Friday Random Ten--"I'm Spending My Weekend Grading Essays" Edition

Not that the songs will have any grading significance--that's just what I'll be doing this weekend.

1. Bad Liver and a Broken Heart--Tom Waits
2. When You've Got a Good Friend--Robert Johnson
3. Bad Habit--Dresden Dolls
4. Steppin' Out--Cream
5. I Love L.A.--Randy Newman
6. Tangerine--Big Head Todd and the Monsters
7. Stand--Blues Traveler
8. All the Umbrellas in London--Magnetic Fields
9. Kiss Them for Me--Siouxsie and the Banshees
10. Heated Pool and Bar--John Vanderslice

Meanwhile, Amanda is worried that since the retards over at the National Review Online have started talking about what's on their i-Tunes, that we could be hearing the death knell for Friday Random Ten. Screw that. I like trolling around on Fridays and discovering bands I've never heard of before, and mocking, either openly or quietly, people who admit to having listened to "Rhythm is a Dancer" 477 times. That may be the only time I ever link to the Corner.

Thursday night poetry
What the hell--a new meme or something. This one is from an old teacher's new book. Michael Heffernan was one of my teachers at Arkansas, and is one of the many great under-known poets around. His most recent book just came out--The Night Breeze Off the Ocean from EWU Press--and as soon as I'm done with it, I'll do a review of sorts for the site here and potentially for publication somewhere.


Not only are they closer than they appear,
the objects in the mirror are darker, lonelier,
than even the rainspots on the glass can make them seem.
Some of them are crueler, some are happier,
a great many are more comfortable, others are rockier
as they head up the road. If I were one of them,
if I were driving behind you, for instance,
and you were looking in your sideview mirror
preparing to push my 24 valves to the max
and stuff your law-abiding 4-door in my rearview mirror
and drop you out of sight, what would you make of me?
One of the forces of darkness ready to tear
oblivion in two? or a sunshine patriot taking the high way
to a bright tomorrow swallowing us both?
The physics of the thing suggests a vanishing point
at which the glass looks back toward an empty road
where the objects are either too close or too far.
Nothing is left of you and nothing is left of me.
We keep each other in each other's mirrors.
We find each other closer than we appear.

Michael's poems have always been haunting, and the ones I've read from this book are no exception. The first few are carefully crafted sonnets that don't strike you as formal right off the bat--the lines are cleverly enjambed, the rhymes aren't harsh, and the tone is a bit prosaic. For instance, here are the first 3+ lines from the first poem in the book, entitled "Jasmine."
Tragedy's where we live and what we are,
beings like us, she said, not just us two.
I noticed jasmine spilling into the air
from the next world.

It's beautiful so far, and I'm looking forward to reading more and doing a more complete review of the book. Pick it up.

A fascinating ad image

I try to stay away from ads as much as possible--I don't like being sold stuff. My aversion to being sold on things dates back, at least as far as I can remember for this off-the-cuff blog post, to the six weeks I tried to sell cars for a living, around 1995 as far as I can recall. As you might imagine, I've tried hard to blot that horrifying six weeks from my memory.

It's the pressure exerted on us as consumers to buy, buy, buy that bugs me, so rather than fight off the pressure, I generally try to slough it off whenever possible. I don't watch tv much, I have a very effective pop-up blocker (thanks, Firefox!), I listen to cds in the car, and I don't buy many magazines.

But I'm teaching an essay by Susan Bordo titled Beauty (Re)discovers the Male Body in my Composition classes right now, and she deals with sexuality in advertising almost exclusively in her piece, so as an exercise, I had my students bring in ads they thought were geared to appeal to stereotypical heterosexual male sexuality and toward female and/or gay male sexuality.

Many of the images were what you would expect--cologne and perfume ads, a lot of Calvin Klein underwear models, one brash guy brought in a vibrator ad. The most disturbing one was an ad for Skyy Vodka--you saw a man only from the hips down, his hands near his crotch, two martini glasses in one hand and a bottle of Skyy in the other, straddling a woman lying face up, head toward the reader. All you see of her is her blonde hair, her sunglasses, her tits encased in a bikini top, and the tips of her toes. Male dominance personified.

And then there was this picture, a two page spread ripped in half, so I didn't know how the characters were spaced until I looked it up online this afternoon.

