Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Even If Profit is the Most Important Thing . . .

ReasonOnline hosts an entertaining, if not terribly deep, debate setting Whole Foods's prog-libertarian CEO, John Mackey, free market economist and public intellectual Milton Friedman, and T.J. Rodgers, the apparently insanely greedy CEO of Cypress Semiconductor to discuss the civic and social role corporations should play, and how best they should do so.

Mackey, for those who aren't familiar with Whole Foods, considers his corporation's mission to be a sort of global one, and he's prone to occasionally florid pronouncements like identifying "Whole Foods’ core business mission" as "improv[ing] the health and well-being of everyone on the planet through higher-quality foods and better nutrition." Ahem, uh, right buddy.

That said, while he and Friedman engage in a pretty intelligent, pretty straightforward discussion that reflects honest differences of opinion (and some issues regarding terminology and chicken / egg confusion (not literally)), Rodgers comes off sounding like a child, hotheaded, petty and ill-informed.

And I only post this whole thing, honestly, because of how well Mackey blasts Rodgers in rebuttal, something most people in such prominent positions tend to be way too polite to do. The following is only a short sample:

When Rodgers isn’t engaging in ad hominem attacks, he seems to be arguing against a leftist, socialist, and collectivist perspective that may exist in his own mind but does not appear in my article. Contrary to Rodgers’ claim, Whole Foods is running not a “hybrid business/charity” but an enormously profitable business that has created tremendous shareholder value.

Of all the food retailers in the Fortune 500 (including Wal-Mart), we have the highest profits as a percentage of sales, as well as the highest return on invested capital, sales per square foot, same-store sales, and growth rate. We are currently doubling in size every three and a half years. The bottom line is that Whole Foods stakeholder business philosophy works and has produced tremendous value for all of our stakeholders, including our investors.

In contrast, Cypress Semiconductor has struggled to be profitable for many years now, and their balance sheet shows negative retained earnings of over $408 million. This means that in its entire 23-year history, Cypress has lost far more money for its investors than it has made. Instead of calling my business philosophy Marxist, perhaps it is time for Rodgers to rethink his own.

Un-huh -- you just got served, computer boy.

9-11 and the End of the End of History

Forgive my tardiness, but I recently learned that a friend published a piece, on the fourth anniversary of 9-11, in the Post-Gazette. In the Saturday diary, Jerome reviews his experience of that fateful day and subsequent events through the prism of his lifelong passion for history. An excellent piece.

Riding Fixed -- Science and Divinity

Two very interesting perspectives on riding fixed. The pure scientific explanation of its superiority as a simple matter of Newtonian mechanics:

[T]he fix rider can apply force to the crank wherever she or he chooses, and the human system of optimal adaptive control soon will figure out how best to do so. The fix rider can get into the power stroke at 12 o’clock, or a little before, and so utilize the entire downward stroke for propulsion. Way strong!

The free rider can apply downward force beginning only at two o’clock, and so has wasted fully one-third of the downward stroke. This is not good!

Looked at the other way, the fixer has a 50% longer power stroke than the freebie, which equates to 50% more torque and therefore 50% more power at a given cadence.

And a pleasing discusion of fixed's more elusive qualities:

Walking in downtown San Francisco several years ago, before I’d ever even ridden a fixed gear bike, I remember seeing a messenger riding through slow traffic, weaving in and out, looking like a needle stitching all the cars together. This memory sticks with me for some reason, and I suspect it was because of the utter grace of seeing him work his way through the cars, unintentionally making a mockery of the drivers sitting in traffic. I’m positive that it was a fixed gear bike he was riding, not only because they are more often than not the choice of messengers, but also because I remember seeing him pedaling when he sped up and when he slowed down, which took me by surprise. the subtle adjustments he made in his speed and direction were like the subtle adjustments a bird makes in flight. If my niece ever asks me what grace means, I will take her downtown and wait for a messenger on a fixie to pass.

Both care of FixedGearGallery.

This morning my knees and fingers were cold, but my body warm and my heart thrilling to the rush of cold air over and through my helmet. I rode slow, in part because I wasn't in the mood to fly, and in part because I wanted to lengthen the ride. Sun and wind, science and spirit.

Staying On Message Regarding the Judiciary Pays Dividends

Today's lawyer spam included this survey, which found:

A majority of the survey respondents agreed with statements that "judicial activism" has reached the crisis stage, and that judges who ignore voters’ values should be impeached. Nearly half agreed with a congressman who said judges are "arrogant, out-of-control and unaccountable."

A "crisis stage"?! A majority believe that judges who ignore voters' values should be impeached? Good God!!! I mean, the whole reason that they're the only constitutional officials who are free of the electorate and enjoy lifetime tenure is so that they may "ignore voters' values," particularly as brought to bear by the machinations of those officials elected by and beholden to whatever constituents are theirs. Does anyone know the limitations on constitutional impeachment authority?

Oh and it gets worse:

Fifty-six percent of the respondents strongly or somewhat agreed with the opinions expressed in each of two survey statements:

A U.S. congressman has said, "Judicial activism … seems to have reached a crisis. Judges routinely overrule the will of the people, invent new rights and ignore traditional morality." (Twenty-nine percent strongly agreed and 27 percent somewhat agreed.)

A state governor has said that court opinions should be in line with voters’ values, and judges who repeatedly ignore those values should be impeached. (Twenty-eight percent strongly agreed and 28 percent somewhat agreed.)

Forty-six percent strongly or somewhat agreed with the opinion expressed in a third statement:

A U.S. congressman has called judges arrogant, out-of-control and unaccountable. (Twenty-one percent strongly agreed and 25 percent somewhat agreed.)

I begin by noting that I don't consider the questions to be terribly appropriate for a survey, and they clearly are biased to one issue and do not leave the survey-takers room to contradict themselves (say, by following on with some discussion of Dem talking points and soliciting agreement, or by giving quotes without attributing them to such authority figures as governors and senators, or by dropping quotes altogether and moving the terminology off the ideological sinkhole it stands in as administered), but this survey still scares the s*&t out of me, and leaves me once again shaking my head at the marvelous power of vapid repetition, which the Right has refined to such an art you'd think they were all carrying in their hip pocket the supply-side, free-market, social conservative equivalent of Mao's Little Red Book.

Given that in more rigorous surveys, the American people tend, by a slim majority, to accept many of the positions at the heart of the left's program, especially on abortion, education, the war in Iraq, and even taxes, I can't help but suspect that these results reflect the terminology used, and that there's some sort of Pavlovian thing going on with particular phrases repeated ad nauseam by the minions of the Bush administration.

What's really disheartening is the obvious and widespread ignorance of a spate of recent scholarship arriving at the conclusion that, in fact, the Supreme Court in particular usually is more identifiably responsive to social and political trends than to any identifiable school of constitutional interpretation. Sometimes it races ahead of trends (Brown v. Board) and sometimes it lags behind (Lawrence v. Texas), but it pretty much always gets there, with "there" being the political center, reflective of the country's most dominant values (as opposed to the values most loudly shouted by a powerful minority, which is what one might have thought this whole activist judge malarkey was until one read this survey).

Of course, this all may be explained very simply: "A poll commissioned by the ABA in July from Harris Interactive showed a "shocking" 40 percent of respondents could not correctly identify the three branches of government . . . ." But as long as it's a priority of the Right to ensure mediocrity in education, I suppose they can count on continued success in their double-speak fear-mongering. Anyway, if nothing else, that 40 percent number goes a long way toward implying that a majority of Americans actually have no idea about the principles underlying our tripartite government and the judiciary's peculiar role therein. Of course, being as they are a majority, and Congress exercises a significant check over federal court jurisdiction as a matter of constitutional authority, one would not be foolish to shiver a bit at what lies ahead for the Article III courts.

Feet on the Ground

Well, after yesterday's high-flying hit-count, this morning looks much more normal (glad it's just you and me again, friends; it got a little crowded yesterday), but how about the fact that, for the first time, MOP came up in somebody's FOXNews search! Granted, it's "powered by Google" (I keep waiting for a new light to come on when I start my car saying that ubiquitous phrase; Googe is SO the new Microsoft), but even so. FOXNews + MOP = Enhanced troll factor. Bring it on!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

MOP Reaches 10,000

Thanks in large part to activity caused by this post regarding the infamous french fry opinion authored by now-Chief Justice Roberts (or didn't you know?), which has been there for two months now but only suddently engendered interest when it was sort of too late to matter (the spike started at 7AM this morning), MOP has shattered the 10,000 visitor mark pretty hard in the past 24 hours.

A modest sort of thing, but flattering just the same. Thanks to all the people who visit and read. It's fun to know there are a few of you out there.

More Evil Books

Yesterday, I jumped on Majikthise's meme train with a list of "challenged" books and indications as to how many I had read.

