Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Homeless Dogs

Of note this morning: overweight woman in a scooter buys four large bags of candy. As she reaches into her bag for her wallet, she pulls out a plastic bag that contains a single large milk bone. "I haven't seen any dogs this morning," she says to the Rite Ad cashier. "I don't give money to 'dem bums outside. But if they have a dog, I'll give 'em a biscuit." 

Outside Rite Ad I hear several dogs barking. They are a block away, standing among a small group of people. Beside me, a man hosting a full length leg cast and tattered, street-stained clothes points a yellowed finger in the dogs' direction and yells, "SHUT UP!" 
And I think, "fat chance."

Certainly the sound of the street--the cars, the busses, light rail zipping by, voices haling cabs, shouting about the "all mighty Lord Jesus," speaking to lovers, to business partners, to friends, to enemies, into phones, into the wind to no one in particular--would drown out this one man's voice. 

Yet not minutes later, not even seconds, but immediately, the dogs quit their barking. I turn back and look at the man and he pulls his hand back into his pocket and smiles.

I am upon them now, three dogs two street people, all outside a Starbucks. The people hold signs, "Anything helps." The dogs sit beside their humans, one climbs on a back pack. Lies down. 

I give its owner a few bucks, and walk away, my eye out for the overweight scooter-woman with the bags of candy and the dog bone.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Jon Stewart on the Emanuel AME Shooting

Last night comedian Jon Stewart, the host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, set aside his jokes to speak directly to his audience about the deaths of nine African American worshipers at the historical Emanuel AME Church, in Charleston, South Carolina.

A solum and unscripted Stewart, stares straight into the camera - saying we the people of the United States are more of a threat to ourselves than foreign terrorists, and that our failure to see and remedy our racist presumptions is a blood toxin that is destroying this nation. His words are powerful, and he absolutely right.

Please watch.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Face of War

The Unknown Soldier, David Jay, Photographer

This is what we do.

We spend the bulk of our nation's resources on war, and then we bring our dead and wounded home and pretend there is no war.

The Unknown Soldier, Photographer David Jay
There is war.

As you get up this morning and drink your coffee—
there is war.
As you walk your dog—
there is war.
As you scan the aisles at the grocery store
and flip off the guy who cut in line
as you sit in your chair at home
and open another bottle of beer
and turn on Game of Thrones—
there is war.

We send young men and women into foreign lands and ask them to do things that bend their minds with what their eyes have seen, and their hands have done, with what they have heard and tasted and smelled.

Pictures like these demand we acknowledge our actions. That we be accountable. They demand we find a better way to co-exist on this planet. Be more humble, more grateful, more creative, more trustworthy, more open to the reality that killing will never—not ever—resolve anything.

Pictures like these ask us to not just look, but see.

Iraqi girl wounded in car bomb. Photographer Michael Yon, 2005


Since 2001, approximately 2.5 million service members have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Almost half have been deployed more than once.  

Since the beginning of operations in March, 2003, 6851 U.S. soldiers have been killed

9% of evacuated soldiers lost a major limb.

In total, since the beginning of operations, 675,000 U.S. Veterans have been granted disability.

Studies indicate 22 veterans commit suicide every week.

In Iraq, over 70 percent of those who died of direct war violence have been civilians. Iraq Bidy Count conservatively estimates that at least 133,000 civilians have been killed in direct violence due to war between the invasion and early May 2014

Updated Death and Injury Rates of U.S Military Personnel During Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Congressional Budget Office, December, 2014

To see more pictures go to: The UnKnown Soldier, David Jay, Photographer

For a story on David Jay and his photos go to the NPR story: It's Not Rude, These Photos are Meant to be Stared At

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mother's Day, Mother Earth

Years ago, I worked for an organization created by Allan Savory called The Center for Holistic Resource Management. The Center's mission was to reverse the advance of desertification through a decision making model that incorporated community and social needs, values, economic priorities, and ecosystem requirements. Savory's theories were developed by his observations of what happened on the African veldt after he advocated for the extermination of more than 40,000 elephants in a mis-guided effort to stop overgrazing. It was tragic mistake, and led Allan to seek true answers to global warming.

