Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Desert Angels

So, who places the water in the Sonoran Desert on the Mexican side? Yesterday we found out.

Yesterday, we journeyed to Mexico. That is, we went across the border into Agua Prieta. The streets of Agua Preita butt right up to the border wall on the south side, and the streets of Douglas Arizona do the same on the north side. I am five blocks from the border now, at the Christian Peacemaker Teams house. I could walk to the border station into Mexico in fifteen minutes.

We went to the CRREDO in Agua Prieta. CRREDO stands for Centro de Rehabilitacion y Recuperacion para Enfermos de Drugadiccion y Alcoholismo. Here we met up with four Mexican men with a pickup truck. If you have lived in the west, you have probably developed some respect for what four Mexican men with a pickup truck can accomplish. They piled into their truck and we followed them in our rented van. They first went to fill up the 200 gallon plastic tank in the truck bed with potable water. Then we were off to the desert.

Our van just fits the twelve of us. Only the front windows open, but on these dusty dirt roads, we have all the windows up and the air conditioner on. It is close inside, and the van wallows sickeningly over the rough road. The men in the back of the pickup in front of us look much more comfortable, sitting on the gunwhales of the truck bed, swaying with the bumps, talking easily with one another, passing a cigarette.

Miles into the bush, we stop. Under a huge tree growing next to a desert wash is a blue plastic 55 gallon drum on a its side in a sturdy wooden stand. The Mexicans park their truck on a slight incline about 40 feet away, and start to uncoil a long, clear hose that will fill this desert reservoir. Gratefully, the delegation piles out of the van and we rubberneck around. It is apparent that many, many migrantes have rested here, just a quarter mile from the U.S. border, to catch their breath before the big push.

You see, there is no pressure on the migrantes on this side of the border. Mexico doesn't really enforce the border. After all, they aren't worried about hordes of U.S. citizens coming in illegally, and remittances--the money sent home by undocumented workers in the U.S.--exceeds the amount of new foreign investment that Mexico sees every year. In fact, when vigilante action on the border was really intimidating this last spring, the Mexican government gave bus rides to people preparing to cross the border illegally, so that they could try in less hostile places.

However, it was discovered that a startling number of migrantes were dying within eight miles of the U.S./Mexico border on the north side. This meant that people were crossing the border dehydrated, without adequate rest and water. Of course, this is also the zone of maximum enforcement, so there are vigilantes to dodge, Border Patrol is everywhere, and many of the border residents are also quite hostile. All of this may delay migrants, require them to hole up (which doesn't mean that they drink less water), and encourage dangerous night travel.

Attempts to put water on the U.S. side have proven difficult. Basically, if there is to be a water station in a given spot twenty-four hours after it is put up, it will have to be accompanied 24/7. Otherwise the water stations are vandalized--usually with bullets. It was therefore thought that water stations on the Mexican side would at least help, and they have.

Sergio, the natural leader of the crew of water dispensers, tells us that they have helped 5600 migrantes in the last year with food packages that they carry with them. Nobody knows how many people have benefitted from the water stations because they are not tended constantly. They have hauled thousands of gallons of water out here, however.

Sergio's story is just like that of any recovering hard core drug addict--"I lived for the next hit. I lost my dignity, money, family, health..." He worked as a coyote, helping people to cross the border illegally, for twenty years to support his habit. Then he got sober "by the grace of God." For two years now he has been the man on the ground for this water in the desert project, because his previous job experience as a coyote gives him unique qualifications.

Sergio is not someone you would want to mess with. Short and stocky, he is muscular with a small pot belly. His head sits on his shoulders like a cannonball, without the benefit of much discernable neck. He walks like a juggernaut, slightly bowlegged. His gait is even and unhurried, but in this sandy wash I struggle to keep up. It is easy to imagine him leading a band of migrants across this desert, mile after mile, relentless. He wears mirrored shades, but when he addresses the group, he takes them off, and his dark eyes smolder like coals, the whites slightly yellow and bloodshot, brows knit, he looks into you more than at you.

Sergio hasn't been out here for two weeks. He lost a nino two weeks ago, he says, shot in the head. I don't get whether this is a son, or a friend, or a sponsee at CRREDO, but it is clear that Sergio has taken it hard. He is a man in pain.

And pain is one way that God prepares us for compassion. Here is Sergio, with his backpack full of "Migrant Packs"--a Cliff bar, Gatorade, etc. He leads us down the wash to the border. A sorry barb wire fence stetches west and east, but is totally absent in the wash itself. In Spanish he says, "On the U.S. side you have cactus, chollo, mesquite. On the Mexican side, el mismo. How can you make a law against the existence of people?"

Desert Musings

The sun is just coming up over the mountains. A supernatural symphony of colors rings around the tiny round house I am staying in. Pinks, purples, blues, oranges, yellows and deep red hang not only in the east, but cling to all the mountains that circle this desert basin around Douglas, Arizona. The mountains that I see to the south of me are well into Mexico.

Out in the desert this morning, dozens, if not hundreds of undocumented Mexican laborers, migrantes, are cocking an eye at the light that is harbinger of sunrise, wondering if they will connect with loved ones today, or perhaps a coyote who will carry them to Tucson or Phoenix. Or will today be the day that they are robbed by banditos, captured by the Border Patrol, hassled by vigilantes? Rising to make good use of the light and the cool hours of the morning, I imagine a small band of folks gathering up their scant belongings, taking a wary drink of water, and pushing on, to the north.

These folks are pulled on by the same life force that draws salmon to spawn, ducks to fly south, and which has drawn people to this continent for millenia. The inexorable pull towards Life, what the Greeks called Eros, pulls them. They are seeking greater prosperity, freedom, expression, exploration of this thing called Life. Most of them have a promise of work awaiting them. In 2003, money sent home by Mexican migrant laborers in America exceeded the value of new foreign direct investment in that country. It is fair to say that the Mexican economy is dependent on these workers.