I also offered invitations to Emily, Brian, and the crew at Bloodless, each of whom has thrown in and passed it on.

One of Emily's designees not only posted his own list, but came back with the even more challenging slightly-right-of-McCarthy Human Events list of the Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th centuries. With the youth fiction quotient non-existent on this list (Baltar ought to be pleased), and its brevity (thirty books including honorable mentions), it's a much tougher list. As a function of percentage, however, I appear to fall in the same range as with the other list, and I suspect the Bloodless crew will score very well on this since it is a collection of books common to academe (which is probably a pretty good proxy, from an arch conservative point of view, for "dangerous" books) and Brian, philosophy reader non pareil, also should do well.

Here are those I've read (in significant part):

1. Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto (natch)

5. Dewey, Democracy and Education

6. Marx, Das Kaptial, Marx

7. Friedan, The Feminine Mystique

9. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Then from the "Honorable[??] Mentions:"

Mill, On Liberty

Darwin, Origin of Species

Foucault, Madness and Civilization

Gramsci, Prison Notebooks

Freud, Introduction to Pscyhoanalysis

A grand tally of ten out of thirty, but five of the top ten!!! I suppose this means either I'm an academic, a communist, or both. Well, I'm no academic . . . although I am a bit of a fetishist.

Emily already has posted her list. Will Brian and Bloodless? Will Majikthise and her designees?

Ground Zip

So, one more piece of Daniel Liebeskind's breathtaking site plan for Ground Zero is history. As the Times reports, Governor Pataki barred the International Freedom Center from the "memorial quadrant" at Ground Zero, cowing to widespread criticism that "the sacred precinct of the memorial was no place for a lesson in geopolitics or social history, particularly when a separate memorial museum devoted solely to 9/11 was being planned entirely underground, within the trade center foundations."

After critics expressed concern this summer that there would be anti-American exhibitions and programs in the cultural building, Governor Pataki demanded an "absolute guarantee" that neither institution would do anything "to denigrate America."

Rather than respond directly, the Drawing Center began looking for alternative space. But Mr. Bernstein, the chairman of the Freedom Center, and Paula Grant Berry, its vice chairwoman, pledged in a July 6 letter to the development corporation that their museum would never "be used as a forum for denigrating the country we love."

Hillary, the article notes, is on board, as is former Mayor Guiliani. Nothing like celebrating our freedom by asserting prior restraint against anything with even the whiff of critical thought. Let's be clear, here: there's no indication who the arbiters might have been of what constituted "anti-American" material, but, to belabor a familiar point among the several hundred thousand true patriots this country still can boast, nothing is less anti-American than dissent, and nothing more anti-American than homogeneity of viewpoint, censorship of thought, and blind adherence to the governing majority's peculiar viewpoint.

This move furthers an already elaborate, multi-staged effort to pasteurize anything even half-way interesting out of the Ground Zero plan. Libeskind's stunning Freedom Tower has been rendered unrecognizable by a hack of an architect with the right political connections and the abject fear of another terrorist attack, Calavatra's transit hub has been rendered less striking in a clear surrender to the the same fear.

Note to the government: Hey folks, this means the terrorists have won; in the name of patriotism, and in quiet deference to the insurance lobby, your vision of patriotism makes us all look like a bunch of uninspired cowards. Granted, killing everything that moves in a country that had nothing to do with the attack in question showed off our fancy toys, but blowing lots of stuff up isn't evidence of a courageous government, especially when none of the prime actors actually know what it's like to serve their country on a battlefield (the soldiers, to be clear, show a degree of courage I suspect I will never see in myself; it's the government to which this charge is directed). Mr. President, Governor Pataki, Shiftless Pundit Giuliani, Senator Clinton (Craven--NY), how about you try thrusting forth your chin in the spirit of the freedom for which this country singularly stands -- freedom of thought.

The good news for the Bushies: apparently, there is one area in which supply-side thinking works. Supply-side jingoism.

It's going to take us decades to recover from the damage to national morale this administration has done. That is, if we ever do.

I'm sick with what's happened to Ground Zero. To be clear, it's not the aesthetics that matter; I've consistently stood for the courage to create something daring, something utterly memorable, and inasmuch as that necessarily will put some people off, I've been more than prepared to be on the artistically dissatisfied side. But this aesthetic pablum into which the site's many cooks have slowly reduced something that started out as inspired is profoundly offensive.

How is our freedom proclaimed forth to the world in an aesthetic of least-common denominator? Seriously -- somebody please explain.

UPDATE: I revised this moments after first posting to add a couple of digs at supporters of Pataki's decision and to clarify who, precisely, I consider to be craven, and who courageous.

UPDATE 2: Apparently Pataki, et al., still have their eyes on the ball. Retail Plan for Ground Zero is Unveiled. Sometimes the truth just hurts. But then retail is, sadly, America's dominant aesthetic. Or, in the words of Governor Pataki, "[W]e must move forward with our first priority, the creation of an inspiring memorial." Exactly.

Sturm und Drang

Last night, I awakened to a howling so insistent my house might have been clutched in the jaws of death itself. The windows seized fitfully in their casings; wind-driven rain lashed the glass; I feared that the brittle period lights would burst inward in a million glistening gems ahead of the pursuing gusts.

The house groaned on its foundations. A flash of white tattooed my room into memory just before its recession took the room away, and the orange sodium lamp that buzzes outside the far end of my bedroom blinked out. My room had never been so dark.

Reluctantly, I roused myself, shook off the thought that it might be a dream (oddly, I had been dreaming about some scenario involving cheese-shopping, no storms in the offing), and exited the bed toward the window. My feet came to rest gingerly in a patina of wet with a suggestion of a splash; as I lay, near-catatonic and fetal, watching the water pelt the window it had been spraying through the screen to cover the floor.

Checking the roof's integrity was my main priority, but first I might close the windows, and so I did, two of them, leaving the third, with a dripping exhaust fan in it, undisturbed. Surely in 125 years the house had handled its share of water, and bringing the fan in itself promised to be a wet endeavor.

I was leery of the bathroom, near the entry to which I have detected the entry of my one significant breach. It was dry, which was encouraging, although the wind appeared to be blowing favorably, whipping the rainfall over the suspect eave where my home's weakest surface moulders. Thankfully, there was no moisture, no evidence of incursion.

By the time I returned to the room the storm had diminished. I withdrew a towel from the wardrobe and wiped down the sills and floors around the formerly open windows, simple operations I would have neglected in my former apartment. Drying my feet, I finally returned to bed. The alarm clock still was lit and I dozed fitfully.

I used to enjoy thunderstorms.

This morning, I woke at 9:30 facing a blinking clock under a sky so blindingly blue Summer might have wept in bereavement, its palette of hazes in uniform blues and grays no match for Autumn's superior selection of colors and techniques, the sharp angles, brilliant gradients, and stunningly powerful colors of its oils wetly shining.

After calling work to alert them to my tardiness, I pondered briefly: there was no time to bike in; I would have to drive.

A half-hour later, leaving the house, I squinted instinctively against the light, the sky wind-tossed and highlighted with plump clouds in whites and grays of innumerable variation, the pavement wet only in patches and papered with leaves felled prematurely.

The Wind lingered, however, teasing the folds of my shirt, twisting my hair into unlikely formations, whispering that it wished I had opted to ride anyway, that we would have played all the way to work, she and I.

Just shy of my car I turned to face her and smiled with an upcast and proud chin. "How about tomorrow?" I asked.

She sighed, and said that would be just fine.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Rats Who Won't Jump Ship

Josh Marshall pretty much nails it:

House Majority Leader Indicted for Criminal Conspiracy.

Senate Majority Leader the target of an increasingly serious probe of potential insider trading.

Rumors of October Rove indictment in the Plame case.

Is this a problem yet?

Not for me. {grin} More at TPM and the front page of every American media outlet you can imagine. Except maybe The Drudge Report. I'm sure there's some dem shenanigan he can report on in lieu of . . . but then few people mistake Drudge for a "media outlet." Oops, I stand corrected -- about the fact of the coverage; not in my doubt of Drudge's status.

Reading Challenged Books

Majikthise and Kevin Drum and others are going over the list of 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books (as in, by those seeking to ban them) to see how many they've read. Kevin logs 14, Lindsay 29. Here are mine:

4. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

13. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger ("I shoot people in this hat.")

19. Sex by Madonna (I don't remember why, but I'm sure the reason was inadequate)

22. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

23. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous (A "memoir" every bit as fake as Catcher in the Rye, and in any case apparently it failed to keep me off the sauce.)

39. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (Why?)

41. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

47. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

51. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein (Again, Why?)

52. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Irony, anyone?)