It's also a vodka ad, but in this one, the males are decidedly not the focal point. One is background staring at a new holographic Statue of Liberty (complete with pasties), another is dancing alone, a flag in his hand, a third mixing himself a drink, and a fourth--the most gay looking of the bunch with his Speedo-like shorts and fur boots--dancing with a woman, but they might as well be dancing alone for as much as they're into each other. The scantily clad women might be there as eye-candy for men, I suppose, were it not for the dominant pair right in the middle of the scene--a dark woman, brown hair, not voluptuous, but certainly not a ripped hardbody, in a fur string bikini, walking toward the viewer hand in hand with a very feminine and very dominant robot. The robot has prominent but not oversized breasts, and the same for her hips, complete with what could be her own french cut bikini bottoms. She's hairless, and her face is flawless, gorgeous, and she's so tall!

She dominates the scene, as she should, for she's the spokesbeing for the product, but by this point, I'm so engrossed in the images that I'd consider buying the vodka just for the sizzle, which, when you think about it, is the only real defining factor vodka should have--lacking any foreign additive, vodka is flavorless fire.

Of course, I won't buy it simply for that. I'm not a big vodka drinker to begin with, and I resist the impulse to buy simply based on advertising pretty well. But ads can and do turn me off of products very effectively, so while the Svedka ad might not get me to buy Svedka vodka, the Skyy ad has definitely turned me off of their product.

Navel gazing time

I think it's time for this blog to undergo a transformation of sorts. On Friday, I was at the faculty assembly, and my new boss, the head of my department, introduced me, Amy, and another new faculty member to the other heads of the departments and new hires and others attending the assembly. When he did so, he mentioned that I had come to Boca by way of Stanford where I'd been a Stegner Fellow.

Now, I've always known that the Stegner was a big deal inside the world of Creative Writing, but the looks on more than one face when my boss said those words showed me that it's a bigger deal than I'd ever imagined outside that rarefied area.

That's not the only reason for the change, however. Frankly, writing about politics in the way I do is difficult, because so much is already said by people with larger audiences that I will ever have or would ever hope to have for that matter. Most of what I do these days is pick around the edges, express a little outrage at an under-covered story, and make some snarky remarks in the meantime. I still plan to do that at times, but not as often.

I hope to fill the intervening space with more talk about writing, about the current state of poetry, what I'm reading, short reviews, examples of what I think is good poetry being published today, and short essays on other issues I've been thinking about lately like the use of a voice other than the poet's as a substitute for moral authority, or the effect of the internet on the way a new generation perceives art, and the implications on the way we look at reproductions of pieces of art as a result.

I hope I don't send those few of you who drop by running away screaming at that--those kinds of pieces take time and won't be popping up quickly or often--but they will be popping up from time to time, and while I'll always be a political junkie, I imagine most of the writing I do on that will be on other's sites in the comments sections.

Chinese Salute Clinton and Lewinsky, and Today's Random Ten

From the Sun Sentinel

BEIJING -- A rubber company in China has begun marketing condoms under the brand names Clinton and Lewinsky, apparently seeking to exploit the White House affair that led to the impeachment of America's 42nd president.

Spokesman Liu Wenhua of the Guangzhou Rubber Group said the company was handing out 100,000 free Clinton and Lewinsky condoms as part of a promotion to raise consumer awareness of its new products....

"The names we chose are symbols of people who are responsible and dedicated to their jobs," he said.

I doubt Bush will ever have a condom named after him, even though he's spent a lot of his life as a dick.

And today's random ten:
1. Cold Blooded Old Times--Smog
2. Inner City Blues--Marvin Gaye
3. Stop Breakin Down Blues--Robert Johnson
4. Dunmore Lassies--The Chieftains and Ry Cooder
5. A Movie Script Ending--Death Cab for Cutie
6. Don't Let It Bring You Down--Annie Lennox
7. Wonderwall--Oasis
8. Sexual Healing--Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals
9. Write Me Back Fucker--Sleater-Kinney
10. Ain't Life Grand--Widespread Panic

I can honestly say I don't recognize two of those songs, but you have to figure out which two. Or not.

Jack Cafferty = Howard Beale?

I mean, without the insanity. You be the judge.

Has he [Tom DeLay] been indicted yet?

She'll probably come to the conclusion that there was no hurricane.

I know I've heard about other clips in recent weeks, but these are the two most recent ones from Crooks and Liars. Cafferty has always been somewhat of a curmudgeon, but ever since he's been on The Situation Room, he's been ripping and roaring. I hope he keeps it up.

You know--this could work.
I can't imagine anything that would cause me to fall into paroxysms of laughter, thereby making me utterly unable to have sex successfully, more quickly than looking down at a woman's specialnaughtyplace and seeing that. I might not be able to achieve an erection for weeks.

The text, in case you can't read it, says "Please don't forsake the baby Jesus."

Does this really surprise anyone?

