Stuff I've Made Feed

Who Wants to Stop the Famine in Yemen?


I've just created my first Mighty Networks group. I'll let you all know right now that I have no idea what I'm doing. I am one of the least organized people I know, also one of the least social. So I am probably the very worst person in the world to be doing social-media-network building. Too bad. Nobody else was doing it, so here I am. And here it is:

My opening post:

I can't get this little girl's face out of my head. Amal Hussain, the seven-year-old Yemeni girl whose photograph appeared in the NYT, a victim of the war-caused famine in Yemen, and who died last week. It is painful to look at her picture. She has an unearthly beauty, such a look of peace and understanding on her face, so much life there even though her body was wasting away. And now that life is gone. 

UNICEF estimates that a child in Yemen dies every ten minutes from this famine. The UN estimates that another ten million people will starve to death there by the end of the year.

It makes me sick that I didn't stop Amal Hussain's death. And the thought that I might sit by and watch - and complain, and place blame - while another ten million people die, that makes me sick too. I live in one of the wealthiest countries in the history of humanity. There are incredible tools available to us now that weren't even possible when I was a child. With everything available to me, I can't believe that there is nothing I can do to stop this.

I'm not talking about heroic efforts. I'm not talking about selling all our furniture and getting my husband to quit his job and JUST DOING THIS. I'm not. I'm a mom, I'm homeschooling, and my daughter has intense special needs, including seizures. Those are my first priorities, as they should be. And I know everyone else has their responsibilities too. Everyone is busy, I get that. So I'm not saying: "Hey everyone, let's drop everything we're doing and do everything we can to fix this, because PEOPLE ARE DYING!!!"

I also know that people are dying all the time, this isn't the only humanitarian crisis going on, terrible things are happening all the time, and we're not going to stop it all. But if I allow those to be my reasons for doing nothing about any of it, then what is the point? Why do anything at all, ever?

So here's what I am going to do:

1. Give money to aid organizations. We're not rich, but we can afford to send a couple of hundred dollars to some solid organizations that are getting real help to people there. I'm going to have to look and see which ones those are. But I know MSF is good, Mercy Corps is good. I'll look for more and will post here.

2. Help raise awareness and show others how they can help. I will post something at least once a day between now and the end of the year, with links and info. on good aid organizations and possibly other ways people can help.

3. Do some research that might help others. I'll look around and find what seem to be the best groups to donate money to for this effort. I will post what I find out here.

4. Donate all of my revenues from Urban Yogini (vols 1 and 2) between now and the end of the year to one or more of these aid organizations. OK, this one may not turn out to be worth much, as I have been god-awful at promoting and selling these books. Seriously, this is NOT my strong suit. But for what it's worth, I will do a promotional push for them both and donate everything I earn from the sales to relief efforts in Yemen.


If you also want to help, then this is a place for you to post what YOU are committed to doing. It doesn't have to be big. It will still make a difference to someone. It is also a place to post ideas for raising money, or for drawing attention to the crisis… or for some crazy solution no-one has thought of yet.

This is ONLY a place for declaring, and discussing, practical solutions. It is NOT a place for debating the causes of the crisis, attacking, criticizing, pointing fingers, etc. Believe me, I have plenty of opinions about who is to blame for this - but I'm not bringing any of them here. Please do the same, and keep this a place for creating immediate solutions and saving lives.

So if you are also sickened by what's happening in Yemen, then please post here: What are YOU going to do about it?


 (Click on this link to join the group.)


Gvtaren in the Field



(Image: Sir John Tenniel, c. 1865, public domain.)


Gvtaren stepped warily into the cool passageway. She was early, she knew that, but she also knew that it was best that way. This was new terrain for her, but the rules were the same as always: Stay low, stay downwind, don’t make eye contact… and always, always, remember that you are here to observe, not to interfere.

There was a doorway at the end of the corridor. Frosted glass, gold lettering. She stopped, sniffed the air, and frowned. A new scent, layered on top of the light aroma of oak, leather-bound books, and cleaning fluid. Could it be fear? Her heart pounded just a little as she pushed open the door.

Before her lay a narrow table, and next to it the thin, boxy frame of a metal detector. She knew what to do. “Don’t make eye contact,” she reminded herself as she placed her purse on the table and a uniformed guard scurried over to sniff it. 

The guard looked up at her and nodded. “Evening miss,” he said with a smile.

“Show them your teeth,” she reminded herself of something she had heard once. In a lecture, perhaps. “They like it when you show your teeth.” And she smiled back.

When she had passed through the metal detector, another guard handed her her purse. “Have a good evening!” He said to her. She smiled and said “you too!” She pushed through the next door, and entered the chamber.

More guards stood inside the door, and on the other side of the room. A few other people were milling about quietly. Speaking, but only so those very close to them could hear. Gvtaren found a seat at the back of the chamber and settled in to wait.