My job at CHRM took me all over the country, working with farmers, ranchers, tribes, and government agency staff.

It was rewarding work. Important work. Necessary work. Through Savory's methods, many age-old conflicts between environmentalists and ranchers, ranchers and the BLM, tribes and the BIA, or city dwellers and farmers, were quelled. Ecosystems thrived. Wildlife responded. Farms and ranches were saved.

One of the tools I used when I taught was Peter Russell's amazing video, The Global Brain. I just watched it this morning, again, and I must say its message is even more pertinent today than it was 32 years ago, when the film was made.

So for today, on Mother's Day, give the earth a little squeeze, and watch the film I have posted at the top of this page.  Its message is clear, we each play a critical role in serving and saving this planet. Nothing lives in isolation, and it may very well be that we are living in just the right time and age to begin a true process of healing the damage we have caused to Mother Earth.

And below, is Allan's amazing Ted Talk. Here you will learn about Allan's experience in Africa, and see for yourself how much difference his programs have made to stop the process of desertification. I promise, if you watch this, you will see global warming and climate change in a very different light.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Climbing Mt. Hood

In March, I decided to do something I have never done before—climb a mountain. At first I thought I would try Mt. Kilimanjaro. I know a fellow in town that organizes trips up the snow-capped African peak. But having never climbed anything higher than 8,000 feet, I did not know if I could handle going up to 19,000.

Instead, I decided to join on with Climb for Clean Air. It is a fundraising effort put on by the American Lung Association. For the past ten years or so, they have been training people to summit some of the Pacific Northwest's most famous peaks: Mt. Hood in Oregon, Mt Adams and Mt Rainier in Washington. I chose the 11, 250 foot strato-volcano we call Hood, and the Multnomah Tribe called Wy'east. I began training for my summer assent two months ago.

Last week, I got the training schedule wrong and so headed off for the 10+ mile Boulder Ridge Trail alone. The day was a spectacular success: hours of meditation as I made my way up to Huckleberry Mountain, through trickling creeks, past sweet smelling waterfalls, then up into the snow, my footsteps loud on the ice, the clouds coming in, the wind, the cold, the quiet feeling of being somewhere alone, and getting there on my own, my own two feet taking me higher and higher, one step at a time.

One breath at a time.

I think of Dad when I hike. He just died in January, and I think of all the places he did not get to see in his years in Oregon, and I tell myself I am seeing them for him now. Experiencing them in a profound way, for him. Pushing myself and probing my limits. Expanding them.

Dad did that, in every possible way he expanded his limits. From moving to the United States in 1951, a twenty-two year old Indian engineering student who did not know a soul in America. A skinny, dark-skinned man who was confronted by an angry crowd when he ate in a restaurant in the South - "Where you from, Boy?" A man who was "suppose" to return home, marry the woman his father had picked, not a Catholic German/American with a brazen laugh, and Ingrid Bergman eyes. He was "suppose" to settle within eye-site of the rest of his family. A man who took up the study of Astro Physics at PSU in his eighties and always had his mind spread out towards the stars and the mysteries they held. A man who worshiped intelligence and freedom of thought and the beauty of music, and bird song and light.

And so I think of him and the boundaries he broke as my breath becomes labored and my legs begin to ache. Maybe I won't make it to the top of Hood. Maybe it will be too cold for me, or too steep. Or, maybe the volcano's fumaroles will overwhelm me with their sulfurous gas, my lungs simply unable to drink in enough oxygen. But at least I will have tried, and for that I thank my parents. My Dad and my Mom, too. Both of them boundary breakers. Both of them missed and loved and part of who I will always be.