It is also fair to say that the U.S. economy is dependent on these workers. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2001 58% of agricultural workers, 24% of private household services, 17% of business services, 9% of restaurant workers, and 6% or construction workers in the U.S. were undocumented workers. This is to say, the U.S. economy is totally dependent on this labor source, and has been since the U.S. beat up Mexico and stole the western states from her.

Immigration used to be much more humane, however. The border was a very permeable membrane, risk was low, Mexicans worked in the U.S. and then returned home. However, the trend, following closely the development of trade agreements, has been towards a more and more militarized border. The U.S. Border Patrol now has a $4 billion budget, approximately 11,000 agents, and an increasingly difficult job, as the migration escalation race is on.

Every action has an equal and opposite reation, right? So, what is the consequence of "hardening" the border? Almost three hundred people died in the desert that we know of last year. Forced to cross in more and more difficult places, migrantes are beaten by the desert, and die of hypothermia. The cost of being smuggled across has risen to as high as $1500 from $50 ten years ago. There are robbers in the desert. Reports of rape and human trafficking are frequent, and organized crime syndicates and gangs from as far away as Japan, China, Russia, and Ukraine are involved in the increasingly lucrative trade of weapons, drugs, sex slaves, false documents, and illicit transport across the border.

Sanity and humanity demand that a totally new approach to immigration on the U.S.-Mexico border be taken. If the "free market" is going to govern the flow of goods and capital, it must also govern the flow of labor—let the workers move freely to where their markets are! We could document workers, collect taxes on their wages, and develop a system to encourage U.S. citizenship, or allow seasonal workers to return home. (The border is now so tough that many Mexicans who would have gone home seasonally in the past just stay in the U.S. now.) Why can’t we do this?

The simple answer is racism. I know, I know, the race card. How boring. Must we go there? Well, yes, we must. Imagine if Mexicans looked like Scandinavians. Do you really think that we would be having all this trouble? In fact, imagine that there was a nation that also shared a long border with the United States and was primarily white, and had a huge number of undocumented migrants in the U.S.—oops! You don’t have to imagine it. Canadians constitute the second largest population of undocumented workers in the U.S. and nobody cares!

The Border Patrol was made up of a reconstituted Texas Rangers outfit. The Rangers were primarily charged with keeping blacks, Mexicans, and Indians in line. They developed a totally toxic racist culture, and this carried over to the Border Patrol. The B.P. has to some extent become a professional organization, with a reputation for sucking off the teat of the federal budget while making an appearance of tackling an utterly futile task. The rise of vigilante groups on the border is more disturbing. How could any person of color look at these beer-bellied white men in cowboy hats and jacked up four wheel drive trucks and not think of a lynch mob?

The sun is up now. Coffee is on. I put two litres of water in my pack, and jam my huge Australian hat on my head. My wool vest guards against the morning chill, but will soon go in the pack as the mercury rises. We are going to see the water stations in the desert on the Mexican side today. The tanks on the U.S. side are shot up or otherwise vandalized before many days go by, so activists have focussed on placing tanks on the south side of the border. What surprises await today? What shifts of perspective? In the study of ecology, we understand that the action in natural systems takes place along the borders—between forest and plain, or ocean and shore. Perhaps human culture and the Great Turning towards a just, sane, and sustainable society will get a further boost from the turbulence on the Border.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Christian Peacemaker Teammate...

New Adventures! Yes, I have given up on the Red Cross--I am experiencing an absolutely nauseating effect from running around in circles. It is time to get with the faith-based action!

I applied for Christian Peacemaker Teams corps program in September. Their corps program requires a one month training at their headquarters in Chicago. It is a two year program of accompaniment and intervention (their slogan is "Getting in the Way") in places of conflict around the world. The trainings are offered twice a year, in the two most unpleasant months to be in Chicago--January and July. To me, January is very preferable to July for being in Chi-town. Before you can even take the training, however, you must participate in what CPT calls a delegation. These delegations are mostly international, and therefore costly. However, this October 22-29th there is a borderlands delegation in Arizona. This Arizona delegation is the only one I can attend given time and money, before the January training. Also, it is really cool...

Jim Corbett, a Quaker scholar and activist, was intensely involved with the Sanctuary Movement during the eighties. He has furthered the thinking about transforming government by taking Thoreau and Gandhi's work with civil disobedience further with a concept called "civil initiative." I don't quite understand it, but instead of disobeying the law, getting arrested, and pleading guilty, the activist actually upholds the law--usually international. So, for instance, since the U.S. had signed international agreements that said that it would never deport political refugees, its policy regarding undocumented El Salvadorans in the eighties was in violation of the agreement. Immigration officials routinely deported these folks, even if they faced persecution or even execution if they showed up in thier country of origin. So, Americans who were providing sanctuary to these refugees were actually agents of the law, and said as much in court. Very interesting. Here's the bulletin:

October 19th, 2005

To help to defer the $400 cost of Carl's latest escapade, please contact Christian Peacemaker Teams at 773-277-0253, or e-mail You can also send a cheque directly to Christian Peacemaker Teams, P.O. Box 6508, Chicago, Illinois, 60680-6508. Specify that your tax-deductible donation is to support Carl Magruder's participation in the Arizona Borderlands delegation October 22-29th. It is tax deductible! I Thank you for your support.


Carl Magruder, an EarthQuaker from Nevada City, Californina will arrive in Arizona on Saturday October 22nd as part of a delegation sponsored by Christian
Peacemaker Teams (CPT). More than 200 migrants have died in the Arizona
borderlands over each of the past two years, as tightened borders have led
economic migrants to risk their lives in the inhospitable desert. Douglas,
Arizona, where CPT will have a project throughout the summer, is considered
the most militarized city in the U.S. because of large presence of U.S.
Border Patrol agents. Anti-immigrant vigilantes have been active in the
region as well, including the "Minutemen."
Members of the CPT delegation will monitor human rights, engage in
violence-deterrance activities, and confront unjust immigration policies
through nonviolent public witness. They will also meet on both sides of the
border with human rights groups, government officials, and individuals
affected by immigration policies.

