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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Goodbye to Velcro, a Cat

Until about two years ago, we had eight cats: two calicoes, three short-hair blacks, and three long-hair grays. All lived outdoors on about two of our 20 acres of woods. The mother and the grandmother of all the others was one of the calicoes, Truepenny, whom I got when she was a kitten.

Truepenny was of exemplary character and she passed that on to all her progeny. Once, when I took the whole bunch at one time to the vet for their rabies shots, he congratulated me -- or really them -- on their total lack of resistance to being handled and injected, though one didn't care at all for making the trip and he kept saying so.

Sometimes it was hard to tell them apart within their color groups, but their behavior always told the tale. Some were standoffish while others were incredibly affectionate, as cats go. All dated from the period 1990-92, and here, where there are no cat hazards outside of your normal wild and domestic fauna passing through, they all grew old.

The first of them to go was the first of them, period, Truepenny, two years ago. Either a dog or a raccoon got her, in the dead of night. I heard a single bark and some scuffling and when I went outside to investigate I found Truepenny lying still, with a big puncture in her chest. That hurt me to my heart, though I knew it was just the beginning.

The next to leave this life was Baddie, the largest of them, a toe-nibbling longhairgray whose personality was the complete opposite of his name. Three roaming black labs appeared out of nowhere, caught him napping on a deck, chased him down to the ground, caught him before he could get to a tree, and proceeded to try to tear him apart, all in a matter of seconds -- a truly terrible and enraging sight, destroying any remaining chance that we would ever become dog lovers. We got to Baddie a moment too late.

Now, yesterday, we had a third loss. I had to have the remaining calico, Velcro, "put to sleep."She had suddenly become totally inactive and wasn't eating. She seemed bloated, and her body was emitting a weird constant noise like a sort of clicking purr. The vet asked if I had noticed how prominent her bones had become, and he diagnosed her as having acute kidney failure, for which nothing could be done.

I hadn't expected this and I suppose I looked visibly distraught. As much as I loved Baddie and especially Truepenny, ending their lives was never my decision, but in the case of Velcro it was, though it was the only thing I could do. After it was done, given the choice between having them dispose of her remains and bringing her back home, I didn't hesitate. They gave her to me wrapped in what looked like a brightly colored pillowcase, and I reverently buried her still in that garb, near Baddie and Truepenny in our "fern field, " a glade in the woods across the creek and some distance from the house.

Velcro was about 13. She got her name when, as a kitten, a neighborhood kid noticed how her tiny claws hooked into clothing much like that fastening material. All our cats had at least one major distinctive characteristic, and hers was that she seldom wandered farther than 20 feet from the front deck, maybe because of a youthful encounter that I will get to in a moment. She was also the heaviest water drinker,, and she was the main one who would sit in the window in the mornings, silently urging us to get a move on with the cat cans.

She was one of the more standoffish cats, but that changed in her later years, though only toward my wife. I did something to Velcro early in her life for which she never forgave me. I gave her a bath -- an experience I never repeated with her or any of the others. But I felt I had to do it because she was so heavily soiled. She had been away from home for a couple of days, during which, having just come of age, she had been badly used by unknown male cats. But after that I could never understand how clean she always looked, with hardly any grooming that I could notice.

I'm going to miss Velcro. She was a genuine lady of mystery. Like all cats, she knew lots of stuff that not even the brightest of us will ever know. She just never saw any reason to pass it on

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Cut and Run

Al Franken and other erstwhile liberals who strongly oppose the Bush regime actions and inactions nevertheless also oppose a quick withdrawal of U.S. armed forces from Iraq. Franken repeatedly and scornfully uses the term "cut and run." Could this be a sign that he has, unknown to him, picked up a disease through the large amount of attention that he pays to what the Limbaugh guy and others of that ilk are saying? He means to satirize and refute them, when in reality it looks for all the world as if they are bringing him over to their way of thinking, on this subject at least.

I disagree with all of them. My answer is a question that contains my answer. If not now, when?

Speaking of cesspools, once, as a young teenager, I nearly fell into one. It had a wooden cover that had rotted and was concealed by weeds. I knew it was there but forgot about it in one of my many meanderings to and fro. I put a foot on the cover, and it almost broke through.

It was one of several such incidents during that period that still haunt me. Those things that could've happened but didn't are easy to picture. So I think I can say with absolute certainty that when you find yourself standing neckdeep in liquid offal, you will not accept any notion of phased withdrawal. Instead you will try with all your might and main to get out of there NOW, even if it means suddenly sprouting wings.

GW Bush misused his usurped high office to drag a lot of people into a weedy area that had just such a pit. He thought he and his gang could not only safely stand on its lid but also even stomp on it, because he had issues with it. But he had failed to take the necessary literary courses at Yale that might've increased his wisdom immeasurably, such as these lines written by the French poet/criminal Francois Villon in medieval times while he reviewed his misdeeds of the past and contemplated their likely cost:

"...And at the end of a six-foot length of rope
My neck will know my ass's weight."

The lid represented by Saddam Hussein and his forces turned out to be less substantial than GW Bush and crew had thought, and their weight was such that they fell through. Consequently, while hoping that the American public would prefer to keep their nostrils directed elsewhere, GW Bush and his followers found themselves standing in just such a mess. Now, going into the third year, the excrement and the stifling scent of it has only gotten deeper and stronger, and all the ingredients are there for that to be the case for years to come. Yet, incredibly, all talk of doing something now that should've been done much earlier -- removing a situation that should never have been created in the first place -- is airily dismissed as being "cut and run."

I don't know where Franken and others get all that air.

You might suspect the orientation of Franken's head regarding Iraq anyway, whenever he brings up the casualties there, though again he is far from being the only one who does this. Invariably he will speak of the dead and wounded U.S. soldiers, and only them, with almost never a mention also of the Iraqi dead and wounded. He should cite the Iraqi casualties first, and only later, in a lower voice, the American ones, because the Iraqis have suffered immeasurably more than have the American soldiers. More casualties and property damage had been inflicted on the Iraqis before the first GI had even entered Baghdad than the Americans have suffered there in total. Yet I always thought that it was the American way to be at least as charitable to others as you are to your own, especially if the injuries are your own doing.

I think I know why Franken does these things. As a prominent liberal who has even achieved what had been almost unthinkable a couple of years ago -- a daily TV and radio forum from which to air views to counter those of the Far Right that still dominate the broadcast waves -- Franken is sensitive to being labeled as an extremist. He is interested in reaching as many of the centrist Americans as he can, and to do that he feels that he has to walk a careful path.

Ironically, Franken considers a quick withdrawal to be so unprincipled that he wouldn't put it past the Bush people to do just that!

I hope that means he has some inside information, though I strongly doubt it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Undeterred and almost certainly unaware of what I just posted earlier this A.M., my good friend Anonymous quickly struck again ...and again. Won't he ever run out of these things? How many does he have? Looks like I am well on my way to finding out!

Consistent Comments

As you can see by looking back through a few of the first posts of the day on this weblog, recently each one has been quickly drawing a comment from the famous and ubiquitous "Anonymous." With variations the message is nearly always the same, which is that I have a good blog and that he or she has one, too, and why don't I drop by and check it out? And usually there is such a site, a slick, new-looking one about practical stuff (which I am not into) like annuities or cholesterol. I don't know, though, that I would call those sites "blogs." They lack individualism, as if they're the creations of machines, not quirky blog people.

This makes me feel as if my weblog has been tagged somehow, and it has been entered into the database of a program that is set up to attach these comments to my posts automatically each day.

Does anybody know what is happening here? Has anyone else had the same experience? Does this phenomenon have a name? Can I do anything about it? Should I? Am I in trouble?

I can't really say that I've had any bad effects from it so far, and I used to have no problem with being always able to count on having at least a "1" showing for the number of comments drawn by each post, but that has worn thin, and the other day one post had three such comments attached to it.

It would be nice to know what is happening here and what I did to deserve it.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Mother of Us All

I feel uncomfortable saying this, but, as a male of recent African ancestry and also a mongrel, as the haters would describe me, and aging, too, this state of being among the lowest of the low in American society nevertheless has its advantages. One is that, unlike the majority of people in this country, I can easily accept almost anything that anyone can find to say about my ancestry, immediate or ancient, intended as a slur or otherwise.

I was reminded of this by a memorable scene from a movie that Guy Andrew Hall praised not long ago in his weblog, "Rook's Rant." I remembered that I had inherited from my son a commercial video of that gangster film, which has the unlikely title "True Romance." The scene is between two of the most interesting actors I know of, Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper, both of them masters of their grooves -- in which they may feel they are typecast, though I think differently.

Walken plays a mafioso chief trying, along with his henchmen, to pry some information out of the crusty former police officer played by Hopper. After being slapped around and feeling certain that he will not get out of this alive, Hopper decides he will leave with satisfaction. To that end he goads Walken and his henchmen to the very marrow by telling them that Sicily was once in the hands of Moors, which meant that they, like all Sicilians, had "niggers" for ancestors. After Walken pretends to get a good laugh out of this, he quickly and furiously fires a bullet into the Hopper character's brain.

