"Beauty confronts us with the requirement that we place ourselves among...the redeemers, the leaders in the protection of life. Once you have seen the bush on fire, you are not going to get out of the assignment unless you close your eyes to the beauty.... [You] either have to close your eyes or go back to Egypt and set the people free." - Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, "Rising to the Challenge of Our Times"

Friday, February 29, 2008

Set up, part II

Sometimes the NY Times has interesting timing. Here's an article for my right-wing gentleman from last night, all about the problems of government-subsidized housing.

I've actually not discussed, or really heard discussed this issue with someone of very conservative views. I would like to know what (or if) they think about it. They're always ranting about big government, lamenting the 'welfare state' created by the government's provision of social safety net...everybody should just work hard and take care of themselves, or at least go to church so that the church can help them if they really need it. I've just never heard any of them complain about spending more and more money on prisons. Is it because more and more prisons are privately operated? Maybe next we'll have a prison voucher program. Also, the more people there are who go to prison, the fewer are eligible for public benefits. Ex drug-felons can't get food stamps because we want them to be punished not just for their prison sentence but forever and ever. The character of a convicted felon would probably suffer if it were too easy for him / her to find economic alternatives to crime.

Funny that I'm saying all this here...considering that my readership mostly, if not entirely, consists of the proverbial choir. Maybe some inflammatory key words would help...somebody from the Alliance Defense Fund or the Pacific Legal Foundation or the Heritage Foundation or the Cato Institute might be googling along and run across the phrase "why are many conservatives so xenophobic and short-sighted and hateful of poor people?" Or the phrase "why don't conservatives argue for more government spending on education and less on corrections?"

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Set up like a bowlin' pin

Went to a county General Plan Citizens Advisory Committee meeting tonight. First presentation was on sustainability. What it means, how it should impact planning considerations, and so on. No information or ideas that were new to me but I knew as soon as I saw a particular powerpoint slide that the presenter, a geology professor from CSU Chico, was likely to catch hell from somebody for it. Little grumbles of concern and disapproval rose from various corners of the room. The offensive comment was "Capitalism concentrates wealth and power." Other than that I didn't hear anything I thought would be controversial. Wrong!

Several times in her presentation I was pleased to hear her talk about poverty as an environmental as well as a social problem, and that racial and economic equity (thank heavens she didn't suggest gender) are key components of sustainability...that environmental justice issues (i.e. the historical tendency for heavily polluting industry and poor people / people of color to be sited together) must be addressed in sustainable development. Yep. She even talked about affordable housing and ways of increasing the supply of it, such as by adopting inclusionary zoning ordinances. I love it when people use those words in public places of their own free will. Hmm. I suppose I wondered if somebody would take exception to the inclusionary zoning reference too, as I've been in other public meetings where it was an inflammatory idea, but she didn't dwell on it very long.

Listening to all this I felt like I should try to think of a question to stand up and ask her, or some way of saying "Hear hear! Jolly good!" when she was done, or some relevant comment that would galvanize all this in public consciousness and make the Committee to go out and demand affordable housing or something. I was having a hard time formulating a question, and a couple other people had already stood up mostly to comment, not to inquire. Then a gentleman stood up and said, "In all your talk about protecting minorities I didn't hear you say anything about protecting religious groups." Ah, here we go, I thought. Because medical waste incinerators are so often opened next door to white people's churches. He had taken many notes and was going over them point by point. "And illegal aliens? Are we going to protect THEM too??" My eyes started rolling uncontrollably. "And you said Capitalism concentrates wealth and power! Capitalism is what made our country great!" Duh. Absolutely great, in wealth and power. That's why slavery was / is a hard habit to break. "Our traditional values are being destroyed by all the liberalism!" (Dang, no more slavery.) "There's no such thing as affordable housing because somebody always has to subsidize it! Doesn't equity just mean SOCIALISM?" Oh please, don't let it mean that. Etc. etc.

