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  • Friday, September 30, 2005


    Please Speak Differently... I Can't Understand You

    It's obvious I have a thing about words, language, and communication. I'm always curious about word origins and current word usages.

    It's clear that many words are not neutral in their usage. Words have a strict dictionary definition but they also have a cultural context, a real-world and real-time component. There are subtle and not so subtle meanings involved depending on the speaker and the audience. Sometimes words are codes intended to communicate disdain and ridicule. Nowhere is this more evident than in political discussion.

    Take a word like "imperialism". This is a word generally associated with Communist, leftist, and anti-war rhetoric. Anyone using it in a descriptive way has a high probability of being generally sympathetic to those groups. Usually the only times you will hear the right-wing use the term will be to deny that it is an accurate or appropriate word to describe government actions or positions. In this sense, it is a very charged political word.

    Imperialism, of course, has a literal definition. "1: imperial government, authority, or system. 2: the policy, practice, or advocacy of extending the power and dominion of a nation esp. by direct territorial acquisitions or by gaining indirect control over the political or economic life of other areas." (Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary) There shouldn't be any disagreement about its meaning and use. There is, though, because in a "democratic" society like the United States, there is strong aversion in much of the population to applying it to the US government. The US is not theoretically an empire therefore "imperial" isn't an accurate description. Of course, the US is a de facto empire, if not in name, but that is the point.

    When one side hears the word, they immediately begin dismissing the speaker as being Communist or leftist. They are then able to discount all the surrounding arguments because they already know what they think of those groups and everything they stand for. This is the result of our division and alienation; we stop actually listening to each other.

    The solution may be to find new ways of expressing ideas, new political rhetoric not as laden with assumptions.


    Vampire Hunter DeLay

    Don't let ethics slow you down, Tom.


    Why I Never Report Windows Errors

    When some program screws up and locks up, I almost never report errors to Microsoft. Why? Because of what's happening right now.

    Photoshop locked up. Annoying enough in and of itself but I made the mistake of saying the computer could report the error to MS. The result? The program won't close, I'm shut out of doing most things with the computer, and something is being sent through my modem. I have no idea what being sent but it's been doing it for over 10 minutes. Dialup line, you see. Having my computer sending info I can't stop or check on for long periods of time makes me very nervous. If I could I would break the connection but I can't. The only thing left to try is to physically turn the computer off.

    This is why I never report Windows errors.

    Thursday, September 29, 2005


    Most Banned Books I've Read

    In celebration of Banned Books Week, here is the list of the 100 most frequently banned books in the US. I've bolded those I've read, about twenty-one of them. [Addendum: I feel so guilty that I've only read one fifth of these books I'm also going to highlight in red those I want to read; that will make it look cheerful.]

    1. Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
    2. Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
    3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
    4. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
    5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
    6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
    7. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
    8. Forever by Judy Blume
    9. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
    10. Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
    11. Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
    12. My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
    13. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
    14. The Giver by Lois Lowry
    15. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
    16. Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
    17. A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
    18. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
    19. Sex by Madonna
    20. Earth’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel
    21. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
    22. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
    23. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
    24. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
    25. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
    26. The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard
    27. The Witches by Roald Dahl
    28. The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein
    29. Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry
    30. The Goats by Brock Cole
    31. Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
    32. Blubber by Judy Blume
    33. Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
    34. Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
    35. We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
    36. Final Exit by Derek Humphry
    37. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
    38. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
    39. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
    40. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras
    41. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    42. Beloved by Toni Morrison
    43. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
    44. The Pigman by Paul Zindel
    45. Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
    46. Deenie by Judy Blume
    47. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
    48. Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
    49. The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
    50. Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
    51. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
    52. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
    53. Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
    54. Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
    55. Cujo by Stephen King
    56. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
    57. The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
    58. Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
    59. Ordinary People by Judith Guest
    60. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
    61. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
    62. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
    63. Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
    64. Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
    65. Fade by Robert Cormier
    66. Guess What? by Mem Fox
    67. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
    68. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
    69. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
    70. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
    71. Native Son by Richard Wright
    72. Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies by Nancy Friday
    73. Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
    74. Jack by A.M. Homes
    75. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
    76. Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
    77. Carrie by Stephen King
    78. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
    79. On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
    80. Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
    81. Family Secrets by Norma Klein
    82. Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
    83. The Dead Zone by Stephen King
    84. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
    85. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
    86. Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
    87. Private Parts by Howard Stern
    88. Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford
    89. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
    90. Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
    91. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
    92. Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
    93. Sex Education by Jenny Davis
    94. The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
    95. Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
    96. How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
    97. View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
    98. The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
    99. The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
    100. Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

    tip of the mouse to The Republic of T.


    Chief Justice Roberts: I AM the Law!

    It is parody or satire? That is the legal question...


    Those Darn Dubya Nicknames!

    Many people know of Pres. Bush's penchant for giving people nicknames whether they want one or not. To get an overview of these names, go here. Individually, they are disturbing enough but taken as a totality, they become more so.

    tip o' the mouse to August J. Pollack.


    When Corporations Ruled the World

    I was listening to the rest of this Democracy Now show and was just stunned by the picture being painted. I commented previously on this particular show in my post Kill the Prisoners and Evict the Poor. Further into the show comes details of the private "security" groups in NOLA and the no-bid contracts for rebuilding.

    When I add the Neo-conservative plans to turn the area into a massive experiment in their privatization wet dreams into this mix, I'm left stunned at the big picture.

    All evidence of the failure of government to adequately respond to the emergency is being used as a rational for giving responsibility to corporate interests. I'm sure these same Neocons will act very surprised when these same corporations will refuse to do certain work because 1) it costs too much to be profitable, 2) it is too dangerous for their personnel and insurance, and 3) the only people the private companies want to protect are white and/or weathy.

    Social contracts? Will they hold up in a court of law? Of course not. They aren't real contracts at all. A real contract makes money. Protecting the least powerful people in our society is so... passe. Protecting the poor is so... liberal. The poor need to generate a profit just like everything else.


    Meme of the 23rd Post

    I picked this meme off of Agitprop.

    1. Go into your archive.
    2. Find your 23rd post (or closest to).
    3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
    4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.
    My 23rd post was Faith in the System and the fifth sentence was part of a quote so here is the whole quote.
    Unique among the nations, America recognized the source of our character as being godly and eternal, not being civic and temporal. We have no king but Jesus. - John Ashcroft

    Tuesday, September 27, 2005


    A Meme of Seven: Bullet Time for Bloggers

    I picked this up meme over on The Republic of T. and thought it was more my speed than the previous one I was tagged with. Light yet revealing. I also think I prefer the forward looking perspective rather than the more historical vibe I got from the last one. Fun yet with a little depth.

    Seven things I plan to do before I die

    1. Write at least one book
    2. Make this blog attractive
    3. Rip everything (I really want) from my cassettes and LPs
    4. Make a will
    5. Learn to Photoshop like a pro
    6. Run for political office (Despite my poor credit record and potty-mouth)
    7. Get a job doing things I love: writing, research, and humor

    Seven things I can do

    1. Give subcutaneous and Intramuscular injections (IVs are more iffy)
    2. Train dogs
    3. Satire and parody
    4. Write well
    5. Use MS-DOS (very valuable skill)
    6. Defy gender stereotypes
    7. Clean the house (I think I can, I think I can...)

    Seven things I can'’t do

    (Things I'’m either incapable of doing, am prohibited from doing, am not inclined to do, or can'’t do but could learn.)

    1. Drink alcohol
    2. Drive a motorcycle
    3. Speak a second language semi-fluently
    4. Be butch
    5. Have children
    6. Eliminate paper and book clutter from my living space.
    7. Play a musical instrument

    Seven things that attract me to people of the opposite (and same) sex

    (I could list countless physical qualities that get my attention, but these are the one that hold my attention.)

    1. Compassion
    2. Likes music
    3. Spirituality
    4. Humor
    5. Conviction
    6. Intellect
    7. Politics
    8. Likes animals

    Seven things I say the most

    1. "“I'll buy that for a dollar..."”
    2. "“In a tribal society..."
    3. "“Do you want to go up to bed soon?"
    4. "“I'm not a sock puppet!"”
    5. "“Do you want to go out?"
    6. "“I was watching this documentary..."
    7. "“I'm sorry."