The EarthQuaker will return on November 5th ready to share what he has learned
about the challenges facing the people of the Arizona border region.
Christian Peacemaker Teams is an initiative of the historic peace churches
(Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, and Quakers) with support and
membership from a range of Catholic and Protestant denominations. CPT send
teams of trained peacemakers to places of conflict around the world, with a
seasonal presence in the Arizona borderlands since May, 2004. For more
information about CPT contact the Chicago office at 773-277-0253, e-mail

Sunday, October 16, 2005

John Woolman and the Plastic Bottle, or What Would John Woolman Do?

Keith Helmuth has written an excellent pamphlet more or less on the topic of the implications of John Woolman's witness in modern times. It is called "If John Woolman Were Among Us: The Ecology of Automobiles and the Flush Toilet." As far as I know, it is no longer available, but it may be tucked away in your meeting library somewhere. It is an excellent read.

Mainstream Christianity has made a slogan of the query What Would Jesus Do? The Evangelical Environmental Network came up with a brilliant variation: What Would Jesus Drive? For modern unprogrammed Friends, with our universalistic tendencies, the query "What Would John Woolman Do?" may be more fruitful. (Of course, John Woolman did what he did as his personal response to the query, What Would Jesus Do?)

The essential dilemma is the same, regardless. This is the question of right action, and what determines right action. To the relatively uncontroversial assumption that one person’s actions should not contribute to the oppression, exploitation or harm of other individuals, John Woolman establishes a precedent for extending our sphere of concern to the non-human world. He mentions the plight of ‘dumb beasts’ and also talks about farmers abusing land in an effort to pay heavy debts. His concern for fellow humans goes without saying. This is what is meant by "Love is the first motion." Love is nice. However, if love is the first motion, ethics is the second.

Mainstream Christianity famously falls short of Christ’s revolutionary message because it assumes that virtuous action is possible within the context of the dominant society. This is the tragedy of Christianity as a state religion, as happened under Constantine. A revolutionary doctrine cannot survive that level of assimilation. What John Woolman explored was how far outside the dominant society it was necessary to travel in order to live according to virtue. This is the legacy that we can explore with our query, WWJWD?

Woolman’s stance against slavery was such that from a mere uneasiness with writing a bill of sale for a slave, he progressed until on his death bed he was refusing medicines that were derived from slave labor. Now, medicines given for smallpox in the mid-1700’s weren’t necessarily any great shakes, but it would have been reasonable for Woolman to believe that these prescriptions might have the power to help him to recover his health, or at least ease his suffering. Nonetheless, he refused them. He was also largely vegetarian by this time, according to an account of his death written by the woman whose house he died in.

To me, what this says is that there was a level of "taking up the cross" in Woolman’s day that was as tough as anything we might be called to today, as far as living into gospel order. He stood in opposition to the nation at large, and many members of his religious community as well, with regard to his stance on slavery—not an easy thing to do. He also made numerous personal "sacrifices" in order to rightly order his personal life—"downshifting" to a less demanding way of getting his competency (what we call earning a living) was one. Woolman also travelled on foot at times, declined the products and services provided by slave labor, refrained from using postboys or coaches while in England, and even modified his dress from the conventional plain dress that other Friends wore. He certainly met the requirement in the book of Titus to be a "peculiar person." To me, the challenging thing is that these things created right order to a significant extent in Woolman’s life. Is this still possible today?

I’ll take up this query in the next blog...


There were so many fewer questions
When stars were still just a hole in the heavens…

Well, I solved the basic Internet access problem by plugging into a phone jack in the cafeteria manager’s office at W.W. Lewis Jr. High school in Sulphur, Louisiana. (I first got a local, toll-free number from my Internet provider, of course.) So, access hasn’t been why I haven’t posted to this blog for a while. Instead, the problem is one of tone: I seem to have almost nothing to say except judgement, criticism, and whining. I’m wanting to say something dramatic, profound, hilarious, or at least informative, but…

Louisiana has no recycling program. No, really. They tried curbside, it didn’t work and it didn’t pay for itself, and they quit. Every plastic bottle, glass container, scrap of paper, piece of cardboard, and tin can in the state of Louisiana is landfilled. There is a little bit of commercial recycling, run out of Texas (on diesel), in the local area. Some folks recycle aluminum cans, because they have actual resale value. Otherwise, landfill, landfill, landfill.

After Hurricane Rita, there was no garbage service. People were evacuated from their houses for two weeks, so not a lot of garbage was produced, but as they came home HUGE amounts of trash were generated—roof materials, soaked and moldy furniture, etc., etc. Also, very few folks had the foresight during the chaos of evacuation to empty their refrigerators, so a whole lot of putrescibles found their way into garbage bags which then went out on the curb, and in many localities, have yet to be picked up. Many, many refrigerators and freezers are taped closed and placed at curbside, the contents to horrific to deal with, even to save the appliance. North Lake Charles, where I am today, smells like poo multiplied by puke to the third power. (poo x puke)(poo x puke)(poo x puke) Yikes! It is a borderline health hazard at this point, totally avoidable if people habitually did backyard composting.

I am, of course, highly critical even of curbside recycling. It is an end of pipe, half-assed energy intensive solution which is at its far end shrouded in mystery. Nobody in the city of Berkeley or Nevada County can give me a straight answer about where #1 and #2 plastic bottles go, let alone the much more difficult to recycle yogurt containers, #7 plastics, and other miscellanea that end up in curbside bins. The American Plastics Council, an industry front, encourages municipalities to pick up all plastics, sort them out, and then sell what they can to brokers. This creates the illusion that plastic is a sustainable, environmentally friendly substance when in point of fact it is petroleum. ('Nuff said!) The recycling symbol was never copyrighted by the hippies who came up with it, so you could put it on nuclear waste and get away with it.

