September 2005 Archives

In The Lap of A Stranger

I read about the people who died during the Houston Rita evacuation that I had been caught in last week. It's very sad. Then later as I was driving to the doctor's office, I heard this poem on the radio and it linked me to the thousands of kind deeds done for strangers by strangers during the evacuation. Hearing the poem on the air, it interpreted the news I'd just read and I felt a sense of wholeness.

Poem: "In the Lap of a Stranger" by Karen Whalley, from The Rented Violin. © Ausable Press, 2001.

"In the Lap of a Stranger

A young man is bending
Over an old man
Lying on a street corner
At the busiest intersection
Of the city.
Homeless or drunk, I can't tell which,
But there are hundreds of us passing
And only one man stops,
Cradles that dirty head
Between his knees.

It's the soles of the shoes
Turned up that make me want
To turn away—so small!
The feet pointing like arrows
Straight up and motionless,
And the crosswalk box's little man
Walking in his mechanical way,
As if on a treadmill,
And the man not walking,
Not getting up.

When the light changes,
We all drive through,
Going forward into appointments,
Shopping and errands like a future,
Choosing the crispest head of lettuce
At the grocer's, which will taste
Particularly sharp tonight.
Glad for awhile it wasn't us
Saying our goodbyes
To our one and only life, in public,
In second-hand clothes,
Easing through the ethers
Into the afterlife
From the lap of a stranger
We've probably made late.


The Church "happens"

Glory Dharmaraj has written a reflection about the recent natural catastrophes. "God's Presence Amidst Natural Calamity" presents a natural sense of global community, grounded in a living, palpable faith. As Dr. Dharmaraj says, "The church 'happens' there right before our eyes."


Internet protest to support our troops

The arrest just a few hours ago of Cindy Sheehan and others in front of the white house is an opportunity for us to use the Internet forcefully to gather support to end our Iraq occupation. I've just written our 2 Texas Senators telling them to support our troops by bringing them home now. I urge you to write to yours, making this story grow in visibility. I like General Clark's ideas about involving, speaking with the other surrounding middle eastern countries to make things happen.


Bush: You Can Ride, But You Can't Hide

This slogan was on a sign in Crawford, Texas when I was there supporting and joining Cindy Sheehan's protest of our Iraq invasion. Bush vacationed in, then fled his Crawford ranch to avoid her.
He did it again yesterday, flying to Austin to view the relief efforts and bolster his image. The devastation is in East Texas and Louisianna.

At least one news agency, CNN, has reported that he was fleeing the white house because of the March. The hurricane cancelled my airticket to be there and I so wish I could have participated. The overwhelming numbers who participated make this a bright day for our future.

I agree with Mary who points out that there is a groundswell that the media will no longer be able to ignore.

Arts pieces and comedy are great elements of this growing awareness.


It passed us by and we became neighbors

Just walked in my garden, sun shining, light breeze in the air. Although the city has experienced power loss in thousands of homes as a result of downed power lines, my house has electrical power, no damage to trees at all.
Rita spared Houston, just brushing us with light winds and barely 1/2 inch of rain. It's a strange sensation to be facing death and destruction one moment and then to suddenly realize that there is no danger at all. Awake most of last night, there were times when I was not sure that I was awake. It was midnight, then 2 AM, and yet there was no rain, no hurricane winds. Just calm. Eerie. It did not seem right. And yet it was. It passed us by.
Friends and my partner's family in Port Arthur and Beaumont, Texas were able to evacuate but our hearts are with them as they ponder returning to flooded devastation.

For the most part, there was consonance between what the local media was reporting and what we were living. It's not only the fact that there was not a single commercial announcement (not a single one over the course of days). It's that with non-glitz demeanor, respect, and clarity, reportage lost its fatuousness and had simplicity, weight. It was a vehicle of community.
Not so for national media, which I hardly watched. What became clear to me was that local media was human because the management and employees became neighbors to those they were covering. How could they not be when it was their friends and neighbors who were displaced, hungry, suffering deprivation and powerlessness. "Who is my neighbor?" Media can be guided by this question as they cover the war in Iraq, genocide in Darfur and poverty in the US.

Yesterday I kept thinking, "I just want this to end." That phrase of lamentation will probably stay with me and my media work for a long time.

I'm going to sleep for a long time now.

