Friday, September 30, 2005

Sutter to close St. Luke's Hospital?
Community asks where will we go?


Sutter Health is a monster conglomerate that operates 26 hospitals and numerous associated clinics, home health agencies, a medical equipment company, and some insurance companies. Although nominally a non-profit, in 2003 it took in $465 million in excess of revenue over expenses. Nice haul if you can get it.

Three years ago Sutter absorbed financially challenged St. Luke's Hospital from the Episcopal Diocese of California. St. Luke's is the true opposite of a profit making entity. Founded by the Rev. Thomas Brotherton in 1871, the hospital had faithfully continued the mission he set it for 130 years ago:

St. Luke's doors are open wide for the reception of all colors, nationalities and creeds. Its benefits, refused to none, will be limited only by its means.

When Sutter took over the facility, the company promised the church and the city to continue care for low income area residents; aside from an imploding county hospital, St. Luke's was then and still is the only option left for medically indigent San Franciscans.

Now those promises look as if they are being violated. Despite objections from city officials and doctors, Sutter has closed the St. Luke's psych unit. They say it was underutilized; psych ward doctors say the hospital had reduced staffing to ensure that psych doctors could not admit, despite numerous calls from other overburdened hospitals.

[T]he low patient count in the unit was not a reflection of decreased need but due to a 'systematic reduction of MD staffing' that has prevented the unit from taking more patients and decisions by the hospital to not accept low-profit patients.

Dr. Lee emphasized that his former patients "have no where else to go."


Dr. Eugene Lee

Community members and St. Luke's workers fear that this blow is just the beginning of a gradual erosion of the hospital's mission. Next on the block apparently is the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit; if Sutter closes that, who is going to choose to give birth a child in a place where a medical problem will mean shipping out the sick baby to another hospital?

The fear is that Sutter plans to merge the hospital with California Pacific Medical Center (one of Sutter's profit centers); this is well under way. Then patient care at St. Luke's would be gradually cut back, citing efficiencies in sending patients to other CPMC units. Finally, acute care at a gutted St. Luke's would be deemed too expensive, so the building would be turned into offices.

This scenario is completely plausible, since Sutter has inflicted a similar process on the former Davies Hospital, now barely a medical facility, just an annex of CPMC.

Yesterday, workers and patients insisted they would not submit quietly to the killing of Rev. Brotherton's dream. They marched and rallied at the hospital; and left the brief demonstration promising to be back.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano cheered up the crowd, but also admonished Sutter: "you need a lot of things from the City and we know it."


A patient had her own warning to Sutter: "you know where I live: right here. We know where you live."


RN speaking: "I didn't go into nursing for the money; I do this work for my patients."


Not everyone was happy about the rally; Sutter's security stood by.

Friday cat blogging: Pidg at home


We call this beast "Pidgeon Eater." She's semi-feral, as you might guess from her attitude looking at the camera. She hangs around the house next door, but is definitely nobody's cat.

How did she get her name? It is amazing how little is left of a pidgeon when eaten by a cat. Just a beak and feet, plus a few feathers, littering the sidewalk of a morning.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Katrina aftermath: No picture here

The photos are over at BAGnewsNotes. Photographer Alan Chin is discussing his images from flooded New Orleans in comments. Shooting in black and white, he has captured something of the mythic scale of the physical and psychic devastation. His observation that stopped me cold:

His subjects were "amazed that the story was getting coverage in more than just the local New Orleans or Louisiana media."

What desolation! Take a look at the pictures yourself

A calendar for the ages


This is just too good to pass up. The image above is from a fundraising calendar offered by the First Parish Church in Framingham. From the creators' FAQ:

The calendar was designed to address the worship of youth culture in our society, show our youth that the elders in their church have a wonderful sense of whimsy and humor, and demonstrate to adults and youths that women are beautiful at all ages.

Why did the individual women decide to pose for the calendar?
Reasons include: it would be fun; something I always wanted to do but never had a chance to do; love celebrating senior women; great for senior women everywhere to see that their contemporaries are bold and adventuresome; time to respond in a positive way to society’s worship of youth; we should be proud of our bodies and our talents and let the world know that; have a sense of humor and thought this would be a whimsical thing to do; knew the photographer, Lynne Damianos, would create a high quality, tastefully designed photo.