He was just on a roll, all but accusing the poor geology professor of advancing a godless Communist agenda, and I felt it was my duty as the legal aid lawyer with the little ACLU button on my bag to stand up and at least express some support for the speaker. I don't feel good about impromptu speaking. I had a few things I was rehearsing in my head, and hopefully they came out making more sense to other people than they did to me. I got up and said I found her presentation quite timely because it happened that I would be attending a summit in New Orleans next week on Regional EQUITY and SOCIAL justice. (Hmm...) That regardless of one's political views or preferred coping strategy, poverty is an environmental and social problem that we have to address. I recommended some books on the synthesis of capitalism and sustainability. I misspoke, though, by saying that capitalism and sustainability can "coexist." It would have been more correct to say that since capitalism is the economic reality of the world, it has to adopt the principles of sustainability or it will put the world out of business. All the externalized costs (such as the inner city kids with asthma from the medical waste incinerator) are really bad accounting in the long run. Maybe he'll read Paul Hawken's books and learn all that anyway. Ha.

And I realized that all my buttons, including the ACLU button, had been pushed by some ignorant fool, and I was annoyed that it was so easy to do. But it was a good exercise for me to stand up and try to say something, and I might not have done that if I hadn't been all riled up and eye-rollin'. At a Buddhist retreat center I visited a couple years ago, a sign said that the person who is the most irritating / difficult for you is your greatest teacher. So many great teachers in the world.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

We took a little bacon and we took a little beans

I found out a few days ago, but I'm only now (that I have flights and hotels and conference registration all set) believing that I'm going to New Orleans in two weeks. Slightly less than two. For the "Third National Summit on Equitable Development, Social Justice, and Smart Growth." The managing attorney of our Sacramento office called on Friday and told me about it. Our office will be able to send two of us, and it turned out that by flying to NOLA a day early we got a much cheaper flight. I'm going to ride a streetcar and hopefully not have to depend too much on the kindness of strangers, though kindness never hurts. This will be my first time visiting a place that has always captured my imagination. A little bit like San Francisco, but much older, sultrier, scarier. And a place that pointed out to everybody that poverty is alive and well in America, maybe a much bigger issue than we wanted to think, and that race is a factor as much as some would like to believe it doesn't. [So much for your colorblind society, Heritage Foundation.]

New Orleans is its own character in so many stories, not just a place where the story happens. Figures so enormously in so much creative work. Not the least of which is Johnny Horton's classic. Not that I've ever been a fan of Ol' Hickory. He probably would have belonged to the Heritage Foundation if it existed in 1814. Or the John Birch society...hahaha...hickory, birch...ahem.

Anyway. I will arrive there early evening on March 4. Conference starts gearing up late afternoon on the 5th, but isn't full swing until the 6th and 7th. Saturday there's breakfast and apparently some opportunities to work on some service projects. Flying home late afternoon on Saturday.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

I Have Confidence

What would this day be like...I wondered.

I headed out to my first official group training ride for the NCAC this morning wondering if I'd be able to keep up or even keep going for 43 miles. Before the ride there was some not so reassuring talk of the hills on the route. With Karla still at the shop (I picked her up this afternoon, though) I was riding my skinny-tire bike (Billie, the blue KHS Flite 300 that survived some very heavy loads while I was in law school) with clipless pedals. Can someone can explain why they're called "clipless pedals," but we "clip in" when we ride them? Anyway, I haven't ridden "clipped in" since before the knee injury and it took a few miles into the ride to get over that fear of falling over if you forget to unstick your foot from the pedal before you stop.

The ride took us through the countryside southwest of Winters (about 30 miles west of Sacramento). Here's a map of the route. Except for a little bit of the first big hill that I had to hike after I stopped and couldn't start again because it was too steep, I kicked some hill butt. I didn't fall behind. Rather the opposite. I surprised myself. I guess those 5:30 - 7:00 a.m. spinning classes twice a week at my gym have paid off. I think I'm going to be a bit stiff tomorrow but so will a lot of other people. Felt good to know that there's nothing at all deficient in my bike legs.

