Box and roaches are crawling everywhere." At Pepper Spray Me, One Time recently wrote about a young man in a house like that, still trying to hang onto a sense of right and wrong. I have a hundred examples available to me from a few months of reading my own blogroll.

The Christmas holidays are not kind to everyone. I don't even believe they are kind to most people.

Someone who beats up his two-timing girlfriend, someone who regularly finds herself pulling a gun over a parking space: they'll have some reason why this was funny or justified. And what they did radiates out, spreading fear, anger, recklessness, misery. That's a kind of unrestrained power. Everyone did what they wanted: They got the parking space. The spouse brought them a brew or a rock against their better judgement. Everybody suffered.

I'm not sentimental. I can confirm the immediate limits of intervention:  the momentary pause usually doesn't change the bad script. One Time's young man is still at that horrible house. Dozens of extra drunks wave guns, drive dangerously, beat someone at home, but TRC can only take them one at a time. People steal or are stolen from, kill or lie murdered. Law enforcement officers get dragged down by seeing nothing but shameless crap. They get cursed and shot and sometimes die. I learn from this to support those that support me. I learn not to take them for granted.

I also learn they take themselves for granted. I learn they despair, and I wish I could take some measure of that despair away. I know they carry another kind of power, the power that stops shameless behavior in its tracks. They have the power that locks bad people up for drunk driving or beating on someone. They also carry the power of restrained behavior. This power also radiates out.

The Power of Restraint
Other households, enduring drunken abuse of a less violent nature, also are controlled by each and every police call, every single act of backup. Other parking space competitions end peacefully. Deep down, there is a level of restraint in the unhappy living rooms or crowded storefronts where the police are never called. Because we can call and know we will find help, often we do not have to call. We can stick up for restraint, inside ourselves and with others, with more confidence. That is also a result of police work. That is police presence.

The example of restrained power makes the difference. It spreads beyond the incident, the house, neighborhood, or beat and goes to universal. It enters people's consciousness as at least a warning or a consequence. And sometimes this example enters their conscience as an ideal, an example to be followed or reinforced in daily living.

Good v. Evil
Between good and evil, which has more power? The cops I mentioned earlier saw nothing but evil all day. But then they weren't looking at themselves as agents of the good. They also weren't called to the places that were improved by the fact of their daily witness, either.

I say that because of them, good has the power. Law enforcement is a force multiplier against the bad. Because we have police, we do not have the war of all against all, the anarchy that makes every single daily encounter or transaction a battle. That's true even in the worst neighborhoods: law might be failing there. But everybody still knows what the law is. They are even still depending on it when they go outside, drive a car, buy groceries, become afraid.

Many times I have encountered trouble, and I always knew I had a recourse against my failure to uphold the good. And so I thank all of law enforcement for being the presence that restrains the frightening, miserable crap in my world. For backing me up hundreds of times, metaphorically or in the flesh. For taking over when it was beyond my power to stand up alone.

You give me courage. You give me the freedom to live with everyday respect and with self-respect.

For those of you that worked the unkind holidays, I hope you get a holiday. Happy holiday, whenever it may be, to you.

Just now I hear sirens passing outside my window--keep you safe--

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays, Coming Up

Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Fantastic Time! I can hardly wait.

Photo from Flickr, Philip O'Brien. Wayne is what it says.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More Officers Ambushed in Washington-Update 3

From the Seattle Times. Sergeant Nick Hauser and Deputy Kent Mundell. Both have been severely injured, with Deputy Mundell in critical condition.

The photo by Cliff Despeaux is of police officers consoling each other at the hospital.

May you somehow be consoled. I am so very sorry for your pain. And grateful for your efforts.

Update: As of 9 a.m. December 23, 2009, it looks as if Sergeant Hauser remains in stable condition. Deputy Mundell remains in critical condition. I hear the family is getting a lot of support from both neighbors and law enforcement colleagues. I wish them fortitude in all their trials and a speedy recovery.
Update: As of  December 24, 2009, Deputy Mundell remains in critical condition with a grave head wound. He is on life support. His family is with him and the prognosis is not good.
Update 3: As of December 26, 2009, Deputy Mundell remains in the hospital, remains in grave condition. The press has backed off, which is the respectful thing for this family and for the other law enforcement officers who need to support and be supported by each other.

Awful Bumping Into You Like This

Three items of various importance:

Snowballs in Hell
Up by U Street, people twittered themselves a massive snowball fight meeting. Apparently all was ducky--the young adults had also helped cars floundering in the snow--even a police car! until they threw snowballs at an off-duty detective's car. He took exception and got out with gun drawn. (Perhaps 'unholstered' conveys it best.)

Well, he's crazy. This town is full of politically active people with a good poli sci education and cameras, Blackberries, and aspirations to make a statement (or a documentary). They didn't know he was a detective: car unmarked, plain clothes, heavy jacket--until he radioed in for backup. Then the 'pig' comments started. I hate that too.

Police backup came with guns out (and quickly re-holstered) because they saw it was stupid stuff. They were apparently misled by the detective. Then the uniforms sought to quell the disturbance with the detective still screaming behind them.

This is not going to go away. It's going to radiate outward, in millions of future interactions with our PD. The investigation is ongoing. The uniforms referred it up to supervisors. But you know, the City Paper has it now.

We don't know how that off-duty detective was circumstanced prior (grisly investigation, prior argument, was he drinking? what?). The problem is, whatever was prior, that's what teamwork is for. To gain support for tough times. Not to make more crap for everybody else on your side.

I have no way of knowing how good the fellowship would have been, before. I do know the fellowship after puts a strain on an already strained department. I don't have to be in law enforcement to understand that.

But this is an isolated incident. We have a bigger problem with city services, and it's potentially even more lethal in impact--but--not on the same emotional register.

Mass Transit Mismanagement:
WMATA has lots of headaches. People throwing themselves on the track, that's one. Can't fully operate during snow periods, that's two.  The potential for terrorist incidents that must be dealt with. That's big, but the big one? Those cute Metro cars keep having (or narrowly avoiding) accidents. Nine people died in a June crash. Two Metro workers were struck and killed in two separate accidents, and safety inspections were not scheduled afterward. In November, another crash. The entire transit authority is broke.  And we narrowly missed another crash due to equipment error last week.

I've decided that this disparity in tone and type of coverage is due to location. One stupid thing happened on the street. Bad decisions for Metro happened in an office. But more people are affected by crammed commutes. Especially if the safety equipment doesn't work.