She watched closely as the room began to fill up. A few rows in front of her, at the end of the row, sat a man and a young woman. Their faces looked grey, she thought. And she thought she had seen the man’s face somewhere. They were perfectly silent, sitting quietly together, unsmiling, eyes focused on the empty seats at the front of the room. Slowly, more and more people came into the room, wandered about, found seats, and waited.

After a while, the seats at the front of the room began to fill up too. There were eleven of them, five on either side of one very large seat in the middle, behind a long curved table, perched up on a small stage, looking out over the rest of the room. The men and women who came to sit in these seats were considerably louder and cheerier than the people who now filled the seats in the main part of the room. A young man in a freshly pressed suit was with them, but he had no seat. Instead, he stood next to the end of the long table, holding a notepad and pen, and scurried from time to time to the side of one or another of the people in the seats. Gvtaren guessed that he was some kind of intern.

She had been scribbling away in her notepad, writing down her observations as she had been trained to do. Nothing was too small, no word or gesture insignificant. She was here to capture it all. She scanned the room slowly, taking note of the faces, the attitudes, the emotions… where had she seen that man’s face before? She watched as he wrapped an arm around the young woman next to him, and she leaned in to rest her head on his shoulder.

A hush came over the room, and Gvtaren looked up. The man who sat in the big chair had just entered the room, and was making his way over to his seat. This must be the Council Elder, she thought, and scribbled something in her notepad.

“Glad you could join us!” Called out one of the people in one of the seats on the little stage, cheerily. A woman in her forties in a bright blue suit, with orange-ish hair that framed her face like a lion’s mane – but a very stiff one, one that would never blow in the breeze or bounce along with her as she pounced across the savannah, Gvtaren imagined.

“We were about to give your seat away!” Chirped another – a Hispanic man with a tight goatee, probably in his mid thirties. Gvtaren’s hand was scribbling quickly.

The man who had just come in stood in front of the big chair and began to tap on the microphone that was perched in front of him. A loud whupping sound filled the room.

“Well, looks like they’ve got the mics working this week!” He chuckled loudly.

The others in the seats at the front of the room chuckled too. This man was a little older than the others, probably in his fifties, Gvtaren guessed. His hair was greying but not quite grey, and his face had the soft-but-stern appearance of a kindly father. She kept scribbling.

The man looked out over the seats in front of him, and boomed: “All rise for the Sky Cloth Chant!”

Gvtaren watched as everyone else in the room stood, turned toward the Sky Cloth that hung in one of the front corners, placed their hands solemnly over their hearts, and recited the Chant in unison. When they were finished, they all sat down again.

“So, Councilmember Peters,” the Council Elder called out cheerily, through his fully functional microphone, “I hear there was a birthday this week!”

The woman with the frozen lion’s-mane hair, who Gvtaren now recognized as Councilmember Peters, beamed and prattled on for several minutes about how they had originally planned to have her son’s birthday party at Six Flags, but then they found out that WonderSlides Water Park had a discount for City employees, and they were able to rent out the entire park for only $300! The other Councilmembers ooohed and aaahed and asked what flavor the birthday cake was.

“Well, I prefer plain vanilla myself,” the Council Elder chuckled. “No, it’s true!” He replied to the giggles from the seats to his sides. “Now,” he turned to each side, “who else? Anything else to share?”

A few other Councilmembers piped up with accounts of their activities during the past week. There was much chuckling, and everyone showed their teeth.

By the time the Council Elder announced that it was time to begin Official Business, Gvtaren had been sitting in her seat for nearly an hour and a half. The grey-faced man and young woman sat stiffly ahead of her. “Official Business”, according to the printed schedule Gvtaren had picked up when she entered the chamber, began with a series of announcements, and then moved on to comments and presentations from the public.

By the time the Councilmembers had finished making their announcements, Gvtaren had been sitting in her seat for two and a quarter hours. Finally, it was time for the Council to hear from the people in the seats. The grey-faced man leaned over and kissed the young woman on the forehead, she gave his arm a squeeze and whispered something to him. He stood up and made his way over to the podium that stood just below the long curved table.

The man leaned into the microphone on the podium, and began to speak:

“Good evening,” he began. “I came here tonight to ask the Council…”

“Excuse me!” There was a loud squealing through the speakers, and everyone in the room covered their ears. “Excuse me!” A small Councilmember with mousey hair screeched into her microphone. “I’ve just been informed that the Chippewa Chachalacas have just won the Division A state tournament!”

There was light clapping from the room, and delighted ooooohs and aaaaahs from around the table. The man with the grey face seemed to sag just a little. He stood there at the podium, unsure what to do.

“Well,” the Council Elder boomed, “I think we’re going to have to hear about this!” He waved at the man with his hand. “Let’s hold off on comments from the public for a little longer!”

The man at the podium remained standing there. His eyes closed for a moment, and then opened again.

“With all due respect,” he began, “my daughter and I have been here since six o’clock. It is now eight thirty. I came to ask a few simple questions, that I have submitted repeatedly to the city over the past two months and have received no response…”

It was then that Gvtaren remembered where she had seen the man’s face. She watched as the muscles on the Council Elder’s face tightened, and a darkness descended upon his brow.

