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Day whatever, Leogane, Haiti [Mar. 19th, 2010|06:43 pm]
The NGO I'm with is called Hands On Disaster Response, out of Massachusetts. HODR doesn't specifically recruit skilled volunteers, but some do come, attracted to the group's mission, culture, and lack of volunteer fee. Most of us, though, don't have any special skills. This makes for a really interesting mix of projects that we're involved in.

Most of the work is what we call “rubble,” which is demolishing mostly-collapsed houses and salvaging what we can, which is usually not much. This is pretty grueling work with sledgehammers, shovels, wheelbarrows, and large chunks of rubble in the 98 degree heat and 98 percent humidity. We have a good esprit de corps, and the home owners are always really grateful and happy we're there, which is nice. This work is the saddest. We drive through town to the home site, seeing the living conditions of Haitians close up, from the back of a pick up, or “tap-tap.” Then we deal with the worst, concrete effects of the earthquake in someone's home. We dig up, inevitably, their stuff; their kids' toys, their clothes, their plates. I keep thinking how hard it must be for them to see it all dug up and carried away. I don't like calling these types of jobs “rubble.” These sites aren't “rubble” to the people who lived there. It's their destroyed house.

I've had the chance to see some other projects, too. We are pretty heavily involved in the only hospital in Leogane, which is right next door. Some of our volunteers are medical professionals, and they're helping there in various ways, largely dealing with the rooms full of donated inventory, much of which was just piled up, unsorted, getting in the way of the Japanese Red Cross' x-ray machine, until an EMT on our crew organized it, with the help of folks like carpenters and me building shelves for her to put stuff on. Today I attended an orientation so I can be a runner at the hospital and put my “go fetch crap” skills to good use. The hospital is run by several different NGOs and staffed by doctors from all over the world volunteering for one week stints. I'm not sure how I feel about that. At least they're here, 'cause no one else is. The hospital is on the site of a Notre Dame University study of filiariasis, which causes elephantitis. Leogane is has the highest rates of filiariasis in the world, but they tell me it takes years of exposure to contract it.

HODR has a large, relatively well-equipped site in central Leogane, and it has become a focal point for several NGOs. World Food Programme build to large canvas-sided buildings, 100' by 30', in our back yard that we're leasing out to other groups as storage and staging space. We call it a “Joint Logistical Base,” which sounds better than “Shared Storage.” We're also housing structural engineers from the US doing assessments, and architects from the UK and Netherlands designing long-term housing, in part because our facility is pretty good. I'll say more about that in my next message.

A friend who worked with Burners Without Borders mused to me that a good model for an NGO would be a small core of internationals employing locals, which would do similar work to what we're doing while putting money into the economy. There are various reasons why this model isn't realized in more places. It certainly isn't how HODR does things (although we do employ some Haitians, and some who met the group at its project in Gonaive have even volunteered with us here), but I think HODR couldn't operate at all without a large flow of volunteers, and we do good work.

Take care. I'll report more in a few days.

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Day one, Seattle, WA, USA to Leogane, Haiti [Mar. 16th, 2010|07:56 pm]
Frankly, I'm shocked by what I'm seeing in Haiti, and I thought I'd prepared for it. The dive from Port-au-Prince to Leogane, about two hours to cover twenty miles. It is heartbreaking. An informal estimate is that 90% of the buildings in Leogane were destroyed or damaged in the quake, although engineers from the US are staying with my group, conducting more formal surveys. Rubble, half-fallen buildings, tent cities--some clean and official from UNICEF, Save the Children, or other aid groups, but most just corrugated tin, tarps, and salvaged scraps leaning together--are everywhere. A small one is right next to our base. I can tell that this was a terrifically poor country before the quake. There are few paved roads in town. Most public businesses are run out of homes. Trash is burned in the street. Open, fetid drainage ditches are everywhere. Stray animals roam. The destruction since the quake and its aftershocks, however, beggars description.

