Monday, September 26, 2005

The culture of death

I've been telling colleagues and students about my grandmother's terminal illness, not to garner sympathy, but for pragmatic reasons. I need to find someone to cover my classes for a week so I can visit her, and I need simply to explain my sudden, seemingly random bouts of teariness.

Oh man.

As I said in my earlier post, I've been almost weirdly untouched by death. A very few friends and dear but not intimate family members; sweet though remote great-grandparents; a baby sister who had barely begun life. No one truly, truly close until now. Because I teach very young adults, no semester (indeed, almost no month) goes by without someone's grandparents, and sadly even parents, dying. Some of this falls into the joke category. There are those students whose grandparents routinely die when papers and projects are due. But most of it is genuine. I've seen real pain and confusion on these students' faces, in their eyes, in their words. I've even cried with them. I've offered sympathy and an ear for mourning friends. Still, I've only experienced this as an outsider. Until now.

Now I, too, am a member of the culture of death.

The death or impending death of a loved one is new territory and difficult to navigate. The maps seem to be disjointed and printed in Russian. How am I supposed to feel? How am I supposed to act? The two conversations I've had with Grammie since I heard the news have been weirdly full of laughter and optimism. For instance, it's damned funny that her step-great-granddaughter B (who never visits) has been by the apartment like the vulture she is to sniff around at the spoils of death. Grammie was so alarmed by B's coveting of a particular figurine that she insisted she get "later" that after B left, Grammie promptly wrapped it up and gave it to V, another great-granddaughter. B's tasteless behavior is occasion for a good belly laugh; Grammie's checkmate is even funnier. My son M and I are going to travel to see her in a few weeks (God, please let her still be ok in a few weeks), and she was thrilled by the news; it gives her something to look forward to.

Grammie doesn't want to die. And I am utterly unable to imagine the world without her any more than I can imagine the world suddenly without gravity.

Now students are not telling me stories of the parents and grandparents who just died or are dying and whose deaths are interfering with their schoolwork; they're coming to me in droves telling me about the parents and grandparents who died a few months ago. They're still mourning, but they're also joyful over the parts that were blessings: the swift deaths with no suffering; the situations like mine where there was still precious time to say and do things that ought to be said and done. These people know what I don't fully, yet: what the road ahead looks like and how it feels to travel it. Today I have shared a half a river of tears with people I only slightly know; I would never have considered doing this last week.

However, now, like it or not, I too am a member of the culture of death.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

23:5 revisited -- Dulce et Decorum Est

Via Shakespeare's Sister, this meme is making the rounds. I probably wouldn't have participated if I weren't pleased with what I came up with.

In my own 23:5, I was writing a follow-up to my post on Cindy Sheehan, and I was discussing the last line (and point) of Wilfred Owen's poem "Dulce et Decorum Est."

My 23:5 is: "The final line of the poem is roughly translated as 'it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country.'"

Ironic when Owen wrote it, ironic when I discussed it, and still ironic today.

To participate:

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.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

I Am the Boogey Man

Contrary to what it often seems that conservatives believe, academics who are liberal do not hold secret meetings in the deep woods where we sacrifice unborn babies and burn effigies of George Bush. We do not hypnotize the precious offspring of conservative mommies and daddies into turning their backs on Guns, God, and Old Glory. Here's what I and those of my colleagues I know best do do: we challenge our students to think.

To think.

To reason.

To back up their opinions with evidence.

To examine their beliefs, be they religious, political, cultural, or even culinary, and NOT in the service of signing up for the liberal cause -- or any other cause -- but in the service of creating a generation capable of thinking their way out of the proverbial brown paper bag. If, after rigorous examination, they want to be conservatives, more power to them. They will have come to that conclusion honestly and rationally.

When liberals aren't pushing the radical, soul-destroying agenda of thinking, we're also championing the radical, soul-destroying agenda of empathy. You know, Golden Rule, do-unto-others. That agenda.