From TVNewser:

Thursday Ratings: Presidential Address
Presidential address:

FNC: 3,959,000 (9:02 to 9:25pm)

CNN: 2,261,000 (9:00 to 9:24pm)

MSNBC: 614,000 (9:00 to 9:25pm)


FNC: 4,021,000 (9:15 to 9:30pm)

CNN: 2,414,000 (9:15 to 9:30pm)

MSNBC: 1,028,000 (9:30 to 9:45pm)

9pm hour: (P2+ / 25-54)

FNC: 3,688,000 / 1,115,000

CNN: 1,977,000 / 624,000

MSNBC: 798,000 / 356,000

> Between 9 and 9:30pm, FNC had more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined, Multichannel News notes.

Frankly, I'm surprised that the divide isn't higher, given that Fox News is a propaganda arm for the Republican party. Who thought Bush was going to say anything of any substance in that speech? His supporters (many of whom, by the way, were disappointed by the promises he made), who watch Fox News overwhelmingly.

Friday Random Ten

So I finally came to grips with the fact that I have a caffeine addiction today--and now I plan to revel in it. Here's the random ten:

1. Try a Little Tenderness--Al Green
2. You Shook Me All Night Long--AC/DC
3. Sign of the Blues--Tinsley Ellis
4. I Wish I Was in New Orleans--Tom Waits
5. Goin' Down South--R. L. Burnside
6. Positively Fourth Street--Bob Dylan
7. The Nazz--Lord Buckley
8. Faded/Whole Lotta Love--Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals
9. Do the Vampire--Superdrag
10. The G-Sharp Scale for flute--Monkey

I'm hearing the last one live. It's a little muffled through the wall, but it's still a lot of fun.

Roberts answers and I don't care.

Or maybe he doesn't answer--I haven't been following it all that closely, which is strange because I'm a bit of a SCOTUS junkie.

Okay, perhaps that's a bit too strong. I do care that this guy is slippery and that he's probably going to try to rip the guts out of the New Deal and the right to privacy. But his testimony? I can't really bring myself to care.


Because nothing is stopping him from pulling a Clarence Thomas and lying his ass off about how he feels about certain cases. He could say that he'd expand abortion rights and overturn Bush v Gore and it wouldn't matter, because the second he's on that court, he's there until he decides not to be, and he can always say "whup! changed my mind on that one" and we're all screwed. It's all a big dog and pony show, folks.

I work in the coolest place.

When I walk to the car after teaching, I go right past an artificial pond, and not a day goes by without seeing a great heron or two, or a flock of white ibis, or a three-foot iguana, and sometimes all of them at the same time.

A New FEMA Boss--Oh Joy.

When I heard this on the radio on my way home today, and I heard his qualifications--he ran fire operations for Miami-Dade county--I thought "Wow--did Bush actually hire someone qualified?" Well, maybe he did, but before we get too excited, Olbermann tells us exactly who this guy is.

David Paulison, then the government's Fire Administrator, joined with the then-head of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, on February 10th, 2003, to say that duct tape and plastic sheeting should be part of any home's "survival kit" in preparation for a terrorist attack.

That's our new FEMA director. He's also the guy who said, in February 2003, that in the first 48 to 72 hours of an emergency, many Americans would likely have to look after themselves.

Well, if he cuts the response time for the feds from five days to three, then maybe he'll be considered competent. By this administration's standards, that's not difficult to do.

Gatemouth Brown dead at 81

When I first started really getting into the blues about 7 years ago, during the heady, early days of Napster, I came across Gatemouth Brown and immediately fell in love. His guitar style was just different from the other people I was downloading--Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Son House, just to name a few. "C-Jam Blues" is still one of my favorite tracks to just kick back and listen to.

So I was saddened today when I read the news today that Gatemouth Brown had escaped Hurricane Katrina only to die in his hometown of Orange, Texas.

I never had the chance to see him perform live--the closest I ever got was seeing a sign while driving through Memphis on my way back to Louisiana that he'd be performing that night on Beale Street, and let me tell you--I was tempted to stop and check out the show.

McCain Breaks His Own Law

Found this on a diary over at Kos:

As they say, ignorance of the law is no excuse. Especially if you wrote the law.

Last week Sen. John McCain cut a TV ad endorsing an opponent to John Campbell, the Club for Growth PAC's endorsed candidate in the California special congressional election to replace Chris Cox.

As reported by the Orange County Register, "One thing the first airings of the ad did not include: [House Candidate Marilyn] Brewer does not state that she approved the ad. That's now required by law. Specifically, the law co-sponsored by McCain himself."