Hope with Caution

Good news is my focus right now in the shelter. First, I've got access to WiFi and was able to bring my laptop on my backpack. It's good to have another communication option, along with my battery-operated radio. It looks like we will have lesser winds than expected, but we're still bracing as Rita hits in about 6 hours.
Second: The image of Mayor White glaring at the journalist during the news conference and emphatically: "That will not happen."
This to the question about how many people might die on Interstate 10 given the horrendous health emeregency that developed. He got the big gas tankers to reach all the cars and fill the tanks. All available lanes did in fact open up to allow only "outbound."

All the local TV news media repeatedly reported the growing health danger. Agencies did send trucks with water, hurray. And those areas not yet reached by the trucks, the people living in homes within walking distance of Interstate 10, came out of their homes with bottles of water and food for the passengers. Is that not God/Love truly alive among us!. All of the cars made it out of the danger area.

And lastly, politician George W. Bush was told to go away. He had planned to come to Texas this afternoon for photo opportunities. Can you imagine that? Here we are crouching in fear and he wants to fly in from the White House with his entourage. No.
So, just a few hours ago he cancelled his trip here and is making his way to the mountains of Colorado to visit some central hurricane organizing management center. It is my ardent hope that the image of him boarding his jet to Colorado/split screened with locals taking care of each other will emphasizes his irrelevance to the real life and agenda of US citizens. For once he was not able to use US citizens for his photo opportunity. Hurrah.

And really lastly, this placed emphasis, in the news broadcast, on the fact that he was actually looking for an opportunity to NOT BE IN THE WHITE HOUSE this weekend. He does not want to be there during the anti-Iraq war protest. He is still running scared from Cindy Shehan.We are praying, fearful yes, but prepared as best we can be.

A catastrophic medical emergency

I was unable to evacuate.
After ten hours on Interstate 10 headed for San Antonio and safety (My hometown, so I have lots of family there), the highway became immobile. It became a completely stalled parking lot.
Traffic was moving at the rate of one mile per hour. Driving since midnight, the sun was now hot, fumes from the cars created a light floating blanket of carbon monoxide. We had driven 17 miles. Getting off the highway was problematic, since the access roads were also parking lots. Too many cars.

There was no gas available at the service stations. Via cell phone calls and family reports from San Antonio, it was clear that this problem stretched for most of the entire 200 miles of freeway. We would certainly run out of gas long before reaching San Antonio as the car engine idled without the car moving. Only 10:30 in the morning, the Texas heat was already scorching hot and running the AC was out of the question. With the risk of not the car but ourselvees overheating, water was a lifesaver.

Faced with the prospect of running out of gas and stranded in a toxic, health-threatening heat, my partner and I maneuvered off the freeway and returned to Houston where we are going to a shelter. I think we will be safe there, remaining awaya from windows and as interior as possible.

Please let the media know that the story on Interstate 10 is not a story about a traffic nightmare. It is a health emergency. I saw elderly couples in their cars clearly suffering from heat exhaustion. One elderly man, his wife in the passenger seat, became so confused and overwhelemd that he inexplicably put his car in reverse and rammed onto the pickup truck behind him. He was clearly dazed.

Many, many of the families did not pack enough water so dehydration is a real problem. Some of the poorer families have their younger children and teenagers in the back of flatbed pickup trucks, with no cover from the sun and in direct contact with the fumes. They are in danger of heat exhaustion and toxic inhalation of the fumes. There are single mothers with babies stranded in the heat.

Seeing people trapped in this mass of cars and fumes, perhaps in the near future we will move as a country towards seeing the folly of our corporate, economic, political "oil machine."

Last I heard, Mayor White is insisting that helicopters begin delivering onsite medical attention. He called for the stupid FEMA and oil company officials drive the tanker trucks with gas onto strategic parts of the freeways to deliver gas. Clearly, neither he nor the others, anticipated the total paralysis of the freeways.
The evacuees need ice and water. Even though it is now in the evening, it is HOT. The cars are not moving. The evacuees did not anticipate this problem, so they did not pack enough water, food, medicines. There are no toilets.

I experienced this first hand and now I am seeing it on TV as I pack some things to go to the shelter and take my chances.
If you hear in the news that there are traffic problems on our freeways, call and let them know that it is primarily a medical, health emergency. And this will become a death sentence for many if the cars do not move out of here soon. They are in danger of being caught in the strong winds and rain of the hurricane.

