Write Lightning is a blog from writer Deb Thompson.
Everyone is welcome here.
(Some links or topics may not be completely kid-appropriate.)

Fri, Sep 30 2005

Judth Miller Never Had A Trial But Is Definitely On Trial By Certain Journalistic Peers

I'm lifting an eyebrow this morning at Arianna Huffington's remarks concerning the Judith Miller case. Let's not forget that the journalist went to jail over a story that was never even written. Ms. Miller may or may not have also had other personal reasons for choosing to keep her promise of confidentiality. I simply don't know. Perhaps Ms. Huffinton does know and so her remarks may be right on in that vein. If she knows something she isn't revealing though, she'd better be careful, since we now know that a citizen acting as a journalist can be sent off to jail for such things unless they reveal their sources. I would really hope for the issue of source confidentiality not to get lost in this whole diatribe.

posted at: 07:31 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Thu, Sep 29 2005

Female Suspect Attacks Patrol Car With Police Still Inside It

Police in Boulder Creek, California have been trying to track down and round up a elusive female suspect with a stocky, 200-pound build. She's already in trouble with the neighbors for trespassing and damaging property, leaving a muddy trail of uprooted garden plants in her wake. Numerous attempts to remove her from the property where she's been living have all failed and the neighbors have had it with her behavior. The suspect recently added to her growing list of destructive acts with a bizarre attempt to intimidate officers when she approached the patrol car in which several officers sat and began gnawing on the vehicle's external spotlight.

The suspect, known only as Kate, has been bluntly described by officers as a real pig.

posted at: 07:54 | category: /Playing | link to this entry

Wed, Sep 28 2005

Still No Arno, But Grand Joins South County Force

Although I was sad to hear that missing canine police officer, Arno, has not been located since his disappearance earlier this year, it was fun to hear that the city of Watsonville has acquired a new canine officer of their own. These are wonderful dogs that give their all to assist human officers in some very tough situations. And in spite of what the news article says about the dog being another tool, and an expensive one, let's face it. Grand will be able to sniff out trouble long before his fellow human officers can. He may cost more to train and maintain than some tools, but the returns will be worth every penny spent. And I'll bet his furry presence buoys up other officers. That's something you can't even put a price on.

posted at: 09:31 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Tue, Sep 27 2005

Blow Out The Candles

I'm off to do errands away from the keyboard today, but I do want to take time to wish Google a Happy 7th Birthday. I remember the early days of Google and the attention to detail the owners gave. I recall getting a personal reply or two when I asked a question or mentioned a glitch. Google has inspired many other search engines and has laid a firm foundation. It will be fun to see what they come up with in the future.

posted at: 06:45 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Mon, Sep 26 2005

Carpe Ars

The story of the Getty Museum's purchases of possibly-stolen artifacts made we wonder if there is some sort of database or agency that monitors these things. I did find that Interpol has a web page devoted to Stolen works of art and has even produced a CD-ROM on the topic. The Art Loss Register has a private database of lost and stolen art and other collectable items. Great Britain's The Trace Service also maintains a database. The Commission for Art Recovery specializes in recovery of art seized or lost as a result of actions taken by the Third Reich.

There are more. Perhaps there are too many when one would be better. I don't know. It certainly seems odd that so many works of art seem to just disappear with either little hope of recovery or with an insufficient lack of identification once the items are recovered. Since I don't travel in circles of art collectors as a general rule, I never realized such an investment was this risky. It does make one think twice about falling in love with art that might be considered extremely desirable.

I always wondered what people with art they knowingly acquired as stolen art would possibly do to have fun with it. I have a mental image of someone sitting alone in a room with the Mona Lisa, grinning like a Cheshire cat and then frowning in frustration because they know they can't brag about having the thing without getting into big trouble.

posted at: 17:27 | category: /Arts and Entertainment | link to this entry

Fri, Sep 23 2005

Got Genius?

This is crunch time for the Review so I'm inviting you to spend some time reading other material, such as Thinking like a Genius.