Strange Diets:
In other civic news, the capital of the United States is out of broccoli, because the stores have not brought in new shipments due to snow. We are also mostly out of salad and coffeecake, too. However, there's still plenty of jelly and soft drinks. I noticed the liquor store is fully stocked, although, almost out of Perrier, which was what I wanted. We're going to be okay. Maybe a little hyperactive. So watch it with the drinking, the snowballs, the weapons, and the words, people.

Photos: city paper, washington post

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Solitary Bird

Dichos de Luz y Amor

The conditions of a solitary bird are five.
the first, that it flies to the highest point;
the second, that it does not suffer for company,
not even of its own kind;
the third, that it aims its beak to the skies;
the fourth, that it does not have a definite color;
the fifth, that it sings very softly.

San Juan de la Cruz

I first saw this as a memorable frontispiece to an unmemorable book. St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) has almost two hundred of these "Sayings of Light and Love". I had little idea, despite author, that this poem was part of a religious work about the contemplative life. The Teresian Carmelites in Austria have a site with a translation by Kavanaugh and Rodriguez (1991, ICS Publications).  This one remains my favorite. It speaks to me of the solitary self-refinement necessary to many callings.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mount Carmel, after the fire: Part 6, Grandma

When I left Mount Carmel, it was for five days of frivolity. My grandmother is what they used to call “a notable clubwoman”. Every year she and her friends used to have a holiday season. I would attend luncheons in nice homes, club meetings, dine in state, and, near the end of the visit, dance with grandfathers in tuxes at their Christmas Ball. In the meantime, my husband amused himself by bringing in a paycheck and cooking things I don’t like to smell, such as liver and onions.

So, I would let her choose my dress and jewelry, and out we’d go. None of these Texas ladies I met would have shirked her duty at the mission walls, although, like all Dallas ladies of that generation, they would have been well-groomed for the event. I didn’t get any whiff of Alamo Syndrome.

One night we were taking a break from big doings and the food that makes elderly ladies celebratory but faintly nauseous afterward. I told my grandmother that I’d spent an afternoon at the site of David Koresh’s conflagration. That I’d learned that the news would rather tell a story than the truth. That people worry about their faith.

“Well, my gosh, honey,” she disapproved. “I wouldn’t think you’d need to go there to know that.”
“Well, I did have to go.” I told her about it. She shook her head, slowly.

“The world is so full of evil, I don’t know how you young people are going to manage.”

“Well, Grandma, you lived through the Depression,” I reminded her. “You lived through World War II. Your sister died of tuberculosis, and you and Grandpa nearly died in a ship fire. I don’t see that the challenges we have are any worse than that.”

“Well, that’s true,” she said, brightening up. I finished parboiling chicken breasts and added the broccoli. A couple more minutes, and her digestion would be in a better place.

“Did I ever tell you about the time I was almost taken by a masher in front of a speakeasy?”

“No, really?” She told me stuff I never got to learn as a kid. She was almost kidnapped into what was called white slavery. Now it’s called human trafficking or forced prostitution. Mostly I think she was afraid, running around Chicago after dark, alone, to meet some guy in a bar. But you never know: grandmothers do crazy things when they're young. Sometimes longer.

The chicken was a definite hit. We were eating it while we were watching Jeopardy!

“You know, Grandma, I don’t think the end times are near, either.”
“I don’t think about the end times,” she said. “I just pray for all of you every night.”

The IOS: Still Bangin' on the Block: er, Blog

The Insane Original Scholars started claiming turf in November 2009, and announced its presence in Ann T.'s territory on 12/4/2009. Now 15 posts are specifically gang "links and notes" pages, all stored in the month of August, in a good order for reading through. I think they take from two minutes to an hour to read, depending on how many links you try. And lots of pictures, which sometimes explain more than words.

Because of other posts besides "links and notes", there's a total of 21 posts on gangs under the "gang category". Posts to come:
Folk Nation
People Nation
18th Street
Gang Wars, Central California (N-14 v S-13) as an exemplar of other gang migrations/conflicts
more Prison Gangs such as the Aryan Brotherhood and the Texas Syndicate
Motorcycle Gangs: I got a story or two on the Bandidos
A lot more on Gang Economics, which leads to studying--

International Crime
I've moved somewhat to international crime to help me understand the gang economics.  International crime (bigger than gangs) will be posted in the month of September, eventually in a good order for reading them. I don't have enough on those yet, but they'll be about international finance, small wars, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and weapons trafficking.

Yes, they will relate to terrorism: it's the same set of markets. Since I am not applying for a government grant, I prefer to analyze terror as an economic factor rather than something distinct and previously unknown.

This is Ann T. Hathaway blog's 101st post.  I started in September, so that's where the insane part comes from. I still want to blog memoirs and poems and entertain, so that anyone stopping by can browse and relax. We can't  be intense all the time. But I also want to give back, for all the insights and interesting things I have read by people with "Difficult Jobs." Maybe the IOS will  keep me off the streets . . . or get me back on them. . . . which I also want.

Still taking requests, notifications, corrections, and amplifications,

Thanks to all my readers and commenters, followers and lurkers: glad you stopped by.
Ann T.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snow, Fire, all That

This post is for Captain Schmoe: I have a report on conditions.

1. Occasionally I take a good picture. The gothic house in front of you is our local hippie house. Or animal house. It depends.

2. It's snowing. A wonderful time to check out the shoes I will wear in New York next week. I bought these size-10 duck-hunting babies when I lived in RiverTown. I was sick of sitting in air-conditioned classrooms with damp feet after rainstorms. The first time I wore them, my feet were so dry I drove through a pool of standing water on the road. Impervious to wetness? I was. My distributor was not.  Dummy.

3. Yes, I know snow looks the same to everybody. I still think it's pretty.

4. This is my condo from the outside. My windows. I am sure my neighbor on the first floor thought I was taking pictures of her unit, so I cropped the bottom. Not to worry.

5. Captain Schmoe, we had a false alarm. The last time the fire department came, it was for a totally different building that you access from a totally different alley. I singlehandedly stopped the descent of axes on a door by screaming out my window. "I'll come down! I'll come down!!" I am a very responsible person.
This time, it was a false alarm for the building in the reflection  in the picture above.

Still snowing. The icicles at left are streaming from my window. They are also pointing the way to my glasses. When I screamed that no axes were necessary this time, my glasses fell off my head and into a snow drift below. It took a minute to rush out my unit's door, five seconds to find out they weren't after any door of my building, and ten minutes to find my glasses. It may not have been ten minutes. But since I didn't have my gloves, it felt like it.