One bright spot that may help move things faster (if gas arrives) is that the organizers, Texas Department of Transportation have made alll the inbound freeway lanes "outbound lanes." I wish they had done this from the very beginning. This is an excellent idea that surely will eventually help a lot. But the problem now is that there are 24" concrete barrier blocks between the outgoing and the incoming lanes, so the outgoing evaccues cannot get to the other lanes, that are remaining mainly unused. Surely this has a solution. If we had the personnel and large machine vehicles, those concrete blocks could be demolished. Time is really running out for the cars to get on their way before the winds and rain come.
Pray for safety. I won't be blogging for a while.
I do feel relatively safe.

Goodbye Houston for a while

Just 2 days ago I was helping evacuees at the Reliant Arena. Now I myself am loading my car and preparing to evacuate in the morning, given the path of Rita towards us and Matagorda Bay. So, amigas, amigos, I and a few hundred thousand of my fellow Houstonians will be on the road for many hours. Pray for safety.
God bless.

Oh, my. Rita

Can you believe it? We in Houston may have to evacuate. Dang.
All the temporary residents/evacuees of the Reliant Complex are gone. Those who were not able to be relocated to places here in our city have been bused to Fort Chafee Arkansas, this because hurricane Rita may hit Houston.

If nothing changes within the next 6 hours, I'm cancelling my trip to Washington, D.C. this Friday where I was going to accept the Gabriel Award for "Portraits of Faith," a national TV program I produced and wrote. I was also going to join in the march in front of the White House on 9/24, protesting the Iraq invasion. I may not be able to fly out as planned given the path of the hurricane.

Oh, my, what next. The plan is to continue to help Katrina survivors find employment here (those who want to stay) and then to keep an eye on rita and what it may mean for our own homes.


As I look toward the upcoming conference, "In Our Own Tongues," and prepare my remarks scheduled for a panel, I'm helped by Mary's pointing to Fernando Gros' blog which points to Ryan Bolger's blog. The discussion is about the cultural shifts around web practices and how education, authority, ministerial leadership and of course publishing are changing.

My ardent hope is that somehow we will quickly go beyond tinkering with stuff like better translations, better marketing, better graphic design, respect for copyright. How does one find ways of opening up discussion and reflection about the more important strategic issues that are at stake for the vitality of church:

1) The distinction between publisher, creator and user has blurred because of technology and one grassroots catechist can do it all just fine, thank you, in community with other grassroots parishes.

2) Large Catholic publishing houses are coming to an end if they don't change drastically. How can they change, revitalize themselves, if they do not face the larger questions (about centralization, control of content, role of authority, how the creative spirit is nurtured) that will enable them to provide the leadership and resources that they once did?

3) How can we strengthen our church by making alliances between parishes as creators of content (not just users) and publishers as saavy, learned facilitators? To engender these potentially powerful alliances, what are the specific barriers posed by backward-looking authority, innate belief in centralization, misunderstanding of the purpose of copyright and the unexamined trust in the institutionalized concept of truth?

Hmmmm, too much for 15 minutes???

NOTE: "The framers of the United States Constitution, suspicious of all monopolies to begin with, knew the history of the copyright as a tool of censorship and press control. They wanted to assure that copyright was not used as a means of oppression and censorship in the United States. They therefore expressly provided for the purpose of copyright: to promote the progress of knowledge and learning." (From above reference)


Bush and Hitler

I've often thought about the similarity between Hitler and Bush, in that they both led their countries to an invasion based on fabrication, and fear and with popular support.

I don't think that we are bound by our history nor family background, but it is nonetheless interesting that the Bush family power and fortune is connected to the Hitler regime. Max Wallace in his book, "The American Axis" writes about Henry Ford's avid support of the third Reich and then makes this mention:

"In a small box housed among the US National Archives Trading With the Enemy files sits an explosive series of documents implicating another prominent family in this serious crime [trading with the enemy]. On October 20, 1942, ten months after the United States entered the Second World War, the US Alien Property Custodian, Leo T. Crowley, issued Vesting Order 248 under the Trading With the Enemy Act, seizing all assets of the Union Banking Corporation of New York, which was being operated as a front for "enemy nationals." According to a federal government investigation,Union Banking was not a bank at all, but a cloak operation, laundering money for Germany's powerful Thyssen family. The Thyssens were instrumental in financing Hitler's rise to power and had supplied the Nazi regime with much of the steel it needed to prosecute the war.