“Sir,” he barked, his voice deeper now, “you will have to sit down now. We’ve had a change to the program, and you will just have to be patient. Everyone else is waiting patiently, I think you can too.”

Gvtaren noticed the guards on either side of the raised platform adjust their stances and bring their hands to the sides of their hips.

The man just stood there for a moment, as if in disbelief. Then, without a word, he turned and walked back to his seat. His daughter was waiting for him, her head shaking slightly.

“Now!” The Council Elder brightened. “Let’s hear about those Chachalacas!”

And for the next twenty minutes, the Councilmembers heaped lavish praise upon their beloved Chachalacas. The Chachalacas who had valiantly gone forth into battle against one rival sportsing team after another, vanquishing them one by one and bringing honor to their people; The Chachalacas who had made generous donations of their time and efforts to local Scouting troupes, teaching them the ways of their sportsing; The Chachalacas who have a long history of overcoming adversity, and who are models for us all.

Meanwhile, Gvtaren began to recall in vivid detail the reason she knew this man’s face: There had been a front-page story in the Chippewa Herald with an image of a dozen police officers standing in the man’s yard; another image of the man’s fifteen-year-old son lying dead on the lawn in front of him; the words “mentally unstable”, and “ongoing investigation.”

One of the Councilmembers sniffed as she read from a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about the Chachalacas. Then, the intern raced breathlessly to the table with the news that the entire team would be stopping by later to receive their congratulations in person. There was talk of a cake.

When, finally, the discussion of the Chachalacas came to an end, it was nearly nine o’clock. The Council Elder reminded the room that “sportsing is all about family!” And called for a big round of applause for the local team.

“Well,” he said as the applause died down, “now I guess it’s time for the boring part of the meeting!”

Once more, the man with the grey face made his way up to the podium.

“I don’t think what I have to say is boring,” he said to the Councilmembers seated before him.

“I never said that!” The Council Elder exclaimed. The man at the podium just looked at him.

“Please proceed with your comments,” A male Councilmember with thinning hair and a plaid jacket smiled and invited the man to continue.

“Thank you, Councilmember Evans,” said the man, and then he began to speak.

He started by saying that those he was addressing already knew why he was here, as he had been requesting information from them for the past three months with no response. So he had come here tonight to make his request once more, in person.

He told the story of how, on June 18th, his fifteen-year-old son began acting erratically, screaming, throwing things, threatening other family members. He told how his son had been receiving treatment for mental and emotional problems, but how they had never seen him like that before. He told how he and his wife felt desperate, didn’t know what to do, and decided to call the police for help.

He told of the dozen police officers who came to his home, how they tried to get his son to calm down, how they were equipped with tasers and other non-lethal weapons, but somehow ended up shooting his son multiple times and killing him.

He told of his attempt to get answers from both the police department and the City Council to his questions, namely: Why twelve adult men with non-lethal weapons were unable to subdue a mentally unstable teenager; why they believed they had no other option but to shoot to kill his son; and what the City planned to do to change how the police handle situations with mentally unstable people in the future so that something like this never happens again.

As he began to speak, the Councilmembers, who only moments ago had been cheering their town’s sportsing victory, quickly put on their somber faces. They looked at him as he spoke, occasionally cocking their heads or nodding solemnly.

He told of submitting multiple requests for answers to these questions, and how, for more than two months now, he had received no response.

Around the table, the Councilmembers nodded their heads sympathetically. The Council Elder leaned forward to speak.

“Sir,” he began, “I can understand your frustration. But you need to understand that the wheels of justice, and of administration, often turn very slowly. Now if you can submit to us a written account of what you’ve just said here, including your questions, I can promise that I will do my best to get it into the right hands.”

The man gave a deflated sigh.

“I’ve already sent it to you, and to every office I can think of,” he said. “But if you can think it will help for me to send it one more time, then I will do that.”

“I will do my best,” repeated the Council Elder.

“In the meantime,” the man continued, “I did want to bring to the Council’s attention an irregularity I encountered while making my inquiries…”

“I’m sorry,” the lion’s-mane Councillor spoke into her microphone, “your three minutes are up.”

The man stared in disbelief.

“I was just finishing,” he said. “Could I just tell you about the issue is that I encountered, and that I think you all should know about? What I found was…”

Lion’s mane was shaking her head. “I’m sorry,” she said, more sternly this time, “but your time is up!”

There were calls from the people seated in the room: “Let him finish!” “Let him say what he has to say!” “For God’s sake, let him talk!” And Gvtaren saw that same darkness that had descended onto the brow of the Council Elder earlier, now fall across the face of the lion’s-mane lady.

The Councillor addressed the room now: “There are rules of order!” She almost yelled. “And if we let this man break those rules, then we will have to let everyone else break them! And we would have nothing but chaos!”

“Chaos!” “Chaos, yes!” “It would be chaos!” “Chaos!” The Councillors around her nodded and murmured in unison.