Have a look at an article on Characteristics of Giftedness Scale and note the ways you can often see special ability in children.

The Three Characteristics of Business Genius talks about concentration, approaches to problem solving and also the talent of adaptive thinking. (I should mention here that perhaps too much adaptive thinking may not necessarily be a mark of genius at all and could get you branded as an indecisive twit. Just ask a few of the judges who have interviewed yours truly during the course of jury selection.)

A fourth article looks at what factors influence the probability that a gifted child will grow into a gifted adult.

I'm no genius, but I do find myself identifying with many of the characteristics that are commonly used to define a genius. I suspect there's a little bit of genius that can be called up in each one of us. The trick is to answer the call when it comes and not let anything negative prevent us from reaching the full potential of our experience.

posted at: 12:30 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Thu, Sep 22 2005

Engineers, Horticulturists And Inventors

I saw the author of 1491 : New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus on TV a few evenings ago. Charles C. Mann admits he is not a true historian or scientist, but instead a reporter, and he seems to have gotten interested in the whole topic after his own travels to remote regions of the Americas.

One of the surprises to me was the intricate society in which earlier people operated. Often we're taught that people led very simple lives and did very little on a scientific level, when in fact the earlier work they did laid a fair foundation for what we like to think of as our more sophisticated research and development today. If you're looking for a way to help your mind put to rest the stereotypes we've heard about Indians doing little but sitting around chanting by the fire this book is probably a great place to start.

posted at: 12:43 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Both Paid And Free Content Is Duplicated

It seems that The New York Times wants to use TimesSelect to let readers view at least some of their content for a fee. And they want those news outlets paying for syndication of certain content to use print publication only--not online publication (unless the outlet has a specific arrangement with The Times). One person decided to actively circumvent the rules.

I wouldn't choose to do this same sort of thing. But I have, as a blogging writer, gone to Google and done a search for news stories that were listed on more than one news site. If I want to link to the story as a reference for a blog posting I make an effort to find that same story published on a news site that doesn't require reader registration. I opt to do this so that I don't purposely lead Write Lightning readers to a site where they might not already have open access. If I feel a strong need to link to something that has only sources that require registration I will mention it. But more often than not I simply skip linking to stories that require registration to read.

If every news site starts requiring registration or a paid subscription it will certainly change the way blog writers handle these things. I'm hoping that most news sites, including those of major news agencies, appreciate the increased traffic our links send their way. If they all begin to decide it isn't worth the seepage of raw news material I suppose we'll all just have to adapt.

posted at: 10:03 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Wed, Sep 21 2005

Anger Management Problem Doesn't Even Begin To Cover It

A story from the Register-Pajaronian reports on a guy who allegedly attacked the stranger who attempted to rescue the perp's female companion from the perp. The alleged perp apparently also managed a good case of battery on his own vehicle by crashing into it with the rescuer's car--which he had carjacked. It sounds like the only thing and only one who escaped injury was the alleged perp.

Note to self: When I teach Good Samaritan 101 someday, I must encourage potential rescuers to travel in pairs and/or carry items with which to subdue (alleged) frustrated, angry perps.

posted at: 09:40 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Tue, Sep 20 2005

Grow Or Die--Maybe Both

I watched local TV coverage of more general plan talk from the Watsonville City Council last night. I applaud council members who continue to press for clarification. Some council members last night asked for more detailed explanation of some of the ethereal terms being tossed around. Much of the language is so broad (supposedly in the interest of allowing for future changes) that it sounds like doublespeak. The plans involve some specifics, but those who will benefit from the overgrowth know that providing specifics causes more opposition from those already suspicious of former hype. Accountability for future troubles would be much easier to duck down the road if one speaks now only in generalities. But a few council members seem determined to seek answers. I hope eligible voters will do the same.

