And that's the way it is? A "great excuse"?

Watching Larry King a few minutes ago, I saw Walter Cronkite opine that "we now have a great excuse to get out of Iraq."

The "excuse"? "Natural disasters," of course.

"We cannot afford both."

Which means, according to Cronkite, that we should now tell the world that "we're terribly, terribly sorry" and simply get out of Iraq.

A few weeks ago, Dean Esmay anticipated the Cronkite argument:

From my perspective, it is far, far too late to start bringing up questions about funding priorities now, except maybe in the sense of bringing them up if another war is proposed. For this war, the die is cast. Furthermore, there is no denying the truth: if we pull up stakes and abandon those people in Iraq, we will have done something more immoral and more terrible than we ever did by going there in the first place. The power vacuum we would leave behind would result in a crushing blow against human rights. It wouldn't just be a great shame to the United States, it would be a great shame to the entire human race.
A shame?

But what about the great Walter Cronkite saying we now have a great excuse?

Unfortunately, Dean doesn't think Walter's excuse is much of a moral argument:

People who attack the war effort don't like being questioned on moral grounds, but too bad! This is a fundamentally moral question. I never stopped phrasing my support for this mission in moral terms, and I won't stop now. Because I meant it then and I mean it now: opposition to liberation of Iraq is and always has been morally vacuous. One could argue against it for purely pragmatic reasons--we can't afford it, we have other priorities--but we cannot pretend those are moral arguments. They're also irrelevant--we committed to this almost three years ago and can't go back in time and undo it.
If history ends up recording that "the War in Iraq was lost in New Orleans," ("and that's the way it is"), we will have lost a lot more than Iraq and New Orleans.

Excuse me, but I don't think I want to live in a great excuse.

posted by Eric at 09:19 PM | Comments (3)

Race just isn't sexy

I really didn't want to write a post defending Bill Bennett (about whose politics I share roughly John Cole's opinion), because there are plenty of people in need of defending and because he'd probably never do the same thing for me. But Jeff Goldstein (in a wonderful post linked by Glenn) did such a good job of defending Bennett against the charge of racism -- especially the more complicated charge that one shouldn't say things that might be misunderstood or misinterpreted -- that I feel emboldened. Why, it's almost as if I can defend Bennett without feeling susceptible to being attacked as a racist myself!

To back up a bit, via John Cole, here are Bennett's remarks in context:

BENNETT: All right, well, I mean, I just don’t know. I would not argue for the pro-life position based on this, because you don’t know. I mean, it cuts both—you know, one of the arguments in this book Freakonomics that they make is that the declining crime rate, you know, they deal with this hypothesis, that one of the reasons crime is down is that abortion is up. Well—
CALLER: Well, I don’t think that statistic is accurate.

BENNETT: Well, I don’t think it is either, I don’t think it is either, because first of all, there is just too much that you don’t know. But I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could—if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky.

(BTW, I'd rather credit John Cole than that mean Media Matters place he got it from, lest I be misunderinterpretated. But I will supply the Inquirer link.)

It's real obvious (to me, anyway) that Bennett isn't proposing the abortions of black fetuses any more than he's arguing that blacks cause crime. He's just extrapolating from statistics to show the monstrous results which can be created if we rely on them.

But to show how ridiculous the charge against Bennett is, let's turn off the race meme, and switch to the sex meme.

Suppose Bennett had said the following:

But I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could—if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every male baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.
Indeed it would. And if the extrapolated statistics are correct, it would go down a whopping 90% -- because that's the percentage of crime which is committed by males. (Men also comprise 95% of the prison population.)

Would that have been a sexist remark? By the same logic applied to Bennett, of course it would. But would Bennett have been slammed for it? By anyone?

I think not. (More likely, he'd have been praised -- at least by organizations like this.)

AFTERTHOUGHT: Regarding what I superciliously called "the more complicated charge that one shouldn't say things that might be misunderstood or misinterpreted," Roger L. Simon sees Bennett as a big boy astute enough to understand the consequences of his statements. FWIW, I think Roger is just as right as Jeff.

(Bennett's statement was not racist, but few will care. Truth is an increasingly losing venture -- even in context.)

posted by Eric at 05:33 PM | Comments (4)

Secrets of the garden variety . . .

Sean Kinsell and I had an email exchange earlier this week, and as Sean pointed out in a post titled "Secret Gardens," it resulted in my earlier post about blogging.

While Sean didn't quote from the email exchange (phew!), he offers some additional thoughts about blogging under his real name:

Since I write under my own name, I have to use content and tone that are compatible with my job, but that doesn't bother me. It's not as if people who try to make their points forcefully but civilly were overrepresented in the public discourse or anything. I also have a few teenaged readers and try to keep my occasional bawdiness mild and good-humored, the better to serve as a thrilling contrast with the latest Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson video.
As I'm self-employed, I don't feel the same restraints others might, but there are a few factors which cause me to restrain myself. One is a primary reason I started blogging, and that is my distaste for the rude, name-calling, ad hominem style of political (and even non-political) debating. I think people are intimidated by insulting rhetoric, especially personal attacks based on things like culture, age, race, background, or tastes in clothing, food, or sex -- and they should not be. I'm not perfect, and I do get emotional at times, but I do try to remain logical and polite, and I try to refrain from hurling personal insults and irrelevant characterizations at people.

Respecting what little privacy exists in my largely irrelevant personal life and in the privacy of others' personal lives is another consideration, which makes certain things off limits for discussion. (For example, I abhor the merging of the political with the personal, and this is epitomized by the practice of "outing" by the left, as well as the characterization of all homosexuals as being part of a sinister "gay agenda" by the right.) There's also the issue of taste. What some might like, others might find threatening. (Or even disgusting.)

Finally, while I know I wouldn't survive being subjected to a Google scrutiny test if I wanted to work for, say, a stodgy Philadelphia law firm, I try to always keep in mind that anything I say in this blog might have to be defended later. So I try to aspire to a sort of personal rule that I must be ready, willing, and able to defend anything I have said in this blog. Anytime, anywhere -- even publicly. This is not to say that I'm confident of the rightness of everything I say, because I have often made mistakes and been wrong. What it does mean is that I don't want to succumb to emotion and write things in the heat of passion I might later regret.

Otherwise, I do not consider myself bound by conventional wisdom or anyone's political agenda -- which makes me free to be as opinionated and as crazy as I want.

posted by Eric at 10:57 AM | Comments (1)

Arms are for hugging!* And for politeness!

According to the Brady Bunch, it's now open season on tourists in Florida. Tourists are being warned that Floridians now have the dangerous right to self defense:

Florida's £30 billion tourism industry is under threat from a campaign launched by a gun-control group which warns visitors they could be killed.

A series of alarming adverts, to be placed in British newspapers, warns potential tourists about a new law allowing gun owners to shoot anyone they believe threatens their safety.

It means thousands of British families who travel to the Sunshine State are now caught up in the ongoing political row over gun control in the United States.

They are? Merely because the Brady people placed an asinine ad? If an anti gay marriage group placed an ad warning them that they would not be allowed to marry a partner of the same sex in Florida, would this mean they'd be "caught up" in the gay marriage dispute?

The Florida law, supported by the National Rifle Association, was approved by the state legislature in April.

The state's governor, Jeb Bush - whose brother is the US president - described it as a "good, commonsense, anti-crime issue".

So, not only are you unsafe in Florida and all "caught up" in an ongoing row, but when crazed Florida rednecks shoot you to death, it'll all be the fault of the evil Bush Dynasty!

The Brady Campaign to Control Gun Violence, based in Washington DC, has pledged to "educate" tourists by placing adverts in US cities, and in key overseas markets such as Britain.

"Warning: Florida residents can use deadly force," says one of the adverts. Another reads: "Thinking about a Florida vacation? Please ensure your family is safe. In Florida, avoid disputes. Use special caution in arguing with motorists on Florida roads."

The Brady Campaign - named after Jim Brady, the spokesman for Ronald Reagan who was paralysed by a gunshot during the 1981 assassination attempt on the then-president - promises to also run adverts in French, German and Japanese newspapers. The campaign officers also plan to hand out leaflets on roads leading into the state.

Peter Hamm, the communications director of the Brady Campaign, said: "It's a particular risk faced by travellers coming to Florida for a vacation because they have no idea it's going to be the law of the land. If they get into a road rage argument, the other person may feel he has the right to use deadly force."

Thanks to the Bush Dynasty and the NRA, armed Floridians might now have dangerous feelings? Is that the message? Apparently so. There's also an erroneous assumption that armed citizens are rude. To the contrary; they're much more likely to be polite.

But let's assume that someone, somewhere in Florida, now has a "feeling" that there's a "right" to use deadly force to settle a road rage argument. Legally, the notion is preposterous, as the Florida statute conveys no such right, nor does it provide justification for such feelings. It merely resuscitates the common-law "man's home is his castle" doctrine which had (along with self defense generally) been under attack.

What the law actually says is explained in detail here. Basically, if attacked with deadly force you have no duty to retreat when you are in your home, or at your business. As to "road rage," the following excerpt explains that the law does not allow someone in that situation to settle a dispute by shooting:

Q. When can I use my handgun to protect myself?

A. Florida law justifies use of deadly force when you are:

* trying to protect yourself or another person from death or serious bodily harm;
* trying to prevent a forcible felony, such as rape, robbery, burglary or kidnapping.

Using or displaying a handgun in any other circumstances could result in your conviction for crimes such as improper exhibition of a firearm, manslaughter, or worse.

Example of the kind of attack that will not justify defending yourself with deadly force: Two neighbors got into a fight, and one of them tried to hit the other by swinging a garden hose. The neighbor who was being attacked with the hose shot the other in the chest. The court upheld his conviction for aggravated battery with a firearm, because an attack with a garden hose is not the kind of violent assault that justifies responding with deadly force.

Q. What if someone uses threatening language to me so that I am afraid for my life or safety?

A. Verbal threats are not enough to justify the use of deadly force. There must be an overt act by the person which indicates that he immediately intends to carry out the threat. The person threatened must reasonably believe that he will be killed or suffer serious bodily harm if he does not immediately take the life of his adversary.

Q. Can't I protect myself if someone starts hitting me?

A. Even if someone starts a fight with you, you must make every reasonable effort consistent with your own safety to avoid the use of deadly force, including retreating from someone attacking you. Running away from someone who has insulted or punched you may offend your instincts to uphold your honor. However, as the Second District Court of Appeal has said: "The use of deadly force against another human being (instead of running away) is not countenanced by law even if that force is in response to conduct of human beings who act like animals."

I don't think European tourists traveling to Disney World have much to worry about from Florida's armed law abiding citizens. Why, unless they're planning on invading homes and businesses, they're free to act like total assholes and even start fights, and still, Floridians will not be allowed to shoot them.

But "feelings" may persist. The Brady Campaign would conveniently have us forget about the notorious tourist shootings which plagued Florida in the early 1990s. What fewer people recall is that they were preyed on because they stood out as tourists, and local criminals knew they were unlikely to be armed.

In 1993, as research by Prof. Gary Kleck of Florida State University has shown, Florida crime rates were actually plummeting, due to new laws which allowed far more law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons. As that beneficial change took place, the only motorists who criminals could be assured would be unarmed were newly-arrived tourists driving rental cars with big fluorescent rent-a-car stickers. Once the airport rental lots started removing those stickers, Florida's "tourist murder crime wave" disappeared virtually overnight.
With history in mind, I think it's reasonable for Florida to consider a sensitivity outreach program for European tourists who feel threatened. In conjunction with the NRA, they could offer fearful tourists welcome and safety kits consisting of NRA bumperstickers to place on their rental cars, and NRA hats to wear. That way, they could not only blend in with legally armed Floridians irrationally suspected of harboring "feelings" about shooting tourists, but the hats and stickers would tend to intimidate criminals who'd be inclined to prey on tourists -- not because of mistaken feelings, but because of the logical assumption that tourists are unlikely to be armed.

An "arm the tourists" pilot program might not be a bad idea either. Tourists are already pre-screened when they enter the country, so the background checks wouldn't be too much of a problem, and they could be issued temporary right-to-carry permits which would allow them to rent guns for the duration of their trips.

Tourists would be safer, Florida would be safer, and everybody would be more polite. And when they returned home to Europe, the tourists would have something to talk about with their friends that might be more interesting than Mickey Mouse.

MORE: Jeff Soyer cleverly spoofs the ridiculous Brady "warning" poster by offering one featuring Chicago, where self defense is disallowed -- and where gun control has worked (to increase homicides, that is....)

UPDATE (10/01/05): I'm delighted to see that Michelle Malkin liked this post and gave me a link! Many thanks.

AND MORE: Why are there no tourist warnings about Switzerland -- described as "awash in guns" and where even children have guns:

At all major shooting matches, bicycles aplenty are parked outside. Inside the firing shelter the competitors pay 12-year olds tips to keep score. The 16-year-olds shoot rifles along with men and women of all ages.
(HT Justin.)

Sounds at least as dangerous as Florida.

UPDATE: My thanks to Tammy Bruce for linking this post and for her kind words. I also enjoyed her comments on the irony of Floridians being targeted by a smear like this in England:

Ironically, England implemented its own gun control legislation in 1997 with disastrous repercussions. They now have a higher violent crime rate than not only New York, but every state of the union, including of course, Florida.

In fact, let's use the example of Washington, DC. Guns are banned there and as a result it is the murder capitol of the country. Why? Because bad guys know that law abiding citizens of Washington, DC are sitting ducks. That's why the crime rate in London has skyrockted, and why the English will be safer in Miami or any city in Florida than they will in any city in their own country--specifically because the law-abiding are prepared to defend themselves, keeping criminals and other scum at unbalanced and at bay.

* Why can't I find any "I'M A GUN HUGGER!" bumperstickers? Discrimination, obviously.

posted by Eric at 09:30 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBacks (1)

Spanish intolerance of multiculturalism

What's the best way for a man to beat his wife without getting caught?

The blows should be concentrated on the hands and feet using a rod that is thin and light so that it does not leave scars or bruises on the body.
So advises Imam Mohamed Kamal Mustafa, who officiates at a mosque in Fuengirola, Spain.

For his advice on practical application of what he considers Islamic doctrine, Mustafa is in trouble with Spain's socialist government:

The judge told Mohamed Kamal Mustafa, imam of a mosque in the southern resort of Fuengirola, to spend six months studying three articles of the constitution and the universal declaration of human rights.

Mr. Mustafa was sentenced to 15 months in jail and fined about $2,600 last year after being found guilty of inciting violence against women.

A judge released him after 22 days in jail on the condition that he undertake a re-education course.

The Spanish government has set up a commission to find ways for the Muslim community to regulate itself. A central recommendation is that imams speak Spanish and have a basic knowledge of human rights and Spanish law.

In his book "Women in Islam," published four years ago, Mr. Mustafa wrote that verbal warnings followed by a period of sexual inactivity could be used to discipline a disobedient wife.

Via G. Gordon Liddy.

(I can't find the Imam's book at

While wife beating is taken very seriously in the United States (and is of course illegal in every state), Mustafa's how-to manual might very well be protected under the First Amendment. (I'm still recovering from abdominal pain, and just too tired to put in a call to the ACLU right now, OK? But take my word for it; banning his book, while it might be possible under certain theories, would by no means be a slam-dunk.)

What is not protected, though, and what never should be protected, is a religious privilege to commit crime, or advocacy which crosses a certain line.

As I've said, if freedom of speech grants no right to yell fire in a crowded mosque, neither does freedom of religion.

To which I'd add that neither does "multiculturalism."

But I had no idea the Spanish were so culturally intolerant. Imagine, requiring Imams to understand human rights! And making them learn Spanish!

What would CAIR say?

posted by Eric at 07:12 PM | Comments (6)

Anarchist alternative to selling your soul

Via Glenn Reynolds, I read of problems with the iPod Nano. Apparently, these highly fashionable gadgets crack too easily, among other things.

Does that mean if you shell out hundreds of dollars and the thing breaks, you're just another "fashion victim?"

Is there any alternative to these high fashion, expensive, electronic devices which are still, um, "cool"? That depends on what you consider cool. One of the few things I liked about the 1970s was that at the peak of rock and roll arrogance (in which musical tyranny and pompous musical complexity reigned supreme), young people rebelled, and simply said "enough is enough!" The result was punk rock -- a startlingly simplified return to the homemade roots of rock. (And fashion!)

I'm wondering whether similar factors might be at work in the introduction of DIY (do-it-yourself) MP3 players like these.


While some might call the above pretentious, Wired writer Keith Axline (in a wonderful piece titled "IPods for Anarchists"), decided to build one because he didn't want to be like everyone else:

"Must-have" devices seem to instantly lose their charm for me when they're adopted en masse -- even when it comes to the iPod."
There's also the matter of pride of ownership -- in that if you build it yourself, it feels more yours than if you bought it:
For those with curiosity, diligence and a rebel's spirit, it's quite possible to get your hands on a unique MP3 player and avoid selling your soul to tech conformity.

After searching around a bit, I came across an MP3 player kit named EchoMp3, designed by Belgian electrician Michel Bavin. I could buy it online for around $100 (not including a memory card), have it shipped to me and assemble it myself by following the instructions posted on his website. Not only was it sans logo, but it just looked cool. Nothing gives the finger to mass production like duct tape.

It looked cool!

That statement alone ought to drive terror into the heart of the Apple's core corps of manufacturers. Except the thing isn't easy to build. You have to know how to perform complex soldering in miniature, and even the writer (who'd built a guitar amp before), had to obtain professional help. (Something I always feel in need of whenever I'm forced to sell my already well-sold soul to "tech conformity.")

But when he was through, he had an incredibly cool device that he'd made himself -- and that no one else had. Plus, it worked!

The player sounds great, looks cool and, thanks to my clumsiness with power tools, it's quite unique looking. The memory card can hold about 120 songs (comparable to an iPod Shuffle) but can only play linearly and has no file system.

This is truly only a labor of love and makes no sense for any other reason than to have made it yourself. You can buy other brand name players with included memory cards for cheaper, and you can even buy this particular kit already assembled for fifteen more dollars. On the other hand, you can't put a price on taking back a little piece of knowledge from the largely unknowable world of technology. I spent far more than 15 dollars in time and trips to the hardware store, but I wouldn't trade it for all the iPods in the world. Well, maybe a Nano.

Maybe a Nano?

Hey wait a second! I thought rebellion was the whole idea!

Besides, who wants a cracked Nano? (I probably shouldn't pose such questions, because if the DIY coolness takes hold, and the 1970s "New Wave" revolution is any guide, pretty soon the manufacturers will be selling pre-cracked "hacker" style players all patched together with duct tape.....)

NOTE: The EchoMp3 site is worth checking out. Great pictures of the assembly project.

posted by Eric at 10:29 AM

Exactly what's engraved in granite?

I'm having a conceptual problem with the term "graven image," and I don't find the literal words especially illuminating:

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
-- Exodus 20: 4 (KJV)
According to this liberal Episcopalian site, the words have to be interpreted:
Despite what God seems to say in the King James translation, he is not really forbidding representational art -- just representation of divine things. Among all ancient deities, Yahweh is uniquely abstract, and the most insistent not only on his ineffability but also on his singularity (all other gods are "false"). As he famously puts it in verse 5, "I the Lord thy God am a jealous God" -- a claim he will prove over and over again in the Hebrew Bible.

Other passages in Exodus (15: 11; 18: 11; and 32: 4, for example) suggest that the Israelites acknowledged pagan gods as real. Yet they saw Yahweh as a greater god and were monotheists in the practical sense, worshiping only him -- except, that is, on those all-too-frequent occasions when heathens enticed them into their loose rituals. And on the matter of "graven images" -- carved statues -- they were absolutely rigorous; no archeologist has ever excavated a statue of Yahweh.

Now that's really puzzling. I mean, I could see prohibiting only statues of Yahweh, but if that's the intent, then why not say so? And if statues of pagan deities are prohibited, to whom is their manufacture (making) prohibited? Everyone? Or just the ancient Israelites? In other words, is it a total ban, including possession? And for everyone? Surely the Israelites did not consider their laws to be binding on the world at large.

It seems to come down to interpretation. I'm wondering whether the fundamentalist interpretation is helpful, or whether there's a rule against any interpretation. Because, if the latter is the case, then there's no way anyone who is under the jurisdiction of the rule against graven images can be allowed to make any graven image of anything.

Right there I should back up for a second. Is it a rule, or is it a law? I don't mean to be facetious here, but the language I am attempting to analyze is popularly known as the "Second Commandment" and there are a number of people -- in unorganized as well as organized groups -- who maintain that it should somehow be considered part of the laws of the United States. The "Organic Laws" or something like that. So I don't think asking what it might mean is an entirely idle act. Nor should it be considered an irreverent one. After all, if we are to be ruled by something (or placed under its jurisdiction), is it not reasonable to ascertain what it means if its language is not plain on its face?

This Second, um, "Commandment" gets even more complicated in light of the additional language omitted by the liberal Episcopalians. As far as I can determine it, here's the full text:

2nd Commandment; Verses 4-6: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments."
What's this about "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me"? How can such a law be followed? It reads more like a threat. And an unconstitutional one at that. (Reminds me of Philadelphia's $5 million "Slavery Mall" scolding at taxpayers' expense....)

According to, there are a number of interpretations of the phrase "graven image," and a split between liberals and conservatives over whether the additional language was original or tacked on. The conservative view is that "God wrote the Ten Commandments as they have been passed down to us."

Really? Then why is it that the commonplace depictions (Roy Moore's sculptural depiction will do fine as an example), omit the extra phraseology? To abbreviate? And what's with engraving them on stone, anyway? Why isn't that an image? Why isn't a photograph of them an image?

The Amish consider photographs to be graven images, and violative of the Second Commandment.

Austin Cline doesn't think that it is reasonable to "pick and choose" which parts of this "commandment" should be enforced:

Picking and choosing what parts of the Ten Commandments they will endorse is just as insulting to believers as endorsing any of them is to nonbelievers. In the same way that the government has no authority to single out the Ten Commandments for endorsement, the government has no authority to creatively edit them in an effort to make the as palatable as possible to the widest possible audience.
This is making less and less sense to me. I don't understand what the Commandment means, how to interpret it, anything!

Let's compromise, and suppose for the sake of argument that the Commandment only prohibits images of deities, whether or not the deities "exist." The same courts which are said to be under its jurisdiction often have statues of the Roman Goddess Justitia in and in front of their courtrooms. (She's the one wearing the blindfold and holding the scales of justice.) If the Commandment means anything and if we are bound by it, I can't think of a clearer violation than its presence in thousands of courthouses around the country.

Are we bound by Justice, by Justitia? Does that mean we are ruled by a pagan goddess?

(Ought to provide food for thought, for those who believe in "organic law"....)

posted by Eric at 09:11 AM | Comments (6)

Why I avoid the appearance of caring about certain things . . .

I've never cared for Tom DeLay, and I don't see why I am supposed to be jumping up and down over his indictment. The way some people are carrying on, you'd think the fabric of the Republic were at stake. Yet from what I can see, he's accused of some conspiracy to commit campaign finance violations. If he's guilty and they have a case, I suppose it'll be the end of him politically. If the whole thing is as bogus as DeLay contends, he'll gain in strength, a la Karl Rove.

It all sounds so typically political that I'm afraid I can do little more than yawn.

To illustrate how much I care, I'll switch to someone I loathe on the other side. The gun-grabbing Charles Schumer will do. Were Senator Schumer facing the same type of charge (say, a Republican prosecutor got him indicted for campaign violations), I might be relieved at seeing an enemy of the Second Amendment hobbled, but I'd hardly jump up and down screaming that it was a vindication of all America stood for, or all I believed.

Besides, if it all turned out to be nothing, I'd have had my time wasted, and precious energy levels depleted unnecessarily.

posted by Eric at 02:03 PM | Comments (2)

"Depraved disregard"?

At the risk of looking like a simpleton, I'd like to pose a simple question:

What is a rumor?

Is there a difference between a rumor and a lie, or does a lie become "laundered" into a rumor when it is repeated by someone other than the original liar? For example, if I state that I served in the Vietnam War (something I never did), and that I saw Marines skin a Vietcong suspect alive in a manner reminiscent of Genghis Khan, that is precisely the sort of thing we could expect to be repeated, especially by people who wanted to believe it. For some reason, the repetition of it has the effect of lessening the lie, even though there's no logical reason why it should. My lie about Vietnam remains a lie no matter how many thousands of times it might be repeated or believed. Yet we call it a rumor, and those who repeat it are not said to be liars, nor are they liars. That is because it cannot be a lie to merely repeat what someone else told you. (Unless, of course, you know it is a lie....)

Considering that lies can be so easily transformed into rumors and then spread like computer viruses (Internet hoaxes telling people to delete program applications are close to being just that), it would seem to me that those entrusted with delivering the truth to the public would have a greater duty of care to ensure that they do not become agents of transmission. It is doubly important, therefore, that when those entrusted to transmit the truth discover that they have transmitted lies, that they acknowledge their error.

If there is one thing I can't stand, it's the idea that I might help spread such hoaxes. Unfortunately, when I linked to Brian Thevenot's story, I did just that. I spread someone's lie, which Thevenot had apparently failed to check.

Unlike me, Thevenot was right there, talking to the Guardsmen about the dead bodies stacked inside the freezer. Apparently, he never bothered to look inside. I'm cynical, but something about Thevenot's proximity to the freezer prevented my cynicism from suspecting a lie.

On the other hand, my familiarity with alligators immediately made me highly suspicious of the Charmaine Neville tale (widely repeated -- by Daily Kos, CounterPunch, and Editor and Publisher). Still, I had no reason to doubt the central point of her story, which that she'd behaved heroically by commandeering a flatboat, then breaking into a bus and driving countless people to safety.

I now see an admission by the editor of Editor and Publisher that Neville never drove the bus:

In an interview with Greta Van Susteren on Fox News Channel, A Current Affair correspondent Arthel Neville, of the famous musical family, said she had heard that a man was beaten to death by an angry mob in the Dome after he raped and killed a 7-year-old.

Another Neville, blues singer Charmaine, 49, told a story resembling a made-for-TV movie that was broadcast as news on Baton Rouge television. The distraught singer spoke of smashing through a roof with a crowbar to rescue victims, getting raped, watching alligators eat people, and walking through "hundreds of dead bodies" before pushing two legless women in wheelchairs to dry land in the French Quarter and commandeering a bus to drive people to safety.

All the while, troops in helicopters airlifted others to safety and ignored her, and the National Guard refused to help, she said.

The TV station's report was linked by the widely read liberal blog Daily Kos. Greg Mitchell, editor of the trade publication Editor & Publisher, wrote an admiring column about it headlined "Horror and Heroism." Asked whether he believed Charmaine Neville's story, Mitchell replied that Neville later said she didn't drive the bus but was on it. He wouldn't comment further. (Emphasis added.)

Is Mitchell's remark a retraction? Then why doesn't his story make any mention of it? Instead, Editor and Publisher still features the same story, same headline ("Charmaine Neville's New Orleans Story: Horror and Heroism") and same misleading text:
(September 07, 2005) -- Every time you think you've heard it all about the horrors of New Orleans in the past week, something like Charmaine Neville's experience comes around the bend, or the blog, and smacks you over the head like a club. It's a story of dead babies in the water, alligators eating people, heroism (she commandeered a bus to save dozens) and despair (she was raped).

Yes, she is a singer and one of the famous Nevilles. Her father, Charles Neville, performs with uncles Aaron, Art and Cyril in the Neville Brothers band. The Boston Globe has declared that there are "simply no limits to her skills," and The New York Times said she "electrifies audiences." As a frequent visitor to New Orleans, and a JazzFest attendee, I know the Nevilles’ work well. But that connection matters little when you consider her story.

It is just one more tale -- although surely one of the most horrific -- that everyone ought to ponder in considering exactly which officials and agencies failed in their rescue and relief responsibilities, from the top down, in a depraved disregard for life.

I agree that it's a tale everyone ought to ponder, but not just in thinking about the depraved disregard for life.

I'm wondering whether there might also be a depraved disregard for facts, and whether this depraved disregard might play a role in the initial creation of fiction by attention seekers. Who knows, it might also play a role in a sort of cycle of transformation -- of lies into rumors, of rumors into "facts."

AFTERTHOUGHT: Is it mean-spirited to call a lie a lie? Or does that depend on who told the lie? I mean, surely it wouldn't be mean-spirited to say Bush lied, would it?

MORE: Via Glenn Reynolds, Gateway Pundit has a nice collection of Katrina lies folklore.

MORE: I've written previously about the somewhat related issue of whether lies can become true with age (especially when they serve the interests of those promoting them).

posted by Eric at 08:46 AM


Here are the comments from "Another Tragedy Of Higher Education".

I've edited (a bit) for continuity and brevity. An extended response to these arguments is available here...


Well, aren't we feeling a little smoldering resentment today? What, did poor Justin get personally snubbed by Kass? And we can't touch Kass personally because he couldn't care less about us and has a real job, so we snipe at random bloggers who give him one sentence of credit instead? Well, I'm honored that my two sentences have recieved such thorough scrutiny and close reading.

It's not quite clear to me why I should consult with my friends and family to ascertain Kass's sanity. Do you often ask your parents if your convictions look OK? If consensus is the standard however, you may be out of luck. It seems that many people agree with Kass. If we summarize your nicely contextualized snippets here, we will find that Kass thinks that: giving birth is a part of life, dying is a part of life, abortion might be bad (he's definitely alone on that one, yeah?), it is unusual not to have to experience the death of anyone you know in your lifetime, cloning is bad, etc. Crazy, I know!

Moreover, what kind of deranged lunatic claims individuals don't have rights to their own bodies? "...though man in that state have an uncontrollable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself..." What a nutjob that John Locke was.

But once I read the quote about ice cream, gosh, I just lost all respect for him! There is someone in this great country who thinks eating ice cream in public is unappealing? I am so offended I can barely move. He must be destroyed!

posted by: Rita on 09.15.05 at 11:04 AM


Sorry I said your thoughts were perky, Rita. That was uncalled for. For what it's worth, I only meant to make you a little bit mad, not hopping and blowing mad. Sincerest apologies.

However, since I DO have your attention now, perhaps you might honor me with answers to this impromptu survey?

Do you approve of the anti-research legislation referred to above?

If you do, do the penalties strike you as overly draconian, or just about right?

If, just as a for instance, medical science actually COULD extend your lifespan to 150 HEALTHY years, would you let it?

If not, why not?

Would you want your parents or friends to live that long?

Do you think it should be their decision, or the governments?

Do you think there's a realistic chance that Americans could be persuaded to abstain from such therapies?

Do you value the opinions and insights of your friends and relatives, or are you more of an intellectual soloist?

Does ANYTHING that Doctor Kass has said EVER, strike you as being iffy, or questionable?

If so, what?

And by the way, I would still love to know what your friends and relatives think of Doctor Kass and his notions.

Best Wishes, Justin

posted by: J. Case on 09.15.05 at 10:38 PM


Destroyed? Leon Kass? I think he must be preserved! (He would disagree, but that's an eternal debate....)

The fact is, Classical Values got more hits from that Leon Kass ice cream quote than almost anything else in this blog's history -- the ice cream licking being only a close second to a beheading video post. (This is not to argue that there's any moral equivalency between ice cream and beheadings, of course....)

As you say, "we can't touch Kass personally because he couldn't care less about us and has a real job." How true.


I can't speak for Justin, but I'm wondering if there's any way for you to possibly get Dr. Kass to touch us? Surely it wouldn't take that much of his time to attack "Classical Values" by name, would it? I really could use the traffic, and I would be forever indebted.

Seriously, I'm blogrolling you now, because you're a free thinker, at a young age, and I think it's an admirable quality. Whether I agree with you is irrelevant.


posted by: Eric Scheie on 09.15.05 at 10:47 PM


She's a feisty one.

posted by: J. Case on 09.16.05 at 12:13 PM


I can't believe I forgot to include Ron Bailey's thought experiment. (Smacks forehead incredulously). Here's the scenario.

A fertility clinic has caught fire while you are visiting. There's a freezer with one hundred fertilized eggs in it. There's also a single small child. You can save one or the other, but not both. Which will it be?

Bonus question. If you chose to save the child, is there a specific number of eggs that would tip your decision the other way? A thousand? Ten thousand? A million eggs? Or will you always opt to save the toddler? Don't be shy.

posted by: J. Case on 09.16.05 at 12:28 PM


Ooh! A pop quiz, how exciting! With essay questions! Are there word limits? Hold on a minute while I sharpen my pencil and number my paper.

1) I have no position on embryonic research.
2) See #1.
3) Not if life-extension was an end in itself. Over the 20th Century, the average life expectancy (though not life span) has been extended in developed nations, but that extension has been a by-product of medical technology and sanitation practice aimed at controlling specific diseases, largely those caused by external organisms. Diseases of old age (opportunistic infection not included) tend to be illnesses caused by internal breakdown of the body, a sign that the life expectency has caught up with the maximum life span. What medical science has done throughout history has been to assist this process of catching up, and now you suggest that we use medical science to override the barrier itself. But for what purpose? And what is the end of medical science if this is the case?

Acceptance of death is a central aspect of humanity--in both your quotes from Montaigne's Essays and Homer's Iliad above, you ignore the overarching argument being made for the sake of one or two lines taken out of context. The Iliad is a story that revolves around man's mortality; Achilles' triumph is his acceptance of death. It is what separates men from gods, whose immortality is put on display in Book I as a endless life of carnal pleasure in which nothing has any meaning. Hera and Zeus quarrel violently and then sleep together the same night. If you live forever, what is an argument worth? But the argument between Achilles and Agamemnon in the same book is epic precisely because they are men, they are mortal, and they therefore suffer deeply from all the afflictions of passion and pride. Insults matter to men. And the specter of mortality is the driving force behind the desire for glory and honor and fame. Otherwise, why bother? So if we're going to turn down our basic humanity for the sake of endless years living on near-starvation diets, there better be an extremely compelling reason. Do you have one? Is 150 years a magic number, or if we reach that, will we demand 250, and then 350 and so on?
4) Not as an end in itself, no.
5) It is not their personal decision unless they are coming up with the medical technology to extend their lives in their own basements. You're creating a false model of the distribution and use of technology in this country by ignoring the commercial sphere in which such technology is exchanged. This sphere is problematic because at one end stand experts and at the other stand laymen. This is the basic dilemma of industrial revolution-era progressivism. Why does the FDA exist at all? Shouldn't the process of deciding can be consumed be between buyer and seller alone?
6) Sure, why not?
7) I don't take their opinions as the final word. Do you?
8) Unfortunately, not being as eager a student of Kass as you seem to be, I can't claim wide-ranging knowledge of all his past pronouncements. My direct knowledge of him is limited to a summer internship, where I disagreed with him on some issues relating to the report the Council was working on, and he encouraged me to draft my concerns into the report and to present them to the staff. He was quite the opposite of the dogmatic sleazeball you make him out to be, but what can I say? You've spent years cataloguing his every word from afar. I've only encountered him in person. I wouldn't want to let my personal experience get in the way of your obviously greater erudition.
9) I'll be sure to put together a survey ASAP and get back to you with the results.

posted by: Rita on 09.17.05 at 04:15 PM [permalink]


Now that is truly interesting. Which issues did you disagree on? I'd love to hear about them.

I'm eagerly awaiting your survey results. Also, I've been thinking of bumping this exchange up to the main page, so if you have any additional thoughts or arguments, they're welcome. Here's your chance to put me in my place. Convince me.

Now, about that fertility clinic fire scenario...I realize you're not all that fond of small children, so if you would prefer to substitute an unconscious lab tech (smoke inhalation, worse luck), feel free. What's key there is determining your own attitude toward the relative value of pre-natal vs. post-natal people. Gilbert Meilaender has said "It's not immediately apparent...that one choice must be made."

I hope he doesn't really believe that.

Do you know if he ever changed his mind? If you can find a substantiating cite, I'll put it up. Provide the appropriate URL, and I'll even link to it.

Also, you seem to have omitted your response to the question about realistic chances, persuasion and abstention.

If you should decide to continue this interchange, it needn't be a complete waste of your time. While I intend to be a hard sell, you could end up influencing who knows how many readers. Be a sport. Convince them I'm wrong.



posted by: J. Case on 09.18.05 at 10:19 PM


It's not entirely clear what I should be convincing you of. If I recall correctly, my original post made two points: 1) I found Kass to be admirable and 2) FightAging is deluded. Now, it seems that an argument over Kass's character would be both a rather daunting prospect for us evidence-wise, and probably irrelevant and pointless. You might go in for the ad hominem arguments, which wouldn't surprise me, but they're nonetheless not likely to find much response. If you'd like to further explore the second point, then I suppose it's your turn to respond, not mine.

Unfortunately, being under the auspices of a government agency, information related to drafts of the Council's reports is confidential. Perhaps an unnecessary precaution, but they were nice enough to employ me, so I'll be nice enough to comply and not broadcast to the world. You'll just have to wait until the report is released for your next chance to trash Kass. It's hard; I know. But hang in there, I believe in you.

As for your thought experiment, it's not clear to me how this relates to a debate over stem-cell research or abortion or whatever the embryos are supposed to represent. It assumes that whatever the choice is, it's a zero-sum proposition. Now, the pro-life position is obviously not a zero-sum proposition. Preventing abortion does not automatically result in the death of developed humans. In the stem-cell research case, the implication is that merely allowing embryo destruction will lead automatically to the saving of lives. After all, we're not doing research on the person we save from a burning building to see if different rescue techniques might save him. We're just saving him. In addition, it assumes there are no other possible means to rescue this person EXCEPT to destroy embryos. Is that reflective of the real situation of medical research? Moreover, is there a principle to be found behind the result that most people (I assume) would choose the child? It strikes me that the principle is that majority instinct under duress is universal moral truth in all circumstances. How far are you willing to defend that proposition?

Unfortunately, I'm little inclined to respond cordially to you merely out of the largess of my heart. You might try being polite yourself, and then you might be surprised at how eagerly the world reciprocates. But I don't expect miracles, so don't strain yourself too hard.

posted by: Rita on 09.19.05 at 11:30 AM


"What medical science has done throughout history has been to assist this process of catching up, and now you suggest that we use medical science to override the barrier itself."

Yes, that's the general idea. Why is this surprising? For centuries we've been defeating nature's barriers. Exhibit A: your glasses.

"But for what purpose?"

Because life is like, good and stuff. For those who disagree, there are plenty of tall buildings around.

"Why does the FDA exist at all?"

In theory, to prevent unnecessary deaths due to unsafe products. Please explain what grounds they would have to ban a working life extension treatment. For extra credit, explain how such a ban would be morally distinguishable from mass murder.

posted by: Brian on 09.19.05 at 04:31 PM


I didn't intend to connect the FDA to the question of life extension therapy. My point was that the FDA serves as a mediator between the market and the consumer in order to prevent the consumer from being duped by the expert (and by duped, in this case, we mean poisoned). Your construction of the question of a "right" to private-sector technologies without government interference oversimplifies the Progressive-era problem that some of these technologies, if allowed to go straight from the producer to the consumer, would actually hurt consumers. ("Do you think it should be their decision, or the governments?") This is a misrepresentation of how the distribution of technology actually happens. It's not as though either you decide all on your own which chemicals to ingest, or the government forces them down your throat. The appropriate role of government regulation in technology is not obvious or simple, but that doesn't mean that either strict laissez-faire or a totally planned economy are better for their simplicity value.

Life is like good and stuff. Is it like good and stuff all the time? So, Terri Schiavo's life was like good and stuff, and she should've been kept alive on that basis? Or, a patient with advanced dementia should have ever medical effort, no matter how invasive, made to save him in his decline--bypass surgery, kidney transplant, etc--because his life is like good and stuff? Furthermore, how much life is good? Just 150 years? What if when we get there, we decide 350 sounds like a more satisfactory number? Why not 600? Eternity, maybe? On what basis are we deciding how much life is good enough?

posted by: Rita on 09.20.05 at 10:26 AM


The key, I think, is that the "I" who decides ". . .how much life is good enough" should be the individual (when possible.)

You (and Kass) clearly feel that the prospect of living longer than 150 years is unsettling. I would ask that you not make policy that actively works to prevent me from ever being in the position to need to decide how *I* feel about it!

posted by: Sean on 09.20.05 at 03:23 PM


And I suppose we're to ask Terri Schiavo how she feels about it? Or a dementia patient? Moreover, can you simply live as long as you will yourself to live, or would extension require you to use technology created by someone else? Because unless you're working out all those biological dilemmas in your own basement, it seems that at some point, this will necessarily involve commerce. How this affects your access to a technology and the degree of government regulation of it is open, but don't pretend that it's an entirely individual proposition.

Moreover, please do not mistake me for Kass. Despite our strikingly similar external appearances, we are not one and the same. I don't make or propose to make policy. You tread dangerous ground when you suggest that any argument about the morality of a proposition is akin to a legislative argument. It is an essentially relativist position that withholds all judgment based on the premise that each person knows what is good for him. What is immoral is not the same as what is or should be illegal. But it is still immoral, no?

posted by: Rita on 09.20.05 at 04:34 PM


"Life is like good and stuff. Is it like good and stuff all the time?"

No. But how about I decide whether my life continues to be worth living, rather than you or Kass.

"Furthermore, how much life is good? Just 150 years? What if when we get there, we decide 350 sounds like a more satisfactory number? Why not 600? Eternity, maybe?"

Works for me.

What is immoral is not the same as what is or should be illegal. But it is still immoral, no?

So now living past an arbitrary number of years is fundamentally immoral?

posted by: Brian on 09.20.05 at 05:28 PM


Again, that evades the question of incompetent patients. Who decides for them and on what basis?