Merry SnowDays to Everyone,
Ann T.

Mount Carmel, after: Part 5--Back of Beyond?

The first thing that worried me was my dossier: would people think I was some sort of a crank, coming out there with magazine pictures? And the people there, rubbernecking after the fact. Were they cranks?
Yeah, we were. (Well, you're not going to back out now, Ann T. Get out of the truck.)

The first thing to notice is how close to the road the compound was. That house in the background was across the street. That's the one with the Big Wheel and sandbox in the front yard.

The Side by the Side of the Road
I didn't have a camera. The included pictures are from Wikipedia, 2 years later. They resemble what I saw. Here are my notes:
off some unnamed road off old mexia road near 84/ Ranch Apocalypse--the Branch Davidians have a display here amid a lot of construction trash/ a blue building/ "The Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist office"

The inside had wooden chairs in it and the building was totally blue in my notes, (although in picture it looks like the blue is going over white). It was not covered in inscriptions. The platform was part of the foundation, like a grand stage, for perhaps presentations on Branch Davidian/Waco Siege material. As you can see, it looks like a modified building, something that had been worked over to a new purpose. My notes say:
Pier and beam foundation/ Platform 3 plywood sheets long, sixteen feet wide (so, 16 x 24 feet long)/ A stage/ The back side was exposed plywood sheets
Behind this, was an area with a table consisting of a wooden pallet and four columns of stacked 5-gallon buckets for legs. This area also held stand-up information boards, also made of plywood with little peaked roofs on them. I'll get back to the information boards in a second.
[a drawing of an information board]/ pallets over cement liner bricks in puddle--holes w/ yellow grass and oiled gravel/
The white building behind was about the size of a garden shed from the 1930's or 40's.  The back of it was covered in sheet plastic, clear, and it had lighting. Amo Bishop Roden, widow, lived in that shed. Since the plastic was translucent, I could see she was sleeping on the floor. My notes say:
A lean-to shed/ vinyl siding/ padlock on the door [drawing of the electric meter on a post with a lot of crazy wiring going to the roof]
Amo Bishop Roden
After the fire, Amo Bishop Roden returned to the site.  She was the "contract wife", (whatever that means) of George Roden. George Roden's mother Lois was the leader of the Branch Davidians until her death. She was also one of David Koresh's wives starting at age 67.

In 1989, George Roden fought David Koresh (then known as Vernon Howell) for possession of the compound. After one or more pitched gun battles, Roden lost. With Koresh gone, you could say the Rodens were back. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) she was not there when I was. Only her dog, a short-haired mostly white collie was hanging around, untethered. The dog was neither friendly nor unfriendly. The lot behind the building had randomly lined-up five-gallon buckets filled with pieces of wood and empty cranberry juice bottles. I guess Amo Bishop Roden was pretty much living on Ocean Spray.

Another Whacky Takeover
Since ABR had taken over the premises, she was the one who got to present her version of events and take in whatever donations. Neither her presence nor her version were universally accepted by the rest of the Branch Davidians. Eventually she was displaced.

Two information boards, one plywood sheet each, both sides covered with presenations: the little roofs on them jut out about a foot on either side. The information was presented in bad handwriting on paper, then put in acetate sleeves and stapled to the wooden surface. You could buy the whole set for $10.00, but Ms. Roden wasn't around.

Mt. Carmel
A history of Mt. Carmel is written in the rubble here. In front of you is the heating and cooling system of the church torn down by David Koresh in 1989 for building materials. The old white bus behind you was used in the March 1988 takeover of this property for David Koresh by thirty Branch Davidians led by Perry Jones.
(next sheet)
As you circle the fence to the left there is a view of David Koresh's underground room. Throught the left hand end of the far quarantine fence gate the concrete chunks bulldozed into the swimming pool may be discerned by careful study. Also on this side of the fence you can see the piles of lumber to finish roofing the underground rooms and bales of the concertina wire used to encircle the compound
(next sheet)
during the standoff. On the back fence are the remains of the retirement community torn down by David Koresh for building materials. near David Koresh's tour bus is the tree that sheltered George Roden when David Koresh shot him Nov. 3, 198, note the bullet marks. Here also are spilled fuel tanks pushed away  from the compound during the standoff and more bales of concertina wire
(next page, but I stopped writing)

What I also remember, is that the "Story of Vernon, Squared" was also posted in the same handwriting. In it, the writer explored some rambling connection between George Roden at a psych hospital at Vernon, Texas, and Vernon Howell/David Koresh driving him to it. (George Roden was tried for killing his housemate as a spy for David Koresh before being put in an asylum.)  In these pages, coincidence was considered a significant sign of--some force at work--

The Other Visitors
People wanted to talk. Some were truck drivers, parked in Waco or Bellmead for the night who had rented a car. Some were vacationers and at least two were members of a biker association. None were locals.

All the ones I talked to wanted to revisit their own faith and put it next to these who had died for theirs. None of them wanted to talk about the government. They were all there on a pilgrimage of faith. I was on a pilgrimage about doubt, and that didn't decrease with the conversations. I do believe it's necessary sometimes to die for what you believe, but was it necessary in this case? I never said that to any of them. They were all finding themselves wanting. A dissenting voice would only have driven them closer to some brink. They were all quite vulnerable, I thought.

This is a picture of Carol Moore Baechler, longtime activist, in late 1993 at the compound. I don't know her, but the point is, there is some of the fuel tanks, etc, still hanging around.

You walked down a grade past the collie dog and ABR's sleep-shed. In front of the fenced-off compound was a gravestone, low, dark brown granite, at least in my memory. It was crowned by barbed wire. It is not, I think, the stone you see there now, which is grey. For sure the barbed wire "crown of thorns" is gone.

The fence behind Ms. Baechler is nothing compared to the fence I saw. It was tall and had warnings against entry, saying that the material beyond the fence was Hazmat, especially any standing water. Maybe my memory is poor, but the fence seemed a lot higher. It doesn't matter. That was the extent of the governmental control--keeping people out of the bunker and swimming pool, the teargas residue, explosive residue, and whatever else.

Beyond that, two rusted buses sat apart from each other and the rest. I walked out to one of them and discovered what was wrong with all the newsmagazines. Because I looked backward. And wow.