If all goes well, I and my team will summit Wy'east the dawn of June 26th. If you would like to contribute to my climb, I would be honored. I have already exceeded my goal - BUT - please help me go even further. Every dollar will help the American Lung Association with their important work, and it will be so nice to know I am climbing with your support. Here is a link to my personal funding page, Naseem, Climb for Clean Air.
-Naseem Rakha, May 1, 2015

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Six Weeks After

Yes, I went for a walk today. And yes, I fell asleep in the tall grass, leaning on a rock, the sun warm on my face, my arms.
Slept like a child sleeps — drifting into clouds of wandering thoughts — birds, leaves, stems of flowers. You. And then yes, I woke, and Waldo, waiting in the shade, stood when I stood, wagged his tail.
And then, yes, we walked up to places we have not walked in a while, then down to places we walk often. We got to the creek, and I climbed a narrow concrete ledge, then sat and read high above the water — dimpled and flashing with this sweet-surprising-springtime sun.
Sun, where there should be only clouds and rain. And yes, we in the Pacific Northwest will soon pay for this unblemished sky. No water for crops. Turbines. Salmon.
But today — today I sat on a ledge over the snow-melt creek and pulled out a book and I read and took notes, real notes for the novel I have not been writing, because fiction these past six weeks, seems worlds away.
But today it felt closer. Today in the sun, I could think about seasons and life and death, and the stories we live and the stories we tell. And then I carefully climbed off the concrete ledge, and got myself back to the ground, and Waldo stood up and wagged his tail, and then, yes, we walked on.
On to the park where we saw people, Dana and someone named Joe with a dog named Ricky Recardo, and we laughed about Ricky’s squeaky ball, and I admired the sparkle of light on the water that moves always away.
And now, yes, I am home. and the sun pours through the windows and lights my desk and warms my hands, and the cat stretches and her color turns from black to umber in this unlikely sun.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

My Own Damn Fault

I was a political reporter for the Consortium for Public Radio from 1995 to 2003, which means I covered most of John Kitzhaber's first two terms in office. I remember him as a smart, articulate and passionate leader—always with his eyes focused at least 30 paces in front of him, as if Kitzhaber, an ardent fisherman, were looking for a good hole to cast his fly. Meaning: he was a forward thinker: The Oregon Health Plan, the Sustainability Workforce, the Energy Plan, his focus on higher education and kids reading and early childhood development...

There is a long list of things Kitzhaber tried to tackle. Some were successful, many were not, but at least there was the effort—the call to arms, someone who supported workers and the poor and kids, even when partisans in the legislature appeared not to.

John Kitzhaber singing Margarittaville at his 1999 inauguration
I remember him coming to my office one day, this was when my son was about 13 months old and half my office was then a play room. He walked in, sat on the floor and played cars with Elijah, pushing them along the carpet. Making noises. That's a memory that will stick. So will him guiding an elderly lady out of the capitol after it had to be evacuated due to a post-9/11 anthrax threat. I remember him near tears when talking about how hard it was to allow for the execution of two prisoners, and I remember him during the endless "special sessions" that had to be called when the economy crashed. I also remember him telling me he was going to crack open the Wild Turkey when the legislature finally came out with a budget he didn't feel compelled to veto.

But of all the memories I have, the one that has been coming up in my mind as I watch the unfortunate unraveling of Kitzhaber's reign is related to the song Margaritaville by Jimmy Buffet. I have seen the governor preform this twice. Once at a private party of reporters, and the second at his 1999 inauguration party. True to Kitzhaber's form, staff, friends and family were invited to a "hoedown," versus a formal affair. It was held in an old K-Mart and people came dressed for a square dance: all cowboy hats and petticoats. Halfway through the party, Kitzhaber took to the stage with the band, borrowed a guitar, and off he went singing about being, "wasted away in Margaritaville," and "looking for his last shaker of salt."

But of course it's not those particular words that stick in my mind now, but the ones at the very end.

"Some people say there's a woman to blame, but I know, it's my own damn fault."

If there's one fault I can find about Kitzhaber is that his iconoclast personality gave him a swagger and a false of sense of invincibility. He broke rules of dress, of social conformity, he never backed down from saying what he thought, never glad-handed. These are characteristics that draw people in. But in the end, they were not characteristics that could save him from himself. 

I have no inside insight into what happened these past months with Kitzhaber and his fiancé, and how their actions led to his resignation, but I do think the Governor's departure will find him focusing a little closer in, and maybe searching for a new song.

-Naseem Rakha February 18, 2015