“Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

Tar Balls in the Surf, Gulf Shore, Alabama

 

“I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security.  Defense of our resources is just as important as defense abroad.  Otherwise what is there to defend?” ~ Robert Redford, Yosemite National Park dedication, 1985

Latest word out of the gulf indicates that BP is engaged in a cover-up of the literal kind. In an article cross-posted in the Huffington Post, Allison Kilkenny discusses the allegation: Photojournalist C. S. Muncy believes that he has found evidence that BP is trucking in sand and dumping it on top of oil balls. Muncy spoke with a an individual who had been hired to patrol the beach to keep out reporters and photographers, and this person confirmed that BP had brought in sand.

Rather than being an attempt to aerate the existing sand to promote the biodegrading process, the new sand seems to be more of a cover.

“The water there was a deep purple, maroons, blues. It looked almost like a rainbow. The scope of this is beyond belief. It’ll take years at this rate to gather up even a portion of the oil that’s on the surface today.” ~ John Wathen, Waterkeeper Alliance

   

Sea Turtle Covered in Oil off Coast of Grand Terre Island, Louisiana

 

In other oil spill news, Keith Olbermann of “Countdown” aired the following piece that shows just how far the spill has spread and what it is leaving in its wake:

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“There is a sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed.” ~ Mohandas K. Gandhi

Remember those FEMA trailers, the ones laced with formaldehyde? The ones deemed unsafe to send to Haiti post-earthquake for temporary shelter? Well, they’ve finally found a use for them: They are being used to house people involved in the clean up of the BP Gulf oil spill.

FEMA Trailer in Venice, Louisiana

As a result of individuals becoming sick after staying in the FEMA trailers after Katrina, the CDC conducted air-quality tests on 519 trailers. The CDC tests confirmed that the trailers posed a serious danger to any who still lives in them. So what to do? What to do?

Not wanting to pay storage on the unusable trailers, the federal government began selling them—even though the government had banned such trailers from ever being used for long-term housing. More than 100,000 trailers have been sold in public auctions, including to businesses and individuals in Louisiana.

According to the New York Times, the trailers have been “showing up in mobile-home parks, open fields and local boatyards as thousands of cleanup workers have scrambled to find housing . . . Ron Mason, owner of a disaster contracting firm, Alpha 1, said that in the past two weeks he had sold more than 20 of the trailers to cleanup workers and the companies that employ them in Venice and Grand Isle, La.”

The trailers are selling for $2,500 and up, and many buyers claim that they were not informed of the restrictions on using the trailers for housing. The GSA said on Wednesday that “they had opened at least seven cases concerning buyers who might not have posted the certification and formaldehyde warnings on trailers they sold.”

Ron Mason, owner of a disaster contracting firm, Alpha 1, has sold more than 20 of the trailers to cleanup workers and the companies that employ them in Venice and Grand Isle, La. He sees nothing wrong with the trailers. Says Mason, “Look, you know that new car smell? Well, that’s formaldehyde, too. The stuff is in everything. It’s not a big deal.” None of Mason’s trailers were posted with the required placards on the outside or inside indicating the formaldehyde risk or that it was not supposed to be used for housing. According to Mason, who is planning to buy more trailers, he is “providing a service.”

As Primo Levi once said, “I am constantly amazed by man’s inhumanity to man.”

More later. Peace.

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“We shall find peace. We shall hear angels. We shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.” ~ Anton Chekhov

Marine White Gloves, Sand from Iwo Jima and a Red Rose Atop the Casket of Lt. James Cathy, image by Todd Heisler, Pulitzer Prize-winning Photographer 

“Give me love, give me peace on earth, give me light, give me life, keep me free from birth, give me hope, help me cope, with this heavy load, trying to, touch and reach you with, heart and soul” ~ George Harrison

Well, it’s been over a week since I last blogged, except for my brief Christmas message. In that time so much has happened. I’ll get to the saga of our most recent trip to Ohio in a different post, but today, I wanted to share something with you that happened this morning: 

I was on my way to the bank, and Eamonn was in the car with me. Normally, I cut through a small neighborhood to get to the bank; it’s an old neighborhood, full of smaller houses. I was driving slower as I do on neighborhood streets when I noticed a marine in full dress uniform knocking on a door. Two other marines were sitting in a car parked in front of the house. 