“Please,” the man continued, “I only…”

“Don’t raise your voice!” The Councillor with the stiff lion’s-mane hair bellowed into her microphone, her face shaking, but her coif remaining eternally still. Each of the guards leaned forward just slightly, their hands still on their hips. Gvtaren scribbled furiously in her notepad.

“Please sit down!” The Councillor bellowed, “or you will lose your privilege to be here and you will be ejected!”

For a moment, the room was entirely still, and the only sound was the light scratching of Gvtaren’s pen on paper. She stopped quickly when she realized she might draw attention to herself. Her heart was pounding. This was precisely the kind of interaction she was hoping to witness, and the last thing she wanted to do was alert the others to her presence, thereby disrupting their natural behavior. She tried to make herself smaller in her seat, and waited quietly.

Just then, as if on cue, the door to the chamber swung open and the entire team of Chippewa Chachulacas bounced in in their bright silver and blue uniforms, four of them carrying between them an enormous sheet cake decorated as a blue-and-silver sportsing field with a wobbling bird perched atop it.

There was a moment of stunned silence, and then the mousey-haired Councilmember began to clap her hands.

“Oh hurrah!” She cried out in a small voice. The rest of the Councilmembers joined her and soon all were cheering for the victorious Chachalacas who, taking their cue, began to trot around the room with the cake, hi-fiving the people sitting near the aisles and chanting some sportsing song that no-one else knew the words to.

The man at the podium just stood there. As the Chachalacas neared the far end of the room, he turned to his daughter who beckoned him back to his seat with a look of disbelief. He walked back to her, and the two just stood there for a moment before picking up their things and walking toward the exit.

Gvtaren sniffed the air. There was that smell again. It wasn’t fear, but something else.

The cake was being set down on a hastily cleared space on the great curved table, and the young intern worked quickly to carve it up. The Chachalacas and Councilmembers gathered in an uneasy huddle around the cake. The Council Elder went first, grabbing a great fistful and stuffing it into his mouth.

“Mmmmmmm….!” The Elder gave a thumbs up to the cake in his mouth, then spread his hands out over the cake to indicate that the others might now have some too. Gvtaren watched as the junior members hung back while the more senior members got first pick.

From the front of the huddle, the intern gave a yelp and bent down, clutching his ear.

“He’s not sure where the nip to his ear came from,” Gvtaren scribbled quickly, “but he’s learned an important lesson. It will be a long time before this youngster tries again for a corner slice.”

The people who filled the seats in front of the long curved table watched silently as the Councilmembers and the sportsing team vied for position at the feed. The guards looked nervously between themselves, adjusting their positions slightly but unsure what to do. A few of the people in chairs began to get up and quietly leave the chamber.

There was a snarl and Gvtaren tried in vain to identify the source. She continued scribbling. Pieces of cake were now flying in the air above what could only be described as a melee. Yelps and snarls filled the air, as everyone dove into the remains of the cake, oblivious to status and rank. The intern, Gvtaren noted, was hunkered under the table, trying in vain to lick his wounded ear. Just out of curiosity, she began looking around for the nearest exit.

She heard a cry and looked back just in time to see the Council Elder wrestling one of the last pieces of cake from the hands of the lion’s-mane Councilmember – whose impeccably coiffed frame was now splattered with blue and white frosting… and possibly, Gvtaren noted in her pad… blood.

She could see that the guards were frightened now and did not know what to do. Finally, one of them took charge and strode up to one of the microphones on the table – the one farthest from the frenzy.

“Alright, everyone!” He bellowed out to the remaining crowd of citizens who sat frozen in their seats. “Please stand up and file out of the room in an orderly manner!”

People around Gvtaren began to scramble for their belongings and stumbled for the exits. Gvtaren made motions of gathering her things, but no real effort to evacuate: Her job was to record what was happening here and she wanted to be able to capture as much of it as she could. She continued scribbling as she pretended to look for her purse beneath the seats in front of her.

“Come on, everyone! Out!” The guards were now walking through the aisles, hurrying people out of the room.

From Gvtaren’s position on the floor, she could see that the Councilmember with the lion’s-mane hair had joined the intern below the table up on the platform, and was nursing her wounds. At first, Gvtaren was confused that the woman had given up so easily, but then she remembered something. She nodded and muttered to herself “of course, of course…”

“Miss! You need to leave now!” A guard stood directly above her, and Gvtaren knew that she could stay no longer. She scribbled down a few last notes before being forced from the chamber:

“The female cowers on the ground, knowing at some level that she must conserve her energy so that she can nurse her young – that they may one day grow strong enough to rip the head from the Council Elder and in this way take his place…”

“Keep moving please! Or you will be forcibly ejected!”

“…as has been the custom for generations.”



(This account is fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.)



My Writing is Back Up


Moped rider 1


For a while now, the links on my "My Writing" page have been down. I fixed them today, so now you can read all about why regulated taxis in Hong Kong were a mess, how free-market reforms began to help Vietnam achieve prosperity, and how economic reforms in China changed things for the zoo animals. It's all right here.