You can order one from the link above. I did.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Arnold is for sale!

arnie on ebay
For a little while today, this ad really did appear on eBay -- all too briefly. I guess eBay didn't want to make a political point for the California Nurses Association who put up the item. You can see CNA's version here.

In 2003 Californians recalled Governor Gray Davis in part because he broke all records for political fund raising. Now Schwarzenegger is desperately begging corporate donors for more and more millions to try to salvage his unpopular initiatives in the special election he is putting the state through this fall. I wonder what he is promising them?

Last week he announced, six months early, that he will run for re-election next year. The Secretary of State won't even accept gubernatorial filings until February -- I guess he had to reassure the fat cats that he won't pull out after they invest in him this fall.

Yes, Arnold is for sale -- but the people of California aren't buying.

Full disclosure: I am temporarily working for CNA; because I got the email to staff, I was able to capture this screen shot before eBay pulled the ad.

Monday, September 26, 2005

An Urban Home


What's that? Somebody's front door.

Most mornings I run around Oakland's Lake Merritt. The tidal estuary adjacent to downtown is the oldest wildlife refuge in the United States, a sanctuary for many species of native and migratory wildfowl.

Every day runners, walkers and practitioners of Tai Chi circle the lake. And some live here.

One morning I saw a pair of legs emerge from the hole pictured above. A young woman, clearly dressed for work in clean slacks and a dark shirt, stood up and brushed herself off. She combed her hair, and walked off toward the city center. The pictures that follow show what she might have seen along the way.


View out the front door. Some folks pay a lot of money for this.


If she turned back, she would see this wall which covers the side of the automotive bridge that makes her home.


Not all the sights and smells are pretty.


Some visitors are unwelcome.


There are many passersby.


And there are neighbors.


Many are walkers.


Some preen themselves.


We're coming into downtown now.


But one last neighbor clings to the edge of the lake.

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."
-- Anatole France, a leftist novelist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921

Sunday, September 25, 2005

For many immigrants, it has happened here

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Author Tram Nguyen

We Are All Suspects:
Untold Stories from Immigrant Communities after 9/11

By Tram Nguyen; Foreword by Edwidge Danticat


Sometimes only stories enlighten. There are all sorts of statistics that should tell us how we have become a more isolated, closed-down nation since 9/11 -- for example overall foreign enrollment at U.S. universities fell 2.4 percent in the 2003–04 academic year, the first such decline in more than three decades.

But in this book we meet real people: among them, Abdullah and Sukra Osman of Minneapolis and Somalia; Ban Al-Wardi, once of Iraq, now of Los Angeles; Muhammed and Asmat Saeed of Manhattan, Toronto and Pakistan -- they all discover, mostly to their shock, that this country is not the place of opportunity and freedom they had believed. Xenophobia and racism, seized upon by a rightwing US government after trajedy, run unleashed, destroying the hopes their victims held on to as they worked to make new lives in North America.

Researchers will find the "timeline of major events and policies affecting immigrants and civil liberties" invaluable. But what those of us outside the affected immigrant communities don't usually have a chance to appreciate are the daily wounds inflicted by a hostile state: families divided, arbitrary disruptions of life, the anxiety of carrying the fear that any accident or unknown misstep may get you locked up and thrown out.

Sixteen year old Aleena Saeed was on her way to a medical career, had been accepted into a "gifted" program in her New York City high school. But after 9/11, she and her parents, refugees from Pakistan who were accused of no crime but whose immigration papers were incomplete because of backups in government offices, now await deportation back to dangers they fled. After attempts to regularize their status failed and their father was detained, the Saeeds await deportation from Canada. They have lost their friends, their home, and their livelihood, but for sixteen-year-old Aleena:

The worst part, she said, is "losing all your dreams."


Tram Nguyen, executive editor of Colorlines magazine, herself a refugee whose family fled Vietnam in the late 1970s, eventually becoming US citizens, captures these nightmarish stories in a gentle voice. The book is a must read for all of us worried about the path our country is taking; for immigrants of the wrong color, since 2001, it has happened here.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Pictures from San Francisco antiwar rally


When you are in the middle of a large march, it is hard to take coherent pictures. Both protesters and police estimated the crowd was 20,000. And in fact I didn't take these as my camera chose this moment to self-destruct. But my partner snapped a few images:

After all, this was San Francisco.