Moreover, please let me know how you plan to decide. Since we're not talking policy, but the fundamental rightness of life extension (unless of course you believe that what is "right" is relative for each person, or is based purely on unreflective knee-jerk decision-making), and you're certain that life extension is good, I assume you have the standard for the good life figured out, and you have concluded that it requires eternal life to achieve. Such answers have only been evading philosophers since the 5th Century, and I'm sure they'd love to hear your conclusion. Please, do share.

posted by: Rita on 09.20.05 at 06:36 PM


Rita, I suggest a compromise. Next time someone is in Terri Schiavo's condition, why not allow scientists to conduct life extension research by keeping her alive as long as they can by trying out new techniques (like Klotho gene therapy)? There'd be no harm done to anyone, as she wouldn't be allowed to die. Would this not tend to rectify the karmic imbalance created by shortening Terri Schiavo's life? Plus, without any brain activity, there can be no claim made that scientists created an immortal being (any more than a blastomere can be called "immortal" for living in liquid nitrogen indefinitely.)

A win/win?

BTW, are you seriously suggesting that living too long should be regulated for having an effect on interstate commerce?

posted by: Eric Scheie on 09.20.05 at 08:37 PM


Wow, I slip off to the unemployment office for a few hours, and look what happens.

Hi Brian. Thanks for dropping by. Would you be the same Brian who used to leave comments along with Iron Sun and The Living Fractal, over at Chris's place? If so, let me just say I admired your level-headedness and practicality. Do you suppose Kadamose is still living in his parent's basement?

Rita, I'm sorry your experiences in Washington are classified. If you can think of any little anecdotes that wouldn't cross the line, feel free to share them. And I'm still looking forward to your survey results!

Looking at your answers to my questions, I'm struck by your conscientious inclusion of factors that I had simply failed to address. It has certainly been an eye-opener. But, more's the pity, mine is such a simple mind that I cannot handle a multi-factorial response. I'm afraid I'm a bit of a plodder.

Could we have a do-over?

In the interests of clarity, allow me to remove the "essay question" element. I'll add sufficient qualifiers to each question to remove any ambiguity. That way, a simple yes or no will suffice. I'll number them too...

1) If, in the coming years, laboratory research either public or private (or both!), led to the development and marketing of FDA-approved therapies which were safe, efficacious, and affordable...and if such therapies were easy to self-administer, and didn't require the use of controversial embryonic techniques, and even further, were expected to add several decades (six or seven, say) of healthy lifespan while also compressing morbidity, would you personally (and speaking only on your own behalf, not that of society) make use of those therapies?

Yes, or no?

2) If the above mentioned therapies arrived in time, would you want your parents to make use of them?

3) If the above mentioned therapies arrived in time, would you want your friends to make use of them?

4) If the above mentioned therapies arrive at all, do you think there is a realistic chance that most people could be persuaded to abstain from using them?

5) Regarding the burning clinic scenario, that too need not be an essay question. Given the admittedly arbitrary constraints of the scenario you have only three choices.

1) Save the baby.

2) Save the petri dishes.

3) Save neither.

So pick a number.

Don't be shy. You're not being graded. It's not a trick question, and you can't fail. I just want to know what your choice would be. It's actually a fairly important question, but not in the way you seem to expect. Much follows from it.

"So if we're going to turn down our basic humanity for the sake of endless years living on near-starvation diets, there better be an extremely compelling reason. Do you have one? Is 150 years a magic number, or if we reach that, will we demand 250, and then 350 and so on?"

Actually, I pulled the number 150 from Kass himself. The "I would be delighted" quote available above.

As to the near-starvation diets you mention, the hope would be that they're more of a clue to better things than a best possible solution. On the other hand, "we" don't need an extremely compelling reason to do anything together. Gorge or not, as you see fit. Are you seriously suggesting that people need a good excuse to seek a longer healthier life?

A simple yes or no will suffice.

Now, you say that I portray Kass as a sleazeball, and I must protest. That's not a word that I would ever associate with him. For readers old enough to remember the Watergate Hearings, the term "overzealous" may trigger a fond smile. I think that comes closer to my sense of the man.

Your admiration for him may have blinded you to this, but I have actually played (relatively) fair with Dr. Kass. More often than not, I've provided links to his own works, or the works of those who approve of him. Should a reader wish to ignore my sophomoric jibes and go form their own opinion, they are perfectly free to do so.

Wonder of wonders, I've even acknowledged his good qualities. Once or twice, anyway. Do I have to do it again? How often would satisfy you?

Indeed, the core of your animosity seems to stem from my lack of respect for him, not from any disagreement over facts or interpretation. Unlike many of his critics, I have actually taken the trouble to read him, and then to take his opinions seriously.

I just think that some of them are pernicious. If implemented, I think they would be bad for the country.

My sense of your tacit, unarticulated argument is that if I would just shut up and acknowledge his manifest superiority, all would be well. He is, after all smarter than me. Well, brains aren't everything. Integrity counts for something too.

More later, I promise. But for now, Mom is making me take out the trash.

posted by: J. Case on 09.20.05 at 11:22 PM


Don't let your mother work you too hard, Mr. Case.

posted by: J. Case's Former Personal Secretary on 09.21.05 at 09:26 PM [permalink]


Her days of haughty oppression are nearly done. Once that job at the meat-packing plant comes through, I'll be able to move out of the basement and get a place of my own. Then, oh yes, THEN, I'll live like a meat-packing philosopher king!

Remember me to the gang at the watercooler!

posted by: J. Case on 09.22.05 at 10:19 AM


Perhaps she thought we weren't taking her seriously?

posted by Justin at 01:07 AM | Comments (1)

A tale of three freezers?

I think Brian Thevenot's changing story of the Convention Center freezer is worth a post all its own.

As of yesterday, Mr. Thevenot was complaining about "rumors" which led to a "widely circulated tale" about dead bodies in the freezer:

One widely circulated tale, told to The Times-Picayune by a slew of evacuees and two Arkansas National Guardsmen, held that "30 or 40 bodies" were stored in a Convention Center freezer. But a formal Arkansas Guard review of the matter later found that no soldier had actually seen the corpses, and that the information came from rumors in the food line for military, police and rescue workers in front of Harrah's New Orleans Casino, said Edwards, who conducted the review.
But the two Arkansas National Guardsmen were Thevenot's sources for the "tale" he now says was based on "rumors." They were presented almost as if they were his war comrades -- the type of people who'd never lie.

Here's the AJR version of the freezer tale -- from Thevenot's "Apocalypse in New Orleans":

One of my first stops was the Convention Center. I tried to walk through the food service entrance near the back when two Arkansas National Guardsmen stopped me.

"You don't want to go in there," one of them said.

"Why not?"

"There's bodies," said Arkansas Guardsman Mikel Brooks.

"That's actually kind of what I'm writing about," I told him, a bit sheepishly.

"Fine. You want to be a hoss? We'll escort you," Brooks said.

Just inside the door lay a man under a blanket, his decomposing arm sticking up in the air. Next to him, a child. A few yards away, an old woman in a wheelchair Brooks had carted in himself. Next to her lay an old man with his head bashed in.

They wouldn't take me to the freezer in the next room, which they said contained 30 or 40 bodies, a figure still unconfirmed amid a swirl of urban myths churned up by the storm. "I ain't got the stomach for it, even after what I saw in Iraq," Brooks told me.
I didn't particularly need or want to see more bodies, either. I'd seen quite enough.

I could tell Brooks had, too. I'd seen his type of agitated mannerisms before in Iraq, the soldier's mind just clicking, clicking, clicking, the mouth spewing out details of death and anarchy. The scenes of bodies would live in his head for some time. I know they'll live in mine.

Reading about scenes that will live in his head for a long time, would you get the impression that this is a tale? Or a rumor? That the reporter has been had? I wouldn't. There's a distinct sense of being there, being led directly through the carnage, of the reporter on the scene being so horrified that the images are literally seared into his memory.

Likewise, returning to the first version (Thevenot's September 6, story, which I was gullible enough to link), one doesn't get a sense of tales or rumors, but gruesome atrocities, factually and courageously reported:

Arkansas National Guardsman Mikel Brooks stepped through the food service entrance of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center Monday, flipped on the light at the end of his machine gun, and started pointing out bodies.

"Don't step in that blood - it's contaminated," he said. "That one with his arm sticking up in the air, he's an old man."
Then he shined the light on the smaller human figure under the white sheet next to the elderly man.

"That's a kid," he said. "There's another one in the freezer, a 7-year-old with her throat cut."

He moved on, walking quickly through the darkness, pulling his camouflage shirt to his face to screen out the overwhelming odor.
"There's an old woman," he said, pointing to a wheelchair covered by a sheet. "I escorted her in myself. And that old man got bludgeoned to death," he said of the body lying on the floor next to the wheelchair.

Brooks and several other Guardsmen said they had seen between 30 and 40 more bodies in the Convention Center's freezer. "It's not on, but at least you can shut the door," said fellow Guardsman Phillip Thompson.

The scene of rotting bodies inside the Convention Center reflected those in thousands of businesses, schools, homes and shelters across the metropolitan area.

And now we are told that this scene -- so articulately portrayed by Thevenot, was a tale based on rumors.

I am not impressed. And I am even less impressed by the heavyhanded references to scenes of war carnage which Thevenot repeatedly invoked. It would be one thing had he limited himself to Iraq. After all, he was under stress and he'd been there. But Rwanda?

Yes. Rwanda:

The similarities were striking: days that bled one into another, the constant whirr of helicopters, death, the heavy weight of history.

But a week in post-Katrina New Orleans felt like a month in Iraq. Iraq was Iraq. This was home , suddenly plunged into a scene out of "Hotel Rwanda." We've all run out of adequate descriptors, words we couldn't believe appeared on our screens or notepads even as we wrote them: Armageddon, Bedlam, Chaos, Apocalypse, Hell.

(I don't think I need to get into detail about Rwandan genocide, but Rwanda was not a place where hundreds of people died in flooding from a hurricane.)

Considering that such extreme hyperbole was based on rumors, I'm troubled by Thevenot's claim to ownership of the story:

...we've cranked out better journalism in the last two weeks than we have the last two years, and we're getting stronger every day. And Katrina remains our story to own, and we mean to own it.
Well, he did write it, so I guess it's fair that he should own it.

(Story, tale, rumor, whatever.)

AFTERTHOUGHT: Considering Thevenot's statement that the "horrors of Katrina" trumped anything he'd seen in Iraq, I'm wondering whether the horrors now include "widely circulated tales" based on rumors.

(In either place, of course....)

MORE: Tom Maguire wonders whether we can "look forward to a story praising Bush for refusing to put troops in New Orleans on the basis of phony intelligence."

UPDATE (10/02/05): In an email to me, Brian Thevenot admits his own mistake, and says he has repeatedly admitted the mistake before. This is news to me, because I have not seen any clear admission by him of his own mistake, nor have I seen anything confirming that he exposed himself, as he says. Here's the email from Brian Thevenot:

From: "Sports laptop" ( To: Subject: Classical Values Date: Sat, 1 Oct 2005 02:47:22 -0500 From Brian Thevenot: Did you somehow miss the portion of the follow-up story in which I debunked my own myth about the 40 bodies in the freezer? Did you not bother to read the whole story? I admitted my own mistake, under my own byline, and in again in interviews with news stations and newspapers that interviewed me about myths at the Dome and Convention Center. And now you purport to expose me after I exposed myself?

I replied as follows:

I'll note your response in an update to my post, but I reread the last report carefully and it's not clear to me where you admitted your own mistake or exposed yourself.

It wasn't my goal to expose you, as if course you wrote the story. Rather, my complaint was that you were not admitting your own role or own mistake, nor had you issued a retraction or correction. Now that you have (at least in this email), I'll certainly note it.

If I am missing something or there is something more recent, please let me know.

Eric Scheie

There may very well be an admission by Brian Thevenot somewhere that I have missed. If and when I find it, I'll update this post again, with my apologies to Mr. Thevenot.

In any event, he's certainly admitting his mistake now, which is good.

MORE: I have no way of knowing whether the above email was in fact sent to me by Brian Thevenot, but I am assuming -- as I should in good faith -- that it was. However, for the record I think I should note that the originating IP -- -- seems to be from a hotel in San Diego, California:

Address: 701 A ST
StateProv: CA
PostalCode: 92101
Country: US

NetRange: -
NetName: STARWOOD43-158
NetHandle: NET-12-16-158-0-1
Parent: NET-12-0-0-0-1
NetType: Reassigned
RegDate: 2005-03-17
Updated: 2005-03-17

OrgTechHandle: BH1033-ARIN
OrgTechName: Hassett, Buddy
OrgTechPhone: +1-914-640-8477

This raises my suspicions (because there's urgent reporting still to be done in New Orleans), but it's certainly possible that Mr. Thevenot was in San Diego yesterday, or that his email was routed through a San Diego hotel IP.

MORE: Earlier today on CNN, Glenn Reynolds said, "journalists ought to tell us what they know."

I agree.

Shortly thereafter, Howard Kurtz asked Glenn about the bad reporting in New Orleans:

KURTZ: Glenn Reynolds, the dilemma for reporters is that in some cases -- New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said 10,000 people could be dead, the police chief, Eddie Compass, said there were babies being raped in the Superdome. Did bloggers play a role in either knocking down some of these reports or at least being more skeptical about them?

REYNOLDS: Some of both. I compared the reports coming out of New Orleans to a disaster novel, and little did I know that was also because they were fiction. I think that there's a lot of accountability. With all the resources that the big media through at this story, it's really amazing how much of it turned out to be wrong. I think it is fine to invoke the fog of war or the fog of disaster. But I think it is funny that members of the press who set such high expectations for everybody else aren't willing to fess up and admit that they were reporting rumor and frequently getting it wrong.

There's one other point, which is, I wonder how quick they would have been to report reports of babies being raped and cannibalism and such if it had been a group of middle-class white people involved. I think even when politicians talk, I think we would have been more skeptical.

As I said, I should have been more skeptical. And right now I couldn't possibly be more skeptical.

MORE: As a courtesy to Mr. Thevenot, the email identifiers have been deleted.

posted by Eric at 10:19 PM

Afraid to say what you think?

If so, you are not alone.

But if such fears have prevented you from writing a blog, your chances of finding gainful employment are much improved -- at least according to this post from Daniel Drezner.

Of course, if you're tenured or have job security for other reasons, you're lucky. The not so lucky are finding themselves not hired because of a blog, or even being fired.

I'm hoping this will change over time, as the fear of blogs wears off. But for now, bloggers who think they're safe because their blogs avoid controversial topics (or are limited to specialty interests) should think again. What most fascinated me about the philosophy behind moral disapproval of blogging is that it's not what you say that matters as much as the fact that you say anything:

The content of the blog may be less worrisome than the fact of the blog itself. Several committee members expressed concern that a blogger who joined our staff might air departmental dirty laundry (real or imagined) on the cyber clothesline for the world to see. Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum.
In other words, there's no such thing as a "good" blogger? I have a logical problem with this because it's just as silly to assume that someone without a blog won't start one (or might not already have a pseudonymous one) as it is to assume that a "good" blogger will continue to be good. Blogging is not an inborn or genetic condition. It takes fifteen minutes -- and zero money -- to start a blog, anonymous or otherwise.

Daniel Drezner quotes from this anonymous blogger, who explains that "blogging is dangerous because hiring committees are paranoid, conservative, and illogical." (I've touched on the folly of Internet/blogging confidentiality here.)

I think blogging -- whether anonymous or otherwise -- is good for the soul of the individual blogger and of the country. I think that one of the reasons so many bloggers are drawn to this medium is that in too many ways, America has become a country in which people are afraid to say what they think. Blogging gives a voice (if not a loudspeaker) to those who'd normally be silent, but the downside is that it gives them an opportunity to be heard by the very people who'd normally intimidate them into silence. I think there are people who've taken up blogging precisely because thoughts like "I could never say this at work!" or "You just can't discuss issues like this in public!" ran through their minds. And yet (especially if their blogs stay there long enough and are read by enough people) they can end up finding themselves in a position of being intimidated by the very people (that collective entity known by the euphemism of "society") who intimidated them into blogging in the first place.

I think that's a paradox.

And maybe it's a good paradox.

posted by Eric at 08:21 PM

Gag! Retch! Barf!

I fear that my blogging's going to be light today because I'm having a bout (hopefully temporary) of severe abdominal pain.

Too bad really, because I was getting all worked up about the New Orleans "bad reporting" scandal, which I see has now made Drudge:


(Sorry to leave Shepard Smith out of the picture, but he's supposed to be off to the right somewhere and got cut off because my nausea affected my, um, crop.*)

This "bad reporting" reporting also made today's LA Times:

The National Guard spokesman's accounts about rescue efforts, water supplies and first aid all but disappeared amid the roar of a 24-hour rumor mill at New Orleans' main evacuation shelter. Then a frenzied media recycled and amplified many of the unverified reports.

"It just morphed into this mythical place where the most unthinkable deeds were being done," Bush said Monday of the Superdome.

His assessment is one of several in recent days to conclude that newspapers and television exaggerated criminal behavior in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, particularly at the overcrowded Superdome and Convention Center.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune on Monday described inflated body counts, unverified "rapes," and unconfirmed sniper attacks as among examples of "scores of myths about the dome and Convention Center treated as fact by evacuees, the media and even some of New Orleans' top officials."

Indeed, Mayor C. Ray Nagin told a national television audience on "Oprah" three weeks ago of people "in that frickin' Superdome for five days watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people."

Not a word about the role the Times-Picayune (via Brian Thevenot) played in "reporting" these unsubstantiated stories! Instead the Times-Picayune's abrupt turnaround and condemnation of the bad reporting is now reported as news. Without passing go, without any retraction, correction, or any mention of the lead reporter's own role in the bad reporting, the coverup of bad reporting by bad reporters is passed along as "news."

What's next? A Blue Ribbon Commission comprised of bad reporters to investigate bad reporting?

(If thine reporting offends thee . . .)

Forgive me if I spend the day being sick to my stomach.

*No, I am not making up excuses, and I am not about to say the alligators ate my homework!

UPDATE: Not everyone shares my dismal view of Brian Thevenot's reporting. He's been highly praised for the comparisons he made between New Orleans and Iraq:

Just inside the door lay a man under a blanket, his decomposing arm sticking up in the air. Next to him, a child. A few yards away, an old woman in a wheelchair Brooks had carted in himself. Next to her lay an old man with his head bashed in.

They wouldn't take me to the freezer in the next room, which they said contained 30 or 40 bodies, a figure still unconfirmed amid a swirl of urban myths churned up by the storm. "I ain't got the stomach for it, even after what I saw in Iraq," Brooks told me.

I didn't particularly need or want to see more bodies, either. I'd seen quite enough.

I could tell Brooks had, too. I'd seen his type of agitated mannerisms before in Iraq, the soldier's mind just clicking, clicking, clicking, the mouth spewing out details of death and anarchy. The scenes of bodies would live in his head for some time. I know they'll live in mine.

I told them I'd been to Iraq, too, as a reporter in January, in some of the same areas of Western Baghdad they had patrolled for a year, where many of their comrades perished in roadside bomb attacks. Back outside in the sunshine, away from the stench of bodies, we chatted awhile with a group of four or five other guardsmen. All of us agreed: The horrors of Katrina trumped anything we'd seen overseas. Death in war makes sense. Death on Convention Center Boulevard makes none.

I roared off Uptown in the Jeep, and called my editor, Jed Horne, in Baton Rouge, to tell him I'd have a vivid if gruesome story coming.

Thevenot is an Iraq veteran, for which he deserves the highest praise. But does that make his reporting necessarily accurate?

MORE: I think it's worth informing readers who don't like to click the links that Brian Thevenot's AJR piece is titled "Apocalypse in New Orleans." (Whether that might be called suggestive depends on whether there was an apocalypse. And even that depends on which definition is used.)

MORE: I called Thevenot an Iraq veteran, because he was clearly in Iraq with the U.S. military, as his military weblog shows. But I am not 100% sure whether "on assignment in Iraq with the Louisiana National Guard's 256th Brigade Combat Team" means that he actually served in the military or was merely embedded as a reporter. (I see only evidence of the latter.)

AND MORE: There's been serious discussion about whether Brian Thevenot's reporting deserves the Pulitzer Prize. For what? For not letting facts get in the way of the heart of the story?

MORE: Via Glenn Reynolds, John Podhoretz says MSM praise will go to "the the early reporters for their 'commitment' and the later correctives for their honesty." Even when they're the same reporters whose "correctives" don't mention their own errors? Podhoretz also opines that "everyone was very credulous."

Being credulous is one thing. (I was credulous.) But are there no limits?

UPDATE: Dean Esmay's reaction to this was about as visceral as mine.

posted by Eric at 09:14 AM

Who's complaining about whose exaggerations?

Everybody makes mistakes, and I try not to dwell on assigning blame because it isn't generally productive of much. Usually when someone tries to avoid responsibility for assigning blame to others, I'm not terribly impressed, unless it appears that the person trying to shift blame helped create the problem. And I'm wondering what's going on with the Times Picayune's Brian Thevenot, who's taking a hard line in condemning earlier gruesome reports of crime which he now says were untrue:

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.

(Via Glenn Reynolds.)

The above is certainly good news by any standard. But what's troubling to me is that some of the bad news was reported by Thevenot himself. By implication, he's now saying that his own story, which I was unfortunate enough to link before in the assumption that it was accurate, was either lying or exaggerated. The link I posted to Thevenot's earlier Times-Picayune story now goes nowhere except to the story Glenn links today. But via the Kansas City Star, here's the earlier Times-Picayune story [edited version, unfortunately] which still bears Thevenot's name:

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, on its Web site, reported on an Arkansas National Guardsman, Mikel Brooks. It followed him as he stepped through the food service entrance of the convention center on Monday, flipped on the light at the end of his machine gun, and started pointing out bodies.

“Don’t step in that blood — it’s contaminated,” he said. “That one with his arm sticking up in the air, he’s an old man.”

Then he shined the light on the smaller human figure under the white sheet next to the elderly man.

“That’s a kid,” he said. “There’s another one in the freezer, a 7-year-old …”

“There’s an old woman,” he said, pointing to a wheelchair covered by a sheet. “I escorted her in myself.”

Of the four bodies that lay just inside the food service entrance, the woman in the wheelchair rattled Brooks the most. When he found her two days before among the sea of suffering in front of the Convention Center where one of the last camps evacuated, her husband sat next to her. He had only one concern when Brooks and some of his comrades carted her away.

“Bring me back my wheelchair,” he recalled the man telling him.

One of the bodies, they said, was a girl they estimated to be 5 years old.

Brooks and his unit came to New Orleans not long after serving a year of combat duty in Iraq, taking on gunfire and bombs, while losing comrades with regularity. Still, the scene at the Convention Center, where they conducted an evacuation this week, left him shell-shocked.

“I ain’t got the stomach for it, even after what I saw in Iraq,” said Brooks, referring to the freezer where the bulk of the bodies were kept. “In Iraq, it’s one on one. It’s war. It’s fair. Here, it’s just crazy. It’s anarchy. When you get down to killing and raping people in the streets for food and water … and this is America. This is just 300 miles south of where I live.”

Cain Burdeau, Dan Sewell and Tim Dahlberg of The Associated Press, Judith Graham of the Chicago Tribune, and Brian Thevenot of The Times-Picayune contributed to this report.

Contrast that to Thevenot today:
A Washington Post report quoted another soldier who concluded that three of the four people appeared to have been beaten to death, including an older woman in a wheelchair.

But Spc. Mikel Brooks, an Arkansas Guardsman who said he wheeled the woman's dead body into the food service entrance, said she appeared to have died of natural causes. Brooks went on to say that the woman had expired sitting next to her husband, who shocked him by asking him to bring the wheelchair back.

The Post also cited evacuee Tony Cash and three other unnamed sources saying a young boy died of an asthma attack, but multiple officials could not confirm that death.


other accusations that have gained wide currency are more demonstrably false. For instance, no one found the body of a girl - whose age was estimated at anywhere from 7 to 13 - who, according to multiple reports, was raped and killed with a knife to the throat at the Convention Center.

I'm a bit baffled by this. It's one thing to correct your own story, but the earlier one appears to have been pulled, without a retraction or correction ever being issued. Instead, the reporter who wrote it seems to be attacking bad reporting -- and completely failing to point out that his own story played a key role.

Something isn't right about this. I didn't save the full text of the original Thevenot story, and I'm now sorry that I ever linked to it.

Regardless of who was responsible (and regardless of who refuses to accept responsibility) I find myself in full agreement with Glenn:

THE PRESS'S PERFORMANCE DURING KATRINA wasn't any better than the governments involved.
But didn't the governments involved have special privileges which allowed them to avoid accountability and instead assign blame elsewhere?

Yeah, I guess there are a lot of similarities.

MORE: I am not the first to raise these concerns about Thevenot's reporting. Here's a letter to the Editor of the Times Picayune:

To the Editors of the Times-Picayune:

* Jim Amoss, Editor,
* Peter Kovacs, Managing Editor, News
* Dan Shea, Managing Editor, News

On September 6 the Times-Picayune published an article by Brian Thevenot entitled, “Mayor says Katrina may have claimed more than 10,000 lives, Bodies found piled in freezer at Convention Center.” The article quotes Mikel Brooks, an Arkansas National Guardsman, as he described a horrific scene in the Morial Convention Center.

Specifically, Mr. Thevenot reported Brooks describing the bodies of children in the Convention Center, one of which he said had been 7, gang-raped, and murdered when her throat was cut. The other body was “estimated” to be that of a 5-year-old.

Mr. Thevenot adds credence to this story by reporting he actually viewed a “smaller human figure under the white sheet.” He does not report that he actually lifted the sheet and saw the body of a child, but the implication is strong that it actually was a child.

This story received widespread circulation all over the world. I followed the links to your archive and when I read the story there, I regarded it as factual.

Unfortunately, CNN and other news agencies have since reported Police Superintendent Eddie Compass’ statement on September 7 that reports of dead children in the Convention Center were merely “vicious rumors.”

So is Brian Thevenot’s story a “vicious rumor” or not? Media accuracy is extremely important, especially during times of crisis. Either the story is true because you printed it as fact, or it is not true and a correction must be printed.

Personally, it is my hope that no children were harmed or killed in the Convention Center, and I would be glad to hear none were. I realize, however, that admitting such an error would be embarrassing for your newspaper, especially since it was such a widely circulated story. But I have faith in the Time-Picayune’s devotion to accuracy.


Bonnie Wren

MORE: Hugh Hewitt has a more complete version of the Thevenot text:

"Don't step in that blood - it's contaminated," he said. "That one with his arm sticking up in the air, he's an old man."
Then he shined the light on the smaller human figure under the white sheet next to the elderly man.

"That's a kid," he said. "There's another one in the freezer, a 7-year-old with her throat cut."

He moved on, walking quickly through the darkness, pulling his camouflage shirt to his face to screen out the overwhelming odor.
"There's an old woman," he said, pointing to a wheelchair covered by a sheet. "I escorted her in myself. And that old man got bludgeoned to death," he said of the body lying on the floor next to the wheelchair. (Emphasis added.)

Again, I am sorry I linked Thevenot's story, and I am glad he has at least implicitly discredited it now. But couldn't Thevenot have avoided this tone of what comes close to moral sanctimony?

(Really, it's as if I should apologize to him for relying on his own story and linking it in my blog....)

MORE: If allegations about humans are this bad, need I mention the alligator "alligations" again?

AND MORE: I have located what appears to be the full text of the Thevenot story, and the link works. I'm sure Thevenot wouldn't deny writing his own story, but I still haven't been able to find a retraction. (And in any case he isn't saying anything about it.)

UPDATE: Via Glenn's update, I see that John Cole thinks that money ($250 billion) might explain some of the hurry by journalists to shun any honest discussion of factual errors:

I can see why we wouldn’t want facts to get in the way of the ‘story.’
John refers to an earlier post titled "A Backlash for Correcting the Record?," pointing out that hysteria fuels power grabs:
a large part of the movement to engage in these power grabs and re-organizations was fueled by the hysteria immediately following the disaster, much of which has turned out to be false.
I'm with John. If there is to be a power grab, I'd rather not have it based on journalistic hysteria, which I don't think should be swept under the rug (even by those who played a part in generating it).

"Get it right and make sure the rest of us d[o] too."

MORE: Was there an attempt to foment (or exploit) racism by circulating these bogus stories? Who would do or encourage such a thing? Reporters? Government officials? The mayor and the chief of police? Oprah? Why?

...why was everyone so quick to believe (and report) that a mostly black group of mostly poor gathered together would turn to such violence? Even early reports on cannibalism? These are people like you and me, not some sub human race. When I watched the news reports I wasn't fully buying into the wildest stories, but of course the wildest stories made the news. And they made the news often, without being questioned or fact checked.
The more I look at this thing, the stranger it looks.

One thing is abundantly clear: the MSM (probably working with corrupt government officials) deliberately whipped up a climate of hysteria. Whether they'll get away with blaming the people who fell for it remains to be seen.

(Hey, at least I've admitted my mistake in falling for Thevenot's story the first time.)

MORE: I think that spreading false reports of "cannibalism" is about as hysterical as it is possible to get. Yet the "reporter," Randall Robinson, is a Harvard Law School graduate. I'm just wondering.... did he really believe this wildly implausible story? Or did he just think others might?

AND MORE: I'm now wondering whether in fact "many black New Orleanians" really did tell WaPo's Eugene Robinson that "the levee breaks had been engineered in order to save the French Quarter and the Garden District at the expense of the Lower Ninth Ward, which is almost all black." In a previous post I assumed Robinson was accurately reporting what he was told.


I now find myself questioning the premises of my premises!

UPDATE (09/29/05): Baldilocks suspects the problem is more along the lines of media laziness than racism, and offers an observation:

No matter how much disdain many of us have for the mainstream media, we shouldn’t mistake sloth for malice.

posted by Eric at 02:25 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBacks (1)

Deputizing loopholes and quagmires?

Unless I'm reading this story (via InstaPundit) incorrectly, it's clear that either the New York Times lied (when they quoted Chief Compass as saying that firearms were to be confiscated) or New Orleans' Police Superintendant Compass lied when he denied making the statements.

But perhaps I am being hasty. Perhaps a little interpretation is in order.

Let's look at the statement Compass allegedly made, according to the Times:

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 8 - Waters were receding across this flood-beaten city today as police officers began confiscating weapons, including legally registered firearms, from civilians in preparation for a mass forced evacuation of the residents still living here.

No civilians in New Orleans will be allowed to carry pistols, shotguns or other firearms, said P. Edwin Compass III, the superintendent of police. "Only law enforcement are allowed to have weapons," he said.

OK, that was his statement. Now here is his denial:
....any and all statements which are allegedly attributed to him in such regard do not represent any policy, statement, ordinance, regulation, decision, custom or practice of either C. Ray Nagin or the City of New Orleans, its agencies and/or departments;

3. C. Ray Nagin and P. Edwin Compass, III affirmatively deny that seizures of lawfully possessed firearms from law abiding citizens has occurred as a result of the actions of officers, city officials, employees and/or agents of the City of New Orleans or any of its departments and further affirmatively deny that any such weapons are presently in the possession of the City of New Orleans, its agents and/or departments;

It didn't happen?

If the chief is right, that has to mean the New York Times lied.

Unless, of course, you believe the New York Times. Does the mere fact that they have not issued a correction mean that they are standing behind their story?

Might my interest in "interpreting" Chief Compass's statement be premature? Either he said it or he did not. As a threshold issue, I would like to establish whether he did say it.

I'm wondering whether there's any way to do that.

Should we take the New York Times at its word?

What about ABC News? They offered the following (much-referenced) quote from Deputy Chief Warren Riley:

ABC News quoted New Orleans’ deputy police chief, saying, "No one will be able to be armed. We are going to take all the weapons."
OK, I know that the New York Times has serious credibility problems, and it's tempting to say that they lied, and should issue a correction. But because Chief Compass's policy statement finds independent confirmation in the words of his deputy, I'm inclined to believe the Times.

But even that might be hasty.

Note that the above-referenced denial only includes "any and all statements which are allegedly attributed to him" (meaning Compass). Absent any showing of the existence of a chain of command (of which I've seen no evidence) I think the deputy's statements can be interpreted as providing the chief with a loophole.

On the other hand, the existence of a chain of command in New Orleans might undermine the denial.

The problem is, I can't prove the unprovable.

(This may be a quagmire.)

UPDATE (09/27/05 03:56 p.m.): Superintendent Compass has resigned:

New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass announced his resignation Tuesday after four turbulent weeks in which the police force came under fire for its conduct in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath.

posted by Eric at 09:51 AM

Rachel's RINOs drink no Kool-Aid!

It's time to get charged! By the RINOs, of course, now stampeding at Rachel's Tinkerty Tonk. Rachel has the classiest RINO picture I've seen, but rather than reproduce it, I suggest you go over and take a look. She's also come up with a new definition of RINO: Republicans / Independents Not Overdosed (on the Party Kool-Aid).

Lots of great posts; here are a few of my favorites:

  • Mary Madigan at Dean's World reveals that Wahhabi Muslims are now threatening peaceful Thailand:
    ....these teachers, including the president of the institution – a graduate of a hardline Wahhabi university in Saudi Arabia – bring a wave of radical Islamism that poses a threat to the mainly peaceful, moderate version practiced by most Thai Muslims.
  • Respectful Insolence finds evidence that Holocaust revisionists bashing Simon Wiesenthal are actually Nazi sympathizers, but concludes:
    The hatred of these scumbags is the greatest posthumous tribute to Wiesenthal's life and work I can think of.
    I agree.
  • Tom Rants wonders whether there'd have been as much uproar had Bush made Governor Blanco's suggestion -- that people staying in the hurricane's path should write their social security numbers on their arms. (Were I Bush, I'd have satirically suggested that tattooing the numbers would be more effective, but that's why I'll never be elected dogcatcher.)
  • Roaring Tiger doesn't think Bush is, um, polarizing -- but you'll have to read the post to understand.
  • Nice work, Rachel, and nice work, RINOs!

    Long may they charge!

    UPDATE: Link to the Carnival fixed thanks to Uncle Bill. The interesting thing about the broken link is that I lifted it directly from the trackback to my post and it worked earlier! (I'll never understand these mysteries...)

    posted by Eric at 09:04 AM | Comments (4)

    ex post Katrina nostalgia

    The Louisiana ground hasn't begun to dry, but the MSM (in the form of Knight Ridder outlets) have lost no time in launching the latest spin -- Katrina Kontrast:

    Rita plans highlight Katrina failures

    Federal response this time brings praise, questions

    September 26, 2005


    WASHINGTON -- The speed with which the federal government marshaled significant military and other resources to evacuate, rescue and care for victims of Hurricane Rita raises new questions about why Washington was so slow to respond to Hurricane Katrina less than four weeks earlier.

    The Bush administration says it's researching whether the federal government needs to have greater authority to respond to disasters -- and whether the military should be in charge.

    The response to Rita, however, suggests the government had plenty of authority to respond to Katrina and that what was lacking was an understanding of when to use that authority.

    "The atmosphere here is very, very different than it was in the days following Katrina," said John Pine, Louisiana State University Disaster Science and Management director. Pine was in Louisiana's emergency operations center in Baton Rouge on Sunday and said that nearly as many federal officials were present as those from state and local agencies.

    A day after Katrina, "it was all on the shoulders of state and locals," Pine said. "There was a lot more staging of a lot more operations in place for the second storm. ... I think you see a huge difference."

    I guess because Rita is newer than Katrina, it is accurate to say that any questions raised are "new questions" -- no matter how inane they might be.

    I'm going to be really daring and stick my neck out here.

    I think I might have an answer to the profound new question of why "nearly as many federal officials were present" this time around, and why the response was faster.

    Um, because they were already there?

    Yes, the Katrina recovery effort was in full swing, and it was a gigantic operation. The channels of command, control and communication were all in place, Governor Blanco was quite used to working with all the appropriate military and government officials. What this meant is that when another hurricane hit in the same place, affecting mostly the same state, the people who had "significant military and other resources to evacuate, rescue and care for victims" were right there, and ready to deal with it.

    It's so obvious that help already on hand is faster than help that has to be summoned that I really don't see where this Rita versus Katrina argument is headed. I hope they're not promoting the idea that the federal government should have a huge military presence in every state, ready and willing to take over all state functions.

    Aren't there a few constitutional concerns? Does anyone remember that archaic "standing armies" fears-of-King-George stuff? (Such favorite nostalgic one-liners as "He has kept among us, in Times of Peace, Standing Armies, without the consent of our Legislatures"? and "he has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power"?)

    Or has Katrina abolished such concerns?

    posted by Eric at 08:36 AM | Comments (2)

    Searching for Katrina in the Kosmos

    While some blame sodomites, and others blame Israel's land for peace program, Jeremy Rifkin is blaming Katrina and Rita on just plain old Americans:

    Make no mistake about it. We Americans created these monster storms. We've known about the potentially devastating impact of global warming for nearly a generation. Yet we turned up the throttle, as if to say: "We just don't give a damn." What did anyone expect? SUVs make up 52% of all the vehicles owned in America, each a death engine, spewing record amounts of CO2 into the earth's atmosphere.
    (Via Nick Packwood.)

    52% of all the vehicles on the road? Then why does the U.S. Census report 24.2 Million SUVs on the nation's roads? If that's even half of total vehicles, there'd be only around 50 million vehicles in the U.S. For 300 million people? Doesn't sound right. For starters, this environmentalist site claims there are 200 million vehicles here....)

    But why quibble over numbers?

    The point is that Rifkin presents a compelling argument for the existence of SUVs on Mars.

    MORE: Astrophysicist Barbra Streisand has declared a state of global warming emergency.

    As hellstorm "Rita" churned in the Gulf, Streisand sat down for a promotional interview with ABCNEWS's Diane Sawyer.

    "We are in a global warming emergency state, and these storms are going to become more frequent, more intense," Streisand urgently declares.

    But Sawyer did not remind Streisand that a Category 5 hurricane struck the Bahamas with 160 mph winds -- when the singer was five years old, in 1947!

    Yeah, but Bush was only a year old in 1947.

    posted by Eric at 08:19 PM

    Sunday peace puzzle protest

    At the risk of sounding like an antisocial spoilsport, I think I should disclose that I find demonstrations like this boring.

    Googling demonstrators, however, is more interesting, not necessarily because it reveals hidden agendas or big media lies, but because what's omitted is often more interesting than what's there. The WaPo article features an almost touching description which appears to depict political naifs from flyover country who'd traveled all the way to the Nation's Capital in a manner reminiscent of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. From the WaPo piece:

    In the crowd: young activists, nuns whose anti-war activism dates to Vietnam, parents mourning their children in uniform lost in Iraq, and uncountable families motivated for the first time to protest.

    Connie McCroskey, 58, came from Des Moines, Iowa, with two of her daughters, both in their 20s, for the family's first demonstration. McCroskey, whose father fought in World War II, said she never would have dared protest during the Vietnam War.

    "Today, I had some courage," she said.

    I'm sure it took at least as much courage to go to Washington as it did for the Post to insinuate political naivitee into the family.

    It took very little courage to perform the despicable act of Googling the family. And no; I did not discover a family with a long history of antiwar activism. What I did discover was that in addition to the mother (Connie), there's a daughter named Erika, who has traveled to Bolivia as a WorldService Corps volunteer, and whose mother Connie is involved with the same church. This Community in Christ church expressed antiwar statements in 2003, and its website features these antiwar statements from other religious leaders.

    Not that there's anything wrong with church activism, world service in Bolivia, or anything like that. But the article makes the family appear less sophisticated than they turn out to be.

    And for reasons that escape me, I could find more Google news stories about the daughter than the mother, but not one story including the two.

    From ABC, here's a typical entry about daughter Erika McCroskey:

    President Bush himself was out of town, monitoring hurricane recovery efforts from Colorado and Texas. The protesters shouted for his impeachment.

    "We have to get involved," said Erika McCroskey, 27, who came from Des Moines, Iowa, with her younger sister and mother for her first demonstration, traveling in just one of the buses that poured into the capital from far-flung places.

    "Bush Lied, Thousands Died," said one sign. "End the Occupation," said another.

    While it's still a mystery to me that the mother and daughter are never mentioned together in the news stories, one thing is clear: Erika is no political naif. Not only has she worked in Boliva, she's even met President Bush, who went so far as to single Erika out in an officially transcribed presidential speech delivered at the Iowa State Fair in 2002:
    I was joined at Air Force One by Erika McCroskey today. She's from right here in the Des Moines area. Erika, stand up for me. Erika is an AmeriCorps volunteer. She decided she is going to do something with her life by helping others. I was reading that -- and Erika, she's going to Bolivia to help somebody in need there. I said, Erika, why are you going? She said, my mother raised me in the spirit of service.

    You see, the great strength of America are the Erikas. I call them soldiers in the armies of compassion, people that don't need a government law to tell them to love a neighbor just like they'd like to be loved themselves, people who have heard a call that's much bigger than government.

    Whether an official mention by the president is considered relevant or not, I'm a bit skeptical of the "First Visit to the Big City" implications in the various MSM pieces.

    In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that I'm writing this because I feel guilty about not driving all the way down to today's counter demonstration.

    Would the Post let me say I was motivated for the first time to counter-protest?

    MORE: Lest anyone think I am being corrupted by generosity, I thought I should point out that I am not going out of my way to avoid criticizing the Philadelphia Inquirer for misleading coverage. As it happens, there's not a word about any of the McCroskeys in today's report about the protest.

    (Far be it from me to read something into nothing.)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Oh hell, here's an irresistible protest nugget from today's Inquirer:

    One speaker, Curtis Muhammad, director of Community Labor Union of New Orleans, equated the war with the treatment of poor African Americans in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit there.

    "If you're against the war, you must be against the war against blacks," he said.

    But this leaves me confused.

    Does it mean Katrina was like Saddam Hussein and we should have built up international support before going in?

    UPDATE: As commenter Matt Rustler points out below, he researched the McCroskeys yesterday, and left the results in a comment at Jeff Goldstein's Protein Wisdom -- to a post I read! Wish I'd known, as it would have saved me the trouble.... but there's no way to catch everything.

    I also see that another blogger did the same research.

    (I should stick to posts about alligators and copperheads, lest I become redundant.)