55. Cujo by Stephen King (As opposed, one supposes, to his violent books.)

59. Ordinary People by Judith Guest (Challenged, I imagine, for being utterly depressing.)

69. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

70. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

71. Native Son by Richard Wright

77. Carrie by Stephen King (There we go -- violence plus the prom . . .)

83. The Dead Zone by Stephen King (. . . plus ESP and assassination)

84. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

88. Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford (Seriously? Must be a gay couple portrayed in one of the pictures or something.)

It appears from a brief review of this list that virtually every children's book get challenged? Since I was never much for juvenile fiction, the preponderance of same, especially Judy Blume's stuff which comprises a whopping five percent of this list (beating out such superficially lewd authors as Anne Rice), is not reflected by my own peculiar list. As you might tell, Stephen King was my juvenile author of choice.

My final tally: a woeful twenty. And now, with genuine curiosity I pass this one to the folks at Bloodless, Emily, and Brian.

You Know It's Bad When . . .

. . . even women, who I need not remind anyone don't stand to, er, benefit under whatever form of Sharia law ends up governing if the United States withdraws, are sacrificing themselves as bombers in the insurgency.

It also says something about the likelihood that we can ever establish anything resembling functional relations with the people of Iraq: if even women want us out this bad, I think it's safe to assume that we will never be accepted.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Lunch Fare: DINGO

I don't know whether it's that nobody does it or simply that so few do it well, but one might have thought that the interweb would have inspired a renewal in novel serialization, whether for profit or merely for fun. And there have been a handful of examples. Stephen King, for example, started and then abandoned The Plant (after serializing The Green Mile in meatspace). Mark Danielewski's brilliant House of Leaves also, if I'm not mistaken, had established itself in fragments as an internet phenomenon before issuing in its extraordinary, full-color bound incarnation. And I'm sure there are others that have eluded my notice, just as I imagine there are sites out there that have restored the Surrealist game of chain poetry (the point of which I've never really discerned, though I suppose it was somewhat prescient with regard to theories of narrative that would preponderate in the second half of the twentieth century).

In any case, care of Kung Fu Monkey, I have discovered DINGO, a novel issuing in chapter-per-week serialization, which is as fun, well-executed, and worthy as any novel through its first three chapters(and neither heavy-handed nor pretentious, which is nice). It's not at all clear even what genre we're situating ourselves in, just yet, but the author has a history in indie comics (writing for Boom! Studios, for example), and the story, thus far, features a wire- and leather-clad dominatrix with a pet ferret she's not afraid to use, a sports car moving cross-country containing a mysterious box, and some sort of supernatural dog. So far, the easiest term to use would be page-turner, even if, given the medium, that's a bit of a misnomer.

To say more would deprive you of the pleasure I just found upon reading the first three chapters.

But I urge any of you looking for a ten-minute-per-week diversion to submit yourself to the hands of Mr. Nelson, who at least so far has manifested a great deal of skill for a well-executed cliffhanger, which I consider the sine qua non of holding my attention during the week-long interim between chapters. And I know I'll be back to check often.

I have also added DINGO to my blogroll under Words. And I'll probably remind you all whenever I myself remember to check it out and find a new chapter waiting.

Save Gas! . . .

. . . quoth the failed Texas oil man who is so deep in corporate America's gas-greedy pockets he can taste their urine, who provides tax breaks for corporations to write off the cost of giant gas-guzzling SUV's, who manifests absolutely no interest in subsidizing the mass transit he now urges his federal workers to use (unless you include airlines, the corporate character of which (a good thing) evidently outweighs their status as people movers (a bad thing), all while gallivanting around the southwest United States shuttling from photo op to photo op in a custom gas-guzzling 747. O Captain My Captain.

Morning Soundtrack

Speaking of Canada, and I was, this morning I negotiated Lawrenceville traffic to the sounds of Esthero, who, after an interminable hiatus of seven years, returned with her spectacular sophomore album earlier this year (having just learned that she recorded the first sleeper hit when she was only eighteen, I suppose I can sympathize).

Now, I don't even own an iPod, let alone ride in traffic with one. Too much of my decisionmaking on the road is driven by ambient noise -- the impatient whine of a truck in low gear just behind me and champing at the bit to squeeze by, the sound of an oncoming car echoing from between two warehouses on a Strip District Side Street, the sound of a car starting a half-block ahead -- to afford any such distractions.

But that doesn't mean I can't sing, if breathlessly and badly, and that's what I was doing this morning, all the way in: one utterly addictive song.

I don't do reviews. But you should own this album. And the first one.

Manna from Canada

This morning's brief perusal of Site Meter revealed to me that I have a friend in the Big White North. Not really knowing what "Random Blogroll" means, given such limited company, I'll just take it as a compliment. Is there a Canadian spelling for compliment? There probably should be.

So, anyway, ahem, Thanks, Samantha, for the juice. Backatcha. And for those who are curious, Samantha has named Sean Penn her inaugural moron of the week. Well deserved.

And by the way, Samantha's inviting applicants seeking to guest blog at her site. Someone who's funnier than I am, I'm sure, will ultimately get the nod. But that leaves most of you eligible. Because in case you haven't yet figured it out, I'm not very funny. Not funny ha-ha, anyway. More funny in the head (ha ha). And I don't know when to stop either. Evidently. Guh, if you all only knew . . .

Mea Culpa

As someone who propagated various stories of the horrors going on in New Orleans (although, in my defense, I actually stayed away from a lot of the violent crime allegations, precisely because I suspected the light of day would reveal a somewhat less apocalyptic scene), and as someone who certainly consumed many of them, and as someone who simply doesn't trust the MSM to clarify anything (follow-up is not their strong point, as we all know), I just thought I'd pass on this Times-Picayune article.

As floodwaters forced tens of thousands of evacuees into the Dome and Convention Center, news of unspeakable acts poured out of the nation's media: evacuees firing at helicopters trying to save them; women, children and even babies raped with abandon; people killed for food and water; a 7-year-old raped and killed at the Convention Center. Police, according to their chief, Eddie Compass, found themselves in multiple shootouts inside both shelters, and were forced to race toward muzzle flashes through the dark to disarm the criminals; snipers supposedly fired at doctors and soldiers from downtown high-rises.

In interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Compass reported rapes of "babies," and Mayor Ray Nagin spoke of "hundreds of armed gang members" killing and raping people inside the Dome. Unidentified evacuees told of children stepping over so many bodies, "we couldn't count."

The picture that emerged was one of the impoverished, masses of flood victims resorting to utter depravity, randomly attacking each other, as well as the police trying to protect them and the rescue workers trying to save them. Nagin told Winfrey the crowd has descended to an "almost animalistic state."

Four weeks after the storm, few of the widely reported atrocities have been backed with evidence. The piles of bodies never materialized, and soldiers, police officers and rescue personnel on the front lines say that although anarchy reigned at times and people suffered unimaginable indignities, most of the worst crimes reported at the time never happened.

Military, law enforcement and medical workers agree that the flood of evacuees - about 30,000 at the Dome and an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 at the Convention Center - overwhelmed their security personnel. The 400 to 500 soldiers in the Dome could have been easily overrun by increasingly agitated crowds, but that never happened, said Col. James Knotts, a midlevel commander there. Security was nonexistent at the Convention Center, which was never designated as a shelter. Authorities provided no food, water or medical care until troops secured the building the Friday after the storm.

While the Convention Center saw plenty of mischief, including massive looting and isolated gunfire, and many inside cowered in fear, the hordes of evacuees for the most part did not resort to violence, as legend has it.

"Everything was embellished, everything was exaggerated," said Deputy Police Superintendent Warren Riley. "If one guy said he saw six bodies, then another guy the same six, and another guy saw them - then that became 18."

What? You mean Geraldo was wrong!? For shame!!! How goes that old saw about "fool me once" . . .

Hat tip.

Monday, September 26, 2005


An insinuation of autumn slices
through the rhetoric of late-summer rain,

the women wind-tossed and baptized
clutching fluttering umbrellas and skirts,
bequeathed each her fractionalized thimble-full
of September’s puddling beauty.

I espy myself wanly reflected in a wall of glass
in mute reminder of my finitude and fragility.

Me, me, me.

Is It Really That Bad?

Billmon over at Whiskey Bar reveals himself as a lefty who formerly believed staying the course in Iraq might be the moral thing to do, not for any war on terror rationale but simply because we broke it and bought it, because to leave would be to incur even more widespread killing in civil conflict -- would, simply put, be worse for civilian Iraqis just trying to stay alive.

But something's changed, and now he wants out, big time.

There was a time when I would have argued that the American people couldn't stomach that kind of butchery -- not for long anyway -- even if their political leaders were willing to inflict it. But now I'm not so sure. As a nation, we may be so desensitized to violence, and so inured to mechanized carnage on a grand scale, that we're psychologically capable of tolerating genocidal warfare against any one who can successfully be labeled as a "terrorist." Or at least, a sizable enough fraction of the American public may be willing to tolerate it, or applaud it, to make the costs politically bearable.