In former times and maybe still today, some so-called "black" people had enough European ancestry to allow them to live under the guise of being "white," in the phenomenon called "passing." This was based on the notion that a single drop of "black" blood was far more potent that dozens of drops of "white." (You would think that if white was so superior, it would be exactly the opposite, but never mind. Logic and bigotry have no relation to each other.) Rainbows (my substitute term for "black") take great glee in speculating on how, because of passing as practiced for several centuries now, there are legions among the majority group who, unknown to them, have various amounts of the despised blood coursing through their veins.

That likelihood doesn't do much for me but I will tell you what does.

The Discovery Channel has a very interesting program called "The Real Eve," narrated by Danny Glover. And in this presentation they say that examinations of mitochondrial DNA have led scientists to conclude that the whole of mankind can be traced back a couple of hundred thousand years to a single woman in Africa. Her descendants left Ethiopia by wading through some body of water, maybe the Red Sea, when some part of it was narrow enough and shallow enough to allow that, over into Asia, and they and their descendants then wandered eastward and then northward and then westward again, eventually reaching all the lands of the globe and along the way changing into all the other "racial" groups that we see today.

I love this notion that we all derived from this single African woman, as transmitted through those several bands of Brothers and Sisters trekking all over the planet and meanwhile mutating as they went. Something in my marrow or maybe my racial memory tells me that that is exactly what happened.

You, too, might see how that idea is entirely possible, if you take the trouble to look over any large assemblage of presentday so-called American "black" people, and if you are not wedded to the idea that they all look alike. Instead most likely you will note an almost bewildering array of different facial configurations and tints. That is what led me to prefer using the term "Rainbows," which is far more accurate than "black," or "white."

One of the scientists on the program said that, to show how easily this could have happened, without intermarriage and left entirely to their own devices, it "only" takes 20,000 years for a "black" group to become completely "white."

With intermarriage my own family might give you the impression that it takes considerably less.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Home Sweet Home

When I lived in D.C. I had issues with the yellow tapes and other means that the police liked to use to rope off areas that were otherwise clearly open to view. I don't mean a crime scene like a murder, which I don't remember ever seeing, and anyway they would've had no trouble with me wanting to get a peep of anything like that. Instead I mean places downtown, on the Mall and elsewhere, covering large areas and usually barring access to a scene where there had supposedly been an incident, such as those involving protestors, or to create a force field around a celebrity of some kind or a member of Congress. Instead of being protective measures, I always took those barriers to be purely expressions of self-importance by the police, and indeed, if you have tendencies in that direction, there's no better profession to enter. Meanwhile I never saw anyone doing anything in particular to justify all that exclusion. The privileged people inside the tapes would usually be doing nothing at all except standing around.

At first I used to have regrets, knowing that I would never be important enough to be allowed inside the yellow tapes, at least long enough to get a hint of what was going on, but it doesn't take long to figure out that the things that the authorities guard so zealously against the public seldom amount to much.

There may be lots of people in Texas with similar feelings right now. I mean those residents of places like Galveston and Houston who heeded the authorities' advice and fled their homes in advance of Hurricane Rita, and joined 2.5 million others in a nightmarish exodus by auto.

I remember a Maryland political campaign of long ago in which the battle cry was a fiercely enunciated "A man's home is his castle!" I don't exactly recall why this slogan fanned so many flames, but I think it involved one of the many ways that were tried to ward off Civil Rights. I'm certain, however, that it is a sentiment as deeply held today by Texans and everyone else as it was in the Free State in the 1960's.

So it seems to me that Galvestonians and Houstonians have suffered a triple wrenching, and all more at the hands of the authorities than from the storm itself. The first was being ordered to leave their castles to the vagaries of the storm. The second was finding themselves snared in a monumental, heat-wracked traffic jam that for some lasted for 24 hours or more, to the point where a number of the fleeing Houstonians decided to ignore the experts and the authorities, and they turned around and drove back home, without incident. Having again been sitting comfortably and safely esconsed in their dwellings for two or three days now, they wait for their more obedient neighbors to eventually find their way back, too, and say, with a surprising lack of reluctance and a large amount of envy: "Now weren't you smart!"

That reflects on the third wrenching experience, which is happening now to those who didn't turn around. After hearing that, aside from a fire or two, their towns weren't drastically affected, the Houston-Galveston evacuees still stuck in parts elsewhere might see no reason why they, too can't return to their beloved domiciles whenever they please, which is right away. But they are told to stay put till everything is in readiness for their return, which will not be for days yet, or until such time as the stony mayors and the equally stiff, grim-faced men with the guns and the yellow tapes stir themselves enough to give the okay. The eager and anxious exiled residents might not regard this delay as necessary for the protection of themselves and their property. They might instead see it as just official self-importance, and later those officials might not find themselves as showered with gratitude as they would've expected.

But don't mind me. I'm just conjecturing, while wondering how much I know about human nature.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Stephanie Abrams, Janis Joplin, and What's-His-Name

Earlier this A.M. the center of Hurricane Rita finally swept in over the beaches of southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana, and it is now doing the long-predicted damage, though, having had plenty of time and warning, the populace has fled to climes where they can get messed up and messed over far from home, as a storm like this has a long reach. They have abandoned their usual haunts to the policemen, the firemen, and the intrepid crews from the Weather Channel, and that includes the sexiest-looking meteorologist alive, Stephanie Abrams.

Rita's eye hit the beach near where the town of Port Arthur sits on the Texas coast, and here the Weather Channel has fallen down on the job badly. I don't know whether it is out of abysmal ignorance or what, but not once, not once during all the time when I have been watching and listening have they mentioned that Port Arthur's one and only claim to fame, as far as I know, is that it produced the greatest and most vibrant rock singer of them all, Janis Joplin. Of course, that was a long time ago, and having lived much more sensibly than she died, Janis Joplin got out of there just as soon as ever she could. Still you would think that the Weather Channel would find time to mention that circumstance, between the breathless and innumerable reports of wind speeds and wave heights. But no. This omission is inexcusable.

Maybe, however, it's all just as well to the Port Arthur authorities. They may still be chafing at the way that, during a high school reunion there, Janis, in her worldwide fame, lorded it over all those staid conservative classmates who most likely had treated her homely-looking self like dirt and saw her as the most likely to remain totally obscure. --That is so cool, those stark reversals of fate!

Rita's eye also whirled in close to Beaumont, where the Weather Channel's Mike Bettes had stationed himself, and now he is delighted. As I write this, at the dawn of the hurricane's first day over Texas, he is reporting that he and his crew are in "dire straits," because they now find themselves on a newly created "island" surrounded by flood waters "thigh-deep," and now they "can't get out." And this on top of the unquestioned ordeal having been stranded on the highway for nine hours getting there. Too bad. It couldn't have happened to a more insipid guy.

Meanwhile the Channel's acest storm tracker, Jim Cantore, made a tactical mistake and, having done all he could to put a great number of the city's five million citizens out on the road, he has chosen deserted downtown Houston to make his stand ...and not much is happening there, except a few fires -- not your typical hurricane spectacles. He and Bettes should've traded spots. But I guess Cantore can justifiably take great pride in being able to stand there and think how he possibly emptied out "America's fourth largest city" all by himself. Now he is telling people not to hurry back just yet, because of the chance of falling afoul of things on the highways. Their rescuers would be needed to fight the fires.

That marvel of womanhood, even if she does verge on silliness at times and also understandably doesn't suffer from a lack of ego, Stephanie Abrams, is also probably not doing what she had hoped to do, which is to report while the winds are trying to strip off her clothes and the driving rain is attacking her complexion. In previous days she had stayed fixed at one spot on the Galveston seawall, keeping us informed on the height of the wall and the height of the storm surges that would overwhelm it, along with shots of the buildings just beyond the seawall that would inevitably be flooded. I'm sure she hoped to be there at that very moment, for, to her credit, it appears that instead of being tied down to an anchor desk, where she would undoubtedly incur intense jealousy from all the other lady anchors, she seems to prefer being out on all the various storm-lashed shores where the action is.

That climactic moment for her has now passed, unphotograped, though she has been provided with a spectacular fire to show us, in the pre-dawn hours when flames show up to best advantage. The storm may yet produce enough wind to show her to best advantage, though for all the world it looks as if, while still out at sea, Rita weakened and paced herself precisely so as not to grant Ms Abrams the same sort of misplaced wish that seems to have been granted to the late, lamented Miss Janis.

The White House should have taken note, but no, they didn't like my earlier left-handed suggestion, which was to position their figurehead on one of the beaches and show him holding off the storm with merely a fist and some words. What a lack of imagination! What better place for any man than to be out there on the Galveston seawall with Stephanie, during Rita's approach! Instead they packed him off to Colorado. Colorado?

Originally he was supposed to take a sixth foray to Louisiana and Texas to "evaluate," before taking off for the Mountain State where storm surges cannot go. For a few seconds among their many hours of reportage the Weather Channel, as if to support the illusion that this man is the U.S. President, slips in a mention of what he's doing, and the latest is that he's delaying this latest visit, to go to Colorado at once, to "survey." "Survey?" "Evaluate?" Him? --Mysterious doings!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Storm Drill, or Going Out on the Limb with Rita

When I was a child, and I assume still today, regularly something mysterious and irritating would happen at school, more "official" than most of the other mysterious and irritating goings-on there. A bell or a gong or something would ring and the teachers would herd everybody outside, where we would have to stand and wait, sometimes in the freezing cold, looking at each other with blank, vacuous expressions, till told we could file back inside. These aberrations were called fire drills but that was just a name given to an exercise that seemed so unnecessary to us, conducted by the teachers for their own diabolical and unfathomable purposes. As there were never any fires in the school and we had never heard of any being there, no connection could be made.