Plus, when I picked up Karla, looking good as new (or perhaps even a bit better since the person who wrapped the handlebars knew what he was doing) at the bike shop, all the bike shop people said how super neat she is. Gosh. Kind of like when I take my cat to the vet and everyone compliments his glossy fur and linebacker physique.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Assalaam Alaikum

I am about 100 pages into the book Three Cups of Tea. Already I'm finding it to be one of the most inspiring and interesting books I've read, yet I doubt whether I would have, of my own volition, ever picked it to read. I admit that the story of an American mountain climber building a school in a remote mountain village in Pakistan sounded like it could be interesting but was not at first much of a hook. And now I wonder why. Was it because I was reluctant to spend my free time reading about poverty in some corner of the world I knew nothing about? Was it because the news has seemed so saturated for so long with Taliban this, Al-Qaeda that, etc. etc. that when I saw the words "Pakistan" and "Afghanistan" on the cover I just didn't think there was more I wanted to know? As if I knew much of anything.

Fortunately for me, someone else in a new little reading group I'm in decided it would be our first book. It is making me wonder if I would / could ever be so committed to and focused on a goal...any goal, whether a charitable or entirely selfish one...that I would choose, as did Mr. Mortenson, to sleep in my car and be hassled by the police for appearing to be homeless, for a whole year, so that I could save as much of my earnings as possible toward the goal. Now there's some faith and commitment. It seemed to come not from any outside mandate on how he ought to live his life, but from inside him. In addition to all the other things the book is about, this seems to me to be a story about true religion and the genuine practice thereof. The something that transcends culture and theology and "isms" of all sorts, that is, hopefully, the common root of all beliefs and practices aimed at promoting human well-being. It seems that a person rooted in this way would be pretty much at home wherever s/he goes, and be able to recognize everyone as a neighbor. As family.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Karla update

I got a call from the bike shop in Sacramento where Karla is getting fixed up. Frame is fine, wheels are fine (though probably will need some adjusting), hubs are probably fine. Just need a new front axle, a new left crank and pedal, and new brake levers. This shop, Bicycle Chef, offers a 10% discount to participants in the NorCal AIDS Challenge, so I feel fortunate about that too. Some of the parts have to be ordered and could take a couple weeks to arrive, but Karla is on her way to recovery. [Special thanks to the medical transport service...]

Meanwhile I discovered this today. Maybe my next truck will run on bananas, oatmeal, tofu, squash, broccoli, salmon, cupcakes, and the occasional cheeseburger and fries from In 'n Out (In fact this would be just the thing for a drive-thru). To name a few alternative energy sources. It even has an electric power assist motor to help out the carb motor out a bit.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

When bad things happen to good bikes

Karla (my Surly touring bike, just to make sure everyone knows I'm referring to a beloved object but not a living being) is a bit roughed up from being dragged behind a truck for several yards on the freeway. Surprisingly intact though. Found a small dent in the top tube but otherwise no visible damage to the frame. Brake levers all messed up, quick releases scraped off, and one pedal bent and scraped. Wheels look fine though. They were advertised as "bombproof" and I can almost believe it.

So what happened. I was taking my bike down to Sacramento for a ride this weekend (that turned out to be canceled due to rain). Rain? I thought maybe I should put a raincover on my bike in case it rained on the drive down. I have a bike cover...not specifically made for car transporting, but I tied it down really well. My rack attaches to the bed of the truck, near the cab, with a tension bar. I happened to have a cinch strap tied around the rack and tied to a tiedown in the truck bed.

I got on the freeway in Chico and noticed the cover was flapping a lot in places, but like I said, it was well tied down. I thought the worst thing that could happen was that the cover would come loose...I was thinking I should pull over and check it at the next exit, when in the rearview mirror I see the whole BIKE come loose and fly up and out of the bed. I saw in the side mirror that it was dragging behind. I thought it was destroyed. I was all the way over in the left lane. Nobody was behind me (whew) so I pulled over to the right and off into the shoulder. I saw then that the bike was still attached to the rack. The wind resistance with the tarp was enough to pull the whole rack off the truck. I've had this rack for at least five years and ever had a problem with it. Never had a cover on any of the bikes though.

I'll be able to ride my old bike for awhile until I can get the replacement brake levers, etc. and have a shop check out the frame to make sure it's okay. If it had been aluminum instead of steel it would have been trashed. Maybe the Surly company would like my story for their website (provided that the frame is really okay). Most bicycles don't crash at 65 miles per hour. Or 70 miles per hour, either, though I probably wouldn't know.

Better news is that with help from friends and family, my fundraising for the NorCal AIDS Challenge in May is off to a great start. I'm a over a quarter of the way to my $1,600.00 goal.