And recently PoliticalMoneyLine reported that "Talk of 2008 - Sen. John McCain's Straight Talk America" registered again as a federal PAC...The phone number on their form is also listed as the fax number on the website of the Reform Institute, a 501c3 organization supporting McCain's goals." The IRS has a strict prohibition against 501c3 organizations conducting political activity.

We're waiting for the so-called reformers to file a complaint...or McCain to turn himself in.

The second one bothers me way more than the first--McCain probably didn't have anything to do with the final cut of the commercial and certainly can't be held responsible for the shortcomings of the candidate and her staff.

But the ties between the 510c3 group and the poorly named Straight Talk America look pretty clear to me, and that's a straight-up violation. If memory serves, Ralph Nader was properly hammered for some similar shenanigans in his run last year. That this is McCain who has this (undeserved) rep as a straight shooter and reformer doing this makes the violation that much more egregious in my eyes.

Police Begin Seizing Guns of Poor Civilians

That's how the title of this NY Times article ought to read. Now, you have to go to page two to find the relevant paragraphs, but they're the ones that point out to me just how deeply the class and race divide goes in this country.

Mr. Compass, the police superintendent, said that after a week of near anarchy in the city, no civilians in New Orleans will be allowed to carry pistols, shotguns, or other firearms of any kind. "Only law enforcement are allowed to have weapons," he said.

That order apparently does not apply to the hundreds of security guards whom businesses and some wealthy individuals have hired to protect their property. The guards, who are civilians working for private security firms like Blackwater, are openly carrying M-16s and other assault rifles.

Mr. Compass said that he was aware of the private guards but that the police had no plans to make them give up their weapons.

It really is that simple, I guess--if you're rich enough to hire someone to carry a gun, you get to protect yourself, but if you're not, then you're dogmeat.

I haven't looked around on the NRA side of the web today, but I wonder where they're coming down on this issue?

Friday Random Ten, Monkey's Arrival Edition

Here we go!

1. Hoochie Coochie Man--Willie Dixon
2. Let Me Clear My Throat--DJ Kool
3. Rabbit Brown--Mississippi John Hurt
4. Italian Leather Sofa--Cake
5. Last Fair Deal Gone Down--Robert Johnson
6. Just a Friend--Biz Markie
7. Burgundy Street Blues--Preservation Hall Jazz Band (pronounced bur-GUN-dee, if you're from New Orleans)
8. Almost Cut My Hair--Govt. Mule
9. Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore--John Prine
10. The I-95 Song--Jimmy Buffett

Yay! I'm not completely ashamed, and Biz Markie actually makes two appearances, because he's on that DJ Kool track as well. I guess I shouldn't be proud of that.

Of course, this pic ain't bad either.

Monkey flies in tomorrow afternoon, and she'll be with us for the next year at least. Hopefully she won't always be this grumpy. Hee Hee.

Kos is right

This is the best picture ever.

He said we could hotlink it, but I wanted a copy all to myself.

A Poem from Amy to my daughter and my city.

The Biggest Jazz Funeral In History

for B. Alayne Spears
who spent her 15th birthday salvaging her clothes

We will learn to swim before we will abandon
our homes. We will get sick,
but not succumb. We will march on.
The biggest jazz funeral in history will parade,
umbrellas thrust in the air to defy
the rain -- Once again,
we will be let in on the joke,
offered a smoke, or toke, or that eye
shot and knowing that says, "you and me,
we are one, high and dry." I don't need
to know History. I don't need
to know Art. What I've got
goes to your heart, the percussion of your heat:
it's you who needs. Me, we --
we'll march on to the mudbug feast
like Big Chief; we'll eat
immortality, and we're hungry: hear
the trombones sass the cornets: "we
is always first to be fed," -- "sure, by your mama,"
and the dead bury the dead.

Amy Letter, Sept. 2005

Stick with the desert, Kyl.

In his latest attempt to prove that he is indeed the wingnuttiest of the wingnutty Senators from the Republican party (although Rick Santorum still has a commanding lead), Arizona Senator John Kyl came up with this gem on Sunday.

...the question is if people know year after year after year a natural disaster occurs in a particular place and people continue to build there and want to live there, should they bear the responsibility of buying insurance or should everyone else bear the responsibility?”

The only way this even begins to make sense is if you consider the eastern coastline of the US south of, say, Virginia all the way to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico all the way to the tip of Texas to be one contiguous area and define that as "a particular place" where natural disasters happen year after year. This comment is especially ludicrous as concerns New Orleans.