    Or leave no Google un-Technorati-ed!


    posted by Eric at 11:45 AM | Comments (2)

    Katrinangulation strategizing

    Via InstaPundit, Tom Maguire links to this rather remarkable statement:

    Rightwing bloggers will do everything in their power to prevent another Katrina triangle, where the confluence of blogs, media, and Democratic leadership exposes the real Bush and shatters the conventional wisdom about his ability to lead.
    The Katrina Triangle?

    I still like "Katrinatarianism" better.

    posted by Eric at 10:10 PM | Comments (3)

    The importance of circulation

    In today's Philadelphia Inquirer, Daniel Rubin (author of the Inquirer's blog, Blinq) has kind words for my earlier discussion of declining newspaper readership:

    At Classical Values (, right-of-left blogger and lawyer Eric Scheie pays some respect, and not even begrudgingly:

    "While I often disagree with its editorial views, I'm sorry to see The Inquirer falling on hard times. I can't speak for 'the Internet,' but I have been a much more avid reader of The Inquirer since I took up blogging, and I couldn't estimate the number of times I've linked to their stories... ." He goes on to dispel any thinking that the blog world can claim newspapers as a pelt.

    "In the case of The Inquirer I don't think their problems have much to do with parasitic bloggers (like me, I guess) nit-picking stories to death... . I'd like to think that the more blogs talk about a paper, the more attention is paid to it, and the more sales would improve."

    His bottom line:

    "Even if the blogosphere consisted entirely of raving right-wing news parasites, it is not in the interest of any parasite to have its host die... . "

    My thanks to Daniel -- not just for the kind words, but for sharing my thoughts in hard copy with people who'd otherwise not have read them. (That is something ordinary bloggers cannot do without help.) I got a kick out of the characterization too. I never thought of myself as "right-of-left," because I spend more time trying to figure out the constantly shifting sands (maybe more of a swirling whirlpool) of what's called left and what's called right than I do worrying about which "side" I'm on. But I think right of left is a pretty fair description of where I find myself most of the time. (Except in those cases where I seem to be left of right -- or left out of right.)

    My worry about the Inquirer's declining readership relates to the importance of literacy, and I'm glad to see signs that the blogosphere and the MSM are in basic agreement on what is a vital concern by any standard.

    posted by Eric at 10:46 AM | Comments (2)

    Bipartisan aroma

    While I haven't been keeping up with the Able Danger scandal as much as I should, recent developments are disturbing. Lt. Col. Mark Shaffer (the whistle blower in this matter) has been officially silenced, and documents are being destroyed -- something I hear is happening without the legally required records being kept.

    More here.

    Meanwhile, certain members of Congress are deliberately, stealthily undermining whistleblower protection statutes.

    The Pentagon has been fighting to close the hearings. Arlen Specter had gone on record as being irritated by Pentagon intransigence, and is demanding answers:

    “I think the Department of Defense owes the American people an explanation of what went on here,” said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).

    Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said later Wednesday at a briefing on Capitol Hill that an offer was made to do a classified briefing on Able Danger.

    “As I understand it, the Judiciary Committee preferred to have an open hearing on a classified matter, and therefore the department declined to participate in an open hearing on a classified matter,” Rumsfeld said.

    The Pentagon has acknowledged that some employees recall seeing an intelligence chart identifying Atta as a terrorist before the attacks.

    Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Pentagon believes it has provided sufficient information on Able Danger to the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees, which oversee the department.

    Lt. Col. Mark Shaffer, a military intelligence officer who worked on Able Danger, was prepared to testify that three times he tried to meet with the FBI to discuss the unit’s findings, but was prevented from doing so because of legal concerns by department lawyers, according to Shaffer’s lawyer, Mark Zaid, who testified on his behalf.

    And now Shaffer has been officially silenced.

    This has all the earmarks of another bipartisan coverup (long a favorite topic of this blog), and I'm glad to see that Senator Specter is trying to get to the bottom of it.

    No one is going to come out of this smelling like a rose, which is probably why there's something for everyone to coverup.

    MORE: Mark Tapscott offers an intriguing glimpse at another coverup:

    Perhaps today Specter will begin demanding answers from officials at the Pentagon and the FBI about why they have refused to provide the American people with answers to the many haunting questions about Iraqi complicity in the terrorist murders of thousands of our fellow citizens in Oklahoma, New York, Pennsyvania and Virginia.
    (Via La Shawn Barber.)

    (Might start by taking another look at "Bojinka," but let's not get carried away.....)

    posted by Eric at 10:24 AM

    More Pennsylvania Pork!

    I just stumbled onto another unwarranted federal expenditure -- of $3.6 million to build a memorial to slaves who lived more than two hundred years ago at a building in Philadelphia which no longer exists:

    The nation's first executive mansion, known widely as the President's House, was on what is now Independence Mall at Sixth and Market Streets.

    More than three years ago, Congress directed the park "to appropriately commemorate" both the house and the slaves who lived there. As a result, the park came up with a $4.5 million conceptual plan, which was roundly criticized by some scholars and community leaders.

    In the fall of 2003, at the ceremony surrounding the moving of the Liberty Bell into its new home, Mayor Street announced that the city would contribute $1.5 million toward completion of the memorial, which is believed to be the nation's first such tribute to slaves.

    City funds have now been utilized to reopen the design process, and the city has taken over its management.

    Just two weeks ago, U.S. Reps. Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady, both Philadelphia Democrats, announced that $3.6 million in federal funds would be devoted to the project.

    Officials now are aiming to complete the project by July 4, 2007.

    "There is a compelling obligation to illuminate the full history of this place and all its inhabitants," Street said in announcing formation of the oversight committee. The panel will be charged with making certain that all those who lived at the house during the residence of Washington and his successor, John Adams, will be fully represented in the memorial.

    Members of the committee include Romona Riscoe Benson, interim president and chief executive officer of the African American Museum in Philadelphia; Charles L. Blockson, curator of the Charles Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University, and a founding member of Generations Unlimited, a historical activist group; and attorney Michael Coard, a founding member of the activist Avenging the Ancestors Coalition.

    Well, Mayor Street may feel a compelling obligation, but I just don't see why the federal government should shell out $3.6 million to remind people that George Washington owned slaves when the money should be spent on hurricane rebuilding efforts. With two hurricanes, the case for cutting pork projects of such questionable value has become even more compelling.

    There's more here about the project.

    Coard, 38, is urging Independence National Historical Park to place a permanent marker and footprint at the new site to honor the eight slaves held there by President George Washington.

    Park Superintendent Mary Bomar has been in negotiations with Coard for some time. She did not return several phone messages from the Daily News, but Coard says she has agreed to a "posting" near the site.

    "It doesn't go as far as we'd like," he said.

    Coard's Avenging the Ancestors Coalition plans to lead a protest at 1 p.m. tomorrow at 6th and Market. "On the outside, we'll be raising hell. On the inside, we'll be raising issues," Coard said.

    To ignore slave quarters when they're five feet from the Liberty Bell Center entrance is unjust, he argues.

    "People who enter should know they're crossing hallowed ground."

    Assuming for the sake of argument that land where slaves once lived is forever "hallowed," does it really have to cost $3.6 million in taxpayer dollars to let people know?

    Bear in mind that the house in which these slaves lived while Washington was president was demolished in 1832. Bear in mind too that Washington never owned the place; he only rented it, during which time eight of his slaves lived there. It seems to me that if the goal is to commemorate Washington's slaves by building a memorial to them, a more logical choice would be Mount Vernon, where he lived for over 45 years and owned hundreds of slaves. (Of course, he arranged for their freedom after his wife's death, which might not suit the avengers' meme.)

    Even those who support memorials to slaves ought to ask themselves whether this much money could be better directed towards a better purpose. I think the slavery memorial is a classic example of government pork.


    AFTERTHOUGHT: I'm not sure why, but after reading the comment below from Ian Wood, it occurred to me that if this same memorial had been funded under the Clinton Administration, angry Republicans would probably be calling it "Slavery Mall," and screaming that Democrats were undermining the founding. Their silence today is a bit deafening.

    UPDATE (09/28/05): More here about the City of Philadelphia plans for this memorial; it's to have "clearly defined physical places where people can stand and connect viscerally to the past." (That'll teach em!)

    Here's a view of the "footprint" of the house, which will front the Independence Mall/Liberty Bell entry point. (That's Independence Hall on the left.) Bids are being solicited on how best to dramatize the "slave quarters" as the last thing visitors must walk through to see the Liberty Bell.


    A statue of George Washington whipping a slave has been suggested.

    posted by Eric at 08:11 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (1)

    (Always hoping for a last minute reprieve)

    While I enjoy ridiculing crackpots who won't shut up about ridiculous hurricane theories, I am really worried about Hurricane Rita. Yet I can do no more to stop it than I could to stop Hurricane Katrina. Comic relief directed against those who'd compound the misery of the victims (by blaming their favorite political enemies) seems to be the only thing I can do. At times like this, a little gallows humor can't hurt.

    But I'm hoping, and praying, and keeping my fingers crossed that Rita will continue what appears to be a process of winding down.

    I'm glad it's now downgraded to a Category 3.

    And I'm delighted to see that thanks to armed citizens (and civil liberties victories like this) Texas won't be another New Orleans.

    (It seems the data's already trickling in on Rand Simberg's controlled social experiment. Advantage: Second Amendment.)

    MORE: Oil prices drop, but New Orleans is flooded -- again. (While the French Quarter always survives, the wisdom of rebuilding in neighborhoods which were so quickly reflooded escapes me.)

    UPDATE (09/24/05 -- 11:46 It could have been worse, but I'm still keeping my fingers crossed, because I'll never forget the premature sigh of relief after Katrina -- before the horrific flood.

    (Not out of the water yet.)

    posted by Eric at 06:39 PM

    Global warming is sodomy!

    While at first glance this might appear to be a ridiculous idea, in the interest of absolute truth I decided to do a little digging, and, as the saying goes, "connect the dots."

    Let's start with the scientifically documented fact that these super-powerful hurricanes are global warming:

    Super-powerful hurricanes now hitting the United States are the "smoking gun" of global warming, one of Britain's leading scientists believes.

    The growing violence of storms such as Katrina, which wrecked New Orleans, and Rita, now threatening Texas, is very probably caused by climate change, said Sir John Lawton, chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. Hurricanes were getting more intense, just as computer models predicted they would, because of the rising temperature of the sea, he said. "The increased intensity of these kinds of extreme storms is very likely to be due to global warming."

    In a series of outspoken comments - a thinly veiled attack on the Bush administration, Sir John hit out at neoconservatives in the US who still deny the reality of climate change.

    Global warming denial? Is there such a thing? If it sounds worse than Holocaust denial, that's because it is, because, while both the Holocaust and Global Warming were man-made events, the sheer fact that Global Warming is denied by neocons makes the latter infinitely worse:
    Asked what conclusion the Bush administration should draw from two hurricanes of such high intensity hitting the US in quick succession, Sir John said: "If what looks like is going to be a horrible mess causes the extreme sceptics about climate change in the US to reconsider their opinion, that would be an extremely valuable outcome."

    Asked about characterising them as "loonies", he said: "There are a group of people in various parts of the world ... who simply don't want to accept human activities can change climate and are changing the climate."

    "I'd liken them to the people who denied that smoking causes lung cancer."

    According to the ultra-reliable BBC, smoking has killed 100 million people in the 20th Century alone (and that, according to another scientist is just since 1951!). What that means is that if Sir John the Scientist is right in his comparison to smoking death denial (which he must be, because he's a top, knighted, scientist) that means the neocons who deny global warming are engaged in a deception on a scale which dwarfs even Holocaust denial. (as the saying goes, "do the math"!)

    However, saying that Hurricanes are Global Warming really doesn't end the inquiry, because while Bush is obviously behind it, that fact alone does not explain the precise mechanism of the launching of Katrina and Rita. We now know that mechanism! But before I get to that, I wish to share another discovery with my readers: the existence of much overlooked wire transfers tying the Bush family directly to forces so sinister that most Americans aren't even aware of their existence.

    As it turns out, the Bush family was behind the sinister, sodomitic Japanese Yakuza!

    The Federal Reserve wire transfer data, which is also corroborated by matters already in our possession, among other things, confirms the following:

    [1] That George Herbert Walker Bush, starting back at the time he was Vice President and continuing long thereafter, reportedly corruptly benefitted from Billions and Billions of dollars transferred at the behest, of among others, Alan Greenspan, to private corporations worldwide, in which the Elder Bush apparently has a beneficial interest, and/or is a major stock or bond holder, and/or is a kingpin therein, in other capacities. Included are enterprises in Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Hong Kong, Denmark, England, Red China, Taiwan, Japan, and Germany, among others. Some of the purported secret wire transfers of massive amounts were jointly for the Elder Bush and his brother Prescott, a financial broker in New England. According to published accounts, Prescott Bush arranged vast, unsavory deals with the Japanese mafia, the Yakuza, as well as dictator-types in Red China including reportedly with the top officials of the Red Chinese Secret Police [who also operate greatly in North America].

    What's more, the Queen of England, the Vatican, the Rothschilds, the Jesuits and California banks are all involved!
    ===Bank of England, jointly with the Queen of England, offering for auction or sale gold that neither one apparently really owns, but is actually a huge gold horde stolen upon the downfall of the Soviet regime and whisked away to Dutch custody at a Swiss airport for speedy transport wheresoever requested. Bank of America is owned jointly by the Vatican, the Jesuits, and the Rothschilds. Joining them in recent years as major owners have reportedly been the Japanese mafia, the Yakuza, big in the U.S. dope traffic, and owning most every bank in California.
    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it turns out that the infamous, Bush-funded Yakuza are the direct engineers of the recent hurricanes. Their mechanism?
    Japan's Yakuza mafia used a Russian-made electromagnetic generator to cause Hurricane Katrina in a bid to avenge itself for the Hiroshima atom bomb attack -- and [] this technology will soon be wielded again to hit another U.S. city.

    Meteorologist Scott Stevens, a nine-year veteran of KPVI-TV in Pocatello, said he was struggling to forecast weather patterns starting in 1998 when he discovered the theory on the Internet. It's now detailed on Stevens' Web site,, the Idaho Falls Post Register reported.

    Stevens, who is among several people to offer alternative and generally discounted theories for the storm that flooded New Orleans, says a little-known oversight in physical laws makes it possible to create and control storms -- especially if you're armed with the Cold War-era weapon said to have been made by the Russians in 1976.

    (Via Clayton Cramer, who also speculates about this brave whistle blower's tantalizing new job offers.)

    But has anyone bothered to take a hard look at the Yakuza Mafia?

    I have, and it isn't a pretty picture. They are sodomites, plain and simple! If you don't believe me, go and read about "just how gay they all are." The Yakuza even inspired the notorious Japanese homosexual artist Goh Mishima. There's more sickening inside information here (if you can stand reading about "gay Japanese Reservoir Dogs"), and another website not only features pictures of these perverts, but brags that "hot Yakuza action is so much better background to an orgy than fuzzy MTV."

    Case closed, I'd say.

    posted by Eric at 06:13 PM

    In tears, I admit I'm in denial! (And this is no croc!)

    A friend just sent me an email which included this large photograph, purportedly of a crocodile killed in "New Orleans":


    The caption read:

    This crocodile was found in New Orleans swimming down the street. 21 FT long, 4,500 lbs, around 80 years old minimum. Specialists said that he was looking to eat humans because he was too old to catch animals. This crocodile was killed by the army last Sunday at 3:00 pm, currently he is in the freezer at the Azur hotel. The contents of it's stomach will be analyzed this Friday at 2:30pm.

    a survivor (while in the waters) said she witnessed a crocodile eat another human....there are times that I still can't believe what has happened.....

    Immediately, I recognized the offender as a Nile Crocodile. Definitely a man-eater, but definitely not found anywhere near New Orleans.

    Like denial, the Nile is more than a river in Egypt; it runs through central Africa, and I told the emailer I'd be willing to bet that the men in the picture are from some central African country.

    My view found confirmation at

    These photographs actually show a crocodile that was shot and killed on 6 July 2003 at Pointe-Noire in the Republic of Congo. According to an article in, the reptile was a Nile crocodile whose vital statistics fell a bit short of the claims made above: he was estimated to be 50 years old, about 16 feet in length, and about 1,900 lbs. (not quite the 80-year-old, 21-foot, 4,500-pound monster described in e-mail). The local mayor reportedly insisted on preserving the crocodile's carcass against the efforts of locals who wanted to eat it and arranged for it to be shipped to a taxidermist.
    OK, OK, but even if it didn't happen in New Orleans and there aren't any crocodiles there, it might as well have, and there might as well have been, and wasn't Bush responsible anyway?

    And what about the man eating alligators that everybody's been talking about? Why do I keep bringing up this story? Am I stuck on stupid?

    Or just stuck on my man eating alligator denial?

    Well, with great reluctance, the time has come for me to admit that there's more than one man eating alligator, and probably many more than one reported case.

    There! I said it! My denial is over!

    In fact, there are plenty of outlets to supply the man eating alligator -- or, for that matter, the many men who eat alligators.

    Here's one:


    Where's the meat? you ask?

    It comes packaged, looking like this:


    Of course, there'd be no man eating alligator without the man butchering alligator -- and that spectacle looks like this:


    Recipe, you say? I thought you'd never ask!


    No more denial about man eating alligators.

    But let me make one thing perfectly clear: my coverup is not a croc!

    MORE: In case any doubting types remains skeptical about the existence of a man eating alligator, here's the real thing:


    More about gator nutritional value:

    For health-conscious consumers, alligator meat is an excellent choice. High in protein and low in calories, fat, saturated fat (the one that's bad for you), and cholesterol, alligator offers flavorful, succulent options to the usual dining fare. It also is a superb source of Omega-3 fatty acids, the kind that have people clamoring for salmon and cold-water fish that protect against heart disease.
    What more proof would anyone need?

    MORE: In the interest of complete accuracy, it should be noted that there is such a beast as an American Crocodile. But it is an endangered species -- found in this country only in saltier south Florida waters -- and man is not its normal prey:

    American crocodiles inhabit areas where fresh and salt waters mix, such as coastal wetlands and canals. They are found in southern Florida, the Caribbean, southern Mexico, and along the Central American coast south to Venezuela.

    Decidedly less aggressive than the infamous Nile and Australian crocodiles, American crocodiles are rarely seen by people. They eat a variety of crabs, fish, waterfowl, and small mammals.

    The range of the American crocodile, of course, does not extend anywhere near Louisiana.

    posted by Eric at 09:15 AM | Comments (2)

    Disorderly business I'd rather not mind

    For the past two days, a steady barrage of news headlines like these has dominated the Philadelphia Inquirer. Today's Inquirer blog, Blinq features a roundup of blogosphere reactions.

    Here (via Blinq) is a photo of yesterday's front page:


    Huge news locally, and considering all the time I've devoted to the Philadelphia Inquirer, I guess I'm "blogligated" to say at least something. (If I didn't, it would almost be like ignoring Hurricane Katrina.)

    But what am I supposed to say? That pedophilia is bad? That I am against it? That the coverup is in many ways worse than the crimes? For the life of me, I'm at a loss to know what to say. I'm not Catholic, I was never molested by a priest (or for that matter, anyone else, even if there were a few adult attempts), and my father once warned me that a seminary student who was trying to get me to read St. Thomas Aquinas was probably more interested in something else, and that seminary students were "notorious" for that sort of thing. It had occurred to me already, as I was pretty hip to that stuff, very cynical from a very young age, and unlikely to have been a victim. Certainly, it is despicable and criminal to take advantage of the young and trusting. But I don't remember being that way myself. Does that makes me evil?

    I'm so cynical that I'm almost tempted to take Cardinal Rigali's advice (proffered in the lead headline on today's front page):

    Don't Read Report, Rigali Says

    By David O'Reilly

    Inquirer Staff Writer

    Cardinal Justin Rigali said yesterday that Catholics should avoid reading the district attorney's grand jury report, which accuses past leaders of the Philadelphia Archdiocese of covering up years of sexual abuse by priests.

    Its "prolonged explanations of the abuse" are "very graphic," the Roman Catholic archbishop said in an interview at his Center City office yesterday.

    The 418-page report, released Wednesday by District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, also "gives a very slanted view" of how the archdiocese now handles sex-abuse cases, he said.

    "I don't think it's of value to families," Rigali said.

    My father's warning about seminary students came at a time (in the 1960s) when gay activism was in its infancy, and when things like priests having sex with boys were unmentionable. In those days, had a Catholic kid in a religious home dared to mouth off about a priest's prurient interest in his genitalia, he'd have most likely been slapped. Or worse. One thing has changed big time: sex between priests and boys is no longer unmentionable.

    Nor is homosexuality -- in the priesthood, or anywhere else. In an earlier post, I wondered whether there was a connection between the ability of society to openly discuss homosexuality and the fact that sexual abuse cases that used to be successfully covered up are being reported, litigated, the subject of survivor meeting groups, and huge headlines that cannot be ignored -- even by the most cynical people. If we accept the argument that homosexuals are to blame (after all, male-male sex is homosexual), does that necessarily mean that society's openness about homosexuality caused the problem? Might it also be what helped expose and shed much-needed light on the problem? Here's what I said last year:

    This may sound counterintuitive, but I have grown a little tired of hearing that the "gay movement" is somehow to blame for the hemmorhaging of reported cases. While it may seem self-apparent to some, it can be argued equally plausibly that the reason so many cases have been reported in recent years is precisely because "the love that dare not speak its name" now can.

    When he was a child in the early 1960s, a very effeminate friend was raped and beaten by bullies, and he managed to find his way to the nearest police station, where, in his bloody and beaten state, the police laughed at him, and called his mortified father, who ran down to the police station and proceeded to beat his son again in front of the still-laughing officers.

    Tough love? Acceptable parental behavior? Not by today's standards.

    What was once unmentionable, if not unthinkable, is now something that can be reported -- to your mom, to your dad, to the cops.

    So, for the sake of this argument, if the vast majority of priest sexual assault allegations involve older male teens (and are thus homosexual in nature as opposed to strictly pedophilia), isn't it fair to at least ask whether or not the recent increase in reporting is a result of the ability of people to talk about it? I mean, hell, if there's a national debate about gay marriage, it's downright laughable to expect anyone to remain silent about a priest's behavior!

    I have long seen the scandal as resulting more from abuse of privilege than anything else. If I decided to run around and prey on teenagers at the nearest high school, I would not expect to get away with it for long.

    Priests, on the other hand, have been able to hide for years behind their status and power, and they no longer can.

    The whole issue is literally out of the closet -- and I think the kneejerk attempt to blame the gay movement fails to address what may be a reason why more and more people are daring to speak up.

    Articles like this carry on at great length about homosexuality being the problem, but I have not seen one acknowledge that were it not for the relatively new freedom to discuss homosexuality openly, there would never have been such a debate.

    (But for the death of the closet, perhaps?)

    Back in 1962 -- long before the "gay movement" -- the Catholic Church had an official policy of silence and denial.

    Whether or not this is directly connected with the abuse scandals, official Catholic Church policy now seems headed in the direction of a crackdown on homosexuality. I may be wrong, but that would seem to mean, almost by definition, a return to the closet -- at least within the church.

    While the Catholic Church has not asked me whether homosexuals (celibate or not) should be allowed to enter seminaries (or, if admitted, kept within a closet beyond mere celibacy), neither have I asked them whether or not homosexuals or homosexual acts are intrinsically or objectively disordered.

    I'm not intrinsically or objectively Catholic, so I'd rather not offer gratuitous advice on things that aren't my intrinsic business.

    However, whether any particular group of people is disordered depends on a lot of factors, and while everyone has the right to an opinion, in logic I don't see what gives the Catholic Church any more right to set standards of what is intrinsically disordered than any other organization. Or any more right to avoid disagreement and criticism.

    If the Democratic Party declared that Republicans were intrinsically or objectively disordered, they'd have to expect that some Republicans would disagree, even vociferously. That's because people -- whether disordered or not -- don't especially like being judged. This is not to say that Republicans are the moral equivalent of homosexuals, nor that the Catholic Church is necessarily wrong. (I disagree with the church's position, but that does not entitle me to make absolute pronouncements or enjoy the status of being necessarily right.)

    It's just a recognition of intrinsic reality.

    Pronouncing people intrinsically disordered invites them to do the same in return, and I don't think it's a good way to win a debate. The church's position on homosexuality within the church really isn't my business, but it's public pronouncements about homosexuality would seem to be directed at people other than Catholics, so I think that gives me the right to speak up at the risk of sounding like a busybody.

    Not to dwell on what I've already discussed, but when WorldNetDaily and Andrew Sullivan (who know more about these matters than I do) agreed about the invitability of a showdown on homosexuality within the Catholic Church, I made the following observation:

    While I don't think homosexuality equates with "filth," I suppose many do, and they think that moral revival means homo removal. Far be it from me to advise the Catholic Church, WorldNetDaily, or Andrew Sullivan. I can only speak for myself when I say that there's too much preoccupation (on both "sides") with religion as the enemy of sex. If you don't agree with a religion, either don't join it, change it if you can, or quit. Likewise, if you don't like a particular form of sex, then don't have it, or quit. Whether it's religion or sex (or drugs for that matter) barring harm to others, there's as much a right to do a thing as there is not to do it. Aren't my soul and my penis my business? If so, then why should I concern myself about the penises and souls of others? And unless I want to have sex with them or join their churches, why should they concern themselves with mine? For the life of me, I'll never understand why these things have to be so emotionally charged.
    They are emotionally charged, and they'll remain emotionally charged.

    Whether it's too late for the Church to slam the closet door is a different question than whether it's a good idea.

    They haven't asked my advice, and at the risk of discussing things that aren't my business, common sense would seem to suggest that closets and open inquiry do not mix.

    What I have no way of knowing, of course, is how many of the guilty priests would have been successfully screened out of the seminaries by the new rules which would apparently ask questions about homosexual desires. Sure, they can weed out honest homosexuals that way....

    But isn't asking a pedophile whether he likes boys a little like asking a terrorist whether he has a bomb in his luggage?

    posted by Eric at 08:31 AM | Comments (3)

    The fear that cannot speak its name . . .

    Google the word Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. I thought this was a joke, but I got over 19,000 hits.

    It's a disease.

    But fear not!

    There is a cure.

    Naturally, the blogosphere's been all over it. I don't know what's taken me so long.

    posted by Eric at 04:52 PM | Comments (4)

    Final tribute, and unfinished business
    "The Jews deserved to die. I have no regrets. If I had the chance I would do it again..."
    -- Eichmann's second in command Alois Brunner (in a 1987 telephone interview with the Chicago Sun Times)

    And now Simon Wiesenthal, who devoted his life to tracking down so many Nazi war criminals, is dead -- and Brunner lives:

    Apart from Eichmann, hanged in Israel in 1961, Wiesenthal was instrumental in the capture of Franz Stangl, the commandant of the Sobibor and Treblinka extermination camps, Karl Silberbauer, the policeman who arrested Anne Frank, and Hermine Brasunsteiner, who supervised the murder of hundreds of children in Majdanek camp.

    Wiesenthal died regretting the failure to capture others. Heinrich Muller, the Gestapo chief for Berlin, and Alois Brunner, Eichmann's secretary, remained unpunished. But Pick said Wiesenthal's greatest sadness was not being able to prosecute Josef Mengele, the doctor who devised and supervised medical experiments on adults and children at Auschwitz. He drowned in Brazil in 1979.

    Wiesenthal was a child of 20th century Europe: born in Buczacz, a Jewish town of the Austro-Hungarian empire annexed by Poland in 1918 and now part of Ukraine.

    His first experience of discrimination came when he was excluded from training as an architect in Lvov because the polytechnic had exceeded its Jewish quota. His stepfather was murdered by Stalin's thugs, his mother by Hitler's.

    But, unlike 89 members of their families, Wiesenthal and his wife Cyla survived and his photographic memory and a desire not to betray the Holocaust victims motivated him.

    He said once: "You can forgive crimes committed against you personally, but you are not authorised to forgive for others."

    (Good biographical obituary here too.)

    As many have observed, there are few important Nazis left to catch. Brunner is one of them.

    This mass murderer lives in Syria, where he has helped the government:

    The arrest and conviction of Alois Brunner remains the top priority of leading Nazi hunters and war investigators but Brunner has successfully eluded justice. During his many years hiding out reportedly in an apartment on Haddad Street in the Syrian capital of Damascus, he openly assisted the Syrians in establishing their own secret police.

    The Syrian authorities have covered and continue to cover Alois Brunner and he may never pay for his crimes. Germany, Austria, Slovakia, France and Poland currently seek his extradition, but the Syrians have been totally uncooperative in response to all these requests.

    As a tribute to Wiesenthal, I'd like to see a worldwide push to request that Syria at last deliver this much-wanted, repeatedly convicted fugitive to justice.

    Or is that asking too much of the UN?

    At least one online site has posted a recent picture of Brunner and is asking for help:

    The Macedonian Press Agency asks all on-line users throughout the world to provide any information they may have on the whereabouts of Alois Brunner.

    He is the German former SS officer who not only is the perpetrator of the destruction of Thessaloniki's Jewish community -having organized 19, in all, missions to the crematoriums- but he also led 24,000 Jews in France's Drancy concentration camp during World War II.

    No wonder the Syrians love him.


    For many years, Hafez Assad (father of the present dictator) denied Brunner was in Syria, and he was known to utilize the call of nature to wear down his questioners:

    A nagging issue between Paris and Damascus has been the alleged presence in Syria of Nazi war criminal Alois Brunner, and Syria's refusal to respond to French requests to make a judicial inquiry.

    Mr Assad denied knowledge that Brunner, 87, is in Syria. Brunner is blamed for the deaths of thousands of French Jews.

    According to insiders Mr Assad shrugged off the protest as insignificant. His patient and long-term style of diplomacy is designed to make him outlive many demands and conditions during a 28-year career. One aid to Former Secretary of State James Baker said yesterday that President Chirac would at least escape Mr Assad secret weapon to win negotiation:' Bladder diplomacy.' President Assad places his guest next to him on the couch, thus he has to turn his head getting ' pain in the neck', while he is endlessly greeted by cups of drinks as the talks go on for hours. Having been briefed by his ambassador that it is impolite in Arab etiquette to refuse drinks or to leave for the bathroom, the negotiating guest eventually finds a great relief in giving in to President Assad's point of view.

    The hell with bladder diplomacy! I wish the Mossad -- backed up by U.S. special forces if necessary -- would just locate Brunner, go in, grab the horrific fiend, and deliver him to justice. Maybe make him lose bladder control like his boss Eichmann did when the Israelis captured him.

    The dead (and now Wiesenthal) cry out.

    UPDATE (09/25/05): Solomonia quotes a relative of Alois Brunner on the contrast between Wiesenthal and Austrian authorities towards the Brunner case:

    I want to publicly thank this impressive personality, Simon Wiesenthal, for his persistence in searching for war criminals and Nazi perpetrators like Alois Brunner.

    I want to do so not only as a relative of one of the criminals he was trying to bring to justice, but also as an Austrian citizen who had often wondered why it was he and not official bodies that were occupied with such cases. What he did was needed not only from a juridical and political point of view; his mere presence and intervention also constituted a most important contribution to public discourse and private concern...

    posted by Eric at 02:13 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (1)

    Disaster burnout syndrome is too personal to publish

    I don't know why I should find this disturbing (and I don't know whether I'm whining or ranting), but last night when I was watching the forced landing of that JetBlue plane at LAX, I did my usual switching back and forth between Fox and CNN (to compare coverage).

    On CNN Larry King was giving the blow-by-blow, talking with some pilot or another. On Fox, it was Sean Hannity.

    Maybe I've been under too much stress lately, but Larry King seemed like an old, familiar, friend, and I wanted him to narrate the ordeal for me. By stark contrast, the idea of having Sean Hannity do it seemed repellant. Almost poisonous. I just wasn't in the mood for his persona.

    I have a feeling it would be that way in real life, too.

    I like people I can relax around.

    Does this mean there's something wrong with me?

    It must mean something, or else it wouldn't be bothering me enough to write a blog post about it.

    Ironically, I'd rather have Sean Hannity interview someone I disliked. He asks the tough questions that Larry King would never ask.

    But I like Larry King. It's almost like a trust thing.

    Or doesn't stuff like that matter anymore? Probably not. It's a feeling thing. It makes no sense.

    (Besides, I wouldn't understand. Better to just keep the damn TV off.)

    After looking at this post again, I've decided against my better judgment to publish it, not because I think my "feelings" were (or are) right. Indeed, how can feelings be right or wrong? They just are. The point is, one should not allow one's actions to be dictated by feelings and emotions. Yet when I am deciding whether to watch CNN or Fox, what else is there to be guided by other than feelings? It's not quite the same thing as poring dryly and dispassionately over a transcript of what was said. This stuff is hard hitting, graphical, and narrated by human beings with biases and emotions unique to them, but calculated to influence the viewer.

    And therein lies the rub. I don't want to be influenced. I don't want someone's agenda sneaking into what I watch, but if I watch television, that's precisely what happens. Larry King (at least so it seemed last night) didn't seem to be running with any hint of an agenda. Just an old, familiar guy. What the hell is wrong with that? With Sean Hannity, I'm always on edge, waiting for him to insert some coded language about something or other, and not wanting to allow it to contaminate my thinking. This was particular to those two personalities last night, and really should not be taken as a generalization about CNN or Fox (although I get that same, Hannitylike feeling of coded-language defensiveness watching CNN's Aaron Brown). Larry King does not typify CNN, because he doesn't come off as a whiner.

    If I had to generalize about the two network's "styles," in general I'd say that politics aside, CNN errs on the side of whining (even apologizing) while Fox errs on the side of ranting (even hysteria). This tendency has become especially apparent to me during disaster coverage. It's OK, but it does require me to switch back and forth, lest I be whined into ranting, or ranted into whining. Again it doesn't make sense.

    And no, I wouldn't [not even at the risk of committing praeteritio?] go so far as to call them "Cable News Whining" or "Fox News Hysteria." It's much too personal for that.

    UPDATE: Ian Schwartz has the Fox video of the JetBlue emergency landing. So does Crooks and Liars. (I guess by watching Larry King I've been outvoted!) (Via InstaPundit.)

    MORE: A commenter below just pointed to James Lileks' brilliant words on this subject:

    Everyone in TV: SHUT UP. Just SHUT UP. Let me put it this way: a huge flying machine stuffed with souls is heading in for an emergency landing. It drops from the sky, heavy and slow. Two hundred feet – one hundred, fifty, ten – doesn’t matter, really; an an inch might as well be a mile, since what counts is the moment when the broken wheel scrapes its face on the unforgiving earth. Here’s what the viewer desires at this moment:


    Might it be that what I really wanted was silence, and that my feelings were telling me Larry King was more "silent" than Sean Hannity?

    posted by Eric at 09:44 AM | Comments (9)

    Why activists win

    To illustrate the mechanism of why activists win, I thought I'd use as an example something most people don't consider a hot button issue -- elephants in the zoo.

    To a small minority of activists, of course, animal rights is not only a hot button issue, it is the only issue. So they're demonstrating -- right here at the Philadelphia Zoo. Their demand? Basically, they want the zoo to get rid of its elephants:

    Competing visions of what's right for the elephants clashed this week at the Philadelphia Zoo as animal activists stepped up their free-the-herd campaign and administrators pushed a fund-raising drive that they hope will allow them to enlarge the habitat and add more of the majestic mammals.

    The activists distributed leaflets outside the zoo gates calling the pachyderm quarters cramped and hazardous, and gathered signatures on a petition demanding that the herd of four be released to a sanctuary.

    "We really want them to close that exhibit," said Rowan Morrison, who is organizing the demonstrations.

    Zoo officials continued to raise money for a planned 2.5-acre, $22 million savanna that they want to unveil in 2008. Failing that, they plan to continue showing the older elephants, Petal, 49, and Dulary, 41, who have lived here since they were babies.

    "They're well-adjusted here," said Kim Lengel, senior curator of mammals at the zoo. "This is their home, and they get excellent care."

    The demonstrations, which will continue through Sunday, coincide with the national observance today of Elephant Appreciation Day and come at a time when elephant welfare is in the spotlight.

    It's as if the activists have already won, because zoo officials are bending over backwards to accommodate them, acceding to the moral authority of the activists' "principles" -- obviously wishing and hoping that once this demand is met, they'll go away and never come back. This reminds me of the way corporations will bend over backwards to accommodate almost any kind of pressure group -- such as demands by gay activists, which only encourages demands and threats of boycotts by anti-gay activists like WorldNetDaily. (Ditto for Jesse Jackson-style corporate shakedown demands.)

    The problem is that it's easy for me to sound off, as I'm not running anything, nor am I running for anything, so I don't have to deal with the physical realities -- both personal and economic -- which public pressure by demonstrators can bring to bear. I don't blame the zoo for being terrified. Zoos are frequented by children, and the last thing zoo employees want is to be pestered by well-meaning questions from kids about elephants being mistreated, being taken away from their homes on the savannah, etc. (Hell, Dumbo was more of a tearjerker than Bambi.)

    Naturally, the organizers of the protest have sites like these devoted to "saving" zoo elephants. The lead organization, In Defense of Animals, has another save-the-elephant site, and their Philadelphia area supporters also do things like protest Mayor Street's rat poisoning in Philadelphia.

    The emotional and PR value of rats in urban areas is probably questionable, but one of the IDF causes which has shown some success is the campaign to stop goose liver foie gras production:

    According to Bryan Pease, co-director of the Animal Protection and Rescue League (APRL) in Hillcrest, the production of foie gras is “inherently cruel” and always involves mechanical force feeding of geese through metal tubes to enlarge their livers. After paying a visit to a foie gras farm in Stockton, his non-profit group came away with photographs and videotape of geese that he said were suffering from “lots of anal hemorrhaging and pressure on their organs from the force feedings.”

    Those images, combined with pleading letters to chefs and the threat of APRL pickets in front of the restaurants, resulted in the recent removal of foie gras from the kitchens of Pamplemousse, Nine-Ten, Top of the Cove, Arterra and the Rancho Bernardo Inn, to name a few.
    Yet in a series of columns that Wischkaemper wrote for the online publication Voice of San Diego, she questioned APRL’s tactics and its lack of campaigning against food producers in the egg, chicken and veal industries, where conditions reportedly aren’t any prettier. The articles generated a flurry of letters attacking her gastronomic point of view in defense of foie gras availability.

    “I have no problem with animals being raised for consumption, and don’t give much thought to how a goose feels when it’s force fed,” says Wischkaemper. “I’m much more concerned about starving children. Nobody is forcing the protestors to eat foie gras, yet they’re forcing me not to eat it. If APRL had their way, nobody on the planet would eat anything that’s alive. I don’t think that I’m the devil incarnate because I enjoy meat.”

    Pease, who advocates for vegan and vegetarian diets through his organization, says, “Foie gras production is drastically different compared to other meat industries, which can at least be improved.

    What's always lost in the debate over the merits of each "cause" is that true activists never lose sight of the big picture. Individual "causes" are means to an end, but the people who are confronted by activists are only interested in making the immediate problem go away. In so doing, they end up strengthening and emboldening the movement behind the particular cause.

    In military terms, this strategy would be called "appeasement," and it's generally not considered to be a winning one. Not for the appeasers. For the activists, it's playing right into their hands.

    At the risk of sounding like an appeaser, I'll go so far here and now as to actually declare that I think the force feeding of geese is cruel. But if I ran a restaurant and complied with the demands of activists, would it end there? The prohibition on foie gras is merely one step for them towards an ultimate goal of enforced veganism. The restaurant owners who take the foie gras off the menu will next be asked to eliminate veal, then chickens raised in factory farms, and so on. Similarly, activists who demand the removal of confederate flags have no intention of stopping there. Next will be statues of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, as well as streets named after them. From there it's a short step to Lee's relative, slaveholder George Washington. Should there be a slaveholder on the dollar bill????

    I think that the appeasement of forces which are ultimately dedicated to the wholesale destruction of the appeasers is shortsighted at best. But business and idealism mix about as well as politics and idealism. The bottom line is staying open for business, or staying in office.

    That's why the activists win.

    Not that there's any connection between elephants and politics.

    I mean, is anyone trying to save the Rechimplicans?

    posted by Eric at 08:22 AM | Comments (14)

    Bending over for killer giants?

    WorldNetDaily has an amazing sense of priorities about what constitutes the biggest news. Today I learned that the most important thing happening is not Hurricane Rita, but the fact that American corporations have joined forces with homosexuals to, to, I guess to "cuddle" (probably code language of some sort for declaring war on America's values), and that radical elites including the gay agenda are taking over the country. The following lineup of today's news stories (as of 2:45 p.m. today) will give an idea of what WND considers America's most important events:

    Corporate America cuddles up to 'gays'
    Pro-homosexual giants: Apple, Best Buy, Chrysler,
    Ford, IBM, Dell, AT&T, Sprint, Nike, Kraft, Pepsi


    WorldNetDaily Exclusive
    America's pro-homosexual giants
    List of companies scoring perfect 100 percent from 'gay'-rights group

    Bending over backwards
    What do you make of Corporate America's move to become 'gay'-friendly?

    How the homosexual agenda affects your family
    'The Gay Agenda' lays out implications of same-sex marriage movement

    WorldNetDaily Exclusive
    Radical elite unmasked in 'Marketing of Evil'
    Kupelian's blockbuster praised by Limbaugh, Schlessinger, Malkin, others

    WND Jerusalem chief on Farah show
    Latest story features Bible-based hunt for oil in Israel

    Dad on trial today over homosexual book
    District banned him from property after dispute at meeting

    Student barred over objection to 'gay' teacher
    But judge rules against district that hired homosexual to teach sex ed

    WorldNetDaily Exclusive
    Our sex on campus issue!
    How colleges are raping the minds, spirits of America's young

    You asked for it: $10 off Whistleblower!
    Reprise of most popular offer ever, for 1 week only

    Only after the above does WND get around to what a lot of Americans might consider bigger news than corporate giants bending over for gays:
    Oil prices jump as Hurricane Rita nears
    Storm could smash into key facilities in Texas
    --Associated Press

    Rita intensifies, threatens Texas, Louisiana
    Storm builds to Category 4 status in Gulf of Mexico

    Forecasters fear Rita's strength
    FEMA chief: 'I strongly urge Gulf Coast residents to pay attention'
    --Associated Press

    Rita tracking toward Texas
    Follow path of latest hurricane
    --National Hurricane Center

    Picture of Rita
    Check latest satellite image of hurricane

    Rita advisory
    Check latest conditions, warnings about hurricane menace
    --National Hurricane Center

    Killer storms linked to ... Israel
    Book shows major U.S. disasters happen after 'land for peace' deals

    Not sure how reliably that last book links killer storms to "land for peace," but I guess I should be thankful that the killer storms aren't linked to sodomy! Or (worse yet), gay-friendly corporations.