The people of Friends of Buena Vista have been resisting the "plan" to annex these rural rolling hills outside Watsonville and fill them with dense housing and some token minimum wage jobs. And we watch other resistance movements, including Rancho San Juan Opposition Coalition in neighboring Monterey County. Unfortunately, we won't be able to vote against that one. But neither were we allowed to vote against Measure U in our own county, even though we'll be the ones most affected by such "planned" overgrowth. The planners invited a few members of our group to join focus groups and help them work on things. But then the less dense housing numbers presented in focus groups came back as much more dense numbers. It caused people to perceive the focus groups to then be regarded as a way to brag later that the planners had done things with our consent and cooperation. Resentment has continued to build at what has been seen as manipulation and even outright lying. The planners perceive the resistance movement as recalcitrant and the resistance movement digs in the old proverbial collective heels a little deeper. And so it goes. It's not a pretty situation. And it doesn't seem to be getting any better.

As cities plan more dense housing and (supposedly) affordable housing they attempt to appease by carefully crafting artificial open space--space like mini-parks and golf courses. But the buffer zone that is between individual households and would maintain a sense of privacy becomes reduced to a strip of shrubs and sidewalks. Any natural sense of personal space is forced out as people give up a pleasing view out the window for the chance to buy something--anything--affordable in one of the most beautiful places in the world. But then how long will those who bought for beauty and that natural view put up with the density that is being forced into their area? Some of the landownders have been here for generations and let's be blunt. Some have money. Some will take their money and get out, leaving what was once a diverse natural area. As more and more barely affordable housing is created more and more affluent people will either resent the newcomers or will simply sell out and move to someplace less crowded. The sale of their land may result in rezoning so that several homes will be placed on a piece of land that once held one house. The city council can argue with me but I've seen this happen in more than one place. Urban sprawl breeds more urban sprawl. Land parcels rezoned for dense housing rarely revert to former rural vistas. When most of the owners of large parcels leave they take a lot of community wealth with them. I don't think anyone is adverse to helping folks have affordable homes. But if we're honest with ourselves we'll admit that stacking people into barely affordable homes on very tiny lots is someday going to kill the diversity and charm of the community. And forcing this on the people who chose the area for its diversity and charm has consequences. Add that to the fact that voting on Measure U was restricted to people who already lived in the city limits of Watsonville. How can the council expect anything but resistance from the Buena Vista community? If they don't meet that resistance with honesty and at least some deference to the established neighborhood residents they have blinders on. No General Plan full of little parks and subsidized daycare centers is going to fix that issue. They're choosing future residents' needs over present residents' needs and they'll have a hard time justifying their actions. That's just the way it is.

Sometimes I think the hard times that come after a natural disaster--such as the recent devastation created by Hurricane Katrina--also contain a golden opportunity to take a second look at the way we crowd people into urban and suburban areas. We live, sometimes literally, stacked on top of one another. As we attempt to plan for growth in desirable communities, are we really making the best use of the rare bits of open land still available to us? When everything begins to look like everything else in the neighborhood we give up what was once part of the draw of a beautiful area. In our attempts to accommodate everyone we force plans that bring more conflict than harmony and more problems than solutions. Too many California community leaders seem more than willing to learn the hard way--at taxpayer expense.

posted at: 09:12 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Mon, Sep 19 2005

Voting By Touch And Voting By Mail

I had a chance to play with (and observe others playing with) some electronic voting machines at the Santa Cruz County Fair last week. There were several brands and models there. Diebold products were conspicuously absent, due to recent decertification, though I understand they are hard at work to improve their products.

I watched several people try out the touch screens and other goodies. In the effort to be all things to all people the machines may be producing a certain amount of confusion, especially during an "Oh, I changed my mind" moment. Going back forth between screens sounds nice and was quite easily done, but I noted that people also forgot where they were in the process. One lady insisted she had not voted the way the screen was telling her she had voted. When people chose only one "candidate" on a "choose two" screen a full-size prompt screen came up to remind them they could choose a second name. My personal preference would be a smaller prompt box that would not take the original vote screen away from the voter's view.

Some demo machines included braille touchpads and were equipped with headphones. Our state requirement of a "paper trail" has forced some "bells and whistles" on machines that are still being perfected by manufacturers. at least one demo machine allowed voters to choose one of several languages, which causes heated debate in itself. Some feel that voting should be done in English only.