    Seven celebrity crushes

    (Er, I'm not that superficial. OK, I am.)
    1. Vin Diesel
    2. Angelina Jolie
    3. Johnny Depp
    4. Seth Ackerman of FAIR (he's a celebrity to me!)
    5. Antonio Banderas
    6. Trent Reznor (I hear he's buffed up recently; I haven't decided if that's good or bad.)
    7. David Bowie
    (I wanted to have gender parity for the above list but found myself too uncomfortable listing most women. It seemed a little too close to objectification. However I obviously have no problem thinking of men as objects; what else are they good for? Strangely, I don't seem to have this problem with Angelina Jolie. That worries me. Then again, she seems able to take care of herself: handy with butterfly knives, does her own stunts, etc.)

    Seven crush-worthy bloggers

    (Current roster of a rotating cast. Dating availability not a consideration (may actually be a drawback.) Mostly I love their minds. Some I have no idea what they look like.)

    1. Twisty of I Blame the Patriarchy
    2. Shakespeare's Sister of Shakespeare's Sister
    3. Pam of Pam's House Blend
    4. The Dark Wraith of The Dark Wraith Forums
    5. Prof. B of Bitch. Ph.D.
    6. The Heretik of The Heretik
    7. Norbizness of Happy Furry Puppy Time with Norbizness (Just because...)


    Religion and Stupidity

    I am a spiritual person. There, I've said it. I believe in all sorts of things with little or no logical basis. I'm not atheist or agnostic. Yet I find, overwhelmingly, that most religions assert a hypnotic spell of stupidity upon their members.

    Here's a distinction I make: spiritual people are concerned with the life of the spirit while religions are concerned with dogma and advancement of their organization and structure. These are massive overgeneralizations but I still find it a useful distinction. There are, of course, spiritual people who are members of congregations and groups within religions but the hierarchy is more concerned with logistics, decrees of belief, and standardization.

    So while perusing the current Pew report on religion I was struck with how stupid some articles of "faith" appear.

    A sterling example is this little box of info. This is a triumph of faith-based belief over science. Every time I come across these extraordinary numbers of people who believe the Bible as history and science, I wonder whether there is really much difference between humans and apes. In some ways, apes are smarter than humans: they are at least relatively reality based.

    No wonder Bush thinks Intelligent Design should be taught side by side with evolution. This is science by popularity rather than scientific method. This is attempting to rearrange reality to suit belief. I'm reminded of legislation often introduced to make the value of Pi equal 3 or just 3.14 because all those extra digits are just too difficult to remember, particularly for children learning mathematics.

    If you believe that life on earth has existed in its present form since the beginning of time, there are a cascading series of beliefs affected by that assumption. Uh, I can't seem to think what they are though. My mind just boggles at it.


    Kill the Prisoners and Evict the Poor

    Two stories that caught my eye recently on Democracy Now seemed connected.

    The first concerned prisoners locked in their cells and left behind by the guards of jails in NOLA.
    CORRINE CAREY: The first thing that we did, we went down to investigate claims that we had been hearing that prisoners were abandoned in one of the facilities, Templeman III is the name of the building, and that some of the inmates had seen inmates left in their cells while they were on their way out, when they were finally evacuated Thursday and Friday of the week after the storm. So, the first thing that we did was we asked for a list of prisoners that were held at Orleans Parish Prison prior to the storm hitting, and then we also obtained a list from the Department of Corrections of all offenders that had been evacuated from New Orleans. We went through that list and came up with 517 people who were still unaccounted for. We're certainly not saying that those people drowned in the facility, but there are credible reports, consistent reports from inmates of being left in that facility in locked cells. And so, we'd like to know from the Orleans Sheriff and from the Department of Corrections what happened to those 517 people.

    AMY GOODMAN: What are some of the stories that you have heard in your questioning?

    CORRINE CAREY: Well, it's clear to us from talking to inmates in that facility, and other lawyers in Louisiana have talked to well over 1,000 prisoners at this point, that by Monday, when the storm hit, guards were no longer in the facility. The inmates were left to fend for themselves during the storm. The most disturbing thing is that the water began to rise in many of the buildings. Some inmates tell us that the water had come up to their chest level, and they were still in locked cells. Some other inmates helped them get out of those cells and escape the floodwaters to higher levels of the facility. They were also left there without any food or water for up to four days. There was no air circulation, and the toilets had started to back up. So the stench was unbearable for these prisoners. They started to break windows to let the air in, but also to let people outside know that there were still people in this building that had begun to flood.

    I don't care if every one of the prisoners left behind was a convicted murderer (and they weren't), leaving them in locked cells is unconscionable. I've heard (but have no source for) that some of those left in cells were actually arrested only the night before the hurricane but had not been arraigned.

    The second story was about the use of the damage in NOLA to perform a kind of "urban renewal" on poor areas of the city. Naomi Klein wrote a story for The Nation about this but this is from an interview with her on DN.

    AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, let's begin with you. Lay out this story, what you have found, "“Purging the Poor."

    NAOMI KLEIN: Thanks, Amy. I guess listening to Juan's introduction; maybe what we're seeing is an attempt to turn New Orleans into New England. It's really an extremely radical vision, and I think the context of this is there's something about natural disasters that brings out a really dangerous apocalyptic side in the national psyche or in certain people in positions of power where there's this actual sense that these cataclysmic events are almost redemptive in their violence.

    And we started to hear this very early on after Katrina hit, where, not just from evangelical Christian sides, we started to hear, "maybe this is punishment for Mardi Gras and sodomites and we'’ve cleaned the city", but you hear it from the mayor, Ray Nagin, "for the first time New Orleans is free of crime and violence and we're going to keep it that way". There's almost a sense that free of people, the city has become this blank slate. In that context, this fantasy can be built from scratch.

    The buzzwords to listen for in terms of the reconstruction of New Orleans are "“smaller"”, "“safer"”. And the idea is that in the city, wealth really buys altitude, and so the effect of the flood was not at all democratic. The people who were able to buy land on high ground, their neighborhoods are relatively unscathed, and many of them never left or have been able to return. The people who were hit hardest were the people who we saw on television, you know, in the Superdome. These are the people who lived in the low-lying areas. So, the idea now is, okay, maybe we won't rebuild those areas at all, and when -- on September 15, when the mayor said that certain areas are able to be re-inhabited, this is before Rita presented itself as the threat that it, it was clear that the people re-populating New Orleans didn't look very much like the people who lived there before. It was overwhelmingly white, whereas the people still in shelters were overwhelmingly black. So, I think that the overall vision is massive land grabs, radical gentrification, and as Jeremy's piece makes clear, the gentrification is happening with privatized military force.

    JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, in your article, Naomi, you talk about the areas that have begun to be repopulated, and you mention the census figures on the racial breakdowns the French Quarter: 90% white, the Garden District: 89% white, Audubon: 86% white. And you talk about the attempts to -- the housing that was vacant in these neighborhoods that is not being used to settle some of those dislocated. Could you talk about that for a minute?

    NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah. I was really struck, Juan, that there's just been this general acceptance that because of this geographical quirk of New Orleans which is that the rich and white live on high ground, and the poor live in low-lying areas that of course, there is going to be this massive demographic shift in the city. There's been this acceptance that the people who were displaced to Houston and are now being displaced again and that have been scattered across the country will keep moving, because there's really nowhere for them to return to. This became accepted wisdom very, very quickly. I was doing some research about the fights over development before the hurricane, because one of the things that I have noticed in my research is these huge, cataclysmic events are often opportunities to exploit the dislocation that happens after a natural disaster to ram through very unpopular policies.

    From my personal knowledge, it is not a "geographical quirk" that white neighborhoods are located on high ground. Segregation along economic as well as racial ground is an intregal aspect of life in NOLA. And home buying has, in my experience, included evaluating the altitude of the home in relation to the rest of NOLA. The reason for this is obvious after any exceptionally heavy rainfall. The streets in lower elevation areas would flood just because the city pumps couldn't handle the rainfall. No hurricane necessary.