    But let's just think about this for a minute....

    Don't a lot of these "gay-friendly companies" do business in Texas?

    MORE: Don't get me wrong here; not only am I all for free speech, but I'm sure that somewhere in there, WND has made some good points about ridiculous excesses of gay activists and the gay movement in general. But this stuff is so shrill, so singlemindedly obsessive, that it's almost comical. I'm honestly surprised not to see more articles linking Hurricane Rita to "sodomy." I guess I'll have to be patient; it took them a couple of days to get caught up with the Katrina sodomy connection.

    Odd that there's nothing about Cindy Sheehan either.... She's been so busy lately, you'd think they could sandwich her in there between one of the sodomy links. (Just a thought....)

    UPDATE: Hurricane Rita is now a Category 5:

    255 PM CDT WED SEP 21 2005



    UPDATE (09/22/05): As of today, Hurricane Rita has all but swept gay corporate cuddling WND's front page. Based on a tip from a commenter below, I blame Ipods.

    posted by Eric at 02:28 PM | Comments (9)

    Always at war with the fax . . .

    Am I alone in hating fax technology? Time was when I used it, and thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread, but now?

    Sending or receiving faxes is one gigantic pain in the ass.

    I don't own a fax machine. I had one, but it burned out in the late 90s, and I've gotten by without one since, and because I think the technology is outmoded, I'm sort of a neo-anti-Luddite against the things, if that's the right word.

    But the rest of world has not changed with the times. This is especially true in the world of bureaucracy, of banking, of government. For some reason, these people simply cannot or will not use or allow email for documents of any importance. Most likely, the lawyers have told them that only a fax satisfies the obsessive bureaucratic need for documentation as to dates, times, places, and only a fax can be verified to a standard which will survive the scrutiny of a court or government hearing.

    What that means is that when I am forced to deal with bureaucratic transactions, I have to use fax technology, and fax technology and computers have just never meshed very well. To send a fax, first you need a scanner to scan it into a faxable format. Then you need decent fax software. (The free stuff that comes with Windows never seems to work properly.) On top of that you must have a dialup modem, and if you have a computer plugged into a DSL telephone line, you have to unplug the DSL modem, plug the phone cord into the regular dialup modem, and then get a "port in use" error code, which means rebooting the computer so it's no longer on the network but just hooked up to the dialup modem. Assuming that the fax at the other end answers, you then wait and hope the handshaking business works out and the fax goes through.

    To receive a fax is even more aggravating. You must tell the bureaucrat at the other end when you will have your computer turned on with the dialup modem on, and the fax software open and ready to receive faxes. Then you must hope that the fax machine will call back when promised. Otherwise, it's someone else saying "HELLO? HELLO?" while your computer spits electronic garbage in his ear in an attempt to perform an obscene "handshake" with a disgustingly backward fax machine.


    So now I'm thinking of reverting to primitivism and actually going out and buying a fax machine at an office supply store.

    If anyone has come up with a better way of coping with stubborn medieval technology, I'd love to hear about it. I know of online faxing services like eFax, but they cost money, and I doubt they're easy to use to receive faxes or fax scanned documents. I could find no such thing as a DSL or cable fax modem, although I don't understand in theory why some genius couldn't come up with such a thing.

    As it turns out, I am not alone:

    Does anyone ever fax anything? Faxing seems like its been around for almost as long as the phone and is like... useless to almost everyone in the world. I remeber when my dad was living in California, I had to fax him my homework so that he could check over it. I hate how faxers are impossible to set up, its nearly impossible to get the fax, the phone and dial-up internet all set up and working in one room. Then, when you try to send someone a "fax" they have to hang up the phone, turn on the faxer, and then like set the piece of shit machine to recieve a fax. Then, you type in thier number, hit "send". 3 seconds later the guy your sending it to's phone starts ringing, he has to let it ring for the fax machine to pick it up, little does he know his wife is up staires, she picks up the phone, and I can hear her voice in my fax machine as she swaers into the phone because of the obnoxious "K$wriuqw4h fiw3u yt934t98yarlituh3q94" noise that she is hearing. So then the guy that you are sending it to is waiting there, still thinks it goona come. You call him back but he doesnt pick up because he thinks its you sending the fax again because it didnt work the first time. So the phone rings 23 times, the retarded fax machine finally picks it up so the guy you are sending it to can hear your voice saying "Hey You there?" in his fax machine!(between all of this the dial-up internet and phone line you have is completely useless and you always get that fucking dialing tone) So then you hang up on his fax machine cause you cant hear him but he can hear you. So your friend decides he is going to call you back, while you think you might as well try him to send the fax again, so you send the fax, and he picks up the phone just in time to get the "jhnalw4io8rn l4u thbw9p48ht p9834htp" noise and he thinks his phone line is now busted because he couldnt dial out.
    That board is just getting warmed up. There's lots of antifax hatred out there....

    Another fax hater puts it this way:

    The fax machine is evil. They should be eliminated from the planet!
    But they're kept alive by bureaucratic tyranny.

    posted by Eric at 01:30 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBacks (1)

    Carnival of the Vanities 157

    This week's Carnival of the Vanities is hosted at the skwib, a satire blog by Mark A. Rayner, who begins by announcing a new carnival -- the Carnival of Satire.

    Is it a form of satire to add another carnival to an already bulging list of them? Yes, yes, it is, but we just don’t care!
    (I note that Mark's definition of satire differs slightly from the traditional dictionary one, but then, satire doesn't really come with rules, and I'm sure it'll be a fun carnival.)

    Mark does a good job with innumerable posts, which he's organized into categories for reader convenience.

    Here are some that stood out:

  • Ian Hamet of Banana Oil examines Jesse Taylor's rules of decorum, and opines:
    swearing, cursing, and cussing at our inferiors is not only acceptable, but absolutely essential in demonstrating to them that we are superior to they, and they are inferior to us, and nothing in the sweet wide world can ever, ever change that circumstance.
    I won't spoil it, but Ian concludes with some polite advice for Mr. Taylor.
  • Rick Moran has a great post on "Outrage Fatigue." (Something I share, but which fatigues me too much to write a post about it.)
  • Kevin Baker shows that the gun grabbers are very guilty of bad math (among other things "thousands" of accidental gun deaths turned out to be 762!)
  • Don Surber shows how racism is created.
  • Nice job, Mark.

    Read 'em all!

    posted by Eric at 11:31 AM | Comments (2)

    Fewer readers, lower circulation

    At the same time that the New York Times is slashing its staff by 4%, the Philadelphia Inquirer is slashing its staff by 16%:

    The Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, the dominant daily newspapers in this metropolitan area of five million people, will slash 16 percent of their newsroom staffs through buyouts or layoffs this year, their publisher said yesterday.

    The announcement by Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., a division of Knight Ridder Inc., came as the New York Times and the Boston Globe also announced job cuts, making it a dismal day of economic news for U.S. newspapers struggling in the Internet age.

    "We are facing, I believe, a revolution in our industry. We are going to have to fight our way through the fear and anxiety," The Inquirer's editor, Amanda Bennett, told a solemn staff.

    While I often disagree with its editorial views, I'm sorry to see the Inquirer falling on hard times. I can't speak for "the Internet," but I have been a much more avid reader of the Inquirer since I took up blogging, and I couldn't estimate the number of times I've linked to their stories. It's provided regular fuel for this blog. Much to the Inquirer's credit, it has been a very blog-friendly newspaper. Not only does it run a regular column about blogs called "Blog Cabin" but the Inquirer has its own blog called Blinq. (I've been linked by both, and that's despite the fact that my political philosophy is poles apart from the editorial staff.)

    While I'm not sure about the New York Times, in the case of the Inquirer I don't think their problems have much to do with parasitic bloggers (like me, I guess) nit-picking stories to death. If anything, blogger attention would be good for business. Not that anything I'd write would cause many people to run right out and buy a copy the Inquirer, but it wouldn't cause them to cancel their subscriptions, either. Reading and linking to a daily newspaper is a good way to keep informed, and I'd like to think that the more blogs talk about a paper, the more attention is paid to it, and the more sales would improve. (Obviously, the bigger the blog, the more attention the paper gets.) Furthermore, there are now at least as many bloggers who'd agree with the Inquirer's editorial philosophy as who'd oppose it, and thus blog discussions would drive sales from "friendly" readers as well as readers best categorized as "critical."

    Bottom line: even if the blogosphere consisted entirely of raving right wing news parasites, it is not in the interest of any parasite to have its host die.

    So I don't think the blogosphere -- even the outspokenly angry portion of it -- is responsible for the decline in sales. I note that in the graph supplied in today's hard copy (not visible on the Internet), circulation has been slumping since 1990, and only a small percentage of the slump has occurred since 2002, when the blogosphere really began to take off.

    What would account for this I am not sure. Certainly, the 1990s was the decade of the Internet. But for most of that decade, there was talk of a "digital divide" between the people with high tech knowledge, and the "know nots." If we assume a general loss of digitally-knowledgeable people in the 1990s, then why would circulation at the Philadelphia Daily News plummet so much more sharply than that of the Inquirer?

    Even in the past year, Daily News circulation declined at twice the rate of the Inquirer:

    Average circulation at The Inquirer is down about 3 percent from the same period a year ago, to about 744,000 on Sundays and 365,000 daily, Natoli said. Daily News circulation is down 8 percent, to 129,000.
    Looking at the entire 1990-2005 period in today's graph, the Sunday and Daily Inquirer were down 25% and 19% respectively, while the Daily News was down a whopping 45%.

    The problem I have with the "Internet" theory of declining circulation is that the Daily News is Philadelphia's equivalent of a tabloid. It often features a huge front page photo of local crime or sports gossip, and cultivates the working class, man-in-the-street ethos. I don't mean to generalize or put down the Daily News, but I'd think that (especially in the 90s, when such knowledge was more elite than it is now) Philadelphia's digitally savvy crowd would have been more likely readers of the Inquirer than the Daily News, which would tend to cause more of a concomitant circulation hemorrhage in the former than in the latter.

    What gives?

    For many years when I was growing up, Philadelphia had a second daily called the Evening Bulletin. For many years it was such a tough competitor that it caused circulation at Inquirer to decline, and it was once "the largest-circulation afternoon daily in the U.S." The Bulletin died in 1982. Here's an excerpt from a longer post-mortem story:

    changing patterns of newspaper readership and, with it, advertising dollars, eventually lead to its demise, as the Bulletin lost money every year since 1975. Other evening newspapers, like the Washington Star and the Newark News, met similar fates after being attacked by problems on several fronts.

    Among them was the country's post-World War II embrace of suburbia, which boosted newspaper costs by forcing delivery trucks to increasingly distant locations, trips that the evening newspapers found choked with rush-hour traffic. The solution to this was to print the evening newspapers earlier, but few found value in old news.

    Following the people out of the city were businesses and their advertising dollars, including the department stores that once advertised heavily in the Bulletin, such as the former Lit Brothers. Adding to the dilemma of the Bulletin was increased competition from competing newspapers all around, including strong suburban newspapers like the Bucks County Courier Times in Levittown and the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, and, of course, the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    Plus, a nationwide shift from a manufacturing to a service-based economy with its later, more 9-5 work schedule meant that more people had time to read a morning newspaper, and that getting the news first thing became more important to the workday ahead.

    And all newspapers were facing the problem of competing against the increasing popularity of radio and television news programs, which could provide the most up-to-date information yet.

    Television? Radio? At least the Bulletin's demise couldn't be blamed on the Internet.

    If my memory serves me well, it was in the early 1980s that some smartass pundit (I've forgotten who) made the remark that the definition of "intellectual" had been dumbed down to mean "anyone who reads a daily newspaper."

    Is it possible that declining literacy is a bigger threat to circulation than television, radio, or even the Internet? Isn't it logical that the fewer people there are capable of reading, the fewer readers there are? The Heartland Institute reprints a 2002 article positing a direct relationship between declining literacy and declining circulation:

    U.S. newspapers have a life-or-death interest in schoolchildren being taught how to read and becoming motivated to read regularly.

    The trends are not encouraging—for literacy or for newspapers. National Assessment of Educational Progress reading scores for fourth-graders have not budged off dreadful over the past decade. Poor and minority children have fallen even further behind, despite a federal expenditure of $125 billion over 25 years that was supposed to narrow the gap.

    Perhaps even more chilling was an analysis done by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

    Among 18 industrialized nations, OECD found, the United States ranked dead last in the literacy of 16- to 25-year-old high school graduates who did not go on to further study. Six in 10 of the high school graduates read below a level considered minimally necessary to cope with “the complex demands of modern life.”

    It hasn’t always been that way. An OECD analyst noted that 30 years ago, the United States was the “undisputed leader” in educating its people. Now, it’s the literacy laggard among developed nations.

    Recent data on newspaper readership add further cause for concern.

    I'd say so. And to the extent that the illiterate are using the Internet, I'd be willing to bet that it isn't to read the news sites.

    In the same 2002 article, Arnold Kling predicted death -- for the entire industry -- within twenty years:

    Writing for TechCentral Station, an online forum on technology and markets, economist Arnold Kling deemed the numbers so grim he predicted “the newspaper business is going to die within the next 20 years. Newspaper publishing will continue, but only as a philanthropic venture.”

    Kling’s concern was triggered by data from the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), which calculated spending on newspapers by age group. The highest spending relative to the general population came from 65- to 74-year-olds, who spent 136 percent of the national average on newspaper subscriptions or single-copy purchases. The lowest spending on newspapers came from the 18- to 24-year-olds, who spent just 25 percent of the national average.

    This is grim news. And it certainly can't be blamed on bloggers.

    As I've said before, I'm somewhat guilty of being a parasite of the newspapers, but I'm still glad they're there. The loss of them would represent a loss -- not a transformation -- of culture. (Dare I speak of "death"?)

    This isn't a left wing/right wing issue, nor is it a newspapers-versus-the-blogosphere issue. I think it's a national shame.

    I wish there was something I could do to help.

    posted by Eric at 09:23 AM | Comments (5)

    Broken record?

    From what I have been able to discern, Hurricane Rita is right now a Category 2 hurricane, with a 45% chance that it may turn into a 4.

    What that means is that the chances are greater that it won't.

    While I don't mean to engage in denial, I just turned off the television, as they're acting as if it's already a Category 4. If and when it becomes a Category 4, I promise to call it a Category 4.

    But the time for yelling that it's a Category 4 is not now. They should be getting prepared for that possibility -- and they should be methodical about their preparations.

    Not hysterical.

    I've just had a bit too much media hysteria lately, and I'm not ready for more right now. They can't turn up the volume any louder, and yet instead of trying to remain calm and rational, they're trying to turn up the volume, which is why I just turned them off. The MSM could help everyone right now if they just urged people to remain calm. Is that asking too much? I'm afraid it is, so I'll just have to remain calm to the best of my abilities without their help.

    There can be no denying that it would be a terrible, terrible thing to have another Category 4 slam the Gulf Coast right now. In fact, I can think of few things worse, short of a nuke being detonated in a U.S. city.

    But it isn't denial to say that it hasn't happened yet.

    Nor is it denial to turn off a stupid broken record about a not-yet broken record. (Via InstaPundit.)


    Once again, General Honore's looking like a hero to me.

    MORE: I'd like to stress that I mean what I say about General Honore. The way a guy like that can just appear out of nowhere and perform a great deed for the country -- all without egotism or grandiose posing, as if he's just doing his job or something -- it's utterly inspiring and renews my faith in humanity. Emergencies have a way of bringing people like that to the forefront, and I'd like to think that if (hopefully not when) the chips are down and a major city has been nuked, someone like Honore might do something radically good -- like, say, honoring his oath to support, protect, and defend the Constitution, and, just, you know, saving our freedom while the chorus of hysterical maniacs was demanding that we lose it.

    (I know I'm making it sound as if heroism can be as simple a thing as a good guy doing his job, but Honore sure makes it seem that way.)

    UPDATE (09/21/05, 08:14 a.m.): Hurricane Rita has now officially been upgraded to a Category 4:

    8 AM EDT WED SEP 21 2005



    I agree it should be monitored, and people should be prepared. (Not hysterical.) They don't seem to know where it is going to make landfall or how fierce it will be at that time. (According to this map, projections show it headed towards either southern Texas or northern Mexico.)

    MORE: Read this post from LT Smash too:

    The Houston/Galveston area is also home to several large refineries. If oil and gas production is further impacted, energy prices are going to go through the roof, and we're looking at a possible global economic downturn. Businesses will go bust, factories will shut down, and people will lose their livelihoods.

    Please, please, please remember this: hurricanes will happen. It's not our fault. No leader, politician, or policy can prevent them. We can't control the weather, but we can control how we react to it.

    Good, non-hysterical, common sense. (Via Glenn, who's also reminding people to be prepared.)

    posted by Eric at 07:27 PM | Comments (2)

    Special treatment for leading economists?

    Should there be a special Paul Krugman Corrections Page at the New York Times?

    When I cited the inaccuracies in a recent Paul Krugman piece (he said that "lethal federal ineptitude" caused the deaths of "thousands"), I made a joke of it, suggesting that Krugman blame alligators for the discrepancy.

    What I didn't fully realize when I wrote that was how utterly unaccountable Krugman is -- not only to the public, but even to his employer and his peers. Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that the Times' own public editor, Byron Calame has complained about Krugman's refusal to correct his errors (as well as the Times' failure to enforce their policy):

    Two weeks have passed since my previous post spelled out the errors made by columnist Paul Krugman in writing about news media recounts of the 2000 Florida vote for president. Mr. Krugman still hasn't been required to comply with the policy by publishing a formal correction. Ms. Collins hasn't offered any explanation.

    As a result, readers of who simply search for "Krugman" won't find any indication that there are uncorrected errors in the columns the query turns up. Nor will those who access Mr. Krugman's columns in an electronic database such as Nexis or Factiva. Corrections would have been appended in all those places if Mr. Krugman had complied with Ms. Collins' policy and corrected the errors in his column in the print version of The Times. (Essentially, to become part of the official archive of The Times, material has to have been published in the print paper.)

    Everyone makes mistakes, and I've made many. But I've never felt entitled to refuse to acknowledge or correct them. You'd think that Krugman -- a leading economist and professional shaper of public opinion -- might be held to a standard higher than my own.

    Is Krugman the economist guilty of the same "bad math" I ridiculed?

    ....appreciating how many dead bodies there might be is a highly personal process. To one person, there might be hundreds. To others, there might be thousands, and depending on social skills and psychological considerations, still others might see the answer as millions.

    Aren't higher numbers more relevant to what's going on in the world? If the goal of math is to make things relevant, then the numbers have to be higher, because otherwise, people might not care as much.

    Again, I was being sarcastic when I wrote that. But what about Krugman? He's supposed to be an economist, and economists are supposed to be good at math by definition, right?

    Can leading economists possibly be bad at math too? Or is it just that when they're bad at math they don't have to admit it?

    (Now that I think about it, it probably wouldn't be the first time....)

    MORE: Adding insult to injury, last night I saw that it costs $3.95 just to read Paul Krugman. Why should I pay for his mistakes?

    posted by Eric at 03:29 PM | Comments (1)

    Pornographic pork?

    Here's a story Drudge appropriately headlined "FBI Launches Anti-Porn Squad, Prompting Scoffs From Some Agents...":

    The FBI is joining the Bush administration's War on Porn. And it's looking for a few good agents.

    Early last month, the bureau's Washington Field Office began recruiting for a new anti-obscenity squad. Attached to the job posting was a July 29 Electronic Communication from FBI headquarters to all 56 field offices, describing the initiative as "one of the top priorities" of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and, by extension, of "the Director." That would be FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.

    Mischievous commentary began propagating around the water coolers at 601 Fourth St. NW and its satellites, where the FBI's second-largest field office concentrates on national security, high-technology crimes and public corruption.

    The new squad will divert eight agents, a supervisor and assorted support staff to gather evidence against "manufacturers and purveyors" of pornography -- not the kind exploiting children, but the kind that depicts, and is marketed to, consenting adults.

    "I guess this means we've won the war on terror," said one exasperated FBI agent, speaking on the condition of anonymity because poking fun at headquarters is not regarded as career-enhancing. "We must not need any more resources for espionage."

    I guess this means there's plenty of money to throw around on another pork project.

    If chasing after adult pornographers isn't pork, then what is?

    MORE: Lest anyone think this is just fun-and-games FBI frivolity, it should be remembered that they're actually sending people to prison.

    Unlike most forms of pork, this send-people-to-prison variety has a distinctly malevolent flavor. (More from the pork advocates here.)

    AND MORE: Pork update from Glenn, with a link to Howard Kurtz, who seems skeptical that there is any such thing as fiscal conservatism anymore.

    (I'm not sure I'd go that far, but I think it's fair to say that if chasing pornography at a time like this constitutes moral conservatism, then moral conservatives are anything but fiscal.)

    MORE: Noting that the FBI "either has too much money, or the government's priorities are screwed up," Glenn nonetheless hesitated to slap the Porkbusters logo on the porn/pork post -- because "the pig isn't wearing pants."

    A trifle like that won't trouble my traditional standards.



    And I mean traditional -- in the classical sense of the word!



    (Please refrain from comments about how the Romans sucked.)

    posted by Eric at 11:19 AM | Comments (9)

    Teach your children (about where they don't belong . . .)

    Howard Zinn (author of the People's History of the United States -- "a standard text in many U.S. high schools") was interviewed by Tom Engelhardt of Mother Jones magazine, who wanted Zinn to explain the reluctance of Americans to see their elected leaders as the war criminals they so obviously are:

    Zinn: I would guess that a very large number of Americans against the war in Vietnam still believed in the essential goodness of this country. They thought of Vietnam as an aberration. Only a minority in the antiwar movement saw it as part of a continuous policy of imperialism and expansion. I think that's true today as well. It's very hard for Americans to let go of the idea that we're an especially good nation. It's comforting to know that, even though we do wrong things from time to time, these are just individual aberrations. I think it takes a great deal of political consciousness to extend the criticism of a particular policy or a particular war to a general negative appraisal of the country and its history. It strikes too close to something Americans seem to need to hold onto.

    Of course, there's an element that's right in this as well -- in that there are principles for which the United States presumably stands that are good. It's just that people confuse the principles with the policies -- and so long as they can keep those principles in their heads (justice for all, equality, and so on), they are very reluctant to accept the fact that they have been crassly, consistently violated. This is the only way I can account for the stopping short when it comes to looking at the President and the people around him as war criminals.

    TD: Stepping back from the catastrophe in Iraq, what do you make of the Bush administration's version of the American imperial project?

    Zinn: I like to think that the American empire has reached its outer limits with the Middle East. I don't believe it has a future in Latin America. I think it's worn out whatever power it had there and we're seeing the rise of governments that will not play ball with the United States. This may be one of the reasons why the war in Iraq is so important to this administration. Beyond Iraq there's no place to go. So, let's put it this way, I see withdrawal from Iraq whenever it takes place -- and think of this as partly wish and partly belief [he chuckles at himself] -- as the first step in the retrenchment of the American empire. After all we aren't the first country in history to be forced to do this.

    I'd like to say that this will be because of American domestic opposition, but I suspect mostly it will be because the rest of the world won't accept further American forays into places where we don't belong. In the future, I believe 9/11 may be seen as representing the beginning of the dissolution of the American empire; that is, the very event that immediately crystallized popular support for war, in the long run -- and I don't know how long that will be -- may be seen as the beginning of the weakening and crumbling of the American empire.

    Which means 9/11 was a good thing, right?

    I have to disagree with Zinn. I know his history book is a standard high school text and everything, but by his definition, "places where we don't belong" include much more than Iraq, Vietnam, or support for Israel. His textbook (which I've read, BTW, and which I think every American who cares about this country should read) contains statements like this:

    The treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks) the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress-is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders. It is as if they, like Columbus, deserve universal acceptance, as if they-the Founding Fathers, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, the leading members of Congress, the famous Justices of the Supreme Court-represent the nation as a whole. The pretense is that there really is such a thing as "the United States," subject to occasional conflicts and quarrels, but fundamentally a community of people with common interests. It is as if there really is a "national interest" represented in the Constitution, in territorial expansion, in the laws passed by Congress, the decisions of the courts, the development of capitalism, the culture of education and the mass media.
    It's pretty clear to me that when Zinn refers to "places where we don't belong," he means right here.

    Whether it's reasonable to teach children that they don't belong in their own country is a good question.

    Among the more catchy of Zinn's slogans is this one:


    But in the places where Zinn's ideas hold sway, wouldn't patriotism be the highest form of dissent?

    MORE: As Dean Esmay reminds (via Glenn Reynolds), the "America Sucks" left (which Howard Zinn epitomizes) faces competition from the "America Sucks" right:

    We talk a lot about the Hate-America Left. There's no doubt that they do exist--the Michael Moores, the Noam Chomskys, the Howard Zinns, and the other members of the fascist and communist apologist left. But one of the reasons I turned my back on conservatism was the dour Hate-America Right.
    Dean also reflects on a favorite topic of mine -- the laughable tendency of moral conservatives to misattribute the fall of Rome to things like homosexuality. A must read! (Although in fairness to La Shawn Barber, she didn't explicitly state that Rome fell because of homosexuality -- to which I'd gratuitously add that I've never explicitly stated that it fell because of Christianity....)

    MORE: Regardless of political perspective, I think it's fairly easy to drum into people's heads the idea that the country is falling apart. That's because it's a small (small but not logical) mental step from "life sucks" to "America sucks." From there, simply fill in the blanks with favorite political solutions, and favorite enemies to blame. Many people don't have time for reflection, want simple answers, and want to feel empowered.

    Thus, the unreasonable voices are over-heard.

    posted by Eric at 08:33 AM | Comments (12)

    The world needs more Hornitarians!

    The RINO Sightings Carnival is being hosted by J.D. at Evolution, who has titled this week's Carnival the "Hornitarian Jihad."

    J.D. begins with a great description of RINO-dom:

    In this round-up alone, you will find a great deal of rational discussion of issues — moral, ethical, scientific, and political. You will find two RINOs who utterly disagree on a topic, yet neither has called the other any sort of name. You’ll find issues discussed here that are discussed nowhere else. You’ll find both a sense of humor and a sense of duty. These are the forgotten people of American politics — the ones the polls don’t count, the ones the TV cameras don’t point at, the ones the media ignore.
    RINOs are ignored because their honesty is too threatening to those with agendas.

    Here are a few favorites from this week:

  • SayUncle confesses to a life of crime, and his link to Gunner's discussion of the "Gun Free School Zones" outrage (more here) reminded me that a leading cause of crime is not citizens but tyrannical laws.
  • Letters from the Bostonian Exile has a fascinating, detailed analysis of the Newdow Pledge of Allegiance case, which you will not find anywhere else. He concludes that the trial judge
    may well have prolonged litigation to make a point about his disdain at the state of the law, effectively compelling both sides to suffer increased legal costs.
    This is the only legal analysis I've seen which seems to have identified the problem.
  • Dean Esmay looks at the war in Iraq, and is unimpressed by Johnny-come-lately claims that it's suddenly too "expensive":
    it is far, far too late to start bringing up questions about funding priorities now, except maybe in the sense of bringing them up if another war is proposed. For this war, the die is cast. Furthermore, there is no denying the truth: if we pull up stakes and abandon those people in Iraq, we will have done something more immoral and more terrible than we ever did by going there in the first place. The power vacuum we would leave behind would result in a crushing blow against human rights. It wouldn't just be a great shame to the United States, it would be a great shame to the entire human race.
    Dean has been making a sound moral case for the Iraq war for a long time, and he's never been more right than he is now. Well done.
  • Respectful Insolence exposes more Katrina mythology, this time in the form of an urban legend that doctors were resorting to mercy killings of their patients. (And of course, even though it didn't happen, it might as well have, and it's all Bush's fault anyway.)
  • Louisiana Libertarian (a great blogger I'm glad to see making it through the Katrina disaster) offers on the scene reporting of some very tough times -- as well as suggestions on where donations would most help right now. Based on his advice, I have just donated to Convoy of Hope, and I urge readers to do the same.
  • Finally, this post at phin's blog supplies an excellent reason for donating more money: Ted Rall is against charity for hurricane victims. (I'm thinking about whether Rall's remarks about Ronald Reagan turning crispy brown in Hell might have a rebound effect.)
  • I wish I could list them all, but that's J.D.'s job, and he did it well!

    Read 'em all!

    posted by Eric at 03:43 PM | Comments (3)

    The Other Flying Car

    Flying cars. Key metric of 21st century progress? Or wasteful symbol of peak oil profligacy?

    I vote key metric. Justification to follow, eventually.

    The Instapundit wants one. The Speculist(s) want one. Hell, I want one. And so does Calvin, but Hobbes is dubious (scroll down). He thinks we don't deserve them. Me, I'm with Calvin. It seems like we've been waiting forever. Paul Moller is making progress, but he's been plugging away for decades now. Who knows when he'll be finished? Luckily, the field seems to be opening up a bit. Say the words flying car and many people reflexively think of Moller, but that needn't always be so.

    An Israeli company, Urban Aeronautics, has announced a small but significant milestone on their road to market. Perhaps they're gaining on him.

    The cooperation between us and our U.S. design partners, UPMC and STAT/MedEvac, continues to benefit the program. In addition Herzlia Medical Center, a leading private hospital in Israel has joined us as our Israeli design partner and has placed the first purchase order for an X-Hawk. We are currently in the process of recruiting additional orders from a number of EMS and general helicopter fleet operators.

    Finally, with the design of X-Hawk on its way, we are constantly checking our initial performance estimates, to make sure the vehicle will indeed meet its OEI (One Engine Inoperative) OGE (Out of Ground Effect) hover capability, as well as its maximum forward design speed. Analysis recently performed by Professor Omri Rand of the Aerospace Engineering Faculty of the Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel confirm and appear to even exceed our initial estimates.

    Well, good for them. It seems like a shrewd move to avoid a mass market model. There is no mass market.

    There is, however, a market for fast nimble medevac vehicles. In close quarters, conventional rotorcraft present significant hazards to the surrounding environment, bystanders, and themselves. X-Hawk avoids those problems. The rotors are tucked away all nice and safe inside their cowlings. Fuel economy suffers, but that's not so important in a geographically limited urban area. It's not like you're flying to Hawaii. You can always drop down and tank up.

    Here are some renderings of possible future applications.

    Here's a picture of one of their prototypes hovering in ground effect. Sturdy looking little brute.

    And here's an article outlining its technical ancestry. (Not to be missed if you're a propeller-head. How about that Chrysler VZ-6CH?). Sorry it's a pdf. If you liked it, you'll probably also like some of the old photos at the Piasecki website.

    Anyway, the point to take away is that this is a technology with a considerable history behind it, not some utterly newfangled death trap. Quite the opposite, if all goes as planned.

    Back in the late eighties, I seem to remember reading of a test program carried out in Los Angeles. It was mentioned briefly in High Technology magazine. For a few months, helicopters were employed as emergency medical response vehicles.

    They couldn't afford to do it permanently, but for the duration of their experiment they managed to generate some interesting data. If I'm remembering correctly, they found that by cutting their average transit time to the emergency room by half they were able to reduce patient deaths by thirty percent.

    That's fairly impressive. If long-term historical trends continue and the economy continues to grow, we might see such an innovation become standard practice. We're already developing the tools, and we would eventually have the money to purchase and operate them routinely.

    I love it when engineers save lives.

    Of course, you might be one of those "big picture" people. Reduce Emergency Room mortality by thirty percent? What's the point of that? Unexpected accidental death has been an integral part of the human condition since our earliest days on the planet. It probably defines us somehow. Why would you ever want to change that?

    To which questions I will merely shrug mulishly and reply, "I don't know. I just do."

    posted by Justin at 12:32 PM | Comments (1)

    Reasonable MSM commentary?

    Unbelievable as it may sound, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson used the word "reasonable" to describe people who believe Louis Farrakhan's crackpot theory that the levee breaks were deliberate acts of racism. The following is from Robinson's interview on yesterday's Meet the Press:

    I was stunned in New Orleans at how many black New Orleanians would tell me with real conviction that somehow the levee breaks had been engineered in order to save the French Quarter and the Garden District at the expense of the Lower Ninth Ward, which is almost all black. You know, I don't for a minute think the Corps of Engineers or the city of New Orleans would be clever enough to do that at this point. But these are not wild-eyed people. These are reasonable, sober people who really believe that.
    (Via the G. Gordon Liddy Show.) (Emphasis added.)

    Sorry, but there is nothing reasonable about believing in something so patently, outrageously, unreasonable. What is unreasonable is Robinson's egregious and irresponsible misuse of the word "reasonable."

    Notice also that Robinson doesn't say the government didn't engineer the levee breaks because it would have been an unspeakably monstrous crime; he merely says that they're "not clever enough" to have done it.


    Not clever enough?

    Our government was not clever enough (at least, not "at this point".....) to have deliberately engineered the levee breaks which flooded the city? An atrocity so foul that had Stalin, Hitler, Mao, or the Khmer Rouge done it, they'd have justly been condemned as genocidal?

    Gee. The stuff that passes for fairness in the mainstream media.

    (I hope Robinson would at least allow that Jewish doctors "aren't clever enough" to inject black babies with AIDS.)

    MORE: In another (emotional) "Meet the Press moment," Tim Russert sat by while a local Democratic politician named Aaron Broussard lied blatantly about the timing of a nursing home death.

    Russert didn't challenge him, even when he made wild accusations of FEMA "cutting [his parish's] emergency [communication] lines" and ordering the Coast Guard not to give them badly needed fuel.
    "Meet the Press" subsequently issued a retraction, claiming the story had been "an emotional moment." (Via Glenn Reynolds.)


    I'm wondering whether "emotion" explains why Russert sat there watching his Washington Post colleague claim it was "reasonable" to think that government racists deliberately blew up the levees (even if he didn't think the latter were clever enough to pull it off.)

    (Perhaps I should be glad he didn't second the emotion.)

    UPDATE (09/29/05): According to this Newsmax report, Farrakhan's source for theory that the levees were deliberately blown up was none other than Mayor Nagin:

    "We flew to Dallas, Texas - members of the Millions More Movement - where we met with Mayor Nagin . . . Mayor Nagin told us there was a 25-foot crater under the levee."

    Farrakhan cautioned: "He didn't say there was a bomb. He just said there was a crater," then added: "I say they blew it [up]."

    A full five days after Farrakhan cited Nagin as his source for news that not all the levee damage looked natural, Nagin himself has had nothing to say about the levee plot theory - a silence that some see as a tacit endorsement.

    Two weeks ago Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson said that Farrakhan's theory was gaining currency in Nagin's city.

    (Things are getting to the point where nothing is reasonable anymore....)

    More Farrakhan nonsense here (if you like that sort of thing).

    posted by Eric at 10:14 AM | Comments (3)

    Spoil the straps and spare the child!

    Because I'm not a parent, I'm often surprised -- and shocked -- to learn about the innumerable ways that government bureaucracy invades the lives of people who decided (probably in moments of weakness) to have children.

    I made it through childhood without ever having been strapped into a car seat. While I do recall the advent of seat belts (which I was told to use by my parents), the government did little more than make friendly recommendations -- the "BUCKLE UP FOR SAFETY" campaign being one of them. Eventually the state governments got involved, and more recently, the federal nanny state, in the form of Nanny-in-Chief Hillary Clinton (link via Common Sense & Wonder). Wearing a seat belt used to be common sense; now it's a primary offense not to wear one.

    Over the years, I gradually got used to the fact that not wearing a seat belt was a crime. But car seats for children didn't really concern me in a major way. However, on more than one occasion, the spectacle of watching as my less-than-free friends struggled to forcibly strap their ever-larger brats into torturous plastic pods from Taiwan made me thankful. At least I didn't have to do THAT! I once remarked that my dad never did that to me, and I was instantly told that it was illegal not to do it! (Busybody me! I should have kept my trap shut.)

    Well, I thought, when they're babies, I guess that ordeal is a small price to pay.

    (If you're dumb enough to have 'em! Hee hee.)

    But a couple of days ago I was told one of those things that just wormed its way inside my head and won't leave me alone until I expel it into this blog. It's an ugly, ugly factoid which shocked me (and which I should have known about) but which will probably come as no surprise to anyone who has children.

    Child car seats are now mandatory until the age of eight!


    My God, when I was eight I was playing war games with toy guns, and running around doing all kinds of risky things. My father, although quite a disciplinarian, would never have humiliated me by strapping me into a car seat. Never! He's not alive, so I can't ask him whether he would have risked jail to preserve my dignity, but this is just crazy stuff which reminds me of Joan Crawford abusing her son Christopher by strapping him into bed. Strapping an eight year old into a car seat is just plain stupid. It fosters cowardice, and is bad training for life.

    Moreover, according to that bastion of right wing libertarianism known as the New York Times Magazine, car seats for older children do nothing to increase the safety factor:

    ....are car seats the answer? Recently back in America for vacation, we encountered a fierce debate among concerned parents in reaction to a recent New York Times Magazine article. Written by two well-respected economists, the piece claims that “in recent crashes and old ones, in big vehicles and small, in one-car crashes and multiple-vehicle crashes, there is no evidence that car seats do a better job than seatbelts in saving the lives of children older than two. In certain kinds of crashes – rear-enders, for instance – car seats actually perform worse.” The economists analyzed a large amount of data from the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which has kept police reports on fatal crashes since 1975. They also commissioned their own crash test, using two different size dummies (3 and 6 years-old) in seatbelts and car seats – and found similar results. The authors concluded that the best use of car seats was keeping kids in the back versus the front seat and, “perhaps there is a different contraption that could help accomplish the same goal for roughly the same price: a back-seat DVD player.”
    The New York Times Magazine article can be found here, via BrothersJudd Blog.)

    While I really ought to be ashamed of my ignorance of the law, it turns out that in the state where I spend most of my time, eight year olds have been forcibly strapped since 2002. According to one author, child seats even cause SUVs!

    Previously, the law required child safety car seats only for children under the age of four. Doubling the age requirement has caused many complications, none of which seems to have been taken into consideration by the since-departed Gov. Schweiker, or by the state legislature. For starters, no seven year-old is going to go quietly back to a car seat he thinks he outgrew when he was a toddler. So what are parents to do, physically force their flailing, screaming children into the seats, in full view of a parking lot full of people who might report them to the spanking police?

    It was relatively easy for parents to obey the old car seat law, because they're always with their two and three year-olds, so they could make sure the seats were always there for them. Once their kids are old enough to go to school and play tee-ball, however, logistical problems arise. What if a boy's mother usually picks him up from school, but one day, an emergency prevents her from showing up, so she calls her husband at work? Making it to the school isn't a problem for him, but the new law is, because the child seat is in his wife's car. In order to assure compliance, the couple will have to buy one seat for every child under eight, then multiply that by the number of vehicles they own. Even then, it would be illegal for them to adapt to other unexpected situations, like giving rides to any of their kids' friends.

    The revised law will place a terrible burden on large families that have quite enough worries already. Since expanding the age range also expands the number of seats needed, it will not be unheard of for families to require five child safety seats in the same vehicle. Where will they put them? You're not allowed to use one in the front seat, because the federally mandated safety air bags might kill the child. You can probably only put two in the back, because most seats' installation requires the presence of shoulder straps, and the middle seat will usually only have a lap belt. A third row of seating will allow two more child seats. So where do you put the fifth child?

    Even in a family with only three kids, there's a good chance that all of them will be under eight years old at the same time. This will increase the need for those dastardly, planet-destroying SUVs.

    The latter view finds confirmation by an economist commenting at Arnold Kling's EconLog:
    ....child car seats [] also drive the purchase of ever larger cars by families. A family with three kids can't travel by Volkswagen bug any more.
    There are a lot of things a family with three kids can't do any more.

    Considering the fact that these laws don't make the kids any safer, unless I knew better I'd almost think the goal was to condition kids to be placed in restraints -- while simultaneously discouraging people from having children.

    Couldn't both goals be more easily achieved by simply encouraging the spaying of girls and castration of boys by responsible parents -- as we do responsible pet owners?

    Everyone would be safer, the crime rate would drop (statistics show that 95% of crime is committed by unneutered males) and think of the decrease in wear and tear on the environment!

    (And after all, the program wouldn't have to be mandatory.)

    posted by Eric at 09:26 AM | Comments (11)

    Pure Pennsylvania Pork

    When I saw Glenn Reynolds' request for assistance in cutting pork, I thought I should at least try to lend a hand.

    I'm not much of an expert on budgetary considerations, but I know pork when I see it, and I wasn't terribly surprised to discover that Pennsylvania has more than its share of painfully plump porcinity.

    I'm sure there are some much bigger, much fatter pork barrel projects, but if the following items are any indication, Pennsylvania has a major pork problem:

  • $950,000 for the "Please Touch Museum," Philadelphia , Pennsylvania
  • $100,000 for the "Punxsutawney Weather Museum"
  • $25,000 for fitness equipment, at the Bradford County, Pennsylvania YMCA
  • $100,000 for the Pennsylvania Hunting and Fishing Museum, Warren, Pennsylvania
  • $200,000 for the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center;
  • $400,000 for the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum
  • I know the above only totals a mere $1,775,000, but every little bit helps, right?

    Besides, as Senator Dirksen said, "A million here and a million there, and pretty soon you're talking real money."

    MORE: Yow! I like the logo!


    Nice design, Stacy!

    posted by Eric at 11:25 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (1)

    Reality strikes (well, almost....)

    For years now, I have kept my eyes open in the hope of finding a Northern Copperhead at Valley Forge National Park.