I'm here to tell you that a lot of college freshmen are dittoheads. I don't mean just Rush Limbaugh dittoheads, but a rainbow of dittoheads. Bless their hearts, many of them, too many of them, only have opinions because someone told them what opinions to have. Some of these opinions come from moms and dads -- of all political stripes. Many of these opinions come from peers. (You know, those primary sources for sex and drug info for the young.) Other opinions come from Cosmo Girl (or whatever the mag du jour is), MTV, or The OC. (My favorite dittoheaded opinion: oral sex is not sex. Conservatives, of course, blame this dunderheaded point of view on Bill Clinton's influence, but conservative and non-conservative youth en masse seem to believe this non sequitur. When I took a poll one day, I could only find 5 or 6 students out of fifty who believed otherwise. I haven't had the heart to ask again.)

Apparently, however, the greatest threat to the youth of America is liberals. Liberals, those people who would ask young people to think before they form an opinion, those people whose prime directive is Jesus' admonition that we love our neighbors. In order to counteract the disastrous effect of liberals on the youth of America, a self-described "Security Mom for Bush" has written the conservative antidote to liberal rationality and empathy: Help! Mom! There are Liberals under my Bed!.

Amazon offers the publisher-blurb, which reads as follows.

Book Description
This full-color illustrated book is a fun way for parents to teach young children the valuable lessons of conservatism. Written in simple text, readers can follow along with Tommy and Lou as they open a lemonade stand to earn money for a swing set. But when liberals start demanding that Tommy and Lou pay half their money in taxes, take down their picture of Jesus, and serve broccoli with every glass of lemonade, the young brothers experience the downside to living in Liberaland.

From the Publisher
Would you let your child read blatantly liberal stories with titles such as "King & King," "No, George, No," or "It's Just a Plant"?
Unless you live in Haight-Ashbury or write for the New York Times, probably not. But with the nation’s libraries and classrooms filled with overtly liberal children’s books advocating everything from gay marriage to marijuana use, kids everywhere are being deluged with left-wing propaganda.

"Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed" is the book conservative parents have been seeking. This illustrated book — the first in the "Help! Mom!" series from Kids Ahead — is perfect for parents who seek to share their traditional values with their children, as well as adults who wish to give a humorous gift to a friend.

Hailed as "the answer to a baseball mom's prayers" by talk radio host Melanie Morgan, "Liberals Under My Bed" has already been the subject of coverage in The Wall Street Journal and Harper’s magazine. Written by a self-proclaimed "Security Mom for Bush" and featuring hilarious full-color illustrations by a Reuben Award winning artist, it is certain to be one of the most talked about children's books of the year.
I've tried to add the photo of the cover to this post, but I've been unsuccessful. Follow the link and get an eyeful. The frightening monsters who aggressively protrude from beneath the poor child's bed bear an uncanny resemblance to Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy.

And plot and message aside, it's that cover symbolism -- liberals as literal boogey men -- that is the most shocking. This is NOT a parody. This is a child's book intended for kids aged 4 to 8. This is a child's book intended to frighten children. This is a child's book intended to frighten children about me.

As if my job isn't already challenging. (I'm not complaining; I love my students. That's why this upsets me so.)

Ten years from now I'll face down the initial readers of this book (which has not yet officially been released but is moving on Amazon like free beer -- #18 at this writing). They won't know why, but if as mom and dad sent them on their way to college, they admonished little Preston and Crystal not to trust me because the odds are good I'm a liberal (as I suspect already happens), they'll be predisposed to buy this argument. They won't know why...but as they lie down at night, they won't be able to sleep because they'll have a vague fear. Of me.

(Postscript: if liberals write a book countering this one -- as I sadly suspect will happen -- the thing will write itself. I invite readers to offer plotlines and characters. For instance, how about the bad day little Andre has when the hurricane comes to his home in Louisiana but President Bluster's sidekick Mr. Brownie doesn't send the helicopters to rescue little Andre from his rooftop?)

For Grammie

Sometimes when I was young – ten or so – in bed at night I would think about the fact that my grandmother was old, and that she would die, and soon. I’d cry myself to sleep over this inevitability. I was big on imagination and small on perspective at that age. Fifty certainly seemed old and next door to the grave.

Yesterday I learned that my grandmother, now 92, has pancreatic cancer, for which there is nothing to be done. She will die, and soon.

Considering my age (and simple math will now reveal that to you), I’ve been remarkably untouched by death. I’ve certainly been aware of this. Only a handful of people who were extremely close to me have died. I’m also certainly aware that many people have never known their grandparents at all, let alone have known them well into middle age.