In the midst of all this machine madness there is another movement from the legislature that would allow seven California counties to be part of a pilot program to use vote-by-mail ballots. Assembly Bill 867, as it is currently written, includes Santa Cruz County as one of the particpating counties. I have no idea how all this will play out for those of us who work at the polls, but I'll keep you posted as I learn more.

posted at: 16:25 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Is Your Neighbor On This Map?

I suppose this is one way to check out a neighborhood before you move into it. I wonder if this could lower your property's value if you had several (known) sex offenders in your area. I can see this sort of thing becoming a bargaining tool in the real estate arena.

posted at: 10:57 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Fri, Sep 16 2005

Voting Machines? Just Say No

I continue to see things that concern me when it comes to electronic voting. Unfortunately, the Help American Vote Act has only served to rush us into a system of technology that is not ready, not reliable and not secure. The Brad Blog spoke yesterday of people ignoring security flaws, both within Diebold's ranks and government offices. Many communities are scrambling to meet HAVA's unrealistic deadlines, which were mandated on a federal level, but are nearly impossible to meet on the local level. And since all voting actually occurs on a local level it makes federal mandates fairly useless in this case.

The creation of HAVA has now spawned its own form of grant churning machine. A whole center is being created to study electronic voting A Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Auditable, and Transparent Elections (ACURATE) is being headed by Professor Avi Rubin. I'm not against grants and research, but just where do you think all that funding money at the National Science Foundation comes from? It comes from your tax dollars. (And it isn't strictly independent money when you think about it. The foundation's director is chosen by the President of the United States.)

HAVA deadlines call for electronic voting machines at polling places very soon, and ACURATE is just beginning their research. HAVA was touted as something to make voting available to Americans with disabilities and language barriers, but we already have procedures in place to help with those things. We've been using them for a long time. They may not be foolproff but they shouldn't be replaced with something electronic just for the sake of technology. And if that technology is faulty we shouldn't use it. We're not talking about a mistake in a parking ticket here. Voting is part of the basis of our country's governmental structure.

What's the rush with HAVA deadlines, especially now that we know that there are major issues with electronic voting machines? I'm always suspicious when things related to technology are ramrodded through the legislative process by people who are usually not very technical at all. And this technology affects every American voter. Congress spends taxpayer dollars on research all the time. Yet no one thought to do research on all this before passing HAVA?

This whole rush job makes things look really bad for our legislators. It stirs up thoughts of snot-slick lobbyists and special interests. If we could follow the money we'd find out that someone is making big bucks out of all this mess. And I guarantee you it isn't taxpaying voters.

I've worked as an election clerk and I've helped people vote. I'm going to help you vote too, right now, by advising you not to use electronic voting machines. Maybe I'll endorse them someday, but not this year. Probably not next year either.

posted at: 11:09 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Thu, Sep 15 2005

IBS: Herbs, Drugs, Serotonin, Emotional Therapy And More

The Whole Foods Market web site has some interesting material from The American Botanical Council's HerbalGram. One recent article included information on the possibility of using a combination of herbs for relief of irritable bowel syndrome. I've been reading recently that studies have been done on the possible role of serotonin in gastrointestinal health. Other studies involve anti-anxiety and antidepressant drugs, which can have nasty side effects of their own. I'm glad to know herbs are at least on the list of treatments being explored. I hope there are better treatments soon--no matter where the best answers come from. I know quite a number of people dealing with IBS and its very frustrating symptoms. Some people miss work, meetings, social appointments and other life events due to the inconvenient and even painful effects of this mysterious disorder. I found a great online forum on the matter at ibshope.com. The topics include the expected sharing of symptoms some complaining, but also include sections on research, humor and even the spiritual side of dealing with IBS.

posted at: 10:59 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry

Wed, Sep 14 2005

PR Online Event

Those of you in public relations/marketing you might be interested in next week's Global PR Blog Week. If you're looking for ways to optimize your work time this event fits the bill. You can "attend" from your chair and when you're finished you can turn back to the business matters at hand. Besides, with the cost of air fare and hotel rooms you might save yourself (or an employer) a bundle of money and make a really nice impression on those who pay attention to these things.