    Finally, this afternoon, there it was! The real deal -- a genuine specimen of Agkistrodon contortrix, in the flesh! Unfortunately, it was also dead. But I was able to take a few photos to document the momentous (quite possibly portentous) occasion.

    This picture of the snake's whole body (note the hourglass-shaped camouflage patterns) will give an idea of why it's so tough to spot these creatures in the leaves:


    Average adult length is about 30", and as you can see by my hand, this one was barely 20", placing it the juvenile/young adult size range. (They're born in the fall, so I'd guess it's a year old.)


    A closeup of the head next to my index finger:


    It's a shame it's dead, as it would have been fun to catch this little beastie alive! While I'm not a reckless risk taker, I've caught a number of venomous snakes. The need to be very careful lest you get bitten always provides a nice adrenaline rush. The Copperhead is a useful snake and is not nearly as aggressive nor as dangerous as the rattlesnake, so there's no reason for anyone to kill them. (Well, I'd keep children away from them, as pit vipers and kids don't mix. But the bite from a Copperhead is almost never fatal.)

    As to possible omens and portents, the snake as an omen is a multifaceted one -- with so many apparently contradictory perspectives as to all but defy analysis:

    Throughout history, the snake has been an especially diverse symbol, representing immortality, sin, protection, and femininity. In Animal Dreams, writer, James Hillman discusses the multiple symbolic functions of the snake. The snake has long been a symbol of immortality because it constantly renews itself and is reborn as it sheds its skin. In the shade, the lethargic snake looks dead, yet it comes back to life in the sun. From the Indian subcontinent to the Mediterranean basin, a coiled snake has come to represent the navel of the universe. Similarly, a snake swallowing its tail is a common symbol of eternity, an "endless cycle of life and death" (Nissenson and Jonas 20). Whereas the snake can represent immortality, it is also an omen of death. The snake is associated with death because of the toxic poison that it secretes (Hillman 25). This prophet of death has long been linked to original sin and evil because of its role as the betraying, seducing villain in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. In Genesis 3:1, the serpent is described as "more crafty than any other wild animals" (The Holy Bible 3) as it cruelly tempts the ignorant Eve into eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Hence, the snake has been seen as partly responsible for the fall of man. Many critics of the bible have read the snake's interaction with Eve as kind of sympathetic relation to the original woman. Therefore, the snake is also a feminine symbol because of the strong bond that it shares with the earliest matriarch. Since the snake has such a strong association with woman, it also represents fertility. Snakes were often found beside wells and springs as a promise of life and fertility. The snake is also a contrary symbol of the negative mother because it wraps around, smothers, and swallows things whole. Whereas the snake is a feminine symbol, it is also an undeniably phallic symbol associated with man (Hillman 25). Vedic mythology describes a "cosmic serpent" as the creator of the universe that agitated and stirred the primal oceans (Nissenson and Jonas 20). The snake is more simply a phallic image because it has a long shafted body that stands erect with a stiffened head, secreting fluids from its tip (Hillman 25). We have seen that the snake represents many various, sometimes contrary, things.
    Phew! That's a lot of symbology. Masculine and feminine; life and death; original sin and the fall of man; immortality; creation of the universe?

    And in my case, this wasn't just a stumbled-upon-at-random omen. I had searched to no avail for one of these incredibly beautiful venomous snakes for years. Now, I'm finally lucky enough to find one, and it's dead!

    Partial defeat? Partial victory? If so, over what?

    Worst of all omens would be those along political lines. "Copperheads of the North" were awfully active in this area.

    (Ye gods! Please don't make me go there!)

    posted by Eric at 05:55 PM | Comments (3)

    All definitions are equally valueless!
    (But some definitions are more valueless than others . . . )
    Islam does not teach killing people. Islam does not teach crime. Islam does not teach violence or terrorism. That is not Islam....
    So opines Philadelphia's Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, himself a Muslim. (Not only that, he's said to be the only Muslim police chief in the United States.)

    Well, at least he says he's a Muslim. And he attends a mosque. That apparently is not enough -- not for one Philadelphia police officer, nor for Muslim "leaders" in the area:

    "He's someone who says he's a Muslim. There's a difference between a Muslim and a practicing Muslim," said police officer Kenneth Wallace, a Muslim.

    Wallace grew his beard beyond the department's quarter-inch regulation length in observance of Islam and was ordered home until he trimmed it. Following the example of the Prophet Muhammad, many Muslim men wear beards, and some scholars say it is a religious obligation.

    Wallace is now in a standoff with the department, waiting to be told if he is fired. Johnson is not backing him, just as he did not support a female officer who wants to wear the hijab, the traditional Islamic head scarf, with her uniform.

    "You don't wear religion on your face," the commissioner said. "You wear it in your heart and mind."

    The stance has not won him friends among some Muslim leaders.

    "He seems determined to show he's not going to favor Muslims," said Isa Abdul Mateen, imam at the Masjid al-Quran in North Philadelphia.

    To some, I guess, it's heresy to require officers to conform to police appearance standards or "not favor Muslims."

    What most bothers me about this flap is the idea that Johnson is not a Muslim.

    If he's not a Muslim, then what is he? We've reached a point where we cannot communicate, because so many words mean so many different things to so many different people that conversations are impossible except between those who either agree with each other, or are at least openminded enough to discuss terminology. I mean, what can be said to someone who thinks that a Muslim is not a Muslim because he disagrees on beard length? How could I or anyone else hope to have an intelligent discussion with such a person?

    For that matter, no matter how logical I try to be, how am I to evaluate these conflicting claims? I am not a Muslim, but I'll try. There are two men, both claiming to be Muslims. Let's call them Muslim A, and Muslim B. Muslim A claims that both he and Muslim B are Muslims, but Muslim B claims that he is a Muslim but Muslim A is not. Obviously, they do not define the word the same way, which makes it doubly difficult for me, an outsider, to make any determination. Much as I'd like to believe that human beings should be free to select their own religion, how I am to weigh the fact that often these religions are defined by others?

    But who is in charge? There is no Caliphate or Pope, and no official registry of who belongs to the religion called Islam. If someone claims to be a Catholic, that status is at least possible to determine by certain objective criteria (baptism, confirmation, communion). Murkier, though, would be the claim of being, simply, a "Christian." While I'd prefer to let people call themselves whatever they want and take their religious descriptions of themselves at face value, there's a growing chorus of people who will not. Frankly, I cannot imagine why I would dispute anyone's claim to be a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Pagan, Hindu or whatever. It seems that for the most part, the people who would dispute such things belong to certain cults or sects which desire to take over the larger body to which their cult or sect belongs. In particular, fundamentalists would often decry non-fundamentalists as not "real."

    There's also the troublesome question of whether someone must "practice" a religion in order to be allowed to avail himself of the label he chooses to bestow on himself. What is "practice" and how often must it occur? It would seem to vary according to the religion. Christians believe in the teachings of Jesus, and many varieties of Christianity require at least baptism, while in general, Judaism requires only birth to a Jewish mother regardless of any religious practice (except in cases of conversion, of course). Islam requires at least the claim to be a follower of Muhammad and adherence to five basic beliefs:

    * Belief that there is only one god, namely Allah.
    * Belief in Allah's angels.
    * Belief in Allah's revealed Scriptures.
    * Belief in Allah's Messengers.
    * Belief in the Day of Judgement.
    (I have no reason to doubt that Commissioner Johnson believes the above.) There's of course the Sunni/Shia split, which affects the practices, and there are cultural aspects which vary from country to country. As shown above, some Muslims do not consider those who don't practice their version of Islam to be Muslims at all, but in logic I don't see how sectarianism can be allowed to dictate terms, because the specific shouldn't define the general.

    A similar phenomenon can be found in politics. One can become a Republican or a Democrat by joining either party, but both parties contain partisan ideologues who will argue that those who disagree with their views are not "real" Republicans or Democrats. It's tougher where it comes to generalized political terms like "liberal" and "conservative" because the meanings change over time, and there aren't any Papal of Caliphate-style guardians over meaning. When I was a kid, Barry Goldwater was a conservative, and John F. Kennedy was a liberal. Today Goldwater would be a libertarian, and the anti-Communist, tax-lowering Kennedy would be a conservative.

    Then there's liberalism of the classical variety.


    Don't even get me started on "values." I'd rather return to the problem at hand. For the sake of my sanity, and for ease of argument, I must treat Police Commissioner Johnson's claim to be a Muslim as true. I may wish there were more Muslims as moderate as he apparently is, but that does not mean that the louder, less moderate Muslims should have the right to define his Muslim status out of existence.

    I'm taking Johnson at his word.

    Besides, if we assume that others have the right to define or redefine him -- each with their own, differing definitions, such definitions eventually render themselves as imaginary as the definition in each definer's imagination. (Which means there's no duty to take any of them more seriously than any of the others.)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: I started this post with three questions on my mind:

  • Is this guy a Muslim or not?
  • Who gets to decide?
  • And why?
  • Unfortunately, there don't seem to be answers -- at least not in the absolute sense -- on which all can agree.

    (And the problem is, I find relativism to be emotionally unsatisfying! Damn! Where does that leave me?)

    MORE: Jeff Goldstein argues that tyrannical control over definitions is being achieved by those who have "proprietary control over their culture’s representation":

    —a maneuver that allows them to argue that outside critiques of said culture are somehow inauthentic. This idea, which allows for a kind of critical immunization and for linguistic provincialism, is the lasting legacy of politico-linguistic thinkers like Edward Said.

    But the fact is, such cultural relativism is structurally provided for in a linguistic system that refuses to allow intent to govern the utterance, relying instead on individual interpreters to give signs their meaning—and so by extension, allowing groups of individuals, by consent, to settle on a particular meaning and to claim an authenticity for that meaning that needn’t answer to outside criticism, because “meaning” has become relative. That is, because one culture adopts a particular interpretation as an article of faith, our hermeneutic relativism commits us to accepting their interpretation as equally legitimate to our own. And in fact, we have no philosophical ground left on which to fight it, having ceded control of language to whomever can make their own meanings from a given set of signifiers.

    Communication is meaningless enough as it is, but refusing to allow intent to govern an utterance is nonsensical. So is ceding control of language based on the deconstructionist idea that language has no meaning -- only to allow others to assume control of language!

    As to the idea that "outside critiques" are "inauthentic," this obviously means that only Nazis should be allowed to criticize Nazis. If all nonsense is equal, then I'll just stick with my own.

    MORE: The problem Jeff identifies is typified by the fallout over Jesse Jackson's inane remark about Katrina flood victims:

    "It is racist to call American citizens refugees."
    Almost immediately, the MSM began referring to the refugees as "evacuees," even though the term refugee has nothing whatsoever to do with race.

    Why give Jesse Jackson power over the meaning of words, when he has demonstrated how clueless he is?

    posted by Eric at 11:34 AM | Comments (3)

    Post Constitutional Nostalgia?

    On the way to the beach, I stopped at a yard sale where I found a curiosity from 1964 -- an actual boxed game called "Allegiance: the Constitution Game." (It's a game to help children learn about the Constitution, if you can imagine such a thing.)


    I was ten years old when that game came out, and I remember they actually used to teach children to be proud of the Constitution, and of American freedom. Of course, today it's little more than nostalgia.

    When we got to the beach, Coco remembered that she "dug" sand, and wasted little time getting it all over her face.


    While I couldn't write any posts while I was there, I did focus on a few that stood out.


    Here's a closeup of the two "swimmers."


    Finally, I tried to hold Coco still for a picture, but she just kept kissing me.


    I think this was Coco's way of telling me that a day at the beach is preferable to watching me stare into a screen while making little tapping sounds.

    UPDATE (09/19/05): As commenter Mary Ann points out below (and in her blog), Friday happened to be Constitution Day, and I wrote this post on Saturday, September 17. As Mary Ann makes clear, though,

    "every school and college receiving federal money must teach about the Constitution on Sept. 17..."
    (Just trying to comply with the law, folks!) Seriously, though, isn't it tough to get kids to attend class on a Saturday?

    posted by Eric at 08:49 PM | Comments (4)

    All aboard!

    I will be spending the day at the beach, rain or shine. I'm already running late, and Coco's raring to go, so that's it for now.

    posted by Eric at 08:59 AM | Comments (2)

    Reverend Cindy goes huffing

    Cindy Sheehan is now blogging at the Huffington Post. (I guess that means it's now OK to disagree with her without being accused of being part of the right wing attack machine.)

    Actually, she's still taking a very anti-military view of things. Not only does she want U.S. troops out of Iraq, she wants them out of New Orleans. And she's invoking God:

    If George Bush truly listened to God and read the words of the Christ, Iraq and the devastation in New Orleans would have never happened.
    I don't care if a human being is black, brown, white, yellow or pink. I don't care if a human being is Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, or pagan. I don't care what flag a person salutes: if a human being is hungry, then it is up to another human being to feed him/her. George Bush needs to stop talking, admit the mistakes of his all around failed administration, pull our troops out of occupied New Orleans and Iraq, and excuse his self from power. The only way America will become more secure is if we have a new administration that cares about Americans even if they don't fall into the top two percent of the wealthiest.
    I knew there had to be a reason why Governor Blanco was so hesitant to request the 82nd Airborne!

    But now I'm wondering where the warnings about Iraq and New Orleans are to be found in the "words of the Christ" which Bush ignored.

    Nice of Arianna to help provide a pulpit for America's newest religious leader.

    MORE: Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that Arianna Huffington's moral crusade against SUVs hasn't stopped her from using them (especially when they're provided by the Sierra Club).

    I wonder whether Cindy Sheehan is also being forced to taste the life she condemns. It's really hard to have to make such sacrifices for the cause, but true believers will just grit their teeth and shoulder any burden.

    posted by Eric at 08:20 AM | Comments (9)

    No way to win a war . . .

    Mark Steyn has exposed (for all who can stand reading about it) the Islamic implications of the proposed memorial to Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. It's called the "Crescent of Embrace":

    Four years on, plans for the Flight 93 National Memorial have now been revealed. The winning design, chosen from 1,011 entries, will be built in that pasture in Pennsylvania where those heroes died. The memorial is called “The Crescent of Embrace”.

    That sounds like a fabulous winning entry - in a competition to create a note-perfect parody of effete multicultural responses to terrorism. Indeed, if anything, it’s too perfect a parody: the “embrace” is just the usual huggy-weepy reconciliatory boilerplate, but the “crescent” transforms its generic cultural abasement into something truly spectacular. In the design plans, “The Crescent of Embrace” looks more like the embrace of the Crescent – ie, Islam. After all, what better way to demonstrate your willingness to “embrace” your enemies than by erecting a giant Islamic crescent at the site of the day’s most unambiguous episode of American heroism?

    Okay, let’s get all the “of courses” out of the way – of course, the overwhelmingly majority of Muslims aren’t terrorists; of course, we all know “Islam” means “peace” and “jihad” means “healthy-lifestyle lo-carb granola bar”; etc, etc. Nevertheless, the men who hijacked Flight 93 did it in the name of Islam and their last words as they hit the Pennsylvania sod were no doubt “Allahu Akhbar”. One would be unlikely even today to come across an Allied D-Day memorial so misconceived in its spirit of reconciliation as to be called the Swastika of Embrace. Yet Paul Murdoch, the architect, has somehow managed to produce a design whose two most obvious interpretations are a) a big nothing or b) a splendid memorial to the hijackers rather than their victims.

    Lest anyone doubt the clear implications of the design's appearance, there are pictures here, and here. Whether an Islamic crescent was the intent or not is not what will matter longterm.

    Already, the people involved in selecting the symbol are (together with the Islamist CAIR) showing clear signs of obfuscation:

    The jurors recognized there could be some backlash because of the crescent. That's why, in their recommendations, they wrote: "Consider the interpretation and impact of words within the context of this event. The crescent should be referred to as 'the circle or arc,' or other words that are not tied to specific religious iconography."

    But Rabiah Ahmed, a spokeswoman with the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C., said there is no one official symbol associated with Islam.

    She acknowledges that the crescent has come to represent the religion. But, she continued, it does not hold the same significance, for example, as the cross does to Christianity.

    Ahmed says she can understand why the crescent would be associated with Islam, which has 7 million followers in the United States and more than a billion worldwide.

    "People forget Muslims died [in the attacks], too," Ahmed said. "Islam, as a religion itself, was hijacked on 9/11." (Via Charles Johnson.)

    Yeah, well that may be. But isn't even a hint of an Islamic symbol on ground consecrated by the brave people who died trying to stop those who committed mass murder in the name of Islam a tad inappropriate?

    I'm with Steyn; if they want to build such a thing, let them put it somewhere else. Anywhere else.

    Steyn concludes:

    .... in its feeble cultural cringe, the Crescent of Embrace hands the terrorists of Flight 93 the victory they were denied on September 11th. And it profoundly dishonours Todd Beamer, Thomas Burnett, Jeremy Glick, Mark Bingham and other forgotten heroes of that flight.

    Most of us are all but resigned to losing New York’s Ground Zero memorial to a pile of non-judgmental if not explicitly anti-American pap: The minute you involve big-city politicians and foundations and funding bodies and “artists” you’re on an express chute to the default mode of the cultural elite. But surely it’s not too much to hope that in Pennsylvania the very precise, specific, individual, human scale of one great act of American heroism need not be buried under another soggy dollop of generic prettified passivity. A culture that goes to such perverse lengths to disdain its heroes cannot survive and doesn’t deserve to.

    Regardless of the intent behind the original design, building it now gives me the creeps.

    No wonder I hadn't read about it in the Philadelphia Inquirer until the outcry in the blogosphere. Today, the Inquirer likens blog criticism to "finding demonic messages in Beatle's songs played backwards" and concludes,

    But [the architect] shouldn't surrender his artistic vision to willful misinterpretation.

    The designer has created a fitting tribute to Flight 93 that honors the living and the dead. Anyone who can't see that chooses to be blind.

    But is it so simple?

    It makes no difference now whether the crescent was designed by a clueless team who never thought about the religious implications. Nor does it matter whether the religious implications were the product of hyperactive paranoia by right wing bloggers. What matters now is that the Islamic religious implications are there for the world to see -- just as much as would be the Christian implications of a cross.

    If we go ahead with the crescent design, not only will it tend to dishonor the brave passengers of Flight 93, but our enemies will see us as wimps and cowards.

    Not a good thing in war.

    posted by Eric at 10:13 PM | Comments (2)

    None of the above is something else! (And it's growing.)

    I see that the federal government (in the form of the Centers for Disease Control) has issued the results of a study of the sexual behavior of Americans. While there's a lot of interesting stuff there, I was intrigued and encouraged by responses to questions asking people to classify their "sexual orientation":

    Sexual orientation

  • In response to a question that asked, “Do you think of yourself as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or something else?” 90 percent of men 18-44 years of age responded that they think of themselves as heterosexual, 2.3 percent of men answered homosexual, 1.8 percent bisexual, 3.9 percent “something else,” and 1.8 percent did not answer the question (figure 8). Percents for women were similar. These findings are similar to data collected in 1992 by Laumann et al.
  • What this means is that the "something else" category is America's largest sexual minority.

    "Did not answer" is in a tie with bisexual. I'm not sure what I'd read into this decline-to-state category, but I like it.

    The gay/straight dichotomy (which makes even less sense than forcing racially mixed people to choose a race) is not as popular as I'd thought.

    I don't see why federal bureaucrats have to ask people these questions, but the answers renew my faith. More and more people are declaring themselves free from submission to oppressive labels.

    posted by Eric at 11:41 AM | Comments (13)

    No levee levity left behind!

    Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan has come up with a novel theory about the breached levees in New Orleans. They were blown up:

    The influential preacher was in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Monday, where he detailed his Hurricane Katrina conspiracy theory.

    "I heard from a very reliable source who saw a 25 foot deep crater under the levee breach," Farrakhan explained. "It may have been blown up to destroy the black part of town and keep the white part dry."

    Farrakhan didn't say who he thought was behind the plot to blow up New Orleans' levees.

    I know who was behind it!

    It was Karl Rove, acting under orders of the Mossad.

    posted by Eric at 10:34 AM | Comments (8)

    Clone a toad, go to jail!

    A word on the damning quote Glenn Reynolds found yesterday:

    SCHUMER: OK. Let me ask you, then, this hypothetical: And that is that it came to our attention, Congress', through a relatively and inexpensive, simple process, individuals were now able to clone certain species of animals, maybe an arroyo toad. Didn't pass over state lines; you could somehow do it without doing any of that. Under the commerce clause, can Congress pass a law banning even noncommercial cloning?

    ROBERTS: I appreciate it's a hypothetical, and you will as well, so I don't mean to be giving bindings opinions. But it would seem to me that Congress can make a determination that this is an activity, if allowed to be pursued, that is going to have effects on interstate commerce. Obviously if you were successful in cloning an animal, that's not going to be simply a local phenomenon. That's going to be something people are going to...

    SCHUMER: We can leave it at that. That's a good answer, as far as I am concerned.

    That's a bad answer, as far as I'm concerned.

    But I'm at least as unsurprised as Glenn. I mean, if the federal government has the right to tell you what substances you can put into your own body (even if you grow and produce them in your own yard wholly outside of interstate commerce), then I'm hard pressed to see the distinction between that and cloning an arroyo toad. Or for that matter, genetically engineering a better variety of corn.

    The Constitution was abrogated long ago. The best we can hope for is that someone with secret dreams of restoring it might slip through under the radar. (I suppose I can fantasize that Roberts might be a closet constitutionalist and is lying to Schumer, but I doubt we'd ever be so lucky.)

    posted by Eric at 09:50 AM | Comments (1)

    Wicked puppet masters, meet thy doom!

    Actress Gwyneth Paltrow (who's playing Maureen "Clout" Dean in an upcoming Watergate movie) waxes enthusiastically about a certain article by Paul William Roberts:

    "So, uhm, what did you think about the Roberts article?" The change is instantaneous. The voice regains its spark, the eyes lose their glaze and the fountain pours forth: "I totally agreed with it. I feel like we're really in trouble. I just had a baby and thought, 'I don't want to live there.' Bush's anti-environment, pro-war policies are a dis. . . ." Well, you can guess the rest.
    Intrigued by this, I just had to find the article ("The Flagging Empire") and I'm glad I did, because it has some real brain teasers like these Arab reactions to Hurricane Katrina: a rehabilitated looter myself — I was in Baghdad two years ago when it fell to the invading Americans — I am in no position to judge a little petty pilfering, particularly when the perps have just lost everything they owned.

    All in all, the general feeling I derived from these ripples of Arab thought was that, in terms of peeling the veneer of society back to reveal what lurks beneath the codes of law and those who enforce them, the Iraqi capital comported itself a good deal better than New Orleans did.

    At least under Saddam Hussein, everyone knew the government lied to them about everything all the time, and also that the media were merely a wing of the regime. Americans may just be waking up to a similar realization, since, thus far at least, no one has told them just how disastrous this disaster is going to be for the nation. You can always tell when the neocons are rattled by some event: They accuse anyone discussing the corporate or government role in it of playing politics with human tragedy. This, of course, is not something they would ever do.

    An Egyptian friend of mine was stunned at the inadequacy of the U.S. government's immediate response to the flooding: "They have no trouble sending their armies to the outer reaches of the globe to invade or bomb, so why is it so hard to get help to their own people?" Poor as it is, he added, his country would have thrown all it had into the rescue of its citizens.

    World opinion (which Mr. Roberts hopes undoubtedly to drive) gets more and more ominous: the eyes of the world, the emperor stands naked. Monday's issue of London's The Independent noted: "We could be witnessing a significant moment in America. Hurricane Katrina has revealed some uncomfortable truths about the world's richest and most powerful nation. The catastrophe in New Orleans exposed shocking inequalities — both of wealth and race — and also the relative impotence of the federal authorities when faced with a large-scale disaster. Many Americans are beginning to ask just what sort of country they are living in. There is a sense that the struggle for the soul of America is gathering pace."

    There is also suddenly a sense that the American Empire is in decline, that the only successful wars it has ever waged are the ones against the environment and its own people.

    Quite a reaction -- considering he's still discussing a natural disaster.

    But he comes up with a new theory -- that the Islamic threat was deliberately created by mean old Cold Warriors who were sorry about losing the wonderful enemies we had in the Commies. First he dispels any notion that there was a valid reason to go to war -- either against Afghanistan or Iraq:

    U.S. reasons for attacking Afghanistan were not, however, as valid as they perhaps seemed to be at the time. After all, the Sept. 11 hijackers were from Egypt and, mostly, Saudi Arabia, not Afghanistan, which, though predominantly Muslim, is not an Arab country.

    The argument that the Taliban supported al-Qaeda ideologically and, perhaps, materially doesn't hold much water, either. Numerous other countries, or factions within them, including influential factions within Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, opposed aspects of U.S. imperialism in their regions and have been revealed as sources of al-Qaeda funding, so the singling out of Afghanistan was, at the very least, disingenuous.

    The stated reasons for next attacking Iraq have been exposed for some time now as shameless lies and a gross violation of international laws, yet — according to the polls — many Americans are still under the impression it was the right thing to do. This is largely due to the inability of U.S. media to tackle the issue of both national and their own culpability in the commission of crimes against humanity. But the proper role of modern media in times of war is far from clear, particularly when so much of their normal function has been devoted to forms of propaganda.

    How ignorant can we be? It's just appalling! I am so ashamed that I'm ready to run off with Gwyneth!

    The most foolish of all Americans, of course, are those who believe in their silly Constitution:

    "The president," says the Constitution, will be "Commander in Chief of the army, navy and militias." George Washington signed the document as the nation's first president. However, he was already commander in chief of the army, so this clause would not have bothered him unduly, nor did it make anyone else wonder if they were signing a recipe for military dictatorship down the road. The reference to "militias" reveals that the American standing army was minuscule back then, relying entirely on militias in the event of a serious threat. The "right to bear arms" clause also relates exclusively to the militias, and, combined, the two clauses show why there was no reason to fear a military coup.

    Had the Founders been told this document would one day serve the greatest military power in history, or that there would come a day when handguns were the No. 1 cause of death for young men 18 to 30 years ago, they no doubt would have made considerable changes. As it was, though, they merely addressed their own situation in the most pragmatic manner possible.

    Problems with these founding documents arose only when generations of schoolchildren were educated to believe in their literal truth, a practice that has caused as much conflict in American society as that of believing in the Bible's literal truth has caused the world.

    I'll have to skip over the Chomsky stuff, and get to his Michael Moore-ish argument that U.S. leaders created the terrorism we're now fighting:
    The Department of Homeland Security, along with the Patriot Act, has effectively suspended the rule of law in the United States — citizens can now be searched or arrested without a warrant, imprisoned without trial, tried by secret military tribunal, tortured or executed in secrecy. Their phones can be tapped, mail read, Internet monitored, and what they read at or borrow from the library can be analyzed for signs of deviancy. The guarantees of personal liberty in the Constitution have been trampled over.

    Between 30,000 and 40,000 people have been detained or harassed under the Patriot Act, and precious few charges involving actual terrorism have been laid as a result. The fabric of American society has been torn to shreds without making Americans any safer.

    All those secret executions! And not a word from the ACLU!
    It is possible, too, that al-Qaeda may largely be a creation of the permanent government that lies behind the passing show and changing pageants of the one that's elected. For the Pentagon, CIA-FBI, and other non-elected institutions amount to a bureaucratic monolith that governs without consent, since it provides advisers to the elected rulers and information to the advisers — all of which can make the job of being president easy or impossible, depending on whom is in the White House. It is not what the Constitution envisaged.
    While anything is possible, there's something about a bureaucratic monolith that makes me doubt they could pull it off. (Well, maybe if the Bilderbergers and the Trilateral Commission helped....)

    Bearing this in mind, too, why did the CIA even feel it was necessary to train Afghan Arabs to fight the Soviets? Historically, the Afghans themselves have always been more than a match for any invader without outside help. With the Soviet Union on the brink of collapse, the expulsion of its troops from Afghanistan was just a matter of time.

    Put these anomalies together: Americans knew of Arab hostility in 1955 Yet they persisted in supporting hated regimes And even got them to promote Islam While training large numbers of devout Muslims in terrorist skills Even after being humiliated by a massive Islamic resurgence in Iran And experts on Islam had pointed out that the religion was populist in appeal and socialistic in nature.

    Either you have an extraordinary jamboree of stupidity here, or you have the deliberate creation of a national demon to replace the defeated Soviet Red Peril, a new cause of public anxiety that justifies continued expenditure on arms, explains far-flung wars, and ultimately provides an excuse for the current terror and finances the invisible war against China.

    It has to be one or the other.

    I love either/or choices like that. They're his premises, and according to his logic, you must choose one or the other. No way that terrorists like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri might actually think what they say, and mean it. They're part of a puppet game dating back to the Eisenhower years.
    Since the current administration contains a large number of the most reactionary elements from the old Reagan administration, my bet is on the latter explanation. As state papers from the Reagan years are gradually released under the Freedom of Information Act's 25-year limit, we may well find out some of the truth quite soon. Or we may not.
    Whoa! Those reactionary old elements never thought of the FOIA, now did they? They might have been smart enough to create terrorist puppets and fool nearly everyone, but they've left all the evidence for us to find!

    I'm glad we can count on Hollywood to make things right.

    posted by Eric at 08:39 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBacks (1)

    The direst diarism of all

    I see that one of Andrew Sullivan's emailers (responding to the "Kos diarist" flap) has finally caught on to the real Glenn Reynolds agenda:

    Instapundit has been quoting and linking to triumphalist anecdotes about Iraq for the past 2-1/2 years, wholly unfazed by the fact that the news headlines give the lie to it just about every other day.
    That email comes pretty close to explaining why I read InstaPundit.

    "Triumphalism," however, is an odd, newer word which doesn't appear in my gigantic (3194 pages) Webster's New International Dictionary. I want this country to win the war, and if is "triumphalism," then I guess I'd prefer "triumphalist anecdotes" to defeatist ones (even if the headlines from the latter "give the lie to it").

    But according to the most reliable definition I could find, the word "triumphalism" really doesn't involve triumph in war; it describes bigoted attitudes:

    The attitude or belief that a particular doctrine, especially a religion or political theory, is superior to all others.

    There's no question that Glenn links to war reporting which is supportive of the U.S. troops (Michael Yon's blog will do fine as an example), but I haven't gotten a sense that any religion or particular doctrine is considered "superior to all others." Far from it. If alternatives to the usual media defeatism constitute "triumphalist anecdotes" then I could see the point. But they don't -- not according to the definition of the word.

    Perhaps that's what prompted these remarks from another emailer to Andrew Sullivan:

    I read Glenn all the time, and I do not think he is a 'triumphalist'. He does err on the side of the positive, but frankly I am rather glad that he does. The mainstream press simply never ever does, and it is nice to have news sources that refuse to descend into eternal gloom and doom.
    That's pretty much what I think. Eternal doom and gloom can fairly be called defeatism.

    As to those who call positive reporting "triumphalism" and think it's "given the lie" by defeatism, I think they're engaged in "Kos triumphalism."

    UPDATE: Donald Sensing admits to being a (gasp!) "triumphalist" -- at least in the following sense:

    I am perfectly willing to say that the American political and religious freedom is quite definitely superior to the religion-politics of our Islamist enemies. That seems clear as crystal.
    I certainly agree that American freedom is far superior to Islamofascism, but that's still not quite the same thing as saying the American political system is superior to all others. Be sure to read Donald's post, because he also has a very interesting discussion of religious triumphalism, with which I also wholeheartedly agree.

    QUERY: Considering that those who believe Islam is "superior to all other religions" are by definition triumphalists, why do we only hear the word applied to Americans who simply support the war effort?

    posted by Eric at 01:36 PM | Comments (3)

    Drowning socialism?

    Glenn Reynolds linked to this Popular Mechanics' poll about rebuilding New Orleans. Here are the results (as of 09/15/05):

    Do you think New Orleans should be rebuilt?
    Yes 22.7 %
    No 77.8 %

    Total Votes: 2319
    I have a couple of problems with that question. As phrased, it's almost impossible to answer. Because of the nature of the flood damage, I cannot see it as a single question.

    First of all, I think that if people were asked whether the federal government should pay for rebuilding New Orleans, the answer would be a more resounding 'NO' than if they were asked whether individuals should be allowed to rebuild their own homes and businesses.

    It's further complicated by things like location. What a lot of people are forgetting is that a number of areas don't need rebuilding at all:

    Tens of thousands of New Orleans residents could begin returning to their homes as early as Monday as city and federal authorities have set out an accelerated plan to repopulate the city, reversing earlier estimates that the metropolis could be closed for months.

    The plan would reopen a portion of New Orleans that was home to about 170,000 people, or one-third of the city's population, federal officials said, and be rolled out over the next two weeks.

    The reentry plan would unfold by Zip code, depending on which section gets power and water utilities online, and how quickly hospital and emergency services can be restored. It involves portions of New Orleans that largely were unflooded: downtown, the French Quarter, Uptown and Algiers. (Emphasis added.)

    So, asking whether these places "should be rebuilt" is a moot question, as what wasn't destroyed doesn't need to be rebuilt. Thus, there is no single question about rebuilding New Orleans. Privately owned real estate is still there, and, not suprisingly, the best locations tended to be the same places which the flood spared:
    amid the debris, restoration crews and armed troops on the streets Wednesday, some residents were looking forward again -- almost optimistically.

    About midmorning, restaurateur Alex Patout was sitting outside his famed French Quarter establishment, sipping champagne.

    "Thank God the heart and soul of what New Orleans is all about is basically damage-free," he said. "All we need is electricity -- we want to be one of the first restaurants to open."

    He was planning his first menus, but he acknowledges that he is facing a daunting challenge. Of his staff of 40, many of whom lived in east New Orleans, he has located only one.

    As he sees it, New Orleans has been split into two very different halves, one flooded, the other dry. Though the dry portion may be better off in some ways, the businesses there depend on the less-fortunate parts for employees.

    "That is going to be the biggest nut for this city," he said. "Where is the human infrastructure that makes it run?"

    There's no question about rebuilding places which weren't destroyed like the French Quarter, but whether and where to relocate the people who used to live in the artificially drained swamps -- and whether to rebuild their housing -- are questions which need to be asked.

    I have a problem with the theory of "public housing" because I don't think there's a right to housing, nor do I think the government has any legal duty to provide it. However, considering the reality -- that there are poor and disabled people so helpless as to be government dependents -- if housing is to be provided for them it makes no sense at all to build it in a drained swamp located below sea level where the residents would be at the mercy of another hurricane.

    So I'd vote 'NO' to rebuilding public housing in any of the flooded areas. Anyone else crazy enough to build there, I'd let them do it at their own risk -- not that of the taxpayers.

    I suppose not rebuilding the projects would be considered "elitist."

    But is it really "populist" to have the poor drown?

    posted by Eric at 12:36 PM | Comments (3)

    Fatal annoyance

    For the past couple of weeks, I've had to drive long distances back and forth from various points to and from New Jersey, and the driving is never pleasant. The roads are medieval, and tempers flare. Fortunately I am capable of holding my temper, at least to a certain degree.

    No matter how angry New Jersey driving might make me, though, I've never been even close to resorting to conduct like this:

    MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. -- Enraged after being cut off by a teen driver, authorities say a man then followed the high school athlete home and tried to run the youth down with his car. Instead, the 53-year-old was punched into unconsciousness and died Tuesday.

    The teen was jailed, charged with aggravated assault.

    Jeffrey Zucker, a lawyer for the 17-year-old, said it was a case of self-defense.

    Yes, if those are the facts, I think it was a clear cut case of self defense. A car is a deadly weapon, and is it never justified to use a deadly weapon in retaliation for being cut off in traffic. (Legal weapons include the horn, your voice, and maybe a raised finger?) But there's no difference legally between trying to run someone over with a car and firing bullets at him. Both are lethal force, and are only justified in self defense, defense of others, or possibly in defense of one's home.
    The charges against the boy, whose name was not released because of his age, were filed before James D. Munter died late Tuesday morning. The charges could be upgraded, but Bill Shralow, a spokesman for the Camden County prosecutor's office, said that decision would not be made Tuesday.

    ...Authorities said Munter followed the teen three miles to the student's home in Lindenwold, screaming through his window all the way. The teen used a cell phone to call his father, who told him to drive home, officials said.

    When the teen arrived home, Zucker said, he ran across the street to his home from his still-idling truck, but he was not fast enough. With the teen's father watching, Munter drove into the youth, authorities said.

    The teen, who Zucker said is about 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, rolled off the hood of Munter's 1999 Mercury Sable, landed on his feet, walked to the driver's side of the car and punched Munter twice in the head.

    Munter's son-in-law, Mark Serota, who described the man as "nice, fun-loving, goodhearted," said he lost consciousness instantly and never regained it.

    A blow to the head is rarely fatal. But this was a huge, athletic kid, and on top of that his adrenaline would have been racing -- maybe even to the point of "hysterical strength." (There is such a thing; I've experienced the phenomenon twice.) Add to that the fact that the driver was still sitting in his car seat, and had less "bounce" than if he'd been standing, and I wouldn't be surprised if his skull had been crushed and his neck broken.

    I don't think the kid should be charged with any crime. The driver who tried to run him down brought it all on himself.

    Life's short enough. Why make it shorter?

    UPDATE (09/16/05): The District Attorney has not yet decided whether or how to charge the teen. Newsday has more:

    First Assistant Camden County Prosecutor James P. Lynch said an autopsy conducted Wednesday showed both blows were on left side of Munter's head _ one near his eye and one on his ear. The force caused a blood vessel to break and Munter to lose blood to his head. He never regained consciousness before he died.

    Lynch said Thursday that investigators were still gathering facts to help decide whether and how to prosecute the teen. "This case could not be more serious," Lynch said. "A gentleman lost his life."

    Zucker said he hopes prosecutors will drop charges. If they do not, he said, he would argue that the teen acted in self-defense, punching Munter in the heat of the moment when he legitimately feared for his life.

    It was the teen, Zucker said, who called an ambulance immediately after he punched the man.

    Munter's family declined to speak with reporters after Thursday's court hearing. But his widow, Nadine Munter, told the Courier-Post of Cherry Hill for Thursday's newspapers that she did not believe the teen was acting in self-defense.

    "My husband never got out of the car," she said. "He was strapped to his seat. He never had a chance."

    Rocco Cipparone, a criminal defense lawyer who also teaches a criminal law course at Rutgers University School of Law in Camden, said to establish self-defense in New Jersey, a suspect must show that there was a reasonable expectation of death or serious bodily harm, must not have had an escape route and must use the minimum amount of force necessary to get out of the situation.

    Cipparone said that even though the teen killed Munter with his fists, usually punches would not be considered deadly force.

    Assuming Professor Cipparone has stated the law correctly, the facts meet the test for self defense, although an argument might be made that the kid had an escape route because he was at home. But if he was struck by the car, it's a fact that cars move much faster than people, leaving him with no alternative than to try to stop the driver with the only force he had at his disposal. The idea that he should have run away from a car that had already struck him and was in a position to do so again is, I think, unreasonable under the circumstances. Besides, anyone who'd run a car into a human being over a traffic dispute could just as easily be expected to run it into a building.

    It also occurs to me that if an aggressor chases a person all the way to his home and then attacks him there with deadly force, his victim is under no further duty to retreat. He's basically cornered.

    MORE (09/19/05): There's still no word on whether the charges against this kid will be dropped, but I see that he's being forced to wear an electronic bracelet, and according to NBC, the dead man's family "wants the death penalty." Incredible.

    posted by Eric at 08:40 AM | Comments (6)

    Your analysis is as good as mine

    What's this?

    President Bush had to go to the bathroom? It's an official Reuters story, and it's linked by Drudge, so I guess this means that I'm missing what's really important about the story.

    How clueless of me.

    Maybe if I study the photograph carefully, I'll understand what the fuss is about:

    And the caption:
    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.

    That's it! The president not only wanted to go to the bathroom, but he was caught writing a note about it! To Condoleeza Rice! At the UN!

    Don't you see? Bush is, like, a total moron! A child without Ritalin who fidgets when he wants to go to the bathroom, and who has absolutely no respect for the United Nations!

    (Either that or Karl Rove has engineered another deliberate provocation....)

    MORE: The wording of the Drudge headline suggests that it may be Secretary Rice who needed the bathroom break:

    PHOTO: President scribbling note to Condoleezza, who asks 'I may need a bathroom break'...
    See how the Right Wing Spin Machine always tries to get the president off the hook?

    AND MORE: In a piece titled 'Excuse me Condi, can I go to the bathroom?', the Times Online ridicules Bush's "pressing worry":

    President Bush had a more pressing worry than terrorism or reforming the United Nations during a Security Counil meeting in New York yesterday - the leader of the world's only superpower wanted to go the loo.
    There's a clear pattern emerging of shameless insensitivity and callused neglect of official responsibility. Previously, Bob Herbert noted that Bush dared to ride a bicycle while people died.

    I can't prove it, but I strongly suspect that Bush has been eating and sleeping too.

    While people died!

    UPDATE: Controversy is a swirling over whether the bathroom note is a PhotoShop. Earlier Reuters said it wasn't, but now Drudge reports that they're admitting it was:

    REUTERS has acknowledged Bush 'Potty Note' photo was enhanced via Photoshop...
    I can't believe anyone would PhotoShop something like this. Why? It's bad enough to run a story on such a non-item on a dull day, but to PhotoShop it means that someone at Reuters truly believes that Bush wanting to go to the bathroom would be a newsworthy event.

    It hardly inspires confidence.

    posted by Eric at 11:24 PM | Comments (7)

    Perhaps I Spoke Too Soon

    While he may be stepping down, he's not stepping out...

    Leon R. Kass, the University of Chicago medical ethicist who four years ago today was named by President Bush to head the newly created President's Council on Bioethics, will step down as chairman Oct. 1, the White House announced late Wednesday.

    Kass...asked to be relieved of the chairmanship, council spokeswoman Diane Gianelli said.

    "He loved the job" and will continue to serve as a member of the council, Gianelli said, but he had been feeling increasingly burdened by the amount of work involved in being chairman.

    Mixed feelings, anyone?

    The White House said it had selected as the new chairman Edmund Pellegrino, 85, a professor emeritus of medicine and medical ethics at Georgetown University Medical Center...