With the slow approach of the large hurricane, Rita, the authorities and the Weather Channel are acting in a very responsible manner. They are busily advising everyone in and around Galveston and Houston to get out on the highway and leave. And millions are obeying, while sagely mentioning Katrina. All the same, though those authorities obviously have no choice, I can't help thinking that the fates will ultimately arrange things so that it will look as if some mass hysteria was at work here.

Of course the people of Galveston have good reason to run. Their protective sea wall, built after their forebears were so horribly hit in 1900, was originally 17 feet high but has now "settled in"to 15 feet in places, and Rita could send surges higher than that, maybe enough to cover the whole island. Houston, more inland, has low-lying areas, too, and it touches a bay that adjoins the Gulf, but a lot of it is on higher ground, on an average, I've heard, of 45 feet.

New Orleans on the other hand is a special case. Unlike Houston, and Galveston, too, most of it is below sea level. It is surrounded by high levees, with a big lake on one side and a big river running through it. After Katrina the water had no good way to get back out any time soon, because too many of the pumps intended for that job had been disabled. But in Galveston and Houston the water will run right back out into the Gulf, of its own accord.

The authorities and the Weather Channel have no choice. Still, just as with the numerous terror alerts, where the authorities do have a choice and exercise them too often for questionable purposes, I wonder if it occurs to these mayoral and weather authorities that they could be contributing to some unnecessary fear and a lot of discomfort and a waste of good gasoline by urging people to get out of Houston so fast and so generally. Maybe -- as I think is in the back of storm tracker Jim Castore's mind for all his urging people to leave -- they even risk helping to set the stage for a different sort of catastrophe, for, strangely, in a state with 26 refineries, lots of those cars are running out of gas while on the road. It wouldn't do for them to be sitting there disabled and blocking others, when the first rain bands and strong winds arrive. And meanwhile their vehicles could be getting in the way of those driven by people fleeing from the more vulnerable coastal areas, including some in already hard-hit Louisiana.

Like children at a fire drill, lots of those evacuating could be forgetting their earlier wisdom, as they wonder if this effort is worth it, finding themselves stranded in their cars in traffic for nine or ten hours or more in what amounts to a sudden Texas desert, complete with record heat, nowhere to get something to eat, no bathrooms, no gas, and no air-conditioning because that would exhaust the little gas that they do have.

If I had had the poor judgment to live in Houston, I think I would still be there instead of melting down from the heat and frustration on the highway. I admit, I'm one of those foolish souls who would resist leaving wherever I was, till I saw the storm surge approaching, and then I would wonder if it really has my number, while thinking, Naw!

I doubt that I would be alone. Somebody sneered at the hurricane parties that used to be so popular on the Atlantic and the Gulf coasts, and spoke of how Katrina changed all that. If that's true, I would bet that it is purely temporary.

One of my ideas of Texans is that they like big, out of control parties. Maybe after this storm a lot of Houstonians will ask themselves why they chose to submit themselves to the interstate pressure cooker and in so doing passed up the chance for a good storm blast at home, sitting up on a height of some kind and throwing back a few while watching all the brightly painted pleasure boats merrily crashing against each other down in all the little marinas next to the dock of the bay, while the wind roared and the rain pelted and then quickly enough drifted off somewhere else, probably to say "Hi there" to all those sitting dazed in their SUVs somewhere in the howling hinterlands.

There are still grounds for optimism. The projected path keeps drifting farther east, so that now it looks as if the center will pass between Houston and New Orleans, and Houston will see the less lethal left front quadrant of the storm.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Watchful Waiting

It strikes me that lately I've mentioned GW Bush in almost every post. I'm not comfortable with that, but if someone and his gang have taken over your house, you must keep an eye on them while looking for ways to hasten the moment when they will inevitably shoot themselves in the behind.

Recently GW Bush hasn't spent much time in his usual haunts. Instead he has made no less than five trips to the Gulf Coast since Katrina hit. It wasn't enough that Ray Nagin has had to fight to keep Bush's surrogate, Vice Admiral Allen, from usurping his position as mayor of New Orleans. Now Nagin has to deal with fending off the Big Cheese himself, who could have the same goal in mind. On Bush's latest excursion he and the mayor enjoyed a buddy-buddy photo op together, though I assume that Nagin is on his guard. But he doesn't have to be too watchful, because I doubt that Bush is slick enough to be effective in that kind of game for long, and that's not all bad.

All along I've been waiting to see how Bush's people would try to turn the Katrina tragedy to their advantage. Till now I thought it would mostly involve heaping all the fault they could find on the heads of Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin. But now a new presence may be changing the scenario. The 17th named hurricane of this busy season has followed Katrina in taking over the Gulf of Mexico and, using those waters that are so warm that it's not even enjoyable to take a dip in them, Hurricane Rita has whipped itself up into Category 5, the baddest of the bad. As of right now the projected track has it hitting much of the coast of GW Bush's home state, Texas, with maybe a side swipe at Louisiana's west. But it wouldn't take much for Rita to dump enough water in and near New Orleans to test its levees again.

So what is the Oval Office strategy now? Too bad that valor has never been detected in their makeup -- recall GW Bush's movements in the hours after the planes struck the WTC towers -- else his people could dream of having him stay in the area or make a sixth quick trip from D.C. at the climactic moment, position himself squarely on a beach, and, like the commissars in Stalingrad at the height of the Nazis' attack, shake his fist in the face of the storm, and say grimly, "Only this far and no farther (goddammit)!"

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Loved Ones

On their Sundance Channel show the night after GW Bush's speech last week, Franken-Lanpher started out as if they would give their take on the speech in detail, but almost at once they focused on one point, and, going by the inordinate amount of time they spent on that through the rest of the hour, they must not have thought that anything else that Bush said rated discussion.

Bush gave out a phone number that the evacuees could call if they needed help. Franken wasn't pleased. He said that unlike other numbers that Government relief agencies had given in the past, this one consisted of random numbers and would be too hard to remember. He and Lanpher then explored two numbers that they thought would be better: 1-800-KATRINA and 1-877-KATRINA. (Later they discovered that Bush's seemingly random numbers actually spelled out "LOVED 1'S" or some such. Bush had failed to say that.)

The 800 number turned out to be already in use by the Texas governor for the flood relief, and that was fine. But the second, the 877 number -- wouldn't you know it! -- belonged to a phone sex operation.

Al Franken dialed that number, and predictably got a woman with a silken, seductive voice -- Katrina herself -- and she asked him what would be his pleasure. In the strangely bumbling manner that overtakes him at times when his mind is racing in too many directions at once, Franken told her who he was and what he was doing. He managed to ask if it would be possible for her to sell or give that number to the relief authorities. She answered that she couldn't, because the number actually belonged to someone else, which was plausible.

In the meantime, though at first she had seem sympathetic to what he wanted, soon enough "Katrina's" tone hardened to the point where she showed no sympathy whatever for the evacuees. She said that actually she lives in Louisiana, and though Franken wouldn't know what was going on there, she did, and the fact was that the evacuees were actually better off than the other people there. She accused them of using the emergency funds they were given to buy designer stuff.

It should come as no surprise if this resentment reflects the attitude of many in that clime, given the difference in persuasions between the evacuees and the others surrounding them. Any adverse reports on the conduct of the evacuees are used to fuel the scorn. We have already seen that with the looting.

Meanwhile so much for the hostesses with their all-accommodating embraces at the other ends of phone lines!

On their next show Franken and Lanpher reported that word of their investigation got back to the owner of that 877 number, and he offered to donate it to the relief effort.

It was very heartening to see them get such a response. The world would be a much better place if that happened more often with the causes that they espouse. It's weird, perverse, and indicative of the continuing tragedies of our times how often the exact opposite is true of the proposals and policies of the regime now headquartered in the Oval Office.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The No Need Speech

GW Bush seems to have given a speech last Thursday. It's hard to understand why, aside from the need his advisors must have felt to tighten up his sagging fortunes. He wasn't likely to say anything that he hadn't already said recently or deep in the past either -- though let's note that the other day GW Bush may have done a real first for him. Till then one of the main charges against him had been that he would never ever say that he was sorry about anything. Suddenly he announced that he took full responsibility for all shortcomings in the Government's response to the crisis in New Orleans.

I doubt that the edgiest of his supporters applauded that. They most likely took that as a sign of weakness. And despite my dismay with people who are so convinced of their infallibility that apology is totally beyond them, GW Bush and his people are so far gone in their attempts to move the country ever closer to the edge of "the black pit," and I am so far gone in my aversion to them and this attempt, that I still can't help being suspicious.

GW Bush was severely hampered in making this speech, because he is in a padded cell of his own making. He couldn't say something really meaningful, such as that he wants to rescind those tax cuts so as to make available the money that is so greatly needed to rebuild New Orleans and the surrounding area. Also he couldn't use the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to give the same bogus impression of strength and decisiveness that he used to snow the nation after 9/11.