Maybe this – this long lifetime with a grandmother -- is why this news is so surreal. It’s as if suddenly the sky turned purple and the grass orange. Of course the situation is recognizable, but it’s also utterly foreign. My grandmother has frequently declared her intention to live to be 100. This is obviously not to be.

So in bed last night I tried not to think about the fact that my grandmother is old, and sick, and that she will die, and soon. And I cried myself to sleep over this inevitability.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Friday catblogging: Shadow

Shadow is our oldest cat; he was 17 in April.

Before I'd ever heard the phrase "alpha male," I knew what it meant. Shadow taught us. He runs the household; he is our overlord. Often when the girls (Molly and JJ) are lounging around, minding their own cat business, he'll pin one of them down just to remind her who's in charge.

People must adjust their meals to accommodate Shadow. Sometimes we have to close him up in another room -- or close ourselves up elsewhere -- especially if chicken is on the menu, since he will shamelessly attack our dinners. Sharing with him doesn't solve the problem since there's not enough chicken on the planet to satisfy Shadow's craving.

For all his bluster, however, Shadow is really just a big baby. He craves human attention (I hear about aloof cats, but darned if I have any at MY house) and insists on sitting on our laps, often crawling up our chests to schmooze face-to-face, the moment we sit in the living room. (It occurs to me, however, that this might be his version of pinning humans down.) Yet all it takes to send this macho cat running in terror is the "on" switch of the vacuum cleaner.

Here's to you, Mr. Shad.

A degree or two in English is good for SOMETHING

I put my education to work last night, winning myself a t-shirt for knowing the title of Wallace Stevens' poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird."

Take THAT, you naysayers who said I'd never profit from a degree in English.



Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.


I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.


The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.


A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.


I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.


Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.


O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?


I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.


When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.


At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.


He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.


The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.


It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Funniest weather photo of all time, and it's real

I'm shamelessly stealing from Blondesense.

But the way it FEELS from here, it seems to be pointing in the wrong direction...

Presidential Prayer Team

Those of us who are praying folks don't need to be TOLD to pray when it comes to George Bush's presidency. And we certainly don't need to be told WHAT to pray.

But apparently some people need guidance. Hence, the Presidential Prayer Team.

I wonder how sincere they are about this prayer request?

Pray for Frances Fragos Townsend, newly appointed by President Bush to investigate the problems surrounding federal response to Hurricane Katrina, as she now begins the process of looking in to this important matter. Ask God to bring to light everything pertinent, guiding her and those she selects to find key answers that will help our nation respond appropriately in the future.
"Everything pertinent" are probably the keywords. Yeah.

I'm asking God for the TRUTH. That would be refreshing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bad day at work


I had a come-to-Jesus meeting with two students, one of whom allowed the other to copy his homework, spelling and factual errors included. The young man is one of my "best" students.

I made a student cry when I used the nano-second-long marriage of Kenny Chesney and Renee Zellweger as an example for a point I was making. She just found out her parents are divorcing.


I must talk with a student who's been out because her father was killed in Iraq.

I must speak the truth to a disabled student whose English skills are so low that she can't possibly write passing papers.

Sometimes I'm really glad when all the bad stuff lands on the same day. It'll make tomorrow look that much better.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Awarding the Emmys

(I missed the beginning; I recorded it. Maybe if I ever go back and watch, I'll edit.)

Best speech: S. Epatha Merkerson, especially the constant search down her dress for her notes.

Best follow-up to a speech: Jon Stewart's search down his pants for his notes.

Second best speech: James Spader, who didn't thank a laundry list of people but instead simply had a few things to say.

Most deserved win: Anything that went to The Daily Show.

Least deserved win: Patricia Arquette (Sorry, Patricia. You're not bad; you're just not Glenn Close...or any of the other nominees.)

Least surprising win: Any award that went to
Everybody Loves Raymond, especially the award to Doris Roberts.

MIA host award: Ellen DeGeneres. Where was the Ellen DeGeneres who hosted the 2001 Emmys? (First visit to the timekeeper: funny. The rest: overkill. Best moment: not coming out to intro Hugh Jackman and Whoopi Goldberg.)