    Both Kass and Pellegrino, a widely renowned Catholic medical ethicist, did not respond to inquiries yesterday.

    Kass often said he hoped to inspire ordinary people to think more deeply about the crossroads of technology and ethics.

    Mission accomplished, Doc!

    In one such effort, the council published an anthology of excerpts from popular literature, including works by Leo Tolstoy, William Shakespeare and Homer, that raised difficult bioethics questions.

    Homer raised many rich lines of bioethical inquiry, it's true. Tolstoy, I'm not sure of.

    Here's a fine old chestnut that Dr. Kass has used many a time. In this instance, it's excerpted from "L'Chaim and Its Limits".

    Montaigne saw it clearly:

    I notice that in proportion as I sink into sickness, I naturally enter into a certain disdain for life. I find that I have much more trouble digesting this resolution when I am in health than when I have a fever. Inasmuch as I no longer cling so hard to the good things of life when I begin to lose the use and pleasure of them, I come to view death with much less frightened eyes. This makes me hope that the farther I get from life and the nearer to death, the more easily I shall accept the exchange. . . . If we fell into such a change [decrepitude] suddenly, I don’t think we could endure it. But when we are led by Nature’s hand down a gentle and virtually imperceptible slope, bit by bit, one step at a time, she rolls us into this wretched state and makes us familiar with it; so that we find no shock when youth dies within us, which in essence and in truth is a harder death than the complete death of a languishing life or the death of old age; inasmuch as the leap is not so cruel from a painful life as from a sweet and flourishing life to a grievous and painful one.

    Pretty rare stuff, eh? Quite the way with words. But is that the whole of his thoughts on the subject? I don't know why I didn't do this years ago, but here's a little more from the same essay. It notably echoes Homer's Iliad, the Sarpedon and Glaucus interchange... is it possible a man should disengage himself from the thought of death, or avoid fancying that it has us, every moment, by the throat?...

    For my part, I am of this mind, and if a man could by any means avoid it, though by creeping under a calf’s skin, I am one that should not be ashamed of the shift; all I aim at is, to pass my time at my ease, and the recreations that will most contribute to it, I take hold of, as little glorious and exemplary as you will.

    Here's the Homer. Compare and contrast.

    My good friend, if, when we were once out of this fight, we could escape old age and death thenceforward and for ever, I should neither press forward myself nor bid you do so, but death in ten thousand shapes hangs ever over our heads, and no man can elude him; therefore let us go forward and either win glory for ourselves, or yield it to another.

    So the goal per se is desirable, it's the implementation that has him stymied. Given the circumstances it's a reasonable position.

    Returning to Montaigne, we find the following wisdom, somewhat earlier in the same piece...

    Let the philosophers say what they will, the main thing at which we all aim, even in virtue itself, is pleasure. It amuses me to rattle in their ears this word, which they so nauseate to hear; and if it signify some supreme pleasure and excessive contentment, it is more due to the assistance of virtue than to any other assistance whatever.

    This pleasure, for being more gay, more sinewy, more robust, and more manly, is only the more seriously voluptuous, and we ought to give it the name of pleasure, as that which is more favorable, gentle, and natural, and not that of vigor, from which we have denominated it.

    Sometimes it pays to read the whole thing.

    posted by Justin at 10:21 PM | Comments (2)

    Another Tragedy Of Higher Education

    Here are some perky thoughts from a Girl in Glasses named Rita...

    Not that this is in any way related to where I worked this summer or for whom, but Leon Kass Steps Down as Chairman of President's Bioethics Panel. The blogosphere is very happy about this, since it offers all the bitter armchair bioethicists...

    Me! She's talking about me!

    ...a new opportunity to fight over who hates Kass more. Perhaps these people have their reasons to hate him...

    Well...we don't exactly fight over it. We take turns.

    ...but my personal conclusion from this summer was that I really wanted to take a class from him.

    Please take the class, Rita. Please, please, super-fantastic please? And then, please post about it? I need new material! Just look what I've been having to make do with...

    "The question, admittedly complex, is whether in opting for abortion a woman is doing injustice to herself as a woman, contradicting her generative nature."

    "even the perfectly voluntary use of powers to prolong life ... carries dangers of degradation, depersonalization and general enfeeblement of soul."

    "If our children are to flower, we need to sow them well and nurture them...But if they are truly to flower, we must go to seed; we must wither and give ground...Withering is nature's preparation for death, for the one who dies and for the ones who look upon him."

    Rita, how do your parents feel about that last one?

    "Paradoxically, even the young and vigorous may be suffering because of medicines success in removing death from their personal experience. Those born since the discovery of penicillin represent the first generation ever to grow up without experience or fear of probable death at an early age. They look around and see that virtually all their friends are alive."

    Ahh, a particular favorite of mine. Not only is death good for you, but so are the deaths of your friends. Builds character don'tcha know? Anyway, back over to you, Rita...

    My favorite response is from Fight Aging, a group I encountered during my research this summer. They advocate life extension technology, and they are also insane.

    Yeah right, as opposed to the pellucid clarity of thought on display above. Hey, Reason isn't insane, he's just passionately engaged. I'd think a student at U of C could make a fine distinction like that.

    They had this to say about the announcement: "People like Kass want to use government power to ensure that you and I suffer and die by outlawing the research and use of healthy life extension technologies."

    Yes. Because the only thing standing between you and eternal life is Leon Kass.

    Now Rita, that's just mean-spirited. I'd settle for plain old longer life. You know, like they've already achieved with the lab animals? It is kind of funny though.

    But the question still there any truth to the allegation? Let's just be diligent scholars and check our primary sources, shall we?

    "....if one could do something about Alzheimer's, if one could do something about chronic arthritis, if one could do something about general muscular weakness and not, somehow, increase the life expectancy to 150 years, I would be delighted."

    Yup. Nobody gives it up like Leon. That's why I'm so glad his voice has not been permanently stilled. He manages to sabotage his own misbegotten agenda simply by being himself. So, I know you're dying to know, does he actually advocate the suppression of certain (possibly life-extending) research?

    Why yes, he does. He's even lobbied Congress for it...

    "What we should do is work to prevent human cloning by making it illegal. We should aim for a global legal ban, if possible, and for a unilateral national ban at a minimum.... renegade scientists may secretly undertake to violate such a law, but we can deter them by both criminal sanctions and monetary penalties..."

    "Michigan, for example, has made it a felony, punishable by imprisonment for not more than ten years or a fine of not more than $10 million, or both, to “intentionally engage in or attempt to engage in human cloning,” where human cloning means “the use of human somatic cell nuclear transfer technology to produce a human embryo”."

    And he is just fine with that. Pretty funny isn't it? Are we all still laughing?

    I suppose I should clarify a technical point. The cloning that he's trying to criminalize is not necessarily the mass-production of full grown carbon-copy humans, Jango Fett style. Oh no. The ban he advocates would apply equally to what's sometimes called SCNT.

    What the hell is that? So glad you asked.

    Let's say I were to take a human egg and remove its nucleus. Let's say I then implant that egg with new genetic material and culture it for a week, for investigative purposes only. Even if I then destroyed it, technically, I would have produced a clone, and I would then be liable for prosecution under Kass's proposed legislation. Ten years. Ten million bucks. How very funny!

    Just so we're clear on the concept. Transplanting the nucleus to the egg would be the actual crime. Destroying the conceptus would not.

    And interestingly, by way of contrast, any snarfling skank-ho can get herself fructified. She can then freely choose to "contradict her generative nature" and do so without legal let or hindrance. This would present us with a situation where some nascent human life is more dignified than others.

    Conceive a life for medical research, in the hope of curing some boring old disease, and it's off to the big house with you. But, get knocked up from a one night stand gone horribly wrong, and you can flush your "troubles" away. But I digress.

    SCNT may eventually allow for the production of specific immune-matched healthy tissues. Tissues that might cure a wide variety of heretofore incurable ailments. Or, perhaps not. It would certainly be nice to find out, one way or another.

    Research. It's not just a good idea...

    Hey, Rita. Why don't you run a few of Doctor Kass's bright notions past your friends. See how they react. Maybe the revelation that he's nuts will sound better coming from them.

    Leon Kass, at a recent lecture at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, said he dreams of embryos, "I see this little embryo and it asks, 'how are you going to help me today?'"

    To be fair, that's not an exact quote. But this next one is...

    "...mortal danger is contained in the now popular notion that a person has a right over his body, a right that allows him to do what ever he wants to it or with it. Civil libertarians may applaud such a notion, as an arguably logical expansion of the right of privacy, of the right to be free from unwanted or offensive touchings. But for a physician, the idea must be unacceptable."

    I'm telling you Rita, he's a freaking gold mine. How I'd love to know your friends reactions...

    "Worst of all from this point of view are those more uncivilized forms of eating, like licking an ice cream cone --a catlike activity that has been made acceptable in informal America but that still offends those who know eating in public is offensive"

    And never forget, it's not a cheap shot if he actually said it.

    posted by Justin at 10:09 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBacks (1)

    But who's eating Krugman's "alligations"?

    Is it time to get serious about numbers?

    In Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer, distinguished economist Paul Krugman blamed "lethal federal ineptitude" for the Hurricane Katrina death toll, claiming that the Bush administration "debated lines of authority while thousands died." (The total Louisiana count stands at 423, with the Katrina total being over 650.)

    "Lines of authority" are still being debated (by a lot of people outside as well as inside the Bush administration) and I suspect they'll continue to be debated, as they would have been, regardless of how many people died. It doesn't seem to matter right now how many of the victims died in the disaster itself or died from the delay in getting help after the disaster (is anyone sure what "after" means?), and I don't know whether that debate will ever be settled. What I don't like is the now-you-see-it-no-you-don't manner in which the "thousands" morphs to hundreds. It's one thing to attribute this to "an emotional time," but aren't distinguished economists supposed to be guided by something other than emotion?

    Or did the alligators eat Krugman's homework too?

    posted by Eric at 07:53 AM | Comments (2)

    Who's responsible for crunching the numbers?

    Not the Klingons, Glenn!

    As I keep saying, the alligators made the missing thousands disappear!

    Think in terms of "alligations."

    posted by Eric at 10:47 PM

    Going and coming

    As I was getting ready to go to New Jersey this morning, Coco made it quite clear that she wanted to go with me:


    Coco's lucky I was paying attention, and she didn't suffer the fate of the small boys trapped in the trunk in Camden.

    On the way back, as I was driving through one of the few remaining patches of rural area, I saw a very fat sun setting over a pasture, so I had to stop for a picture.


    I'm not one of these enforced "open space" advocates, but it sure beats the cities which surround everything.

    MORE: If I could be a moralistic scold for a day, the next time Coco got into a funk with me, I'd show her this picture of what happened to dogs of her breed in New Orleans:


    (According to this video, dogs were being shot, too. I hope the story is at exaggerated, as I don't want to believe that such a thing happened frequently.)

    posted by Eric at 09:23 PM

    Don't wait till the emergency!

    I've been gone all day doing backbreaking and stressful work I really shouldn't discuss on this blog, but I want to urge everyone to read Jeff Soyer's Weekly Check on the Bias because he's got the goods on the New Orleans gun confiscation. Truly Orwellian, as well as illegal and unconstitutional. Here's what Jeff said:

    These people [New Orleans residents who are protecting their homes] are staying, too. Good for all of them. Yes, there are folks whose homes are under water and need a place to stay and it makes sense for them to go to temporary shelters, but for others, if their homes are "livable" and they want to stay, they should be allowed to and most importantly, they must be allowed their constitutional right to protect and defend themselves.

    That's the kind of toughness that built this country. Indeed, it's that refusal to give in to an oppressive government that helped America gain it's independence from England in the first place.

    The one thing that struck me through all of this is that all the newspapers (meaning the biggies like the New York Times and the Washington Post) that reported on the mandatory gun confiscation never issued a single editorial decrying the violation of one of the pillars of the Bill of Rights and even Louisianna's own State Constitution. You can be sure that if it was any other enumerated right, such as free speech or voting rights, their op-eds would be shouting indignation in bold print.

    That's because they'd love to use "emergencies" as a pretext for confiscating everyone's guns.

    Earlier today, I heard NRA President Wayne La Pierre interviewed on the G. Gordon Liddy Show, and the illegal conduct by New Orleans authorities was the primary topic. Mr. La Pierre also said that the laws in a number of states provide for mandatory gun confiscation during emergencies. While the NRA is going to sponsor legislation to change this outrage, just think about it for a minute.

    In an emergency is precisely the time when you need your gun! This morning I spoke with a close friend (an anti-gun Democrat) who has been watching the New Orleans events and is terrified of riots breaking out in his city the next time there's a terrorist attack. Quite sensibly, he's now thinking of buying a gun simply to increase the odds of his survival. What the hell good will it do if the armed bureaucrats come and take it away from him and leave him helpless?

    What's being forgetten is that this country was founded on opposition to gun control. Again, here's Jeff:

    In 1775, England's General Sir Thomas Gage attempted to disarm colonial patriots in the battles of Lexington and Concord. It resulted in "the shot heard round the world." Gage then promised the Boston Selectmen that if all citizens turn in their arms they would be permitted to leave with all their possessions. Most of them did, but they were prevented from leaving anyway. Indeed, Gage's breaking of his word helped spark the American Revolution and it was partly from the resulting outrage of firearms confiscation that many of the colonies specifically declared the right of their free men to bear arms. This right was later incorporated into what we now call The Bill of Rights.
    Anyway, I'm beat, but this stuff is too important not to blog about.

    Go read Jeff's post, and think about protecting yourself before it's too late. By "too late" I mean after civil disturbances start. If you're in a state with a mandatory waiting period, you won't be able to buy a gun, and you'll be at the mercy of whatever happens.

    The Second Amendment is the one that backs up the rest of the Bill of Rights. It's insurance, for our lives, our property, and our freedom. Like all insurance, it's wise to keep it current.

    posted by Eric at 08:47 PM | Comments (2)

    RINOs in rage to rescue!

    I'll be in New Jersey all day today, from which I'll return physically exhausted.

    However, the Raging RINOs carnival has been posted at Fistful of Fortnights:

    the party is really kicking it. There is a mass quantity of eating and drinking, laughing and scoffing, smoking, fighting, and dancing. Bullies, bucks, and pickpockets prowl the premises, while law enforcement keeps a keen eye over all, buffoons (OTHER buffoons, plague have at them!) making their brawls at their own booths....
    As usual, all the RINOs did a great job, and here are a few posts that stood out for me:

  • SayUncle reads the Riot Act to the people who want to disarm New Orleans citizenry at a time when they most need toi be armed:
    It’s troubling to me that in a disaster/crisis, this is the response by the powers that be. Disarming good and otherwise law-abiding people in a time of need is unacceptable. So, is every future disaster going to result in disarming citizens?
    Makes about as much sense as disarming the military when the country is under attack.
  • There's a related post by Nick Schweitzer:
    we have a group trying to encourage criminals to do something only law abiding citizens would do, and in the other instance we have a group restricting the rights of law abiding citizens in order to prevent crime.
  • Noting that only 13% Americans blame Bush for Katrina, Don Surber senses "Bush Fatigue":
    With each passing wave of Blame Bush, people get sleepier.
    I was already fatigued, but this latest -- blaming Bush for "thousands" who died and were eaten by alligators -- it's just too much, and absurd beyond words. On top of that, Don utters the reactionary thought that "John Roberts isn't the Great Satan." (Have anyone verified that he doesn't have filed-down horns?)
  • Don't miss the Commissar's post (great maps, BTW) about New Orleans and the mismanagement of the Mississippi River. Apparently, human tinkering has trapped a problem which would have gone away:
    In some particularly strong flood year, the Mississippi would have burst through its natural levees, sought out a new, lower course to the Gulf, and left the old rivercourse high and dry, a ridge snaking across the plain. That would have been the New Orleans area today, absent the flood control and navigation structures of the Army Corps of Engineers.
  • Once again, an excellent Carnival.

    RINOs rock.

    posted by Eric at 09:15 AM

    Unstung dreaming

    Last night I was dreaming about a dying scorpion (it looked almost dead, droopy, shedding, peeling) with which I was forced to deal. I just wanted it to go away, and all I had was my old rusty but trusty kitchen knife. While I could have just chopped off its stinger and let it die, I was very surprised by its speed and determination to sting me even though you'd think it would have had better things to do. Not at all clear how it was resolved. (It wasn't.)

    I'm skeptical about dream interpretation, especially on the Internet, but I thought I'd give it a go. Maybe some readers can supplement the interpretations and save me a bundle with free therapy.

    I'll start with the "Mystic Advisor":

    dream interpretation
    Dreaming about a scorpion may be symbolic of something in your environment which is hurtful, dangerous, and "stinging." It may represent bitter words and very negative attitudes. Superstition based dream interpretation books say that a scorpion may constitute a warning. It further states that if the scorpion in your dream bit you, you will overcome your problems. However, if you killed the scorpion, be exceptionally careful around people that are not your friends, or are false friends. Some believe that the scorpion is a symbol of transformation.
    It didn't "bite" me. Frankly, I was more worried about being stung.

    Here's a similar interpretation:

    may be symbolic of something in your environment which is hurtful, dangerous and "stinging"; may represent bitter words and very negative attitudes; may be a dream of warning; if the scorpion in your dream bit you, you will overcome your problems; if you killed the scorpion, be exceptionally careful around people that are not your friends, or are false friends.

    This site, on the other hand, suggests that the scorpion might represent not others, but me:

    Scorpion - Poisonous thinking. Maybe a symbol of an idea that is dangerous, or that you have made some comment that is stinging and hurtful.

    More here:

    Needing to be wary of something, bearing in mind that there’s a sting in the tail
    A situation that could inflict physical or emotional pain on you

    Then there's the knife. The fact that I was armed with my most trusted kitchen knife must mean something. From the same dream site:

    Creating something new either through carving it from scratch or by cutting away unwanted parts
    Feeling betrayed or knifed
    Wanting to harm others, knife them
    Being knifed may represent self-inflicted injury
    Something achieved comfortably or with ease, like a knife through butter
    In the dream, it would have almost been too easy to kill the scorpion, which was already dying and decrepit, and for which I felt a little sorry. I was surprised, though, but its utter ferocity. For some reason, the emotional part of me did not want to do the physically easy thing, and just whack off its stinger to make it harmless. Instead, I almost seemed to be playing with the angry scorpion, which I kept trying to lift up and balance it on the knife while it did its damnedest to writhe and jump and sting me.

    There's a lot there, but I ought to cut the Freudian/Jungian crap and get to work!

    posted by Eric at 09:02 AM | Comments (3)

    Wisdom From The East

    Sean Kinsell makes some interesting observations about disaster relief in paternalistic Japan...

    Well, I will tell you as someone who has lived here for a decade: what you hear about disaster preparedness ALWAYS involves local intiatives. Sometimes, municipal governments are involved; other times, it's smaller public institutions. 1 September, the anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, was Disaster Prevention Day here. Apparently, over a million people participated in demonstrations and drills and things. Our apartment building's management company distributed leaflets to our mailboxes, outlining what would happen if a quake hit and our building were declared unsafe until inspection. New survival gadgets are always cropping up in human interest features on NHK.

    Not quite the monument to ministerial, er, ministration that some might expect. You should read the whole thing. I was too lazy to reproduce his links. Here's some more...

    In Japan, what we're told is this: A disaster may render you unreachable. It may cut you off from communication networks and utilities. The appropriate government agencies (starting at the neighborhood level and moving upward depending on the magnitude of the damage) will respond as quickly as they can, but you may be on your own for days until they do. Prepare supplies. Learn escape routes. Then learn alternate escape routes. Know what your region's points of vulnerability are. Get to know your neighbors (especially the elderly or infirm) so you can help each other out and account for each other. Follow directions if you're told to evacuate. Stay put if you aren't. Participate in the earthquake preparation drills in your neighborhood.

    If that's the attitude of people in collectivist, obedient, welfare-state Japan, it is beyond the wit of man why any American should be sitting around entertaining the idea that Washington should be the first (or second or fifteenth) entity to step in and keep the nasty wind and rain and shaky-shaky from hurting you. Sheesh.

    As well as providing a forum for common sense, Sean links to this amusing post from Andrea Harris. She articulates some feelings I've been having lately...

    The background music (or whatever it’s called — that stuff they play on the introduction to segments and over those video collages of suffering victims and roofs under water and so on) on all the news channels is all of the same kind: sentimental, lugubrious, lachrymose crud that they drag out for every disaster aftermath. It has one purpose: to make us tear up and feel “empathy.” Why it is so important for CNN/MSNBC/Fox News/the Weather Channel/et al to make us cry I have no idea...

    I'd been feeling so alone. The internet's a wonderful thing.

    ...because I don’t have the faith in Bush’s and FEMA’s godlike power to make everything all right that they have apparently betrayed I am unable to sympathize never mind empathize with this hyperbole. I wouldn’t be president in this unstable, infant-brained country for anything; sitting in the Oval Office must be like sitting in the middle of a giant nursery, and every baby has a full diaper.)

    And that's not even the good stuff.

    posted by Justin at 11:33 PM | Comments (5)

    How to make the beaten-down more downbeat

    A front page story by the Philadelphia Inquirer's (and San Jose Mercury News') Chris Gray makes it clear that the government should preserve New Orleans music by supplying "affordable" housing:

    But losing the recordings would be nothing compared to what could happen to the music scene if the city fails to replenish its now-waterlogged housing stock with affordable rentals and homes to attract musicians back to the city, he said. If that does not happen, the marching clubs where toddlers first learn to hold horns and the corner taverns where players form brass bands will no longer exist, he said.

    "This music doesn't come from a recording studio; it comes from the people," Freedman said. "If the people don't come back, we'll be a Caribbean version of Atlanta."

    Musicians, artists, and bohemians tend to live in cheap, rundown housing, much of which has been severely flood-damaged in New Orleans. Some of them will move to other places (Memphis was mentioned by one friend), but whether they keep playing music ought not to depend on the government supplying them with "affordable housing." I think the type of human creativity which produces art and music is stultified by government largesse, and I think subsidized art generally sucks. Of course, if you like socialist realism and watered down knockoffs of Diego Rivera murals, you'll probably think that such artists should be supplied with taxpayer-financed "affordable housing."

    Conveniently forgotten is the fact that while they usually start out poor, bohemians by no means always remain poor. In New Orleans (as well as in other places), many bohemians are rich and successful -- and they made it without government help. I can think of no better way to keep "starving artists" from making it than government subsidies.

    This reminds me of a simple question I posed earlier:

    Am I alone in thinking that the New Orleans mess might turn out to be a defining moment (a turning point, even?) in the clash between communitarian and libertarian philosophies?
    Even though I phrased this in my usual punch-pulling way, it appears I am not alone. Billy Beck makes me sound like a mealy-mouthed wimp!
    I'll be very surprised if we ever know the full dimensions of transparently political calculation that went into this, in advance. And I have no problem with the idea that calculations in Washington were generally defensive -- calculating against the locals' calculations -- but I would also have no problem in pointing out that that is just about as far away leadership as one could get. I understand all the arguments over federalism. (I can stipulate to the constitution with the best of 'em, Martin.) And when I get up on my best "blame game", my first shots start with the mayor, and then the governor. But as I've said many times in years past: I would not hire the feds to walk to the end of the driveway to check my mailbox.

    Like I said the other day: the investments in failure were enormous, and they have paid off handsomely.

    Fully half the libertarian/rational-anarchist argument (the utilitarian half; not the moral half) has been writ large all over that poor city.

    Socialists are already seeing and spinning New Orleans as a showdown. And while I'm not sure libertarians can win out against a tyrannical majority voting their own economic interests, I think New Orleans highlights what happens when government "help" destroys self reliance. I think a majority of Americans can still perceive the difference between self help and government help, between a hand up and a handout, and between being a victim and the status of victimhood.

    I think there's a huge gulf between those who see New Orleans as an argument for socialism, and those who see it as an argument against socialism. These two ways of looking at the world are incompatible, perhaps irreconcilable.

    As to the moral collectivists on the right, while they've so far limited themselves to blaming sodomy for New Orleans' travails, they generally dislike artists, musicians and bohemians -- government funded or not. (Some of them would, I imagine, hate successful bohemians even more than unsuccessful ones, as they'd impute "role modeling" to the former.) While I can't offer proof for my suspicions, I think they'd just as soon see New Orleans' loss as their gain, and would vote to stop all rebuilding efforts -- government or private.

    If we're lucky, maybe -- just maybe -- these opposite forces of communitarianism will be so busy dukeing it out that freedom will slip in under the radar.

    (In my view, the Enlightenment was an unintended consequence of religious warfare between moral totalitarians, but that's off topic....)

    posted by Eric at 09:29 AM | Comments (2)

    NASCAR Dads Sour on Bush, Study Finds

    'Sitcom writer' Jack Burditt recently attended a NASCAR event on a fact-finding mission and three things happened:

    (1) He learned that race fans are people too, by virtue of the fact that some of them don't speak English:

    Weird, I thought, it didn't seem very red state-esque.

    But we should note that the race was in California--hardly a red state--so there's some redemption.

    (2) NASCAR dads (who put Bush into the White House and gave the Republicans control of congress) are none too pleased with the man to whom they gave a mandate:

    I asked him, "So you vote Republican?" "Yep," he replied. "Always?" "Pretty much." "So you like Bush?" "Before or after the hurricane?"

    I asked if I could quote him. Melissa warned, "Don't give him your real name." I realized I had to lose Melissa and Lacey.

    Another NASCAR dad, wearing an "I Fear No Beer" T-shirt, told me he enjoys the new respect for NASCAR fans. He said they used to be regarded as Confederate flag-waving yahoos who only went for the crashes. In fact, I think that used to be NASCAR's motto. Anyway, I found out he was a big Bush supporter but that he too was sorely disappointed with the president's hurricane response. Two men don't make a Gallup poll, but I found this interesting.

    Fascinating, really. This guy spends a day at the race track to learn about 'NASCAR dads' and he only managed to talk to two of them? But that really wasn't the point, was it? It was to show his blue-state buddies that they have nothing to fear, to dispel the myth that NASCAR dads have any sense let alone power:

    Yes, the entire day was an education. For one, the crowd was more diverse than I imagined. Drunk, yes, but diverse. I also learned a lot of NASCAR folk love to hate Jeff Gordon. And just as many love to love Jeff Gordon. They certainly seem to spend a lot more time debating him than they do Social Security or Supreme Court nominees.

    I wonder if that's because THEY WERE AT A NASCAR EVENT. I imagine you'd hear more about ERAs and OBPs at a baseball game than you would about interest rates and tax law.

    But enough common sense--Bush supporters are morons, as we always knew they were! Huzzah!

    (3) But the last lesson is probably the most important: he should've worn sunblock!

    By the end of the day I was definitely in a red state. And as my real liberal friends warned, it was quite painful.

    Har har har!

    posted by Dennis at 08:24 AM | Comments (5)

    Thwarting rescues and vacations

    While nothing can excuse the poor, even illegal performance of city and state officials in Louisiana (ignoring thousands of buses, preventing escapes, and blocking the Red Cross were especially egregious), it's pretty irritating to read (even in an unreliable source) that FEMA -- supposedly there to assist hurricane and flood victims -- actually served to thwart rescue efforts:

    • Coordination with private relief agencies broke down and led to maddening delays. Water, food, clothing and medical supplies backed up in distant warehouses.

    More than 50 civilian aircraft responding to separate requests for evacuations from hospitals and other agencies swarmed to the area a day after Katrina hit, but FEMA blocked their efforts. Aircraft operators complained that FEMA waved off a number of evacuation attempts, saying the rescuers were not authorized. "Many planes and helicopters simply sat idle," said Thomas Judge, president of the Assn. of Air Medical Services.

    This comes from the LA Times, a paper I tend to distrust. But if the story is true, if this huge bureaucracy actually got in the way of rescue efforts, then it was a major part of the problem, because the problem was one of delay. What this means is that it would have been better for everyone had FEMA never been on the scene at all.

    Another complicating factor which many people tend to forget was a lurking danger called vacation. Nothing is supposed to happen in August. Especially late August.

    When Katrina was heading to the Gulf Coast, most of the top White House staff was on vacation, taking advantage of the president's five-week stay at his ranch near Crawford, Texas, to get time off from their normally hectic jobs.

    Card, a veteran crisis manager who managed the federal response to hurricanes for the president's father, was relaxing at his lakefront summer home in Maine.

    Vice President Dick Cheney, who acted as the administration's top crisis manager on Sept. 11, 2001, was at his ranch in Wyoming.

    Frances Townsend, the White House coordinator for homeland security, was vacationing, too. After Katrina struck, she attended several meetings in Washington, then left on a previously scheduled trip for Saudi Arabia to work on joint counterterrorism projects.

    Bush urged Townsend to make the trip despite the crisis at home as a "signal to … the enemy" that the hurricane had not distracted his attention from terrorists, one aide said.

    While this looks damning (and of course the LA Times naturally focuses on the White House), anyone familiar with government knows that the last week in August is simply when major decision takers are not there. It's a bad time for anyone, anywhere, to have a major problem requiring an executive level solution.

    Regrettable as it was for Washington to have been on vacation, in terms of sheer surrealism, nothing can possibly match going on vacation in the middle of the crisis. ("Mayor Ray Nagin has announced that, as bodies are still being found and as a public health catastrophe descends upon the city, he is sending 60 percent of his cops on city funds for a little R&R, mostly to Vegas hotels.")

    So far, the biggest hero seems to be General Honore, who has cut through bureaucratic and political bickering with the force of his personality:

    ...Blanco resisted an immediate federal takeover, according to officials in both the White House and the governor's office.

    Bush himself called the governor on Wednesday, but couldn't sway her. For three days, White House aides negotiated with the governor, but the two sides never reached agreement. In the end, the problem was solved in practice by Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore, the officer dispatched by Northcom to command its active duty troops, "by sheer force of personality," the official said. A key factor: Honore is an old friend of Maj. Gen. Bennett Landreneau, commander of the Louisiana National Guard, who works for Blanco.

    The White House had another major problem, one aide acknowledged later: It was relying principally on FEMA for its information.

    Imagine that! Defeating the combined forces of bureaucracy and vacation! (All while refusing to violate the Constitution....)

    I think Honore deserves a promotion.

    For others, I think some permanent vacations are in order.

    MORE: Billy Beck likes FEMA vacations:

    I think everybody would have been better off if FEMA hadn't gotten out of bed for the duration.
    Reminds me of a bumpersticker I saw at a gun show years ago, which read,
    But will God hear the prayers of an atheist?

    Hey, tough times demand tough questions!

    posted by Eric at 08:20 AM | Comments (3)

    Fishy toxins need protection!

    This sign is posted on a tree in front of a creek a few miles from where I live:


    Fish advisories are one thing. But if I have a legitimate fishing license and want to take my chances with the fish I catch, should it be the government's business to protect me against my wishes by making it a crime? I'm also wondering whether the "law" criminalizing possession of fish on this creek was in fact passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature (as it should have been), or whether they simply allow bureaucrats to write the laws as they see fit -- based on whatever criteria they please.

    And the criteria may be highly suspect. According to this article, the dangers of mercury in fish are wildly overstated, and they vary from state to state, so if you live on one side of a river flowing between two states, the fish you catch may be more dangerous than if you caught the same fish on the other side.

    There are several big lobbying organizations which are out to stop fish consumption -- some of which are anti-mercury activists, others of which are anti-fishing groups. (I'm reminded of lead.)

    I have no way to evaluate the data or the decision to post these signs in my area, and no way to know whether it's based on accurate information.

    I'm puzzled over the "No fish may be killed or had in possession on this stream" part too. I'm wondering why it doesn't just say "NO FISHING."

    Isn't catch and release a form of possession during the time the fish is caught? And if the fish are in fact dangerous, why are they making it illegal to kill them? Do deadly fish merit protection or something?

    If I didn't know any better, I'd swear that anti-fishing activists were working with anti-mercury environmentalists to enact laws never specifically passed by the legislature.

    (Sounds like a conflict of interest in there somewhere....)


    Isn't "fishermen" sexist?

    posted by Eric at 07:38 PM | Comments (3)

    Good news from the federal authorities!

    Evacuations at gunpoint will NOT be carried out by federal troops:

    The commander of active duty troops involved in hurricane relief efforts said Sunday his soldiers will not enforce New Orleans' order for residents to evacuate the flooded city.

    Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore said military units are continuing to provide food and water and other aid despite the order, which he indicated is the responsibility of state and local authorities to enforce.

    "Federal troops will not be involved in the direct evacuation in any way, of any one, from their home. That is a local and state law enforcement task not to include federal troops," Honore told CNN's "Late Edition."

    He added that local officials and the National Guard also are providing food and water to people who have stayed.

    Thousands of residents are defying orders to leave the city, but security forces were not physically forcing anyone to go. The mayor, Ray Nagin, had warned that residents could be forcibly removed, but authorities have been reluctant to take that step.

    I think General Honore is doing a great job so far.

    He obviously knows a thing or two about how to avoid quagmires.

    (He also appears to have a better understanding of the Constitution than either Mayor Nagin or Police Chief Compass.)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Am I alone in thinking that the New Orleans mess might turn out to be a defining moment (a turning point, even?) in the clash between communitarian and libertarian philosophies?

    posted by Eric at 02:20 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (1)

    Four years, and more

    Four years since 9/11, and we still have our freedom. For that we should all be grateful.

    My fears remain pretty much the same as those I expressed on the first anniversary of September 11:

    The Twin Towers stood as gigantically strong, seemingly indestructible, twin pillars of freedom. I will never be able to shake that awful memory of how, in the instant these giants came crashing down, they were suddenly not strong at all, and certainly not to be taken for granted. Instead, they appeared very frail and delicate.

    And now, I know that American freedom is frail and delicate. It cannot and must not ever be taken for granted.

    The natural catastrophe of Hurrican Katrina shouldn't make anyone forget or take our freedom for granted. The purpose of this post is not to express recriminations or place blame, but the fact is, there are people who exploit every unfortunate event to take away more freedom as they pursue power, and events in New Orleans are no exception. When bad stuff happens, most Americans want to do something about it. Others, unfortunately, think the answer lies in taking away freedom.

    My hope is that this latest horrible event will help generate a renaissance of pride in American self reliance, which will in turn remind Americans of what it is that we are defending in the forgotten war against terrorism.

    Yes, I did say forgotten.

    And it shouldn't be. It's our country, and if it's worth defending against hurricanes, it's even more worth defending against terrorism.

    We're not helpless, and we ought to remember that. To succumb to helplessness by surrendering freedom is always to lose.


    posted by Eric at 01:40 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (2)


    Via Betterhumans...

    A new device for removing liver tumours with virtually no blood loss has been used successfully for the first time in America.

    The Habib 4X resection device is named after its inventor Professor Nagy Habib...

    The revolutionary new device uses radiofrequency energy to 'seal' tissue around a tumour site, allowing the tumour to be removed while preventing blood loss and other complications. The device has enabled surgeons to operate where previously it would have been too risky.

    Before use of the device in the UK for the removal of liver tumours, patients often lost up to ten pints of blood during the operation. Now, less than 50ml (an egg-cup full) is lost...

    Over 100 patients have been operated on with the new device since October 2004, and none have died or suffered serious illness after the operation...

    "The liver is the second commonest site of cancer in the body," comments Professor Habib, "so the potential of the Habib 4X is huge. The first use of the device in America is a significant and exciting milestone..."

    You can read the whole thing here.

    I love it when doctors cure people.

    posted by Justin at 12:59 AM

    "To Open The Sky"

    Good news for people who want to get off the planet. SpaceX has announced a new iteration of their Falcon line of launch vehicles, the Falcon IX.

    Faithful readers may recall that I've been touting their Falcon I for some little while now. They may also recall that SpaceX is using private funding to engineer a launcher that is both more reliable and less expensive than any of the the current stable of commercial launchers.

    One way they will do this is by avoiding that particular abomination known as "cost plus" contracting, a sensible thing to do when spending your own money.

    Given that no Falcon has even flown yet, announcing the IX may strike some folks as being premature, but I'm not one of them. How I hate naysayers.

    Falcon I should make its maiden flight within the next thirty days or so, and I wish them nothing but good luck. If Elon Musk can pull this off, they should name a Lunar crater after him, at the very least. Slashing the cost of access to space by two thirds (or more) is such a self-evidently vital thing to do, you wish it had happened twenty years ago. It's long overdue.

    Here's the SpaceX Falcon overview page. Scroll down for a "usual suspects" depiction of their projected product line. Beautiful, aren't they? I sure hope they get past the pixelware stage.

    For analysis with more depth than you'll get from lazy me, check out this post at Selenian Boondocks. Jon Goff raises some interesting questions and gets answers from a surprisingly authoritative source. He also raises a really cute baby.

    For truly dedicated Falcon watchers, a fine blog for that purpose would be Daniel Schmelzer's Carried Away. Lately he seems to be on a SpaceX roll, for which I'm duly appreciative. Sometimes getting carried away is a good thing.

    If Mr. Musk is wildly successful in his rocket enterprise, I hope that he will consider diversifying. The world needs a good flying car, and a man needs a hobby. A Mars colony would be nice too.

    posted by Justin at 10:28 PM | Comments (1)

    Attention readers!

    Something has gone wrong with this blog, and I am working on it. All links and sidebar information have disappeared without explanation, even though they appear in my templates, and I have just rebuilt the templates.

    I'm going crazy trying to figure this out, but anyone who thinks I have done anything deliberately like dump all my precious, valued links, please relax. I would never do such a thing.

    I'm sure there's an explanation, so please bear with me.

    posted by Eric at 08:34 PM | Comments (2)

    Objectively irresponsible advice for CNN . . .

    Glenn Reynolds is wondering why the press (with CNN in the leadership role) is so determined to show dead bodies now when they were morally opposed in the past:

    It didn't want to show bodies, or jumpers, on 9/11, for fear that doing so would inflame the public.
    No it didn't.

    Nor did it want to show what the enemies of this country were doing to captured Americans. In case anyone has forgotten, many blogs (including this one) linked to graphic images and video of the awful beheadings of Nick Berg, Eugene Armstrong, and Paul Johnson -- precisely because CNN and other MSM outlets refused to show them. Indeed, Tom Kunkel, president of American Journalism Review stated that it would be a form of terrorism to do so:

    "Any news outlet — or any private individual, for that matter — who makes available footage of the actual beheadings is, to my mind, an accessory to the crime itself," says Kunkel, dean of journalism at the University of Maryland. "Those are the individuals who are essentially finishing the work of the terrorists, by delivering their grisly 'message.' "
    Gee. Pretty tough words.

    Does that mean that CNN would be an accessory to Katrina?

    Why the about-face? I mean, assuming that it's a bad idea to inflame the public against enemies like al Qaida, it's not as if what happened in New Orleans might inflame the public against our enemies, because these deaths weren't caused by our enemies.

    Surely CNN isn't trying to inflame public sentiment against government bureaucracies which failed to evacuate people before the storm, trapped the victims by blocking exits from the flooded city, and refused to allow the Red Cross inside?

    Why wouldn't that be irresponsible journalism by CNN's own, uh, standards?

    I'm sure some would call me irresponsible and for having linked to graphic beheading scenes -- precisely because "responsible" journalists like CNN and others refused to show them. I don't think I was irresponsible, but if we assume I was, then the moral judgment would have derived from "standards" set by CNN and others in the MSM.

    That makes CNN even more irresponsible now, and infinitely more hypocritical, because after all it's their standard!

    A lingering question of responsibility, of course, is what is inflammatory?

    It's not based on the type of content, so it must depend on who is intended to be inflamed.

    From what I can determine, CNN has a simple but flexible journalistic standard: if the right people are inflamed, it's responsible. If the wrong people are inflamed, it's irresponsible!

    Or am I trying to be overly objective?

    posted by Eric at 09:37 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (1)

    "We clean up more after Mardi Gras"

    Drudge has a report about a group of business people planning to reopen the French Quarter in 90 days -- in time for Mardi Gras. (This is precisely the type of individual initiative I praised earlier, and I am delighted to see it!)

    While details like utilities and sewage will need some attending to, this won't be quite as big a deal as it might seem. The French Quarter is on higher ground, and it came through in fine shape.

    Here's a typical account (via the BBC, but unfortunately it's not on the front pages of most American newspapers):

    Finis Shelnutt is enjoying a beautiful September day. The sun is blazing hot, the sky perfectly clear, and he has a table with a tidy white tablecloth all to himself in front of Alex Patout's Louisiana Restaurant.

    Finis Shelnutt is ready to open his restaurant again post-Katrina

    His moustache is perfectly trimmed. Not a hair is out of place. His collarless striped shirt hangs comfortably open at the neck. And he gazes serenely out at the world through tinted glasses.

    "Beautiful day," he nods in greeting as two people walk past.

    What's wrong with this picture?

    The restaurant where Mr Shelnutt is sitting is in the centre of the French Quarter of storm-and-flood-ravaged New Orleans.

    He proudly points out local gastronomic landmarks; Antoine's, where Oysters Rockefeller was invented; Brennan's, which developed Eggs Benedict; Paul Prudhomme's, which popularised the cooking of blackened fish.

    Sitting on high ground, the Big Easy's main tourist destination was almost entirely untouched by the storm.

    And now, with the city evacuated and shut down, it is entirely untouched by tourists. The streets are empty.

    Mr Shelnutt doesn't expect that to last long.

    "We're ready to open up," he says confidently, as two restaurant employees haul containers of rotting meat out of the building.

    Mr Shelnutt puts a positive spin even on that, smiling through the stench lingering in the air.

    "Good to be doing that now. When the other guys come back to open up their restaurants in a month, they're going to have a hell of a job cleaning up."

    And he is entirely certain they will come back and open up.

    "You have to be an optimist, not a pessimist," he says.

    He is also, under his practiced bonhomie, a practical-minded and shrewd observer of human behaviour.

    Will tourists come back to the city after watching the floods and fires on television?

    Of course they will, Mr Shelnutt says. Morbid curiosity will drive them. Next year's Mardi Gras will be among the biggest ever, he is sure.

