Friday, December 30, 2011

Lucky Genes

My sister Sheri, fourteen years my elder, gave birth to a baby girl when she was 19 years old. Sheri was unprepared to parent and the child was given up for adoption. My sister named her baby Erica but this was changed to Carolyn by her adoptive family. When she was about 18 Carolyn, called Cari, initiated contact with her birth-mother, my sister. My sister's daughter has been a part of my life for over twenty five years now. I hope my love for her atones, on behalf of my family, for the childhood she spent questioning.

Cari tested positive, several years ago, for a gene mutation that effects the body's ability to fend off tumors and is often found in women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. It is generally agreed that women who suffer from the mutation (BRCA 1 & 2) are about 87% more likely than the rest of the population to contract breast and/or ovarian cancer. My niece was advised to undergo a prophylactic mastectomy, which, I think, she postponed because other medical issues arose. This year Cari is diagnosed with a malignant tumor and undergoes a mastectomy and will soon begin a regime of chemotherapy. She suggests that I undergo the blood-test for the mutation myself and my first response is that I'd rather not know. I mention this to my general practitioner and he seems surprised that I'd want to remain in the dark but he respects my wishes and doesn't push.

I tell Dr. Connie, my OB that my niece has tested positive and that there was a high incidence of breast cancer in the rest of my family and, never a master of delicacy, she responds “Fuck!” Dr. Connie has no patience for stupidity and when she tells me to take the test it is pointless to argue. My niece, within five minutes of my request, faxes me a copy of her own test results which save me the expense of a full panel and my OB arranges to test me only for the same single mutation.

If the result is positive I will schedule a prophylactic mastectomy immediately and while I'm not jumping for joy, I know that if this is indeed the case I will have greatly reduced the probability of contracting breast cancer. I realize that if my niece hadn't had the courage to seek out her birth mother or had lacked the motivation to stick around after doing so, I would not have the opportunity to preempt breast cancer. I have two close friends who've undergone mastectomies and ravaging chemotherapy. They are both eager to hear my test results.

I give the employees time off but go into the office myself over the holiday weeks, mainly for peace and quiet. I arrive on Boxing Day and my voicemail light is on. Customers seldom call and communicate mainly by e-mail. I assume it is a sales call or bill collector and decide not to play the message until after the holidays. The red light starts to get on my nerves though so I push play and hear Dr. Connie announce that my test for the BRCA mutation is negative. The same doctor who announces me free of genetic mutation also informed me seventeen years ago that I didn't have uterine cancer. “You're pregnant, you idiot.” Now she tells me I don't have the breast cancer gene. My breath quickens and I go a little shaky. The enormous relief is clouded by the clobber of some huge karmic debt and a twinge of sheepishness about telling my niece and my two breast cancer survivor friends that, for God knows what reason, I've been spared. Also, given my faith in irony and movies, upon learning that I don't have the Ashkenazi breast cancer mutation it seems inevitable that I will shortly be decapitated in a fiery crash or, while waiting in line to buy stamps, caught by a bullet sprayed by disgruntled postal worker.

Enough time is passed so that my sudden death wouldn't be the ironic denouement of genetic good news. But, my chronic wrestling with karmic obligation and mortality is still ratcheted up a bit. My college son is home and for a few weeks we are four again, but next week back to three, and before I know it, two. Things are so light at work that it's easy to knock off early and I make special dinners or take afternoon jaunts.

Spuds and I are taken with the L.A. art extravaganza Pacific Standard Time. We attend the California Design exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. There is a Barbie Dreamhouse with a real closet, gift-boxes from Joseph Magnin and a Studebaker Avanti. I am in heaven and vindicated for my dogged California boosterism. It is thrilling to look, with my son, at things that were beautiful to me when I was a child and still are. Spuds is polite but withholding as I incessantly point out objects that resemble things in my own horde. He knows I am fishing for, “Yes, mom. Your taste is museum worthy cool.” He does not bite. Nevertheless we are both overwhelmed by the dazzling display of furniture, fabric, floor-plans and ephemera that gives perspective to the Golden State's enrichment of the mid-century design canon.