We marched with the nurses.


Young friend and protester.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Nurses rally in Oakland against Schwarzenegger


Members of the California Nurses Association converged on Oakland this week to attend the union's House of Delegates meeting. Today they took to the streets at midday to denounce Gov. Arnold's special election.

Arnold said of the nurses he was going to "kick their butt" but it looking like the incredible shrinking Governator is on his way to a spanking from the RNs.


Oncoming doom


Steve Gregory's Wunderground blog describes the latest Hurricane Rita projection:

The storm has PEAKED in intensity, but remains an extremely dangerous Hurricane … By the time of landfall Saturday morning, Rita should be a CAT 4, with winds of 120mhp, and gusts to 150mph. Enough to cause tremendous wind damage to well built, non masonry structures.

However, the storm surge will cause complete devastation within 1-3 miles of the coastline near the point of landfall….

A tidal surge of 20-24ft will come onshore near and to the right of the point of landfall, with a 15-20 foot surge extending for up to 80 miles east of the strike point. From 80-120 miles east of the landfall point, a storm surge of 10-15 feet is likely3-5 foot above normal tides will affect those living as much as 300 miles to the east - which includes Southeast Louisiana. Keep in mind, riding 'on top' of the storm surge will be huge 30-40ft wind driven waves.

Hopefully most people who would have been under that surge will be long gone. After Katrina, very likely evacuation will look like a better deal.

The only thing I can imagine analogous to how folks in the way of this hurricane's violence must feel is how residents of Baghdad must have felt in the winter of 2003: You know it is coming; you know what it is going to do; and there is not a damn thing you can do to stop it.

For most of the people of Baghdad, the aftermath has been worse than the anticipation and the initial event. Let's do what we must not to repeat that pattern.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Don't tell me it isn't about race


These people were trying to get on the last bus out of Key West before Hurricane Rita passed through yesterday. Screwed again by a system that throws them away. Via BAGnewsNotes.


Fortunately, Rita didn't hit the Keys directly:

It was almost as if she was stopping to take breaths between blasts. Calm followed each moment of fury.

Rita would blow hard for 10 minutes, bending trees, pushing the sea onto streets and gently rocking parked cars. Then, right before it seemed the sky was about to unhinge, the wind would quiet, giving all a chance to straighten and almost stop swaying. South Florida Sun Sentinel

So she blows on to Texas (or even more awfully, Louisiana again.) Who will be left behind this time?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Katrina for the undocumented means hiding and working harder


Recent weeks have been a revelatory experience for much of the mainstream media and through them for many middle class US white people: the hurricane laid bare the extreme poverty in which many African Americans pass their lives. Further, it reminded the nation that Black-White is our historic paradigm for understanding "race" in our collective lives.

But New Orleans and surroundings had many residents from other non-white groups; what happened to those communities? Here's some reporting beyond Black and white:

Illegal immigrants afraid to get storm aid:
Some sneak into shelters at night and then slip out in the morning, praying they won't be noticed. Others avoid government help altogether, preferring to ride out the chaos and destruction alone in a foreign land.

For illegal immigrants, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has meant not only living without a home, money or belongings, but also steering clear of the government officials who have flocked to the area, for fear of deportation.

Somewhere between 20,000 and 35,000 undocumented persons, mostly of Mexican and Central American origin, lived in the path of the hurricane. Many did not evacuate; "four roommates - three Mexicans and a Honduran - decided to ride out the storm in their trailer in Marrero. They were asphyxiated by a faulty generator after the storm passed."

Those who weathered the storm looked for informal resources they could trust:

Where Have All the Hondurans Gone?
…in Houston, when the first of Katrina's Honduran evacuees trickled into town, most didn't go to the city's public shelters, the Honduran consulate or to the Astrodome. Instead, through a network consisting mostly of word-of-mouth tips, many found their way to El Coquito, a Honduran restaurant.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security announced a 45-day moratorium on fining employers who hire undocumented workers.