This discussion in its entirety derives from his discovery of a website dedicated to soldiers' personal photographs of the carnage in Iraq (he provides the link if you want it; I refuse), which apparently has a meaningful audience in the U.S.

Hat tip Bloodless.

UPDATE: And while we're at it, Whiskey Bar also features this hilarious mock press conference from last week; this is merely a short representative passage:

Q Scott, how responsible does the President think state and local officials in Texas will be for the sluggishness and incompetence of the post-Rita relief effort next week?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well that’s obviously hard to answer until we see just how sluggish and incompetent it will be. But the President has already spoken to Governor Perry, and he’s assured us we’ll have his full cooperation in shifting as much blame as possible to Houston Mayor Bill White and the lesbians who used to work for Ann Richards. But Governor Perry has also agreed to accept a few minor criticisms, which is very generous since he’s running for reelection next year.

Check it out.


the tell-tale twinge upon waking
confirmed glass in the wound

a reminder of a saturday encounter
and the sense in its wake

of grinning awkwardness
(prompting a question:

(when did nature select
for overbrimming hilarity? for goofiness?)

a water glass shattered clumsily on the floor
blue pixie dust with teeth --

sunday morning a stepping out into shoes
and sweeping the crime scene into a gem-laced dune

later: stoop -- pivot -- pinch and resignation
a miniscule shard having eluded capture

nesting deep in callused footflesh
its entry palpably oblique and intrepid

this morning tweezing the slicing entry wound
into a yawning crater in miniature

to disclose its treasure to the dawning gloom
until a last indigo decahedron

lay dormant in the wound like a bark in a bath
to be plucked and dropped in an ashtray

its legacy a fading throb of pain
like a dream burning off in morning sunshine

Fixies in the Christian Science Monitor

Not that anyone still reads this weblog for cycling material, I imagine, since it's so infrequent in coming, but in any case I enjoyed, if smirkingly, the CSM's coverage of the newest trend in cycling (I can't even sneer, since I came in to fixed-gear cycling somewhere in the beginning or middle of the trend cycle that is currently exploding). Anyway, it's an interesting article, although as someone on a mailing list I'm part of noted, it omits entirely to acknowledge the brake vs. no brake schism in the community.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Impromptu Blogroll Addition

Care of Zulieka, I recommend in the strongest terms The Utterly True Adventures of a Pathological Liar, and the lyric, aching writings of one Sunshine Coyote. Henceforth, you will find her in my blogroll, under MoonOverWords.

It’s odd to be home from work. I am a link in a long chain of toiling spirits that cannot sit still to save their fucking life. My mother’s mother was an Army MP and detective for the Delaware police department. Hard nose and silver tongue. Trace a delicate finger along that family tree and you not find a woman without calloused hands and feet. Nothing short of a brain hemorrhage keeps them from their duties. Forget whining, bullshit, or horseplay...roll up your sleeves, find a strategy and get it done - What’s your problem? Yeah? Well, let’s think it through.

It's rare that I jump on a bandwagon so completely so swiftly, but the first few posts here just floored me in every way, and that sort of thing need not wait for corroboration.

The post excerpted serves as another reminder that the best writing isn't always the most florid, though Coyote appears to have great aptitude with the elaborate and the simple, not to mention a sort of knowing gravitas and a hint of melancholy levity -- all of which sophistication helps one identify the real thing from the monkey at the keyboard having a good day.

Caveat: for those regular readers (and I know of at least one) who are expecting, I caution you that the recent material on this weblog is about as agonizing as imaginable, and probably especially difficult for expectant parents to read (indeed, Zulieka introduces the specific post she links as "the saddest words." And though I am neither new mother nor expectant father nor anything else that provides even a slant-rhyming cognitive or emotion context, I'm inclined to agree.

By the bye, Z's writing -- and her sketching(!!) -- also have been splendid of late.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


I preface this by noting that I am a cat owner twice-over, and a cat lover, though I am sure by referring to myself as an owner rather than a caretaker or facilitator or companion or wet nurse or whatever, there are those out there who consider my cat OWNING to be tantamount to enslavement, and to them I say only "Pffft!"

But notwithstanding my status as a person who sleeps in close proximity to domestic animals (unless they choose not to sleep near me; they're not chained to the bed or anything -- the chains are used only for willing women), I think this House bill is patently absurd.

After the bureacratic nightware we've gone through, which has not only slowed the pace of recovery along the Gulf Coast but has also certainly cost hundreds of lives that might have been saved given more effective and proactive disaster relief, and given the scapegoating of the slow response upon various federal state turf wars and the like, can we really afford to impose yet another condition on state eligibility for federal assistance?

And on predicated on cats and dogs?

This is what happens when the television news focuses favors the inane and fuzzy over the difficult. No doubt, lots of people have pressed legislators to do something about the lack of disaster preparation directed toward ensuring domestic animals are provided for, and no doubt, as the article notes, that some people stayed behind simply because they were unwilling to leave their companion animals alone in the storm . . . but seriously, folks, hasn't it become painfully obvious that FEMA and domestic disaster resonse generally requires more than planning that ensures that fluffy gets on the bus?

Has it occurred to anyone that some people don't take terribly good care of their animals, that others are severely allergic to them, and that rescues and sheltering arrangements inevitably put people -- and now would put animals -- in painfully close quarters? Do we see in the evidence coming in from Katrina that disaster planners are so flush with funding and so overly prepared to handle whatever nature or al Qaeda throws at them that we can really afford to force them to rededicate already insufficient resources to the rather complicated problem of involving household animals in evacuation plans?

For f=*k's sake, people -- can we keep our eye on the ball as yet another Cat 4 storm bears down on Louisiana?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Why Even $15B Would Have Been Cheap to Protect New Orleans

Over at ReasonOnline, Jonathan Rauch explores the costs and benefits of having proactively braced New Orleans for a Category 5 Hurricane. He concludes:

But wait. New Orleans's 200-year flood might take place a century from now instead of right away (remember, this analysis is from a pre-Katrina standpoint), and money lost in the future matters less to us than money lost today. At an interest rate of 3 percent, Viscusi says, the present value of averting $1 billion in expected annual damage forever is $33 billion; at 5 percent, $20 billion; at 10 percent, $10 billion. Any of those numbers is higher than the estimated cost of hurricane-proofing the levees, and all but the smallest are higher than restoring the Delta.

Now, recall that those calculations reflect only tangible monetary cost. They do not account for inconvenience, pain and trauma, lives uprooted, and, above all, lives lost. Even a superbly organized evacuation would leave thousands of people behind. Moving nursing home patients, emptying hospitals, and losing control of the streets are dangerous at best. To all of which, add the psychic and cultural blow of leaving one of the country's most historic cities an empty ruin.

What's more intriguing is that his projection finds that it would have been cost effective even based on the abstract best-case scenario of such a hurricane hitting New Orleans directly only once every 200 years. In reality, he notes, "Category 4 storms hit the city in 1915 and 1947; [] a Category 5 storm (Camille) narrowly missed in 1969; and [] the devastating Katrina itself was not a direct hit."

More food for thought. Of course, as we know, the Bush admin -- and to a lesser extent all contemporary administrations -- have the MBA instant-gratification mindset of privileging immediate bottom-line cost-benefit calculations over ones that endeavor to take into account the larger picture. And in this sense, perhaps, there is a problem with a government that turns over so frequently, because one forgets, while legislators' interests theoretically are responsive to their constituents', the truth is that sometimes constituents value short-term measures over long-term security, especially when the latter comes at a cost. A government more ambitious would be a government more likely to get turned out come election day, and hence a Catch-22.

But notwithstanding that paradox, great leaders in our history, especially the most celebrated chief executives, forced people to accede to a long view and make the necessary sacrifices in the near term. My kingdom for a leader with a vision that cares more for our children than it does for us -- and the charisma to sell it to the masses.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Tomas Transtromer Views the New York City Skyline from Somewhere Near Home

Friend and poet Branda, whose splendid poetry has been linked here before, posts on her MySpace weblog an excerpt from poet Tomas Transtromer -- one of her favorite poets, if I am not mistaken.

I reproduce it because it reminds me of home, where from the ridge at the western edge of town I could and often did view the entire Manhattan skyline. Now, where once was a simple stucco wall atop a ridge and the closest thing my town had to a cliche make-out spot, we find a new traffic pattern and a fairly elaborate if tasteful memorial to all of those many Essex County denizens who died in and around the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on 9-11m, the likes of which, I imagine, dot North Jersey, though it's the only one I've seen. Given this complex of associations -- early juvenile delinquency and first car and first kisses and aspiration in all its intoxicating glory and death and homesickness -- the place is almost unbearable for me now, not least due to the conspicuous absence of the Towers from the vista.