I envision a leisurely weekday visit to the Getty Center but all hell has broken out there. Fortunately Spuds has the book Everything is Illuminated and I am listening to Philip Roth's Nemesis on CD so the hour from Getty Drive to a narrow parking place on level 6 passes not unpleasantly immersed in Jewish-American literature. The wait for the tram up the hill is estimated to be 30 minutes. We walk, which I am thankful about when the restaurant server informs me that the powdery substance with the distinctive taste that I'd inhaled from the edges of my spartan lunch entree is the molecular gastronomic creation “dried butter.” We take pictures of each other in the garden and Spuds notes my ineptitude with my Iphone as I inadvertently capture on video, for several minutes, my own feet.

The photography represented for Pacific Standard Time feels skimpy but there are scads of big important oils by heavy hitter painters. There is a small exhibit in the Research Center Gallery that traces the paper trail of 1960s L.A. artists. There are postcards with 6 cent stamps, posters, publications and Polaroids. I spent hours, in the 60's spirit of craftsmanship and generosity, on handmade correspondence. I find in my own box of adolescent memorabilia, thick bundles of hand written or typed cards and letters, many bearing decoration. The only correspondence in my childrens' memory boxes are birthday cards from grandparents. The folks who were making all the 60's stuff that seemed so magic were all older than I was. I was frustrated at being too young to make something new and beautiful and important. Now I am too old to operate an Iphone.

The wait for the tram back down the hill is long. We take the footpath. The clouds glow hot pink over the ocean as the sun sets. The traffic is light and we make good time home. I throw together dinner and all four of us sit at the table then, after the three clean up inadequately, we watch a documentary. This is the last work day of a year when one friend died too young and another friend's robust mother died in a freak accident. There was a time in my life when I felt too young to be relevant and now suddenly I am too old. But my family is near and my home has objects that please me and although I'm the only one who gives a rat's ass, some are of museum quality. I've dodged the bullet on the Jewish gene. It would be a slap in the face to those who were not as fortunate to waste a moment immobilized by looming eventualities or wanting anything more than what I have right now.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Eat, Fry, Love

About five months ago I joined Weight Watchers with two of my girlfriends. It takes us a while to find a compatible meeting but we've settled in now with a group of Sunday morning regulars moderated by a sardonic woman a few years our senior. She's been at the gig so long that she trains other lecturers and doesn't necessarily ascribe to the party line. The home office sends out a weekly topic and guidelines for discussion. Our current leader may brush on the proscribed theme but mainly she free styles and it is a smart group and a number of salient subjects usually arise. I've been at this weight loss game for as long as I can remember and it surprises me when there's a fresh revelation or insight.

We arrive for a meeting with one of the less experienced leaders and there is a post-it note on each chair. We were divided into groups and instructed to brainstorm about social activities that don't involve food. My African American girlfriend rolls her eyes and I mutter, “this is bullshit,” a complete cultural anathema for either of us. Why would you even bother hosting or attending a social event without food? Years ago I attended an early afternoon birthday party for one of the kid's classmates at the Jewish Community Center Nursery School. While many non-swarthy types buy into the advantages of Jewish pre-school education (potty training is not requisite for admission) this family was waspy to Nordic proportions. There was punch and white wine and baby carrots and I huddled with a group of my coreligionists on the patio noting that it was about time for the host to get that barbecue firing. The Costco cake appeared and the party bags were distributed and after this bum's rush a few of us repaired to a coffee shop to marvel, over patty melts, at disparate cultural social mores.

