Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto

Looking back on her life, though she may have been corrupt and power-hungry, one thing you have to say for Benazir Bhutto is that she had incredible courage. I have been reading up on her life. Pakistan, imagine it, is a dangerous place. During her time as am member of Parliament in the Nineties, her fellow parliamentarians, party members, and even her own staff were constantly being jailed, tortured, kidnapped, beaten and disappeared. But she kept on keeping on.

Consider her life. Her father was hanged by General Zia, the military dictator who deposed him as Prime Minister. Both her brothers died under "suspicious circumstances." She herself spent time in prison, as did her husband. Given all that, she could have spent her life in comfy exile in Europe or New York, writing books, raking in money on the lecture circuit. But she chose to go back, to risk death on a daily basis to try and reform her country.

She may have been self-aggrandizing, she may have had feet of clay. But even so, she put her life on the line for her beliefs. And sacrificed it. Her sheer physical courage was so great she may not have been careful enough of her life in that dangerous place, these dangerous times. Even with inadequate security she insisted on meeting the public face to face at these giant rallies, magnets for suicide bombers. She would not back down.

I'm not cognizant enough of the situation to know the full implications of her death for Pakistan, but I know they will be bad. Real bad. Her death edges that nuclear country one step closer to chaos.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Fire on the Bayou?

I really don't know how to feel about the housing projects crisis. I'm sure you've seen the awful poster on, if not around town. Like Jeffrey, said, it's a shame it's had to come to that point. But really, I tend to agree with most of the Nolabloggers that the poster was probably created by some whitey trustafarian, in town working with some long-haired relief group. Native New Orleanians are too easygoing to go around burning other people's houses down. New Orleanians don't riot. I mean we just don't. This is not Seattle.

Anyway, the poster is unfortunate because it is so inflamatory (no pun intended) that it will -- has -- dried up sympathy for the cause. Which cause I'm not so sure is worthy. Yes, there is a housing crisis. Yes, the working poor are being crushed out of existence in this city post-K. But -- the projects? The projects??? The thought of people clamoring to get back into the notoriously hellish, crime- and drug-infested New Orleans projects quite boggles me. It seems to me there are better battles to fight. Force the Road Home to cough up some payouts for renters. Light a fire under the state's Katrina Cottage program. Something. Isn't this an opportunity to make things better, instead of falling back into old, dysfunctional patterns?

I do agree that just knocking down the projects and handing them over to developers with no guarantees is not just, nor a good use of the city's resources. There is so much rhetoric flying back and forth, however, that it's hard to know what's really the truth on the ground. Will there be one-to-one replacement of housing units in the new developments? Should there be, with the city's smaller population? How many units in the new developments will be low-income/subsidized, how many middle-income? Is it really more cost-effective to knock the old buildings down and build new, or not? Are "the bricks" really that well-built, as their advocates claim? I have to say, that's the first time I've ever heard that claim about the projects.

It occurs to me that the Times-Picayune has done a piss-poor job on this issue, providing no context, no facts to provide ubderstanding of this heated debate. I think what we need is some solid facts about the situation. How many people lived in these projects before katrina? How many want to move back in now? How many of those people were/are working poor, how many on the dole, which is what seems to so arise the ire of the "man on the street" (to go by the comments threads). It's been two years -- where and how have these people been livingin the meantime? And on the developers' side, what exactly is going to be done with this land? How many units are you going to build? At what cost? What will they sell or rent for? Will former renters get first priority? Are there any kind of guarantees that you will do what you say, or is this just a land grab, Iraq war-style?

What I would like to see is some kind of middle way emerge, wherein the projects are demolished, but some other kind of new, clean low-income housing is built in its place. Little villages of Katrina Cottages, perhaps, with room to expand, and an option to buy, with subsidies, if the occupants have the wherewithal. Back in my FEMA trailer days, I would have been freakin' delighted to have a Katrina Cottage. Or a very aggressive program for the city to reclaim and renovate blighted housing for the homeless. (Which would not be easy, clearing titles and such, I know.)

I doubt this middle way will materialize, however. HUD controls the projects now, and if the Feds want them to come down, they are going to come down. Keeping the working poor from getting kicked out in the cold will take a very concerted resistance effort. And, given that we only ever see the same two or three people show up at these housing protests, I don't think the political will is there.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

No blogging last week, because work was sheer hell. My branch library receives abrupt jumps in its circulation and attendance from time to time, as word of our advent spreads in the neighborhood, I suppose. Last week was one of those times. But we were short-handed all week, as one of our peeps was transferred to fill in at another branch. Plus, the interbranch delivery had not been done the whole week of Thanksgiving,so we were getting two weeks' worth of books and supplies in one, which all had to be processed. So we were kept hopping. By closing time I just had enough left to go home every day and sag on the sofa in front of the TV, while my husband tried to sustain me by slipping bits of food between my teeth. Coherent thought was not possible.

Yesterday another patron told me she reads my blog. Freaky! My experience has always been that being a public librarian is like being a kind of minor celebrity. Everywhere I go -- the movies, the mall, Mardi Gras parades, the doctor's office -- people know me. "There's Miss Kirsten! It's the Library Lady!" Maybe blogging is not such a good idea. Overexposure. But she told me she surfed over from Wet Bank Guide, that Mark had put me in his blogroll. Which is very cool. Mark Folse is a hero to me.

So I guess I'll keep truckin.