Best presentation: Hugh Jackman and Whoopi Goldberg, who went off script AND kept it short.

Hairstyle that most belonged on a set and not at an awards show: Patricia Arquette.

Best non-skeletal body: Patricia Arquette (who knew they let size 10/12 women act?) (Before I get comments, this award's not sarcasm; I mean it.)

Campiest moment: William Shatner and the opera singer doing the Star Trek theme. C'mon, you know you've done before exactly what that lady was doing.

Edit: Forgot
Most Disorganized Montage On an Awards Show Ever: The Brokaw/Rather/Jennings montage.
Most Dragged-Out Segment: Brokaw and Rather's comments, which took at least twice as long as necessary. I thought being concise was one of the top rules of journalism?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Even so, we know they think we're bitches...


the Food and Drug Administration posted on its Web site an announcement naming Dr. Norris E. Alderson, an expert in animal science, acting director of the Office of Women’s Health,

but a little later in the day,

the posting was replaced with an announcement naming Theresa A. Toigo to the post. The new new director is a career employee with a strong backgound in cancer and HIV/AIDS.

Maybe the administration learned a thing or two from Katrina, but that they even CONSIDERED a VETERINARIAN to head Women's Health speaks volumes.

Link here.

Edit: Here's Salon's write-up on the brief tenure of Dr. "Doolittle" Alderson. (Yeah, I know. The ads.)

Bill Clinton's political capital

Former President Bill Clinton was Larry King's guest last night. Transcript here.

There are at least ten things I'd like to say about that interview and about Mr. Clinton, but time constrains me to just a few:

Content aside, it's good to see a president who can articulate (keyword: articulate)ideas from something other than a continuous-loop pre-determined package.

Clearly Clinton has decided to spend some of his considerable and very real national and international "political capital" to literally change the world through his Clinton Global Initiative. The caveat of this summit is

each of the attendees is required to commit to doing something to improve the world.

"This is more than a photo op, more than business as usual," Clinton said as he opened the session. "All of us come to meetings, we study issues, we say what we think, and too often we complain when the governments that we seek to influence ignore what we think is our sound advice."

So every person attending is required to make a commitment in writing. More than 50 commitments have been made, totaling more than $300 million. Clinton announced four specific commitments -- signed on the spot for the cameras -- which included a $100 million Africa investment fund and a plan to fight HIV-AIDS through micro-enterprise development. One commitment was made by the Clinton initiative itself -- a pledge that all of its activities would be "carbon neutral," promising to mitigate the effects of plane travel and conference preparation by financing renewable energy projects that replace fossil-fuel energy sources.
What is striking here is that Clinton no longer sits in "the" seat of power. The power he holds today is his own, intrinsic power. He created it; he earned it.

Maybe it was the library and the health issues. I don't know what took Clinton so long, but as the world seems to disintegrate daily, it's a relief to see someone step up and show some real leadership.

The Metaphor of the Misunderbuttoned Blue Shirt

It occurs to me, all kidding aside, that the fact that George Bush showed up for what some have called the most important speech of his presidency since 9/11 in a shirt that was improperly buttoned just might be a metaphor for the state of his presidency.


Bush was blissfully unaware of the reality of his misunderbuttoned shirt.

Possibly his hangers-on didn't notice the reality of his misunderbuttoned shirt.

Possibly his hangers-on were too scared to point out the reality of his misunderbuttoned shirt.

The mainstream media haven't paid a lot of attention to the misunderbuttoned shirt, but bloggers have.

Friday, September 16, 2005

We won't be fooled again

While politicians manipulate us, break our spirits, and break our hearts, they're not alone in that enterprise. It's that very special time of the year when the networks take their crack at us. Bombarded with new offerings, some of us will be seduced by shows offering intriguing premises* or favorite stars. Others will be lulled into watching new programs because we're bored or too weary to resist. Whatever the circumstances, some of us will fall in love with new shows. We'll make appointments with our new beloveds; we'll set our VCRs or DVRs to make sure we don't miss them. We'll talk about them at work or parties. We'll blissfully forget the stresses of our own lives and lose ourselves for that hour or half-hour each week.