    This, then, is the seamy side of the American Dream for the poor: The social contract doesn't include you. Keep moving, you can be replaced. Your lives have no security. Perhaps you will do better if you can convince able members of your family to join the military. Plenty of work there with a steady paycheck.

    Cynical? You bet! A marvelous way to avoid implementing a mandatory draft. I will bet money that military recruiters are among the refugees as this is written. Just an extension of the poverty draft which is our government's de facto policy anyway. Yeah, buck up, refugees! Veterans of Iraq say NOLA is worse than Bagdad so why don't you go see for yourself?

    Monday, September 26, 2005


    Global Warming Killed This Post

    [Another long and detailed post lost just as I was finishing up. My so-called UPS didn't manage to protect me from a brown-out. My computer clicked off like a light. At least there doesn't seem to be any permanent damage. What follows is an embarrassing bare-bones outline that I doubt will be ever be fleshed out.]

    Robert Freedland's excellent post titled George Bush's Wager at John Kerry for President 2008 is the sort of post I wish I'd written: lots of graphics and quotes tied together with insightful commentary.

    The National Geographic site has an article predicting that they may run out of names for hurricanes this year.

    [I give up. I don't really have the heart to finish this. I think I'll go weep inconsolably while watching Adult Swim cartoons.]

    Nota Bene: This is PBU39, a post inspired by the Progressive Blogger Union (PBU). I participate in PBU because, for me, activism is empty without community. Activism isn't just about showing up for a protest or writing a blog or signing a petition. It's about forming and forging alliances and lines of connection between people and groups. "The people united will never be defeated" isn't just a slogan to be chanted at rallies; it should be a way of life. It begins with working together toward common goals. If you want to see what other PBU members have written about the connection betwen hurricanes and global warming, you can look under the subject header "PBU39" at the PBU group at Flickr. Or you can plug PBU39 into the Technorati search engine.

    Sunday, September 25, 2005


    I am Jack's Stupid Meme

    [Addendum: Belatedly, I realized it's extremely poor netiquette to mention the person who is my source for this meme and then get pissy about dealing with the meme. Really, I'm not pissed at Gypsy; I was just being generally pissy about the meme. My apologies to her. I've linked to the blogs on the list below.]

    Feh, I've been tagged with a meme by SB Gypsy. (I harbor no resentment towards her, really.) I don't have to propagate it but I will answer it. I think a meme is stupid (to me) when it's work to do it. I prefer shallow, fun memes. Light and frothy, that's me. Can't you tell by my posts?

    I changed my mind. I'm not going to answer this meme. I started to get depressed just considering what to say. And my answers weren't very pleasant. Here, you have a go at it if you want. Meme and instructions are below:

    The Rules
    Remove the blog at #1 from the following list and bump every one up one place; add your blog's name in the #5 spot; link to each of the other blogs for the desired cross pollination effect.

    1. Left of Centrist
    2. Fun Central
    3. Last Left Turn Before Hooterville
    4. It's Morning Somewhere
    5. The Gypsy's Caravan

    Next: Select four new friends to add to the pollen count. (No one is obligated to participate and anyone can play if they want to).

    1.) What were you doing 10 years ago?
    2.) What were you doing 5 years ago?
    3.) What were you doing one year ago?
    4.) What were you doing yesterday?
    5.) Five snacks you enjoy
    6.) Five songs I know all the words to.
    7.) Five things you would do if you had a million dollars
    8.) Five things you like doing
    9.) Five bad habits
    10.) Five things I would never wear again
    11.) Five favorite toys


    Milling Around for Peace

    I went out to a peace rally in Amherst today and snapped a few photos. Here's one. The rest are over on my flickr account.


    The Defacing of the President 2005

    The Defacing of the President 2005, Hurricanes Katrina/Rita EditionMore exciting Photoshop mayhem. Warning: I have filters and I'm not afraid to use them. Sorta kinda vaguely patterned after Warhol's portrait of Marilyn Monroe.

    My favorites? I'm partial to the big grin ones and the red eye one. I also like the lower right hand corner one because you can just make out the eyes and mouth underneath the psychedelic surface texture.

    Saturday, September 24, 2005


    Bush: No Need to Thank Us... We're Glad to Help!

    So happy you came to town.

    Friday, September 23, 2005


    The Last Days of Bush the Vampire

    A little more amusment. Ha. Ha. Ha.

    Le Vampire Bush (2005) plays with the liminal interplay between addiction and compulsion. The vampire is no ordinary addict; it needs blood or it will die, n'est pas? The ability to kill to survive is inextricably woven into its being, explicit in its very existance. Thus we are reminded of the predator politician, of the people yet destroyer of people.

    Looky at me! I'm a deconstructionist art critic! Hyuk-hyuk!

    Uh, what did I just say? I just drew some fangs on him and made up a funny caption. You got a problem with that?


    NOLA Floods Again

    Great. Rita comes through and two of the three places where the water broke through to flood New Orleans break again.

    My question: How did this happen? I understand that there are other priorities with draining the city but it seems just about as strange an occurrence as I can recall. Here’s the situation as I see it: A slow initial response to Katrina and her aftermath but eventually help arrives in force over two weeks ago. Cleaning up begins, restoring power, etc. Except there seems to be more military and mercenaries in town than necessary. These folks are “keeping the peace” but mostly not helping with the actual work of cleaning and rebuilding as far as I could tell. Now, those plugs in the broken gaps keeping the water out of the city are temporary. It might be a good idea to make sure they will hold since it is still hurricane season on into October through November 30. Gee, weren’t there three hurricanes that hit Florida one after another just last year?

    So why weren’t the “temporary” dams shored up after the immediate emergency was past? Were they going to wait until a good job could be done? They’ve had two weeks to do it.

    I don’t know who to blame but I’d sure like to blame someone. Because this level of bungling must have a source. My initial thought is to blame someone at the Federal level because I suspect that the local officials would have some inkling about making sure the water stays out of the city. I’m pissed.

    [Addendum: This is strange but I wonder about the affect of particular heat or cold spots on the land masses to create "alleys" or paths of hurricanes to go. Because of the earth's rotation, I think hurricanes are spawned in particular ways and in particular directions. Hurricanes north of the equator always spin counterclockwise and generally seem to travel east to west. In the same way that there is a "tornado alley" in the midwest, there appears to be a not as well defined alley for hurricanes to travel out of the Atlantic into the Gulf of Mexico and the US east coast. I don't know what my point is though.]

    [Addendum 2: Perhaps I'm smarter than I know. This paragraph from the Pew Center on Climate Change almost exactly echoes my first addendum.
    Higher ocean temperatures may also influence the tracks of hurricanes, increasing the likelihood of hurricanes tracking through the Caribbean or making landfall on the U.S. east coast. Although his phenomenon is not very well understood, a track of unusually deep and warm water appears to have led Katrina directly to the Gulf Coast when it struck Louisiana and Mississippi.]


    Graffiti Wall

    I got this through Samantha Burns' blog. You can sign the wall through the link below. It will either be amusing to watch or kind of pathetic. I'm taking bets with 3 to 1 odds it will be the latter. Takers?

    Click here to sign my Graffiti Wall! (Powered


    Information Clearing House

    A recent discovery (for me), Information Clearing House has a staggering amount of links to current news stories. The subtitle is "News you won't find on CNN or FoxNews". They will send you an email summary with links six days a week if you want to subscribe.

    They are also currently making an appeal for donations to this free service. Consider giving them a little money.

    Because I become overwhelmed by too much information at once, I'm having a problem absorbing even the relatively concise summaries with the links. When my mind hits saturation, I just stop mentally processing what my eyes are seeing. But I still think it's a good source for info.


    Random 10 Songs, "I do what I want!" Edition

    More randomly generated songs from my obviously mired-in-the-past computer collection of music.
    1. Burning of the Midnight Lamp, Jimi Hendrix Experience
    2. That's the Way, Page & Plant
    3. Cock in My Pocket, Iggy & the Stooges
    4. Pieces of the Night, Gin Blossoms
    5. Heaven Tonight, Cheap Trick
    6. Reflecting Pool, Bob Mould
    7. Red Right Hand, Nick Cave
    8. The Magnificent Seven, The Clash
    9. Little Doll, The Stooges
    10. I Wanna Be Your Dog, The Stooges
    Bonus Song: Pablo Picasso by Burning Sensations



    The Lighter Side of Katrina

    Ha! Bet you didn't know there was a lighter side to destruction, death, martial law, etc. Actually there isn't.