Not surprisingly, Latinos are concerned that this gesture is just the prelude to the usual practice of using up and throwing away imported workers:

So undocumented Latinos, if you speak English and can read this, here’s the deal: You can go along on the underpaid, exploitation-filled work gangs to clean up our American city of New Orleans, and your employer won’t be in danger of being prosecuted (for 45 days, anyway). But tengan cuidado: if someone decides to report you, you may have to turn in your rags and dust masks, and stop cleaning our country and head back to yours. Que Dios os bendiga.

For the undocumented, Katrina very likely means more of the same, only tougher conditions.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Department of inadvertent candor


"There is no other health condition in which health insurance puts up more barriers to care," said Eric Goplerud, a professor of health policy at George Washington University.

This remark appeared in an article on treatments for alcoholism in today's LA Times.

Ah yes, the function of health insurance: keeping sick people away from access to medical services.

I suspect that "health insurance" is even better at preventing of women's reproductive health care than it is at refusing alcoholics assistance. But I could be wrong.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

RNs to the rescue


As I posted last week, California Nurses Association is going to extraordinary lengths to send nurse to the Gulf Coast. Scheduled flights became nearly impossible to organize, so on Thursday these nurses left on a chartered airplane!

CNA still needs help meeting the costs of sending RNs to stricken Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. Please consider donating here. The feds aren't going to do their job (hell, they may just walk away for our money -- see below); peoples' organizations have to do the work of caring.

Hurricane con begins: federal credit cards


Little noticed among the many derelictions in the federal response to Hurricane Katrina is that low level employees who use government credit cards just had their purchase limit raised to $250,000 per transaction. That's right -- the "micro-purchase threshold" is now a quarter of million dollars per transaction if you claim the purchase was disaster-related.

You may comfort yourself that there can't be many of these government-issued megacards, but you'd be wrong. According to an L A Times story there are currently 300,000 of them in circulation. And their use is not limited to professional buyers; very often they are issued to agency support staff -- perfectly reasonable if you are trying to keep the office in copier paper; madness if you are reconstructing a city.

Apparently there is a long history of mismanagement of credit cards in the federal government, just as there often is in businesses and non-profits. Plastic is just so easy to use; it lends itself to abuse. In fact, the Office of Management and Budget was just about to issue a circular on a new program to try to get a grip on credit card use named "Improving the Management of Government Charge Card Programs." Guess that is at least postponed. Forbes Magazine asserts:

[T]he Government Accountability Office has found in previous [disaster] cases the cards have been used to buy jewelry, leather goods and entertainment.


We all want to do all we can to help the people of the Gulf Coast recover -- but I do think that Congress, which approved the new "limit,' could have put in a few controls over what is done with our tax dollars.

I admit it is sort of fun to think about what might be purchased with those cards. If I had one, I might think the disaster required a nice light-weight kayak; what would you buy?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Toys for our times


On a lighter note, more or less…since I often write about the "no fly" list, I'm glad to know we are now socializing children for the experience of being searched. For only $11.99 plus shipping your child can learn the delights of being stopped by -- or being -- airport security. Thanks to Blogging Baby for the tip.

Don't know that I've ever been searched by an all white security team though. The toymakers could have been more realistic.

Journalism, ethics, racism and aspiring pundits

An aspiring Ann Coulter named Jillian Bandes (pictured) published a doozy of a column in The Daily Tar Heel last week; she led with " I want all Arabs to be stripped naked and cavity-searched if they get within 100 yards of an airport."

No one should be terribly surprised that the UNC Muslim Students Association and lots of other people went ballistic. The opinion editor fired Bandes, not for expressing her noxious opinion in favor of racial profiling (which he disagree with), but for misusing quotes she strung together from various Islamic figures on campus to make it seem that they supported racial profiling.

Here's how editor Chris Colleta explained his action:

I asked Bandes as I read her column whether the quotes were accurate; whether they were fair; whether they truly represented the feelings of the people quoted.

She said yes.

Now, I don’t know if Bandes simply misrepresented herself or whether she intentionally fudged things when she talked to her sources. But either way, when I talked to all three of them Wednesday, they told me they felt not only lied to, but betrayed.

… none of them thought Bandes would use their words the way she did — callously and without regard for their actual meaning.

In other words, their quotes were wrong, even if the words were correct. They were used recklessly and thoughtlessly.