What GW Bush needs, so as to follow his normal wayward path, is to find a way to say that Katrina's ravages threaten the nation's freedoms. But right now even the most obtuse of his generally obtuse supporters would find that statement to be absurd ...maybe.

But the Bush crew can hope. I'm told that his chief handler, K. Rove, is in the hospital dealing with kidney stones and so presumably isn't fully available at the moment for the advice to which GW Bush normally hews.

In the quietness of his room Rove could be thinking that he would have cautioned against that speech. The polls a couple of days later showed Bush with even lower approval numbers.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Erred on a Word? -- Mr. Hitchens

Yesterday on C-Span radio I heard part of a debate that took place recently at Baruth College in NYC, between Christopher Hitchens and George Galloway. Hitchens is a well-known pundit of uncertain leanings, supposedly a Liberal but who sounded like a Neo-con when he spoke about Iraq, where he feels that things are going well. George Dalloway is a member of the English Parliament, who feels that things in Iraq are in the toilet for the British and the Americans.

However, it didn't sound to me like a debate, properly speaking. Instead the fierceness of their reactions to each other was of the kind that blurs the line between verbal and outright physical assault, that is, when you can only hear it and therefore are restricted to imagining how the contestants must have actually appeared.

Naturally, I felt that Dalloway was on the right side of things, and he sounded like a better person to boot. He was direct, he spoke simply, and he spoke forcefully but not overbearingly. Hitchens on the other hand was smug and hoggish of the time with his verbosity. He seemed also to be an overly thin-skinned grandstander, and that made him unusually responsive to the frequent catcalls that he received from members of the audience. He thought he had a good thing going by reminding them that they were on TV -- as if they couldn't afford to have their faces and voices recorded in detail by homeland security people avidly looking for new candidates to lock away in Gitmo.

At the conclusion, Galloway cast aside the civility that they now and then tried to affect, with little success, and he called Hitchens a "popinjay."

Wow! I thought. That's ice cold ...but right on the mark!

I had always thought of "popinjay" as being the worst kind of insult ...when delivered by people who had taken some English Lit courses. Imagine my surprise when Hitchens answered, with I assume a big smirk on his face, that he wasn't insulted at all, because "popinjay" means a target for archers, and that was what he had been all through the debate, from Galloway and the dissenters in the audience.

What! ' I thought. Is that archery thing an alternative meaning for the word, or maybe an archaic one, long since disused? Or is this another case of me losing things? It's been a very long time since I've been in college.

I don't have an Oxford English Dictionary, but my ordinary dictionary gives only one meaning, which is that, as I had thought, a "popinjay" is "a strutting, supercilious person," which means that Galloway used it with absolute precision.

Always interested in the exact meanings and usages of words, I'm wondering whether, in the heat of battle and in his urge always to one-up his adversaries in sly, subtle ways, Hitchens confused this word with another, and if so, what that word could be.

It may be wrong to think this, but if Hitchens was wrong, then it's the kind of thing that throws doubt on all his other contentions. It backed up my feeling that people should always be careful of their words, no matter what. And on an occasion like this especially, with so many young minds listening, if Hitchens erred there, it wasn't the kind of mistake that he could afford to make.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Battles of New Orleans

The 2005 Battle of New Orleans goes on apace, this time not between the British and the Americans but between the locals and the Feds. The Mayor, Ray Nagin, says that many thousands of the evacuees can return to their homes in little more than a week. The Feds, under the command of Vice Admiral Thad Allen, a Coast Guard officer, say hold up. Among other things, the water is still unfit for drinking, plus the levees are still weak, and another hurricane could come along at any time and drop enough water to necessitate evacuations all over again.

From this distance it's hard to know the true state of things. But I think that the hundreds of thousands of the New Orleans displaced have become pieces that may or may not take their places on a fouled chessboard, with their future moves being mulled over in the minds of the players.

That 1812 battle turned out to be completely unnecessary, because a peaceful end to the war had already been agreed upon. But that had happened far to the north and in those days of poor communications it was another month before the news finally reached New Orleans, too late for a great many men whose lives had therefore been needlessly terminated.

Today the speed of communications has increased millions of times over, but the same sort of improvement can't be said about the meeting of minds. People still see things as differently as they did in 1812, and that sometimes nullifies all the advances in technology.

The mayor is undoubtedly interested in as quick a return of the evacuated part of his constituency as possible. The Feds ostensibly want that return to be as safe as possible. But it may be a while before the water is completely safe, and the levees may never make things completely safe, because it turns out that there is little correlation between the force of a hurricane and the amount of flood waters that it produces, and New Orleans has just been lucky ...till three weeks ago.

It would be interesting to watch all the maneuvering regarding the evacuees as parts of a mental game battle being waged on an empty playing board ...if the pieces were made of wood. I guess that being kept off the board and confined instead inside a widely scattered bunch of boxes keeps the pieces largely from being heard from ...for now.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Paying for New Orleans

I don't know how long it's been fashionable but there seems to be a common practice these days in which agreements are made to buy things of value and then these things are paid for by stripping them of many of their assets and selling those, thus making the things less desirable than they were before.

You can see that around here when someone buys an acreage of beautiful woods, then promptly turns the acreage to an ugly wasteland by clearcutting all those trees that had taken decades to reach that wonderful state, and they use the proceeds to pay off the loan that allowed them to buy the property.

Or you can see another variant of this in people who take advantage of the inexplicable system that allows outsiders to take over a company that doesn't want to be taken over, and then the buyer promptly fires a goodly number of its longtime employees to "cut costs" and also sells off the company's other assets, which are then used to pay for the purchase and incidentally to put a considerable sum into their own pockets. In this way numerous companies have been sucked dry in recent times.

The need to rebuild New Orleans, and fast, is exposing another variant of this "strip it for all its worth" financial perfidy, this time on the part of those who are currently in control of the U.S. Government.

The people who came into office five years ago found a bonanza left behind in the Government's coffers by the Clinton folks. Instead of saving it for a rainy day, like those recently provided by Katrina, these dummies promptly used all those ill-gained riches instead to reward their bigtime supporters and to indulge themselves otherwise, most notably in the unnecessary invasion and occupation of Iraq. As a result now the country or the Government or both -- it is hard to understand which or what or to whom all the money is owed -- are well over a trillion dollars deeper in debt than they were before 2000. And this situation has been made all the more embarrassing by the ravages of Katrina.

Bush says that cuts in spending will be necessary to pay for the rebuilding of New Orleans. His people and others use the term "offset" -- just the kind of nebulous word that is favored in a priesthood like economics, so that the uninitiated won't quite understand what they're saying. But cuts in what? I thought they had long since made all the spending cuts possible in programs that liberals like. And you know the Repubs won't trim their darlings.

Raising taxes is of course a big no-no, even though some Republicans are saying that the taxpayer will pay for the rebuilding.

I have always strongly resisted even thinking about money, and that sort of hocus-pokus resorted to by the manipulators of it is one of the reasons.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Educational Blight in Kansas and the GOP Foot-in-Mouth Disease

In the interest of my stomach, I strictly avoided the telecasts of the senatorial interview of John Roberts, a nominee for a Supreme Court seat, but I'm told that another member of the GOP showed the unfortunate state of his mind, by being too eager to get in a word for his state. During a discussion of the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, in which segregation of the nation's public schools was moved from the South to the North, Senator Sam Brownback couldn't resist saying something to the effect that he was glad that that case came from his great state of Kansas.

This is like the people of the defeated South saying that they were glad that the war that resulted in the freeing of the slaves took place mostly on their soil. But maybe this sort of skewed thinking shows what it takes to be not only a high-ranking member of the GOP but also a top representative of a state in which there is so much insistence on standing logic on its head by replacing the scientifically accepted theories of Evolution in favor of the fiddlefaddle called Creationism.

I wonder if this man -- whom GWBush probably refers to with a certain slyness as "Brownie," just as he did to Michael Brown, his FEMA chief who was doing such a "heck of a job" but was then quickly dumped -- knows who the bad guys were in that case. Does this mean that the Senator is not familiar with its gist and outcome, which were that the discriminatory policies of the board of education in one of his cities, Topeka, were successfully challenged? Or, if he does know, maybe the significance of the case means nothing to him, and instead he feels that what matters most is to cheer whenever anything involving his state, favorable or unfavorable, comes up, because, as is well-known, any publicity is good publicity.

If an outburst like that doesn't make him look bad on his home turf, then that home is far from blessed, though another of its boards of education, ironically by being too eager to show its devoutness, has shown Kansas to be still afflicted with blight, in its fields of education.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Myth of the 2,000 School Buses

No sooner had I spoken of those on the conservative side of things who use nonsense as gospel just because it sounds good, than the Al Franken show examined a perfect example of this.

Yesterday Franken had as one of his guests David Brock, of Media Matters for America (to see its interesting site, click the title of this post), and they discussed how for days now, one after the other, pundits and others of the right wing have repeatedly said that New Orleans officials failed to use their 2,000 school buses to evacuate the city's poor people in time to escape the terrible effects of the levee breaches. Instead they supposedly left all those vehicles to the mercy of the flood waters, as shown by aerial photos.