Once the brokers purchase the plastic in lots, where they go becomes proprietary information, and impossible to track. The fact that a huge amount of what is collected as plastic recycling goes off the end of the sorting conveyor belt into a landfill dumpster at the recycling center is conveniently ignored. In the state of California, where cities have been required to reach waste reduction quotas, many places were found to be routinely counting this landfill in their diverted-from-landfill tonnage! Meanwhile, we still don’t require Coca Cola to use any recycled content in their pop bottles and guess what? Due to petroleum subsidies both official and unofficial, it is cheaper to make new bottles out of 100% virgin material, so that is what they do.

Even glass recycling isn’t what it is cracked up to be. (HeHeHe...) A huge amount of glass that is collected to be recycled is actually pulverized into cullet, and then used as road bed. Now, maybe there is some environmental benefit to not mining gravel for the road bed, but if a material doesn’t cycle again, I don’t think that it should be called "recycling." Besides, recycling glass shouldn’t contribute to paving the planet—that is just not right!

The reason that aluminum has such high recycle value is actually not in the material itself. It is in the energy intensiveness of making aluminum. Generally electrical current is passed through bauxite until it turns molten. The resultant material is alloyed and refined into aluminum. Making aluminum from aluminum requires 5% as much energy as making aluminum from scratch—that is why aluminum has actual resale value. Other commonly recycled materials don’t pay for themselves once the cost of collection, sorting, and transporting has been accounted for.

Recycling, like educating people, providing health care for the indigent, public transportation, voting, and a host of other things that make society work, doesn’t pay for itself in the "free market" sense. Of course, if you believe in free markets, I have a bunch of ocean front property to sell you in Idaho…

A materials stream that puts responsibility onto manufacturers for returning materials either to the industrial materials stream or harmlessly back into the environment, would give more of a true cost accounting. By internalizing what economists call "externalities," we could begin to explore the viability of the "free market" concept. The use of taxpayer dollars to repair damage to people and ecosystems created by industrial processes amounts to a massive subsidy for those industries. Could the nuclear industry make affordable electricity if it were responsible for paying the true cost of mining rights, remediation of mining sites, and true waste disposal? No way. Currently Coca Cola makes a profit on its pop bottle, and then we the people pay to collect it, process it, and send it to China where a fourteen year old girl will melt it in a big pot, breathing carcinogens and endocrine disrupters all the while, and turn it into a worthless plastic car which will come back to the U.S. to help Burger King sell a Happy Meal. Socialists used to say that profit was theft from the workers. It may be that profit is also theft from the earth and the future generations.

How does this relate to EarthQuakerism? For the answer to that, and other mysterious questions, you must read the next blog, "John Woolman and the Plastic Bottle."

If you have previously tried to post to this blog and been frustrated,I hope thatI have corrected the problem, with help from my brother in law...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Git 'er Dun...

At 3 a.m. on Eighty east
It's in the nature of the beast
To wonder if there's something missing
I am wretched, I am tired
But the preacher is on fire
And I wish I could believe

Whoever watches over all these truckers
Show a little mercy for a weary sinner
And deliver me, oh deliver me
Deliver me to the next Best Western
-Richard Shindell

Well, I'm here in the Best Western in Lake Charles, Louisiana. After this I will stay in the staff shelter at W.W. Lewis Middle School in Sulphur, LA. Their mascot is the Rebel--a little Confederate fellow with a big hat and a saber decorates the basketball gymnasium where we set up cots today. I can't think of a room better suited to make fifty people all living in it an acoustic hell. This is supposed to be housing for the Red Cross volunteers who will be doing the Client Services work, not a shelter for evacuees. However, since we are opening the center tomorrow at eight a.m., what is actually more of a concern is that Baton Rouge sent us today--you guessed it--absolutely NO Red Cross staff, as of 5 p.m. So, a center opening in an area devastated by Rita that has had no Red Cross relief yet (the 800 number requires perseverence) will have only about twelve to fifteen workers to manage it. I hope that some local volunteers will come out of the woodwork. Otherwise it will be rough on everyone.

I am eager to actually have a job of work to do, however. Red Cross volunteers are told to expect some difficulties on what is called in ARC culture a "hardship disaster." We were given a bunch of hardship codes--air quality, food availability and variety, sleeping quarters, weather, transportation, and a few others. We can handle that. What is infinitely more difficult is that we have signed up to help, and can get very frustrated when we feel that we are not able to help. When you hear about Red Cross volunteers walking off the job, I'm willing to bet that it's not sleeping on cots in a room with a bunch of strangers, eating MRE's (meals ready to eat, for those who don't know the abbreviation), doing repetitive or physically taxing work, etc. I think that it is most likely a feeling of frustration with not getting things done.

I did see some interesting things today, and will try to figure out how to work my digital camera, not only to get its pictures out, but to post them here as well. There is a way to do it. I got a picture of a woman loading an Allstate insurance office into a truck and trailer because the roof had blown off, and a restaurant with no front which has experienced no looting since Rita hit--it's all just sitting there. The woods are blown down all over, and salvage logging operations are going on everywhere. The scope of the disaster is awesome even retrospectively. Again I am struck by the fact that there is only one fatality attributed to the disaster.

Partly, this is because after the debacle in New Orleans with Katrina, local and federal officials made a real effort to get people evacuated. The governor apparently told folks who were thinking about not going to do everyone a favor and write their social security number on their arms with permanent marker so that it would be easier to identify the body. Also, to write how many people were in the house on the garage door with spray paint so that the rescue workers would know when to stop looking for corpses. This got people's attention, and they evacuated.