One of the partners of the Union Banking Corporation, the man who oversaw all investments on behalf of the Nazi-affiliated owners, happened to be Prescott Bush, grandfather of the American president George W. Bush. Through the connections of his father-in-law, Bert Walker (George W's maternal great-grandfather), who has been described by a US Justice Department investigator as "one of Hitler's most powerful financial supporters in the United States," Prescott Bush specialized in managing the investments for a number of German companies, many with extensive Nazi ties. ...
"According to former United States Justice Department Nazi war crimes investigator John Loftus, who has investigated the Bush family's considerable ties to the Third Reich, Prescott Bush's investment prowess helped make millions of dollars for various Nazi-front holding companies, and he was well paid for his efforts. "The Bush family fortune that helped put two members of the family in the White House can be traced directly to the Third Reich," says Loftus, who is currently president of the Florida Holocaust museum." Page 348&349, "The American Axis"

It's good when we can learn from history, although oftentimes we don't.

Bright ideas from FEMA

I'll share what gave me a rueful smile early in the Astrodome experience.
Remember the big bright idea that FEMA had, to move the Katrina survivors to cruise ships? The ships had already arrived here, docked and ready. Local leaders roundly rejected it. There were many reasons, one of them being how quickly disease can spread.

Rick Casey's column in the Houston Chronicle (He used to write for the National Catholic Reporter) this morning reminded me about the cruise ship idea, recalling how out of touch bureacats can be.

He writes that At hearing the proposal, one black official leaned over to another and whispered something along the lines of: "Now think about it. The last time they asked our people to get on a boat without telling them where they were going...No, thank you!"

Casey says that When shelter residents, many of whom had seen enough water thank you very much, indicated a preference for cots on dry land with freedom to walk out the door as opposed to private bedrooms surrounded by a large moat, the plan was canceled. His full column is here.

Urgent Need for Medicines & Acceptance

Texas is helping provide free medications for persons living with HIV who lost their medications and insurance documents during Katrina.Refer anyone in need to Texas Department of Health site. Excellent news that some drug companies are giving the medicines free to Katrina survivors, or at deeply discounted prices.

Some survivors cannot wait for the necessary processing time and agencies like the Montrose Clinic are providing the medications then and there, immediately.
Please donate to organizations that reach people overlooked by the larger relief organizations.

Now if we can just get over discriminatory attitudes. Sharli'e Vicks, from New Orleans, was arrested in a shelter in College Station, Texas because she showered in the ladies room. Sharli'e is transgendered and in the transition period. Police officers in College Station called her "it." Her bail was set at $6,000 and she spent five days in jail before a journalist reported her story and the heat was on the Sheriff's Department to release her, which they finally did. There are too many depressing stories about Gay and Lesbians being harrassed in shelters. The Montrose Counseling Center provides life-saving emotional and housing support for GLBT persons who are being rejected at shelters and service agencies. If you know of anyone in need, call the Gay & Lesbian Switchboard in Houston: 713-529-3211.

Exhaustion - Rest - Organizing

The low power radio station by/for Katrina Astrodome survivors went on the air yesterday, noon. More on that later.

Rebuilding after Katrina is daunting, but it is an opportunity for positive change. After a rest and prayer....time to organize.

I'm guided by these ideas:
1) As far as possible, make every assistance effort a support of the agency (Webster:the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power) of the poor. Solidarity does not happen when we help the poor. It happens only when the poor invite you to collaborate with them in their project.
A small and simple example of this can be seen at the Astrodome tech center where we stepped back from the keyboard so that the Katrina survivor could enter information and do the searches herself. Many insisted that we work with the keyboard because they were too exhausted or they did not know how. It was they who decided.

2) This video from NAACP Louisianna urges that shelters organize democratic committees. It seems unrealistic in many cases, given the tensions and struggle to find shelter, but in the final analysis the task of rebuilding is a task of empowerment. Any organizing effort that supports the innate agency of the poor should be lauded.

3) I've been contacted by the US National Conference of Catholic Bishops and by another national church to help with the production of videos around the theme of Katrina. My thinking is: As far as your imagination allows you the freedom to do so, take steps to enable the Katrina survivors themselves to make the video. It will take a little longer, but it will be real, and prophetic. What organizational steps can a church take to move from "put the camera/mike in front of the Katrina survivor" towards "give the Katrina survivor the camera/mike." That is how a church can lead. Think of media not as tools for dissemination of ideas. Rather, they are cultural vehicles by which communities come to awareness and make visible who they are, who they want to be.