I remembered a photo in one of my news magazines. It was of Koresh with one of his teen wives with the exact same vista. The house with the Big Wheel in front of it was clearly in that vista. And in the news magazine, that house had been covered by an inset photo, strategically placed to reinforce the appearance of Koresh's isolation. I was mightily angry then.

So this is what I learned:
1. the press constructs stories along some tragic parameter, and they're honor-bound to keep the theme going, whether it turns out to be the best explanation or not. That's CNN, Fox, everybody.

2. people react to events separate from themselves according to what they need at the time (reassurance of faith, a desire to strengthen their faith, a need to verify doubt, reinforce the unreason of the Bible Belt, whatever.)  In other words, they personalize outside events. Those events usually get twisted into a pre-existing world-view.

3. you need to pick your leaders carefully.
4. you need to pick your causes carefully.
5. you need to examine your journalists carefully, even/especially the visual record.

6. no truth was coming out of there anytime soon. That didn't make the messages meaningless. To the contrary: it gave them more meaning, and a lot more unpredictability.
7. Sometimes you have to go and see for yourself.

I guess it doesn't sound like a big deal, but it was to me. One last post, and then I'm done.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Theognis of Megara (6th Century B.C.)

lines 869-872

May wide and towering heaven collapse upon me in all its
bronze and terror, catastrophe to the peoples of earth,
on that day when I no longer stand by my companions,
on that day when I cease to harry my enemies.

Trans. Richard Lattimore

Mount Carmel, after: Part 4, Eureka! No Way!

I asked directions from a middle-aged woman working in a convenience store/gas station. She didn’t want to tell me. Finally she flicked her hand nervously and said, “Turn right at the first road.”

I felt, for the first time, what it might have been like to live near the attention.

In an effort to keep people like me away, all the street signs had been taken down. That’s how I knew I was close; I was headed into the unknown. I just gradually got to the right place. But to get to the middle of nowhere, I was driving through a neighborhood.

Or not a neighborhood, exactly: suburban farmland, the kind of area where people buy one to five-acre lots. It’s subdivided and zoned for residential. People keep chickens, horses. But they have ranch houses, cars, horse trailers. They live outside the city and commute in. A lot of them probably wore cowboy boots, but I wouldn’t say they were cowboys or ranchers. All or most of them probably owned handguns and hunting rifles, but I doubted they wanted explosives in the neighborhood.

Mount Carmel did cover a fair parcel of land (77 acres). But in most of the pictures, it looks more isolated than it is. It was surrounded, and not so far away, by families. Across the street from the entrance, a ranch house sat. In the front yard a Big Wheel was parked next to a sandbox. A kid’s bicycle sat next to the front steps. I turned left. The compound was down a hill. Some of its buildings were very close to the street.

Ranch Apocalypse was also a lot closer to Bellmead than Waco. Score one, two, for my investigation: not isolated, not Waco. I looked down on my second-hand dossier. It suddenly looked exceedingly whack, compared to the nearly-ordinary, very quiet scene I was in. That frightened me. But I parked anyway.

Everybody in the neighborhood had work to do. But they had a lot of tourists there. I was not alone.

I've looked it up. I can't prove this with Google maps, not that I'm any good with that program. One house close by was rented by the ATF prior to the raid as a (poorly-handled) undercover outpost. I hear, some unremembered travel blog, that this house has been destroyed. In the meantime, the Branch Davidians have reconstructed.

The east side of Ranch Apocalypse was a farm, and the owner heard machine gun fire often--when leadership between the Roden vs Koresh faction occurred, and other times (weapons practice?)--I came in from the west side.

The next post will be the hardest to construct.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mount Carmel, after the fire: Part 3, Travelogue

After the swamps, bridges, and call-boxes, you gradually hit Port Chuck, which has a huge edifice of refineries, later repeated in Orange, Beaumont, Houston. One Port Chuck refinery has a tall torch that burns off residue, almost Olympic in its waste of natural gas. At night, the glow on the horizon looks like the city is on fire. Even by day, you feel like you're headed to perdition. The water stinks of sulphur there: ick.

On I-10 through west Louisiana, all cars bounce from concrete plate to concrete plate. (A-chunk, A-chunk, A-chunk.) Eventually I hit that pinnacle of road-building skill that signifies Texas to the cross-country driver. I-10 stretches 878 well-tended miles through the state with Alamo Syndrome, from east of Orange to El Paso. I stuck with it into Houston’s sprawl, then headed north to Waco on I-35, through sprawl again, looking for the hills that seemed right.

The Waco siege is dogged by questions of the press, and procedures that were hampered by the press:
1. The Waco paper began an article series on Ranch Apocalypse the day before the ATF planned to serve their warrant. That would have freaked Koresh out and made him notice intruders even more than he usually did. Many accounts suggest he was already quite wary of other intruders.

2. The ATF invited or tipped the press that a raid would occur. What with all the tipping, Koresh and his followers knew about it in advance. Why did they go in then? The Charge of the Light Brigade?

3. With wide press coverage, the ATF and then the FBI had to issue statements of their side, constantly. They couldn't sound weak to the American public, but it ended up sounding threatening to the compound.

4. One of the things David Koresh wanted was a chance to be broadcast, on KRLD and on CBN, the Christian Broadcasting Network. This netted some hostage releases, but then it wasn't enough for either side. Maybe that offer should have been tossed around again. I don't think it was much hardship for the media.

5. The negotiation sounded more like a pissing match. That always bothered me. I wondered why there wasn't anyone conciliatory on the law enforcement side. I specifically wondered why they didn't get a woman negotiator to talk to Koresh, at least to say 'uh-huh' twenty-four hours a day, since he clearly liked women.

6. All that scrutiny, and still nobody could figure out what happened.

The sky stretches endlessly in Central Texas. In December, cloud cover makes this sky mostly a flat gray. Also in December, the plains of Texas are covered in a dull yellow grass, with a leafless few blackjack oaks that look like nerve endings from far off. Plairies are not flat. They roll gently, long low hills you travel up and down. Most of the land is fenced, though. There are always gas stations, warehouses, billboards for Dairy Queen or invitations to subdivide and build.

Eventually you climb in elevation, hundreds of miles from where I started in the swamps. Two hours from Houston, you are almost in Waco, going from one huge city to a smaller one. I wouldn’t say it was the middle of nowhere.

But the landscape is stark. In Louisiana, the eye trains on little particularities, small vignettes, large potholes. You don’t get a long view. I was thinking of northeastern journalists, used to hiding between skyscrapers, now stuck in a Motel 35, and homesick.