Nevertheless, the Transtromer poem puts my feet on the old sidewalk, standing before the cracked stucco wall, hands wrapped around two of the many wrought iron spikes inset in the wall and protruding from it as a deterrent in a pre-litigious America where spikes could be used to deflect the impositions of people and pigeons alike, staring at the skyline glimmering in the distance at whatever hour of night or early morning, car radios murmuring behind me from a handful of dark vehicles, the couples they contain cryptic in their negotiations and ministrations, blinking lights into Newark airport descending north to south as an endless flow of jets enter the pattern and land, disappearing into the sea of light just below the striated and imperfect darkness of the Meadowlands marshes, even as others emerge to the south, individuals escaping a throng of peers, clearing in quick turns to the west and from there away . . . and even at this distance, scaled against familiar buildings in between, against planes and stadia and brigeds limned in green and highways etched in patient arcs yellow against the darkness, the buildings, the Towers in particular, are enormous beyond articulation, the remnants of a former civilization of giants, Atlantis.

And that's where the Transtromer comes in, capturing at once the magnificence, the spectacle and the defiant humanity of the city's vascular system:



Outside New York, a high place where with one glance you take in the houses where eight million human beings live. The giant city over there is a long flimmery drift, a spiral galaxy seen from the side. Inside the galaxy, coffee cups are being pushed across the desk, department store windows beg, a whirl of shoes that leave no trace behind. Fire escapes climbing up, elevator doors that silently close, behind triple locked doors a steady swell of voices. Slumped-over bodies doze in subway cars, catacombs in motion. I know also--statistics to the side--that at this instant in some room down there Schubert is being played, and for that person the notes are more real than all the rest.


"A long flimmery drift" indeed. I think "a spiral galazy seen from the side" is one of the most apt and evocative metaphors I have encountered, perhaps simply because I know the several candidate locations he might have written from -- know them and share his perception, if not his brilliant artistry.

Adventures in Commuting

WIND! TRAFFIC! Hamstrings tuned taut as piano wire!

Monday, September 19, 2005

O Captain My Captain

William Jefferson Clinton was my President, warts and all, and his interview (subscription required) yesterday with George Stephanopoulis goes a long way toward reminding me of why.

'Tis the Season

This morning, waiting for the elevator in a major downtown office building, I stood in the vestibule beside a self-concsious young man, lithe in an immaculate if poorly fitted pinstripe suit, white shirt, lime green diagonally striped tie a la mode, amber pricey folio under his arm and shoes like a pippy's paws that suggested room to grow. As it was, I was spotting him several inches. He looked like he was only a few months beyond the last of his adolescent acne, like he still thought of himself as a kid among grown-ups, like he had various immediate regrets including the amount of product he'd used, the precise angle of his side-spiked dark hair, whether his shoes and his belt really suited each other, and whether the folio made a complementary trio, and whether he remembered which of his interviewers had gone to Notre Dame undergrad, and whether that was the one who'd done graduate work in philosophy at NYU.

The elevator arrived, and I ignored his extended hand, motioning him into the car. Inside the elevator, he began to fidget, shifting feet, leafing briefly through a folio that I knew from experience would contain nothing more than copies of his credentials and perhaps a single page of notes about the firm and the attorneys with whom he expected to interview -- hopefully hidden somewhere out of sight, it being, in my view, bad form to open one's folio during an interview to reveal a crib sheet containing information about the person across the desk, notwithstanding that everyone imagines it is there.

I tried so very hard not to say anything, but it is so rare that one sees so utterly through a stranger, and one so vulnerable at that, that for someone as voluble as I it is effectively impossible not to comment.

ME: Interview?

HIM: [Smiling with surprising ease, turning corner profile to respond] What else? Miserable.

ME: Been there. Could be worse, though. After all, you're interviewing at [elite Pittsburgh law firm].

[DING -- Elevator stops at a floor several below the interviewee's intended floor, but it's another floor containing the interviewing firm]

HIM: [Reserved; bright enough to realize that we've been joined by an attorney from the interviewing firm] That is true.


HIM: Have a nice day.

ME: You too -- and good luck.

Lawyers. Poor thing.

Friday, September 16, 2005

When the Going Gets Tough . . .

. . . the tough convene more meaningless and redundant hearings on what fundamentally is a non-issue, at least for the federal government.

You'd think, with thousands dead and a reconstruction pricetag in the hundreds of billions, two Supreme Court nominees to confirm, a foundering (undeclared) war effort, and a serious image problem, the United States Senate would have something better to do than continue the fiasco of its "investigation" into steroid abuse in professional sports.

Wouldn't you?

Of course you would.

Well, you'd be wrong.

Contact your senators. Please.

america the beautiful

emily, in a class on capital punishment, reads about capital punishmnent in its least mediated, majority rule incarnation -- that is, lynching.

she writes beautifully of how the recent historical memory of this and other atrocities ought to give us pause in judging others, and in holding ourselves out as avatars of anything. these are our immediate ancestors, our great grandparents, grandparents, or at least their contemporaries -- if not by blood than as countrymen. this stuff is too lumpy, too sharp-edged to sweep under the rug.

and given the appalling and unequivocal statistics suggesting the degree to which considerations of race affect jury verdicts in capital cases,*** it's difficult to reject out of hands the metaphors, familiar from more pointed hip hop and african-american poetry and the like, between modern justice and its messier Jim Crow predecessors.

lovely writing. and disturbing.

*** statistically, it's worth noting, while the race of the defendant tends to have the predictable affect (i.e., black defendants are meaningfully more likely to be sentenced to death), the race of the victim more profoundly affects (apologies for an underdetermined study, but there are better ones that i've worked extensively with in the past) the outcome. any way you slice it, it's hard to escape the implication that juries, in the aggregate, simply value white lives at a higher premium than black lives.

The New Love Bug

16 cylinders. 1001 hp. 250 mph.

this isn't your father's microbus.


UPDATE: matt kindly directed me to this much more detailed discussion of the most badass production car in history. what do you suppose it costs to insure . . . in new jersey?

The Proper Response to Debauched Youth

The Post-Gazette reports that

a big new national survey is confirming what Hatch and other mental health professionals and sex education experts have known for years: Oral sex has become commonplace among teens.

Man, the party always gets good after I leave.

Monday, September 12, 2005

"Where there is no vision, the people perish."

Al Gore, who I am still not convinced would have been anything but an excellent president. There's really no doubt in my mind that he would have been better for our country than George Bush, but I think it goes beyond that, and did during 2000 also -- I believe Al Gore was one of the smartest, most dedicated men who has run for the presidency in some time. These traits would have led him to perform with infinitely more poise, deliberation, and subtlety than the bull in the china shop we now have. Notwithstanding Gore's utter mediocrity as a speaker on the campaign trail (in my mind, the sole reason he lost the election), he's turned in some stemwinders since. On Friday, at the Sierra Club Conference in San Francisco, he gave another one, an excerpt of which follows.

We're told this is not a time to hold our national government accountable because there are more important matters that confront us. This is not an either/or choice. They are linked together. As our nation belatedly finds effective ways to help those who have been so hard hit by Hurricane Katrina, it is important that we learn the right lessons of what has happened, lest we are spoon-fed the wrong lessons from what happened. If we do not absorb the right lessons, we are, in the historian's phrase, doomed to repeat the mistakes that have already been made. All of us know that our nation - all of us, the United States of America - failed the people of New Orleans and the gulf coast when this hurricane was approaching them, and when it struck. When the corpses of American citizens are floating in toxic floodwaters five days after a hurricane strikes, it is time not only to respond directly to the victims of the catastrophe but to hold the processes of our nation accountable, and the leaders of our nation accountable, for the failures that have taken place.

The Bible in which I believe, in my own faith tradition, says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish."

Four years ago in August of 2001, President Bush received a dire warning: "Al Qaeda determined to attack inside the US." No meetings were called, no alarms were sounded, no one was brought together to say, "What else do we know about this imminent threat? What can we do to prepare our nation for what we have been warned is about to take place?" If there had been preparations, they would have found a lot of information collected by the FBI, and CIA and NSA - including the names of most of the terrorists who flew those planes into the WTC and the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania. The warnings of FBI field offices that there were suspicious characters getting flight training without expressing any curiosity about the part of the training that has to do with landing. They would have found directors of FBI field offices in a state of agitation about the fact that there was no plan in place and no effective response. Instead, it was vacation time, not a time for preparation. Or protecting the American people.

Four years later, there were dire warnings, three days before Hurricane Katrina hit NOLA, that if it followed the path it was then on, the levees would break, and the city of New Orleans would drown, and thousands of people would be at risk. It was once again vacation time. And the preparations were not made, the plans were not laid, the response then was not forthcoming.

In the early days of the unfolding catastrophe, the President compared our ongoing efforts in Iraq to World War Two and victory over Japan. Let me cite one difference between those two historical events: When imperial Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt did not invade Indonesia.