And then, the odds are quite good that -- regardless of quality -- once our new shows have become a comfortable part of our lives, the networks will pull the plug.

For years I let them batter me around, offering no real resistance. Shows came and went so fast that I now barely remember what I lost. Then a few years ago, CBS offered That's Life!, a charming family show whose cast included Paul Sorvino, the now-hot (career-wise) Kevin Dillon and -- almost unbelievably -- Ellyn Burstyn. The story of a single 30-ish woman (played by Heather Paige Kent) caught in the tension between her determination to live a life other than that predetermined by cultural and familial pressures and her genuine love for that often exasperating family, the first season was -- not to sound too ooky, but -- sweet, heart-warming.

But apparently not enough people were watching because "changes" were made in season 2 that were presumably intended to improve the show but instead cut its heart out, and it was put down at the end of the second season.

I still feel gypped. I still want to know what happened to those folks.

After that, I made a resolution not to watch any more new shows, at least not until they became bona-fide hits with the younger demographic, which is all the advertisers care about anyway.

Like all resolutions, however, this one was hard to keep.

In 2003, I started keeping company with the charismatic Bonnie Hunt and Life with Bonnie. Sometimes outrageously funny and sometimes good enough (which is more than we can say about many comedies), the show brought Hunt a nomination for a Golden Globe in 2003 and 2004, and an Emmy nom in 2004. And I wasn't watching this one alone. Many people I knew spent their Friday nights with Bonnie, and all of us were just a little stunned when ABC pulled the plug (although the show had been making some desperate-looking moves, such as having "the gang" make the bizarre move of buying a pizza joint there at the end). I was torn between being glad that I'd had the show for two years and being mad at myself for letting myself get involved again.

The year earlier, in 2002, I became addicted to what is surely the best show ever to die prematurely, Boomtown. Textured and cerebral, it probably confused some people since its crime stories were told from multiple perspectives in recursive style. In other words, viewers had to pay attention and think. Ratings were low, and in 2003, NBC ran two episodes, then canceled the show. Like That's Life!, Boomtown had been tinkered with in the months between seasons. The multi-perspective flash-forwards and flashbacks were mostly excised, and the show died on the operating table. It's almost just as well it was canceled.**

I've been fairly cautious since then. I did start watching Lost last season after it seemed to be solidly pronounced a hit. Other than that, I generally stay away from new shows. (Admission: did start watching and enjoying The Closer on TNT this summer, but again not until it got good reviews and good ratings.)

Because television programming is driven by economic concerns and not by artistic merit or other qualities -- and sometimes not even by popularity -- television networks literally eat their own young. In doing so, they alienate people like me who would rather not get involved if the relationship isn't going to go anywhere. And if the viewers don't show up, the shows don't have the desired ratings. This unproductive cycle is the networks' own doing.

And yet my resolve is just a little weak. I know I'm going to get burned, but I'm considering checking out My Name is Earl next week. The show has the potential to be either rancid effluvium or a half-hour worth my time. As someone who's been wronged a time or two and still waiting for the offenders to show up and make amends, I'm slightly intrigued by the show's premise. So I'll probably tune in.

And eventually, if I like it, NBC will probably make me sorry I did. ________________________________________
*Ok; maybe I'm stretching it.
**To my delight, Boomtown's first season was released on DVD. The economics of this mystifies me. There weren't enough people watching the show, but someone thought there was interest enough to invest more money in it. But I'm not complaining. I own it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go RIGHT NOW!

God only knows how much we all needed this about right now.

The unintentional (?) irony of Reuters' deadpan caption juxtaposed with the actual content of the note (short version: need the potty) is priceless. Here 'tis:
U.S. President George W. Bush writes a note to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a Security Council meeting at the 2005 World Summit and 60th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York September 14, 2005. World leaders are exploring ways to revitalize the United Nations at a summit on Wednesday but their blueprint falls short of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's vision of freedom from want, persecution and war.

And it's not from the Onion, my friends. My new favorite media source, Editor & Publisher, confirms.

Monday, September 12, 2005


PostSecret leads off this week with an especially harsh but presumably honest secret:

(9-14-05 edit: I've held the door open long enough and now I'm walking through myself. I've been waiting patiently for someone to wonder if Bush or Rove or Cheney had sent the card.)