There are such pictures -- though not of 2,000 buses. Instead, Brock revealed, a local New Orleans paper says that actually the city owns only 324 school buses, of which, when the hurricane struck, 70 were inoperative. That left 254 available, quite a far cry from the 2,000 so deliriously bruited about so as to direct all the fire away from the Bush Administration and toward the local officials. And, Brock said, those 254 couldn't have done the job of evacuating over 100,000 people.

I think it's worse than that. I think it would have been a big strain even for the mythical 2,000 buses. That judicious evacuation presupposes that 100,000 city dwellers would have gladly and obediently left their homes behind, along with their pets and all their hard-gained precious possessions that they couldn't carry, to line up in an orderly manner, bring their children and all the possessions that they could carry aboard a school bus, and allow themselves to be transported to higher ground ...where? New Orleans is surrounded by a host of rural parishes and the state of Mississippi, whose populations and ruling elites are mostly of different persuasions and do not look on the inhabitants of the big city with all the approval in the world. In addition they were about to have problems of their own from the same storm. So places would have had to be prepared in distant venues far ahead of time, in preparation for a calamity that hadn't happened yet and, going by all previous experience in recent memory, might yet be dodged.

Taking also into account the difficult nature of people of any stripe, I have trouble seeing that sort of clean, orderly evacuation from a city of that size happening in the best of times even with however many school buses. I am trying to think of when in history such a thing has ever been done, and so far I'm drawing a complete blank. Definitely not in the U.S. Also that figure of 100,000 seems low to me, in a city of over 500,000.

Brock wasn't sure of how the 2,000 school bus number got started. He thought that it might have come from a New York Times article that theorized that 2,000 buses would have been needed. He said the first time that the New Orleans officials were charged with leaving 2,000 buses to the floods appears to have occurred in a column written by Wesley Pruden, the editor-in-chief of the far right newspaper, the Washington Times. Brock used to work there, and he said that Pruden had a policy of giving news items a rightist slant that was so pronounced that his name gave rise among writers there to a term denoting that practice: prudenize. And those on Pruden's side of things, with the disgraced former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich in the forefront, just picked up that highly specious ball of the 2000 school buses and ran with it.

In the face of learning that the city had considerably fewer buses, and in the light of recognizing that evacuating a big city cannot ever be a simple matter, I wonder how quickly those pundits and others will drop that ball and pick up another. Since veracity isn't a factor in their tactics, they should have no trouble in finding other claptrap to fling around in the faces of the unconscious.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Myth of French Wimpdom

It is always dismaying to see how people latch on to a concept that appeals to their biases, and they hang on to it for dear life ever afterward, without ever giving it the scrutiny that would show it to be the nonsense that it is. There are many such concepts, and a popular one right now is the belief that the French are a cowardly lot and pushovers in war.

As far as I can figure, this notion dates back to the Second World War, when, after a few weeks of fighting, the French surrendered to the Nazis and had to be liberated four years later by the Allies, primarily the Americans.

This short-sighted view of things is what comes of living in a country with a relatively brief history and the great, good fortune of being securely protected by three oceans and a neighborhood composed entirely of small non-belligerents. Unlike France, the U.S. has never had to exist cheek by jowl with the likes of Germany, Great Britain, and other nations during their days in the sun. The French detractors remain comfortably ignorant of history books, which would tell them how the powerful and organized German war machine rolled into France not once but three times starting in 1870, each time inflicting tremendous damage, with World War I being the worse. On that occasion the French, helped by the British, did not capitulate but instead stopped the Germans in their tracks, at the cost of having most of the rest of that nightmare of trench warfare being fought on French soil, causing them to lose a whole generation of men, not to mention the tremendous damage done to their property and their constitutions. So, when Hitler tried to orchestrate a repeat performance just a few years later, the French understandably were not up for it and chose that time to take their chances on being occupied instead.

Meanwhile the idea of an American rescue of the French has holes. The Russians can argue that they were more responsible for that, saying that if they hadn't bloodied the huge, efficient, and incredibly powerful German armies so badly on the Eastern Front, in a large number of battles that in size, viciousness, and casualties dwarfed anything that happened on the Western front, the Allies might today still be waiting to push the Germans out of Normandy.

Also the many brave deeds of the French guerillas during the German occupation, the Resistance, shouldn't be overlooked. Surely it must take more guts to fight an occupying power that isn't shy about inflicting reprisals tenfold than does being part of a large army that is on the move.

The history books would also show detractors that the French quite often have been terrors in their own right. Edward Gibbon tells of how much trouble the Romans had in trying to subdue the Francs. Let's not forget Charlemagne, who grabbed parts of what would become Germany, in building his empire, and a little later, in 1066, Normans from France landed in Britain, made mincemeat of the English, and took over.

Closer in time, one need only look at the French armies of the late 1700's and early 1800's. As if the Revolution only whetted their appetites for blood and sharpened their knives, led by Napoleon they rolled over much of Europe, with a side trek to Egypt, taking on everybody in sight and usually defeating them. They even attacked the Russian behemoth and did something that eluded Hitler. They occupied Moscow for a short while, before "General Winter" sent them back home.

The idea that the French are wimps took on new life in the last few years as a result of disgust at their refusal to follow GW Bush into Iraq. But the fact is that if its leaders had taken French experiences seriously, the U.S. would've been spared the grief and humiliation that it has suffered in Vietnam and in Iraq.

The bravest man in a squad is always picked to be the point man, and the French unintentionally played that role for Americans by waging the two colonial wars in which they fought tooth and nail to hang on to IndoChina and to a place much like Iraq, Algeria. They failed, not because they were cowardly and weak but because their adversaries were so determined, wily, and justified. Now, in Iraq, partly because of this faulty view of the French, the U.S. again finds itself derriere-deep in the second of the same type of yellowjacket holes that so painfully ensnared the French and that they now wisely avoid.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Mixed News -- the Iraqi Web Loggers

Good news! Once again Riverbend is back and apparently little the worse for the wear, though it's hard to understand how she can function so well amid the continuing tragedy that is the city of Baghdad. She posted on the 9th and again on the 11th, after not being heard from for nearly two and a half months.

This time I wasn't particularly worried. If anything had happened to her, I was certain that the news would have tolled out of Iraq loud and clear.

The reason for her long absence resonates. She said she simply needed a vacation from blogging. Click "Baghdad Burning," in the links to the left of this post. Her post of the 11th is especially interesting because it records the reactions of herself and other Iraqis to the events of 9/11. As soon as they heard about it they started stocking up. From thousands of miles away they knew the White House mind long before most Americans did.

Equally interesting is the bad news from another Iraqi weblog, "Raed in the Middle." Raed has canceled his Comments section. He said he had accumulated tens of thousands of comments and they had gotten to be far too much for him and his helpers to manage. Added to that he was no longer able to deal with all the hostility expressed in many of the comments. Also he cited a lawsuit in which an internet company in the U.S. is suing the proprietor of a weblog because of comments posted on the site.

Tens of thousands! That boggles my mind, and you can understand if you check my counter, which has been running for a year and a half. But in his letters Vincent Van Gogh quoted a sculptor who said that fame is like having the lighted end of a cigar thrust into your mouth.

Although many distinguished webloggists like Riverbend and Juan Cole do not allow comments, a weblog is a method of communication, and to me that implies give and take, which means that comments are essential. But I guess I can say that, as I am not in any danger of piling up tens of thousands.

As for being sued for comments that others post on a weblog, how can that be? Here is an article that does a good job of discussing the case that spooked Raed. (http://online.wsj.com/public/article/0,,SB112541909221726743-_vX2YpePQV7AOIl2Jeebz4FAfS4_20060831,00.html?mod=blogs)

As I read it this case doesn't involve the politics that are part and parcel of most of the weblogs that I feel related to. Instead this and the other cases mentioned all have to do with trade secrets. So it's easy to think that Raed is using that to prop up his rationale for ceasing to allow his readers to get in their two cents worth.

Or maybe he has become justifiably gunshy. I forgot to mention again that some local pluguglies snatched his brother and held him in grim custody for a time, apparently because of comments posted on his blog.


Once upon a time not so long ago there was a Republican U.S. senator from Virginia named Scott. He was a nothing type of person, which is typical of those from his party who somehow are propelled into high office.

I remember him because of a remark that he made after he took a trip to Central America. It went something like this: "I saw the Panama Canal. It is an interesting place. The boats go through it in both directions."

A lot of hard-earned taxpayer dollars were spent so that he could bring back that stunning observation.

Yesterday, the man who presently sits at the big desk in the Oval Office toured the mud of New Orleans in a truck, and he came up with a matching bit of profundity to offer to the nation: "My impression of New Orleans is this -- that there is a recovery effort on the way."

After he left office, absolutely nothing more was heard from or about Scott. Is it too much to hope that a similar fate awaits all those who are the products of the same mold?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Japanese Beetles

The first third of September is past, and it's a joy to see shrubs like roses, altheas, and crepe myrtles still blooming without a Japanese beetle in sight to disfigure them, and some of these were also in flower before the beetles appeared.