4) Race and Class morph into each other constantly. When racism becomes too obvious for public discourse, it morphs into economic class:"poor white people also suffered, so it can't be racism." At every turn, take steps to own up to the inner racial attitudes that live within our US psyche. Even here in Houston where mostly white volunteers give so generously, tearfully, to black survivors, there is an opportunity to identify racism rather than pretend it does not exist. This is the way to grow towards racial equality.

If you have other guiding ideas, I'd love to hear them.

Prayer for Volunteers

Witnessing the images and sounds of the Katrina disaster, Marilyn Born, a dear friend from Melbourne Australia, wrote this poem/prayer. She said that she kept "thinking about the second and third… wave of grievers (vicarious trauma) So wrote this. It helped me to get it out from such a distance. I hope it feels supportive to you." I have a sense of strength and joy in sharing her poem/prayer.

“For The Volunteers”
May you see the sights without being blinded
Hear the sounds without running scared
Smell the smells without suffocating
Tend the hurt and harmed lost and dying with respect and not despair
And feel without drowning

May your tears come when needed and stay when not.
May your spirit rise after every fall
May your body move and sleep with ease
And your mind neither be haunted nor harmed.
May the mother of all that is comfort you

In the days ahead may the horrors leave more quickly
And the healing come sooner
In the weeks ahead may the poor be first
In the months ahead may the poor be first
In the years ahead may the poor be first

In the years ahead may the river be free
May the memories be no more and no less
May the careless and every evil doer be last.
May people of colour be first
May people of colour be first


Hurray for Houston and Mayor White

Houston Rocks.
Yesterday we did not have to spend a single penny to buy airline tickets for Katrina survivors. Why? Because a horde of volunteers showed up with cars and vans, ready to drive families and groups to various cities. (This with gas prices being what they are.) Is this not amazingly beautiful? There is so much love and generosity outflowing from people. At the grassroots, when push comes to shove, we are a great country.

With distinguished leadership, Mayor White is keepig to his goal of getting survivors out of the shelters and placed in permanent housing within two weeks. If you have housing available or are looking for housing in Houston, search/register at the Houston housing site.

The moveon housing site might be useful.

Two questions for today are:
1) can we ever control people's expression? What are the circumstances under which we should control people's expression?
2) will the proprietary model (i.e., viewing information as private property like houses and cars)continue as the only paradigm for information and ideas?
The background for the first question:
The Harris County officials at the Astrodome are refusing to allow setup of a low-power radio station that would share information about services and act as a paging system. It would also share stories by the survivors that could help other survivors. The FCC has approved the station to operate for 90 days. Local volunteers have donated 10,000 portable walkman type radios and some have been distributed. But the astrodome officials will not allow the operation to be set up in the astrodome. We don't understand the reason for this.

The project is spearheaded by Prometheus Radio working closely with Indymedia Houston and our community radio, KPFT.
As of today, Saturday, the organizers have given up trying to setup the radio inside the Astrodome and are soliciting FCC permission to build nearby and then beam the signal. I hope this will work. The paging system inside the astrodome is not effective. The information from the commercial media is not reliable. The voice of those in need requires direct expression, not filtered through commercial media. KPFT is running some stories and in-depth interviews from the Astrodome on their programming and that is something good.

The background for the second question is:
You know that I've been blogging (actually, ranting) about the proprietary compulsion of our media companies. As we try to find missing relatives, we have to go through a jungle of 55 (Yes, FIFTY-FIVE) websites. Yahoo thankfully saw the error and created a program that crawls like Google and searches other data bases. That has been a huge help. Now, Enter Microsoft, (pardon my hyperbole: the devil incarnate). This week Microsoft created its own website of missing Katrina persons. The coding of the microsoft database does does not allow Yahoo to search it. Not only that, but instead of developing an efficient search tool to search smaller and less-known databases that might contain useful information for us looking for lost ones, Microsoft has its staff entering data from other lists onto its own site. Yes, Microsoft is copying information about missing persons and entering that information onto its own site. This has to be the "private property idea" that is most counterproductive to our search efforts. Time is running out for this debacle to be fixed.
My hope is that the US mindset: "information and ideas are property that can be owned and traded" will eventually change toward the mindset of other cultures: "information and ideas are community owned and naturally and effortlessly shared by all in an ongoing evolution for the strengthening of community."