    Around the corner, Frank, who says he never gives out his last name, agrees.

    Sweeping up in front of Evelyn's Place, he shrugs off the damage the hurricane caused.

    "We clean up more after Mardi Gras," he says.

    The word has been badly overused, but it is simply surreal to stroll around the French Quarter post-Katrina.

    Like a film set after the cast and crew have gone home for the night, the district is utterly charming, entirely peaceful and largely silent.

    Even the pay phones are working

    But what would Massa FEMA say? [I suspect it would be along the lines of "You mean, we haven't we cut all the phone lines yet?"]

    More here and here.

    Jean Lafite's Blacksmith Shop (an old pirate hangout and my favorite bar in the world) came through fine, which isn't surprising, as it's been doing that for nearly 300 years.

    Here's a picture of that wonderful place:


    (Too bad I have to spend the day in New Jersey!)

    There seems to be a very stubborn ghost in the picture above, but I think it should be allowed to stay.

    If there's one thing I've learned in life, it's that bureaucracy and ghosts do not mix.

    I mean, like, who you gonna call?

    posted by Eric at 08:41 AM | Comments (2)

    No way to get out, and no way for the Red Cross to get in?


    The shocking action by the city of Gretna, Louisiana in shutting off the Crescent City bridge (one of the only ways out of New Orleans) was something I saw mentioned on Fox News last week, but has not gotten as much attention as it should have.

    Police from surrounding jurisdictions shut down several access points to one of the only ways out of New Orleans last week, effectively trapping victims of Hurricane Katrina in the flooded and devastated city.

    An eyewitness account from two San Francisco paramedics posted on an internet site for Emergency Medical Services specialists says, "Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the city on foot."

    "We shut down the bridge," Arthur Lawson, chief of the City of Gretna Police Department, confirmed to United Press International, adding that his jurisdiction had been "a closed and secure location" since before the storm hit.

    "All our people had evacuated and we locked the city down," he said.

    The bridge in question -- the Crescent City Connection -- is the major artery heading west out of New Orleans across the Mississippi River.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    What the hell is a "closed and secure location"? Bedroom community? There are at least eight hotels hotels in Gretna and in neighboring Harvey -- and that's just a cursory search of commercial hotel sites (which probably reflect only those bothering to advertise on the Internet).

    And here's a Google map I just borrowed:


    There are many square feet of land in that area (it appears there's physically almost as much ground as New Orleans), as well as roads leading out in several directions. (The red pointer indicates the Google location of the Best Western Westbank Hotel located at 1700 Lapalco Blvd, Harvey, LA 70058.) Westbank municipalities include Gretna, Harvey, Marrero, and Westwego.

    Sounds to me like they deliberately trapped dying people in a flooded city. As Glenn says, this is a disgrace, and I join his call for a full investigation by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

    Under the circumstances, it's beginning to look like these people were tantamount to being prisoners. And the Red Cross wasn't allowed access to them!

    According to the Geneva Convention, even prisoners of war are allowed that.


    I don't want to know whether the Gretna city authorities are Republicans or Democrats.

    MORE: Here's an account of the treatment Gretna officials meted out to some New Orleans residents officially evacuated to Gretna by Regional Transit Authority workers:

    The wade through the water led them to an on-ramp onto Highway 10. From there, they walked -- another five miles or so -- across a bridge over the Mississippi River and to the town of Gretna, the rendezvous point where buses would be arriving to pick them up.

    "Once we arrived there, the mayor of Gretna, his police force, police chief ... they jumped out with M-16s and shotguns and told us to get out. We had kids terrified. They said we did not have permission to be in their city. They surrounded us, cocked their guns, told us not to move -- told us to gather together. ... Our superintendent tried to explain to them that we were waiting for buses and didn't need rations," Kevin said.

    [NOTE: Kevin was part of an evacuation team working for the Regional Transit Authority.]

    "And the bad thing about that is, (due to the flooding) that was the only way in and out of the city," Tony said.

    Kevin's supervisor called Gov. Blanco's office, the governor talked to the mayor, and apparently explained who these people were. "After he (the mayor) got off the phone he apologized to us," Kevin said.

    After things were cleared up there, Kevin and the others in the evacuation team had to go back to the RTA station to get the rest of the people there. "We got a couple of boats, went back to RTA and got old people, or disabled people, paddled them to (dry ground) and put them on a bus and brought them to where we were," he said. Finally, the entire group -- around 300 people -- were bused away from Gretna to safety -- or one of several shelters.

    At least the governor was nice enough to talk to Gretna's city officials and make them apologize.

    (Of course, not everyone can get the governor to make calls....)

    posted by Eric at 05:03 PM | Comments (15)

    Responsibility for avoiding responsibility?

    A week ago, I speculated (based largely on common sense) that a primary reason for the delay in calling in the troops was a fear of having the responsibility for pulling triggers:

    What's being forgotten (except by those who'd have ultimate responsibility) is that shooting poor black people who are struggling for their lives won't play well on TV. Bush doesn't want to be the fall guy. Neither, it seems, does the Louisiana governor.

    Accepting responsibility for the actual pulling of triggers which will kill Americans is not an easy thing.

    Something easier to avoid than do. It's tough for me to point the finger of blame.

    I'm surprised that it took a week to appear in the news, but I'm now seeing apparent confirmation of my suspicions in a carefully-worded article in the New York Times:

    As criticism of the response to Hurricane Katrina has mounted, one of the most pointed questions has been why more troops were not available more quickly to restore order and offer aid. Interviews with officials in Washington and Louisiana show that as the situation grew worse, they were wrangling with questions of federal/state authority, weighing the realities of military logistics and perhaps talking past each other in the crisis.

    To seize control of the mission, Mr. Bush would have had to invoke the Insurrection Act, which allows the president in times of unrest to command active-duty forces into the states to perform law enforcement duties. But decision makers in Washington felt certain that Ms. Blanco would have resisted surrendering control, as Bush administration officials believe would have been required to deploy active-duty combat forces before law and order had been re-established.

    While combat troops can conduct relief missions without the legal authority of the Insurrection Act, Pentagon and military officials say that no active-duty forces could have been sent into the chaos of New Orleans on Wednesday or Thursday without confronting law-and-order challenges.

    But just as important to the administration were worries about the message that would have been sent by a president ousting a Southern governor of another party from command of her National Guard, according to administration, Pentagon and Justice Department officials.

    "Can you imagine how it would have been perceived if a president of the United States of one party had pre-emptively taken from the female governor of another party the command and control of her forces, unless the security situation made it completely clear that she was unable to effectively execute her command authority and that lawlessness was the inevitable result?" asked one senior administration official, who spoke anonymously because the talks were confidential.

    Officials in Louisiana agree that the governor would not have given up control over National Guard troops in her state as would have been required to send large numbers of active-duty soldiers into the area. But they also say they were desperate and would have welcomed assistance by active-duty soldiers.

    "I need everything you have got," Ms. Blanco said she told Mr. Bush last Monday, after the storm hit.

    In an interview, she acknowledged that she did not specify what sorts of soldiers. "Nobody told me that I had to request that," Ms. Blanco said. "I thought that I had requested everything they had. We were living in a war zone by then."

    By Wednesday, she had asked for 40,000 soldiers.

    Meanwhile, military officials were themselves puzzled by the delay:
    The call never came, administration officials said, in part because military officials believed Guard troops would get to the stricken region faster and because administration civilians worried that there could be political fallout if federal troops were forced to shoot looters.

    Louisiana officials were furious that there was not more of a show of force, in terms of relief supplies and troops, from the federal government in the middle of last week. As the water was rising in New Orleans, the governor repeatedly questioned whether Washington had started its promised surge of federal resources.

    "We needed equipment," Ms. Blanco said in an interview. "Helicopters. We got isolated."

    Aides to Ms. Blanco said she was prepared to accept the deployment of active-duty military officials in her state. But she and other state officials balked at giving up control of the Guard as Justice Department officials said would have been required by the Insurrection Act if those combat troops were to be sent in before order was restored. (Emphasis added.)

    Both Bush and Blanco were in no-win situations, and each would have liked to have the other accept responsibility. Responsibility for pulling the triggers works that way. If you take on responsibility for something like that, then you bear responsibility when looters are shot. If you don't, then you take responsibility when they are not.

    It's easier for me to speculate about these things, of course, than it is to see evidence that I was right. The responsibility would almost be more than I could bear, except I'm sure someone else noted this before I did.

    That's one of the cool things about the blogosphere. Whenever you're right about something, you can be sure someone else was too. Ditto when you're wrong.

    Avoids having to grapple with things like having sole responsibility.... I wouldn't envy being either a president or a governor in a situation like this, and I like to think I'd place the decision ahead of my political future. The reality of power doesn't always work that way, of course.

    But we lowly bloggers don't have to worry about the responsibilties of power.

    (I don't mean to moralize so much as state a fact of life.)

    MORE: Jeff Goldstein analyzes the above New York Times piece, and thinks Blanco is far more culpable than Bush. His conclusion:

    Bottom line, from what I can tell, is that you have a Governor who doesn’t know the law, is confused about request protocols, and who—in spite of all this— refuses to give up the authority necessary to make it legally possible for her to get what it is she wanted and her state needed.

    For its part, the Administration had to decide, in light of those facts, how best to overcome the legal obstacles thrown up by Ms Blanco’s dithering and recalcitrance.

    At least, I think that’s what I’m getting out of this.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    I think recalcitrance is more likely than confused. As Jeff notes, Bush would have been committing a potentially impeachable offense had he invoked the Insurrection Act. (Where, after all, was the "insurrection"?)

    And the more I think about it, the fact that Bush considered (and then ruled out) doing something so drastic speaks rather well of him.

    posted by Eric at 03:36 PM | Comments (1)

    Spumoni Please. Two Scoops. No, Wait, Make It Three

    Leon Kass is leaving the President's Council on Bioethics. No word yet as to why. I certainly hope it's not for reasons of ill health. I want him to have an artificially prolonged and strappingly healthy life. Poetic justice would then demand that he clearly recognize just what a pompous horse's ass he's been. After which there should be an amusing yet sordid sex scandal. Here's hoping, anyway.

    His replacement will be Dr. Edmund Pellegrino, and Bioethics Blog has many good things to say about him.

    Pellegrino is one of the most respected, best published, and most accomplished scholars who has ever worked in bioethics. It is possible to gush about the White House's decision - a rare opportunity these days - in part because Pellegrino is a good, honest and kind person, but also because Pellegrino is not afraid to engage his academic peers and will not operate like a cheerleader for the administration, nor will he treat the Council like an oversized ethics seminar for neoconservatives.

    So, for example, I do not expect to hear that the American Enterprise Institute is going to be selling the products of the deliberations by the Council in the future.

    The sun will never rise on a day where Edmund Pellegrino lobbies Congress as a "private Citizen" for a "second term bioethics agenda," or writes Op Eds defending Presidential stem cell policy while sitting as Chair during a Presidential election year.

    Pellegrino's views on a number of issues are well known...and while many of them are not my own views, I for one am happy to have those views expressed as the honest result of a well thought-out argument based on his years of peer-reviewed scholarship on clinical ethics.

    Pellegrino's affiliations with groups of conservatives are of no concern to me because he is, again, no one's stooge.

    A conservative choice, yes, but a solid scholar of bioethics whose entire career has revolved around the virtues and character of physicians.

    Well, that's all very encouraging. Here's his CV...

    Edmund Pellegrino, MD is the Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Medical Ethics at the Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at Georgetown University Medical Center. He was the John Carroll Professor of Medicine and Medical Ethics and the former director of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, the Center for the Advanced Study of Ethics at Georgetown University, and the Center for Clinical Bioethics.

    He received his BS degree from St. John's University and his MD from New York University. He served residencies in medicine at Bellevue, Goldwater Memorial, and Homer Folks Tuberculosis Hospitals, following which he was a research fellow in renal medicine and physiology at New York University.

    During Dr. Pellegrino's 50+ years in medicine and university administration, he has been departmental chairman, dean, vice chancellor, and president.

    Dr. Pellegrino is the author of over 550 published items in medical science, philosophy, and ethics and a member of numerous editorial boards. He is the author or co-author of nineteen books, and the founding editor of the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy.

    Dr. Pellegrino is a Master of the American College of Physicians, Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, and recipient of forty-seven honorary degrees in addition to other honors and awards including the Benjamin Rush Award from the American Medical Association, the Abraham Flexner Award of the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Laetare Award of the University of Notre Dame, and the Beecher Award for Life Achievement in Bioethics from The Hastings Center.

    Dr. Pellegrino's research interests include the history and philosophy of medicine, professional ethics, and the physician-patient relationship.

    Art Caplan, a quite sensible fellow (and a bioethicist!), had this to add...

    Ed is a conservative and cautious thinker but he is a man of absolute integrity, grace and wisdom. The Council will benefit from his leadership enormously.

    Well, it could certainly be worse. He sounds like a great man. Still, Ron Bailey at Reason isn't entirely thrilled...

    ...he participated in a press 1999 opposing all human embryonic stem cell research. At the press conference, Pellegrino urged that a congressional ban "should be extended permanently to include privately supported as well as federally supported research involving the production and destruction of living human embryos."

    Lieber Gott.

    But at least he has integrity. Funny thing about integrity. It's often compared, and rightly I think, to an inflated balloon. The slightest puncture, and all your hard-won helium honor just rushes right out, leaving you holding a limp, shredded, utterly useless bladder. Just try getting it to float.

    There's an inevitable sadness to this news. I shall miss having Leon Kass to kick around. Perhaps others will too. But let's not borrow trouble from tomorrow when today has so much to go around. Perhaps we haven't heard the last of him. Timeless pompous assness follows...

    Worst of all from this point of view are those more uncivilized forms of eating, like licking an ice cream cone --a catlike activity that has been made acceptable in informal America but that still offends those who know eating in public is offensive...

    Though the walking street eater still moves in the direction of his vision, he shows himself as a being led by his appetites. Lacking utensils for cutting and lifting to mouth, he will often be seen using his teeth for tearing off chewable portions, just like any animal...

    This doglike feeding, if one must engage in it, ought to be kept from public view, where, even if we feel no shame, others are compelled to witness our shameful behavior.

    Hey Leon?

    Bite me.

    posted by Justin at 01:11 PM | Comments (1)

    hundreds or thousands or millions?

    As I've said innumerable times, I'm no good at math. Things went so badly for me in high school math that I only passed it in the 11th grade because my teacher (an eccentric genius, if ever there was one) allowed students to supplement their exams with offbeat historical tidbits for "extra credit" -- and he was nice enough to announce what these questions might be the night before the exam, which gave me time to study history instead of math in the hope that I might be able to pass. Fortunately, in the 12th grade I was able to avoid math entirely, and I have ever since.

    I say this not because of any false pride in my mathematical shortcomings, but because I don't want to come across as some sort of elitist condescending prick who ridicules people who lack basic math skills. However, I can do basic arithmetic, and I know certain things almost intuitively. Like, I know there's a huge difference between 118 and 10,000. I also know there's a difference between "dozens" and "hundreds" and "thousands" and "millions." Some of the accounts I have read make it clear that there are people who either don't know the difference or don't care. (Am I an asshole for caring?)

    To not know because of ignorance is at least somewhat excusable. For example, I've forgotten my algebra and my calculus, and I was never any good at either -- especially the latter. This caused me problems with the SATs and other standardized tests.

    I suppose you could argue that it should have. But these days, math is getting harder and harder to fail, so maybe I should start over.

    In Philadelphia, a principal's practice of changing failing math grades given by a teacher has attracted local attention:

    Beginning this school year, principals will have to justify grade changes and report them to their regional superintendent, said Paul Vallas, the district's chief executive officer.

    "It should discourage people from changing grades for no legitimate reason," he said.

    Vallas announced the change after The Inquirer raised questions concerning retired Edison High School math teacher Alan Soslow, who complained that the Edison principal overrode nearly 60 of the failing grades he gave students during his last four years of teaching, ending in 2003.

    "This has to stop," Soslow, who taught math for 35 years, said of the grade-changing. "It's very degrading. It's fraud."

    Principal Jose Lebron believed that the low grades were the teacher's fault:
    Lebron, in letters to Soslow notifying him of the grade changes, also cited the "exorbitant amount of failures" and wrote "obviously, there is something definitely wrong in terms of your instructional approaches and techniques, grading procedures and overall programmatic objectives." He said he received numerous complaints from parents about Soslow's teaching style.

    However, Soslow got only positive marks on his written teacher evaluations - which he has kept - and he maintained that he only sought to uphold high standards in his classroom.


    Soslow, who spent his entire career at Edison, had proof to back up his marks. He kept his grade books and other detailed records, showing a reporter that he failed students who continually scored low on tests, had excessive absences, or refused to do the work.

    There were classes in which he failed half or more of his students - which is above the districtwide average.

    About 20 percent of district high school students failed core subjects last year; the highest failure rate, nearly 25 percent, occurred in math.

    District officials asserted that any teacher who fails half a class should analyze his or her practices and find ways to help more students succeed. Principals also should be questioning and supporting teachers with high failure rates, said Gregory Thornton, the district's chief academic officer.

    While a high failure rate in math can be blamed on a teacher, depending on the school, it's also quite possible that it might be the fault of the students who fail. Unlike other subjects, math (whether you like it or not) is pretty objective. If there are 100 questions on a math test, and you get less than 60 of them right, you fail. Unless the test is graded on a curve. (Or unless you have a sympathetic teacher who allows "bonus" questions involving obscure historical trivia....) But even then, someone has to fail.

    Should failure not be allowed?

    According to Joanne Jacobs, a problem in Philadelphia is that teachers themselves fail:

    Philadelphia's middle school teachers are having trouble showing they're qualified [Sorry that Inquirer link doesn't work.] to teach their subjects. Many are former elementary teachers who aren't subject-matter specialists. Half of the "district's 690 middle school teachers who took exams in math, English, social studies and science in September and November failed," reports the Inquirer. Nearly two-thirds of middle school math teachers failed the exam.

    The district will offer test prep classes to teachers who have to retake the exams, and will try to hire people who know math to teach math.

    But isn't that a little unfair?

    I mean, if the goal is to prevent success, first we must prevent failure.

    And it really shouldn't matter whether the "correct answer" is that there are, say, hundreds, or thousands, or millions, of dead bodies in a given factual scenario. In life, there are no "correct answers." Math should be intuitive and relevant:

    The NCTM [National Council of Teachers of Mathematics] is also excited about "constructivist" teaching methods. Purists will argue about the meaning of this term, but this philosophy is associated with the following beliefs:

    1. Belief that children must be allowed to follow their own interests to personally discover the math knowledge that they find interesting and relevant to their own lives.
    * Rejection of the concept of a common core of basic math knowledge that all children should learn.
    * Rejection of the traditional process of math education whereby teachers ask questions and present problems which have been carefully chosen to lead students to discover teacher-targeted math knowledge.
    2. Belief that knowledge should be naturally acquired as a byproduct of social interaction in real-world settings.
    * Devaluation of classroom learning and learning from books.
    * Emphasis on knowledge that is needed for everyday living.

    This information comes from William G. Quirk, Ph.D., who explains further why the NTCM doesn't want traditional math to matter:
    If you buy "traditional K-12 math is obsolete", the NCTM has you set up to accept their strategy for replacing traditional K-12 math content:

    * Make math appreciation the primary goal, not building a remembered knowledge base of specific math facts linked to specific math skills.
    * Emphasize what can be done with calculators and computers
    o Discard topics that don't easily fit.
    * Emphasize social goals and psychological considerations.
    * Substitute general content-independent "skills" for genuine math knowledge.
    * Still call it math and still use traditional math names, but with entirely different meanings for "arithmetic", "algebra", and "geometry"

    If he's right, then appreciating how many dead bodies there might be is a highly personal process. To one person, there might be hundreds. To others, there might be thousands, and depending on social skills and psychological considerations, still others might see the answer as millions.

    Aren't higher numbers more relevant to what's going on in the world? If the goal of math is to make things relevant, then the numbers have to be higher, because otherwise, people might not care as much.

    What this means is that the hangup that bloggers like me have with finding accurate numbers reveals an educational deficiency which is being remedied.

    I should be glad. Because it means my being bad at math really wasn't any shortcoming on my part. And my hangup about it only reflects the wrong social attitudes of the times in which I grew up.

    This is all changing.

    We should be glad.

    AFTERTHOUGHT: Might it be time to stop using judgmental language in describing the different answers people get to complex human math problems? Words like "exaggerated" strike me as judgmental if not reactionary.... Should they even be part of our, um, vocabulary?

    MORE: Is feeling good is more important than numbers? Charles Krauthammer came up with a quote from Mayor Nagin about priorities:

    Mayor Ray Nagin has announced that, as bodies are still being found and as a public health catastrophe descends upon the city, he is sending 60 percent of his cops on city funds for a little R&R, mostly to Vegas hotels. Asked if it was appropriate to party in these circumstances, he responded: "New Orleans is a party town. Get over it."

    (See ya later, alligator!)

    posted by Eric at 08:03 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (1)

    ACLU where are you?

    One of the reasons I came close to defending the ACLU recently is that I like to think that when the chips are down and government rides roughshod over people's constitutional rights, the ACLU can at least be counted on to do something. (Even if it's just making a little noise in the press.)

    In New Orleans, the doctrine of "A Man's Home is His Castle" has been completely abrogated and the government is removing people from their houses with force. Now they are additionally using force to take away their lawfully owned firearms. (Via Glenn Reynolds, who also links to Cam Edwards and Eugene Volokh.) It would be bad enough if this had been done -- under an emergency theory -- to save people from Hurricane Katrina, but instead, the government forces waited until it was safe for them to enter, and only then decided to use force to remove people from their homes.

    After, not before the emergency. Am I alone in thinking something is a little anomalous in the fact that nothing was done to evacuate these people in time to save them from the hurricane, but once that had past, the levees repaired and the water pumped out, only then was it time for door-to-door "rescue" -- at gunpoint?

    If this doesn't raise eyebrows of those normally in the business of defending constitutional rights, I don't know what will.

    Expecting to see some denunciation of these wholesale Fourth Amendment violations, I just visited the ACLU's web site, and I see nothing. Nothing about the illegal entries and searches without warrants. Nothing about confiscation of legal firearms without warrants or due process. Nada.

    They're kvetching about Roberts while expressing regrets on Rehnquist's passing, so it's not as if they're not updating the site.

    Should I look again tomorrow?

    Or is this another example of the ACLU's Second Amendment recalcitrance? Well, OK, suppose we give them the benefit of the doubt, and chalk it up to the fact that many of their contributors hate guns. What about the Fourth Amendment?

    If the ACLU has given up on the Fourth Amendment in addition to the Second, I'd say we're all in trouble.

    MORE (09/08/05): Via CNN, I'm now seeing conflicting reports about whether people are in fact being forcibly removed. An Louisiana official [Lt. Gov. Landrieu] is denying it despite the evidence.

    (That video footage of the elderly woman being tackled is rather tough to deny, I'd say...)

    UPDATE (09/09/05): Still nothing at the ACLU website. However, Glenn Reynolds links to Dave Kopel, who just completely nails New Orleans Police Superintendant Edwin Compass (who declared without authority that "No one is allowed to be armed" and "We're going to take all the guns") -- along with anyone assisting his illegal orders:

    The Compass order appears to be plainly illegal. Under section 1983 of the federal Civil Rights law, any government employee who assists in the illegal confiscation would appear to be personally liable to a civil lawsuit. Moreover, higher-ranking officials--such as the National Guard officers who have ordered their troops to participate in the confiscation--would seem to be proper subjects for impeachment or other removal from office (and attendant forfeiture of pensions), depending on the procedures of their particular state.

    All police officers, National Guard troops, and U.S. Marshals take an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws. It appears that carrying out an illegal order to confiscate lawfully-owned firearms from homes would be inconsistent with the oath, contrary to sworn duty, and perhaps a criminal act.

    I saw Compass on TV earlier tonight on CNN, lying blatantly to Anderson Cooper about the buses. First he said there weren't enough, and blamed Bush. Then, when the questions persisted, he admitted that they'd been flooded but that it was too late to use them. He refused to discuss the particulars of the forced "evacuations." Too bad this isn't slapstick comedy. (I'm not in the mood to laugh right now.)

    First they ordered a mandatory evacuation which they failed to carry out despite a huge yard full of perfectly good buses. Next, when people were flooded and desperate, they were not allowed to leave the city and the Red Cross was prevented from helping them. Finally, with the water pumped out and the emergency beginning to subside, residents are forced to leave and subject to illegal door to door searches and illegal firearm confiscation. I hate to sound so cynical, but with government actions like these, who needs hurricanes?

    And where was the ACLU?

    posted by Eric at 10:27 PM | Comments (1)

    How about a little gator aid?

    Exaggerated or false news about New Orleans is everywhere, including patently false reports of cannibalism, and a host of other things -- including innumerable reports of attacks and feasting on humans by alligators.

    I've always been partial to alligators, having owned several, one of which I kept in my bathtub for years. While there's no question that they can seriously hurt you (especially if you tempt fate by feeding them or attempting to rescue a seized pet) for the most part they're inoffensive beasts. They'll leave you alone if you leave them alone.

    OK, now that I've disclosed what might be gator sympathy (if not pro-gator bias) on my part, I'll try to address some of the gator rumors as fairly as I can.

    I keep reading about gators feasting on people, and I'm very skeptical -- especially of stories like this:

    A National Guard soldier said he saw an alligator jump out of the water on a residential street and bite a man's leg off. He said sharks were swimming around some houses.

    Most of Katrina's victims are poor and black, unable to evacuate the area as the storm raced in, and the tragedy has highlighted the vast racial divide in the United States.

    I think this is either highly exaggerated, or (more likely) pure disinformation. An alligator cannot bite a man's leg off. The way they hunt prey is to take hold, pull the prey underwater, and drown it. An alligator could in theory twist a leg off, but that could not be done by "jumping out of the water" but would require the alligator to pull the human prey into the water and then use its tail to spin around and around in a circular manner. Physically, an alligator is simply not designed to bite a leg off.
    Feeding Habits and Patterns Who do they eat?

    Alligators swallow their food whole without chewing it. Their strong digestive fluids allow them to digest turtle shells and bone. If an animal is too large to swallow, the alligator will let it rot a week. The alligator lacks the capability of many predators to tear flesh off a carcass or to chew. Alligator teeth are made for grabbing and holding, not for cutting and chewing. Alligators swallow their food whole. If the prey cannot be swallowed whole, the flesh has deteriorate almost to the point where it almost falls of the bone before the alligator can devour it. When dealing with larger prey, an alligator may shake its head in order to tear off a piece small enough to swallow.

    Then there's this -- from the Urban Legends web site:

    "Sharks and alligators are eating people in downtown New Orleans."
    Nonsensical enough to be listed in Urban Legends. But like the unnamed "National guardsman" quoted in New Zealand, it's unsubstantiated. If there was anything to it, the "witnesses" would be talking about it in Fox and CNN and at least their names would be supplied in the stories.

    Then there's the famous Steve Gilliard quote:

    Well, motherfuckers, the alligators are feasting on dead nigger and there isn't an Iraqi in sight.
    I'm intrigued by this, as the only corroboration appears to be an assertion by musician Charmaine Neville, who doesn't actually state that she saw it happen; only that it happened:
    Alligators were eating people. They had all kind of stuff in the water. They had babies floating in the water. We had to walk over hundreds of bodies of dead people, people that we tried to save from the hospices, from the hospitals and from the old folks' homes. I tried to get the police to help us but I realized we rescued a lot of police officers in the flat boat from the district police station. The boat, the guy who was driving the boat, he rescued a lot of them and brought them to get to places where they could be saved. We understood that the police couldn't help us, but we couldn't understand why the National Guard and them couldn't help us, because we kept seeing them, but they never would stop and help us.
    Considering that she later refers to "millions of people" trying to get on the bus, and considering that she appears quite upset and excited in the video, I think it's quite possible that the part about alligators eating people was either repeated or even imagined. There's also the remark about shooting at helicopters to attract attention:
    I want people to realize that we did not stay in the city so that we could steal and loot and commit crimes. A lot of those young men lost their minds because the helicopters would fly over us and they wouldn't stop. And it came to a point where these young men were so frustrated that they did start shooting. They weren't trying to get the helicopters. They thought maybe if they heard the gunfire, they would stop then. But that didn't help us. No one helped us."
    If we assume this is true, I'd argue that people who would shoot at helicopters in frustration might very well imagine or exaggerate stories of alligators eating people.

    It's very unlikely that alligators would be eating humans in New Orleans.

    For starters, we simply are not what they eat:

    Alligators, unlike crocodiles, do not see humans as a food source. If you want to see alligators, you have to be very quiet and paddle softly. In Louisiana, alligator attacks on humans in the water are nearly non-existent. We have kayaked the Louisiana swamps for over 7 years and have never had any problem or felt threatened by an alligator.
    Another reason is that alligator populations are believed to have been harmed by Hurricane Katrina. Their nests are drowned, and while they may be disoriented enough to swim into the city, they are shy by nature and if anything the hurricane would make them less, not more aggressive.

    Certainly, it is possible that dead bodies have eaten by alligators, but I haven't seen confirmation in the form of a single substantiated story. A nameless guardsman is not a reliable source, and I'd need to hear more details from Charmaine Neville before I'd consider her story hard evidence. If she'd really seen this happening, why didn't she say so specifically? Was she reciting secondhand information? She sounded extremely (and understandably) distraught, and it's possible she saw an alligator or two in the water.

    I'm not saying it isn't possible that a corpse might be eaten by an occasional scavenging alligator. But people are not normally their diet, and I just don't think alligators stressed by a hurricane are likely to appear in large numbers in a residential area in highly polluted water. I think the stories are being hyped.

    And I think it will continue to be hyped, because people love this stuff. And few will defend the lowly gator.

    I will, because I think they're wonderful creatures.

    I know that a lot of people think alligators are creepy and awful and therefore don't deserve the benefit of the doubt. But I'd just like something more in the way of proof than second hand reports, or statements like "we'll never find the thousands of missing people because the alligators ate them all!"

    Even people who hate gators ought to welcome a chance to really get the goods on them.

    UPDATE: The blame-the-alligator meme seems increasingly likely because of frustrations involving numbers:

    BATON ROUGE, La., Sept 8 - Estimates of the death toll from Hurricane Katrina have run as high as 10,000 but the actual body count so far is much lower and officials who feared the worst now hope the dire predictions were wrong.

    The recovery of Katrina's victims speeded up in the last two days. As of Thursday, Mississippi had recorded 201 deaths and Louisiana 118, while other affected states had much lower numbers.

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency, taking the lead in the recovery, has brought 25,000 body bags to the Gulf region. A morgue in St. Gabriel, Louisiana, is capable of processing 140 corpses a day and officials have formed a plan to handle in excess of 5,000 bodies.


    In the rural areas east of St. Bernard Parish, some bodies will never be found because alligators will have taken them away, locals said.

    I am not suggesting that anyone would be so cruel as to want dead bodies to number in the thousands. However, human egos being what they are, people don't like to be proved wrong -- and saying "the gators did it" offers a convenient way of saving face. Besides, who's going to defend these horrible creatures? (NAMBLA is more popular.)

    posted by Eric at 08:25 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (2)

    Damning reactions are tough to coordinate . . .

    Another day, another moral lecture. Trudy Rubin, writing in today's Philadelphia Inquirer, blames problems in New Orleans on Bush's "tax cuts for the rich," and says we're losing the "support" of our "friends" around the world.

    A trip to Paris last weekend made me painfully aware of the global impact of Hurricane Katrina.

    The tardy national response to the suffering and death in New Orleans shocked both those who admire and those who criticize the American superpower. It caused foreigners to ask whether America is indeed a power in decline. If it can't protect its own, how can it aspire to lead others?

    The Bush administration, which seems to believe its own spin, may not recognize the damage done to America's image. It should be paying attention. Unless reversed, the foreign perception of American incompetence will further erode America's influence and interests abroad.

    The question I was asked repeatedly at a conference in Paris was: "How could this happen in the world's most powerful country?" At informal discussions at this gathering of Mideast specialists, I found most attendees believed the New Orleans debacle would contribute to a hasty exit of U.S. troops from Iraq.

    While there's more (including a rather odd comparison of Bush at New Orleans to Putin at Beslan), it's pretty much a rehash of Sunday's lecture which she began by announcing that "there's something ghoulishly fitting about talking by phone to Baghdad while watching the chaos in New Orleans." (More here.)

    Certainly, it's a feat of mental coordination. Especially considering that Ms. Rubin managed to do all that and attend a "conference in Paris" characterized as a "damning reaction from America's friends." Such friends obviously need help from journalists like Ms. Rubin.

    Once again, I think "ghoulishly fitting" pretty well sums it up.

    MORE: While only 13% of Americans blame Bush for New Orleans, this hard core corps are doing the best they can to hound the rest. I'm struck by the fact that Katrina only exacerbated social problems which that 13% would blame on Bush anyway. Whether the blame-Bushathon will succeed remains to be seen. People might get as tired of it as I am. But then, I was tired of it before the hurricane.

    Long drive today; back much later.

    posted by Eric at 08:15 AM | Comments (6)

    Putting my money where my morality ought to be?


    Those who like to point fingers and assign blame often like to invoke their particular views of morality. It often seems to me that this happens because of a logical fallacy that the mere invoking of morality conveys moral authority.

    Not that I have any moral authority which might refute or negate anyone else's moral authority. Immoral or amoral as it may sound, I'm trying to stick with logic, and avoid appeals to imagined moral authority to which I can claim no superior right.

    Right now, my moral standard consists of giving money. I've given only $300.00 so far, but I plan to give more.

    If only there were some way to put a pricetag on moral authority! That way, one's ability to pontificate and moralize could be ranked and scaled and weighed in direct proportion to how much money the moralizer contributed. It's like that old expression, "Put your money where your mouth is!"

    (Personally, I wish I could buy the right not to moralize, but even that is not up to me.)

    Once again, please, GIVE! GIVE! GIVE!! (That last link goes everywhere.)

    UPDATE: I've moved this post up, because I'd rather have people give before they read. There's entirely too much blaming going on, and I don't want to spend all my time refuting the blamers. Despite a feeling of obligation to address these issues as they arise, it's FAR MORE IMPORTANT TO GIVE MONEY! NOW!!!

    Give first, then read about who to blame. (Latter link via Free Will.)

    (If you don't, you have yourself to blame.)

    posted by Eric at 09:11 PM | Comments (1)

    Would forced busing have worked?

    Much to my amazement, last night I saw a report that hurricane victims housed temporarily in the Astrodome were offered space on cruise ships, but that there were very few takers. Today I see a report that actually, there were no takers:

    Houston - A plan by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to relocate evacuees from the Astrodome and other shelters here to luxury cruise ships hit a snag Tuesday: Residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina don't want to move again.

    "We had no immediate takers for the option," Ed Conley, head of FEMA operations in Houston, said of the proposal to turn cruise ships in Mobile, Ala., and Galveston into storm shelters.

    FEMA announced Sunday it had leased three ships for six months as a way to move as many as 6,000 people out of shelters and provide them with beds, private rooms and hot meals.

    The agency was so confident the cruise liners would prove popular that it established a priority system to determine who could board the Ecstasy, the Sensation and the Holiday, leased from Carnival Cruise Lines.

    But FEMA workers found that evacuees were reluctant to move and further risk not finding relatives, jobs and schools. Officials said the computer networks established by the Red Cross and other agencies to reunite families would be available aboard the ships.

    Astonishing. (To me, at least.)

    Perhaps there's something wrong with me, but if I were cooped up in a public stadium in a sea of people with only a cot to call my home, and a cruise ship offered me space, I'd jump at the opportunity.

    (Like, "Get me outta here! ASAP!!")

    EDITORIAL NOTE: My abnormal reaction might be grounded in my agoraphobia, but I can think of few things worse than having to live in a huge stadium filled with people, even assuming things like cleanliness and safety.

    The reaction of the Astrodomers didn't make any sense to me, but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered about all those buses. The ones that Mayor Nagin is criticized for not using to evacuate people.

    I'm wondering whether Mayor Nagin knew something. Might it be that he knew that even if all the buses had been dispatched offering free evacuation, very few people would have gotten on them?

    The conventional reason we're given for why people stayed behind is that they lacked the means to leave. Yet none of the people refusing the offers of cruise ships lacked the means. The ships were free; they just didn't want to get on them.

    There's no way to make people want what they clearly do not want. I'm just wondering....

    Had the cruise ships not been offered, would it have been fair to blame those who hadn't offered them?

    And on the other hand, would it have been fair to force people onto cruise ships?

    Honestly, I don't know. Engineering questions involving levees and canals are complicated enough. I'm afraid I don't have the answers for all these stubborn questions of social engineering.

    posted by Eric at 11:33 AM | Comments (3)

    So it's come to this . . .

    An announcement that people will be "saved" at gunpoint:

    BATON ROUGE, La., Sept. 6 - As a handful of pumps toiled to drain the water out of a sprawling city today, the New Orleans police said they would force the 10,000 or so residents left in the city to leave and Louisiana officials warned of long-term damage to the area's environment.

    The police superintendent, P. Edwin Compass III, said police officers and other rescue workers going door to door would do all they could to remove every resident still in the city of nearly half a million, to protect them from lawlessness, get them to shelters and make sure children are fed.

    "If that's necessary, we have the manpower to do it," Mr. Compass told CNN this afternoon about reports that they would force out people who insisted on staying in their water-logged neighborhoods. "We'll do everything we can to keep this city safe. These people don't understand they're putting themselves in harm's way.

    "We're trying to save them from themselves," he said. "We're going to get the residents evacuated and then we're going to get all the criminals out of New Orleans. "

    This is Orwellian, and it ought to remind everyone that what is happening right now really can't properly be called strictly a "natural disaster."

    Here's Robert Tracinski:

    But this is not a natural disaster. It is a man-made disaster.

    The man-made disaster is not an inadequate or incompetent response by federal relief agencies, and it was not directly caused by Hurricane Katrina. This is where just about every newspaper and television channel has gotten the story wrong.

    The man-made disaster we are now witnessing in New Orleans did not happen over four days last week. It happened over the past four decades. Hurricane Katrina merely exposed it to public view.

    The man-made disaster is the welfare state.

    The whole thing is well worth reading, and while I do not agree with his premise that welfare people are themselves guilty of immorality (after all, they're merely accepting what the government makes available to them, which makes them no more morally culpable than a farmer accepting subsidies not to grow crops), he has some interesting observations not to be found anywhere else. Like these:
    What Hurricane Katrina exposed was the psychological consequences of the welfare state. What we consider "normal" behavior in an emergency is behavior that is normal for people who have values and take the responsibility to pursue and protect them. People with values respond to a disaster by fighting against it and doing whatever it takes to overcome the difficulties they face. They don't sit around and complain that the government hasn't taken care of them. And they don't use the chaos of a disaster as an opportunity to prey on their fellow men.

    But what about criminals and welfare parasites? Do they worry about saving their houses and property? They don't, because they don't own anything. Do they worry about what is going to happen to their businesses or how they are going to make a living? They never worried about those things before. Do they worry about crime and looting? But living off of stolen wealth is a way of life for them.

    People living in piles of their own trash, while petulantly complaining that other people aren't doing enough to take care of them and then shooting at those who come to rescue them—this is not just a description of the chaos at the Superdome. It is a perfect summary of the 40-year history of the welfare state and its public housing projects.

    The welfare state—and the brutish, uncivilized mentality it sustains and encourages—is the man-made disaster that explains the moral ugliness that has swamped New Orleans. And that is the story that no one is reporting.

    (Via G. Gordon Liddy.)

    I don't agree with blaming victims, and right now, I'm not especially interested in blaming anyone -- certainly not for the disaster (even a disaster compounded by a failure to evacuate).

    But on the other hand, I'm wondering whether there's a connection between victimhood and the idea of helping people at gunpoint.

    (To say nothing of building public housing in artificially drained swamps located below sea level.)

    posted by Eric at 10:39 AM | Comments (2)

    At least when levees burst, they can be plugged . . .

    Is there any way to get David Brooks to just shut up? I mean, I try to be patient, but I keep seeing his September 4 New York Times editorial being thrust into my face, but to see it recycled (with the title changed from "The Bursting Point" to "A new storm ahead") in today's Philadelphia Inquirer was the last straw. His thesis seems to be that America is "losing" its "innocence":

    It's already clear this will be known as the grueling decade, the Hobbesian decade.
    It's not clear to me at all. I lost twenty friends to AIDS beginning in the 1980s. Watched 'em die slow agonized deaths one by one, and helped as much as I could. The death rate slowed, but I continued to watch more die in the 90s. I don't think there's anything more grueling than watching your loved ones die, and I don't think there could be. This is not to minimize the suffering of others in any way; only to say that human suffering is not new to me, and bad as the events of the past decade are, they aren't quite as personal and in my face. Why would Mr. Brooks assume I share his apparently naive perspective?

    Americans have had to acknowledge dark realities that it is not in our nature to readily acknowledge: the thin veneer of civilization, the elemental violence in human nature, the lurking ferocity of the environment, the limitations on what we can plan and know, the cumbersome reactions of bureaucracies, the uncertain progress good makes over evil.
    I was attacked by a mob of kids when I was two years old. They tied me up and I had an out of body experience in which I imagined I was in a cartoon. Finally an adult (himself frightened by what he saw) saved me. I learned that humans are evil, that children start out as more evil than adults (something masked by a bizarre, almost mythological belief in "innocence"), and that by adulthood, many if not most former children have managed to keep their evil under control -- to varying degrees. Until war breaks out or order breaks down, then the monstrous, childlike evil appears again. Granted, what happened to me was nothing compared to what happened to children in Rwanda. Or New Orleans, where a 5 year old girl was raped and murdered, and a 7 year old had her throat cut. But it was enough to disabuse me of any notion that all humans are inherently good. Or that it's a good idea to rely on "authority" for "protection."

    If I could learn that at two, and if I have seen that reconfirmed for most of my adult life, why has it taken David Brooks so goddamned long?