I can't be the only one who remembers all the pre-hurricane coverage noting that New Orleans hadn't had a major hurricane hit since Camille in 1969, which was 36 years ago. New Orleans had scares, to be sure, but the storms always seemed to veer off at the last moment to the east or west. So let's just stop it with the "year after year" garbage.

As far as the idea of insurance is concerned, look at the numbers. When you're impoverished and your choices are whether or not you eat or you insure your few crappy belongings that sit in your rental house, the choice is clear. I'm pretty sure John Kyl has bever had to make that kind of choice, but I have. Asking these people to take out insurance is insane.

Let's address the hypocrisy in this statement as well. It's easy to talk smack about personal responsibility when the vast majority of the displaced people being shown on tv are 1) poor, 2) black, and 3) don't vote for your party. Where were the calls for personal responsibility last year in Florida when they were ravaged by 4 hurricanes? FEMA couldn't hand out checks fast enough. They were handing out checks so quickly that they disbursed over $30 million to people who were nowhere near the storms. Could it have something to do with the fact that it was a Presidential election year and the Republicans were looking to pick up a Senator's seat as well?

Give me a break. The reason these idiots are so willing to talk smack right now is because it doesn't cost them anything to do so. Poor black people are easy to beat up on, after all. The Republican party's been doing it for nearly 50 years now.

UPDATE: Looks like Kyl's a hypocrite on a personal level as well. Seems he was all about federal assistance for his constituents who lost their homes to forest fires, which, as we all know, are a yearly hazard. Hat tip to Crooks and Liars.

Stephen Elliott and Geraldo!

I got to know Stephen when I lived in San Francisco and was at Stanford. In fact, I did a reading with him which was televised on C-SPAN's BookTV a number of times. (You can buy the dvd here but you've got to hunt for it.)

Anyway, Stephen is reporting on the katrina aftermath for Salon, and while I was browsing today, I came across this little anecdote. Geraldo Rivera got a lot of applause from the left blogosphere the other day for his impassioned reporting from New Orleans, as did Shepard Smith. Now I don't know if Smith was putting on an act, but according to Stephen, Geraldo sure as hell was.

Geraldo Rivera arrives in a Fox News truck. An elderly woman with blond hair grips his elbow. She's wearing thick dark glasses and a pink shirt. He carries her small white dog in his arms. He's wearing thigh-high waders unzipped to below his knees. We shake hands. "Her relative called one of our stations," Geraldo tells me, explaining how that call went to another station, and then another, and finally to him.

The woman had been stranded in her home for six days. Geraldo picked up the woman and her dog and brought them here. The woman looks frail on his arm, though not as bad perhaps as a lady collapsed on a chair nearby, unable to move. Or a woman in a wheelchair being lifted from the truck, carrying her prosthetic leg on her lap.

"That's the second time he brought her here," one of the doctors tells me, nodding toward Geraldo.


"They did two takes. Geraldo made that poor woman walk from the Fox News van to the heliport twice. Both times carrying her dog."

"Are you serious?" I ask. He says he is.

Here's the hero in action.

I should have known better.

An Open Letter to Michael Brown, FEMA Director and Michael Chertoff, DHS Secretary

It's okay to admit that you're in over your head, that you weren't prepared for the vast devastation that came along with Hurricane Katrina. You had no way of knowing that your lack of expertise would cost thousands of people their lives--it was just another political favor being tossed your way, not a position of responsibility that would affect millions of people devastated by this storm.

Except that it's not okay.

Your combined ineptitude has destroyed countless lives. The fact that the two of you continue to draw a federal paycheck after your recent performance is a slap in the face to every person who has suffered a loss, to every person in a shelter, to every person living in a dome or a basketball arena with no real idea of when they'll get back home, or even if they have a home to return to. And to make matters worse, you and your boss and his underlings tried to slime the local authorities, to claim that they had not asked for help, to claim that you had no way of knowing that people were starving and dehydrated when it was the top story on every newscast, even on the Republican propaganda organ known as Fox News.

There's no way to make it better for those who have suffered losses, but there is something you can do for those of us who may yet find ourselves at your mercy.

Fall on your swords.

Not literally, mind you. Resign, but before you go, do some housecleaning. Realize the error of your ways and fire every other political appointee in any position of responsibility. Fire them all until you get to the career bureaucrat level and then resign. Let the pros handle it from now on.

And then get your ass to the Gulf Coast and start handing out bottles of water and shoveling shit out of peoples' houses.

That won't make it right, but it'll be a start.

New Orleans to Bush: You're a Lying Sack

From today's Times-Picayune:

We heard you loud and clear Friday when you visited our devastated city and the Gulf Coast and said, "What is not working, we’re going to make it right."