I personally believe that the very fact that there has been no accountability for the horrendous misjudgments and outright falsehoods that laid the basis for this horrible tragedy that we have ongoing in Iraq, the fact that there was no accountability for those mistakes, misjudgments and dissembling, is one of the principal reasons why there was no fear of being held accountable for a cavalier, lackluster, mistaken, inadequate response to the onrushing tragedy that was clearly visible - for those who were watching television, for those who were reading the news - what happened was not only knowable, it was known in advance, in great and painstaking detail. They did tabletop planning exercises, they identified exactly what the scientific evidence showed would take place. Where there is no vision, the people perish.


It is time now for us to recover our moral health in America and stand again to rise for freedom, demand accountability for poor decisions, missed judgments, lack of planning, lack of preparation, and willful denial of the obvious truth about serious and imminent threats that are facing the American people.

Abraham Lincoln said, "The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country." We must disenthrall ourselves with the sound-and-light show that has diverted the attentions of our great democracy from the important issues and challenges of our day. We must disenthrall ourselves from the Michael Jackson trial and the Aruba search and the latest sequential obsession with celebrity trials or whatever relative triviality dominates the conversation of democracy instead of making room for us as free American citizens to talk with one another about our true situation, and then save our country. We must resist those wrong lessons.


[T]his, in Churchill's phrase, is only the first sip of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year until there is a supreme recover of moral health. We have to rise with this occasion. We have to connect the dots. When the Superfund sites aren't cleaned up, we get a toxic gumbo in a flood. When there is not adequate public transportation for the poor, it is difficult to evacuate a city. When there is no ability to give medical care to poor people, its difficult to get hospital to take refugees in the middle of a crisis. When the wetlands are turned over to the developers then the storm surges from the ocean threaten the coastal cities more. When there is no effort to restrain the global warming pollution gasses then global warming gets worse, with all of the consequences that the scientific community has warned us about.


The other problems are known to you, but here is what I want to close with: This is a moral moment. This is not ultimately about any scientific debate or political dialogue. Ultimately it is about who we are as human beings. It is about our capacity to transcend our own limitations. To rise to this new occasion. To see with our hearts, as well as our heads, the unprecedented response that is now called for. To disenthrall ourselves, to shed the illusions that have been our accomplices in ignoring the warnings that were clearly given, and hearing the ones that are clearly given now.

As much as I reproduced, you should read the rest.

When was the last time a President spoke so eloquently, with such erudition and common sense, with such a broad-sweeping appeal? And how striking would it be if someone with very very little to lose and the vision and ability to strike out into relatively non-partisan territory, appealing to the people's moral sense of first principles instead of its spoon-fed indignation over the many tempests in teapots that tend to feed contemporary campaigns, were to stand up and say -- Do you really want someone different, or do you just say that sometimes?

I adamantly supported Al Gore for president in 2000, and I was crushed long before his defeat when I watched the catastrophic result of too many handlers kneading his countenance and his presentation into a gruel of inoffensive, insubstantial talking points, as happens to most national candidates these days. But ever since then I've watched him bang on podiums, talk to people like the immensely popular smartest regular at some small town bar instead of like the stuffed shirt we watched lay down before the GOP railroad in 2000. And I still think he's as qualified for the job as anyone who has sought the office in my lifetime.

And if he were to run, he'd be my guy, hands-down -- as long as he kept talking like this. Imagine -- a democrat, in name at least, who co-opted the emotional appeal that's been so effective for the right and married it to sensible, inspired, and ambitious policy initiatives. It just might be the perfect storm.

Not Free to Join the "Freedom" March

Perhaps it was the event of the first Sunday of NFL regular season action, or perhaps it was the fact that quite a few people are busy collecting corpses from the streets of one of the United States' most singular city, but maybe it was because the Bush didn't want you to watch that coverage of the so-called Freedom March was so limited.

Organizers of the Pentagon's 9/11 memorial Freedom Walk on Sunday are taking extraordinary measures to control participation in the march and concert, with the route fenced off and lined with police and the event closed to anyone who does not register online by 4:30 p.m. today.

The march, sponsored by the Department of Defense, will wend its way from the Pentagon to the Mall along a route that has not been specified but will be lined with four-foot-high snow fencing to keep it closed and "sterile," said Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense.

* * *

The parade route will be lined with snow fencing, allowing only those who preregistered to participate.

The U.S. Park Police will have its entire Washington force of several hundred on duty and along the route, on foot, horseback and motorcycles and monitoring from above by helicopter. Officers are prepared to arrest anyone who joins the march or concert without a credential and refuses to leave, said Park Police Chief Dwight E. Pettiford.

The event, the America Supports You Freedom Walk, is billed as a memorial to victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks and a show of support for those serving in the military, topped off with a concert by country singer Clint Black, known for his pro-troops anthem, "Iraq and Roll." Organizers said they expect 3,000 to 10,000 participants.

* * *

What's unusual for an event on the Mall is the combination of fences, required preregistration and the threat of arrest.

Park Police officials said security and safety were concerns, especially because Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld will participate in some of the day's events. They said they have approved a permit for a small group of protesters that plans to stand along Independence Avenue.

And in related news, it's pretty sad when the best way the SecDef can show his support for the troops is to participate in a government-sponsored propaganda rally / jingoistic country music concert. Of course, it's a hell of a lot cheaper than properly equipping our troops and much less time-consuming than personally signing the nearly 2,000 (and still more are coming) letters of condolence that issue from his office.

But then, as Clint Black almost certainly sang on the Mall yesterday, "There's no price too high for freedom / so be careful where you tread."

Amen, brother.

(Hat tip.)

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Scott McLellan -- No C.J. Craig Is He

Courtesy of KGB, I bring you this absolutely surreal exchange between a reporter with a simple yes or no question and a press secretary who knows there's only one way to keep his job.

The following exchange is posted at KGB without a link to a source, but if this isn't McLellan then the fabricator deserves some sort of award for mimicking perfectly a pattern of evasiveness we've come to expect from administration spokesmen, and for capturing precisely the tone McLellan has adopted every other time he's been confronted with a direct question to which there is no safe answer (the truth, of course, being demonstrably unsafe for -- and evidently odious to -- the administration).

Q Scott, does the President retain confidence in his FEMA Director and Secretary of Homeland Security?

MR. McCLELLAN: And again, David, see, this is where some people want to look at the blame game issue, and finger-point. We're focused on solving problems, and we're doing everything we can --

Q What about the question?

MR. McCLELLAN: We're doing everything we can in support --

Q We know all that.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- of the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA.

Q Does he retain complete confidence --

MR. McCLELLAN: We're going to continue. We appreciate the great effort that all of those at FEMA, including the head of FEMA, are doing to help the people in the region. And I'm just not going to engage in the blame game or finger-pointing that you're trying to get me to engage.

Q Okay, but that's not at all what I was asking.

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure it is. It's exactly what you're trying to play.

Q You have your same point you want to make about the blame game, which you've said enough now. I'm asking you a direct question, which you're dodging.


Q Does the President retain complete confidence in his Director of FEMA and Secretary of Homeland Security, yes or no?

MR. McCLELLAN: I just answered the question.

Q Is the answer "yes" on both?

MR. McCLELLAN: And what you're doing is trying to engage in a game of finger-pointing.

Q There's a lot of criticism. I'm just wondering if he still has confidence.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and blame-gaming. What we're trying to do is solve problems, David. And that's where we're going to keep our focus.

Q So you're not -- you won't answer that question directly?

MR. McCLELLAN: I did. I just did.

Q No, you didn't. Yes or no? Does he have complete confidence or doesn't he?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, if you want to continue to engage in finger-pointing and blame-gaming, that's fine --

Q Scott, that's ridiculous. I'm not engaging in any of that.

MR. McCLELLAN: It's not ridiculous.

Q Don't try to accuse me of that. I'm asking you a direct question and you should answer it. Does he retain complete confidence in his FEMA Director and Secretary of Homeland Security, yes or no?

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said -- that's exactly what you're engaging in.

Q I'm not engaging in anything. I'm asking you a question about what the President's views are --

MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely -- absolutely --

Q -- under pretty substantial criticism of members of his administration. Okay? And you know that, and everybody watching knows that, as well.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, everybody watching this knows, David, that you're trying to engage in a blame game.

Q I'm trying to engage?


Q I am trying to engage?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

New Orleans Memories

Brian writes beautifully of a trip with friends in 1993 to sample the jazz (rather than the nudity) for which New Orleans is justly famous.

On a related note, novelists Anne Rice and Richard Ford provided lovely discussions of their home town in Sunday's Times.