posted at: 09:11 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Tue, Sep 13 2005

Racing Pigs, Veggie Creatures And Cotton Candy

The 110th Santa Cruz County Fair opens today. A lot of us aren't crazy about the poster they chose, but let me say that the fair itself is always a lot more fun than the poster makes it look like it is. One of the perks of this fair is that the Agricultural History Project is right there on the grounds. It's a wonderful spot to see vintage tools and equipment, view old photographs and get a real sense of the area's contribution to farming in America. I had no idea how extensive the exhibit was until I finally took time to explore it last year. You could literally spend hours on the AHP's displays alone.

But now it's fair time. If you want to see the "veggie creatures" that kids made, earlier is better than later. The same is true for the fresh produce entries, which tend to lose their perky look a few days into the fair. Livestock, on the other hand, hold up much better and will still look great on closing day, which is September 18.

Be sure you go to the fair hungry and have a corn dog, a smoothie and some cotton candy. Last year we even treated ourselves to gourmet coffee drinks. Warning: If you buy food during peak hours there is very limited seating space, so you might want to either eat at less crowded times or confine your choices to foods you can munch while standing or walking.

The Agricultural History Project site is open limited hours even after the fair closes. Sometimes you can arrange for a special appointment. And if you have a group of students who would like to check out the site you can make arrangements for special tours on Thursdays. To make an appointment for your class call 831-724-5898.

posted at: 11:15 | category: /Arts and Entertainment | link to this entry

Mon, Sep 12 2005

FEMA's New Tabloid Status Is Unfortunate

I suppose it's common for biographies to be revised as new facts come to light. Such is the case with Michael Brown's. Unfortunately, everyone already knows about the discrepancy this time. Most people will only see it as one more underscoring of "too little, too late".

It's a good lesson though. If any of us takes a job and has any chance of making any mistakes-which would apply to all of us-we'd better make sure we at least keep our facts straight on our own resumes. And we'd better double-check anyone else's writings concerning our past. Words may not be actions, but they can still serve to bite any one of us on the butt.

posted at: 12:02 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Fri, Sep 09 2005

Blog Which Part?

Sometimes a news story has so many angles and elements that it's difficult to find the main focus. And I'll bet this story on the Conaway Ranch is just the proverbial tip of the old iceberg. If I told you an Indian gaming tribe wanted to join with Yolo county government to seize more than 17,000 acres of land, by eminent domain, from a land developer who has fundraising ties to our California governor, wouldn't it sound a bit like a pitch for a new sitcom? Especially now that a bill to allow such a move had been passed by legislators and was ready for the governor to sign?

As someone once wisely put it-you can't make this stuff up.

posted at: 11:04 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

Telethon Two Cents' Worth

I'm no "star" but I'm going to say what I think anyway. My personal opinion is that there has been enough hedging and covering over of words concerning Hurricane Katrina. I'm glad that this weekend's telethon will not involve electronic muzzling of comments. Let's get the feelings and opinions out there. And then-then, please-let's learn from all this and get on with healing and rebuilding. All of this commenting about commenting is only serving to fuel spin speeches from politicians and agencies wanting to defend their respective positions.

Mistakes were made. It doesn't take an IQ of 265 to comprehend that. Now could we all please at least pretend to be grown-ups for awhile and deal with the situation as it is? We can't take back what happened. But we can work to make the next disaster response better. And we can learn to build and populate disaster-prone areas in the future with a lot more common sense. Each of us should admit that we need to have our eyes open to the dangers of any area in which we choose to live. We have to learn to take responsibility to make at least some of our own escape and survival plans, instead of waiting for governments and agencies and "somebody else" to do it all. And we have to learn to support only those decision makers in office who encourage a proactive lifestyle from every citizen. If we don't do that we're going to be useless. Useless hypocrites.

posted at: 09:56 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Thu, Sep 08 2005

Dining With The Dearly Departed

One of the most interesting things I read this morning involves a Jehovah's Witness couple who have refused to honor a lease to operate a Japanese restaurant in a building that appears to be populated by some sort of ghosts. With all the ghost tours and reported sightings going on it's a wonder the couple wasn't already aware of the eerie conditions of the place.