I also keep my page pretty up to date, so you can find more current articles (ones I've posted or linked to on my blog but you don't want to go searching for) over there.

Enjoy - and let me know what you think!




Area Man Ordered to Stop Using Word




June 20, 2007 – Jason Morandi

A federal court today ordered Buford Snatter, professor of law at Southwestern University and longtime Burbank resident, to immediately cease using the word “spontaneous” in any and all written or spoken communication.

Justice Benjamin Pettifinger of California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday upheld an earlier ruling against Professor Snatter, citing the general welfare clause of the Constitution. In describing the kind of word usage that got the professor into trouble, Judge Pettifinger commented “this just isn’t good for anybody.”

The trouble began when readers of Professor Snatter’s articles noticed certain words and phrases recurring at a disturbing rate. “It’s a question of when word use becomes abuse,” explained arresting officer Harris Bludger. “He definitely crossed a line. He’s gone way over the quota for the use of these words.” Asked what that quota is, Officer Bludger replied “I don’t know what the quota is, I don’t know if there is a quota, but I know he’s gone over it.”

Readers were the first to alert authorities to the problem. “I’d be reading one of his articles,” said a frequent reader of Professor Snatter’s articles who declined to give her name, “and there it would be: ‘spontaneous’, or ‘spontanaeity’, or worse, ‘spontaneous and autonomous’. When would it stop?” Another anonymous reader said she also suffered from abuse: “I’d be reading along and I always knew it was about to come up. If not in the first paragraph, then in the next. I’ll tell you, there was nothing ‘spontaneous’ about it.”

Indeed, Professor Snatter’s word use became a federal issue when it emerged that, while his prose is liberally sprinkled with the term, he is in fact not a spontaneous person.

“I was shocked when I found out,” said longtime Snatter reader Mona Eubanks.

The issue surfaced when one of Snatter’s daughters tried to introduce her father to yoga.

“He has always claimed to be interested in eastern thought, yet he refuses to even try the practices that are an integral part of those philosophies,” said daughter Brigentine Snatter. “Buddhism and the vedic philosophies aren’t just things that happen in your head. They require practice in order to integrate them into your life. When I tried to get him to go to a yoga class or an introduction to meditation, he said he’d think about getting around to putting it on a list of things to consider sometime. Is that what he means by ‘spontaneous’ behavior?”

In his appeal, Professor Snatter claimed that while he appreciated his daughter’s efforts to introduce him to the world outside of his own head, he just wasn’t interested, but that he would find his own ways of being spontaneous. However he failed to produce evidence that he was planning to engage in spontaneous behavior sometime down the line. He had promised to present the court with a list of potential spontaneous activities that he had written on a yellow senate pad, but later said he was unable to locate said pad. “It’s around here somewhere,” Snatter argued in his own defense.

Snatter’s daughter added to her charges that her father would only eat from a very small selection of food choices, citing Chinese chicken salad, spaghetti aglio oglio and BLTs as his mainstays. “Don’t even ask me about Cheez-Whiz™,” she added.

“He’ll go out to a nice restaurant, a restaurant that has its own specialties it is famous for, and he’ll ask if the chef can do a spaghetti aglio oglio,” Snatter’s daughter said. “It would be one thing if he could say it correctly, but he doesn’t even do that! This is the only thing he ever orders and he doesn’t even say it right!”

“That and Chinese chicken salad,” added Brigentine’s sister Hildegarde.

“And the BLTs,” chimed in younger sister Gvtaren.

“Yes, and the BLTs” agreed Brigentine.

“He used to eat Cheez-Whiz™, but we took it away from him,” reported Gvtaren.

Whiny civil liberties activists whined about supposed violation of free-speech, but were largely ignored.

“The first amendment was not intended to allow people to say whatever they damn well please,” commented constitutional scholar Avid Rhinegold.

In a statement issued after the verdict was read, Professor Snatter said that the ruling “is just one more indication of the collapse of Western civilization. It is an attempt,” he said, to “stifle the spontaneous free expression of peace-loving men and women spontaneously living their lives in non-hierarchical ways characterized by spontaneous order.”

The prosecution said it would not rule out going after Professor Snatter’s abuse of the phrase “peace-loving men and women”.

Highlighting the seriousness of the case, arresting officer Bludger noted “(i)t seems that, while Professor Snatter loves nothing more than to throw this word around in his prose, he doesn’t actually have a spontaneous bone in his body. This is where law enforcement needs to step in. People think they can just throw words around willy nilly. We’re here to let them know that that’s not the case.”

While Snatter’s daughters were saddened by their father’s ordeal, they expressed no regrets about turning him over to the police.

“In the end, we really had no choice but to contact the authorities,” said Brigentine Snatter.

Professor Snatter’s wife, June Snatter, admitted that her husband has never been spontaneous.

“No, he’s not,” she sighed. “But I can’t change him.”

Mrs. Snatter could face charges of aiding and abetting.

Under the court order, Professor Snatter is prohibited from using the word “spontaneous”, “spontaneously”, or any other derivative thereof. Should he violate the order he will face heavy fines and possible jail time.