My series of flights was pretty tame, by the standards of international travel. Seattle to JFK to San Juan, Puerto Rico, which I've always been curious about, but I used my seven hour layover to try to sleep on the terminal floor, to Port-au-Prince via Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Notable events: The ticket agent in New York, when he saw that I was going to spend four months in Haiti, was very friendly, and got me an exit row seat and a free drink. From San Juan to Port-au-Prince, I was evidently flying with a general. Why he was flying commercial, I have no idea. He got to walk right past customs and immigration, but they weren't especially onerous in Haiti.

The immigration lines were in a warehouse in the process of being converted to an international terminal. Outside was a pretty familiar crowd of taxi drivers hustling for a ride that I've seen in a few developing countries. It was on the shuttle ride from the airport to here that I realized that what I was seeing was every negative, difficult, or repulsive thing I've ever seen in the third world in one place. I'm still processing it, as I only landed about eleven hours ago.

Still, holy crap the Haitians I've met have been friendly, happy, and welcoming. They sing while they work. They smile a lot, more at each other than at me, but still. Some people show signs of bad health--bad teeth, bad skin, badly healed wounds, but they don't seem to mind these, or even notice them. I'm dubious that international aid will be enough to even partially rebuild the destruction I've seen in one day (hey, can you spare a couple hundred excavators, backhoes, dump trucks, and bulldozers?) but my impression is that Haitians will, very, very slowly, rebuild. I know nothing though. I've only been here one day. I'll know very slightly more than nothing in four months.
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Haiti [Mar. 14th, 2010|11:17 am]
Is anyone reading this that's not also reading my facebook? I don't think so, but just in case, the news is that I'm going to Haiti, tomorrow, for four months, to volunteer for Hands On Disaster Response doing reconstruction work. What more is there to say, really?
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Patent absurdity [Feb. 17th, 2010|11:49 pm]
Yes, I wrote the post about my second day sailing last summer. No, I didn't post it. One, it's like nine pages long. Two, it's sorta stale now, given all that's happened since. Three, I was barely on LJ for most of this time. However, FB has pretty well driven me off with its new format and general un-customizability. I mean, why would I spend time on a social networking site that forces me to its irritating ways instead of the reverse?

Anyhow, this is much more interesting. Well, to me. Well, at least it's momentarily entertaining. There are numerous web sites that have detailed information and searchability for US patents. My grandpa, Leon Machlin, was a patent examiner. So, I thought to myself, wouldn't it be fun to search by examiner to see what he worked on? Uh, sort of. Some highlights from the 326 patents with grandpa's name on them on wikipatent:






Besides these, there are at least two automatic gutter cleaners, four magnetic tape head cleaners, three floor buffers, and ten windshield wiper variations or modifications.

What does a patent examiner do? He compares the application with existing patents and approves or denies it based on whether or not someone else already holds a patent on something that is substantially the same. Oh my god. This might be the worlds dullest job. By the time I was born, my grandpa just fished in the C&O canal, gardened, and spoiled his grandkids.
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Station break for Trenchmouth [Aug. 7th, 2009|10:05 am]
We interrupt our irregularly scheduled blogging to let you know that Trenchmouth's last show ever is tomorrow night at the Blarney Stone. The Blarney Stone pub is at 3rd and Stewart. The show starts at 9 and goes until we can't play any more. No cover.
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A sailing trip [Aug. 4th, 2009|11:21 am]
I stole a boat, Andrew's Renegade, named, aptly, Renegade, and sailed it around the San Juan islands for just under two weeks. It was beautiful, challenging, inspiring, frustrating, lonely, tiring, and wonderful. I kept a detailed log of each day. Well, the details in each log entry grew shorter and shorter as the trip wore on, but all the important ones made it in.