How would you answer these two questions?
By the way, we continue to find missing relatives and more and more people are finding transportation to be reunited with relatives.

Plane tickets and Reading Glasses

The work at the tech center at the Astrodome is shifting slightly to housing, employment and travel.
As regards travel, we need more help in the form of either cash or plane tickets for people who have found family members and need to reunite with them. Continental Airlines is providing really rock bottom low fares, so a few dollars can go a long way. Yesterday they also waived the fare that they normally charge to transport a pet. Hurray for Continental!
Southwest Airlines has provided us with a limited number of free tickets and these are like a miracle for families desparate to join their loved ones in places far from Houston. SW Airlines should get high praise for showing true luv!
But the main work is still trying to find missing loved ones. The consolidation of some of the sites is making work a little more effective. When I search on Yahoo Survivors, it automatically searches other data bases. This is a HUGE improvement. My faith in good people, in our Houston and US community is strengthened.

Donate to local churches who are doing direct assistance for basic needs. Yesterday $5 to buy a pair of reading glasses was a life-saver for a father who could then dial the telephone to reach his family.

This morning I'm proud to live in Houston. Volunteers by the hundreds demonstrate our strong sense of community and solidarity.

Inflicting Pain Rather Than Feeling It,

An opinion piece by Thomas L. Friedman in today's Houston Chronicle aptly focuses on Bush's administration of our country. "These are people so much better at inflicting pain than feeling it, so much better at taking things apart than putting them together, so much better at defending "intelligent design" as a theology than practicing it as a policy."

Leadership is needed on these issues:
The national government, at the Federal Communications, should compel cellular telephon companies not to suspend services in the 504 area code. Thousands of our evacuees cannot use their cell phones and they need them badly.

Celllar telephone companies should be encouraged and even reimbursed to extend the phone service for those evacuees who are not able to pay their monthly August/September bill.

Spanish language volunteers should be mobilized to help in the Missippi and Alabama where hundreds of Latinas and Latinos are stranded. Because there are no Spanish language radio stations in those areas and news about services and options do not reach the ones who need them, Spanish language radio networks should cooperate with local radio stations to broadcast 15 or 30 minutes daily in Spanish with crucial information about options. This could be done immediatlely.

I'm spending the afternoon at the tech center of the Astrodome again. The good news for today is that hundreds of apartment owners/managers are registering to provide rent-free housing for 6-8 months. They will be reimbursed later by Houston and FEMA. This is fantastic good news and I am assuming that the housing organizers will setup online application options. Congratulations to Houston for organizing this housing plan.

If you can provide any housing, please register at: Houston Chronicle: Emergency Housing Forum or MoveOn.Org housing board


Katrina Sites That Are Useful

Another day at the Astrodome has brought some hope for the Katrina survivors as some are locating family members through Internet searches. Yesterday, after repeated attempts, I found the 17-year-old daughter of a father who had fled to Houston. She had been evacuated to Mississippi. I'm beginning to fear the worst for so many whom we have been unable to locate.

These are the databases that have been more reliable than others and the ones that I search more often. Yahoo Katrina Message Boards The Yahoo search engine is now programmed to search other databases, including the Red Cross site and it also searches the text area of postings. Hurrah for Yahoo!
Family Messages
Gulf Coast News
Craigs List
The Red Cross

There are other sites that are useful and you can find them at the yahoo Katrina resources page.
If you find other sites that are working and useful, please let me know.
I return to the tech center at the Astrodome today as the task moves to locating housing. There is also a big task helping the survivors file assistance applications with FEMA. If you can take a laptop with Internet connection and volunteer at a shelter, they can use you. Time is of the essence here because the Astrodome cannot for long be a healthy and safe place. It is too crowded, bathroom plumbing keeps breaking down, shower facilities are scarce. Illnesses spread easily in these conditions, so we have to move quickly to find housing.

Yahoo comes through and so does Oprah

Hope is alive and well at the Houston Astrodome and Reliant Stadium. Hundreds and hundreds of Houstonians are volunteering for the huge task of providing hospitality, food, medical attention to our guests.

We received good news today that Yahoo is programming its Hurricane survivor site to search for the various data bases, not just its own. This is great...congratulations, Yahoo for using technology to imrpove efforts of locating missing family. Now we need CNN to not merely ask people to e-mail CNN, but rather ask the viewers to list their needs on the Red Cross site.