Also, the PostSecret book is now available on Amazon as a pre-order, but considering that there's no publication date offered yet, I think I can wait.

Bitty is pretending she knows something about programming

I have no idea what I'm doing, really. Me with computer = me with car. I can drive, but don't ask me to spend too much time under the hood. Yes, I can find the spark plugs and wires and distributor caps, the dipsticks, the radiator, the oil filter. I can fill reservoirs.

But you really don't want me messing with the timing and belts and hoses, the valves, the alternator. No sirree bob.

All you brilliant ones have all kinds of interesting things on your blogs, and me, the best I can do most days is fill in fields when prompted.

But I'm trying, mostly by trial and lots of error. I've added a guestmap in the sidebar because I thought it was cool, reason enough to add anything to a blog, and I invite you to add yourself to the map. I've added links -- finally -- and I've renamed them "Stuff I Like to Read" but the perfectionist in me is driven nuts because the font for the words "Stuff" (etc.) does not match the font for the words "recent posts" and "archives." I'm not a clean freak, but I am the kind of person who could be driven frothing mad by a crooked picture. Go figure.

I'll eventually fill in the links to all my rather eclectic favorites. Someday I may even work out the font problem.

But for now, I am inordinately proud of me. I think I'll go change my spark plugs.

So it wasn't necessarily racism; it was just BONE-DEEP INCOMPETENCE!!!

We all have our bad moments. Heaven knows I have mine. Sometimes I'm a little grumpy. Sometimes I react a little slowly.

But when I'm grumpy and slow, no one dies.

Newsweek's postmortem on George W. Bush's reaction to Katrina ought to convince the 28% or whatever the current number is of those folks who think he's doing a heck of a job that they've been had. Ought to, but probably won't.

The article begins:
It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States, or, as he is known in West Wing jargon, POTUS. The bad news on this early morning, Tuesday, Aug. 30, some 24 hours after Hurricane Katrina had ripped through New Orleans, was that the president would have to cut short his five-week vacation by a couple of days and return to Washington. The president's chief of staff, Andrew Card; his deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagin; his counselor, Dan Bartlett, and his spokesman, Scott McClellan, held a conference call to discuss the question of the president's early return and the delicate task of telling him. Hagin, it was decided, as senior aide on the ground, would do the deed.

and continues
President Bush knew the storm and its consequences had been bad; but he didn't quite realize how bad.

The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.

How this could be—how the president of the United States could have even less "situational awareness," as they say in the military, than the average American about the worst natural disaster in a century—is one of the more perplexing and troubling chapters in a story that, despite moments of heroism and acts of great generosity, ranks as a national disgrace.

And if this much hasn't absolutely done you in, you can go read the rest.

America, we have a problem.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A day of silence, in remembrance

(I can't believe I let this photo get damaged, but maybe that's symbolically appropriate.)

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Media Day on Bitty's Back Porch

On Shakespeare's Sister we find a link that takes us to The Tattered Coat, where we find posted a downloadable rap-with-a-tinge-of-blues that snakes into the mind and plays on a continuous loop: "George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People." We dare you to listen to it once and not have it play in your head for the rest of the day. (Apparently this is a remix of a Kanye West song. We're old. We don't know these things without being told.)

Friday, September 09, 2005

Friday catblogging

This is not something I've done before, but I'm worn out thinking about all things Katrina, and to write about anything else seems almost frivolous.

I'm in the mood for something life-affirming, so here's my favorite cat, Molly.

Yes, I know it's not nice to have a favorite. But I do.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Two links worth checking out

Salon has been at the top of its game, as have so many bloggers, during the current catastrophe.

Would that clever words could fix things.

Nevertheless, I recommend two of the many insightful things currently posted on Salon. I know access is a pain for those without memberships.

The first catalogues the Bush Administration's use of the phrase, "Now's not the time for politics." If you think you've heard it before, you have. A sampling:
The president and his press secretary have suggested over the last few days that anyone who questions the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina is engaged in the "blame game," and that "now is not a time for politics." We thought that sounded just a little familiar when we heard it, and now we know why. In the presidency of George W. Bush, it turns out, it's pretty much never a "time for politics."