Baylor University, a Baptist institution, resides in Waco. The journalists made much of this, implying and sometimes outright stating that the city was a center of Christian fundamentalism.  I was raised neither Baptist nor Adventist. But I didn’t see what a four-year, state-accredited institution with a pretty good football team had to do with an offshoot of the Seventh-Day Adventists standing off with law enforcement. That was another clue that everything had been oversimplified to a lie. Those northeastern journalists, bored and picking on people. Go find a good book to read.

Photo Credits: This is I-35, northbound into Waco. Image from, looks like April and not December. Dairy Queen sign from Kyle, Texas, daily photo blog; refinery, ENS newswire.

A Poet of Confidence

Four quatrains (out of many)

Tell everyone
Now, today, I shall
sing beautifully for
my friend's pleasure

We shall enjoy it
As for him who finds
fault, may silliness
and sorrow take him!

I took my lyre and said:
Come now, my heavenly
tortoise shell: become
a speaking instrument

Although they are
Only breath, words
which I command
are immortal

These are from Sappho, translated by Mary Barnard, another literary friend/associate of Ezra Pound.
A lyre is made of tortoise shell. So many tools and instruments are forged from what is around us, and become part of a higher purpose.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Plans: Dancing on the Island

Maybe this will sound very wrong, but I'm not doing the family thing for Christmas. Still going to be great.

I'm taking the bus to Manhattan with my camera and a little money. I plan to take a lot of pictures and just soak in the city. Eat a bagel or some Chinese food or both. I imagine everything else will be closed. It will also be another opportunity to figure out the subways, which I have not quite down yet.

It's going to be cold, that seven hours (in by 11:30, leaving at seven), so I'll be wearing sweaters and not party clothes. I'll be lingering over that bagel, drinking extra coffee. Tipping the bus driver for working on Christmas. Making nice with strangers. And then exploring something else.

1. My family lives elsewhere, spread out in very different states.
2. Since I am now unmarried, I am a project or fifth wheel in some of those homes. The fifth wheel thing is unavoidable, even okay. But I don't want to be a project.

3. In others, there will be a bazillion people, most of them small, wrecking a pile of very expensive toys over an afternoon. I can't stand to watch. Everyone else thinks it's normal.

4. All married couples I know snipe at each in public on the holidays. Don't know why. It doesn't bother them as much as it bothers me. Don't know why that's true either.

5. In some homes, no drinking. In others, way too much drinking.
6. In all, television will run incessantly. That means people don't talk to each other. If it's the houses that have too much drinking, that's probably for the best.

7. I see life differently. Too many different experiences, I think. See numbers 2, 3, 4. Or different values. See 3, 4, 5, 6.

I love them all, all of them have wonderful personal gifts. They are all a part of me and vice versa. But we're pretty much down to choreography at the events.

So this year, I'm investing in movement, hence, a bus ticket and walking shoes, a sweater. I'm looking forward to a really good bagel with lox. Photographs. Ambience. Engagement.

I danced last night at a party, alone. Soon I had seven partners, all at the same time. They did too--how about that? This never seems to happen in front of a turkey platter.

I hope everyone's holiday prep doesn't end with the choreography, but with the dancing--if you know what I mean. Something that comes from the heart and inspires enjoyment.

Joy to the World. Love is present. Adventure is all around.

Mount Carmel, after: Part 2, My Shabby Dossier

I still have that dossier, and I'm pulling it out. That way, you can see what was available to us back then, and what I had specifically. It comes to a piece of scrap paper, a newpaper article, and stuff ripped out of five magazines. Later I wrote a college paper and did a huge art project from this incident. I kept tracking it. But it's good to know I took about twenty sheets of magazine and a sketch book, and nothing else of relevance.

From those twenty pages, I found as many web-links as I could. Most of them are buried in archives and don't come up on Google without a push. I don't know if anyone needs to review that much. Mostly it gives an option, and shows you that the information I had left me (and still leaves me) dissatisfied.

I already subscribed to Texas Monthly and The New Yorker, which ran stories. Jan Jarboe in Texas Monthly (June 1993) implied that all Texans have some “Alamo Syndrome,” of which this was the proof. For those of you who do not follow Grossly Simplified Texas History, a severely undermanned force including Colonel Travis, Davy Crockett, and Jim Bowie fought in a mission in San Antonio against Santa Ana’s forces and died to a man, so that the Texican forces had time to get to better ground. Mexico was decisively defeated at the Battle of San Jacinto (“Remember the Alamo!”) and became Its Own Country.

Texas Monthly is a good magazine, enjoying Texas mythology but doing good reporting in general. So I was disappointed in this gimmicky approach. However, the painting "The Siege at the Alamo" by Howard Davis Johnson at right certainly gets you to see--ah, something that may have spurred this idea for her.

The New Yorker had a painterly “artist’s notebook” with Bible verses written over them about the end of the world. I admired the artist’s placement and enterprise, but I thought he didn’t have much clarity going for him. (Artist at Large by Gary Panter, "Waiting for Waco", pp. 85-89, painted during the event but not sure of pub. date). However, it did contain an equally inexact map, which was the only map that placed the site, so I was grateful to him.

Much later, I decided his work was some of the most prophetic.

News Magazines
I still didn't know what to think of the news magazines. That was part of my quest. And as it happens, I still have the receipt for these too. I paid 25 cents each for three magazines at Thrift World.)

--Newsweek, May 3, 1993: The fiery cover with David Koresh's face and the words "Death Wish";
The introductory paragraph, page 3, "Death Wish: The last days of the cult";
a. Page 17, a political cartoon where a viewer wants law enforcement to end the madness, and then screams afterward that they should have waited it out. (Uh-huh).
b. A photo essay called "The Killing Ground" page 18, with a double page of the devastated site; "Inferno", the compound on fire, two page spread w/ foldout; "Assault" with (foldout reverse side, 3 Davidians leaving Federal court, the compound being rammed by large equipment, "Day 51" with inset of David Koresh's grandmother and aunt watching helicopters on television;
c. Main article, "Day of Judgment: How the cult standoff with the FBI escalated into a fiery finale", pp. 22-27, with sidebar on Janet Reno;
d. Article, "The Questions Live On", pp. 28-29;
e. Article, "Children of the  Apocalypse: For their parents, death wasn't the worst enemy", page 30;
f. Article, "Hard Lessons in the Ashes; Second thoughts on how to deal with extremist groups", page 31.
This is, including everything, about 12 sheets of paper.