    I've been keeping in touch with my nomadic and displaced NOLA family members through email. They were fortunate in being able to leave town before Katrina hit. Their exodus/journey has wandered all over the south and into the Midwest. My sister included the following paragraph in one of her posts:
    So my mind has been whirling around... how about some prizes for categories when we get back... the most miles logged between evacuation and reentry, the most homes in the time period, the most emails, the most volume on the blogs, the furthest home, the closest home, the funniest story, the longest story, the most boring story, the weirdest thing taken during evacuation, the most essential thing forgotten during evacuation. Any other categories??
    I think this is a pretty funny idea. Perhaps an American Idol style competition could be organized. I admit I'm stymied on adding other categories. Suggestions?

    Thursday, September 22, 2005


    Insulted by Search Terms and Searching for Insults

    There is a certain "Is the glass half empty or half full?" aspect to examining the search terms that led people to my blog. On one hand, my strangely high ranking on Google and Yahoo searches is gratifying. On the other, some of the actual search words and phrases depress me.

    Two searches which are on my mind recently are "bigger penis" and "women slaves" or slight variations. Now perhaps I am too close to properly evaluate the content of my blog but I don't think these searches are indicative of most of my writing here. I know I can't control what people search on or their clickthroughs to get here yet I have a low-level sense of horror about these results.

    My mind has trouble visualizing the person searching for women slaves as, say, a feminist researching the subject. Instead, I immediately think of a guy looking for nasty fantasy fodder. I'm much more satisfied when a search on "patriarchy" ends up here as happens occasionally. This says something about my value system but more importantly it says something about the weight and ancillary meanings we all assign to words. These peripheral yet strong associations also act as clues to social/cultural groupspeak and identity.

    By groupspeak, I mean the jargon and cant of particular subcultures, the words and phrases that mark inclusion in the group. These words act as signposts and displays of affinity with the group. "Patriarchy" is a word that will generally be used in feminist discussion although there is specialized religious usage as well. And, no, I'm not discounting the actual literal communication value of the word but it's not my focus at the moment.

    The use of particular words and insults to differentiate one's membership in or aversion to identity groups is very commonplace. One thing that disturbs me is the use of perceived insult words to dismiss or attempt to ridicule a person or group. I'm drawn to try and understand the insult. It usually seems to say much more about person saying the insult than the target. I even get the impression that if you asked the insulter to define what they just said they would be bewildered, not because of difficulty of definition but because the insult is more symbolic and based in identity jargon than literal.

    A comment in another blog used the phrase "you leftist liberal wackos" as an obvious insult. Notice how the primary insult is "wackos" and the rest of the phrase is a descriptive line drawn to fence in a particular group target. In the groups included (leftists and liberals), these are not insulting words, but the writer has obviously identified these words as derogatory in her/his peer group and thus good insults. After all, the writer would be insulted if called these words.

    I get annoyed at the common use of insult in political discussion. It neither creates nor furthers serious discussion. Calling the opposition fuckheads or fucktards may be personally satisfying and but it is a tad counterproductive.*

    My regular readers may have noted that I'm not so big on using taboo words here. I'm not offended by them; a shouted "Fuck!" is an excellent tension release. Overreliance on them, however, shows a certain lack of imagination and articulation. The regular use of "fucking" as an intensifier (e.g., fucking idiot) too often renders the word into a null and non-communicative sound signifying nothing. Eventually it just becomes a verbal tic like saying "um" or "you know" constantly in conversation.

    This post has gone far afield and I'm not sure how to end it. Ah, here's a question if you've made it this far: What words would you use to describe this blog?

    *Not that I'm above calling members of the current administration fucktards as well, because... well, because they are. And sometimes the frustration at their arrogance and stonewalling leads to the overwhelming urge to call the shitheads "shitheads."


    Three Dogs, No Waiting

    Consider this a preemptive Friday Dog Blogging post. I'm pretty irregular about posting pics of them anyway.

    Our three dogs giving the camera the evil eye. Sheena and Ripley are uncharacteristcally sharing a beanbag chair. Mara, in front, is wearing what we refer to as her "fear biter" look. 'tho we've been able to rehabilitate her quite a bit (she's a rescue dog), we still suspect she may be quite crazy. But she's happy crazy. She can't seem to help being happy most of the time.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2005


    The Dead in Iraq

    As usual, I started on what I thought would be a simple quest for the number of dead in Iraq during and since the invasion in 2003 by Coalition forces. The number of Coalition dead is pretty well documented with nary a bobble. Iraq Coalition Casualty Count has a running count. But civilian and "enemy" (Iraqi military and/or insurgency forces) casualty figures are much harder to find accurate figures for.

    There is the much ballyhooed Lancet publication of a study that estimates approx. 100,000 Iraqis dead in Oct. 2004, but that study has some serious flaws as noted in this Slate article and this Wikipedia entry. While I would hope that a "peer-reviewed" study has credibility and is valid, I can't readily discount the criticism I've read. Particularly interesting is the statistical parameters of the results: The authors are 95% certain the number of dead is between 8,000 and 194,000. In other words, the hundred thousand number usually quoted is just (basically) the median number between those extremes. This may be the best they can do considering their methods of gathering information but I'm underwhelmed by the broad resulting range.

    This Wikipedia entry on "Casualties of the conflict in Iraq since 2003" has some fairly good figures as of August, 2005.

    The Iraq Body Count site seems to be a good place to find baseline information on the number of dead. My understanding (and I may be wrong) is that they are considered conservative in their estimates. Here is a statement from the site:
    What we are attempting to provide is a credible compilation of civilian deaths that have been reported by recognized sources. Our maximum therefore refers to reported deaths - which can only be a sample of true deaths unless one assumes that every civilian death has been reported. It is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media.
    As of this writing, the minimum number of reported civilian deaths is 25,885 and maximum is 29,187. These numbers are mainly gathered from documented news sources The site also includes a database of incidents. This is the description :
    This is a human security project to establish an independent and comprehensive public database of media-reported civilian deaths in Iraq resulting directly from military action by the USA and its allies. This database includes up to 7,350 deaths which resulted from coalition military action during the "major-combat" phase prior to May 1st 2003. In the current occupation phase the database includes all deaths which the Occupying Authority has a binding responsibility to prevent under the Geneva Conventions and Hague Regulations. This includes civilian deaths resulting from the breakdown in law and order, and deaths due to inadequate health care or sanitation.
    A Guardian article from July 19, 2005 uses Iraq Body Count as a source and includes these paragraphs:
    The figures, compiled from Iraqi and international media reports, found US and coalition military forces were responsible for 37% of the deaths, with anti-occupation forces and insurgents responsible for 9%. A further 36% were blamed on criminal violence.

    Civilian deaths attributed to US and coalition military forces peaked in the invasion period from March to May 2003 - which accounts for 30% of all civilian deaths in the two-year period - but the longer-term trend has been for increasing numbers to die at the hands of insurgents.
    Adding up the percentages, I get 82% total; so what caused those other 18% to die a violent death? I think my imagination is so overwhelmed it's flaking out.

    So this sad trip through the statistics of death in Iraq closes. I don't really know if I've learned anything beyond the fact that in any war, innocent people will die. Generals and politicians will call their deaths regrettable but unavoidable. While there may be just wars, the more I look at the history of wars, the more I conclude war is a ravening beast which devours both good and evil in its hunger. Only a few gain from war: politicians and certain companies.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2005


    You Want the Truth? They Don't Know How to Speak the Truth...

    For a little while I lost my way. I began to believe that Bush and Co. would somehow redeem themselves through their (eventual) actions on the Hurricane Katrina front. I hoped they would show real compassion. This was, of course, delusional on my part. I have a habit of succumbing to false hope, of forgetting cynicism, of thinking the best of people. How foolish! Particularly when it comes to the current administration.