Please forgive us if we wait to see proof of your promise before believing you. But we have good reason for our skepticism.

Bienville built New Orleans where he built it for one main reason: It’s accessible. The city between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain was easy to reach in 1718.

How much easier it is to access in 2005 now that there are interstates and bridges, airports and helipads, cruise ships, barges, buses and diesel-powered trucks.

Despite the city’s multiple points of entry, our nation’s bureaucrats spent days after last week’s hurricane wringing their hands, lamenting the fact that they could neither rescue the city’s stranded victims nor bring them food, water and medical supplies.

Meanwhile there were journalists, including some who work for The Times-Picayune, going in and out of the city via the Crescent City Connection. On Thursday morning, that crew saw a caravan of 13 Wal-Mart tractor trailers headed into town to bring food, water and supplies to a dying city.

Television reporters were doing live reports from downtown New Orleans streets. Harry Connick Jr. brought in some aid Thursday, and his efforts were the focus of a "Today" show story Friday morning.

Yet, the people trained to protect our nation, the people whose job it is to quickly bring in aid were absent. Those who should have been deploying troops were singing a sad song about how our city was impossible to reach.

Meanwhile over at Americablog, Rob in Maryland has an excellent idea. Since prettymuch every person Bush has tapped for a job has turned out to be completely and hopelessly inept, the Senate ought to present him with a list of acceptable Supreme Court nominees and tell him that if he doesn't pick one of them, they won't approve anyone.

By the way, for the full range of Katrina ineptitude all in one place, Americablog is kicking everyone else's ass.

How Katrina has destroyed the "small government is good" myth.

(Not a real sign.)

Imagine, for a moment, that the federal government's response to Katina, meager as it has been thus far, didn't exist whatsoever, that public aid had been solely the purview of private charitable organizations and the free market. How much more horrific would the death and destruction have been?

It's time for small government advocates to face up to a harsh reality--there are a number of actions that the free market or charitable organizations either can't or won't handle. You can't expect the ICRC to invest money in C-130 planes to do food drops or 5-ton trucks to get into storm zones or paramilitary outfits to provide security so a place where even the most basic services don't exist doesn't descend rapidly into anarchy. You can't expect the Catholic Church to do that either, and if you think Halliburton would put assets into place based on what they thought they could charge the area residents, then you're dreaming, even if you assume they had the capability to respond.

I think government's most basic duty is to oversee those situations that individuals cannot handle, whether that's road construction or the stabilization of society or hurricane relief or national security, and it ought to oversee those situations with no regard as to the financial standing of its citizens. Now, that's a bit of a naive view, because class always comes into play, as we've seen in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, but the basic assumption is true, I think, and what we've seen here is a perfect example of why government has to be large.

It has to be large because it's the only entity that is supposed to be responsible for everyone. I expect the Catholic Church to be concerned first and foremost with their congregations, even though I appreciate it when they open their doors to everyone. I expect private companies to be concerned only with those people who pay their fees--I don't like it, but I expect it.

But government, our government, is ostensibly "of the people, by the people and for the people," and if it's going to live up to that ideal, then it's got to be big, because there's a lot of people in this country who have the right to depend on it, especially when the world goes to shit around them. It's a right, because it's our government--we pay for it, we abide by its rules, we give up freedoms in exchange for the security and stability it provides for us. In return, it has to be big enough to provide that stability and security.

Size isn't everything, I know. The former Soviet Union had a massive and sprawling government and it was just as inefficient and incompetent in responding to natural disasters as our government has been to Katrina, so simply making it bigger isn't the answer. Most people who come here know that the federal government has expanded tremendously under Bush, in the form of corporate welfare and giveaways to industry. There's a need for greater competence and accountability and efficiency in our current government. But that's not the point I'm making here.

My point is that there's a floor as far as size is concerned below which government is no longer able to respond to the needs of its citizens, and whenever a government pawns those responsibilities off on private industry or onto private charity, it's screwing over a portion of its citizenry, and it should be no surprise that the portion getting screwed is the one least able to care for itself.

Is it racism or classism at work here?

Doesn't matter, really--it's still bullshit.

At one point Friday, the evacuation was interrupted briefly when school buses pulled up so some 700 guests and employees from the Hyatt Hotel could move to the head of the evacuation line — much to the amazement of those who had been crammed in the Superdome since last Sunday.

"How does this work? They (are) clean, they are dry, they get out ahead of us?" exclaimed Howard Blue, 22, who tried to get in their line. The National Guard blocked him as other guardsmen helped the well-dressed guests with their luggage.