I wasn't so happy about the beetles a few weeks ago, and I went out of my way to expunge as many as I could, and I wonder if that had anything to do with the absence of them now. Almost certainly not. The areas where I hung my traps were small, and I could not have made more than a small dent in their numbers, just on this property. So the survivors have secreted themselves back into the ground, so as to metamorphosize into the next stage that their life cycle demands, and also to serve as mole meals but not enough that the little green rascals won't re-emerge in full force next summer.

I wonder how Japanese beetles got that name. The sources I have checked all say that they originally came not from Japan but, more vaguely, from southeast Asia. I have been wondering about this because if their depredations were as strong in Japan as they are here, surely the Japanese, being the ingenious and dedicated people that they are, would have long ago developed ways to curb them, given the wonderful gardens for which they are renowned. My suspicion is that the name is an intentional slander, maybe born of the Second World War.

Wherever the beetles came from, what were the conditions and the predators that kept them in check? Here, for two months at least, the conditions for them are just right, and there are no predators around. The only creatures I have seen that enjoy feasting on Japanese beetles are chickens, who snap them up as if they are the choicest bits of candy. But you need predators that are agile and fly at least a few feet off the ground. Chickens are too clunky in both those departments.

Japanese beetles are a surefire argument against the concept of Intelligent Design, if you consider appreciation of floral beauty to be a mark of intelligence. Instead they seem to have been born in moments of inspired. malevolence. They seem to be specially programmed to attack and to decimate the very blooms that you've been waiting the longest to see, and they're not very smart, either, about smacking into cylindrical yellow and green contraptions hundreds of times their size that they take to be sex objects.

But I have to say that, like guns, though their effects are objectionable, Japanese beetles are admirably constructed when looked at close up and away from their work. The very fine online site called Webshots, which supplies the largest and best collection of wallpaper and screensaver photos that I have seen, has an extremely close-up shot of an ordinary house fly, and viewed from that perspective the fly is a thing of great beauty, with all its various plates gleaming in a profusion of shapes and colors. Japanese beetles must be much the same, with their metallic browns, greens, and blacks.

In spite of my attitude toward their dietary likings, I can appreciate other things about Japanese beetles besides the way they'e been machined. They don't stay all summer long, and they don't eat everything, though it sometimes seems that way.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A Day Like Today

Exactly 40 years ago today my wife and I married each other. To give you some idea of where our heads were, and remain so, it was a tiny ceremony held at the minister's home with only six or seven people present. Neither of us had been married before, and she wasn't expecting.

Scarcely three years later, one of my wife's best friends, who had served as her "bridesmaid," marveled that we were still married. I don't know why she felt that way. Our marriage hadn't been marked by contention. Maybe she thought that that was a remarkably long time for my wife to remain patient with me. I wonder what that friend would think now, if she were still around!

I have the feeling that my wife is much more caught up today with attending a memorial service for another close friend than she is with observing an anniversary that would mean so much to others. This friend was elderly and was quite quickly taken out by cancer once it was diagnosed. She was in my wife's book club. All the club members members dearly loved her, and she was in fact a very fine lady.

My wife's sentiments run in some unusual ways, so that meanwhile for her our 40th anniversary is no more significant than was the 39th, or the 38th, or the 37th, and there's no way that I can argue with that.

In fact it is just as significant to her that September 11th also marked the birthday of yet another dearly loved one, my sister, who left us in that same year of disasters, 2001, though not before being incensed that Atta and the others chose that date for their perfidies. My wife was quite fond of my sister, too.

Oh yeah. This day also marks the fourth year since that huge disaster called "9/11."

But the closest the commandeered airliners came to here was the one that crashed into the Pentagon, in Arlington in this same state but 165 miles to the north -- too distant for any of its effects to be felt in this obscure rural county.. Despite all that is made of it elsewhere, 9/11 was an event that I never hear anyone bringing up, and I suppose that means that in a place like this it is only remembered and observed in private, beyond doing what is expected of all good Americans.

Just a few months after 9/11, we had occasion to spend a couple of days with a friend in Secaucus, New Jersey, where the citizens had had a clear view of the billowing smoke from the destroyed WTC buildings, right across the river. Possibly people from Secaucus had died in those buildings, and we were deeply struck by how that town was a sea of American flags flying everywhere. Everywhere else we had been during the odyssey of observance upon which we had been flung by a far more personal tragedy, things were much quieter.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Levees

The figure who is thought to be at the head of the current regime in Washington asked, "Who could have known that those levees in New Orleans would break?"

Of course he was right to some degree. Until they actually occur, no one really knows such things for absolutely dead on sure. But that can be said about any event before it happens. To have any meaning, then, that question has to cover more ground, and in this case that means assessments of risk, and from that point of view, plenty of people "knew." But they didn't have access to the levers. As is often pointed out now, people have been worrying about those levees from the beginning, and a regime that originated in Louisiana's neighboring state, Texas, should've been more aware of the danger than most.

Two or three years ago, after the latest in a series of near misses, I heard or read a very graphic and chilling foretelling of just what would happen should a strong enough hurricane strike just "right" in or near new Orleans. Many details were given but the main impression I had was that, should water break through or over the levees into the city, the pumps would be overwhelmed and the waters wouldn't be able to flow back out any time soon. Thus New Orleans would become a deathtrap, a huge soupbowl filled with misery and destruction. To me it all looked so possible and even so imminent -- there had been some powerful hurricanes lately -- that I wondered why there wasn't more alarm. This postulation described exactly what did happen soon enough with Katrina.

You would think therefore that those in power would know more about the conditions and the likelihoods in the country whose governing reins they hold. But if they have grabbed hold of those reins improperly, it only follows that they wouldn't. So, for instance, obviously no one among them keeps his eyes peeled on the Weather Channel.

This year's hurricane season was only a few weeks old when it set a record for the earliest date when there had been so many named storms. That increased the probability of storms with a force of 4 or 5, enough to do in New Orleans, and, mind-numbing though it can be at times, the Weather Channel duly reported that record. So much for those, then, who guffaw and point to the rarity of force 5's.

The storms of many kinds that attack the U.S. from every direction throughout the year affect its people much more often and more drastically than anything that happens in Iraq, or in the White House, the U.S. Capitol, or the Supreme Court for that matter, and for that reason such seemingly mundane things as the weather need to be watched, constantly. Otherwise no one can "know" anything.

Friday, September 09, 2005

"What Went Wrong and What Went Right"

Sitting comfortably in the midst of his partners-in-mischief, i.e. his cabinet, a few days ago GW Bush grandiosely announced that he was going to head an investigation into "what went wrong and what went right" in the response to the flooding of New Orleans.

His supporters, those Americans wearing the permanent blinders, will nod in approval. That's our boy, they will think. He is showing that, as in 9/11, he's in charge and will finger the culprits.

But if your sight isn't so badly narrowed, the many things wrong with that idea stand out in sad relief.

First, is this on the Chief Executive's job description, heading investigations? Bush made it sound as if he was going to do it himself, but I thought that was the territory instead of others -- Congress, or the Justice Department, or maybe the Solicitor-General's office.

Secondly, if he does intend to head it himself, in this way, and as always, GW Bush means to evade all responsibility in the matter, because he hopes that everyone will accept the proposition that by being the investigator, he himself was and is outside of things and therefore not subject to any of the blame.

Thirdly, however, he is nevertheless an interested party. This means that the results of his investigation are a foregone conclusion. Not only will he not investigate himself but also none of his underlings will be found guilty of any dereliction of duty.

Fourth, this is very quick. The crisis is still far from over. All the bodies have not yet been found. All the water has not yet been pumped out of New Orleans. All the problems of the displaced citizenry have not yet been solved. The hurricane season is not yet over. And whoever was incompetent may not have finished yet. Investigations usually come later, when all the evidence is in, not when the mud is not only not yet dry but also is still under water.

Lastly, it is certain that his investigation will focus on the local instead of the federal officials. His admininstration has already tried to wrest control of the disaster response from Governor Blanco and others, so that they could thereby place all the blame on the locals.

Of course Bush has to do something to make it seem he is on the job. Katrina caught him napping, and all he had done lately that drew attention was evading Ms Sheehan. The photo-ops made possible by the storm put him back in the news, but that only served to make him look like a heavily privileged tourist. So now he seizes on the tactic that served his party so well in injuring Clinton and the Democrats. He will do something of stupendous excitement and salience. With "terror" and "freedom" having had to be retired temporarily, he will blow new life into another keyword, the tried and true "investigation."

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Inviting Disaster

When I was writing my gas prices post a few days ago I realized something, which is that, instead of being alarmed, I have always found a strange sort of comfort in reading articles about how the petroleum supply is limited and will run out in not too many more years.

According to the very interesting film, "Koyaanisqatsi," the Hopi have a prophecy that says that he who digs precious things out of the land invites disaster.

Those articles and that prophecy appeal to my sense of logic, as does the concept of chickens coming home to roost.

The original inhabitants of the Americas probably regretted all the gold that they had dug from the ground, after the Spaniards came over and ruthlessly slaughtered them in the urge to take all they could find of the yellow metal, and that's not all the grief that has been brought to many through time by the hunger for gold.