Asked for further comment on the ruling, Professor Snatter said only “it’s all coming down.”



(This article originally appeared in the Burbank Bugle, June 20, 2007.)





How One County's Schools Systematically Exclude Minority Students from Quality Education

Board sign and schoolbus


To be clear, I don't believe that "racism" is at the heart of most of the problems we are facing today, and I don't believe that eradicating racism (if that were even possible) will solve them. Most of them boil down to a lack of accountability, and that boils down to the monopoly state. With that said, if you don't think that there are structural and institutional barriers keeping some minority groups (and especially low-income minority groups) at a distance from opportunity and success, then you need to look a little more closely.

This is just one, very small, example: It's a documentary I made a few years ago, detailing how the Howard County School System - one of the top-rated public school systems in the country - enforced a policy denying choice (in the form of being able to change schools within the system) to parents. The doc also demonstrates how this policy of selectively denying access to the better schools was more stringently applied to minority families.

Watch and learn: Choice Denied: The Politics of Failure in Howard County Public Schools.

Oh and yes, the Howard County Public School System refused to speak to us for this project.




The Best Christmas Gift Ever...



Sadly, we can't buy it on Amazon yet. But while we wait for that to happen (it's only a matter of time...) we can read about why it's important, how it can be possible, and what it takes to change a person from loving war to loving peace. 

This incredible collection, Why Peace (full disclosure: I have a chapter in it) contains essays from 78 different people from 34 different countries on five continents, and spans the human experience from victims of wars to their perpetrators - all of whom have something to say on the subject of peace. 

If that doesn't make for the perfect way to celebrate Christmas, I don't know what can.


Why Peace cover art


NOTE: Amazon says that "Why Peace" is "temporarily out of stock" however it has said that for a very long time and I've been able to buy copies and have them shipped quickly. Alternatively, you can buy directly from the publisher - and get a discount for multiple copies.

Just get one. Or two. Or three. You won't be sorry.




OMG It's Here!!!


UY Proof



This is the proof copy in my hand, and as of today, Urban Yogini vol. 1 is available on Amazon!

Urban Yogini tells the story of a young woman who is transformed into a superhero who is prohibited from using violence. When she's not practicing yoga, she spends her time fighting police brutality and other - mostly - crimes committed by those in authority. And when she's not doing that, she's hiding from those in authority who have labelled her a terrorist. (Read Episode 1 here.)

Volume 1, "The New Face of Terror" deals with issues from police brutality to the military-industrial complex, central banking and the futility of electoral politics. There's also a giant octopus and a talking cat. 

I may be somewhat biased, but I think it makes the perfect Christmas present for pretty much anyone*!

ALSO: For all purchases between now and Christmas Day, I will be donating the royalties to  So if you want to help support this fantastic organization, this is one way to do that.



*Maybe not young children - there is violence.



Support by Buying a Christmas Card


Blessed are the peacemakers 6_edited-2


I know most people have already bought or made their Christmas or Holiday cards - some have even sent them out already. I don't know what they're trying to prove. If you're one of the, shall we say, less fanatic celebrants, then you might want to consider one of the cards I've designed in your last-minute scramblings. I've made two: This one, with red text in the background and another with multicolored text. You can find them both at my Zazzle shop.

I had wanted to use the proceeds from the cards to support groups helping those affected by war: Refugees - from Syria and elsewhere - and those (people who live in areas infested with land mines for instance) who live with the aftermath of war every day. I still do support these causes, and I will be donating to some of them this year. However after some thought I decided that the best way I can think of to protect people from the effects of war is to take on the causes of war at their roots - and that means taking on the widespread beliefs that legitimize war and of the nation state, as well as the misinformation that is continually used to get people to support specific wars.

I can think of no other organization that does such a phenomenal job on both of these fronts. is the only group I know of that both maintains a consistent stance against war, and that provides a constant stream of information to counter the misinformation found in the mainstream - I am certain that it is the only non-partisan group to do so. 

So I have decided to donate all of my earnings from these cards (about .50 apiece) to If you agree with me about how fantastic this group is, and you still haven't bought your Christmas/Holiday cards, then please consider buying some.




"Massoud" - My Short Story on


Geishas holding sumo dolls


The lights went down, and Dave, Zeljko and the drummer stepped onto the small stage.

There were some chairs set up along one wall, and the Japanese girls who had come were sitting in them. For the first part of the evening, they swayed back and forth and clapped to the music, which I thought was an odd accompaniment to “Start Me Up” and “Wild Thing.” Later on, they abandoned the chairs and stood in groups around the room.

Massoud had been standing near the bar. Suddenly, he pushed forward into the small space in front of the band. His head was down, and he flailed his arms around him. He bent his knees, splaying his legs, and lifted his head up. His eyes looked straight ahead, his mouth was a straight line, open only enough to breathe. He jumped up and came crashing down, jumped up again, and then went down to the floor, in a Russian squat, kicking out his legs, with his hands down on the floor to support himself.