After losing about twenty pounds in around three months I've hit a long plateau. Even when I'm fastidious about what I eat and walk the hills for an hour each morning I seldom lose more half a pound in a week. Weight Watchers works on a point system that's designed just like a financial budget. There are weekly bonus points in addition to the daily allotment plus extra points for activity. But the few weeks that I've actually availed myself of the extras I've gained weight. I don't mind the long slog. There are absolutely no forbidden foods but I'm getting a real education in portion control. This feels different than my usual lifelong state of either being “on a diet” or “not on a diet” and the psyche of “not on a diet” was conditioned by a lifetime of deprivation and long fasts. I have also developed a taste for whole grain pasta and breadstuffs so along with getting a grip with regard to serving sizes there are some healthful changes of habit. I feel that there's a good likelihood that I'll reach my goal and for the first time in my life I think I have a realistic notion of what it will take to maintain it. I'm in no hurry. My weekly meetings are followed by breakfast with the girls. Perhaps it attests to the staggering dullness of my life, but Sunday morning Weight Watchers is the high point of my week. Which brings me to the Festival of Fried Foods.

The big holidays on Fulton Avenue were Thanksgiving and Christmas and I loved the smell of sage and pie spice. I held the turkey (always a hen, never frozen) in my arms and waltzed around the kitchen. The bird was basted with real butter every twenty minutes. The cranberries were fresh and the mashed potatoes oozed butter and warm heavy cream. This is one of my least complicated memories of my mother's love.

Latkes and particularly homemade donuts don't figure prominently in my catalog of childhood food memories but I've made up for lost time. The family expects, and I know it is fully my own damn fault for starting the tradition, a minimum of two meals with latkes and donuts on the menu during the 8 nights of observance. I am aproned at the stove, testing the temperature of the oil. I throw in a few shreds of potato and there is a sizzle and the foreboding of how the house is going to stink for a week. I make applesauce with a bit of agave to replace brown sugar and it tastes fine. I will not stoop so low as to purchase non-fat sour cream and go for the real stuff. This meal requires that I man the stove until the last latke is fried and the family is told that they should go ahead and start eating, as I undoubtedly will catch up.

I apologize in advance to faithful readers who will groan at the repetition of this self aggrandizing anecdote. My firstborn returned from a playdate with another nursery school chum, and full of wonder, asked me if I knew that you could get soup in a can. The kids do get sick of my cooking, as I do myself. The truth though is what they get from my kitchen, given their budgets, might be a mite better than the grub they scrounge up elsewhere. Several weeks ago, too lazy to cook, I set an array of leftovers on the table with instructions for the family to fill and nuke their own plates. There are about eight small containers of stuff I'd made and a Styrofoam box containing a very bland and dry “chicken fajitas light” leftover from a restaurant meal. Spuds, bored by Mom's palette, opts for the doggie bag.

The Chanukah meal makes them all forget how tired they are in they are of my weeknight dinners. The three of them polish off a dozen latkes and then a dozen donuts and they are unstinting in their praise of the meal. I fail so much with all of them given our complicated relationships, baggage, ego. We misread signals or ignore them all together. It was mostly just me and Mom growing up and that was fraught enough but we are four four people living in one house together and are often conflicted by personal needs vs. the good of the family unit. The clearest and purest memories I have of Mom's love hark back to holiday meals. She was at her most effective and at her happiest. I flip the latkes in the hot oil and, with no tinge of the relief I felt when she died and I was no longer burdened by the ravages of Alzheimer’s, I miss her. I watch my own family eat and I hope that for the rest of their lives that smell of Hanukah foods frying will evoke, purely and without complication, Mom's love.

Friday, December 9, 2011

It's the Inequality Stupid!

After breaking down the concessions area after the final weekend of children's theater I make my way home through Skid Row. I've visited the Flower Market for decades and seen lines in front of the Midnight Mission, people crashed in doorways and I've been hit up for change. The desperate and the destitute have congregated here for as long as I can remember but now the visage is a dystopian post apocalypse tableau, as block after block are lined with tents and the streets teem with men and women who have nowhere else to go.