    Like Orwellian Newspeak, this administration has a code for the words they speak. Compassion means drawn out torture. Faith-based means Christian faith-based. Security means stripping and degrading prisoners. Culture of life means death to designated enemies. See how that works? It's just a matter of figuring out the hidden meaning so you can decrypt the utterances and proclamations. Because no matter what they say, they mean something else.

    They often say words which sound right, which give an impression of caring. But they don't care at all. Or, rather, they care about very different things than the ones they speak of.

    This is the legacy of this administration: They lie. They are secretive to the point of psychotic paranoia. Their retribution is unstinting. The engine of their goals is greed. They make a virtue of arrogance and call it "strength." Contempt is their core operating philosophy, not conservatism. Real conservatism has values; they have none, just frantic power-seeking and willful destruction.

    I've concluded that they never, ever speak the truth. The more honest they appear, the more deceit involved. "Clear Skies" indeed. Fool me once, shame on them. Fool me a thousand times, shame on me.

    I'm taking a pledge to never believe them again. Nor will I believe their associates, their staffs, anyone who works for or with them. Those who ally themselves with them are suspect in my eyes. This is aggressive surgical treatment of a cancer on the body politic: excise it. And perhaps cut out some of the healthy tissue in the process just to make sure it's all gone. This is the miserable strait I am brought to: pure and total repudiation of every nasty and vicious one of them. I suggest you do too.

    [Disclaimer: I should note, in deference to certain laws about making threats against the President, that I am not advocating violence. The term "surgical treatment" is a metaphor. This means I'm not speaking about physically harming the President, right? Because that would be wrong and illegal.]

    [The fact that I feel a need to explicitly state the disclaimer above says something about the state of free speech in this country. Is it just me being paranoid or overly cautious? Perhaps. Probably. But that's the beauty of persecuting dissenters: It sends a message to everyone. We become fearful of making bold statements for fear of misinterpretation. And it will silence some.]

    Monday, September 19, 2005


    My Pre-Raphaelite, Symbolist Heart

    John Everett Millais, Ophelia (1851-52)

    In vague response to The Green Knight's Friday Art blog post, I'm posting a favorite bit of art. Why? Because I likes pretty pictures. Rossetti's dandy, but here is a picture that I posted near my desk for many years. It provided plenty of inspiration for my writing during that time.

    Honorable mention also goes to Hylas and the Nymphs (1896) by John William Waterhouse because of the rippling resonances encapsulated in the moment of the painting. Have you ever wondered why Hercules never made it to the Trojan War? No? C'mon, every other half human, half god of the period managed it, why not him? 'cause Herc got left behind on an island while en route to the battle. He was busy looking for his, uh, close young male companion, Hylas. Shame about Hylas who was apparently drowned in the arms of the charming water Nymphs.

    Do you sense a subtle water and death theme between these two paintings? Yup, thas me, going to the well and drinking deep while trying not to fall in. Trying to create without becoming washed away in the flood. Uh, metaphorically speaking, not like New Orleans in recent weeks.

    Sunday, September 18, 2005


    Names, A Brief Observation

    I've been doing a little research on names. You know, people names like Peter and Mary. In the course of this, I came across the Social Security Administration site on "Popular Baby Names." This lists the popularity and ranking of baby names in the US for every year since 1879. You can parse the info in many different ways. You can put in a name and see its rank of popularity for every year. This assumes that the name makes it into the top 1000 names. More obscure names won't show up.

    The historical data is interesting but one thing I immediately noticed was a pattern in the female names in the top 20. The pattern held for names in 2004 and for names in 1900.

    Female names were dominated by names that began with vowels or "M". There were eleven of the top twenty girl names in each of the years that met this criteria. I couldn't discern any comparable pattern in the boy names.

    Nothing earth-shattering here, just... interesting.


    Who Am I?

    I have an ongoing theme of wonder and puzzlement concerning my search engine ranking. You can look here for a previous post on this. I don't spend any effort to speak of finagling or finessing my ranking yet I often find my posts near the top of some searches that surprise me.

    The example at the moment: a Google search on "i blame the patriarchy" (no quotes) listed a post of mine as number six out of 374,000 hits. My ranking is even higher when you consider that the first two positions are the I Blame the Patriarchy site itself and two others are from the same site, Creek Running North. This puts my hit effectively at number four.

    Now, I Blame the Patriarchy is a great blog but I can't believe my comments are that important nor the first to give prominent shout outs to it. So what is the weighting process?

    The question is: How the hell do I rank like this? This blog is a relatively quiet corner of blogland. The number of hits to my blog (according to my counters) is still under 5,000 in over a year. Mind you, I'm not complaining but I remain confused. And this example isn't even the most bizarre. Truly, the internets are strange.

    [Addendum: In related news, I've cut down on the number of rotating title graphics at the top of the blog from 32 to 22. I don't know what possessed me to put so many up. I'll be whittling them down more in the future. Through a slight file name glitch, a graphic with the strangest search phrase to lead to my blog wasn't appearing. The search phrase was "lies of the devil rape dominance fear stuttering." If you've come across a stranger search string that actually led to your website or blog, please, please leave a comment and tell me. It's creeping me out. But obviously not so much that I won't exploit it. I like weird.]

    Saturday, September 17, 2005


    Seeing Disaster Through Glasses the Color of Money

    [Important prefatory note: Nothing, NOTHING pisses me off as much as finishing writing a post and having it eaten by the gremlins of Blogger or the internet. I know, I know. I shouldn't be writing it online in Blogger, I should write it offline in Word or something else. Yet I've never gotten cut and paste to work properly between Word and Blogger. I always lose all the emphasis and links no matter how I try to massage the text. (Do not doubt that I know how to massage text. I can make text reach... I'm leaving that sentence unfinished to protect your sensitive sensibilities. No one should have that image in their mind.)

    You may grasp from this line of ranting that I lost a couple of hours of work on this post. I will never do as thorough a job the second time; I inevitably forget important points, making my already scattered approach seem even more disjointed. Right now, I just feel like posting the links I used and forgo all commentary. Plus I need to feed lung tea to Fierce Celt, my housemate, who has come down with a hellacious cough with bronchial congestion and fever. Oh, well... Perhaps I'll come back to the post and flesh it out later. (yeah, sure. don't hold your breath for the expanded version.) Here are the basics.]

    From Heritage Foundation Capitalizes on Katrina by Bill Berkowitz:
    Drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, suspend environmental regulations including the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, suspend prevailing wage labor laws, promote vouchers and school choice, repeal the estate tax and copiously fund faith-based organizations. These are just some of the recommendations a trio of hearty Heritage Foundation senior management officials are making to best facilitate the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast.

    Just as the Iraq War has been a Petri Dish for the neoconservative foreign policy agenda, rebuilding the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina could prove to be the mother of all testing grounds for a passel of active Heritage Foundation's domestic policy initiatives.

    From Katrina Unleashes Corporate Vultures by Bill Berkowitz:
    As the toxic waters inundating New Orleans receded into Lake Pontchartrain, headed for the Gulf of Mexico, huge corporations circled the devastated Gulf Coast like vultures. Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), a subsidiary of the Houston, Texas-based Halliburton --– the company formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney, which has made hundreds of millions of dollars off the War in Iraq --– inked a $16.6 million Navy contract to repair Gulf Coast military facilities. The Shaw Group, a Baton Rouge, La.-based $3 billion-a-year construction and engineering firm, announced, "“that it had received two contracts of up to $100 million each, one from FEMA, the other from The Corps of Engineers, to work on levees, pump water out of New Orleans and provide assistance with housing,"” the New York Times recently reported.

    Both KBR and The Shaw Group have at least one thing in common; they are clients of Joseph M. Allbaugh, the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Allbaugh is the man principally responsible for bringing "“Brownie"” --– Michael Brown, the woefully unprepared head of FEMA who recently resigned from the agency --– on board. Allbaugh also spearheaded the Bush Administration'’s efforts to downsize the agency.