"Now is not the time for politics," the president declared on Feb. 14, 2001, just two months after the Supreme Court decided Bush v. Gore and put him in the White House. Later that same month, the president said, "There's a time for politics, and that ended a while ago." On March 22, 2001, the president explained: "See, there's a time for politics, and there's a time for policy. And the way I view it is, once you get sworn in, that the politics is over."

In the aftermath of 9/11, the president said, "Now is not the time for politics." When the president was pushing one round of his tax cuts in December 2001, he declared: "Now is not the time for partisan politics."

There's plenty more where that came from.

Link #2 is video, a public service for those who have heard about but haven't seen the tv journalist meltdowns and moments when reporters have grown a pair before our very eyes. In one segment, maybe not the most flashy but to me the most poignant, Ted Koppel points out a simple truth to Brownie:

Brown: We’re going to make absolutely certain that the devastation that has been wreaked upon these people is taken care of and we’re going to get their lives back in order.

Koppel: Mr. Brown, some of these people are dead. They’re beyond your help.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Barbara Bush, compassionate conservative

Former (Democratic) Governor of Florida, U. S. Senator, and hapless Presidential candidate Bob Graham featured "workdays" as part of his political schtick. He'd go off for a day of more or less real work in a real lower- or middle-class job. While it served as a photo-op, Graham actually did the work. He'd experience the muscle aches and mental stresses of what "ordinary" people go through on a daily basis.

In a Sun-Sentinel article from 2004 (no longer easily available on the web), political writer Buddy Nevins reported that Graham

has done just about every job there is to do in Florida. He's cleaned fish and floors, picked fruit in the fields and sorted fruit in the market, been an actor and an assembly line worker. He's sold tires and driven a truck, been a photojournalist and a sports writer, worked on a commercial fishing boat and a farm.

Graham said working beside other Floridians made him sensitive to their needs and wants.

"Sensitive" is not the first word many of us would use when describing members of the Bush family, as Barbara Bush (the matriarch, not the Presidential daughter) reminded us as she reviewed subjects in a Texas shelter. (Reported by Marketplace, and re-reported by Editor & Publisher.) Mrs. Bush declared,
referring to the poor who had lost everything back home and evacuated, "This is working very well for them."


Barbara Bush said: "Almost everyone I’ve talked to says we're going to move to Houston."

Then she added: "What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.

"And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."

Scary. Scary? Scary is living in an overcrowded shelter without power, food, water, or restrooms for days. Scary is wading through muck, past floating bodies, searching for safety. Scary is living on a baking interstate for days, watching trucks and buses drive by. Scary is facing death by hurricane and then by flood and then by neglect and incompetence. Scary is NOT people moving into Texas by the thousands.

People have a tendency to presume poor automatically equals lazy. After all, we still generally believe in the Protestant work ethic. Those who work hard get rewarded; those who don't get what they deserve. However, surely all the working poor and many middle-class folks know better.

Many, many "underprivileged" (and I could parse THAT word, but I don't have the rest of the day to spend on it) people are working poor, not lazy poor. Let's not assume that an influx of "underprivileged" are scary drags on the community, which might be what Mrs. Bush was scared of.

As Marketplace's article pointed out, the sudden appearance of thousands of new citizens will cause problems in the community, but that's a challenge to be met, not a thing to fear. Many of the new residents will pull their own weight, given the chance.

And let's not even think about disaster as a golden opportunity that allows the undeserving to move up the class ladder.

Perhaps if Mrs. Bush rolled up her sleeves and helped out with the rescue effort Graham-style, she too might become sensitive to the needs and wants of the Katrina survivors.

I'm not counting on it.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Teflon President is not to blame

The results of a ABC/Washington Post poll reveal that although a large majority (75%) say the state and local governments were not adequately prepared for Katrina (fair enough) and that although a large majority (67%) say the federal government was not adequately prepared (glaringly obvious), only a minority (44%) "blame Bush."

Let's recap:

Under George W. Bush's aegis, the cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security was created. Let me restate that bureau's name: Homeland Security. Homeland. Security. Folded into that bureaucracy was the once-functioning, once-cabinet-level FEMA.