The missions can only accommodate a small percentage of the needy and many who live on the street are so far gone psychiatrically that it's unsafe to house them in an overcrowded dormitory. Some of the homeless end up in jail and may even receive a psychological evaluation but even if a mental disorder is identified there are virtually no services available. Further cuts to California mental health programs are announced this week. 587 million has been slashed over the last few years from a program that was already tragically inadequate. It is estimated that 8% of the population suffer from some form of mental illness but the medieval notion that psychological disorders are rooted in a lack of character seems to persist and treatment has always been a low priority.

I'd had the impression that most of L.A.'s homeless had gravitated to Occupy L.A. where there was free food and medical care but driving down Central Avenue, there is an ocean so vast it couldn't possibly be contained on the steps of the City Hall. I presume that most of the street people who found refuge at Occupy L.A. did make their way back to Skid Row before police raids of the encampment.

Patrick Meighan, a writer for Family Guy describes his arrest at Occupy L.A. in a disturbing piece He is able to make bail but many of the other arrestees are still in jail. The bail is set at $5000 for those arrested at Occupy. Bail in cases of violent crime and serious felony is often much lower. Meighan describes watching from behind the cyclone fence that was erected at City Hall the tents and other possessions of the occupiers being tossed by hazmat clad workers into dump trucks. The windstorm whips through Los Angeles the night after the police action. Clothing, tents and medical supplies are destined for a landfill while thousands, exposed on dirty downtown streets, brave the wicked Santa Anas.

Meighan also points out that while peaceful protestors at Occupy L.A. are treated more harshly than hardcore felons, the former CEO of Citigroup, Charles Prince, maintains a lifestyle worthy of his regal moniker. In reference to the firm's dangerously leveraged lending practices, Prince said, “When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated. But as long as the music is playing, you've to get up and dance. We're still dancing.” Under Prince's stewardship the market value of Citigroup declined by $64 billion. Instead of an lengthy incarceration Prince receives $68 million from stock and options, an exit bonus of $12.5 million, a $1.7 million pension, and an office, car and driver for five years.

The streets abound with crackheads and folks who have gone off their meds but the ranks have swollen as more and more of the working class lose jobs, homes and health coverage. The kick in the balls to the middle class is a direct result of the callous manipulation of the world's finances by the big banks and instead of exacting penalties from the major players, we set bail at $5000 for those who have the temerity to call the bankers out.

I cannot say that our finances have flourished in the last few years but we are blessed with work, a home and health insurance. Our policy, like most, has scant provisions for mental health and only slightly better for physical health. I receive frequent calls from a collection agency all year when our insurer fails to pay a provider for a clearly covered expense. This is resolved after I write over a dozen letters and finally enlist the help of the State Insurance Commissioner but I imagine that many don't clearly understand their coverage or are cowed and frightened by collection agency calls and simply capitulate.

The OB who delivered both of my kids has an office in Beverly Hills. She does not accept insurance and my carrier only reimburses me for a small portion of her fees but she has always charged me fairly and reasonably. There is usually a bit of a wait but I never feel rushed as I often do when seeing other physicians who are preferred providers and have to squeeze in a ton of patients. The examination gowns are made of flimsy pink paper but while the d├ęcor is not to my taste, efforts have been made to make it as comfortable and homey as a room with a focal point of metal stirrups can be. Due to my family history my doctor prescribes a genetic test. She advises me to pay cash for the test and not to use my real name. She feels that what's left of a nationalized heathcare plan is sure to go by the wayside and it's best to have no record of a pre-exisiting condition.