I think sometimes of the gaps that have been left in the earth's crust by oil pumping, and I wonder if that's going to cause problems later on. I think of all the oil that has been lost by damaged and sinking tankers and all the fuel that is wasted by constant preparations for war and in warfare itself and by such heavy use of airliners in which the majority of riders are probably on non-essential missions. I think of the damage done to the earth's atmosphere by all the burning of this oil and the coal. I think of all the lives that have been made hard and short since antiquity by mining for lead, diamonds, gold, silver, coal, and all the other substances of that kind.

Civilization is a shaky proposition, and a lot of that must be because it and its future depend so heavily on violating the planet.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Instant Urban Renewal

News shots showing persons displaced by the New Orleans floods shouting for help from GW Bush, in a way indicating that they expected none, motivated me to google the 2004 election results. As I expected, in strong contrast to the rest of Louisiana, in New Orleans Bush wasn't favored. Instead Kerry received 78% of the city's vote.

The GOP is not noted for being generous toward those who don't vote for them, so it's easy to believe that behind the scenes, a lot of geopolitical recalculation is going on, beyond people doing what is expected of them in a "decent respect to the opinions of mankind," to borrow a phrase that T. Jefferson so eloquently used. So if I were among the refugees' numbers -- and but for several shifts in fate I easily could have been, though it only takes one such shift, doesn't it? -- I would be careful. I think it likely that the floodwaters with all their accompanying debris aren't the only things that are being flushed out of that narrow loop of the historic city between the lake and the river.

In the 1960's in my hometown of Washington, D.C., a section of the city adjoining the Potomac River called Foggy Bottom, which comprised just about the whole of the Southwest quadrant of the city, albeit the smallest of the quadrants, was almost completely emptied of its residents in a one fell swoop effort called Urban Renewal. As I recall, this wasn't caused by a natural disaster, though that part of the city was the one most likely to be affected by the river overflowing. Instead it was a matter of upscaling. The majority of those displaced residents were low income people of recent African descent, and few of them ever returned.

"Urban renewal" and "gentrification" are terms deeply embedded in D.C.'s recent history, the latter meaning the quiet process by which people of higher incomes acquire properties in the inner city, fix them up so that they are fancier than when the brick homes were constructed as far back as the 1800's, move in, and supplant the former, poorer, minority residents, many of whom in their turn had supplanted populations of the majority hue decades earlier. These were parts of large scale population shifts that happened just in my lifetime in D.C. and adjoining Prince Georges County in Maryland.

It could be that Hurricane Katrina has suddenly set a perfect stage for New Orleans to undergo the same kinds of change, but in a much shorter time.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Today I went to the surgeon's office for my 10-day post-hernia operation checkup. He said that my "wound" looks good. As he didn't tell me to come back again, to all intents and purposes he is finished with me.

And it is true that I have had a good, uneventful recovery, for a person with a three-inch cut across the right-hand top of his groin. I was never in excruciating pain and after four days all my plumbing was working as before and I was able to stop taking the Percocet.

I feel much better about things, though I still have to take it easy for a while yet. I can drive now, but I am still not allowed to lift more than 15 or 20 pounds, for another month. The only real drawback to that involves firewood. In another month the heating season will be on us in fits and starts, but luckily, even before the hernia appeared I cut, split, and stacked enough to get us well into the winter. (If the picture of my house were bigger, you would be able to see a beautiful stack in a previous year, under the deck on the lower left.)

I wonder if, so soon after a long season of bringing in firewood, my abdominal wall sprang that leak precisely because I didn't take a rest from it for a while, until the best season for wood-cutting arrived again, the beautiful days occuring right now, the fall. But it looks as if everything worked out for the best ...if I can stay on the good side of the 15 percent chance of my wall tearing again, on the other side, the left.

I'm depending on that. As I've already observed, the left is usually the more trustworthy of the two sides.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Chief Justice Nomination

My online news source reports this morning that GW Bush has picked John Roberts to succeed the newly deceased William Rehnquist as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The report said that by doing so Bush avoids some political problems that might've added to the ones he already has.

Pardon me, but isn't this just another typical Bush end run, his thinking being to preserve an unbroken iron grip on the Court's agenda, otherwise the senior Associate Justice, John Paul Stevens, a Liberal, would decide lots of things affecting the court's decisions until the new Chief Justice is installed?

Pardon me, but John Roberts is not yet a Justice and never has been one, right?

Pardon me, but isn't this just like bringing up a rookie from the baseball minor leagues and installing him as the team captain and maybe the cleanup batter too?

Pardon me, but whether or not Bush can do this legally, is this the moral and judicious thing to do? What about the other seven justices who've been there all along? (There would be eight but O'Connor has resigned, and she has promised to stay on only till she is replaced.)

Of course I don't care about two of them, the infamous Charley McCarthy team, Scalia and Thomas. They are so crusted over with nothingness that I would be surprised if even many thinking conservatives feel for them either. But that leaves five others who seem to have served long enough with distinction to be considered for the top spot. Of course four of them did not indulge in the obscene presumption a few years ago that the nine justices instead of the tens of millions of American voters had the right to choose the next President. In a just and fair world that would be enough to make them eminently suitable for the post. Instead, in the eyes of those who benefited from the year 2000 putsch, it makes those justices eminently unsuitable.

Pardon me, but won't this maneuver cause people to see Bush acting once more in an improper, highhanded, and dogmatic manner and thus bring about more political problems for him, instead of avoiding them? And won't those problems reach even into the Court itself? Human nature being what it is -- and I assume that holds true even in the rockbound Highest Court -- being passed over for the top spot is sure to cause some badly suppressed resentment and dissension.

Thinking Twice -- Gas Prices

In her excellent weblog, "Collective Sigh," Andante posts quite often about the fast increasing gas prices. I don't know how far she lives from the amenities, there in the next state over, North Carolina, but I do sense that she is active in church affairs, which I imagine keeps her hopping, and she probably has her finger in several other pies as well.

For church my wife has substituted farflung yoga sessions several times a week, and in general she likes to hit the road as often as she pleases, and till recently she had been relaxed about gas prices. She thought she had things covered because she drives a Saturn. Then, suddenly, a few days ago, she announced that seeing her station asking $3.39 a gallon for regular has made her "think twice."

Normally she doesn't express so much alarm about anything, and that prompted writing this post, as I wondered how much of a cash-in, if any, I might see for my past practices.

Perhaps still too tightly connected to my previous life -- whatever that had been -- I was born with a strong reluctance to depend on fuels whose production was completely beyond "do-it-yourself." During my first 32 years I depended entirely on my feet, augmented by streetcars, buses, and trains. I could do this because I lived in and near Washington, D.C. My first car was a VW Beetle, and I never strayed far from that, except for two used Detroit pickup trucks, both used sparingly and only for a few years each.

Now I have ended up in a rural area where not having a car isn't an option. We live 10 miles from the nearest town, and 25 from the nearest city with its hospitals and such. But this growing gas "tragedy" still ought to have only a light impact, because, in addition to the factors just mentioned, in recent years my life has slowed to little more than a crawl. Some of that was my doing, some was not, but none of it was caused by gas prices. Now my obligations are such that weeks go by before I drive off my property, an experience that always makes the neighborhood look like a weird and unfamiliar place.

As they must be in Andante's region, churches are the main centers of social life here, but I am a longtime "backslider," and I've also avoided the surplus schools that became additional community centers when consolidated schools were built, and there are no organized neighborhood events.

Only a few small things remain undone on my "green oak" house that I built myself, so there's no longer so much need to frequent the hardware stores. I used to be a member of a two-county arts group, and that often put me on the road with things like gallery sitting, but they disbanded several years ago. I also used to be a big beekeeper and that kept me driving all over the place in the warmer months but about a decade ago the mites arrived and completely took me out of that interesting though back-breaking occupation. And meanwhile, ever since I discovered UPS, I have looked on it as I used to see that delivery service that issues out of the North Pole during Christmas. I buy as much as I can online, and in that way I'm uniting with my neighbors in paying UPS's fuel bill, a big savings in wear and tear and gas on the economies of scale.

Above all I should mention my 12 years younger, preambulatory wife again. She does stuff like the food shopping that might otherwise put me in my truck more.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Looting vs. Flooding

A question that roams the balsa mind: If so much of New Orleans was flooded, how was it possible for so much looting to go on? The percentage that sticks in my mind is 80% of the city went under water, though I could be confusing that with the percentage of the state of Mississippi that lost its power. Did the looters use rowboats, and what did they do with the stuff? Filled up the Superdome?

"Just trying to get the facts, m'am."

Human Resilience

A few days ago, in his weblog, "Rook's Rant," its proprietor, Guy Andrew Hall, wrote this, in that very distinctive, no holding back style of his:

I have been thinking, right from the start of reports of damaged levees and increased flooding after the hurricane hit that New Orleans was a dead city. But in actuality, I think it will be the death of the whole region.

I can remember when I thought in similar lines, and probably for a longer time. Then I went to Hiroshima.

I arrived there in the summer of 1959, fully expecting that that city would still have waiting for me at least a few obvious signs of the total devastation that it had suffered from being the first city in history to be atom bombed. Of course it was 14 years later, but in my mind the Bomb had exploded only yesterday, an impression helped along by repeated readings of John Hershey's very vivid "Hiroshima."