Day one: I got a late start. The boat sailed engineless for years, and actually is sort of the unofficial flagship of The Oar Club, an engineless boat club with some very passionate members. Despite that, Andrew told me, "You might want to borrow an outboard from someone," so I borrowed it from his dad and spent much of the morning testing and tinkering with it. Once I got to the boat, in one of those distant slips at Squalicum Harbor that's way out by the north breakwater, there was still lots of set up to do. Her sails were stuffed on the starboard setee below, so I took fifteen or twenty minutes to figure out the rig and bend those on. The outboard had to be muscled onto its bracket. All my gear, tools, clothes, bedding, fiddle, camera, jugs of water, and many bags of groceries had to be stowed, but I was too impatient to do a real sea-stow. I just stuck them in the v-berth or on the cabin sole. You know that feeling you're forgetting something important? I had that feeling all day, but I figured I'd improvise whatever I needed, or do without.

The rest of day oneCollapse )
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Iran paranoia [Jun. 21st, 2009|03:37 am]
I know little about Iran, and less about current events there, even after reading the news on it. I'm willing to believe the following, even though I haven't witnessed them myself:

1: There is a country called Iran, in roughly the place it's seen on maps.

2: The people there are majority Shi'a Muslims and are Persian, not Arab.

3: In 1979, a government led by the Shah was deposed somehow and an Islamic theocracy took its place.

4: The current government of Iran is very complex, with multiple vertical and horizontal channels of power. It is very roughly and non-discretely divided into sacred and secular branches, of which the sacred branch wields more power. Actually, I'm not sure about that last clause.

5: Iran recently held an election, the results of which have been contested.

6: Some amount of public protests have occurred regarding the results of the recent election.

I just have a hard time buying the story that the media is reporting, i.e., that the government skewed the results of this election in its favor, then people rioted, and now there are violent government crackdowns, is so convenient. It fits in so well with a continuing story building the US towards war with Iran that it just seems false. When I heard the election and protests in Iran compared to Tiananmen Square, it just seemed like a cheap use of a cultural signifier of evil, oppressive government, which could be another bullet point in the case for war. One thing I don't know but have heard repeatedly is that the Iranian populace doesn't love the government, but wasn't so discontent that they'd violently oppose it. This, if true, contradicts the story the news is reporting, if true.

I guess all I'm saying is, don't believe everything you hear, and think about the context such stories are in.
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Nothing smells like a fo'c'sle. [Jun. 14th, 2009|10:49 pm]
You don't hear this much, but I love the smell of a boat -- damp, close, a little mildewy. It smells like home. I'm glad to be on one again. I'm glad to have private time again. I'm glad I can pirate internet on this one. Now, if only this boat could be sailed. Sadly, it doesn't have a tiller or a bowsprit, so it's just a bunker tied to the dock for now.
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Red Over Red [Apr. 23rd, 2009|03:06 pm]
"Red Over Red", Trenchmouth's first album, is finally here! 17 tracks of awesome for the low price of ten bucks. A couple of tracks are up at our myspace, our Reverb Nation page, or this review on a great music blog, Before You Listen. You can get your copy from myself, Jeremiah, Zac, or JennyBanks.

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Saint Patrick's day [Mar. 13th, 2009|11:04 pm]
Is this really Trenchmouth's fourth St. Patrick's day? Our first show was St. Patrick's day, 2006, in the tiny upper room of the Hazelwood in Ballard, when the staff asked everyone to please stop stomping on the floor so hard the bottles fell off the shelves. Good times.

This Tuesday, March 17th, we've got two big shows, with lots of room and plenty of Jameson's. For you early risers, we're playing at the Blarney Stone Irish Pub in Belltown, on Third and Stewart, starting at 2 pm. Then, we're dinner music at Mulleady's, at 21st and Dravus in Magnolia, from 5:30 until 9:00. The show at Mulleady's is all-ages, and both are free!

In other, really big news, we just recorded a whole album in one weekend! Go to our myspace to listen to samples. There are some old favorites there, plus a lot more (seventeen tracks!) on our first album, "Red Over Red".

Thanks for being fans, and we'll see you next Tuesday!
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