Let's get that again:"Their quotes were wrong, even if the words were correct." That seems to me a higher standard than I expect from journalists, but perhaps a right one. Colleta is saying that journalists must not misrepresent the intentions of people they interview, even if perhaps their literal words might allow some fuzziness about their meaning.

The Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics, "Seek Truth and Report It," rather surprisingly, contains nothing that directly addresses this issue of using quotations in such a way that they misrepresent the speakers. Perhaps they consider this conduct such a horrible fault as to be unthinkable. Yet sources are always complaining about being misquoted. Perhaps the real problem is that writers too often don't understand what their sources meant, so their use of quotes is false, because they just don't get it.

* * *

Unlike the editor who fired her, I do think Bandes' column was racist on its face. Consider this:

Four years and two days ago, we stood somewhere between apathy and ignorance. Sure, there were heinous acts of terrorism being committed in far-away lands, and sure, there was always the threat that some psychopath might do something.

After all, we’re the generation of Timothy McVeigh, the Unabomber and Columbine. The news was littered with coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nerve gas on Japanese subways and terror in the Balkans.. . .

You can debate a lot of things about post-9/11 foreign policy, but one thing you can’t debate is that taking out terrorists — or blatant human-rights violators — is a good thing.

You also can’t debate that of the 19 hijackers on those planes, all 19 were Arab.

And you can’t debate that while most Arabs are not terrorists, sadly, most terrorists are indeed Arab.

Huh? This is internally inconsistent balderdash. She lists a lot of horrible people who've done terrible things, none of them Arabs (except those Palestinians) -- and then insists most terrorists are Arabs. Such contradictory assertions, rooted in bigotry, are the essence of racism.

The Society of Professional Journalists does speak out against racism in reporting. They urge: "Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status." That ought to cover the above.

Those of us who blog take it on ourselves to be journalists. This nasty little episode reminds me that even though I am writing opinion, I owe it to the people I comment on not to intentionally misconstrue their words. That ought to be obvious, but I don't regret the reminder.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Strike at California Pacific Medical Center

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Workers represented by SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West Local 250 walked out of the three "campuses" (since when was a hospital a kind of school?) of the Sutter Health owned medical center yesterday. Union leader Sal Roselli told the media that CPMC was chosen for the walkout because it had agreed to a federal mediator's proposal and then backed out. Other Sutter hospitals where contract talks were also stalled were spared strike action, for now.

Artist Lenore Chinn retired last summer from working at Franklin Hospital/Davies, a facility absorbed into the CPMC-Sutter empire. She writes:

I was a laboratory assistant in the clinical lab and specifically in the Dept. of Pathology at Davies. In fact, I was essentially the only representative from that department on a daily basis, which is now under another umbrella category (so much mindless bureaucracy) called Client Services. That group rules over the Clinical Laboratories on all three CPMC "campuses" and I have heard that their managers are now making the rounds of St. Luke's to get them with their program....

During the late 90s time frame there were already allegations of Sutter's antitrust tactics in its acquisition of many facilities throughout California and Davies was trying to hold on to its autonomy in the area. Like Chinese Hospital, it was fighting to stay alive and was one of the last to succumb to an unwelcome marriage of convenience....

I remember the old Italian pathologist who trained me, who died several years ago, was visibly depressed when he saw the old signs coming down and the monstrous one going up. He shook his head in disgust because he knew what it meant....

We had our troubles under Franklin and Davies but at least we knew what quality care really meant, back in the day....

Chinn went back to today to record her friends walking the line …

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closephyllis
missellie
unfairlaborpractice

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Arnold shriveling: Big body, small man.


It looks like Gov. Arnold will fire his best shot in the fall special election season this week -- he is expected to announce he will run for re-election in 2006. Maybe the announcement will goose his initiatives into positive numbers, but that seems very unlikely. The Terminator is in big trouble.

Recent public opinion polls have shown that most voters oppose the Nov. 8 special election, which is expected to cost nearly $50 million. The surveys also show that none of the Schwarzenegger-backed initiatives enjoys majority support.

Arnold tried to pull off a coup with initiative measures to enhance the governor's power over legislators, mostly Democrats. Instead he has revealed himself as all huff and puff but no substance, except that he takes care of his business buddies.