    In early September, Allbaugh came to Baton Rouge hunting up business for The Allbaugh Co., the Washington, DC-based lobbying outfit he and his wife Diane established after he left FEMA in 2003. The Allbaugh Co. specializes in advising companies how to get in on lucrative disaster relief projects.

    Also see After Katrina, Republicans push conservative measures.

    Thus ends this wretched excuse for a post.

    NB: This is PBU38, a post coordinated with other members of Progressive Blogger Union (PBU). I participate because, for me, activism is empty without community. Activism isn't just about showing up for a protest or writing a blog or signing a petition. It's about forming and forging alliances and lines of connection between people and groups. "The people united will never be defeated" isn't just a slogan to be chanted at rallies; it should be a way of life. It begins with working together toward common goals. If you want to see what other PBU members have written about right-wing proposals to rebuild the Gulf Coast, you can look under the subject header "PBU38" at the PBU group at Flickr. Or you can plug PBU38 into the Technorati search engine.


    Friday Random 10 "Bored with the USA" edition

    Another set of boring songs.
    1. Turn it Around, Husker Du
    2. Red Right Hand, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
    3. Rat Salad, Black Sabbath
    4. Gift, Sugar
    5. A Drug Score (pt. 3 - Flash Backs), Roy Cooper, Tomoyasu Hotei
    6. Knocking on Joe, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
    7. King and Queen of Siam, Frank Black & The Catholics
    8. Come Home, Placebo
    9. Holding My Own, The Darkness
    10. The Red House, David Byrne


    Saving Sin City Graphic

    Just another of my attempts to gain some proficiency with Photoshop. It would be nice if I could just throw something like this out and be proud of it but I'm far too aware of the flaws in them. I sadly lack the skills of folks who do really good parodies. The Heretik does some funny pics like this one.

    I still haven't quite mastered the blending of layers. I'm also pretty hit and miss with matching the colors between different items making up the collage. And either I'm missing something or Photoshop can't handle fonts for shit. I had to go into Illustrator to add the "starring Blackwater Mercenaries." I couldn't seem to find any anti-aliasing controls in P'shop for the text. It was blocky and mondo ugly.

    Hey, the graphic isn't showing up. WTF? *mutters and trundles off to poke at Blogger*

    Hmmph! Blogger didn't like the graphic for some reason so I put it over on flickr. I'm collecting a few of these on my account over there. Take a look.

    I did surprisingly well with the "saving" considering I only copied the "s" and drew the rest. I was going to put Condi Rice on the woman at far left but I felt too lazy to do it. Hey, I completely missed changing the "In Theatres..." line! That's ripe for something like "Coming to a Sunken City with Shock and Awe force for the forseeable future." Eh, that's a little long but you get the idea. Ta!

    Friday, September 16, 2005


    Fear and Loathing in NOLA Securityland

    It's easy to note how much the later coverage of NOLA has been dominated by "security" and "restoring order." After the excruciatingly slow federal response to the results of Hurricane Katrina, the military (and others) moved in. Two weeks after the hurricane, footage I saw of the city was dominated by patrols of armed men.

    I'm not saying that some of it wasn't necessary but, like Iraq, it appeared the response was one of using overwhelming force to control the situation. I was particularly impressed by how the armed response seemed to massively overshadow aid and relief efforts.

    The appearance of Blackwater mercenaries in the French Quarter is worrisome.
    JEREMY SCAHILL: One of the Blackwater guys said that when he heard New Orleans, he asked, "“What country is that in?"” And he was bragging to me about how he drives around Iraq in what he called a State Department issued level five explosion-proof BMW. This, as U.S. soldiers don't even have proper armor on their Humvees and other vehicles. And so, we also overheard one of the Blackwater guys talking to, we presume, a colleague, complaining that he was only being paid $350 a day plus his per diem, and that other firms were paying much more. And we're seeing many of these Blackwater mercenaries and other private security agents roaming the streets of New Orleans.

    And what's significant is that the way it's being reported and the way the company is presenting it is that they are here to help with the hurricane relief efforts, but they told us clearly that they are engaged in quote, "“stopping criminals"” and that they're actually patrolling the streets. In fact, we saw them take over a building on Bourbon Street when we were walking around with them. And now they have set up shop there on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. So this is very, very disturbing, I think, for anyone who knows the record of Blackwater. Of course, they do not ask questions first. They shoot first, and that is their reputation in Iraq. And so, Americans should be asking right now what these kinds of trained killers are doing on the streets of New Orleans, apparently on contract from the Department of Homeland Security.

    AMY GOODMAN: And Jeremy, as we went around, saw other figures, we didn't know who they worked for, like those in front of Hibernia Bank, as we were driving by and John Hamilton was filming. They flagged down our car. They said, "“Stop the filming."” And we said, "“Why?"” And they said, "“We just said '‘stop the filming.'"” They said, "“These are our streets,"” and made clear next to their sports shirt, you could see clearly that they were carrying guns.

    Now it's coming out that, while Michael Brown of FEMA has taken the fall for the response problems, Michael Chertoff, head of the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) was actually the only one with direct authority to mobilize the response.

    But Chertoff - not Brown - was in charge of managing the national response to a catastrophic disaster, according to the National Response Plan, the federal government's blueprint for how agencies will handle major natural disasters or terrorist incidents. An order issued by President Bush in 2003 also assigned that responsibility to the homeland security director.

    But according to a memo obtained by Knight Ridder, Chertoff didn't shift that power to Brown until late afternoon or evening on Aug. 30, about 36 hours after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi. That same memo suggests that Chertoff may have been confused about his lead role in disaster response and that of his department.

    Suggestions that the levees were deliberately blown in order to carry out military occupation and bizarre urban renewal through devastation are undoubtedly false. And that the delays in aid were in order, not to save people, but to assure the destruction of parts of the city. Obviously these are just rumors. There is not a shred of proof that I am aware of. Yet the appearance of the rumors shows how much distrust and suspicion there is of the weak, delayed and incompetent government response.

    So the answer seems to be lots of security. Sweeping all things up. Related and not.


    Still Pissed at Bush

    It happened that I was driving when Pres. Bush gave his speech from Jackson Square in New Orleans. Perhaps this is why I listened to it. Generally I can't stand watching him speechify on TV. The everpresent smirk and the fleeting nasty expressions which constantly flicker across his face actually make me ill. I'm not sure I've ever watched a whole speech of his. I change the channel or turn off the TV in disgust.

    Somehow having to only hear his voice kept me from changing the channel. And I wanted to hear whether he would pull a rabbit out of his hat/ass, really say something comforting or noble. To my surprise he said a few good things about assistance and aid to the people of the disaster area. I don't know if any of it will actually appear but they were sound like good steps in the right direction.

    Yet my anger flared up at regular intervals during the speech. It usually wasn't any point in particular which set me off. It was that I couldn't let him off the hook that easily. Making the effort in this particular case isn't enough for me to forgive the tremendous horrors he's visited on the country and the world.

    Even if he handled everything related to Hurricane Katrina perfectly from this moment forward (and he won't), I would still be overwhelmed by the oppressive misery he has, with all due deliberation (and prayer), spread far and wide.

    It was the fourth paragraph of his speech that brought a snarl to my lips:
    We have also witnessed the kind of desperation no citizen of this great and generous nation should ever have to know: fellow Americans calling out for food and water, vulnerable people left at the mercy of criminals who had no mercy, and the bodies of the dead lying uncovered and untended in the street.
    I thought: Great numbers of Americans call out for food and water and shelter every day, every hour, every minute. The grand disaster of American capitalism befell them. It wasn't the starkly visible and obvious event of Hurricane Katrina but it is just as deadly. It's the tidal fear driving so many Americans attempting to stay ahead of creeping poverty and striving to dodge harrowing debt. This dark nightmare side of the American Dream is visible everywhere.

    I'm still pissed at Bush.

    P.S.: Does anyone else get creeped out at the phrase "armies of compassion?" The militarism juxtaposed with empathy doesn't win my heart, it makes me shudder.