Though there are vast differences in the two groups, it happens that Jehovah's Witnesses do share one particular belief with Seventh-day Adventists. Both denominations shun the fairly common Christian belief that one's spirit or soul continues on after the death of the body. Both groups cite Bible verses such as Psalm 115:17, Psalm 146:3-4 and 1 Thessalonians 4:15-16 as a basis for the belief that ghosts are not people whose bodies have died, but are instead satanic entities that shouldn't be invited into our lives.

This is the first time I've heard this sort of thing in a restaurant lease, but I do know that some states require at least some disclosure of "stigmatized property". California, from what I understand, has a sort of statute of limitations on ghosts and murders. If a deadly event happened more than three years ago the seller doesn't have to tell the buyer about it.

posted at: 11:15 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

Wed, Sep 07 2005

Full-On Coastal Wars

With all the horrific news lately, I decided to hunt up a water story with a softer edge to it. But I guess everyone's nerves are just frayed lately. When Senator Joe Simitian tried to get a resolution passed that would make Santa Cruz the official "Surf City USA" he got some flack from Southern California. It seems that Huntington Beach officials want their town to have the title and have taken steps to make it so. The battle's been going on for some time now, with both towns claiming bragging rights. If you go to the web domain surfcityusa.com you'll see which town is using the title right now.

I propose a compromise, with Huntington Beach being Surf City South and Santa Cruz being Surf City Central. The two can take turns hosting a surfing festival that pits their respective local surfers against one another and brings out the true spirit of friendly competition and West Coast ingenuity.

Meanwhile, turn up your speakers and enjoy the song at surfcityusa.com. This battle could mean some fun for the rest of us, no matter who wins.

posted at: 16:22 | category: /Playing | link to this entry

Meth For All The Wrong Reasons?

While doing some research I ran across an interesting article on Attention Deficit Disorder, which seems to be diagnosed more and more frequently lately. The author of the article, John Alston, seems to feel that many cases diagnosed as ADD may actually be Bipolar Disorder. As early as 1999 there were behaviorists warning that too many children might have been diagnosed as having ADHD and that physicians might be premature in prescribing drugs to control their behaviors.

It's also a bit disturbing to read the various difficulties associated with delivering these drugs in a safe, controlled manner. Just reading the list of side effects was enough to make me wonder if the treatment might be worse than the illness. We're talking about a class of drugs that are mostly classified as amphetamines, and we know that the drugs affect not only ADD and ADHD symptoms, but blood pressure, gastrointestinal workings and other functions in the body. Sometimes yet another drug is prescribed to counter the adverse affects of the stimulant drug. Are doctors making socially acceptable drug abusers out of kids, and even adults, because no one knows what else to do? Whatever happened to "do no harm"?

I just hope the research can find a better way to diagnose, treat, and most importantly, prevent such problems in the future. I'm concerned that doctors are giving too many people too many drugs for a pathology that isn't well understood at all. In the future we may be looking at really horrid consequences from having so many kids on these drugs that widely affect the balance of major systems of the human body.

posted at: 10:27 | category: /Health and Fitness | link to this entry

Tue, Sep 06 2005

A Booth For A Party Of 400?