For months the public employees whom Arnold is trying to blame for the state's budget problems -- nurses, teachers, firefighters -- have been dogging his fundraisers. Voters recalled Arnold's predecessor Gray Davis in 2003 in large part because he was seen as a calculating politician beholden his donors. Now the same mud has stuck to Arnold. According to the LA Times:

Elizabeth Garrett, director of the USC/Caltech Center for the Study of Law and Politics, said …"I think he has become a different Arnold for voters, somebody who is more of a politician, who isn't that different from the other people in Sacramento -- a person who doesn't care for ordinary California, who appears more influenced by special interests."

Democrats, once cowed by Arnold's popularity, now openly mock the governor:

[His orchestrated] appearances "are basically a security blanket for him so he doesn't have to face the boos of average Californians. Schwarzenegger is on the run," said Bob Mulholland, a Democratic Party strategist.

Though the partisan battle is going well for Democrats, there is more to this election than just Arnold's effort to impose a structure that favors him and cuts out the Democratic legislature. Also on the ballot:
  • a measure to make it difficult for public employee unions to represent their members in politics by requiring repeated permission to spend their dues on advocacy;
  • an anti-abortion initiative would impede teenagers' freedom of choice;
  • two competing prescription drug provision schemes -- unhappily, voter disgust with the special election and the presence of one put up by big pharmaceutical companies will probably sink a more progressive alternative.

Unless something drastic changes, all of these may very well go down, drowned in voter disgust. As the LA Times editorialized today:

Millions of California voters, meanwhile, may wonder just where they fit in -- and whether it's really in their interest to vote at all.

Progressives can't slack off making sure those "NO" votes come out.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Finding Martha's Vineyard

One of my great pleasures during the summer now gone by was attending a reading by Jill Nelson from her new book Finding Martha's Vineyard: African Americans at home on an island. I first encountered Nelson's autobiographical writing in Volunteer Slavery: My Authentic Negro Experience, the tale, both horrifying and hilarious, of her stint as the first Black female writer at the Washington Post in the late 1980s. When I heard she was reading in Chilmark, Mass., aka "on the Vineyard," I knew this was not to be missed.

I imagine most people have never heard of this island in the Atlantic off of Massachusetts; if they have, they probably think of the Kennedys or Clintons who've been known to summer there. Nelson writes about a different Vineyard, the seaside resort that has offered daily, ordinary pleasures and comfortable community to (predominantly) middle class African Americans for several generations. That ordinariness itself makes the island vacation community extraordinary. Since as far back as the 1930s, there have been enough professional Black families among the summer residents so that they could enjoy a community in which they and their children were simply people, perhaps one of the greatest luxuries anyone stigmatized in any society can enjoy.

Finding Martha's Vineyard is not analytical; it is Nelson's tribute to a place she loves, where she grew up with families very like her own, where she brought her children to weather their own adolescences, where she returned to mourn her mother's death. It records the reminiscences of the first generation of African Americans to acquire property there, to commit themselves to bringing children there to live the long, lazy, free-spirited summers that are so little the experience of over-scheduled urban children. And it includes an interview with contemporary teenage visitors who still find an unfamiliar freedom from care.

Of course, even as she records the small rituals and daily pleasures of the place, Nelson is too much of a truth-teller not to attempt set the island in its social context.

Certainly the Vineyard is not a racial utopia, but it was and is better than most places. Or at least it seems that way, maybe because there has always been a finite, acceptable number of black families here. The obvious bond of race is augmented and in recent years perhaps trumped by the bonds of class. …

Yet much as we are united by class and race, neither is absolute. These obvious identifiers are trumped by the seductions of the physical and psychic separation of Martha's Vineyard from the rest of the world. In the plaza in front of the Oak Bluffs post office are two mailboxes. For years one was labeled "On Island" and the other "America." The fact that we are on an island, detached from the mainland, isolated consciously or not, necessitates a level of mental detachment from many of the demands of the so-called real world. …

We come to Martha's Vineyard in search of as many things as there are visitors: some of these overlap, many do not. Yet I am convinced that we all cross the boundaries of race, class, age, religion, and geography to come to this island in search of home. For black Americans, this search for home is perhaps the most profound. For the most part we do not know what region or country our ancestors came from, have no inkling of what name or address to put on the envelope if we wanted to send a letter home…. We know we're looking for it, can't describe it, but will know it when we get there.