I have a few hours between medical assignations in Beverly Hills and being in weight loss mode I take lunch at the macrobiotic joint M Chaya. If I lie on my bed and flail a bit I can triumph over pair of size 12 jeans and it is worth the impossibility of sitting or breathing. I will note here that my current weight is approximately 150 lbs lower than my highest and yet, I have never felt as fat and cumbersome in my life as I do in Beverly Hills at M Chaya. I rattle the table of two regulars attempting to finesse myself into the tiny booth. I am not only ginormous, I am wearing a red sweater in room full of black clad, Alexander McQueen boot wearing, health food eaters. The women at the next table note my reading of Jeffrey Eugenides “The Marriage Plot” and say they'd read it in their book club and really liked it. The book parodies post modern criticism and quotes Derrida and Barthes extensively and it seems impossible to me that anyone wearing size 0 skin tight Lycra leggings and toting a Birkin handbag around Beverly Hills could possibly have really liked it. Nevertheless, they do not expound and continue their conversation about a new diet. “I eat three ounces of protein in the morning and then only fruit and vegetables the rest of the day, but I still haven't lost any weight.”

My appointment at the Beverly Hills Women's Center follows my spartan lunch. I made a big fuss about the mammography place I was sent to in Burbank being a pit and have been sent now “over the hill.” This place makes the crappy place in Burbank look like the most exclusive Baden-Baden spa. I call a few days before my appointment to confirm that my primary physician has submitted a referral and after endless muzak and three different annoyed workers I am assured that he has. The waiting room has the ambiance of a Greyhound depot except for a number of the Georgia O'Keefe prints which must be included free with the purchase of specula or mammography equipment. I am called to the desk three times and grilled about the referral from my physician and I indicate that I have confirmed its arrival. “Oh yeah. Go sit back down.” A woman in a wheelchair is parked in the middle of the room. She stares into space and chews. Old women hobble down the hall with walkers and a young woman directs, in Spanish, three small children to sit quietly. An obese bleached blonde argues in Russian with her diminutive husband, conspicuously the only man in the room. Westside matrons, in their discomfiture at being marooned among the proletariat glower and pester the girls at the desk about the long wait.

Women are called in groups of two or three and shown to changing rooms with doors that have taken so much abuse they don't close fully and issued pink ( apparently the AMA mandated color for all accessories pertinent to women's healthcare) smocks. The lockers have no locks and we are commanded to carry our bras, blouses and other belongs while we wait our turn, standing in a hall, for a mammographer. I've had a variety of laboratory tests over the years and it's always like being on the peoplemover but the mammography clinic is the most degrading. The technician is obstreperous and refuses to refer me for the ultrasound that my physician prescribes. I hover near over-the-top in my campaign make them provide the services for which I've been referred. I am told the ultrasound technician has gone home for the day and I ratchet up the assertiveness to a point that in retrospect I feel a bit sheepish about. Somehow a technician and even a radiologist materialize. What happens to patients who don't understand what tests have been ordered or lack language skills or the nerve to speak up?

Near the clinic is a trendy bakery filled with fashionable tweens who scarf down $7 red velvet or carrot mascarpone cupcakes. It is dark and the crosstown streets are jammed. I make my way down 3rd and notice Short Order, the new restaurant that serves $18 hamburgers that just opened next to the Dupar's at the Farmer's Market. I reach Hancock Park and notice that the dozens of David statues that once graced the front yard of a stark white 60s house have been removed. The owners of the nearby mansions must be relieved. Past Western there are Hispanic shops and salons, brightly painted and glowing eerie with fluorescent light. Women, who probably feed big families each day on less then the price of a Beverly Hills cupcake, wait in line for tortillas. A mile or so east thousands of homeless people huddle in tents. The steps of City Hall are empty now but many of the 99% trudge on hoping, if they still have the wherewithal to hope, that the Occupy Movement is a catalyst for change.

Friday, December 2, 2011


We are promised another night of fearsome winds but all is still. Waiting for the shake and squeal that doesn't happen is almost as eerie as enduring it the night before when we are fortunate to make out the sound of gushing water through all the wail and din. The branch of a pepper tree thuds again and again to activate a spigot on our deck despite our efforts to secure it. The wind blasts us as we fumble with the errant pepper. Himself, Ph.D and all, makes some suggestions towards correcting the problem that are so staggeringly stupid I attribute the lapse to some sort of Santa Ana phenomena related aberration. He is relieved when I have the presence of mind to suggest bungee cords.