I have to relate one amusing story that came out of Katrina's destruction. In the rush afterward to get aid to the coastal area there was a call for help of every kind, but one of the largest needs was buses to carry evacuees to a more comfortable, safe place. People were being take to Texas and other areas as fast as humanly possible. A friend of mine was at a very small chain restaurant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on what had been an otherwise slow night until a bus pulled into the parking lot. Then a second bus pulled in. And another. And then another, until eight in all were lining up outside the little diner. The skeleton restaurant crew almost went into panic mode at the thought of having to feed that many hungry, displaced people in a place that could seat only a few diners at a time and had very limited space in which to cook. Workers were soon relieved to know that the eight buses held only the drivers, who were trying to grab a bite before heading into the New Orleans area to help with the evacuation. My friend said the looks on the workers' faces gave them all a good chance to have a laugh. I know other stories will come later, even after all the terrible things we've heard. I'm just so thankful that we humans have humor as a safety valve.

posted at: 12:16 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Mon, Sep 05 2005

Help Is Help Is Help

Yesterday morning I got another story out of the Biloxi, Mississippi area. It seems that a couple of people took it upon themselves to load up a rental truck, load it with food and water, and drive it to the coastal area of Biloxi. The few people present in the neighborhood were so thankful to have someone bring them help that they were helping to unload and were sharing items carefully with those in need around them. At some point, law enforcement personnel showed up and pronounced the truck, its occupants and its contents a "safety hazard". Not only were the people told to stop distributing goods, but they, and the truck full of supplies, were taken from the area by law enforcement. The person who related this story to me said that there was no threat of any violence until the law officers showed up. When the officers tried to stop relief efforts and take the help away this person feared that the desperate people might actually harm the officers. It took a lot of talking for the matter to be resolved peacefully. Those being helped were only more frustrated and angry than ever.

People in the area are still being told to leave because of the unavailability of resources such as power, gasoline, fresh water and food. But some of them are staying in order to get help from FEMA. It's still very disorganized and, though no one expects perfection in the face of destruction, common sense and a kind heart would go a long way toward making people cooperative and reasonable at a time when their emotions are already running at a high peak.

We must learn lessons from all this for the next natural disaster, wherever that may be. If we don't, as bad as this is, the next time will be worse. When help is only permitted to come from a central agency (or government or group) there is danger that no help will arrive at all, or will be interpreted as interference. If someone doesn't make this clear to law enforcement and our governmental agencies I'm concerned that next time no one will listen. People will do what what they can, where they can, how they can, when they can with whatever they can-even if it means they might be jailed or killed for it. They're going to defy authority to do it.

posted at: 14:34 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Fri, Sep 02 2005

The News Can't Be "Them" Anymore

I thought George Clooney's recent comments on American news coverage were interesting. One of the things that became evident to me during the last few days is that news coverage is changing as people begin to have more access to their own video and audio devices. I found myself getting very little real information from the TV networks and even cable news stations like CNN. They tend to play the same clips again and again, which was reminsiscent of the terror events of 9-11.

But more and more people are connected in new ways now. This week I found myself turning to the internet, to email and to cell phones for much of the updates I received on Katrina and its effects.

Part of what happened as I began to receive information from sources other than TV and newspapers was that clear conflicts and discrepancies appeared, mostly between what state and federal management folks were saying as opposed to what local parish presidents, relief workers and affected area residents were saying. This was particularly evident in the area of what help was needed. The local staging efforts for relief and security have not been assisted very well by state and federal personnel, in spite of what may have been good intentions. While the TV networks were telling us not to try to get into the areas with water and medical supplies I was receiving word of cries for those things from county/parish rescue workers and citizens.

There's going to be time for plenty of finger-pointing and blaming. It's already begun. But as we get further down the road with all this I think one thing is becoming clear. Political folks and major news outlets have come across as less than stellar in the face of crisis. In an effort to calm people and reduce fear there have been carefully worded phrases and perhaps even outright lies.

I realize Mr. Clooney is promoting his new film about the world of news from the 1950s. But what he said about today's mainstream news is very true. The media in the 1950s had challenges that came from political and social pressures. The media now has pressure from those same areas, although the details may have changed. The difference now is that the American public is learning that there is always a lot more to a "story" than there appears to be on the surface. Nobody on TV gets it all right and nobody on TV gets it all wrong. Perspective and political leanings count, certainly. But all the pat expressions about "liberal media" or "conservative media" mean nothing if we use those as an excuse to sit back and stay ignorant. It's time for us to educate ourselves as private citizens and take time to be willing to hunt down our own sense of what goes on and where we fit in as taxpayers and citizens.