--Time, May 17, 1993
"Dark Sequels: David Koresh's horror tale splits into dozens of stories, none happy", page 15, one paragraph.
"Behavior: Children of a Lesser God: The surviving kids of Ranch Apocalypse offer shocking details of life with David Koresh," page 54. [The dire illustration is a child's picture of her home as heaven. Does this seem odd to parents? Just asking.]

--Time, October 11, 1993
a. "The Week: News Digest", paragraph that Waco reports were completed by Treasury Department, p. 17;
b. pp. 39-40, "Waco: Tripped up by Lies" Treasury Secretary Bentsen is furious and fires 5 top managers at ATF. Sidebar, "Life After the Apocalypse."

--Baltimore Sun, 1993, October 9, "Justice Department clears itself in Waco assault", front page and 12A.

For material on the Web, there's not much left except fingerpointing. The best collected information is at NPR's "Frontline", a program they aired in 1995. This material includes a very extensive Timeline, amended again as new information came out. There's a readings page, which includes a report by Alan A. Stone, on the failures at negotiation.

Then there are the regretful elegy pieces at BBC (Fifteen years after . . .). Underneath that British deadpan, you hear the wind whistling as they shake their heads. I think Europeans believe this could happen only in the wilds of unsophisticated America. Of course, they got rid of out-sized religious expression in Europe circa 1509. Oh, wait . . .
My story is about journalistic coverage, and a belief that 'going there' would tell me more about how things are reported. Maybe even a little about what happened.

On Interstate 10 out of RiverTown, you drive on bridges with call boxes carefully spaced, because if you break down, there is no place to go. You must rely on the government to help you out. (Later, only people who have lived near there understand this, in regard to Hurricane Katrina evacuation and rescue).

In the state capital, a huge billboard overlooks the city holding the most corrupt state government in the U.S., at least by reputation: "Jesus is Lord over Baton Rouge." (Later, the governor goes to prison.)
But now who sounds like a news magazine?

Turnpike driving clears the mind, forcing you to consider only the present.
All the way there, that little stack of much-thumbed, shabby magazine pages sat in the passenger seat.

(Thank you to artists Howard Davis Johnson and Gary Panter for illustrations, both linked above; also MSNBC for photo.)
(Thank you also to many Texas nationalists of the Hispanic race, who fought in the Alamo, unsung by Grossly Simplified Texas Legend.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mount Carmel, after the fire: Part 1

None of this will be earth-shaking. It’s just a memory. Maybe it's a travelogue.

I’m from Texas, but I lived elsewhere during the Ranch Apocalypse/Mount Carmel/Waco Siege/Standoff/Conflict. Something about the press coverage was way off. I could nearly tell what it was.

I began to collect Newsweek and Time magazine issues at the local resale store, and the “true crime” special editions from bent magazine publishers. I even purchased, Lord help me, the National Enquirer. I thought the problem would surely be blatant enough to recognize there. Instead, it was completely obscured by other problems.

The stand-off started on February 28, 1993 and ended on April 19, 1993. These events are still poorly reported in almost all quarters, and there’s a lot of cynicism directed at even official reports. Therefore, the contention still rages. The contention is not about security questions, but civil liberties questions.

In 1993, a man named Timothy McVeigh went to protest the interference of law enforcement with the Branch Davidians at Mount Carmel. Two years later, also on April 19, he blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City with a pickup truck full of homemade explosives, an event which overshadowed the events of Mt. Carmel but also invoked it.

In 2001, we had the attacks of September 11, events which have put the Murrah Building conflagration somehow out of the public’s threat focus.

But in 1993, with hearings and second-guessing and recriminations, it was still a living news item.

When my semester ended mid-December, I packed my battered Toyota truck for my annual five day visit with my Grandmother in Dallas. That year, I determined that I would find Ranch Apocalypse on my way. I had nothing to offer during the conflagration or after. I just wanted to know why I thought the incident was poorly reported. Eight months after the Mount Carmel compound burned down, I thought maybe enough smoke had cleared.

My question was small next to the tragedy itself, but I thought it would help me evaluate tragedy, journalism, and the specific itself more clearly. So I packed my inelegant dossier with my elegant party clothes and hit the road.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Quizzically Political--And It Seems Accurate

Sometimes I wonder myself, and sometimes I wonder if you guys wonder.

I found this at Johnny Law Chronicles, and I also posted it at the bottom of my blog, at least for now. You can take the quiz too. Just follow link below. And if you want, tell me what you are, according to the Quiz!

My Political Views
I am a centrist moderate social libertarian
Right: 0.09, Libertarian: 1.72

Political Spectrum Quiz

Then I found this at Mr. Police Man/ 10-9 blog. (Inactive as of 12/15/2009). He got it from Douwe Osinga:

visited 22 states (44%)

Actually, I think I did visit South Carolina. Which would make this pretty much a Southern sweep.
Which one is a red state? Is that the Dems?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Unlimited Revolution, without Introspection

Two poems by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939):


Parnell came down the road, he said to a cheering man:
"Ireland shall get her freedom and you will still break stone."

The Great Day

HURRAH for revolution and more cannon-shot!
A beggar on horseback lashes a beggar on foot.
Hurrah for revolution and cannon come again!
The beggars have changed places, but the lash goes on.

This weekend I listened to an economic lecture by Paul Collier of Oxford that said governmental checks and balances are more important than any other governmental feature in ensuring security. He then went on to talk about corruption without missing a beat. I will present more on that later. . .and there's more on Yeats here.
Charles Parnell was an Irish parliamentarian who tried to develop civil rights in Ireland, specifically Home Rule.

Illegal Drug Trade: A Set of Maps

Sometime early in studying for my Master's degree in international relations, I learned to love maps. They cut the theory to show some realities. We need to get out of the PowerPoint Zone, where all things are accomplished by bullet points and wishful thinking.

All three of these are Transit Maps. They don't talk about Manufacture, but Distribution.

This first map is from Stratfor. It has only two weaknesses: first, (like so many international affairs offerings from the U.S.), it doesn't show U.S. domestic trafficking routes. Second, it doesn't list any opioids.

1. For U.S. domestic trafficking routes, you can get a partial idea by studying a highway map. Good roads facilitate legal and illegal trade.

2. Virtually all heroin (over 90%) comes from poppies in Afghanistan. According to the UN report before last, the route for opioids changed, from out of Afghanistan by sea and into Iran, then across Africa. Eastern Iran has a huge problem with heroin use and governmental corruption from that trade.