I try not to dwell on my personal loss here, faced with such far reaching tragedy, but one can never entirely leave his own skin, and so I am at once uncomprehending of the scale of loss beyond the simple observation that I will never know the New Orleans of my first 30 years. And that is a personal tragedy of sorts. The above writings only exacerbate the ache this thought causes.

We are a country with a history rendered anemic by its youth; New Orleans, at least in my mind, has hovered in my imagination as one of the very few American cities that rivals in its wealth of artifact and custom to those of western Europe. How much of this is wishful thinking I will never ascertain, but in any event there's an Atlantean aura about the whole intellectual exercise now. I've no doubt that the city will be rebuilt. But how differently?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Times-Picayune on the Federal Response, or Lack Thereof

Care of Throckmorton by way of Editor & Publisher, comes this scathing editorial (reproduced in full) from the Times-Picayune, which ran in its third print edition since Katrina struck:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re angry, Mr. President, and we’ll be angry long after our beloved city and surrounding parishes have been pumped dry. Our people deserved rescuing. Many who could have been were not. That’s to the government’s shame.

Mayor Ray Nagin did the right thing Sunday when he allowed those with no other alternative to seek shelter from the storm inside the Louisiana Superdome. We still don’t know what the death toll is, but one thing is certain: Had the Superdome not been opened, the city’s death toll would have been higher. The toll may even have been exponentially higher.

It was clear to us by late morning Monday that many people inside the Superdome would not be returning home. It should have been clear to our government, Mr. President. So why weren’t they evacuated out of the city immediately? We learned seven years ago, when Hurricane Georges threatened, that the Dome isn’t suitable as a long-term shelter. So what did state and national officials think would happen to tens of thousands of people trapped inside with no air conditioning, overflowing toilets and dwindling amounts of food, water and other essentials?

State Rep. Karen Carter was right Friday when she said the city didn’t have but two urgent needs: "Buses! And gas!" Every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially.

In a nationally televised interview Thursday night, he said his agency hadn’t known until that day that thousands of storm victims were stranded at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. He gave another nationally televised interview the next morning and said, "We’ve provided food to the people at the Convention Center so that they’ve gotten at least one, if not two meals, every single day."

Lies don’t get more bald-faced than that, Mr. President.

Yet, when you met with Mr. Brown Friday morning, you told him, "You’re doing a heck of a job."

That’s unbelievable.

There were thousands of people at the Convention Center because the riverfront is high ground. The fact that so many people had reached there on foot is proof that rescue vehicles could have gotten there, too.

We, who are from New Orleans, are no less American than those who live on the Great Plains or along the Atlantic Seaboard. We’re no less important than those from the Pacific Northwest or Appalachia. Our people deserved to be rescued.

No expense should have been spared. No excuses should have been voiced. Especially not one as preposterous as the claim that New Orleans couldn’t be reached.

Mr. President, we sincerely hope you fulfill your promise to make our beloved communities work right once again.

When you do, we will be the first to applaud.

Give that editorial ghost writer a podium and a microphone, because I'd vote for him or her over anybody I've seen on TV in the last ten days who purports to speak for the federal government.

Kos posts the letter (and a lively thread) here. Dig in; this is the stuff that matters from, as Armando styles it, "the people who know."

If You Must Get Wiped Out, Do So In a Swing State in An Even-Numbered Year

Binky, in a comment to her own excellent post, directs attention to this comparison -- drawn from statements issued by the White House and FEMA itself; this is no lefty gerrymandering of data -- between the federal response to three consecutive hurricanes in a swing state in a presidential election year (i.e., Charley, Frances, and Ivan in Florida), which wrought substantial damage that nonetheless pales by comparison to Katrina, and the response to Katrina.

Both in anticipation of, during, and following the hurricanes in question Florida unequivocally received more preparatory activity, more effective administration during the storm, and more rapid response times in the wakes of the storms. BillMon notes that during that span, Bush went from polling as a 41-47 underdog in Florida to polling 49-41 over Kerry. He notes that it's unfortunate the good people of Louisiana and Mississippi are a bit too reliably red-state-ish to warrant such attention, because it certainly wasn't for want of advance (this is a DHS memo dated August 27 acknowldging the threat posed by Katrina) warning that the Bush admin ordered virtually no preparation for Katrina.

So you can see that when the chips are down, and the need is absolutely dire, this administration can still deliver the kind of coordinated emergency response that once made the U.S. government the envy of the world -- just as it cooly and capably protected the Iraqi Oil Ministry from the chaos and looting that trashed every other government office in post-invasion Baghdad. As is usually the case in public service, it's just a matter of having the right incentives.

The comparison between the TLC showered on Florida last year and Bush's initial "What, me worry?" response to this year's disaster no doubt will go unnoticed by the amnesia patients in the corporate media. And since I'm lucky enough to live in a swing state that is also coveted by GOP political strategists, I probably don't have to worry about it either -- that is, as long as any future disasters around my neck of the woods happen in one of those years divisible by two.

Really, the comparison is must-read stuff. I recognize that logistical problems unique to Katrina did nothing to help evacuation and supply efforts, but there's simply no indication that FEMA prepared for this assault on NOLA half as hard as it did for each of three hurricanes in Florida last year. If it's not race, then it's politics, and in any event its reprehensible.

Also care of Bloodless, this story, about the stage management attendant to Bush's whistle-stop tour of the south, tells a truly harrowing -- and extremely well-sourced -- story of Bush not only standing before one utterly contrived scene after another, but also of urgently needed supplies lying useless on the ground while pretty much everything that flew was grounded so that Bush could do his photo ops. Again, a must read.

Did Anyone Not Know New Orleans' Days Were Numbered?

By now the story is a commonplace that local, state, and federal officials were well aware that, were NOLA to get hit by a slow-moving category 4-plus storm, it likely would be wholle submerged with rank, toxic water, and many thousands would die.

But knowing that the coverage was around and reading it is something else, including this especially, and hence eerily, prescient Editorial by the New York Times' Adam Cohen, who echoed (subscription required; the Link Generator doesn't go back to 2002) conjectural fears akin to the current very real scenario on August 11, 2002.

It's just creepy how clear everyone was on what would happen. You could have described the current disaster down to the finest detail, years ago, just be combing through the mainstream media's one-off articles on the topic.

Not to mention the government reports . . . .

If somebody doesn't get fired at FEMA . . . ah, well, that's an old story, and nobody's getting fired at FEMA. Nobody ever gets fired in the Bush administration. Because nobody in the Bush admin has done anything wrong, right? Right?

Um, right?

people who should wear helmets -- a commuting vignette

who knew that lawrenceville would be ten times more dangerous, and ten times more entertaining, to negotiate of a morning rush? trying to keep moving through town is a pretty engaging and scary enterprise. i'll be a better rider, or a severely injured one, pretty quickly.

this morning, some jackass came racing, just ahead of me, out of the Rite Aid parking lot just past 40th. he was helmetless, bagless, in low gear on a low-end mountain bike, pedaling furiously ahead of me but remaining on the sidewalk. i passed him initially, but at an intersection a block or so later at which i prudently slowed he rocketed across the street, handicap ramp to handicap ramp, and thereafter jumped on and off the sidewalk at will, as i lingered a steady twenty to thirty yards back. the pattern seemed to be that as soon as any trouble appeared to be developing on the side of the road, he'd hop to the sidewalk in hope of bypassing it at furious speed. an interesting recipe, especially later when a car inching to the right sent him up on the sidewalk, where he was forced nearly to stop by that same car. entering a parking lot.

we ran that way for a while, me patiently on the road taking an average morning's minor risks -- those that traffic renders all but impossible to avoid -- but mostly holding my place with the cars, hanging out, enjoying the cool breeze while he frenetically scurrying in and out of danger and i looked on.

then at 32d street he found daylight, took up some space on the right side of the pavement, and dropped his hands and slouched, still pedaling chaotically, in a parody of hands-free relaxation. i watched with a degree of fascination and stomach-twisting horror as he approached and entered the intersection (a fairly busy one in the morning with a pretty crappy line of sight to the left, where most of the traffic enters) at suicidal, or at least oblivious speed, hands dangling at his side, against the light.

i credit him with a great deal of coordination in rocketing forward to find his brakes when i was all but certain he was about to get t-boned by an understandably surprised driver in a chevy. he managed to find the brakes, however, and lock up, crabbing to a near stop a few feet in front of the car's bumper, which in stopping had held up a number of other cars and nearly caused at least one other accident further back in the line of traffic.

a passenger two cars back leaned out the window to hurl a choice -- and deserved -- epithet. he then looked to his right and spotted me, out of the saddle, erect and alert with vicarious adrenaline, standing nearly still at the thick white line stop line, watching the unfolding scene with a combination of humor and nausea. momentarily rocking back to hold balance as i eyed the passenger, i smiled as if to say, "that guy's got nothin' to do with me, bub." i think he understood.

perhaps two blocks later, my steady cadence as i cautiously centered myself in the left hand lane on Penn steadily propelled me past our little friend in the wife-beater. i didn't see him again.