I double my morning walk to compensate for a day skipped due to the storm and make a giant circle through Mount Washington. Most of the power is restored and the streets are largely unobstructed but for a giant fallen elm on Quail Way, which having crushed a car and someone's living room, still blocks the narrow road. Fallen branches that carpet the steep streets emit a sweet aroma and dawn breaks to reveal an electric blue sky.

From the top of Kite Hill City Hall is still illuminated and glowing at sunrise. Occupy LA is broken up by the LAPD the night before the deathly Santa Ana's. I hope that the energies harnessed here are a catalyst for good but if nothing else, candidates in the next election are now obliged to address the issue of economic disparity. The message is articulated most effectively with the coinage of the phrase “the 99%.” Occupy L.A.'s mission was complicated by its attractiveness to a large number of substance abusers, mentally ill and just plain homeless folks. This is a voiceless segment of 99% and while their presence at the Occupation isn't particularly photogenic, people sleeping in boxes in the shadows of the opulent offices of hugely profitable but tax exempt corporations is just as salient to the movement as the thousands of unemployed graduates with no means to pay off their college loans. Inevitably any assembly will attract its share of crazies as is evidenced by wacko Tea Party signage that's nearly as popular on Facebook as kitten videos. But the far reaching impact, of what I would have dismissed as a mobilization of right-wing crackpots, is impressive, viz a viz, the Congress. Perhaps there will be a formidable Occupy ticket in the 2012 election.

Spuds visits Occupy L.A. with us a number of times but while a large group of students from his college are regular participants, our elder son is dismissive. Number One Son is the kid who attributes his lack of enthusiasm for moving away to college to the happy childhood he was provided and his distaste for involvement in shaping his future is perhaps another attempt to postpone the encroaching demise of carefree youth. Sixteen year old Spuds takes a bus and two trains daily to my office so I can drive him to his tutoring job which is a bit off the public transportation grid. He arrives late, having made solo a detour to City Hall where a cyclone fence has been erected and we watches while former occupiers fruitlessly plead with the police to enter and prevent their possessions from being loaded onto huge dump trucks by workers clad in hazmat suits. Spuds muses whether in three years anyone will remember what happened here but I think O.W.S. will have traction. I look at iconic images daily as I search for footage, and even though I've seen them all a million times, frames from the 60s, of little black girls in church dresses being fire hosed in Selma and college students being shot down at Kent State, I am always gobsmacked by how much of the positive change that I've witnessed is fostered by protest. I suspect that old pictures of the tent city on the steps of City Hall and students in Davis being pepper sprayed will evoke the same awe for Spuds and his big brother too some day.

I have vivid memories of civil rights and peace protests only via photos and film but Spuds has taken part and himself delivered food and medical supplies. He discounts his energies but still I think his involvement entitles him to really own a bit of any salubrious results. It's this “at least did more than nothing” self satisfaction that makes me particularly ebullient about Hillary Clinton's trip to Burma, even though the press still uses the name Myanmar, a name coined by despotic leadership in an effort to completely denude the nation of its heritage. It isn't like I am single-handedly responsible for freeing Aung San Suu Kyi but I did give her a nice birthday party which unfortunately, due to her house arrest, she was unable to attend. Some monies were raised for the cause and the handful of people who slog through my rantings here week in and week out were informed a bit about the ruling military which seems recently to have loosened its grip. There is still a long way to go but the image of the recently free Aung San Suu Kyi dining with Hillary Clinton and the documented release of other political prisoners is reason for cautious optimism. The U.S. Campaign for Burma and similar organizations in other nations doggedly kept the dictatorship on the radar and I think, this group, of which I am a card carrying member, is entitled to take a little credit for the current shift in the right direction.