The 700 had been trapped in the hotel, near the Superdome, but conditions were considerably cleaner, even without running water, than the unsanitary crush inside the dome.

The National Guard was helping people with their luggage? Some of the people stuck in the Superdome don't even have shoes anymore, because they've been robbed by looters, and the National Guard is helping people with their luggage?

Publius Channels Orwell

From Legal Fiction:

The invisible statistics have materialized into visible breathing people wasting away at the New Orleans Convention Center. On this issue of poverty, Brown said something that I found very revealing on Nightline. He said that part of the problem was that FEMA was not expecting so many people to have remained in the city. After the hurricane passed, thousands suddenly appeared out of the woodwork so to speak and no one knew they were there. But these people have always been there -- they were just invisible to most of us (myself included). But when you do see (when you are forced to see) the scale and magnitude of the poverty in New Orleans, it makes you wonder why the richest nation in the history of the planet Earth would allow so many to live in such squalid conditions. And you wonder what exactly that says about our values.

Orwell, from Marrakech:
When you walk through a town like this--two hundred thousand inhabitants, of whom at least twenty thousand own literally nothing except the rags they stand up in--when you see how the people live, and still more how easily they die, it is always difficult to believe that you are walking among human beings. All colonial empires are in reality founded upon that fact. The people have brown faces--besides, there are so many of them! Are they really the same flesh as yourself? Do they even have names? Or are they merely a kind of undifferentiated brown stuff, about as individual as bees or coral insects? They rise out of the earth, they sweat and starve for a few years, and then they sink back into the nameless mounds of the graveyard and nobody notices that they are gone....

But what is strange about these people is their invisibility. For several weeks, always at about the same time of day, the file of old women had hobbled past the house with their firewood, and though they had registered themselves on my eyeballs I cannot truly say that I had seen them. Firewood was passing--that was how I saw it. It was only that one day I happened to be walking behind them, and the curious up-and-down motion of a load of wood drew my attention to the human being underneath it. Then for the first time I noticed the poor old earth-coloured bodies, bodies reduced to bones and leathery skin, bent double under the crushing weight.

The Big Lesson of Katrina

A friend of mine has as the signature to his emails, "the only small governments are in third world countries," and it seems equally sanguine here, because the main thing that the governments of third world countries and our current government seem to have in common right now is the placing of people in important jobs not because they're qualified or because they give a shit about the job, but because they're buddy-buddy with the head honcho.

Today's a-number-one example is Mike Brown, FEMA chief--an incompetent who was fired from his last job as head of the International Arabian Horses Association, who was described as an "unmitigated, total fucking disaster" by a member of the IAHA, and who was forced to resign (read fired) in the face of mounting litigation and financial disarray. Oh, and despite the fact that every news channel on television and most news radio stations were reporting it, he claimed he didn't know that people were starving and dehydrated outside the New Orleans Convention Center until today.

Lots of people over at Kos are claiming that this fuckup spells the doom of the modern conservative movement, that this is the Depression and WWII all rolled into one. I have serious doubts about that, considering the right wing's ability to change the subject, blame the victim, and generally act like all those poor black people had it coming because they dared to be black, poor, and vote for Democrats.

That's the other thing our current government has in common with the governments of third world countries--if you're not rich, connected, and enriching the ruling class, it doesn't matter if you live or die. Our government is not small--right-wing rhetoric aside, it is a complex and wide-ranging bureaucracy, and if this country has been limping along for the last five years with some faint facade that it works reasonably well, it's due to the entrenched bureaucrats who do their jobs every day with whatever tools they're provided by our Republican administration. The difference is that for the last five years, that bureaucracy has been co-opted, has been trained on one singular goal, and that goal is the enrichment of Bush's political cronies at the expense of everyone else, and as a result, our country, while capable of responding to emergencies, has not done so. What has happened in New Orleans is a disgrace on a national level, and it's a perfect example of what happens when a government is turned to the task of enriching a few at the expense of the many.

Hastert's an Idiot; or, Why New Orleans will be rebuilt.

First of all, it's no great surprise to anyone who follows the House with even a modicum of regularity to hear the first half of that title. Hastert's a puppet in the House--DeLay is the real power, but he's been too much of a dickweed for too long to ever be an effective Speaker, so Hastert is his toy who stands out front and takes the heat.

Hastert tried to crawfish away from his statement later, which only tells me that his PR person told him to do so after seeing a bunch of outrage on the web and in the media.

