First World Problems

We all think we have problems.  The car won’t start, the internet is slow, can’t put gas in the Suburban, etc.  And in our worlds, these problems seem huge, since they are the only ones we really have.  I know, many families this year are facing foreclosure, homelessness, huge debt.  But whether we are riding high this Christmas, or worried about putting food on the table and foregoing presents, I think it worthy to really take a look at how and why we personally celebrate.  

I’ve noticed a few things this holiday season.  Lots of complaining about alternative celebrations.  “Oh, I can’t take my snot-nosed-corporately-labeled-below-average-progeny to see a nativity scene without baby Jesus being stuck behind a Festivus pole of beer cans!”  Oh, the horror!  Big deal you coifed monster, why not explain to your kids that America is awesome because you can celebrate Christmas, and some other guy can celebrate what ever he wants? Stop trying to distract everyone with your insipid banality.

War on Christmas.  You must be kidding me.  Christmas, like Easter, was appropriated by the Christians from a mix of pagan traditions hundreds of years ago, where they took a perfectly good week-long holiday of lawlessness and indulgence and turned it into a rather lame single day of bling, consumption, and guilt that they can claim as their own.  And now their descendants are mad that people might want to do something different.  Boo-hoo.   Be a Christian, celebrate it however you want.  Just don’t force everyone else to do it with you.  I know, that does kind of go against centuries of all of Christianity as a religion forcing itself on regular old pagans, but just try it. Break that trend of making everyone do it the way you do.  I have it on good authority that Jesus thinks you are just being petty with your endless wars on nothing anyway.  

Sadly, the only thing we have left of any decency on the holiday scene is Thanksgiving, and people have even managed to screw that up by spending the day after being thankful for everything they do have by going shopping and fighting over garbage they do not have, and do not need.  Lovely.  Probably only a matter of time before I hear some that some wingnut  (probably Rick Santorum) is trying to change Thanksgiving to celebrate the day Jesus tied his sandals.  You know, because just generally being thankful isn’t enough.  

Which brings me (somewhat meanderingly) back to my main point.  First World Problems.  Watch this video.  Hopefully it puts you in a good mood, ready to be thankful for what you have (and what some of you body-slammed some soccer mom in Wal-Mart to get a few weeks ago), and those around you.  Because in the end, Christmas isn’t about you.  It’s not about explaining Festivus to your kids.  It’s not about trees, lights, Jesus, Saturnalia, or egg-nog (although maybe it should be about egg-nog). 

Christmas is about coming together and being nice to each other.  Why do we need to be exclusive?  Muslims, Jews, Christians, Aryans, Pastafarians, voodoo priestesses.  Everybody get together, eat some food, and find some common ground.  Do that in whatever way you want.  And let others do it whatever way they want.  Try forgetting how you finally got healthcare, or how you hate that others can get healthcare.  Stop fighting over which political party is screwing us worse.  You remember that story from WWI?  You know, both sides putting down their guns, getting together and forgetting the war for just a day?  You only have to do it once a year. 

Maybe stop being so extravagant with your holiday spending too.  You know you are only throwing money at shitty corporations who are brainwashing you into believing you need that crap anyway.  Give that cash to someone who actually needs it.  I vote Christmas be renamed “Bring a Homeless Guy WHO IS NOT OF YOUR RELIGION to Dinner” Day. 

And what, might you ask, do I want for the holidays?  Nothing much really, a warm bed, a good roof.  Some food and close friends would be nice too.  And maybe Caribou Barbie’s career on a stick.  Kind of like a Palin-popsicle.  Someone go get me that.  Just wait til after Christmas though.  No sense spoiling the holidays for the Tea Party.   


(Source: questionall)

Anyone interested in Burma should check this article out.  This guy is dead on.

Love this video.

Gay People Getting Hitched

So, my last little rant on guns caused a bit of a stir, especially among the fam.  Sorry guys, wasn’t trying to hurt any feelings.  Just calling it like I see it.  Now it’s time to give the “traditional family” folks something to holler at me about.  Gay marriage?  Honey Badger says “Yes please”.  The fact that two dudes, or two chicks, can’t get the same rights as the rest of us yahoos appalls me.  Even us ornery animals look at the current “debate” (if you can even call it that), and shake our collective heads.  Pathetic people.  The really sad bit is that it’s the Christians leading the hate charge against people who just want to be recognized as having the same rights as everyone else, then be left alone.  Doesn’t seem like too much to ask.  