I have also written here extensively about the plight of inmates incarcerated in California prisons and shameful overcrowding and inhumane conditions. I wish I could say, that like signs of hope emanating from Burma, there has been progress on this other issue that is important to me. The state is complying with a federal court mandate to reduce prison overcrowding by sentencing non-violent offenders to county instead of state facilities. This is just a cynical numbers game but given the current political clout of the guard's union and the continued hacking away at the already pathetically miniscule budget devoted to rehabilitative programs in penal facilities this truly might be the only way to comply with the order to reduce the prison population. The bottom line is that nearly nothing is being done in prisons, county jails or aftercare to prevent recidivism and the guards union is well aware that a high census preserves hefty salaries and pensions and to them the cycle is more cash cow than vicious. I would love to add the issue of California prisons to the short list of things I've ranted about that have actually gotten better but unfortunately it seems the rush to comply with the Federal court bodes only to make the situation far worse but I am a lowly blogger and for a number of reasons, prison reform just isn't very sexy right now. My sense of impotence is dually exacerbated and diminished by correspondence I maintain with three Jewish California inmates.

Two of my pen pals are lifers. One has been incarcerated near San Diego for many years and another, after stints at Mule Creek and Pleasant Valley (!) is now at the same facility. Both of these men are smart and funny. They probably find my letters vaguely amusing but look forward most to the ones that contain legal pads or stamps which, except for paperback books sent directly from Amazon, is all that can be sent to a prisoner. I have no details about their crimes. I don't ask and they don' t tell. I feel no strong connection to either and suspect too that neither is a paragon of honesty. I know that in some odd way the human contact I maintain with them is important and it takes me very little time to dash off a letter once a week.

The man moved recently to San Diego is wheelchair bound now due to a neurological condition. He reports that the move to San Diego is scheduled after he is hospitalized for a week. He returns from the hospital to find his possessions all packed in preparation for his transfer. He is kept in a holding cell for several days without even shoes or a toothbrush. He is awakened at 3 am to board the van and the officer in charge instructs him to walk from the wheelchair. The prisoner indicates he is unsure whether he is strong enough to ambulate. The guard says he'd seen the inmate walking on the yard within the last few days and turns a deaf ear when the prisoner explains that this is impossible as he'd been hospitalized. It is determined that another vehicle will be necessary to transport him in a wheelchair but the irritated guard refuses to remove the man's belongings from the van so he is left without his bundle until a wheelchair equipped van can be engaged. It takes a week for the transport to be arranged and then after he arrives in San Diego it is several days until he sees his stuff. I am aware at this population's propensity for exaggeration and the prescient inmate includes with his letter a copy of a prison generated report that seems to corroborate this story.

I wish this were an isolated instance of petty-assed punitiveness but the third inmate I correspond with, and the one I consider a lifelong friend and not a mitzvah project commends a number of prison staffers for being professional and compassionate but notes too that bad-assed power tripping is rampant and seldom checked. The right is tough on crime and the left is reluctant to take a stand in opposition of any union, even CCPOA, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. Officers have the option of choosing a badge that says Dept of Corrections or one that says Dept of Corrections and Rehabilitation and almost all opt for the former, at least honest about their lack of motivation to rehabilitate anyone.

The L.A. Occupiers have been dispersed through the city. Perhaps some of the more effectual members of the movement will be a voice for not only underemployed college graduates but also for the very bottom rung of the 99% who eke out a survival on the streets or languish in prisons due a society that values tax loopholes for the wealthy more than providing the most basic services for the destitute and mentally ill. The world is watching Burma for signs of genuine change and proof that Clinton's visit and other gestures towards improving international relations are not just a grab for more foreign monies. We are promised another severe bout of merciless wind and yet the air is still. Sometimes human goodness prevails and sometimes storms that we expect just don't arrive.