    Thursday, September 15, 2005


    Mystery Words from My Teen Years

    When I was a teen, I used to write on bookmarks words I wanted to look up in the dictionary. Sometimes they were words I knew the general definition of but wanted to refresh myself as to the specifics of the definition. Other words I had never come across before. So I have a few of these bookmarks hanging around that are yellowed and faded with lists of words, some of them quite odd. You undoubtedly don't care but here is one such list.


    My guess is I picked up most of these from the books of Robert E. Howard, best known as the literary creator of Conan the Barbarian. He was a prolific pulp writer of fantasy in the 1920s and 1930s.

    I went through a phase of reading almost everything written by everyone who contributed to the so-called Cthulhu Mythos started by H.P. Lovecraft and his circle of friends. Clark Ashton Smith was another author I was reading at the time.

    I was not always the dour and serious blogger you see here (mostly). I read books with covers by Frank Frazetta like the one at left. Frazetta's paintings were full of brave, brawny hunks with small brains and women dressed in scraps of leather and metal which defied physics and gravity. Creatures of various types also inhabited the paintings. Note the gator plus tentacles and winged imps in the background.

    I'm embarrassed by this history of my frivolous reading and the visual aid I've provided but them's the breaks. I've got a confessional mojo on at the moment.

    Wednesday, September 14, 2005


    Neo-Feudalism and Neo-Conservatism

    I have no confidence in the originality of my thought processes. I can never tell whether an idea that suddenly seems completely obvious to me is, in fact, original or whether I've mentally digested something I read earlier and spontaneously coughed it back up with my own supporting documentation. Is it plagiarism if I don't have any clue whether it's me or Memorex? If I had a properly ordered mind, I would painstakingly trace the development of my process and the results. As it is, I just go with the flow.

    Thus, I was struck by the parallels between feudalism and certain aspects of conservatism. It's not really fleshed out but here's the sketchy details.

    Feudalism was a typical pyramidal power structure: serfs, craftspeople, midlevel power brokers, knights, queen/king. Lines of authority and hierarchy were generally fairly plain and obvious.

    While much of the old feudalism was based on control of land, today's feudalism follows other economic concentrations of capital as well. (Once I bring in the word "capital" I seem to recall Karl Marx must have posited a similar lineage, but I admit I've read little Marx.) Land is still often a signpost of status. Bush's "estate" in Crawford includes 1600 acres, if I recall correctly. But because we value more and different things than production of food, economic and social capital concentrates through more than land. Factories, production, celebrity, politics, etc.

    In a way, I see the NeoCons as a peculiar type of knight errant of the Neo-Feudalism. First, they are striving to consolidate and extend the US's influence and dominance on political and military levels. Second, they are trying to secure access to the raw resources necessary to maintain our high energy consumption way of life. Third, they don't give a shit what other countries or people think about the process except in a very specific public relations/image way.
    Uh, now I've lost track of where I was going. So much for concentration.


    Analyzing Images and Body Language

    Sometimes I forget why I like some of the sites on my blogroll. Then I have the joy of rediscovering them. BAGnewsNotes has an excellent deconstruction of photos of Laura Bush visiting refugees in the disaster area. Her body language and the poses are taken apart. If it was just for one photo, it might be overreading the image but over several it's easy to see the pattern. Here's some of the text but for the full effect you need to see the pictures and diagrams.
    Besides the one image where Laura is shaking hands, she comes off like the rich, white, out-of-touch alien that she is. If these were the best images the White House could put together (characterized by passive resistance, hesitancy and awkwardness), I'd hate to see the worst.

    These people are devastated, in shock and angry. The have next-to-no personal space or control over that space. Not only does Mrs. Bush randomly interject herself inside those boundaries, she further can't seem to keep her hands off people. (From my reading, it seems that almost every physical advance is uninvited.)

    Whenever you see images of Mrs. Bush in public, she conveys the feeling of someone moving from spot to spot in service of the camera. Because she and the President show little evidence of compassion or outreach beyond the incessant act of documenting the fact, these images look painfully like gestures when you would think unselfconscious support and solidarity would come a lot more easily.


    Another Fortean for Weirdness

    I have too many books. How can I actually say that? I love books. I suck them up the way other people buy soda. I even hold on to books I don't like. It's a disease, this bibliophilia, which afflicts me.

    So when I stumbled upon my ancient copy of Charles Fort's Lo! with it's quirky psychotronic cover art, I thought I should share it. The publication date of this edition says 1941 but to my eye the art looks more like the mid to late 1950s, perhaps even the '60s. The price of 95 cents seems a high for '41 as well. I'm not an expert, tho.

    If you have no idea who Charles Fort is or why you should care, take yourself on over to the Fortean Times site. The world is a strange place and a proper sense of mystery is necessary for my mental hygiene. Actually you might want to go to About Fortean Times which has a little bio of Mr. Fort.


    Actually, Yes, the Feds ARE Responsible

    This is a very interesting little report. I've copied the text below from The Stakeholder who took it from the 25 page report. Go here for the original PDF file. However you should be aware that the PDF is of a rather poor fax. It's readable but messy and crooked. Of particular note: The PDF includes copies of the letter from Louisiana Gov. Blanco and the Dept. of Homeland Security announcement/letter acknowledging their responsibility. All emphasis below is mine.
    Report Confirms that Louisiana Took Necessary and Timely Steps

    Pursuant to a September 7 request by Representative John Conyers to review the law and legal accountability relating to Federal action in response to Hurricane Katrina, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) issued a report today about whether the Governor of Louisiana took the necessary and timely steps needed to secure disaster relief from the federal government. The report unequivocally concludes that she did.

    Congressman Conyers issued the following statement:

    "This report closes the book on the Bush Administration's attempts to evade accountability by shifting the blame to the Governor of Louisiana for the Administration's tragically sluggish response to Katrina. It confirms that the Governor did everything she could to secure relief for the people of Louisiana and the Bush Administration was caught napping at a critical time."

    In addition to finding that " would appear that the Governor did take the steps necessary to request emergency and major disaster declarations for the State of Louisiana in anticipation of Hurricane Katrina. (p.11)" The report found that:

    * All necessary conditions for federal relief were met on August 28. Pursuant to Section 502 of the Stafford Act, "[t]he declaration of an emergency by the President makes Federal emergency assistance available," and the President made such a declaration on August 28. The public record indicates that several additional days passed before such assistance was actually made available to the State;

    * The Governor must make a timely request for such assistance, which meets the requirements of federal law. The report states that "[e]xcept to the extent that an emergency involves primarily Federal interests, both declarations of major disaster and declarations of emergency must be triggered by a request to the President from the Governor of the affected state";

    * The Governor did indeed make such a request, which was both timely and in compliance with federal law. The report finds that "Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco requested by letter dated August 27, 2005...that the President declare an emergency for the State of Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina for the time period from August 26, 2005 and continuing pursuant to [applicable Federal statute]" and "Governor Blanco's August 27, 2005 request for an emergency declaration also included her determination...that 'the incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments and that supplementary Federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of disaster."

    Tuesday, September 13, 2005


    Bush: Taking Responsibility... but not the blame

    When I heard that Pres. Bush was taking responsibility for the problems with the response to Hurricane Katrina, I thought of an old David Frye comedy bit about Richard Nixon. There's a speech by then-President Nixon where he says he takes full responsibility for the Watergate break in... but none of the blame. "Let me explain the difference: People who are responsible keep their jobs. People who are to blame, don't."

    That's the general feeling I get about Bush's bold stance: In what practical and real way does his taking responsibility actually affect him? Usually people who have made mistakes of this magnitude are subject to penalties, reprimands, demotions, firing, etc. Responsibility also includes accepting judgment. Who is able to judge and assess the culpability of the President of the United States? In government, he's the top of the food chain. Even the Supreme Court isn't usually too keen to slap the ruler over the President's hands. And Congress? Please! They won't say "boo!" to the Pres.

    Does his "responsibility" extend to restitution? I expect the Bush administration will do what they always do: Make loud announcements of an aid package, touting how much it works out per person affected by Katrina or some other creative perspective on the numbers. They will proclaim their compassion and brag about how big it is (Insert penis inadequacy joke here.) In reality, the package will be much less than the actual needs of the area and Congress will actually do the dirty work of creating a package more suited to the situation. Then Bush will berate Congress for its spendthrift ways.