But here is Mexico, one major source from the south: If we blame Mexico for being Transit, we have to blame ourselves for being Destination. Mexico could make a strong case that we are ruining their country's governance. We fight drug trade there partly because we need to shore up legal government.

Stratfor did a great job on this one. Le Monde Diplomatique, a French magazine of international affairs, has the next map. It expands the model but is not as detailed in other ways:

Last for now, this map from the UN World Drug Report 2008 on cocaine, (by way of the Guardian/UK) shows that we're hardly alone. They get their opioids by way of Africa but also a long smuggling train through Central Asia and Eastern Europe. This map is even less detailed. As we lose detail, we lose information on the threat.

We could use a Stratfor-level-of-detail map on Western Africa right about now, to help us compare. But I haven't found it yet.

So, I hope you find these useful.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Fixer Lady

Okay, she was bent. She was even mean. Or at least, she looked mean.

I worked for Cash Cowan, genius and slumlord extraordinaire, Monday through Friday. For this he paid me $400.00 per month, plus commission. I got a $100.00 raise when I agreed to work Saturdays 9-12, Friday evenings knocking on non-payer’s doors to collect rent, and supervise the maintenance crew. The maintenance crew was a shambling lot of ne’er-do-wells who used baling wire for everything.

Are you laughing yet?

It was the first job I ever had that came with a title: Rental Agent. After Cash helped me schedule and fund a bunch of real estate classes, I had the title of Real Estate Agent.

And I was in love. On Sundays, my soon-to-be husband and I would go to La Comida downtown, a storefront cafĂ©. The best migas you ever ate. We’d sit there with the paper, the coffee, the orange juice and get blasted with Norteno music. Norteno music has a rollicking beat and some accordion riffs. It’s a Tex-Mex cultural product.

The place was decorated like all such places: fancy sombreros from Jalisco, serapes from Laredo, and all of that. Harrassed busboys, a different set each time, ran frantically around, bussing tables. They did not speak English any more than the music did. Other Spanish-speaking clientele would be eating menudo, the brain soup that is supposed to cure hangovers. It tastes great, but the texture is slime.

The hostess was a woman with an over-drawn pair of black eyebrows and furrowed lines inbetween. She was in her fifties and perfectly efficient, but smiles were not free.

But she got to know us as regulars. She found out I was in rental property, and asked where. Then she started bringing me customers. She was their rental reference, and Cash had a couple of trailers in a way-awful trailer park that had been divided into duplexes. $250.00, all bills paid. I made $125.00 from renting one, and I had to guarantee that the tenant would stay for six months. She brought me $250.00 in rentals (2 units), and translated the lease for them when I went over it. I was tipping pretty good at La Comida.

The tenants were well-trained, too. They didn’t argue. They just brought me money orders, on-time, and watched me fill them out. They always had machetes, but I had a very large desk.

It took me awhile (duh) but I finally figured out they paid her a commission for their busboy jobs, they probably paid another fee when she released them from La Comida, and they paid her a commission for finding me, the dumbass, to rent to them.

So one Sunday, we’re at La Comida.  She comes over to fill our water glasses.
“You know Manuel, at the trailer park?”  She straightened a cup. “I think he’s gone.”
“Oh.” It had not been six months. “Are you sure?”

“Pretty sure,” she agreed. “You know Antonio? He moved out too. I think. Maybe you should go check.”

I had to rent them all over again, or lose $250.00. I did not rent them through the fixer lady.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

from Pindar of Thebes, 526--c. 446 B.C.

Mistress of high achievement, O lady Truth,
do not let my understanding stumble
across some jagged falsehood.
I like this because it covers actions as well as words: be thou ready for upended concrete as well as twisted abstractions--

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Anti-Gang Community Measures: 5 Points, and Nine Lessons: UPDATED

Since my last discussion of anti-gang measures was mostly critical, I thought I'd post one that I thought had potential. Can't offer any happy endings, just maybe some hope.

Toronto Star Video, 2008: A Native American community in Alberta, Canada is featured in this video. The article that related to it is here (from July 20, 2008). It gives further background to what you watch.

I particularly like this video because it's beautifully shot, but not glamorous. The ex-gang member is  formerly of the Redd Alert Aboriginal Gang, a prison gang that (according to one reference--which may not be good) does not require gang service post-prison. (However, that gang is active in Edmonton area, so . . . ) He is given voice, but not authority within these eight minutes. The mother, the construction crew, the Royal Canadian Police (RCMP) local, the elderly lady, they're equally powerful, if not more so.

According to Intertribal Times, August 18, 1998, Hobbema has 12,000 people, and the RCMP reports the town/area has thirteen gangs. That's a lot of potential conflict.

There's five good points and at least eight lessons in this video:
A. The gangs came in because oil money came to the community. But the period of investment in resources is always short. The "boom" money was sucked out of the people instead of left in the bank.

Lesson 1: In international relations, there's a growing voice that says conflict occurs when there is something to gain. Small wars and gang activity don't occur when there's no money, they show up because there is money.

Lesson 2: We need to teach people how to invest. In underdeveloped countries, the World Bank (as a lender to said country) has the resource company undertake this. The oil company subcontracts this job to somebody who knows how. But we can do this in underdeveloped or blasted parts of developed nations, too. IMO, the legislation should be aimed at lenders--foreign and domestic.

B.It took an atrocity to get people of good will fired up against the gangs.
Lesson 3: We excuse the behavior of those we love. Everybody else minds their own business. Then we see, collectively, that it is a dead end. When the community mobilizes correctly, the places to hide start to dry up.

C. Prosperity brought a housing boom. The bust emptied the buildings back out and made them habitat for criminal activity. Volunteers are working to take down 29 abandoned houses. It's enormous work, and they've only removed three.
Lesson 4: You can't have abandoned property and expect to win.

Lesson 5: In international relations, the ideal is "sustainable development". You don't spend your capital on casinos, for instance, you spend it on schools, on clinics or hospitals of the right size (not huge). Things like that. Everybody knows this, but it's still hard to learn.

D. Graffiti abatement/other anti-gang measures make a constant fight, but you have to fight it.
Lesson 6: You can gain strength from a higher power, but you still need a paintbrush and some paint.

E. The time to get the kids is before age 13. You have to give them an alternative by age 12, or else they won't believe you. They won't listen. Or, they're already in ("blood in, blood out") and they can't get out.
Lesson 7: School programs have to interest the younger set, give them skills, but also contact with interested people.

