Month: December 2014

Tibetan carpet weaver, Darjeeling, India

When I visited the Indian hill station city of Darjeeling in 1989, I met many Tibetan refugees, who had made their home there, preserving their culture in exile from Chinese-occupied Tibet. You can see more photos I took on my India gallery. (Click on the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

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Bethlehem, how it looked about 2,004 years later

I visited Israel and the Occupied Territories in February 2004. It was a tense time. There was a terrorist bombing in the Jewish area of Jerusalem, and the Al-Aqsa Intifada was taking place.

Bethlehem, the purported birthplace of Christendom’s name-sake savior, Jesus of Nazareth, was under lock down. I had to walk through the Israeli security perimeter, and there was almost no traffic getting in or out. Security forces almost prevented me from reentering back into Jerusalem.

Tourists were no where to be seen. Tourism businesses were shuttered. A pervasive gloom prevailed. Merchants were pleading with me to buy something, anything, when I came to see the supposed birthplace of Jesus, which is located in a grotto beneath the Church of the Nativity. Trash was everywhere, as the Palestinian Authority had no money or capacity to pick up the garbage. So this is what it looked like on my visit to the holy city we all sing about in carols around the world.

Today, Bethlehem and the West Bank remains isolated by the security perimeter, and tourism that supports many in Bethlehem is still suffering as a result of the last war in Gaza. All is not well in the Holy Land this Christmas season, again.

Here, kitty kitty … here, kitty kitty

This is an oldie, dating my from trip to Africa in 1997. I took this picture inside of the magnificent Serengeti National Park, in Tanzania. What you don’t see are the four other jeeps filled with Wazungus like me clicking away and gawking. Seeing them lick their paws makes you realize that a cat is a cat, and were your household cat any bigger, you might be fair game for a meal too. Maybe. (Click on the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Belmont Street, old meets new and with a bit of art thrown in

Belmont Street is one of those quintessential streets in Portland that fuses “weird Portland” and gentrifying Portland. Off the main drag one can find the old Portland wooden Victorian homes, painted in lovely colors. Sunnyside Plaza is quite boisterous, with an entire intersection painted, and I would like to see more of this. The upscale food store Zupan’s has an entire city block of Belmont, surrounded by businesses like the Anasasi Beat African drum and crafts store and Stumptown Roasters coffee shop. (Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

What half-million dollar and more Sellwood homes look like

I live in the Sellwood neighborhood of Portland. It is a lovely, walkable area. There are cool little cafes, a nice bakery where I buy fresh bread, a wine bar, an Italian restaurant, several Asian-themed restaurants, an art space, yoga studios, a library, a high-end grocery store, a spice shop, a tea shop, a bike shope, and more. And this is all within seven blocks. I live within a half mile of two nice parks, too. So you bet that walkability score is going through the roof. And with that, and nice old homes, comes hefty home prices. I did a quick scan on Zillow, and houses near me, not much different than the two smaller ones you see here, range from $500,000 to $800,000. These larger homes I have captured too would be well over $1 million.

One reason I left Seattle was because of out of control price escalation and the influx of flippers who had in several years literally priced out anyone lower class from my old neighborhood. Guess I have landed in the middle of that again in Portland. (Read and listen to this nice story by Marketplace on gentrification.) The problem is, I like walkable neighborhoods. I just will not ever be able to afford a home in one. So, I continue to rent, which is my choice, and I’m fine with that.

Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.

Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, Portland

Oaks Bottom Widlife Refuge is a beautiful wetlands and nature preserve near my house, along the Willamette River in Southeast Portland. I cannot believe I live so close to it. Coyotes hang out here, and signs are up warning people their cats will be coyote nibblins if they do not pay attention and bring them indoors. People live down here too in tents. Next time I publish pictures of this place I will show you what it looks like up close, perhaps with the many resident waterfowl.

Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.

Sellwood Park, that one with enormous Douglas firs

I live a short walk from beautiful Sellwood Park. It has a grove of Douglas firs that stand like large creatures, towering over picnic tables, a mowed law, and a concession stand that is slowly going ot seed. It’s a real nice place, right above the Willamette River. I cannot wait to go swimming here at the pool here, outdoors, on a hot day. In fact I dream of doing laps in an outdoor pool.

Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.

A few more churches, it is Sunday afterall

While exploring a part of Northeast Portland, i spotted two churches that needed some photographic attention. The light was just setting as I pulled up to St. Stephen’s Catholic Church on a cold day last weekend, and then minutes later, the sun dipped, and the entire look and feel of the church changed.

Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.

Black and white in black and white, 25th University City High School reunion

I attended University City High School from 1980 through 1983. There is so much I can say about it, and I already have on a couple of posts about the value of public education and the importance of learning from adversity.

I cannot say it was a golden period of my life. In many ways, it challenged me and I could not wait to get away from the St. Louis area as soon as I could. However, the best part of that period of my life, through my graduation, was learning how to confront and respond to aspects of race relations that impact our country, but really most of the world. I do not claim I am a better person. I just think I have a more nuanced view and can appreciate different perspectives better because of this experience. And trust me, I have some perspectives that do not fit traditional narratives, but make sense for me. My later photo-documentary projects were very much inspired by going to a place like University City High School.

I have been thinking about University City lately in light of recent events. For the past two years, the country has been roiled with the latest chapters in our race-related debates over criminal justice, policing, immigration reform, and firerms-related violence.

The most prominent stories focussing on the black-and-white dimensions have come to a boil over the recent grand jury decision in St. Louis County not to indict Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson, Mo., police officer, for shooting an unarmed African American man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson this summer; the exonneration of Latino George Zimmerman (often mistakenly called white throughout the proceedings) for the 2012 shooting death of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin in a Florida suburb over a “stand your ground” case; and this week the failure by a New York City grand jury to indict white police officer Daniel Pantaleo over the choke hold death of 43-year-old Eric Garner in July 2014.

Dr. Martin Luther King once reportedly said Sunday morning was the most segregated time in America. I personally think the more hours you spend with people who have a different set of experiences than you, the wiser and more thoughtful you will be. I have pretty much thought that since I left University City. My hope is that there can be individual efforts by ordinary people in their own way to get to know each other better, while working on bigger problems that continue to impact communities everywhere in this country.

(Click on the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Providence Portland, a gilded palace of American high-cost health care

The United States, according to extensive research, has among the most expensive health care costs in the world, yet our national public health rankings on everything from life longevity to maternal health outcomes to access to oral health, continually fall far behind our developed country neighbors. The United States offers a hybrid approach, including a bizarre, monopolistic, and hybrid non-market health care system that provides products and services (“health care”) without allowing consumers to know the price of a service or product before they make a purchase.

This is a result of more than a century of battles to block the country from adopting universal health care models now used by Canada, England, France, Australia, and Scandinavian Countries, among other developed nations.

One has to look no further than major medical centers in your community to identify some of the major culprits behind the unsustainable growth of health care costs.

In my home city, Portland, one of the major gilded palaces is Providence Portland Medical Center. The Catholic-run system operates in six states and is among the country’s largest non-profits. For its Oregon operations in 2011, the system reported a hefty $2.44 billion in revenue, up 7.4 percent from a year before, according to the respected health care newsletter the Lund Report. The Lund Report noted that profits reached $1.98 billion in 2011 for Oregon operations, up 8.1 percent year-over-year.

Remember, this is a not-for-profit system, and offers what is called “charity care.” Some communities like Tacoma, Wash., in 2012, have stripped some tax exemptions of these so-called non-profits by claiming these health providers acted as for-profit companies while also benefiting from tax exemptions.

Here is another fact to keep in mind. According to the Lund Report, in 2011, Gregory Van Pelt, CEO of Providence Oregon, had a total compensation package of $4.26 million.

Meanwhile, millions of Americans still cannot access basic care. According to a study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation in October 2014, the cost of health care and the reliance on insurance-based care tied to jobs prevent Americans from getting health care.

The foundation notes: “The high cost of insurance has been the main reason why people go without coverage. In 2013, 61% of uninsured adults said the main reason they were uninsured was because the cost was too high or because they had lost their job. Many people do not have access to coverage through a job, and gaps in eligibility for public coverage in the past have left many without an affordable option.”