Oprah Winfrey came to our little tech room at the Astrodome in the early afternoon and had her cameras shooting her as she observed how we were helping people find loved ones through the Internet databases. She spoke with some of the families there......two cameras rolling, 3 producers surrounding and leading, 2 shotgun mikes, and all this with surprisingly minimal hassle. (You can tell they've done this before) Everyone in the room was very happy to see her. I think that she is capable of raisiing a lot of money, so hurrah! I guess her visit will be on the air tomorrow.

Oprah heard applause in the room surrounding a lady who, as it happened, had just located her son through our efforts. Oprah walked to the lady, held her arm and began to position the lady so that she could be on camera to be interviewed. The lady held back tears from her eyes, politely turned away from Oprah and then just slowly, tearfully, walked away from Oprah and towards the volunteers.

I was able to locate only two family members today. Really depresing. I don't want to think the worse.
So here are two more good things. First, our mayor is not backing down from having commandeered the Houston Convention Center to house those who could not fit into the Astrodome and Reliant Stadium. He told the conventioners who were scheduled to use it, "sorry, this comes first." He told those scheduled to use it that he would fight any legal suit they might bring against the city for breach of contract. I can't imagine anyone suing.

Second, planners have set a deadline of two weeks to get everyone out of the Astrodome and housed somewhere. Great goal and something we can all work for. Let's get it done. If you have any possibilities for housing or work, get in touch with the Red Cross.


Searching for family at the Astrodome

I've just returned from the Astrodome, exhausted but feeling good about the many Houstonians who are volunteering to help. Many volunteers are still needed at the Astrodome and Reliant Center.

Because of his medical background, my partner, Richard, helped with triage at the medical area. I spent the day at the tech center helping families find lost loved ones over the Internet. It is an absolutely heart wrenching situation. It is hard to keep
back tears as we search through databases for lost mothers, lost fathers, babies,...well you can imagine. The people who have lost everything are mourning but they come into the tech center with such composure and dignity. They have incredible inner strength and resolve.

The tech center was set up by a not-for-profit community tech center, and SBC and Yahoo volunteers quickly joined the effort.
My blog today will be about the proprietary obsession of our US media. Why can't we get over "we have to compete and get traffic for our advertisers" mentality???
What I mean is that instead of collaborating with each other to help families find loved ones, CNN, MSNBC, Yahoo and others are separately setting up databases separate from the Red Cross and from each other. This does not make sense from the point of view of us volunteers who have to pore through many databases to find a missing mom or son or daughter. But it makes sense when MSNBC or CNN can advertise on their networks that through their efforts so and so was found.

We have to register survivors of the hurricane on many databases, not just the Red Cross. MSNBC does not link to the Red Cross database, nor does CNN, nor does yahoo, nor do the other. Consequently we have to spend precious hours while families wait in line. This does not make sense, except from the point of view of proprietary and exclusive websites that want to generate traffic. It makes me sick. This sense was shared by most of the volunteers at the tech center.

Many people cry at the computer screen when, in desperation, we are unable to find the names of their loved ones. From time to time there were those moments when we were able to locate a mother in a hospital, or a daughter or wife. There is a lot of desperation and sorrow in the Astrodome. I am so proud of and buoyed by the thousands of Houstonians who are out there giving of themselves to help.

This enormous suffering did not have to happen.

Refugees in Houston

At midnight this morning buses that were bringing refugees from New Orleans to the Houston Astrodome were turned away. Capacity at the Astrodome was full. Bedlam was everywhere. Whoever made the decision to bring 24,000 people from the Superdome to the AStrodome must be crazy. There is now way that the AStrodome can hold that many people.

An adjacent stadium is being used temporarily, but the refugees will have to be bused to other cities.

Houston is responding well, but for some bizarre reason, the national government is not responding diligently to the plight of the poor. These citizens could not evacuate because they were too poor. There ought to have been a massive federal effort to send buses and truck to evacuate them. They are abandoned by our system....or I should say they continue to be abandoned by our system. Death, anxiety, disorientation, malnutrition are rampant.

The refugees are POOR,AND PEOPLE OF COLOR. There is no doubt that we are seeing the face of structural racism.

The emphasis by the Louisianna governor on policing the looters is misplaced. If people do not have water, food nor medicine, they have a right to break windows, go into the abandoned store, and take the water. This is clear.

The refugees here in Houston need clothing. Many are still in buses where they have been for hours.
More later,

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