I don't know what else to say, really. I didn't need to bring water or food, my sleeping bag will be useful. Psyllium is good to have...

I'm still not sure why I came, but I still haven't met any clients, except on the phone a little this morning--Ah... for a little while I had a job to do. I have no idea how I will get online, either. Wireless cafes don't seem to exist out here. Consider: I am in a full Best Wester, sitting at the only Internet terminal in the place, and me and the other guy in my group are the only two I have seen on the thing... It's not an essential part of the culture the way it is where I circulate. And I don't think it's that everyone is jacked in in their room, either. This hotel is full of first responders--linemen, plumbers, crane operators, loggers, and some relief workers. It is mostly working men in caps and camoflage clothes, overalls, interesting facial hair. They are showered and sitting in the lobby now in t-shirts with the sleeves sawed off and flip-flops. They are drinking Coors Lite, playing cards, and watching the news and car racing. There is a friendly festival atmosphere to the place for sure, but it isn't an online culture. It's just folks.

Funny? We went to the grocery for some vegetables and fruits (I must give tribute to those who have taught me to eat real food--thanks!). We also got some beer. NOthing but Coors Lite and Miller Lite left--and then in the back, a sixer of Killian's Red--I know that it's just Coors dressed up, but it does taste better than Bud Lite. Anyway, product of Louisiana--Slap Ya Mama Cajun Seasoning. I don't make this stuff up. Try to say Slap Ya Mama Cajun Seasoning without affecting a southern accent. I bet you can't do it.

Frog Legs, Mold, and Skeeters...

I'm in Louisiana! Yes, I flew the red eye, got through Red Cross processing, and got sent with a tiny cadre of folks out to far western Louisiana (Lake Charles now, Sulphur tomorrow, if you wanna look it up). It has been an adventure, but then, with enough sleep deprivation, anything is. We have seen a lot of downed trees, blown down buildings, etc. It is amazing that only one fatality has been attributed to Rita. I've seen many buildings that people could have died in, but didn't.

We will be setting up shelters today and openning them tomorrow. We will be providing the first aid that this locality has seen from the Red Cross in terms of money. They have had ERVs (Emergency Response Vehicles) serving food, and the Baptist Kitchens have been feeding the phone and power guys. The area has been evacuated, however, and folks weren't encouraged to return until yesterday, so theoretically, there wasn't anyone around to provide aid to.

The unbelievably cumbersome process that I was trained in for Emergency Family Services in my Western Nevada County Chapter has been streamlined on both ends. The big form, called a 'flimsy' for reasons I forget, has been shortened down to essentials--a two sided paper that's not too dense. The supplying of the resources has gone from vouchers--one for Wal Mart, one for the grocery, one for hardware, etc., with a form about each referral (!) to ATM type cards that wouldn't allow people to get cash, to the current plan, which is for a check to be sent. This will allow people total freedom to dispense their own fundage--buy a tarp, buy food, give money to a neighbor to reroof, pay relatives for groceries after staying with them for two weeks, buy a fifth of whiskey and some ciragettes, or whatever will contribute to well being.

There is some nervousness about how wound up our 'clients' may be. The Red Cross is fair game for criticism at this point, and certainly somewhat deserved. However, we who have travelled far and put up with mild hardships to be here don't want to be treated as the faceless minions of a monolithic bureaucratic entity.

We will stay in a shelter. I will have to try to keep track of the laptop. Currently using a desktop in Lake Charles Red Cross Chapter. The building itself has sustained damamge and is running on a huge diesel generator.

It is an opportunity for a "too many chiefs, not enough Indians" situation. I have resolved to be a plain Indian. Call me 'Stands With a Magic Elixer of Bean Juice in Syrofoam Cup In His Hand." One of the jokes about my references was that I asked my employer (since resigned) and my stepmother (also resigned) to vouch for me. I specifically instructed them that they might be asked if I was a person who did not question authority or think that I knew better than everyone else what ought to be done. They either weren't asked, or dodged, I guess, because I'm here...

We went to Sheldon's Fish Place last night. Ate stuff like chicken fried steak, frog legs, crawfish, catfish, and oysters. There was a small galvanized bucket on every table with peanuts roasted on site. The floor was strewn with peanut shells and the red 'paper' that covers the meats. A sign said, "Please throw peanut shells on the floor." I thought of my friend Jen who is studying to be a lawyer. I could just hear her going off about, "They put up a sign encouraging people to create an unsafe condition and when the little old lady with the walker goes down on a peanut shell and breaks her hip, they are going to lose it all!" Great ambiance, though.

Our little group did a whole lot of planning. I was mostly dead and not helpful. Also, my suspicion was that we would make a big old plan that would then be shown to be obsolete as soon as we showed up. Sure enough...

Meanwhile, I have my eye out for a bicycle. I have a feeling that some riding will provide opportunities to meet folks, see some sights, take some photos, and get some exercise. Louisiana is flatter than a flat thing, so a one speed or English three speed will suffice for miles of travel. (Planetary gears are so elegant!) Of course, we work twelve hours a day six days a week...

The Red Cross 800 number is busy. Folks calling me for help who have gone to Texas or somewhere aren't going to be able to come to our centers. They need to apply by phone. Can't apply on the Web. I hate to send them to a phone number that is busy.

Orientation meeting! Gotta go. Really need real cream. Coffee is decent, but cream is powdered...


Saturday, October 01, 2005

Where The Hell Is Carmen San Diego?

So, whatever happened to Carl, anyway? He seems to be having some sort of personal meltdown. Do you think that he has become unstable?

Well, I can't answer that for sure, but I can say that becoming unstable is not the end of the world... Did you know that Martin Luther King attmepted suicide as a teenager?

I am merely sojourning in the desert. I have a Red Cross flight booked AND TICKETED for October 5th out of SFO, and I will be on that puppy bound for Baton Rouge, without a doubt. Don't worry, be happy!