News gathering is beginning to happen at a level where we're not content to sit on the sofa and be entertained or fed like simple-minded caged snakes. We want to make a difference in what we see, what we hear and how we respond. At least some of us do. Hopefully, more are soon to come.

posted at: 10:15 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Thu, Sep 01 2005

Equipment And More

Here's another thought on outfitting yourself properly if you are thinking of going into the hurricane areas, even as part of an organized group. A press release from the International Safety Equipment Association has an excellent list of items to remember. These might also be great things to get extras of into the area to help the people still there try to deal with their own littered surroundings. I can't stress how important it is to realize that you could encounter many dangers if you go in as part of a relief effort. Don't let your compassion be your own undoing.

posted at: 10:31 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Listening From Both Sides

This is not the first of these kinds of stories I've heard and read. There is a certain amount of very important difference between what federal officials are saying and what is actually being begged for at the local level. Between bureaucracy and anarchy I hope there is room for compassion and practicality in a very tough situation that changes from minute to minute.

posted at: 09:54 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Supplies Are Needed, But...

I've just heard that the president of St. Tammany Parish in Louisiana has hundreds of people gathered in schools and other buildings and needs medical supplies and generators big enough to help get power to those buildings so that people can have some level of comfort. If you are somewhat outside the affected area and have a way to get a good-size generator to them it would help immensely. I'm sure this is a problem for other parishes and counties on the Gulf Coast. I know they don't want crowds of people rushing in to help in dangerous areas, but equipment like this could make rescue and relief efforst so much easier for those who are trained and in the area. The rescue workers have some equipment with them, but they obviously can't know about every need in every neighborhood.

Some of the other needs I know of at this time are:
Flats of bottled water
Saws, shovels and other basic tools
Cleaning and disinfecting supplies
Reading glasses
Medical supplies
Part of what has happened is that even inland areas, such as Jackson, Mississippi, had a huge run on generators and other equipment. It becomes a sort of ripple effect. The best thing to do is to check with agencies that are going to the coastal area and find out if what you want to supply can be taken in. If you try to run down there and haul things in yourself without being aware of the ramifications, you could be adding being part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

posted at: 09:30 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

Plan Now For Your Katrina

We spent part of yesterday helping to connect some family members on the Gulf Coast who are working to get their personal belongings into storage during this rough time after Katrina. One person was planning to take his extra cell phone into the area for his mother to use. There were very few sources in the smaller areas outside New Orleans yesterday, but this morning there are at least a few places set up to get water and a hot meal to people. It's still not a great place to be right now, but there is beginning to be at least enough access from the outside to get supplies into people stuck in the area.

It's been interesting that Katrina has done its damage in a time when we are all better connected than ever before, but it's still been tough to get information in and out of the affected area. At one point yesterday I was on our voice land line after just having hung up a cell phone from another family memeber, was reading an email from another family member and IM-ing yet a fourth family member-all in an attempt to get one piece of information out concerning the welfare of the first family member.

This brings me to an important point. A disaster of some kind can happen anywhere, at any time. Do have some sort of plan in place so that your family and friends know who to call for "information central". Many times the phone service (including cell service) can be spotty. I spoke to someone in the Biloxi area yesterday and our connection was not stellar. But we did a quick communication and I was able to then relay that information to others in the family. Even if you haven't been heavily directly affected by Katrina, have a plan for a day when you might need it. The person I spoke to on the phone was extremely distraught, which is to be expected. You want to be able to get information to family and friends in a brief, efficient manner.

One important point to remember is that phone service is sometimes not just "broken" after a major event. The phone companies actually block access to areas in order to prevent a total shutdown of the system. It sounds awful, but it has to be done so that one area's activity doesn't put a halt to all phone calls. So you need to remember that having one family member as "information central" is not helpful if their area phone service is blocked. Think of contingencies now, so that you're not having to scramble in the emotional midst of a disaster.

posted at: 08:02 | category: /Miscellaneous | link to this entry

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