Oh, but Honey Badger, gay marriage ruins the fabric of society!  Please people.  Individual threads ruin the fabric.  By being weak, stupid, and out of touch with the rest of the fabric.  See, fabric is a bunch of threads working together to make one strong unit.  Two people engaging in whatever sort of behind-closed-doors sexy bits doesn’t weaken anything.  

“But ‘murica was founded on Christianity!”  Um, no, it wasn’t.  The founders specifically left God out.  Because they knew from experience that God isn’t exactly the best person to be running a country, since He chooses to speak in such abstract and personal ways.     Yes, I will grant you that America was founded on Christian principles.  Namely, Forgiveness, Acceptance, and Tolerance.  Not to mention joy, peace, and love.  I see precious little of that these days though.  

No one is saying that you can’t follow the Bible.  We are saying that you can’t tell us that we have to. If you want to live that way, fine.  Stop eating shrimp, sell your daughter for a few goats, chop off your foreskins, and shave your head and pour ashes on it when you grieve.  Be my guest. Better yet, give all your belongings to the poor, visit people in prison, help widows and orphans, etc etc.  

If those old guys in powdered wigs wanted God running the land, we would have a theocracy, not democrazy.   Personally, I want socialism.   Yes, I said it.  Socialism.  Not Stalinist socialism, and not that crap from Mao.  Real people, all working together to help each other be fitter, healthier, better.  But we are generations from the kind of thinking that would allow that to work. And just to throw gas on the fire, Jesus was the biggest socialist the world has ever seen.  Everyone working together for the common good and all that.  

“But two guys getting it on destroys the sanctity of marriage!”  Yeah, right.  The only person destroying the sanctity of marriage is you.  You have turned a lifetime commitment between two people into some sort of religious joke.  You can’t push your religious ideals on others.  That’s in the Constitution, even if I have paraphrased a bit.  You love that old document, if watching your pathetic excuses for politicians is any indication.  And speaking of bad politicians, who keeps electing Michelle Bachmann?  Really?  

Stop hiding your bigotry behind Jesus.  I bet he is seriously pissed with his public relations division.  Just admit that you don’t like the idea of two people who are the same sex having orgasms together. Or maybe you do, and are just too scared to admit to it.  Really, it is none of your business.  And stop listening to anything Pat Robertson has to say.  That guy is nuts.  

A short rant, because I feel like it.

So, I thought that I could stay quiet on this one, but it appears that I was sadly wrong.  All I hear about now is gun control, and debt ceilings, food stamps and social welfare.  WTF America?  Seriously? 

Lets start with gun control.  Now come on people, “pry my gun from my cold dead hands?  Really?  You would die over a gun?  Good luck, and godspeed.  Not me. Guns don’t make you safer, they make the world around you more dangerous.  We need classes, tests, and licensing to drive a car, but not to carry something as dangerous as a gun.  (I personally think you should also have a license to reproduce) Whats that you say?  Oh, you are a responsible gun owner?  Good for you.  So am I.  But when you look at the overwhelming evidence, fewer guns = fewer deaths.  Period.  Being willing to give something up, in the interest of making the world better, is called “sacrifice”.  Yet my social media is getting overrun by whinging babies talking about “Obama taking our guns”.  Grab a tissue, you whining brats.  

Home defense is my favorite line for these crybaby assholes with their “rights” to have whatever deadly weapon they want. You live in fear of something that most likely will never happen. Lets face it, most of us don’t own anything worth a damn anyway. Get a shotgun you pansies.  It is all you will ever need.  You are not Tony Montana.  No armed gang of AK-47 wielding drug enforcers is coming to your trailer to “take your shit”.  If you can’t defend your home with a decent shotgun, you don’t qualify to own any gun.  Personally, if I can’t take an intruder with a bat, then the hell with it. They can have whatever they want.  I don’t have anything worth stealing.  And what I do have, i can just buy again, it isn’t worth killing another human being over.  Get a big dog.  You will be safer, you will have a great friend, and people think twice about busting into a home with a large ball of fur and teeth, no matter how big their gun.

Read this study.  All of it.  Not just the titles, if you come up with some logical argument, you better have read the whole thing, and be able to defend yourself.

No one hunts with assault rifles.  You keep it to make your little willy feel a bit more manly.  If you were in the military, and still want to keep a weapon like that, fine.  You probably know how to use it.  But the average swinging dick doesn’t, and never will, because they aren’t willing to put in the time and money to get trained.  