Levity Regarding Judge Roberts

By way of VoCon, check out this hilarious riff on Judge Roberts' views of the Third Amendment (the largely forgotten, relatively anachronistic (or is it?) anti-quartering provision).

A judicial nominee with no record (or even a demo tape) on an issue without Supreme Court precedent is considered by numerous liberal thought leaders to be a conservative smart bomb that could have devastating fallout on decades of liberal court rulings.

Indeed, Judge Roberts has never spoken publicly on the Third Amendment. Moreover, thousands of pages of documents surrendered to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and there subjected to ideological litmus tests, handwriting analysis and even infrared proctospectrology, yield no clues beyond the vexing secret Federalist Society code that Roberts is alleged to deploy when numbering his points in complex opinions.

Like most of the Bill of Rights, the Third Amendment is deceptively simple, consisting of only 32 words, four commas and a period: “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

“How can any American sleep at night not knowing in advance how the Chief Justice will rule on such a consequential issue?” asked Nan Aron, President of the Alliance for Justice (occasionally confused with DC Comics’ Justice League of America). Aron is generally regarded as the most rotund legal mind in more than 100 liberal special interest groups that provide substantial political and financial support to liberal politicians. It has never been alleged that sexual favors are sought in return for those contributions.

Later, the article posits an autocratic property occupying conspiracy built upon the toxic combination of the unregarded Third Amendment and the Court's recent Takings Clause decision in Kelo v. New London.

Amusingly, today I happen to have worn for my ride in to work my T-shirt featuring Justice Thomas' increasingly infamous quote in dissent to that case, which reads: "Something has gone seriously awry with this Court's interpretation of the Constitution." Yes, I realize that I will never ever ever have sex with anyone who sees me in that shirt. And actually I have no excuse whatsoever for wearing it, in light of that fact. Maybe I'll ride home in my oxford.

Remembering Chief Justice of the United States, William H. Rehnquist

I have no personal remembrance, of course, but my legal education, coming as it did at the tail end of Chief Justice Rehnquist's remarkable and long-lived tenure, was at least as steeped in his legacy as in that of the late Chief Justice Earl Warren. Moreover, my current work constantly sets before me evidence of his legacy -- as it does the legacy of Chief Justice Warren.

Are you getting this? Chief Justice Warren and Chief Justice Rehnquist are probably the two most formative forces in modern American jurisprudence, and in our current understanding of the Constitution of these United States. That's a big thing, folks. A very big thing.

Dahlia Lithwick does a great job of putting Chief Justice Rehnquist's long tenure in perspective.

No one will ever accuse Rehnquist of having been a liberal, or even a moderate. But . . . time and again, in cases that implicated the supremacy of the judicial branch—cases that suggested that states or Congress might have the last word—Rehnquist was willing to part with his ideological buddies to promote a higher value than intellectual purity: the court itself.

Something else Rehnquist was not: He was not an Earl Warren. He did not expect or demand that the changes he sought would come with sudden, dramatic moves. He was the gentlest of constitutional chiropractors and—with the exception of Bush v. Gore—you rarely heard a crack or a snap over his tenure. Rehnquist didn't cajole his colleagues into unanimity and rarely used his assignment powers as strategically as his predecessors had. Indeed, he was notoriously fair about assigning cases. Rehnquist also refused to let the work of the court continue to grow exponentially. Where the Burger Court used to hear argument in 160 or so cases each year, the Rehnquist Court heard closer to 80. Rehnquist's style was to nudge the law back to the right slowly and inexorably, on issues ranging from civil rights to habeas corpus, from school busing to religion in public life. But he didn't throw constitutional bombs, and as a result his Supreme Court, as "activist" as the Warren Court by every possible measure, was not reviled and feared so much as respected and ignored.

Aside: The nearly elegiac tone of Lithwick's writing about Rehnquist above contrasts interestingly with her noting, just a day or so before Chief Justice Rehnquist passed, "the Rehnquist Court's newfound love affair with the 11th Amendment—a piece of truly bonkers constitutional doctrine that's being used to keep state employees from suing their own state governments and is a far broader application of the idea of sovereign immunity than the amendment itself contemplates."

But of course we must forgive the commentariat its excesses and permit it to leave its axes in the apse of the chapel at which we mourn the passing of a great public servant -- a designation that no one with any intellectual integrity can deny Chief Justice Rehnquist. One can only hope Judge Roberts, heir apparent to the Chief's seat for a long time to come and former clerk to Chief Justice Rehnquist, has been paying attention to the machinations of his former boss. At least administratively, we could do a lot worse than to have Judge Roberts emulate Chief Justice Rehnquist, especially insofar as Judge Roberts' tenure as chief very likely will rival Chief Justice Rehnquist's thirty-four-year tenure on the Court.

Friday, September 02, 2005


From CNN:

Federal Emergency Management Director Michael Brown told CNN that federal officials were unaware of the crowds at the convention center until Thursday, despite the fact that city officials had been telling people for days to gather there. (Full story)

"When we found out about the convention center yesterday, we started diverting supplies to get them fed, too. And now we're finding literally as we do evacuation, that more and more people are beginning to manifest, show themselves in areas we didn't they were there so we're doing everything we can to get there," he said in an interview with CNN Friday.

When Smart People Attack

I have so little to add to all the talk of New Orleans; I'm appalled. It's all I can do not to weep here at my desk. How embarrassed should we be as Americans that this is the best we can do, four years after events impelled us to improve our disaster response protocals in urban areas? If I were a terrorist mastermind right now, I'd be salivating to realize that, in a pinch, we can no more tell our asses from our elbows domestically than we can in Baghdad.

Maybe this time we can fire some people? Alas, I'm sure the answer is no. No one makes any mistakes in this administration, right?

A propos the title of this post, another Volokh Conspirator has gone of the deep end, calling for putative law abiding citizens of New Orleans to shoot looters on sight.

However, the looting of concern in New Orleans isn't Jean Valjean taking bread for his children; the looting involves attacks on hospitals to steal their narcotics, and attacks on stores or homes which have nothing to do with acquiring necessities for short-term survival. Given the absence of a sufficient police presence in order to stop the looters, I strongly agree with Glenn Reynolds that such looters should be shot on sight by armed citizens. A citizen's arrest and detention isn't possible as a practical matter. Shooting the New Orleans looters is, under present circumstances, an appropriate response to the collapse of civic order, and a first step towards the restoration of that order.

Mind you, this is at a time that the Mayor of New Orleans himself has effectively urged refugees (and the sooner we start calling them that, the sooner we can honestly assess the situation) to do what they have to do to find food and water wherever they can. Apparently, Kopel is confident that gun-toting terrified citizens of New Orleans can be trusted to distinguish, in all cases, those who are looting for necessities and those who are looting for fun and profit. Which -- forgive me -- makes him a f$%king moron.

Thankfully, one of his co-conspirators provides an able response that avoids the eff-bomb.

Among the problems is that looters can get guns, too, and presumably will try to shoot on sight the "armed citizens" that are trying to shoot them on sight. For that matter, armed looters will presumably say that they are "armed citizens" looking for looters, and will just shoot "citizens" and claim that be believed that they were looters. Who will be able to tell, given that the other side will by then be dead? The looter/armed citizen line is nice and clear in theory, but things get fuzzy and hard to reconstruct in practice. I would rather not encourage the latter to kill the former as a way of restoring social order.

I'm with Kerr, that shooting under the circumstances the law recognizes -- i.e., when one feels that he is in imminent peril of greivous injury or death -- in self-defense is not only something we need to accept, but something that will be happening in NOLA for days if not weeks to come. There are widespread reports of rape and robbery and so on; one must be able to protect himself and his family if need be. But as Kerr ably notes, Kopel's position is untenable under the circumstances. If even the trained military isn't granted permission to shoot on sight, why should a bunch of gun-toting yahoos be afforded a license to kill?

By the bye, pilots trying to drop supplies, pick up and transport the critically ill, and evacuate the stranded, can't tell who is shooting -- they just know people are shooting. And when people are shooting, they understandably leave the area. So in arguing for abject anarchy (and that's what Kopel is doing, evidently), Kopel's solution is nothing of the sort: more death, more shooting, less clarity as to who the good guys are, and people who are dying of starvation and dehydration scared to go out and get what they need -- which, did I mention? -- the feds still aren't providing.

By the way, following on my call for commandeering helicopters yesterday, here's another question. If the waters of Lake Pontchartrain have equalized with those in the city, and if we know that pumps can't even begin to empty the city for at least another week or two, why are some of our most effective cargo carrying helicopters working on the levees now, which can do no conceivable good until at least a week hence, instead of flying around the south buying up every drop of bottled water to be found and ferrying it to the convention center?

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