I've been hearing this question about the wisdom of rebuilding New Orleans almost since the hurricane hit the Gulf it seems, and while my first reaction was outrage due to my long connection with the city, the longer I think about it, the more obvious it becomes that we have to rebuild the city, because of its strategic and economic importance to the US.

From Stratfor via the National Review Online (ugh):

Last Sunday, nature took out New Orleans almost as surely as a nuclear strike. Hurricane Katrina's geopolitical effect was not, in many ways, distinguishable from a mushroom cloud. The key exit from North America was closed. The petrochemical industry, which has become an added value to the region since Jackson's days, was at risk. The navigability of the Mississippi south of New Orleans was a question mark. New Orleans as a city and as a port complex had ceased to exist, and it was not clear that it could recover.

The Ports of South Louisiana and New Orleans, which run north and south of the city, are as important today as at any point during the history of the republic. On its own merit, POSL is the largest port in the United States by tonnage and the fifth-largest in the world. It exports more than 52 million tons a year, of which more than half are agricultural products -- corn, soybeans and so on. A large proportion of U.S. agriculture flows out of the port. Almost as much cargo, nearly 17 million tons, comes in through the port -- including not only crude oil, but chemicals and fertilizers, coal, concrete and so on….

The oil fields, pipelines and ports required a skilled workforce in order to operate. That workforce requires homes. They require stores to buy food and other supplies. Hospitals and doctors. Schools for their children. In other words, in order to operate the facilities critical to the United States, you need a workforce to do it -- and that workforce is gone. Unlike in other disasters, that workforce cannot return to the region because they have no place to live. New Orleans is gone, and the metropolitan area surrounding New Orleans is either gone or so badly damaged that it will not be inhabitable for a long time….

That's why you have to rebuild the city, Hastert. If not for humanitarian purposes, if not because it's the right thing to do, if not because it's the most culturally unique and interesting city in all of North America (sorry, San Francisco--you're close), then you have to do it because it sits at the mouth of the only navigable north-south river in North America with an outlet to the Gulf of Mexico, and you can't have major ports without major cities.

And if you're worried that you'll be pissing federal money away on a city that will just have this happen again (not that wasteful spending has ever bothered you before), then here's a guy who has some rebuilding suggestions, and he sounds like he knows what he's talking about.
What can we do to restore these natural protections?....

Cut several channels in the levees on the Mississippi River's southern bank (the side that doesn't abut the city) and secure them with powerful floodgates that could be opened at certain times of the year to allow sediment and freshwater to flow down into the delta, re-establishing it.

Build a new navigation channel from the Gulf into the Mississippi, about 40 miles south of New Orleans, so ships don't have to enter the river at its three southernmost tips 30 miles further away. For decades the corps has dredged shipping channels along those final miles to keep them navigable, creating underwater chutes that propel river sediment out into the deep ocean. The dredging could then be stopped, the river mouth would fill in naturally, and sediment would again spill to the barrier islands, lengthening and widening them. Some planners also propose a modern port at the new access point that would replace those along the river that are too shallow to handle the huge new ships now being built worldwide.

Erect huge seagates across the pair of narrow straits that connect the eastern edge of Lake Pontchartrain, which lies north of the city, to the gulf. Now, any hurricane that blows in from the south will push a wall of water through these straits into the huge lake, which in turn will threaten to overflow into the city. That is what has filled the bowl that is New Orleans this week. But seagates at the straits can stop the wall of water from flowing in. The Netherlands has built similar gates to hold back the turbulent North Sea and they work splendidly.

Finally, and most obviously, raise, extend and strengthen the city's existing but aging levees, canal walls and pumping systems that worked so poorly in recent days.

Mind you, I don't know what Fischetti's political affiliations are, but the way this administration's priorities are misguided, you bet that if he's not a faith-based idiot Republican, then these ideas will get as much play as Donnie Iris's last album.

If you need to get in touch with people in the storm zone

and cell phone calls aren't getting through, try text messaging. It has worked for me. I heard from Monkey and her mom this evening. They're safe in Atlanta, and are going to try to return to Bay St. Louis this weekend to suss out the damage. Their house is apparently still standing, which is a miracle considering where it is, but took on a lot of water. Monkey is going to come here to live, at least temporarily, so she can continue in school, as the schools down there won't be ready to open for the foreseeable future. The authorities don't want people down there trying to rebuild for at least a month, so when the schools will reopen is anyone's guess.

My ex is a strong and resourceful woman, and she and Jane will no doubt rebuild and restore their home. It's going to be tough--they just bought a camper and are going to live outside Mobile for the time being until they can get closer. The family is all safe--that's the most important thing right now.

I think I'm going to go cry some tears of relief now.

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