Why Disaster Relief?

Of course, I can trot all sorts of heroic sounding altruistic nonsense in response to the question, but recent events have got me asking this question at a deeper level. How does disaster relief fit into my spiritual development? When questions become queries. You get to be privy to some of my discernment process…

I have often been derisive about do-gooder, bleeding-heart Americans, especially Quakers, haring off all over the world to help the plight of various poor little brown people. Most of these poor little brown people are in trouble because of a history of European colonization and exploitation which continues to this day as American imperialism. Meanwhile, the United States has 5% of the world’s population and uses 25% of world resources while we wonder why we seem not to be held in warmest regard by denizens of the two-thirds world. I mean to say that we live in the belly of the beast here, and don’t need to go anywhere else in the world to do remedial charity work, let alone preventative justice work. As Pogo said, “we have met the enemy and he is us.” Besides, the “third world” is alive and well and living in every city in America. There is just a lot more romance to Zapatistas and Palestinians than there is to the crack whore who lives across town from you. (I am not strictly saying that we shouldn’t travel around the world to be with folks who are struggling—only that I have felt a stop to it in myself.)

During my training with the Red Cross, the instructor kept saying, “Nobody predicted this disaster, so we are having to make up our relief efforts as we go along.” The third time that she said it I interrupted her and said that the disaster had been predicted, not as an “if,” but as a “when,” and very precisely, too. In his book on global warming, The Heat is On, Ross Gelbspan reports in the Introduction that insurance companies had their best minds working on how to keep from losing their shirts when a global-warming enhanced category 5 hurricane smacked into New Orleans. I think that the book was published in 1997, but I’m in a train stop without wireless, so I can’t confirm on that. [Confirmed later: 1997 is the date.] So somewhere in the middle 90’s, the insurance companies had prophesied climate-change enhanced storms costing them money-and they began to take appropriate action to prevent this disaster from effecting them—namely finding huge loopholes that would keep them from paying out when the hurricanes came in.

Now, Ross Gelbspan is a rabid greenie, (pot talkin’ trash about the kettle!) and I’m pretty sure that he would blame male pattern baldness and the decline of modern jazz on global warming, but he was referencing insurance company studies. Insurance companies have no conscience, couldn’t care less about the natural world, don’t give a hang about social justice or human rights, and aren’t susceptible to public influence or popular trends—they care only about maximization of profits. They are embedded in an economic system and a corporate culture that makes other considerations virtually impossible. When they calculate that they could lose billions, and have already lost millions, due to global climate change exacerbated weather events, it constitutes a major wake up call to us all—one that FEMA, the Red Cross, and American society in general hit the snooze button on and slumbered right through.

There is nothing much to predicting the future. No crystal balls or supernatural powers are needed. A Gaian perspective gives one an ability to holistically understand the interconnectedness of things, sometimes on an intuitive more than a cognitive level. Not only are systems of causality more apparent, even simple governing principles of how the Universe works can begin to be understood. Patterns can be perceived. The trick is that you have to actually look at things as they are. You have to be able to say in some instances, “No really, the glass is half empty and the water’s got arsenic in it, and the person who sold you the water new it was in there, but they were more interested in getting your money than protecting your health.” To the greatest extent possible, accurately understanding patterns is what enables one to guess at the missing or obscured parts of the whole picture—like the future, for instance, but also things that are obscured in the present and past. As a spiritual discipline, I believe that being willing to look at reality in the eye is part of what it means to be a “Friend of the Truth,” as early Quakers were sometimes called. Of course, there are massive industries—gambling, alcohol, entertainment television, pornography, consumerism, and corporate media which are there to help you not to do this. Deep spiritual commitment and community are necessary to actually wrestle with these issues. Joanna Macy’s work is brilliant for helping people to grapple with truth, express any feelings that come up, and also galvanize these feelings into action. ( Lloyd Lee Wilson’s “classical Quakerism” has all the potential to do the same thing. More on these things in subsequent posts.

Prophecy is often misinterpreted as the ability to tell the future. Really, prophecy is just telling the truth. However, predicting the future is not nearly the mysterious magic trick that people sometimes think that it is. It is very easily done by looking at the truth of the current situation. You can easily predict that a train hurtling towards a collapsed bridge will crash horribly. You can then take appropriate preventative action. However, if you are in denial about the bridge being out, you will be surprised and dismayed when the train crashes. A prophet is someone who has gone out, looked at the fallen bridge, and then comes back and foretells the future: “We are soon going to have a fiery crash, based on my interpretation of the pattern of events and conditions.” The passengers on the train, who are warm, fat, and happy are in utter denial that there could even be anything as disastrous as a bridge failure. “Well, the media would have told us. Our leaders wouldn’t let that happen. Even if it is out, we will discover newer better technology for spanning that chasm before we get there. By no means should we interrupt all this good momentum by stopping the train!” After the fiery crash, there is wonderment at the prophet’s ability to predict the outcome when nobody else could. Unfortunately, the satisfaction of saying “I told you so,” is completely lost in witnessing the suffering that could otherwise have been prevented.

Speaking truth with love really helps when it comes to having dire predictions heeded. The whole watchword is, “Love without truth is sentimentality; truth without love is brutality.” A beloved Quaker matriarch said this to me the one time we met before she died. It has been a watchword (because I have so not mastered it) in my life ever since. Unfortunately, some truths are so horrific that no amount of love can make them easy to hear. In point of fact, the prophet is always motivated by compassion (“Love is the first motion,” in the words of John Woolman), but her message may be so dire that it meets with real resistance. “Global warming is just an unproven theory,” “we can only feed a global population of 9 billion with genetically modified organisms,” “nuclear waste is good for you,” are all examples of not grappling with deeper patterns and reality. When this happens, the inclination to turn up the volume on the part of the prophetess is almost irresistible, though amping up will have the bitterly ironic effect of making the message even more unpalatable to the hearer.