Lesson 8: It takes the family, but it also takes the community.

Lesson 9: Taking Lesson 3, the hesitation of individuals and the community, Lesson 6, the combined response of the ideal and the practical, and Lesson 8: the community response--the addition of a goal-oriented team/task force in law enforcement can't do anything but good.

Anyway, that's what I get out of this video--be happy to post other rules people have gleaned out of this.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

IrishTown: Kids

I've got multiple sacks of groceries:

"I could carry those in for you," B-- said. "Then you could pay me fifty cents."

"Need help with those?" An eight-year-old this time.

"Hey, your dog." (Rosie on a sit-stay, guarding my car, my stuff, my open door.) "Is he friendly?"
"Yeah, she's very nice. Her name is Rosie."
"I could watch your stuff," the kid said. "Then the dog could go in. That's worth a quarter, isn't it?"

"I think I'm all done, but thanks," I said. "I might have a quarter, let me check."

They buy Christmas presents for their grandma at the resale shop, formerly the abandoned furniture shop. Dirty china figurines, someone's discarded craft project.
"That is very nice of you," I say. "Your grandma, she's special, huh?"

They shuffle their feet. That means yes, grandma is special--but they also feel guilty because they bought a candy bar too, for themselves. All over the mall, shoppers are buying one for Uncle Jones and one for themselves. But the either-or shows up more starkly around here.

Something happens to these kids at around age ten or twelve, and I know what it is. They get tired of looking for work. They get tired of trying to carry the load for a quarter. They learn a dirty china figurine is something to be laughed at. They get a little hard, and it doesn't go away.

A Boy's Summer, Remembered

A few stanzas on summer, as requested by Slamdunk. These are from Dylan Thomas.

Fern Hill

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heyday of his eyes,
And honored among wagons I was prince of the apple-towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only, Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely . . .

I won't forget

The memorial is today in Tacoma, at 1 p.m. Pacific Time.

Mark Renninger
 Tina Griswold
Ronald Owens
Gregory Richards

Today your life and death becomes part of my spine,
connecting my thoughts to where I stand. What I write.

Update: Since the Lakewood shooting, four more law enforcement officers have been killed in the United States. You can stay informed at the Officers Down Memorial page.

Well-Meaning vs. Well-Aimed: (part 1) The Anti-Gang Message

Looking at our messages to at-risk youth, based on my investigations so far: We're walking without brains; we're leading with weakness. We'll never win like this.

Example: It's rude, I apologize, I find it necessary to say anyway.

In Crips v. Bloods, part 1, the documentary I found shows former/inactive gang members working as anti-gang counselors to new or potential gang members. The strategy means these gentleman hang around and participate with the kids at a Neighborhood Center.

I don't call into question their sincerity, or the sincerity of their employers. But this approach seems to me as fragile as an eggshell.

These counselors are saying the gang didn't work for them, and gave them a harder life. They lived through decades on the streets; they succeeded in surviving prison. But quite frankly, they don't look successful at anything else. Are they employed there solely as a terrible warning? If so, is that the crowning punishment of their life?

Who is going to listen to a self-professed loser?  What teenager believes he will get old? (Why would he want to?) How is hanging out with someone who made bad choices going to help a youth make good choices?

They have to offer an alternative, and these men can't even offer a good game of one-on-one.

That said, I wouldn't shove them aside. The real value of these gentlemen is as interpreters and teachers of those who don't understand gangs and gang activity. They cement alliances or transfer information about the neighborhood (not primarily social causes, but nuts and bolts). That would mean they educate the interlopers:  law enforcement, teachers, social services professionals and any business leaders who want to locate in their area.

Law enforcement, social services, and business leaders would have to value them as "fixers". (Something higher than a "snitch" or a "horrible warning".) And they would have to be able to wield that power in the neighborhood. No interloper can confer that value on someone who has no personal power left. So you have to get the right guy.

In this program, the unspoken messages have killed the stated message. Of course, I'm not there. But that's how it reads. We mean well. You know what they say about the road to hell.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Stormy Weather

Westron Wind

O Westron wind, when will thou blow
The small rain down can rain?
Christ if my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!

An anonymous, very old poem, written in Middle English.
There is a site that has more, but this has always been one of my favorites.
The reason I thought of it: we had snow, briefly, yesterday.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Chilling with the I.O.S (Insane Original Scholar)

Today I will introduce my gang series, consisting of Links and Notes entries--a set of annotated bibliographies. I have nine so far, and expect to have more than twenty when I am done: some on topics, like economics, some on individual street, prison, or motorcycle gangs. I'll just keep posting them in my August month under the gangs category, in the best order.

Each has pictures, illustrations, and videos I’ve carefully culled out of hundreds. It includes my random thoughts toward a theme, working my way as I go. Links will soon show up on my sidebar.

I’m sure there’s a vast well of secret handbooks and rules in the gangs. I’m equally sure there’s an underground lake of law enforcement information that never gets shared. Official redaction as aggressive graffiti: it’s pitifully easy to guess at the turf war between law enforcement agencies, seeing what’s missing out of these reports.

The public gets information that either creates panic or talks down to them. Many law enforcement presentations aim for middle-class voters with children--educated people, but that education isn’t trusted. We get a recipe, not a way to back up our instincts.

A few sites are giving bona-fide information, and I’ve tried to collect them in one place. A few are giving out strange or anonymous information, but what sits between the lines seems valuable. So it's the good out of the larger, mostly non-academic pile on the Web.

A good presentation often gives glamour, even to painful subjects. I don’t think it’s wrong to show what makes gangs attractive—it’s one key to understanding their persistence. But to counteract the glamour, I tried to pick examples that were realistic, as raw an example as I could find from pre-presented material.

For scholarly purposes, I looked past glamour, doubletalk, disgust or humor and tried to see what’s lying underneath or inbetween. That’s the approach I recommend.

This information helps me understand political economy and a significant set of subcultures in the U.S. and around the world. Maybe it will be useful or insightful to others.

I eagerly look forward to corrections, amplifications, requests, in fact anything that advances the streetwise, all-eyes, tell no lies, Web-u-lized, intellectual turf of the I.O.S.

Photo above, AP, Chicago, 2009. After-school fight that ended in the homicide of Derrion Albert.

New York City Photograph by Dobkyns

I love to look at good city pictures. The NY cabbies have some great ones. This is by Jake Dobkyns, in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.  His photoblog is BlueJake, also now listed on my blogroll.