Then he sat down and spun around and was up again. He lifted his head to the sky, panting. His whole body was shaking, and he flung his legs and arms, as if trying to throw them off his body. His head was tilted back, and his mouth opened up into a wide grin, as if he could see something up there the rest of us couldn’t. When the music stopped, he stood there for a moment, frozen as he had danced, and then stumbled backwards, caught himself, and turned back to the crowd.

The room was silent, and then suddenly exploded in cheers and applause. Andrew the architect grabbed a beer from the bar, walked up to Massoud and handed it to him. Massoud took it. Andrew stuck out his hand, and shook Massoud’s hand. Massoud said “thank you,” between breaths.

“My man!” said Andrew.

The band was starting to pack up, and people were starting to drift back to the house. I left with Nuri and Jody.

When we got to the top of the stairs, we saw two policemen asking to see Alien Registration cards.

“Oh what Bullshit!” Said Jody, “come on!” She led us around the policemen before they had a chance to stop us.

From across the street, we looked back. Massoud stood there as the police went through his things, searching his pockets and his bag. “They think he’s got drugs,” said Jody. They asked Andrew for his Registration card. He showed it, and they waved him on.

“Should we stay?” Asked Nuri.

“No, we can’t do anything,” she said. “Ah, he’ll be alright, Dave and Zeljko are still there.” The police waved more people on, still scouring Massoud.

“The bastards,” said Jody, “come on then.”


Read the whole thing here.

Excerpted from Memoirs of a Gaijin.




A Machine for Washing Clothes


Tea and cell phone


My short story about a country's transformation from communist dictatorship to free markets, seen through the eyes of a teenage girl. On


Finally the day arrived when the cart was delivered to the apartment. There was a storage shed just off the courtyard where residents could store personal belongings and that is where it would stay at night and when it wasn’t being used. The friend of a friend of Chong’s cousin stood warily in the apartment as Nyaa handed him the deposit. He counted it out three times, licking his fingers each time and never smiling. He stood just as warily as she pulled the cart away from him in the courtyard.

“Remember,” he growled, “any damage and you won’t see your deposit again!”

“I understand,” smiled Nyaa, unable to contain her excitement even in the face of his sour demeanor, even when he spat on the pavement as he walked away.

“You’re sure he said it was alright to paint it?” Chong asked.

“Oh yes,” said Nyaa. “He said it was fine, and it will wash off the plastic part anyway.”

By now a crowd had gathered, and it seemed to Nyaa that there couldn’t possibly be this many people in their apartment building, nor this many people who didn’t have to do some sort of work during the day on their entire block. They stood and watched as Nyaa and Mr. Hyiep painted the base of the cart a bright, cheery green.

Then, Nyaa handed Mr. Hyiep two smaller brushes and she opened some little cans of paint: Green and red and black for the outlines. Mr. Hyiep had studied calligraphy in school - before the universities were all closed and the professors sent out to the countryside - and he still had a good hand. He dipped the first brush and stood ready to take her instructions.

Nyaa stood still for a moment, taking in the empty canvas that was the big, front sheet of plastic. Then she spoke:

“Have it say: ‘Teas to Cure All Ailments”!”


Read the whole thing here.




Billy Rainbow and the Sexual Justice Warriors


Sex is a human right 1


My latest short story, posted at


Life is good, mused Billy Rainbow as he ambled across the wooden bridge to Kresge College. Sprinkles of sunlight drifted down through the redwoods and he could taste the scent of spring in the air – woody and fresh, with a hint of the sea that lay just below campus.

Billy Rainbow had just taken some mushrooms. He had mixed them in peanut butter to eat them, and it left a funny taste in his mouth. It occurred to him that the one thing that could make his mouth taste better was chocolate. It also occurred to him that the best place to get chocolate on a sunny afternoon in Santa Cruz was Sluggo’s at Porter College. So off he went.

This particular afternoon Darcy Fortinbras sat at a small table in Sluggo’s with her friend and comrade Simon Fisk. Visually, they made an odd couple. Simon was tall, lanky and seemed underfed. He wore a faded Cesar Chavez t-shirt and threadbare blue jeans. He sat slumped in his chair as if he was taking a short break from his work in the fields, his legs dangling casually down from the chair. But the tightness around his eyes and the corners of his mouth suggested something other than farming on his mind.

Darcy was much shorter than Simon, squat almost, with a trim, muscular build. She had dark black hair (friends wondered if it was her natural color or whether she dyed it to match her black wardrobe) which she had had carefully clipped to create the impression of having been hacked at carelessly. She had a wide mouth and large dark eyes, around which she had drawn heavy black eyeliner.

Like Johnny Cash, Darcy Fortinbras had pledged to wear black every day of her life until all injustice had been scrubbed from the earth. For Darcy Fortinbras though, “Injustice” had quite a different meaning than it had had for Johnny Cash.

As they often did in the afternoons, Simon and Darcy were discussing this injustice and what they were going to do about it. Darcy was hunched over the table, a look of intense despair weighing her down. Simon leaned back into his chair, frowning deeply.