"But only criminals will have guns!"  Yeah, not for long.  If you do something simple, like make a law that says anyone caught with an illegal weapon goes to jail for, say 20 years, or loses a testicle, or whatever, people will quickly stop.  

Hunting:  great, no one is trying to take your guns, so quit worrying.  I don’t care one iota for hunting, unless you shoot an animal from 15 yards with a bow, or jump on its back with a knife, as far as I am concerned, you are just playing in the woods anyway.  Keep your rifles.  

And lastly, the Second Amendment.  So, if you are not in a well regulated militia, then the way I read it is, you don’t have any right to bear arms.  The idea seems to be a “well-regulated” group of people tasked with defending security.  Not armed idiocy, which is what our current system looks like.   

I am not advocating taking away all guns.  I am advocating making damn sure that if you do have one, that you know how to use it, and demonstrate a real need for it.  

And why can’t we have a social safety net?  When the evidence overwhelmingly shows that social programs make a country healthier, smarter, richer, and more peaceful, why wouldn’t we go for that?  American Individualism?  Is that all you have?  Yes, these things cost money.  Yes, poor people might take advantage.  Waaaaah….Stop whining.  You should be trying to make the world better, not just better for you.  

So really, what is the problem?  Change starts with you.  Not with government, or society.  You.  


It is cold, much colder than I had expected.  The sun is coming up as we get out into the first Muslim settlement pushed out on the floodplain that is the northwestern end of the peninsula. Dozens of children materialize from nowhere, swelling to hundreds when someone in the group started handing out hats.  Bad idea, he was swiftly swamped, and kids and adults were knocking each other around to get a cheap polyester cover for a cold head.  

The Rohingya are a people no one wants, including their own country. Deprived of citizenship and education for years, Myanmar has created a generation of people who sign their registration with a fingerprint, with no social or political capital to speak of.  We are visiting one settlement on the northern end of the peninsula in a camp made of cheap tarps and rice straw, with three wells serving more than 3000 people, squeezed between the sea, the airport, and a local population that really would rather these people just disappear.  Occupying the southeastern tip of the peninsula is Sittwe, Myanmar, capital of Rakhine State, and the center of the Muslim persecution happening under the watchful eyes of the UN.  Sittwe bustles with activity, with everyday townspeople going about their individual days, all the while walking past the burned and bulldozed homes of their former Muslim neighbors.  

Current estimates count over 80,000 people in the camps, although the numbers are probably closer to 100,000, and will swell in the coming monsoons.  Preventable diseases such as cholera, dysentery, even polio and rickets, are common, but not as common as basic malnutrition and diarrhea, the two biggest killers in the third world.  And they will get markedly worse once the monsoon rains come, flooding many of the areas (and latrine pits) where people are temporarily camping. 


It is hard to describe the dichotomy that underlies this crisis.  Predominantly Buddhists who for years have been oppressed by the government by way of being citizens of one of the worst regimes on the planet, have dropped their principles of nonviolence and rooted their Muslim neighbors out in a flurry of cruelty one does not come to expect from the normally stoic and peaceful Burmese.  Now, the Muslim minority of the area has been confined to these sprawling tent camps and bamboo government housing where I found myself and my unfortunate friend handing out hats.

One woman we interviewed told us of her former neighbors stabbing her with bamboo while the house burned around her.  Another had been in 4 boats with 100 extended family members when a local fishing vessel came along side, capsized the smaller boats, and along with a few more boats from the nearest Buddhist village, proceeded to stab, slash and drown the entire group.  Only this one lady survived, and later that night was pulled out of the water by another boat of fleeing people.  

These stories became increasingly normal to hear.  Everyone had a crazy sounding story of their neighbors turning on them, simply because of their ethnicity and religion.  This betrayal, added to the conditions in the camps and temporary campsites, has managed in a very short time to create a brew of hopelessness and despair that is getting increasingly hard to drink.  

 All the normal refugee camp problems are present.  There is human waste everywhere.  There are toilets, but just taking a short stroll off the path shows that there are some serious health issues on the way, especially when the rains come.  Children especially seem to completely disregard the toilets, opting instead to relieve themselves anywhere there is a place to squat.  Malnutrition is rampant, worms are everywhere, and diarrhea is the norm.  