When I saw that young marine, my heart completely sank. I knew what was about to happen. I have seen this scene in countless movies, but never in person. I explained to Eamonn what was about to happen: The day after Christmas a family was going to be notified that someone they loved had been killed. I explained to Eamonn that notifications are always done by someone official. 

The marine on the porch paused to watch us drive past; he was young, and his face was momentarily filled with anguish, and then the façade reappeared just as quickly as it had faded. 

“The real differences around the world today are not between Jews and Arabs; Protestants and Catholics; Muslims, Croats, and Serbs.  The real differences are between those who embrace peace and those who would destroy it; between those who look to the future and those who cling to the past; between those who open their arms and those who are determined to clench their fists.” ~ William J. Clinton

I cannot tell you that I know how the family that received that notification feels because I cannot. Yes, I have known death, have watched it come, have held it, but I have never faced the death of a loved one in the military, of someone who has been killed in conflict by whatever means. Someone who was close to me has faced the horror of the knock on the door, and the pain that I felt for her was miniscule in comparison to what she felt, still feels to this day. 

But after this morning’s moment of great sadness I felt great anger, incredible indignation at what had brought this man to this family’s door. I am not naive enough to believe that we will ever truly have peace on earth. As long as human beings inhabit this planet, there will be war, conflict, evil. There is something within our species that is never content, something that always wants more—whether it be more land, more oil, more power. No matter how much millions of us clamor for it, rally for it, cry for it, there will never be lasting peace. Humanity is not capable of it. 

Don’t misunderstand. I am not saying that human beings are inherently evil or bad or malicious. I choose to believe the opposite. But I know that to erase intolerance of other religions, other races, other tribes, other beliefs, to do this is an impossibility because people with intolerance and hatred in their hearts will always exist. People with evil in their souls will always stake claims over the lives of others. This is life. This is the life that we have created over thousands of years, the life that we have accepted, will continue to accept. 

Kindness and generosity should rule, but they do not. Empathy and tolerance should be the way of the world, but it is not. And so, in spite of my great desire—a desire that is shared all over the world—not to send sons and daughters, mother and fathers, brothers and sisters to war, we will continue to do so, and families will continue to receive heart-wrenching news from someone whose unenviable duty it is to carry this message to their doorsteps. 

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” ~ Black Elk

Pulitzer Prize-winning Image of CACO Major Steve Beck, 2005, by Todd Heisler of Rocky Mountain News

I must pause here to acknowledge the marine CACO (Casualty Assistance Call Officer). Notifying a military family of the death of a family member must take immeasurable strength and courage of a different kind. I know that these men and women undergo rigorous training for their jobs, which includes notification, family support and assistance, as well as escort. Being a CACO becomes the primary duty of the service man or woman, and it must be a job fraught with emotional turmoil. 

I don’t think that the memory of the marine’s face will ever completely fade from my memory. If I am to retain my humanity, I pray that it does not 

However, if I am to be completely honest, I must admit that something deep within me was incredibly thankful that Eamonn was with me; perhaps he, too, will remember that moment and understand it for what all that it was: the fragility of life, the real consequences of war, the need for compassion, the ineffable sadness of loss. 

Witness creates impression in a way that all of the words spoken cannot. A hard lesson for the holidays. 

“Namaste. I honour the place in you where the entire universe resides . . . a place of light, of love, of truth, of peace, of wisdom. I honour the place in you where when you are in that place and I am in that place there is only one of us.” ~ Mohandas K. Ghandi

 More later. Peace. 

“Happy Xmas (War is Over),” by John Lennon with incredible images. 

  

 

  

For more information about CACOs and their relationships with military families, see the excellent book Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives, by Jim Sheeler. Click here for The New York Times book review.