I was surprised to find that, if I hadn't already known what had happened there, I would have seen absolutely no sign that that city had ever been anything other than the normal prosperous, bustling, glistening Japanese big burg, of which I had seen a number by that time -- and never mind that most of those cities, some much larger, had also risen anew from the ashes in the same brief period of years.

Fortunately, assuring me that I was in the right place after all, the Hiroshima city fathers had established a large "Peace Park" in the area of Ground Zero. And they had left intact the ruins of one and only one small atom-bombed structure, an industrial arts building, directly above which the "genshi-bakudan" had detonated.

Today that modest conglomeration of several dozen blasted bricks gripped by a few twisted steel beams is still there -- kept in that state of ruin by the Japanese as a reminder, and most likely at some expense, else it would long ago have crumbled into dust.

I knew about the incredible resilience of humankind, but that excursion drove it home.

The dozen and some years it had taken me to get to Hiroshima were in fact much more than enough for a city's complete recovery, no matter what it had undergone. Using conventional explosives, the U.S. bombed many other cities in Japan with matching thoroughness, but almost as fast as those cities could be demolished, the Japanese would build them up again, and that was probably one of the main reasons that the Americans felt it was necessary finally to use something as ultimate as the atom bomb. But in view of the already demonstrated Japanese resilience, how ultimate was it?

Not totally. That's my belief. Instead, I think the development that really drove the Japanese to surrender after the second atom bombing, at Nagasaki, was the belated Russian entrance at nearly the same hour into the fighting against them. That sank their hopes without a bubble.

So how's this for a heresy that, if it escaped these confines, would drive all true devotees of the Military Channel into an uncontrollable rage? It's possible that just as Stalingrad had a lot more to do with the victory over the Germans than did the landings at Normandy, it was the U.S.S.R. turning the attentions of its mighty war machine next to the Japanese in Manchuria that was the clincher in the Pacific, more so than the doings of the Enola Gay and Bock's Car, thus downgrading those to mere atrocities.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Making Hay After Katrina

Usually trying to turn an unpleasant situation to one's advantage is to be recommended. One learns this if, for instance, he is born as an automatic victim of such an evil system as Jim Crow in the U.S. in the previous century. But in the hands of forces like those headed by GWBush, this effort becomes a monstrous art instead, because in their hands the unpleasantness is compounded.

Before this week, the 11 September 2001 attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon were the biggest calamity to befall the U.S. since -- can I say it? -- the Presidential elections of the previous year. Yet it was the best thing that ever happened to the Bush Administration, for it greatly increased their ill-gained authority, and today under their directives the U.S. is a more constricted and severe place than it was earlier.

Having seen that, we wait with dismay and yet with interest to see how the Bush forces will try to do the same with what's happening in New Orleans. And try they must, because the fates have arranged things so that several of the other big problems facing them these days have convergence points in and near New Orleans. In addition to the recovery from the storm, there is the gas situation, what with the storm damage done to the oil supply, and also there will be the occupation of Iraq, of which the sight of the National Guard in the Mardi gras streets is a big and unpleasant reminder.

For these and other reasons this time things might not be so simple for the Bush forces.

For starters they can't call upon those surefire keywords "freedom" and "terror," which had been used so profusely in everything that Bush said. But what will the replacements be? That won't be easy because there won't be parties on whom to place the blame.

--Well, not easily anyway, since the likeliest candidates, the dark-hued poor people of New Orleans, can't be counted among the perpetrators. The hurricane instead was clearly the work of that very Sky Chief that the Bush forces so readily profess to call upon. The rumors and stories and pictures of looting and filth will help but cannot be counted on to do the whole job.

Here I have to bring my speculations to an early halt, though it's interesting to realize how people like the Roves and Rices are rewarded with huge amounts of power, prestige, and money for thinking up stuff that amounts to no more than a highly unpleasant intellectual exercise for a mere webloggist like me. You have to wonder how the Roves do it. This kind of scheming has to be corrosive to the brain.

Maybe those forces are planning as they go along, because another disadvantage they have is that the high risk of bad publicity forces them to move much faster than they might like, in the effort to give the appearance of being on top of things and thus converting this huge tragedy into only another gift to GWBush and his party. So Bush finds himself pushed into already starting a tour of the shattered areas on the Gulf Coast, where in some places the beautiful beaches have started to reappear. He is slated to spend almost all his time on or not far from those beautiful beaches, in areas where he has gotten lots of votes in the past and where the biggest problem figures to be where to put the replacement casinos. But he will spend just a few minutes in by far the hardest-hit area, New Orleans, where the problems are much larger and more complex.

If he is welcomed there, it will only be with a good deal of tongue in cheek on the part of the officials and the citizens. It's hard to see how he will be able to make hay from that, because everybody will know that, no matter what he will say, his heart will not be with them. In the 2004 Presidential election, "Orleans" gave him only 22 percent of its votes.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Appointment Under Water

As Katrina whirled in the Gulf of Mexico, so large that it seemed to cover the entire gulf, and so perfect in its form, like many people who watch such things, I kept being reminded of its closest relative, Hurricane Camille in 1969. I wasn't living here in Nelson County, in the Piedmont of Virginia, but when I arrived a few years later, in 1976, I could still see signs of how Camille, after first scourging the Gulf Coast, then hurried north and for some reason dumped so much rain, 25 inches, on this one small, obscure county in a single night that over 100 Nelsonians ended up being washed out of their beds and out of their coves and drowned.

Those signs consisted of large chunks of naked red and yellow earth scattered along the tops of very high ridges, where I wouldn't have thought there would've been any big streams to speak of. And just down the road from the property that we soon bought was a narrow wooden bridge across a river, right next to some large, ancient stone pillars. Before Camille those pillars had supported the old bridge, and they rose so much higher than the current bridge that they testified graphically to the huge amount of water that had rushed through there, carrying bodies, cars, trees, houses, and everything else from the coves higher up.

My mother and father were born and raised in New Orleans, but they left as soon as they reached adulthood and could elope, moving to the -- slightly -- higher ground of Washington, D.C., as did all my other relatives, the ones who were still alive by the time I was born. They seldom mentioned New Orleans, so I have hardly any idea of what their lives had been like while living there, and it has been many years since anyone was left whom I could ask.

As I watch the rooftops protruding above the surface of the flood waters, I wonder which of those submerged houses, if any, once sheltered my family. I wonder how aware they were of the dangers of living in such a place. I wonder what the attractions were that caused people to pile up together and create a city in a place where they were at the mercy of mere levees day and night.

The only drawbacks of New Orleans I ever heard mentioned were that nobody could have basements, and all burials had to be above ground.

I wonder what the old people would think of the many questions that have suddenly been ripped out of the "soil" of New Orleans, after so many years of good eating and good music, and are now demanding hard answers.

This time the hurricane didn't visit my home county in Virginia. It didn't have anything left after its appointment with my ancestral home, New Orleans.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Miscarriages of Justice -- O.J. Simpson Thoughts

I am amazed and disturbed at how the O.J. Simpson verdict still deeply rankles certain people, such a long while later. The two murders have probably been encased in racism from the moment they were conceived, and it looks as if, as long as various mindsets persist, that case will never be closed. Instead it will remain a strong implement in making sure that racism will always be a strong, underlying force in American thought.

I didn't follow that case, and ever since I have tried to ignore it. One of my favorite mottoes goes, "Everything that happens in a courtroom is an exercise in ugliness," and that case was top-, middle- and bottom-heavy with ugliness. How happy I am that I didn't subscribe to Court-TV while it was going on. But one can't be around people for long without someone bringing up OJ, certain that others listening fully share their anger. By "people," in this instance I mean those of recent European descent, the ones who so solidly know that Simpson is guilty and who feel that the verdict was a direct slap at them and at all their ideals.

No one except Simpson himself really knows whether he is guilty, and the fact that he alone carries that knowledge securely shut up inside his skull probably enrages people almost as much as does the fact that, if he is the guilty party, it doesn't seem to be eating him up from within. And then there are the additional galling feelings on the part of his detractors that he had no need to kill such a beautiful woman, and instead, no matter how famous and well-paid he was, he should have been eternally grateful that he was allowed to marry and even to father children off such a glorious female specimen of the so-called "white race." That thought gets to the heart of what makes the continuous resentment over the verdict so hard to take: the certainty that not one of these endlessly furious people would care if Simpson had done in his first wife instead. After all, she was of a less favored configuration than was the second.

A lot of people who had been liberals were glad for the excuse that the O.J. verdict gave them to hop off that wagon. The TV shot that especially did it for them was the one of students at Howard University in D.C. jumping up and down with joy when the "not guilty" was announced.

Howard is my alma mater though I am generations removed from those students, and I would not have been so demonstrative. I suspect that they were the direct descendants of the raucous sorts that made viewing movies at that institution of higher learning so impossible. But I understood what was at the heart of their reaction, and it's too bad that few have ever taken that into consideration.

If the O.J. Simpson verdict was a miscarriage of justice, then it was just the latest in a long series of miscarriages of justice -- in the other direction, when people of recent African descent were involved. And those students knew that. They had been living and studying that history in ways and intensities unknown to those Liberals of little faith and to today's continuously irate, professed believers in justice. And to those who thought that the verdict was the right one, that mattered more than the simple matter of innocence or guilt, which so often had been twisted against them, a situation that hasn't weakened enough even to this day.