It was at this moment that Billy Rainbow walked into the cafe, stepped up to the counter and ordered himself a double-dipped mud-pie delight.

“You know,” said Simon glumly, “sometimes I think people are so consumed with greed and self-interest that the larger social structure doesn’t even matter. They’ll just continue grabbing and… and grasping… and…”

“…consuming…” Darcy filled in for him, nodding.

“…consuming, yes… oblivious to the fact that everything they consume is taken from the mouth of another.”

Darcy nodded some more.

“And yet…” Simon continued, gazing upward, “I wonder also whether I am just as guilty. Whether, as a white male, I even have the right to have my voice heard in a world where the less privileged have been silenced for so long.”

Darcy frowned, nodding a little more deeply.

Simon shook his head. “Every word I speak, every thought that I utter… is a word denied to someone else – perhaps someone more deserving. By what right do I claim even one iota of the world’s bandwidth from those who have no voice?”

Darcy reached out and clasped his hand in both of hers.

“Inequality is everywhere,” she said to him gently. “It’s like a virus, or… a fungus… or like that mold people find in their houses. Just when you’ve scraped away one layer and you think your work is done… there’s a deeper level to it. There’s always more. But we don’t shy away from it. You show great courage in confronting your own role in the systematic oppression of…”

“Sorry to eavesdrop,” Billy smiled widely at the couple at the table next to him.

Darcy looked up slowly from Simon’s hand, her eyes burning with all the rage she felt toward the world. A normal person, an unimpaired person, would have recognized the rage, would have immediately understood the message implicit in that stare: “The world is burning. I spend my every waking hour working to quench the inferno, to rectify the injustice that engulfs the world and you want to waste my time with idle chit chat?” A normal person would have slowly backed away.

But Billy Rainbow was no normal person. He was happy. Happy about the colors that were leaping out at him, shouting their names, colors he had never noticed before. Happy about the glimpses he was seeing of the people around him – little sparkling reflections of their childhoods, buried beneath decades of busy-ness, trying to fit in-ness and working to keep up-ness, glimpses that he could see now and that made him smile. “It’s always new,” he chuckled to himself. “Every time…”


You can read the rest here.




More Urban Yogini Coming Soon!


UY_2_14_b (1)


After more than a year of much hard work, lots of corrections and about a million other things getting in the way, we are getting close to rolling out the next episodes of Urban Yogini.  

What is Urban Yogini?

A 12-episode graphic novel about a reluctant superhero yogini who battles abusive police and government agents without the aid of violence. You can see the first episode here.

When is it acceptable to use violence? Can we fight violence without resorting to violence ourselves? Is violence legitimate when it is committed by those in authority? And what can one person do to combat officially sanctioned violence - when she can't use violence herself?

These are the questions posed by Urban Yogini. They are also critical questions for those of us who are committed to peace and to creating a peaceful society. I decided to create this web comic and graphic novel in order to get people asking these questions, and possibly even coming up with some solutions.

Stay tuned!




Don't Buy My Book for Christmas





If you're like me, sometime this past weekend you learned that Christmas is just around the corner and began scrambling about to get ready. There's a good chance you've found yourselves in need of stocking stuffers too, and I'd love to help you out. Unfortunately, my book "Why Mommy Loves the State" - which makes an excellent stocking stuffer - sells for an insanely high price. I wouldn't pay that much for it and neither should you. Fortunately, there's another option. I used to offer the PDF download for free, but for some reason Lulu no longer allows that. You can still get it for $1.99 though. So... don't buy the book, but if you're still looking for stocking stuffers, do get the download.



Anni's Stress-Busting Yoga (Sketch)


Stress-Busting Yoga p01


Several months ago, a little girl I know had an anxiety attack that sent her to the hospital. I told her mom that I would write up a simple yoga routine that could help to reduce her anxiety if she practiced it regularly. I mentioned it on one of my special-needs parents group and a few parents expressed interest in seeing it too. So... here it is, with the caveat  that this is just the sketch. I may, at some point in the future, clean this up, do some better drawings, add more detailed instructions, links to studies showing how yoga (and specific poses) can help to reduce anxiety, etc. But for now, here's a sketch that you can use to start your own practice.

I've included the standard disclaimer: I offer no guarantee that any of this WILL help you with your anxiety or anything else, nor do I guarantee that it won't hurt you. Yoga is very very very dangerous and scary! Do it at your own risk!

As for my credentials: I've been practicing yoga since 2002, taught yoga for a couple of years in New York City, still practice and learn new things, but do not claim to be any kind of expert. 

Please feel free to distribute this to others who may be interested, giving credit (written by Bretigne Shaffer). Also, any feedback is more than welcome. If you see anything that is confusing, unclear, or omitted, etc. please let me know!

You can download the full document here: Download Anni's Stress-Busting Yoga full sketch


UPDATE: The number written at the bottom of p. 11 (number of times to repeat Sun Salutation) is a 3, not 8.