For many African Americans, "there" is here, on Martha's Vineyard.

Finding is a worthy tribute to that "home."

More hurricane stories


Auryn24' coworkers just before the helipcopter finally lifted them out of hell.

I keep thinking I'll write about something besides the hurricane. After all, I am thousands of miles away and not materially affected. What right have I got to litter the internet with this stuff? But I can't get the stories out of my mind. Here, I am just going to point to a few that are haunting me.

From "autryn24," an account of survival inside Methodist New Orleans East Hospital where she worked as a nurse.

On the night the storm hit:

When i got to the end of the hall, MaryAnn was screaming for us to get the patients out of the rooms and there was an 80ish year old lady laying in the middle of the hallway, pale as can be, looking dead (she wasn't, she was breathing) and her husband (?) laying over her and crying and screaming. A nurse came up to me/us and was out of breath and shaking and crying and pointed to another room and said "there's still a patient in there."

I ran to the room and tried to open the door and I COULDN'T BUDGE THE DOOR. It was sucked shut. Steven and Chuck came up to me, forced the door open, braved the torrential winds and got the light fixture/roof/ceiling off of the patient and rolled him out in his bed. The patient was out of it, but appearantly this was normal for him. He was NOT hurt. Come to find out the lady on the floor almost got SUCKED OUT OF HER WINDOW. Her window exploded out due to the pressure, and she was sucked toward the window, and her husband grabbed her and kept her from flying away. Jesus Christ.

That was before things got bad.

Two days later, still without any sign of rescue:

We watched the patients take their meds with just a small sip, and told them that the water had to be conserved throughout the day as much as possible. … We would all discuss the fact that we would only make about 50 cc's of urine a day, and when we DID pee, it was a moment worthy of applause.

Food was also scarce. … I didn't need to eat, but our men and smaller staff needed to. I made jokes about us starving, and for them to kill me because my fat self would feed everyone for weeks. Morbid, huh? We all talked like this. I completely lost it one day because I catnapped and had dreams about dying at Methodist. I cried, the staff cried. …

During these days, I saw a dead body floating past the hospital. I mean, I've seen LOTS of dead bodies, but none that were because of a disaster. It hurt. It scared me. Maybe that would be me?

Read the whole story. She got out, but her life is a shambles.

From Robert Davis, a USA Today reporter, writing about "Treating those left behind," in the New Orleans Convention Center:

I came here as a reporter but as a former paramedic, I didn't have it in me not to try to help these people. I go in with about 20 paramedics. …

The scene that awaits us is like something out of a big-budget disaster film. There is a murdered man lying out on the street, his throat slashed, a pair of scissors lying next to the body. A block away, a body of an elderly man is lying in the median. Both bodies are covered with blankets.

As we walk in a line towards the center, a remarkable thing happens. Seeing the blue EMS shirts, people start to cheer.

The guards may have been wearing bulletproof vests but the paramedics found what they usually find in volatile situations: Once people realize that you're here to help, they don't mess with you. Even the most violent thugs have seen their friends helped by paramedics.

Again, read the whole thing.

And then there are the evacuees who have lost everything, not only their homes and belongings, but also the web of community connections that keep us going wherever we live. Though they may be getting an effusive welcome now, how long is that going to continue? Today's New York Times has a good story on the New Orleans diaspora:

"I'm still not sure where I am - what do they call this, the upper West or something?" said Shelvin Cooter, 30, one of 583 people relocated from New Orleans to a National Guard camp here on a sagebrush plateau south of Salt Lake City, 1,410 miles from home.

"We're getting shown a lot of love, but we're also getting a lot of stares like we're aliens or something," Mr. Cooter said. "Am I the only person out here with dreadlocks?"

More to read.

Finally, the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe rightly terrifies all of us who have to wonder whether we might be the next to suffer the penury and neglect of a government whose purpose seems to be to enrich Bush cronies. For those of us in California, Louis Uchitelle examines the condition of the Sacramento River delta levees. This, too, is not a happy story.
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