So, I’m done with all that for the nonce. I have done it in my very personal relationships, at my place of work, and in the wider public sphere. With very few exceptions, the moral fortitude, political will, creative problem solving, and ego sublimation necessary for right action have proven elusive, and disaster has not been staved off. I want to note here that I myself have fallen short in all of these ways. It is my personal deficiencies that in most instances fuel my dire foretelling. These pronouncements are really pleas for group discernment and corporate creative problem solving, since I lack adequate response capability by myself.

A quick prophetic example, just to illustrate how the thing works: Many folks are super excited about Peak Oil. First of all, Peak Oil could not be talked about several years ago. Folks, even eco-groovy progressive folks, just looked at you like you had two heads when you brought it up. I had quite a bit of experience with this. Classic instance of our not being able to look truth in the face until it is really undeniable, at which point we have wasted a lot of time. A broad willingness to deal with Peak Oil, possibly creating some political will during the Clinton administration, would have given us options which are now much more difficult to realize.

[Did I already say that there is no such thing as a digression? One thing that Quakers say is that things will happen in God’s time. God’s time is called Kairos, and our linear time is called Chronos. In my experience we say this meaning, “go slow, wait, settle into the seed, young impetuous ministers mustn’t go off without seasoning.” I just want to point out here that sometimes God’s time is MUCH FASTER than Chronos. When Jesus came to the fishermen, he said, “Come go with me-fishers of men, etc.” They didn’t say, “We must consult with the elders. We must fast and pray. We need five days to reach consensus about it. Can we give you an answer next week?” or anything of that sort. They put down their nets and went with him, leaving their dad to do the fishing, if I recall rightly. The German soldier ordered to execute some folks during WWII who refused was given an ultimatum: Shoot the civilian prisoners, or join them. He stripped off his uniform and lined up to be shot instantly. It is true that even in these instances Spirit has been working all along to prepare the faithful, but the moment of decision may be sudden, and require instant response. Kairos.]

So, back to petroleum. There is a prevailing attitude among greenies that Peak Oil will provide the mighty wake up call that the Industrial Growth Society has been so sorely needing. In point of fact, this is a dangerously naïve assumption. Common sense has very little to do with human behaviour, after all. In addition, there is a kind of hand rubbing glee on the part of said greenies that the ubiquitous “They” will get “Their” comeuppance, and will have to recognize that “We” were right all along. Don’t forget that in the midst of war, famine, economic collapse, and virulent disease, “I told you so” isn’t nearly as much fun as you hope that it will be. My suspicion is that the John Wayne with a ponytail nonsense of the modern back to the land to raise my organic taters movement isn’t going to be that much fun either, though the exercise in just trying not to live a typical American lifestyle may prove a useful one when really atypical modalities of living start to be needed. The real sapper of “I told you so” glee in this instance is that Peak Oil is a human inconvenience which we bought fair and square by developing our society along lines that defy natural laws and patterns. The much larger tragedy is global climate change, and Peak Oil will not address this, but may well exacerbate it. Read on:

The first law of thermodynamics tells us that energy is neither created nor destroyed, but changes form. Consider how a coal-fired power plant works. Starting with ancient sunlight in the form of coal, we burn it to create heat, use the heat to create steam, direct the steam through a turbine for mechanical energy which spins a generator to form electrical energy which is then transmitted at considerable loss of efficiency to your house where you plug in your mixer which turns the electrical current into mechanical energy again to mix your chocolate chip cookie dough. The energy changes form multiple times! The second law of thermodynamics means that you “lose” some energy with each of these conversions, usually as heat, but “loss” really just denotes loss of energy for easy human use—the energy is not lost, really.

Now, given how much turning energy into different forms we routinely do, it is incredibly naïve to believe that the simple reduction in available liquid ancient sunlight is going to cause a wake up call that remotely resembles, “Hey, listen America! We need to stop using such a grossly disproportionate amount of global resources, turn our energy economy over to renewable sources after shrinking it by at least two thirds, form meaningful international alliances, promote humane and egalitarian population controls worldwide, stop imprisoning people for being poor, allow doctor-assisted suicide, and ban GMO’s!” What will really happen is that after a slight paroxysm during which skillions of tax dollars will be used to make some infrastructural changes that will benefit the usual evil bastards of the military industrial complex, we will just run the whole Industrial Growth Society on coal and nuclear. The most cynical energy ‘solution’ is hydrogen which could be used to store solar energy, but is primarily being developed as a way to use huge amounts of unsustainable energy to create a ‘fuel’ that will be clean at the point of use—total boondoggle. The rich will get richer, civil liberties will become a distant memory, and the planet will continue evolving into something that does not support mammalian life, at least. I’m not saying that it must be so, simply that the pattern points to a strong possibility for this outcome.
When you see an obese person smoking a cigarette, or a religious extremist strapping a bomb to himself, you are seeing a person whose story about the world and themselves has become more important than basic survival. It is not such an unusual thing. We are a nation with a story about infinite growth, greed is good, the natural world has no intrinsic value, the market will create the greatest good for the greatest number, scarcity is a basic fact of life on earth, and when it all turns to poo, we can go up in the Rapture and play harps with Jesus on streets of gold. All of these are deeply flawed assumptions about the universe. Suicidally flawed, in fact. Our story is several caty’s out of wampus.

(I have seen Adam Smith’s “invisible hand in the marketplace,” by the way, and it was giving us all the Finger…)

You may think that I have wandered far from my original query, “Why disaster relief?” Well, don’t be dismayed; your perception is totally correct. I have really wandered. Back tracked, actually. As one friend says, “Nothing is irrelevant; I’m just an eclectic thinker.” There are no digressions!