    I've seen this scenario too often and I am less impressed each time it plays out.


    Will Geek for Words, Part 9: Hot L Action Words

    Being part 9 of an shambling parade of posts extracting my favorite words and their definitions from the Word Lover’'s Dictionary: Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words by Josefa Heifetz (New York: Carol Publishing, 1974, 1994). For beginning entries in this series, please see Part 1 and Part 2. If you want to find all posts in the series, search on the title "Will Geek for Words" on this site. Eventually I add them to the sidebar listing. Part 9 encompasses the letter L words and their definitions. And, yes, I am using "geek" in that older definition. I love words in a very, very special way.

    Amazingly, this is not a promotional stunt. I am not paid to plug this book yet here I am, mentioning it at the top of each of these posts and linking to the Amazon page for it. However if the publishers are interested in giving me a kickback, I wouldn't be adverse to accepting a nice certificate with a fancy border and calligraphy noting my devotion to language. An honorary degree would be great as well. (What I'll probably get is a "cease and desist" letter from their lawyers. As the saying goes: So sue me. I'm sure it's fair use to include excerpted selections in a non-commercial venture. And did I mention that I'm poor?)

    Monday, September 12, 2005


    Faith Based Government Spending

    I was curious about the government's "faith based" initiatives: How much money is distributed and what is the proportional distribution of various religions (Christian, Jewish, etc.) among the groups receiving money? Relatedly, is there a Christian bias or preference in such distribution?

    This is obviously far beyond the capabilities of a simple blog post and related web research. But I thought I'd give it a shot.

    First I have to point out a fairly obvious limitation of religious charity social programs. By their very nature, such programs are initiated and guided by institutional religious values. Whether they are overtly proselytizing or not, these programs are steeped in religious belief. This affects their philosophy and their goals. I don't mean their belief in God; I mean their priorities and methods for creating programs vis-à-vis their moral structure. A Christian program for troubled teens at risk of pregnancy will probably not thoroughly mention methods of birth control, much less abortion as a possible option in the event of pregnancy.

    I was able to find an interesting piece on the financial side over on TheocracyWatch. But even this is inconclusive. All emphasis mine.

    How much are taxpayers paying for what Barry Lynn, Executive Director of American's United calls "federally subsidized employment discrimination?" According to Daniel Zwerdling who produced two programs on faith-based initiative for Bill Moyers TV show NOW in September, 2003, "administration spokesmen say they can't break down how much money has gone so far to religious groups .. they claim they don't keep that information."

    The March, 2004, issue of Church and State reports that the "Faith Czar" Jim Towey announced to reporters that $40 billion dollars was now available to religious charities.

    By studying White House press releases and the White House web site, Daniel Zwerdling found that religious groups could apply to more than a hundred federal programs that gave out more than $65 billion. In addition, religious groups ccould apply for more money through state-administered programs.

    From the Washington Post, January 4, 2005:

    .. in 2003, groups dubbed "faith-based" received $1.17 billion in grants from federal agencies, according to documents provided by the White House to the Associated Press.

    That's not enough, said H. James Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. An additional $40 billion in federal money is given out by state governments, he said..

    Speaking of Mr. Towey, the following is from a November 26, 2003 online discussion with Jim Towey, Director of Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives:

    Colby, from Centralia MO writes:
    Do you feel that Pagan faith based groups should be given the same considerations as any other group that seeks aid?

    Jim Towey
    I haven't run into a pagan faith-based group yet, much less a pagan group that cares for the poor! Once you make it clear to any applicant that public money must go to public purposes and can't be used to promote ideology, the fringe groups lose interest. Helping the poor is tough work and only those with loving hearts seem drawn to it.

    Since the number of practicing Neo-Pagans in the US probably surpasses the number of Quakers or Unitarian-Universalists, perhaps Mr. Towey isn't looking hard enough. I also love the way he says Neo-Pagans: 1) Don't care for the poor, 2) proselytize, 3) are fringe, and 4) don't have the will and love to carry out such work. It's actually amazing how much insult he can pack into three sentences while sounding mildly amused at the very concept of a Neo-Pagan charity group. (BTW, I use Neo-Pagan to describe relatively recent (circa 1940s to the present) revivals of older polytheistic religions and so-called "new religions." Pagan more accurately describes native and indigenous religions with a relatively unbroken lineage and heritage.)

    Like so many of my posts chronicling my little cyberjaunts through subjects, I have no conclusions. But I like asking questions and seeing where they lead me.


    Revolution Now!

    I've been slowly reading Full Spectrum Disorder: The Military in the New American Century by Stan Goff. Slowly not because it's difficult to understand, but to digest his points. His military background gives his ruminations and conclusions on the pragmatic uses and abuses of armed force weight and power. He couples this with a decidedly sympathetic attitude toward genuinely oppressed people using military arms to empower themselves and take control of government. The result is short of inciting armed revolution but it still gives a strong refutation to the path of liberals and even progressives in the US.
    There is a naive and dangerous faith among people of good will in the churches and coffeehouses and campuses of America and Europe that "righteousness" will win out. Failing to grasp the full context of the nonviolent struggle against British colonialism in India and against Jim Crow in the U.S., where neither could have happened except against the backdrop of a well-armed socialist bloc, there is an ahistorical faith in nonviolent resistance combined with moral imperialism that leads progressives to distance themselves from aggressive armed resistance. Support for the Zapatistas has been so broad precisely because the EZLN has limited its objectives and avoided combat. Liberals and many anarchists are down with that. For entirely different reasons, each of these constituencies opposes any contest for state power. This is lethal when it is the state that is bent on your extermination. And it's why I'm not and never will be a progressive. [p. 41]
    This is key to understanding the lack of responsiveness in the U.S. government (Congress and the Presidency) to non-violent protests of various types. The ways in which our government holds power over us are myriad and the goads to obedience are often less than subtle. The US left's outrage when violence is committed against any protest marchers is hollow because they mostly eschew and repudiate violent tactics. Taking the moral high ground against an institutional embodiment of violence like the US government is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. Or, more appropriately, bringing your strong pacifist beliefs to fight a violent sociopath with a gun. You may stay true to your moral compass but you'll be dead. And, unless you're one of the few exceptionally charismatic personalities who would make a fine martyr, your death will be noted only by a small circle of friends. [Let's give a round of applause to Mr. Phil Ochs.]
    One cannot defend oneself against an unleashed army from "moral" high ground. One needs real high ground -- as in key terrain -- and one needs cover and concealment, well-covered avenues of approach, well-appointed automatic weapons, appropriate tactics, and reliable logistics.[...]

    When any conflict, regardless of its social and political content, escalates to war, war itself asserts a stark logic. All other objectives are sublated into the choice between destroying the enemy's capacity and will to fight or perishing as a viable military force. Military operations are shaped and directed by political objectives -- a fact the U.S. military has yet to grasp in all its complexity -- but the conduct of war is brutally physical. It is the desolate and hideous application of physical laws to the project of open and absolute destruction. When a people or a movement is the target of that destruction, it must employ the same cold pragmatism in its defense, or it will drown in its own blood.
    I've never been a total philosophical pacifist. I've seen non-violence and passive resistance work well in some situations but for me it's always been a tactic for change, not a end position. And, no, I'm not advocating taking up arms against the US government or shooting politicians I disagree with. But I am questioning the effectiveness of protest marches to attain political goals.

    An example is the hunger strike. There has been a long tradition in Ireland of hunger strikes for justice. My understanding is that it was a last resort to attain justice or restitution when you've been wronged. Although we often hear of hunger strikes in prisons due to inhumane conditions, it also used to be a very personal tactic. You went and camped on the doorstep of the person who had wronged you, refusing food (and I think water) until either the person corrected the wrong or you died. Like the albatross around the neck of the ancient mariner, your corpse was the sign to the world of exactly how grievous the injustice done to you by that person. Their honor was forever sullied in that town. Perhaps businesses would no longer allow the person into their shops or do work for them.

    In our mobile society, this is less of a personal issue. The person would just move away, avoiding any opprobrium in the community. Plus it is difficult to sully the honor of people who don't have any.

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