Mr. Bush's pick for head of FEMA was failed horse-show commissioner Michael Brown. On day five of the crisis (counting from Monday as day 1), as little old ladies drowned in their nursing homes and babies died in their mothers' arms, live, in front of the nation, Bush praised "Brownie" for doing a "heck of a job."

More importantly, however, a leader's job is to be visible , strong, and reassuring when leadership is needed. When Bush arrived in the Gulf, even CNN's Daryl Kagan commented on the bizarro scene as Bush was filmed live being briefed by Brown and others. Instead of at least acting Presidential, Bush was running as fast as he could to catch up. Instead of somberly reassuring a shattered region (and the rest of us), Bush joked about Trent Lott's future lovely home and his own wasted youth in the Big Easy.

Harry S Truman famously displayed a sign on his Oval Office desk that declared, "The buck stops here."

In his farewell address to the American people given in January 1953, President Truman referred to this concept very specifically in asserting that, "The President--whoever he is--has to decide. He can't pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That's his job.

George W. Bush had some decisions to make last week, and he decided to play guitar and golf.

Mr. Bush is no Truman, and apparently 55% of those polled like it that way.

Times-Picayune's Open Letter to the President

From Sunday's Times-Picayune:
An open letter to the President
Dear Mr. President:
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
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.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Convoys finally arriving

Amphibious vehicles are entering N.O. with supplies...finally. Those in the convention center will finally get food, water, and perhaps a ride out.

I fear that the N.O. experience will discourage people from going to shelters in the future. I'm not sure I would go if faced with the choice.

Other sources (blogs and media outlets alike) are discussing the socioeconomic aspects of this crisis. The majority of those stranded are black and/or poor. Will this crisis force us to sit down and have a real discussion about poverty in America?

Probably not.

Self preservation

I've spent the last few days thinking more than usual about exactly what I need to stockpile in case of -- whatever. Hurricane. Insufficient gas to move around. Bombs.

Of course, for many of the folks in the Gulf, stockpiling did no good.

But I'm still thinking about stockpiling. We need to be thinking about taking good care of ourselves because it's kind of clear that the government can't.

I've been thinking about my possessions. Man, am I ever a packrat. Anyone who knows me well enough to spend time in my house knows that. But only one category of my stuff is precious enough to make me worry about losing it: my photos. For the last few years I've been saving my pictures to disk, and just two weeks ago, I bought a new scanner. I'm going to save the best of the collection to disks and mail them to out-of-state relatives. Just in case.

And if the worst should ever happen to me and I lose the pictures, too, well, they're still only pictures.

Excuse me now while I go shopping for canned goods and extra toilet paper. Just in case.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

"I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees"

“I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees” – George W. Bush on Good Morning America.

Michael Scherer reports at (yes, you will have to watch that ad if you don't have a subscription):

Eric Tolbert, a former top disaster response official in the Bush administration, knew a calamity like Hurricane Katrina would be coming, sooner or later. And he also knew that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where he worked until February, was not ready to properly respond. There were too few full-time employees, not enough contracts in place to provide assistance, and a lack of money to do proper pre-planning. The added burden of the war on terror, he says, diverted funds away from FEMA's core mission.

"FEMA had to compete and had to help finance the creation of the Department of Homeland Security," Tolbert, who now works for PBS&J, a private contractor, said Thursday morning. "They were taking chunks of money out of the budget. We always referred to it as taxes."

Last summer, for instance, Tolbert said FEMA staged a "tabletop exercise" in Baton Rouge, La., to gauge how well it would respond if a Category 3 hurricane hit New Orleans. Officials learned a lot from the role-play, says Tolbert, and then returned to their offices to create a new plan to respond to an actual disaster in the region. "Unfortunately, we were not able to finish the plan," Tolbert said. The funding for it ran out.


Of the $500 million requested for levees, pumping stations and new drainage canals between 2001 and 2005, only $249 million passed out of Congress.


The blame, [Tolbert] says, lies not with the local and federal officials who warned for decades of the coming disaster. It lies with those elected officials who refused to sign the checks. "The country deserves better than that," he says.

Read more at Salon.

UPDATE: ABC's nightly news is discussing this very thing right now: the clarion calls for action before it was too late; the failures to act.