More insidious is the level of hopeless despair that is blatantly obvious everywhere you look.  There is no end in sight, no white knight coming to fix this.  No international community is rising up in throes of self righteous passion in defense of the Rohingya. And the Rohingya know it. There are organizations working there, and doing a good job in the field they are responsible for.  But they are only allowed, by the government and their mandates, to do so much, and it is woefully inadequate. These people, unless they are miraculously “resettled” by some other country, are going to be here a long time.  

Over three weeks, our team was able to provide medical treatment for more than 2000 patients.  Some we could help, some we couldn’t.  Many we couldn’t even see due to time constraints, we only had so many hours in a day.  We provided toilets, wells, and food for a few temporary settlements who were as of yet unable to receive official assistance.  Much of this is due to a mix of false beliefs, bad policies, and corrupt officialdom, but it does create a huge crack in which people are falling into everyday.  

Myanmar has come a long way in the years I have known her.  But while there are great new places to eat in Yangon, and things are “opening up”, there are still those places where the old style Burmese government still hangs on.  Divide and conquer has long been the most effective tactic for a government that has traditionally held on by fear.  While nothing much seems to be changing in Rakhine State, I do see great changes in Burma as a whole.  Lets hope the people of Rakhine, and all of Myanmar, wake up to the truth that sooner or later, Myanmar needs to pull together as a nation, and we, as outside countries, need to pull along with them. 


Merry Christmas, Typhoon Pablo.

Yes people, another Christmas has quietly slipped past.  Hope you and yours had a merry one :)  The world didn’t end on the 21st either, which was fortunate, I personally am not quite ready to finish this fun little ride we call living.  I managed to make it home for Christmas by the skin of my teeth, left Manila airport at noon on Christmas day, and wasn’t even sure the plane would land at the provincial airport due to weather.  

I was down in Mindanao, the big island in the south of the Philippines, home of political massacres, islamic kidnappings, and apparently, great beaches, on the 11th of December to help with the relief effort after Typhoon Pablo/Bopha.  Pablo was the strongest storm on record to hit Mindanao,  coming ashore as a Category 5 super-typhoon with winds of 160 mph (260 kmh).  To put it into perspective, Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the northeastern coast of America a few months ago, came ashore at Atlantic City with winds of 90 mph. The death toll from Pablo has reached over 1000, with many more still missing, mostly fisherman.  

I was part of a team of medical personnel providing emergency treatment and relief to the residents of Bagangas, one of the hardest hit towns along the coast.  13 of us lived in makeshift tents, which wer usually wet most nights, and almost blow away everyday.  Our tents were beachfront though, and what a beautiful beach.  Would have been interesting to see the place pre-typhoon.  I spent most of my day keeping the camp running, so the med folks could do their thing, and trying to get the hospital where we were staying in a condition to accept patients.  The roof had been completely ripped off, and all the supplies and such had been blown all over the place.  Needles in the yard, condoms on the beach, and who knows what else lying around everywhere.  We spent one evening in the pouring rain trying to put the wind-whipped USAID tarps (thanks America) up on the clinic roof to keep the rain off the kids and old folks down below.  

The typhoon simply devastated the entire area. Miles before you reach the coast, the coconut palms and other trees had been pretty hard hit, but the closer you got to the water, almost everything was utterly destroyed.  Most homes are made of wood and tin, or bamboo and thatch.  These were pretty much destroyed outright, while concrete buildings like municipal halls, churches, schools, etc., mostly survived with only the roof coming off.  All the medical supplies, records, school materials were shredded by the wind and blown everywhere.  95 percent of the coconut oil plantations and 100 percent of agriculture was ruined, all the schools were disabled, and all the hospitals.

Things were starting to get coordinated by the time my team pulled out, the Red Cross was there, and the Philippine Army was doing a great job coordinating the different relief efforts going on.  There is still a lot of work to do though, and they will have their job cut out for them in the coming weeks.


Oceanfront tent property.  Almost anyway, we were camped a bit farther away than this!

This was pretty much everyone.  Not a leaf left on any tree still standing, an not a roof to be seen.

Family with malnourished kid, crashing out in the clinic, around 4am.

It was a remarkable Christmas, so glad I got to be a part of action.  Don’t know when I will be able to head back down there, but who knows what the universe holds?  Heading out for another strange locale very soon, more to come.  

So Merry Christmas Typhoon Pablo people, be you residents, relatives, or aid workers.  It has been a rough one.