Perhaps this will help. There is a difference between remedial charity and preventative justice. I read this in Sojourner’s magazine a year or so ago while taking a crap at my dad’s house. It really sums up for me the quandary about where to put one’s shoulder to the wheel. If there is a stretch of road where folks frequently lose control and go over the cliff to their deaths, some well-intentioned folks will get together, form an ambulance corps, and get some rapid response happening for the many recurring accident victims at the bottom of the hill. Others will spend way less money putting up a railing and warning signs that encourage safer driving, in an effort to prevent accidents from happening in the first place. Superficially, this is the difference between preventative action, and remedial. It is good to feed the hungry, since the poor may always be with us, but it is also essential to ask why some go hungry and others drive Hummers. In the above scenario, I am the guy who would build a light rail system that replaced the highway and had built-in human, mechanical, and electronic fail safes to prevent excessive speed that might result in an accident. Capiche?

I am naturally drawn to this systemic perspective. Human beings are not going to evolve our way out of our current mess. Market forces and technology will not save us. Individual spiritual transformation is nice, I love it, and it is not enough. Social evolution is our big chance. It is true that our political systems are incapable of electing enough competent, moral, innovative people to get us out of our predicament. Such people are virtually unelectable, but even if they get in there, they usually aren’t able to effect change without a constituency of moral suasion, and there isn’t one yet. (If you start to get a real revolution going on, of course, then you may experience resistance in the form that Martin, Malcolm, and Mohandas K. did in the previous century—that is to say, hot lead.) My point here is that I have been banging the systems gong for a long time, and I have neglected the second tool of the Shambala warrior: compassion.

True story: When my sweetheart called and woke me up on the morning of the Twin Towers disaster back in ’01, the first thing that I said through my sleep-addled haze was, “And so it begins…” I had been watching patterns, so I wasn’t surprised by the events of 9-11, (though could not have predicted them with any precision.) When you think about U.S. foreign policy, what is truly amazing is that nothing like 9-11 had ever happened before. To me it just represented the start of an accelerated phase of what systems thinkers call “positive disintegration.” There’s nothing positive about it of course, it just means that feedback loops have been cut and the system is on runaway. My point here, though, is this: you are supposed to respond with compassion when you hear disastrous news. You are supposed to say something like, “How horrible! Thousands will be killed!” Instead, I reacted with a kind of glee that there was a shift in the pattern that might provide the opening for societal paradigm shift. Out of balance, personally. We could go into aspects of my personal life where compassion has sometimes been a bit deficient as well, but that would be tedious in the extreme. Callousness is a survival mechanism. Thank it and let it go…

So, I have isolated myself from feeling the pain of the world because my perception of the patterns is such that I see that pain everywhere, and have real hopelessness about what can be done to alleviate suffering. I see that as AIDS attacks not the body itself, but the body’s ability to fend off illness, the Industrial Growth Society has not only created an unsustainable horror, but attacked our very capacity to respond adequately. This is what the breakdown of community, phony spirituality, corporate media, consumerism, over-busyness, separateness from simple life processes like nursing the sick and dying or growing our own food, and even apathy itself do to the human organism.

I have had profound openings in my capacity for compassion in the last year. Not surprisingly, they started with compassion for myself. (I may have failed to acknowledge that the capacity to read patterns and take appropriate action is a farsighted kind of gift. It doesn’t work for me at close range, like in my personal life…) I feel intuitively that the way that I will become an effective Shambala warrior is to develop the weapon (“tool,” if you’d rather) of compassion to the same degree that I have developed my skill with perceiving the interconnectedness of things. (You will have to grok some Joanna Macy for the whole Shambala warrior story, but take heart; peaceful warriors are springing up all around you and you yourself may be one of these soul-diers in the Lamb’s War.)

Hurricane Katrina is right for me: it is in America, involving Americans. I have said for years that the third world is alive and well and living in America. Many of the Americans hardest hit by the storm are persons of limited financial resources, and are black, like me. Katrina was a global-climate-change enhanced weather event. Scientists will blah blah about how you can’t say this for sure, but then again, theirs is a discipline that atomizes to comprehend, and is only now beginning to understand what mystics have always said: it is all one. In the dance of relationship we discover not only knowledge, but wisdom, Grasshoppah!

The inseparability of social justice and earthcare issues is undeniable here. It has seemed to me that this has been my ministry since 1997. How many years of effective action did we squander as Friends by taking Marshall Massey’s prophetic 1985 message of our spiritual and moral imperative for earthcare and ghettoizing it in the Unity With Nature Committees, instead of making it the foundation of our Peace and Social Concerns tradition? After all, as one Friend says, “It is not the straw that broke the camel’s back; it is the ground the camel is standing on.” When the Nobel Peace Prize went to a woman for planting trees last year, we saw the positive side of this growing understanding of human justice as a much smaller and dependent function of Earthjustice. Katrina is the hammer that drives the point home.

My assignment with the Red Cross is to do admits. I will be a paper-pusher for the Lord! I had an all-day training on this, so I am qualified, ready, and willing. I even have a Red Cross card that says, “This certifies that Carl Magruder has completed Emergency Assistance to Families Disaster Services Course held at Western Nevada County Chapter.” The first thing you do when you get a family is to ask them to tell what their disaster story is. “Put down your pen, turn your body to the client, and really listen,” we were told. That is to say, listen for real; listen with compassion; listen with an open heart.

My hope is that if I can come through this crucible of compassion, I will know something more about how to wed the two weapons of the Shambala warrior, insight and compassion. I will know how to speak truth with love, how to influence the system, and where to put my shoulder to the wheel. I will clearly be a late bloomer in terms of my personal work, but that’s all right with me. My work is to be willing, like Abraham with Isaac, like Isaiah, like Jon Randall—“I’ve been warped by the rain, driven by the snow, I’m drunk and dirty but don’t you know, I’m still Willing.”