    Or is he just pretending to be shocked? If there's one thing more tedious than naive people being shocked, it's sophisticated people pretending to be shocked. Most tedious of all (and what I find unendurable) is when the latter is done in the name of moral leadership. I have enough trouble as it is without others telling me how much trouble I'm supposed to be having "acknowledging dark realities."

    Is there any way to make it stop?

    As a result, it is beginning to feel a bit like the 1970's, another decade in which people lost faith in their institutions and lost a sense of confidence about the future.
    Hmmm..... I wonder if that might be a reference to Watergate. Actually, I didn't especially lose faith as a result of Watergate, because I didn't have much faith to lose. What did shock me was to learn in the 1990s that Americans hadn't been given the real story of Watergate, and that the whole thing might have been a hidden coup. But even that -- how could it have made me lose faith? In order to lose faith, you have to have it. I try to have faith in a fragile document called the Constitution, but I'm even cynical about that, as it's been rendered meaningless over the years -- a process brought about largely through the efforts of people who want to "help" others, and who imagine they can build a better world by reshaping human nature.

    "Rats on the West Side, bedbugs uptown/What a mess! This town's in tatters/I've been shattered," Mick Jagger sang in 1978.
    That is true. I agree with David Brooks. Mick Jagger sang that. (And now he's singing torch songs for sweet NeoCons.)
    Midge Decter woke up the morning after the night of looting during the New York blackout of 1977 feeling as if she had "been given a sudden glimpse into the foundations of one's house and seen, with horror, that it was utterly infested and rotting away."
    Can we be so sure that this was what Midge Decter felt? I'm sure she said it, but even assuming she literally felt it, are her feelings about the foundations of her house binding on the rest of us? Why? Simply because she penned a metaphor about the feelings?
    Americans in 2005 are not quite in that bad a shape, since the fundamental realities of everyday life are good. The economy and the moral culture are strong. But there is a loss of confidence in institutions. In case after case there has been a failure of administration, of sheer competence. Hence, polls show a widespread feeling the country is headed in the wrong direction.
    Sorry, but I never liked or had confidence in FEMA, and the recent disaster only confirmed my suspicions. The National Guard performed quite well once they were finally sent in, and they still are. I think the state and local governments in Alabama and Mississippi handled things better than in Louisiana, but I always knew the latter has been notorious for corruption, and has ever since Huey P. Long. Am I surprised? No. Have I lost confidence? No! This is about what I would have expected considering a disaster of this magnitude.

    As to the "feeling the country is headed in the wrong direction," yeah, I admit to that. I think we're headed in an increasingly communitarian direction, with elements of the left and right combining forces to further destroy freedom. But it's not unexpected. I expect more, and I expect to see emotion-laden, moralistic communitarian drivel squeezed drop by drop from the fetid water until at last it's all pumped out, and then I expect to see the daily scolding continue as the corpses are discovered. Wrong direction? Sure. But there's more than one way of defining wrong.

    Sorry, he's not done yet. (I know this is last week's editorial, folks, and I tried to ignore it then, but recycled moralizing has a way of motivating me to do what I'd just as soon not do. It's no fun being a reactionary and a counter-reactionary at the same time.)

    Funny thing, this "reaction" business:

    Katrina means that the political culture, already sour and bloody-minded in many quarters, will shift. There will be a reaction. There will be more impatience for something new. There is going to be some sort of big bang as people respond to the cumulative blows of bad events and try to fundamentally change the way things are.
    A big bang? Must we? I've seen enough of people trying to "fundamentally change the way things are" to last several lifetimes, and I don't know that I can stand more. Man doesn't work that way. The kind of change I suspect he means involves changing human nature by centralized statism, and it has never worked. All it does it produce more human misery, if not mass murder.

    Reaganite conservatism was the response to the pessimism and feebleness of the 1970's. Maybe this time there will be a progressive resurgence. Maybe we are entering an age of hardheaded law and order. (Rudy Giuliani, an unlikely G.O.P. nominee a few months ago, could now win in a walk.) Maybe there will be call for McCainist patriotism and nonpartisan independence. All we can be sure of is that the political culture is about to undergo some big change.
    I guess Brooks has forgotten that a powerful element which helped bring about what he calls "Reaganite conservatism" was actually libertarianism. A philosophy grounded in the very natural desire to be left alone by Those Who Know What's Best. While it is true that Americans were sick to death of pessimism and feebleness, the optimism and strength that Reagan brought to bear was grounded in a libertarian belief in individual initiative and less government.

    But don't take it from me; here's Reagan speaking:

    If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals -- if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.
    At the rate people are being lectured in the middle of a disaster (which they're told was caused by their crimes of war, racism, sodomy, abortion, and Global Warming), told they've lost their confidence, told how they should "feel," I wouldn't be surprised to see a consensus emerge along the lines of "ENOUGH!"

    I'm glad Brooks at least recognizes that people are ready to burst:

    We're not really at a tipping point as much as a bursting point. People are mad as hell, unwilling to take it anymore.
    I just wish he wouldn't use the word "we" in a way that implies I agree with him. Two weeks in a row, and I'm unwilling to take it anymore.

    I can only hope that moral lectures don't help pave the way for ever more big government solutions to problems caused by big government.

    UPDATE (09/08/05): Matt Welch questions the report of the raped child, and cites the Guardian, which says

    New Orleans police chief Eddie Compass said last night: "We don't have any substantiated rapes. We will investigate if the individuals come forward."

    And while many claim they happened, no witnesses, survivors or survivors' relatives have come forward.

    Nor has the source for the story of the murdered babies, or indeed their bodies, been found. And while the floor of the convention centre toilets were indeed covered in excrement, the Guardian found no corpses.

    Well, the story I linked above was written by the Times-Picayune's Brian Thevenot ( or (504) 826-3482) and he quotes Guardsman Mikel Brooks, who certainly would seem reachable. (It's probably his picture here.)

    So, while I am not about to track down the reporter and the guardsman (who doubtless have better things to do right now than answer bloggers' questions) I'm wondering about the claims that the stories can't be substantiated and sources can't be found. . .

    CORRECTION AND UPDATE (09/28/05): It turns out that Brian Thevenot's piece (which I linked above) turned out to be wrong. I have admitted my mistake in linking to it, and I regret linking to it. (The above link no longer works, but the story can be found here.)

    Brian Thevenot has not issued any retraction; instead he has attacked the media for bad reporting, while saying nothing about his own.

    My thoughts here, here, and here.

    posted by Eric at 08:39 AM | Comments (2)

    The Katechism of Katrinism

    Are there too many opinions right now? Yesterday I was told there are -- by someone who does not care to hear another opinion about Katrina or The Government or politics. While this makes me think I should stick to comedy, the problem with that is that there's nothing at all funny about human suffering -- although it still makes me laugh when, for example, people claim the hurricane is God's punishment for homosexuality (which God inflicted, of course, on Alabama, Mississippi, and poor urban blacks living in New Orleans, while sparing the sodomitic French Quarter).

    It is a depressing time to be blogging, for several reasons. One, because I'd like to help but there's little I can do (short of sending in money). The other is that I cannot stand illogical moralistic arguments based on emotion, and I cannot stand scolding. And in terms of sheer quantity and scope of illogical arguments and moralistic emotion, I've never seen anything quite like this in my life. It's certainly worse than 9/11, because at least there were human enemies to be blamed. Here, an act of nature is the culprit. Clearly, the reasonable and logical thing to do is to blame the hurricane, and focus on assisting its victims. But it's not that easy -- not for those who have an agenda. They -- the Katrinistas -- are in a mad scramble to occupy the moral high ground, and when they think they've gotten there, they take their favorite issues and plug in Katrina. It's as endless as it is tedious, and I share my friend's utter exasperation over the idiocy of much of what passes as human opinion right now.

    What, for example, does the nomination of John Roberts have to do with Hurricane Katrina? Everything, according to the Katrinists. From today's Philadelphia Inquirer:

    WASHINGTON - By opening questions about poverty, race and government policies, Hurricane Katrina has imposed itself on Washington's deliberations over Supreme Court vacancies and threatens to make John G. Roberts Jr.'s confirmation hearings for chief justice a contentious test of conservative thought.

    Democrats and liberal groups say Roberts' past opposition to expanded affirmative action and voting-rights laws should get extra scrutiny, especially in light of the disproportionate suffering by poor black residents of New Orleans.

    Democrats have long advocated a more activist government, while conservatives have pressed for a smaller federal bureaucracy that gives more power to the states. Democrats believe that Katrina has focused attention on a broader function of the federal government - not only in rescue, relief and rebuilding but also in setting policies that protect the most vulnerable.

    In that vein, the questions Roberts will face will be part of a larger Democratic strategy designed to confront conservative orthodoxy head on.

    Ralph Neas, president of the liberal People for the American Way, said: "The events of the past week have only underscored that we need Supreme Court justices who value the role of the courts in protecting individuals' rights and freedoms, who understand the nature of discrimination and its continuing impact on our country, and who will uphold the role of the federal government in preserving those rights and acting to protect the common good."

    I'm all for protecting individual rights and freedoms, and I earlier expressed my concerns. But I can't think of anything less related to the Roberts nomination than individual freedoms in the context of hurricane relief.

    I am intrigued, though, by the assertion that Roberts' "opposition to expanded affirmative action and voting-rights laws" is connected to the "disproportionate suffering" by black citizens of New Orleans, as I don't see what voting or affirmative action have to do with death and destruction from a hurricane. Had more blacks voted, would they have elected a different mayor than Roy Nagin? I doubt it. Considering the failure to evacuate the city, the 250 buses left sitting to be wrecked by the flood, I don't think the voting argument holds water. Well, there is the issue of the postponed levee repairs, but I've seen no argument connecting that to voting rights or affirmative action. (Well, I suppose you could squeeze in the awarding of government contracts to minorities.)

    Having a "disproportionate impact" on minorities, it is true, raises a legal presumption of discrimination. But is Katrina a federally-regulated employer, lender, insurance company, or provider of housing? Just because a giant institution could be held liable under the "disproportionate impact" theory, are we really expected to abandon all logic and apply the doctrine to a hurricane?

    Furthermore, New Orleans was two-thirds black. While it's true that 80 percent of the city did evacuate and the 20 percent staying behind tended to be more heavily poor and black, even if no one had evacuated, the hurricane still would have had a disparate impact on minorities because of the percentages.

    Suppose a nuclear device had been detonated without any warning. Two thirds of the victims would have been black. Does that mean the nuke would have been racist? Would Osama bin Laden be chargeable? Is that an argument that Roberts is "soft on terrorism"?

    Attempting to analyze these things drive me to despair, as I'm trying to be serious, but the complete lack of logic is so overwhelming that it seems like comedy.

    And I haven't had time to address the unsubstantiated allegations involving the racist feeding habits of alligators.



    (Should I have said alligations?)

    The future of logic is not looking good. But I will venture that it's about as logical to attribute racism to a hurricane as it is to attribute an anti "sodomy" animus, and I'm sure there will be much more.

    MORE: The Reverend Bill Shanks (self appointed prophet of Katrinism), is claiming that God was discriminating against sin:

    Rev. Bill Shanks, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship of New Orleans, also sees God's mercy in the aftermath of Katrina -- but in a different way. Shanks says the hurricane has wiped out much of the rampant sin common to the city.

    The pastor explains that for years he has warned people that unless Christians in New Orleans took a strong stand against such things as local abortion clinics, the yearly Mardi Gras celebrations, and the annual event known as "Southern Decadence" -- an annual six-day "gay pride" event scheduled to be hosted by the city this week -- God's judgment would be felt.

    “New Orleans now is abortion free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion -- it's free of all of those things now," Shanks says. "God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there -- and now we're going to start over again."

    God hates Mardi Gras? I hadn't seen that one before. In any event, today's WorldNetDaily would seem to disagree that the hurricane freed New Orleans of Southern Decadence:
    "The shocking callousness of New Orleans' gay activists towards the severe suffering of its fellow citizens cannot be adequately articulated in a news report," says James Hartline, a former homosexual, who describes the "Southern Decadence" festival as being "replete with tens of thousands of men and women engaged in public nudity, prostitution, illegal drug use and destructive public S & M sex."

    "The idea that human beings are continuing to party while hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens are starving, dying and suffering from a multitude of sicknesses brings into focus the real lack of judgment that these constant advocates of special gay rights demonstrate in a time of crisis."

    Yes, the gays are callused. Almost as callused as Condoleeza Rice watching a Broadway play and buying shoes in New York.

    AFTERTHOUGHT: I know things are really getting bad when blogging fails to provide relief. In the normal course of things, I try to write about what I perceive as defects in human thinking as a way to help me think my way out. But this nonsense is so maddening that writing about it, instead of helping me think my way out of it, only upsets me. That's because it's nothing new, and I like to think that the collective human mind might learn over time. Instead, when disaster strikes, primitive illogical thinking takes over. It's tough to see crass stupidity and grotesque groupthink having such sway over so many people, and tougher to realize that they're just getting warmed up. Toughest of all is to see it coming.

    MORE: Eugene Volokh weighs in on the "God's punishment" fallacy by considering the Katrina damage and asking whether God hates the poor:

    ....wouldn't it follow that God must really dislike poor people? After all, poor people generally bear the brunt of most natural disasters: It's harder for them to evacuate; they are less likely to have insurance; their assets are less likely to be diversified, so the economic damage is more likely to be severe for them; they are closer to the poverty line, so even small losses may harm them more than larger losses harm rich people; and so on. If you live in a poor country, you're much more likely to suffer from disasters than if you live in a rich country. If you're poor in any country, you're much more likely to suffer from disasters than if you're rich.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    Well, if we follow the "God's punishment" logic to its conclusions, yes, the poor are being punished. And the rich are God's "elect" (once a carefully considered theological conclusion).

    I very much enjoyed Professor Volokh's "disclaimer for those who tend to read into posts things that the author hasn't written into them" as I hate it when people argue with themselves while claiming they're arguing with me.

    May the Lord spare us from Katrinatarianism!

    (And I am too exhausted to blog further today.)

    posted by Eric at 07:56 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBacks (1)

    RINOs in sight!

    This week's RINO Sightings Carnival has been posted by one of my oldest friends in the blogosphere, One Fine Jay who does a superb job of editing. Once again, the RINOs show why they're a force to be reckoned with.

    The RINO posts are all formidable, and here are a few that seemed to charge out at me:

    Dean Esmay has some good, nonpartisan, Katrina-related questions for public officials (whose party affiliations he declines to state).

  • SayUncle looks at FEMA, and wants his money back. (Should we start a class action?)
  • Barry Campbell has a post on "Howard Beale moments." (Mad as a RINO and not gonna take it anymore?)
  • Decision 08 thinks New Orleans was built in a terribly wrong place -- but that it should be rebuilt anyway!
  • Don't miss this really thoughtful post from a guy who's been unqualified for military service since age 18, who wanted to serve in some capacity after 9/11, whose offers went ignored, and who's obviously a little annoyed by the whole "chickenhawk" routine. (A man after my heart!)
  • Read the rest.

    One fine job, One Fine Jay!

    It must be remembered that RINOs aren't bad people.

    They've just gotten a little tired of this old routine:


    But who wouldn't?

    posted by Eric at 02:42 PM | Comments (5)

    Speaking of tribes . . .

    Via Justin, I see that Bill Whittle has an excellent essay on the subject. Excerpt:

    Only a few minutes ago, I had the delightful opportunity to read the comment of a fellow who said he wished that white, middle-class, racist, conservative cocksuckers like myself could have been herded into the Superdome Concentration Camp to see how much we like it. Absent, of course, was the fundamental truth of what he plainly does not have the eyes or the imagination to see, namely, that if the Superdome had been filled with white, middle-class, racist, conservative cocksuckers like myself, it would not have been a refinery of horror, but rather a citadel of hope and order and restraint and compassion.

    That has nothing to do with me being white. If the blacks and Hispanics and Jews and gays that I work with and associate with were there with me, it would have been that much better. That’s because the people I associate with – my Tribe – consists not of blacks and whites and gays and Hispanics and Asians, but of individuals who do not rape, murder, or steal. My Tribe consists of people who know that sometimes bad things happen, and that these are an opportunity to show ourselves what we are made of. My people go into burning buildings. My Tribe consists of organizers and self-starters, proud and self-reliant people who do not need to be told what to do in a crisis. My Tribe is not fearless; they are something better. They are courageous. My Tribe is honorable, and decent, and kind, and inventive. My Tribe knows how to give orders, and how to follow them. My Tribe knows enough about how the world works to figure out ways to boil water, ration food, repair structures, build and maintain makeshift latrines, and care for the wounded and the dead with respect and compassion.

    There are some things my Tribe is not good at at all. My Tribe doesn’t make excuses. My Tribe will analyze failure and assign blame, but that is to make sure that we do better next time, and we never, ever waste valuable energy and time doing so while people are still in danger. My Tribe says, and in their heart completely believes that it’s the other guy that’s the hero. My Tribe does not believe that a single Man can cause, prevent or steer Hurricanes, and my Tribe does not and has never made someone else responsible for their own safety, and that of their loved ones.

    My Tribe doesn’t fire on people risking their lives, coming to help us. My Tribe doesn’t curse such people because they arrived on Day Four, when we felt they should have been here before breakfast on Day One. We are grateful, not to say indebted, that they have come at all. My Tribe can’t eat Nike’s and we don’t know how to feed seven by boiling a wide-screen TV. My Tribe doesn’t give a sweet God Damn about what color the looters are, or what color the rescuers are, because we can plainly see before our very eyes that both those Tribes have colors enough to cover everyone in glory or in shame. My Tribe doesn’t see black and white skins. My Tribe only sees black and white hats, and the hat we choose to wear is the most personal decision we can make.

    That’s the other thing, too – the most important thing. My Tribe thinks that while you are born into a Tribe, you do not have to stay there. Good people can join bad Tribes, and bad people can choose good ones. My Tribe thinks you choose your Tribe. That, more than anything, is what makes my Tribe unique.

    I am so utterly and unabashedly proud of my Tribe, that my words haunt and mock me for their pale weakness and shameful inadequacy.

    It's great. Another must read.

    Read the whole thing.

    MORE: When individual initiative and responsibility are systematically undermined, and unhealthy forms of tribalism are encouraged, new tribes emerge from the ruins. Human nature is a tough nut to crack.

    UPDATE: Here's Nick Packwood:

    Read Bill Whittle for more about your real tribe and decide for yourself whose side you are on. It has nothing to do with with the colour of your skin, the people you fancy or even your ice cream flavour preference. It has everything to do with the difference between surviving the storm, dusting yourself off and getting on with it or watching the storm from a distance and cackling at how the sinful dead deserved their fate.

    posted by Eric at 12:38 PM | Comments (4)

    What's more dangerous than an unemptied chamber pot?

    I hate to see reports like this, but unless I am mistaken, (and unless Glenn Reynolds and Julian Sanchez are mistaken) official state and federal policy in New Orleans appears to come very close to one of starving people out (by prohibiting the Red Cross and Salvation Army from entering New Orleans):

    Digest this: government turned away one of the world's most skilled and experienced agencies from bringing relief to starving, thristy, dying New Orleanians. Why? Why? Why???

    Judging from the Red Cross's explanation (above), government apparently feared that the Red Cross would deliver relief with too much success. Why else would people choose not to leave a destroyed city, and even want to return to it?

    So, government decided that letting people die was a better course than risking any success that the Red Cross would likely have at providing disaster relief.

    Leading the list of government alphabet soup agencies is FEMA, a strange agency with a strange history. Tyler Cowen takes a critical look at it and supplies links with a libertarian perspective.

    For some time, FEMA has been encouraging unhealthy dependency by cities on the federal government:

    The Clinton team has stretched the concept of "major disaster" to cover routine mishaps. Snow, for example, accounts for a large share of the skyrocketing number of federal emergency proclamations.

    Last year, Clinton sent federal aid to at least 16 states hit by snow. In many, FEMA reimbursed local governments for the cost of snow plowing. This implicitly assumes that any local or state government is automatically incapable of plowing the snow on any main highway after a big' storm. The effects can be perverse.

    Consider Vernon, Conn. Last June, this town of 30,000 received a FEMA emergency relief grant of $40,023 to help cover the cost of the preceding winter's storms.

    Now look at the town's budget. Its total costs for snow removal last winter were $258,000. That's just $8.60. per person—less than a 12-year-old charges to shovel out a driveway after a good snowfall.

    So why the need for disaster relief? The town had only budgeted $104,516 for snow removal—and thus claimed to be overwhelmed by the heavy costs.

    What lesson did the town managers draw? As the Hartford Courant reported, an "optimistic town council has already set the proposed 1996-97 snow-removal budget at $69,383, the lowest level in 15 years."

    Why set aside money for a snowy day when you know Washington is glad to help?

    Clinton treats FEMA as one of his top good-government achievements. He has even honored Witt, its director, with cabinet rank.

    But, as the actions of the Vernon town council show, FEMA's growth may not really be good government at all. Instead, it may be one more cause of the decline of individual responsibility—or even a semblance of respect for such responsibility — in our political culture.

    Contrast this with the Chicago fire of 1871. Not one penny from the federal government, and the city was rebuilt.

    How much of New Orleans was built by FEMA or the federal government, anyway? It goes back to 1718, when not only was there no FEMA, or federal government, but when government consisted of people governing themselves.

    I dreamed years ago of buying a bar in the French Quarter, and I was actually pretty close to moving there, but it just never happened. Sometimes I put myself in the position of what it would be like now to be a business owner in the French Quarter. I think I'd be outraged if the building was OK (most of them are) and I wasn't allowed to enter it. (Along the lines of "Who the hell is the government to decide what I can do with my property and when?")

    What ever happened to entrepreneurism? To taking risks, even at your own risk? Or am I blaming people or being unnecessarily critical? I don't think so, because I can't blame anyone for things that really haven't happened yet. But I think it's fair to ask whether federalizing a city fixes problems caused by federalization. The more things are federalized, the more everything becomes the federal government's fault.

    I know that I have a tendency to indulge in libertarian rantings, so I'd like to play Devil's Advocate here and test out what I'm sure would strike most people as a wild, impractical, and "irresponsible" theory. To do so, a little history may be helpful.

    The French Quarter dates back to its founding (by Bienville) in 1718 as a French capital. It was actually Spanish from 1762-1800, and there were two great fires -- one in 1788, another in 1794 -- so most of the architecture is Spanish in style. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 it became part of the United States and most of what we associate with the charming French Quarter today dates from the post-fire Spanish period to the 1840s.

    Nice overview, with beautiful, clickable pictures here.

    I hate to wax romantically about things which might disgust modern readers, but I think a short history lesson is in order because modern Americans are so out of touch with the past. From New Orleans' founding in 1718 until 1895, New Orleans had no sewer system. No plumbing. No fresh water supply. There were hand dug pits for waste, and street gutters which often didn't carry anything away. From an 1871 report:

    It is well known that canals which drain the thickly settled portions of our City, rapidly become obstructed and partially filled with the heavier and most offensive feculant and fecal portions of the city sewage, together with the garbage and dead animals thrown into them, and that during dry weather when there is not sufficient water passing through the canals to sweep away the accumulation, our canals or sewers are in their worst state. Heretofore, when the canals become thus too much obstructed to serve the purposes of drainage, the custom has been to excavate and cast out upon the margins of the canals to putrefy or dry up in the hot sun, the deposits from sewage in them [Board of Health 1871:6].
    I'm not advocating that people should return to the old and filthy ways of the past, but the fact is that humans survived in New Orleans for an awfully long period without modern plumbing. (Or electricity or phones.)

    So did civilization.

    Necessity, like news, it seems, is a relative thing.

    How could people get by without bathrooms? one might ask. They had things called "chamberpots." During the 1862 military occupation of New Orleans, Yankee General Benjamin Butler was so detested that women lined their chamberpots with his picture, and took great pleasure in emptying the chamberpots out their windows and directly onto the Union soldiers -- a practice Butler did not like:

    General Orders Number 28 - Headquarters Department of the Gulf issued on May 15, 1862 had sent a clear message across Louisiana. Major General Benjamin Butler was not going to tolerate citizenry abuse particularly from the women of New Orleans. The nasty insults and discharging of chamber pots upon the heads of his veteran troops was going to stop.

    Governor Thomas O. Moore was outraged himself. No where in the annals of modern history has the commander of an occupying army allowed his soldiers and sailors a free hand with the occupied territory's women for any such rebellious acts. The governor didn't feel occupation was enough for the present military authority but rather by seeking amusement and taking vengeance against unarmed men and helpless women would round out their victory.

    In the order, General Butler had labeled the feminine rebels as "women of the town" and if caught openly disrespecting the federal occupational force, they would be considered as "plying their avocation." The seriousness of the order alarmed the governor. Any federal soldier or sailor exercising his own judgment regarding one's disloyalty could very well be subjecting the women to rape and brutalizing passions.

    Federal troops are more civilized now. And so are New Orleans residents.

    My point is that people routinely survived things that might be unthinkable by today's standards. Perhaps they still can.

    From today's Philadelphia Inquirer:

    Yesterday, many of the final stranded New Orleanians had been plucked from their flooded homes and sent to refugee centers in Baton Rouge and Lafayette, La., Houston and San Antonio, Texas, and other far-flung cities. But for those who were reluctant to leave the city to begin with, the rescue efforts seemed less like salvation than banishment.

    The Rev. Denzil Berera sat out the storm in the rectory of his church, Our Lady of Rosalie, near the New Orleans Fairgrounds. Several parishioners had joined him in his sanctuary until they were forced to leave.

    "Nobody wanted to go," said Berera, 74. "But the servicemen came with their guns and told them, if you don't go, we will carry you away in handcuffs."

    Berera said that it was convenience and not obstinacy that motivated his parishioners to stay.

    "Their homes were under water, no doubt," he said. "But they felt secure. They wanted to be closer to home... . A lot of these people don't know when they will come back. Some say a month, some say two or three months... . There is a lot of uncertainty."

    Even as city residents were being told to leave, homeowners who live just a few miles from the airport in suburban Kenner and Metairie were filtering back into their neighborhoods yesterday, eager to assess the damage from broken shingles, fallen branches and uprooted trees, and start rebuilding.

    Officials in Jefferson Parish - New Orleans' more affluent suburban neighbor - have told residents that they can come back today at 6 a.m. to check on their homes. After what is expected to be a long wait, cars will be admitted through barricades and only those bearing a Jefferson Parish address will be allowed in.

    All residents are then asked to re-evacuate by Thursday so workers can rebuild the infrastructure.

    But a drive through Jefferson Parish neighborhoods, most of which were not flooded, showed that many residents ignored pleas to stay away and have already resettled in homes without power, sewerage or phone lines. Although business owners have been told to stay away until Thursday, a crew of 100 workers bused in from around the country were already readying a Home Depot.

    Anthony Montelaro, 73, returned to his Kenner neighborhood on Thursday, after a brief stay in Memphis. With his house in good shape, stores starting to open and a neighborhood bar serving drinks, he sees no reason to leave and doubts that few will willingly vacate their homes after this week's ordeal.

    "If you have patience, you'll get through it," he said.

    Without power, sewerage, or phone lines?

    How could they ever hope to survive?

    I'd be willing to bet that if the federal government simply walked away from New Orleans after it was pumped out, the enterprising merchants who own the expensive real estate in the French Quarter (the city's economic and romantic heart) would have it cleaned up and ready in time for Mardi Gras.

    But no. FEMA and the other alphabet soup bureaucrats want to play a grotesque, wholly unprecedented game of completely emptying and federalizing an entire city, and they can't wait to move in with their tinker toys for at least nine months (maybe longer) doing God-knows what. I'm sure they'll be testing for lead, oil, mercury, formaldehyde from dead bodies which never needed formaldehyde, and other things that might affect some theoretical guinea pig in concentrations of one part per million.

    Of course, the merchants want to make money, and people want to party. We can't have that, can we?

    Is it so outrageous to propose allowing modern people to take the kind of risks once considered part of the risks of life? In an emergency?

    There used to be a doctrine at law called "assumption of the risk." It has been substantially weakened and even abolished, because of the enlightened view that people should not be allowed to take risks. I don't see anything wrong with allowing people to assume risks during an emergency.

    I'd be willing to bet that a lot of New Orleanians would be willing to sign full waivers and releases in exchange for being allowed to re-enter their homes and businesses.

    I doubt it will be allowed to happen, though. That's because things have reached the point where concepts like freedom, independence, and the entrepreneurial spirit are considered dangerous.

    And yes, these things are dangerous, because they carry risks. Americans managed to survive an unsafe past, where the idea of eliminating risk would have been unimaginable.

    Forgive me for saying this, but it does seem that the closer we get to eliminating risk, the less safe we truly are.

    UPDATE: I apologize for any spelling errors, but I'll have to check them later.

    My dog Coco needs to empty her bowels in the yard.

    MORE: In the French Quarter, stubborn holdouts have formed "tribes" and yesterday they staged the "Southern Decadence Parade" (link has pictures!) some thought had been canceled by God.

    (Pssst! Don't say anthing to FEMA, OK? I wouldn't want them to get ideas about messing with cool things that God was gracious enough to save.....)

    AFTERTHOUGHT: I realize that my proposal to allow people to take risks might appear callused, inhumane -- even insane -- to some people. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I think it's fair to point out that I am the descendant of a survivor of the cruel methods I defend:

  • My father was born in 1909, before prohibition of alcohol or drugs. Heroin and cocaine were freely available for purchase over the counter, without prescription. Yet he did not die.
  • As a small boy, he lived in a sod house like this. (What would FEMA say?)
  • My father remembered seeing his first electric light.
  • In the mid 1930s, my father paid a plumbing contractor to install running water and a toilet into his parents' home. (He had moved to Philadelphia, where eventually he was overcome by guilt after seeing the many necessities of urban life.) His father told him he hadn't needed to go to the trouble, as they'd gotten along fine with the outhouse.
  • Somehow, I managed to be born despite my father's dangerous life, and I still am alive today. But I feel more threatened by the dangers of the ever-growing safety net than I do of having to revert temporarily to life without it.

    MORE: The American spirit lives on.

    posted by Eric at 09:55 AM | Comments (4)

    Moral relativism has a way of sneaking into everything . . .

    If someone had told me a month ago that Chief Justice Rehnquist would die in early September, and that very little attention would be paid to it, I'd have been flabbergasted. It's huge news, but it's just not interesting right now.

    Even my reaction was along the lines of "well it was expected, but what's happening in New Orleans?"

    News is certainly relative.

    posted by Eric at 08:09 PM | Comments (6)

    Sunday floodgate of unholy water

    It's Sunday morning, and as is so often the case, I find myself subjected to morality sermons I didn't ask for -- for the simple reason that I didn't go to church. But these days (at least in larger urban areas like Philadelphia), there's a huge class of guilt-infected, self-hating people who don't go to church. With no one to minister to their need for a good Sunday scolding (and there's no need needier than a need which dare not speak its name), naturally other moralists have stepped in.

    To fill the breach in the moral levee, perhaps? Right now, they're yelling and screaming about the breach in the physical levee in New Orleans, and it's really important to make it -- and the flooding, and the devastation and the racism -- all Bush's fault. Above all, it must be tied to Iraq. Especially on Sunday.

    To many critics, it's self apparent that the break in the levee (which is responsible for the disastrous flooding) should have been anticipated, that federal money to repair the levee was withheld (presumably because of racism) and that all of this Bush's fault. Here's Sidney Blumenthal:

    With its main levee broken, the evacuated city of New Orleans has become part of the Gulf of Mexico. But the damage wrought by the hurricane may not entirely be the result of an act of nature.

    A year ago the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed to study how New Orleans could be protected from a catastrophic hurricane, but the Bush administration ordered that the research not be undertaken. After a flood killed six people in 1995, Congress created the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, in which the Corps of Engineers strengthened and renovated levees and pumping stations. In early 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a report stating that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters in U.S., including a terrorist attack on New York City. But by 2003 the federal funding for the flood control project essentially dried up as it was drained into the Iraq war. In 2004, the Bush administration cut the Corps of Engineers' request for holding back the waters of New Orleans' Lake Pontchartrain by more than 80 percent.

    The problem with this argument (as even the New York Times grudgingly acknowledges) is that the area where the breach occurred was recently upgraded:
    No one expected that weak spot to be on a canal that, if anything, had received more attention and shoring up than many other spots in the region. It did not have broad berms, but it did have strong concrete walls.

    Shea Penland, director of the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of New Orleans, said that was particularly surprising because the break was "along a section that was just upgraded."

    "It did not have an earthen levee," Dr. Penland said. "It had a vertical concrete wall several feel thick." (Emphasis added.)

    According to, the Army Corps of Engineers confirms that even if all the upgrades had been done, this only would have provided protection for a Category 3 hurricane -- a fact that the breach occurring in one of the recently upgraded areas would seem to confirm.

    Nevertheless, that hasn't stopped today's relentless Sunday scoldfest. Trudy Rubin (and many others) are using the strongest possible editorial language (well, not as strong as Steve Gilliard) to make the tie-in to Iraq:

    There's something ghoulishly fitting about talking by phone to Baghdad while watching the chaos in New Orleans.

    In my ear I'm hearing about the absence of electricity or water in 120-degree heat and daily shooting in Baghdad's streets. On CNN, a doctor from New Orleans' Charity Hospital is relating how nurses are giving each other IVs so they can keep working because there's no more water or food. Meanwhile, there's gunfire in the hospital's garage.

    How is it possible that Americans have been watching victims of Hurricane Katrina clinging to rooftops for days? How is it possible that we watched, like helpless voyeurs, as mothers and babies roasted in the Superdome without food or water - while women were reportedly raped in the restrooms?

    Do we not live in the richest country on earth? How dare anyone claim that it is "playing politics" to ask why officials weren't prepared to cope with this hurricane.

    The Baghdad and New Orleans debacles lay bare the dangerous American aversion to long-term planning. Lack of planning for the postwar gave us the current mess in Iraq. Lack of preparedness for a New Orleans flood produced a disaster that makes America look like a Third World country. Offers of help are pouring in from around the world as if we were Bangladeshis; even Cuba offered more than 1,000 doctors.

    Wow. Such a well-deserved Sunday scolding! I damned near wet my pew! Really I almost feel like I raped and murdered and drowned people myself! (At least the kindly Castro might take pity on my victims....)

    If I didn't know any better, I'd almost think Ms. Rubin fancied herself Philadelphia's Moralist-In-Chief. Anyway, she blames Bush, and particularly the Iraq war, which she's had on her brain for so long that it cannot but infect her analysis of whatever issue might cross her journalistic path.

    Bush is a liar, of course, and his statement that the breach in the levee hadn't been anticipated is being attacked by many as a lie of astounding proportions.

    Is it?

    Again, according to the Corps of Engineers, flooding was anticipated, but not the breach:

    In an interview on ABC’s "Good Morning America" on September 1, President Bush said:

    Bush: I don’t think anyone anticipated breach of the levees …Now we’re having to deal with it, and will.

    Bush is technically correct that a "breach" wasn't anticipated by the Corps, but that's doesn't mean the flooding wasn't forseen. It was. But the Corps thought it would happen differently, from water washing over the levees, rather than cutting wide breaks in them.

    Greg Breerword, a deputy district engineer for project management with the Army Corps of Engineers, told the New York Times:

    Breerword: We knew if it was going to be a Category 5, some levees and some flood walls would be overtopped. We never did think they would actually be breached.

    A Category 5 hurricane certainly could have been (and was) anticipated, and of course there had been warnings for decades. (Hurricane Betsy flooded the city for three weeks in 1965.) But had there been no budget cuts, no one has shown how the proposed upgrades would have been prevented a break "along a section that was just upgraded."

    Even assuming Al Gore had been elected in 2000.

    Or Kerry in 2004.

    These endless, emotionally overwrought attempts to make tenuous connections are getting really tedious, but I'm sure they'll get steadily worse, because those who beat the drums against the war have been beating on them for a long time now, and now they've got a perfect new issue fitting right into the old meme of "people died while Bush lied." Because now, Americans have died!

    The opportunity is too irresistible. I can't say I blame them.

    Again, Trudy Rubin:

    There's something ghoulishly fitting about talking by phone to Baghdad while watching the chaos in New Orleans.
    I'm tempted to agree, but it might be taken as an insult.

    MORE: It should be borne in mind that FEMA is another issue apart from the levee. (I think it was itself a disaster waiting to happen, quite possibly incapable of being fixed, but I'm just not into sermonizing right now.)

    posted by Eric at 09:27 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (2)

    If you can't beat 'em, don't join 'em!

    Speaking of the limitations of blogging, Environmental Republican makes a telling observation:

    Blogs can't compete with this onslaught. While the blogosphere is a major part of the information wagon train, they are much better with slower moving issues such as the Dan Rather affair or the Trent Lott kerfuffle.

    I'm not saying that blogs have not provided a service during this disaster because they have proved to be a tremendous resource with raising donations and such. What I am saying is that during any type of disaster--especially in August when the Cindy Sheehan peace train lost its interest--the news networks have no peer when it comes to setting the agenda.

    In the coming weeks and months, the blogosphere will pick apart the lies and distortions that have been flowing from the MSM, that is what we do.

    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

    How very, very, true. (That doesn't make blogs bad, though.)

    Because bloggers get their "food" from the MSM, the relationship between bloggers and the MSM is inherently one of parasite and host:

    Analysis cannot occur in any legitimate fashion without a base of facts. These are provided to the blogosphere by the mainstream media -- the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the network news organizations and dozens of other media outlets around the world. The reason the MSM evinces the irrational hostility it does to the blogosphere is that they correctly understand that bloggers are parasites. The linking capability on which all bloggers depend is the means by which the parasite attaches to the host. And without the host there is no source of nourishment.

    I'm not downplaying the importance of the role bloggers can play. Blogs can be effective at fact-checking the hypothetical facts which have been gathered by the host. They can improve on the quality of analysis provided by those who are so close to the story or the actors that their judgment becomes blurred, biased, or myopic. In short, they can be useful parasites.

    Still, it is folly to dream of the blogosphere replacing or even reducing the importance of the mainstream media. They're the big dog and will remain so. If some of them plunge into oblivion because they can't abide the new infestation of parasites, that doesn't mean the MSM is going away. It means that if the New York Times or the L.A. Times fail, they will be replaced by other mainstream media that do a better job of accumulating and reporting the facts.

    How, then, should bloggers view the blogosphere? To each his own, of course, but I see it as a gigantic Letters to the Editor department. There's no shortage of column inches for letter writers, and so our letters can be a lot harder to ignore, but we still need them more than they need us, and we would be wise not to forget it.

    I plead guilty to regularly using the MSM news as food, as fuel, for my blog. (Much of the time, but not all of the time.) But I also try to offer perspective, and I try to offer as many tidbits of personal insight, philosophy, and experience as I can. The idea that I would "replace" the MSM is laughable though, and I'd never aspire to such a thing. I don't want to be a reporter, or a "journalist" -- and there's no law requiring me to do so (any more than I'm required to be a "conservative" or a "liberal"). I'm just doing what I do, and I don't stop much to reflect on why.

    Another frequently made observation is that lots of bloggers were trained as lawyers, and are highly skilled at wading through details with a critical and discerning eye for errors, contradictions, and mistakes in logic. This complements the MSM, because the training received by journalists is very different. In my opinion, lawyers would do a better job as reporters, but it won't happen because they lack degrees in journalism, and wouldn't want to accept the cut in pay that working for a newspaper would entail.

    "Useful parasitism" will have to do for now. It's better than the useless variety (even if I'd prefer that it evolve into something more, er, symbiotic....)

    Good writing never hurts, either. (But that's something that years ago I was warned law schools tend to destroy.)

    posted by Eric at 09:50 AM | Comments (2)

    An unhelpful mouthful (but at least there's money behind the mouth)

    A performer named Kanye West made some statements at a live NBC fundraiser yesterday which have pissed a lot of people off:

    West: I hate the way they portray us in the media. You see a black family, it says, "They're looting." You see a white family, it says, "They're looking for food."
    That's a good point, which I tried to address in this blog the other day.

    I don't think it's helpful to attribute factual on-site reporting to racism, though. If CNN and Fox go in there with cameras and shoot footage of mostly black looters in a mostly-black city, to call it a deliberate "portrayal" strikes me as at least as unfair as the related approach of reporting unconfirmed incidents of cannibalism, then blaming that on racism. (The latter link comes from, although I think the reference to "four whole days without Twinkies or collard greens or whatever" is also unhelpful at a time like this.)

    West continues:

    And, you know, it's been five days [waiting for federal help] because most of the people are black. And even for me to complain about it, I would be a hypocrite because I've tried to turn away from the TV because it's too hard to watch.
    From what I can see, he's wrong about race as the reason for the delay. The primary reason for the delay in sending in the National Guard was that Governor Blanco had not requested them.

    As a matter of fact, there are constitutional considerations. Something New Orleans Mayor Nagin seemed to acknowledge (albeit with contempt) during his recent interview with station WWL:

    WWL: Well, you and I must be in the minority. Because apparently there's a section of our citizenry out there that thinks because of a law that says the federal government can't come in unless requested by the proper people, that everything that's going on to this point has been done as good as it can possibly be.

    NAGIN: Really?

    WWL: I know you don't feel that way.

    NAGIN: Well, did the tsunami victims request? Did it go through a formal process to request?

    You know, did the Iraqi people request that we go in there? Did they ask us to go in there? What is more important?

    And I'll tell you, man, I'm probably going get in a whole bunch of trouble. I'm probably going to get in so much trouble it ain't even funny. You probably won't even want to deal with me after this interview is over.

    (More discussion of the details here by General Blum.)


    Anyway, back to Kanye West's fundraiser remarks:

    I've even been shopping before even giving a donation, so now I'm calling my business manager right now to see what is the biggest amount I can give, and just to imagine if I was down there, and those are my people down there.
    I'm assuming he meant shopping in the sense of shopping for the correct charity. Contributing the largest possible sum he can is admirable -- and as I said yesterday, it does give him a certain moral standing to complain. It doesn't give him the right to be right, though, and I'm not sure I understand the logic of "my people." If the people in New Orleans are "his" people, then who would that make "mine"? Is there a proprietary interest in people by virtue of their skin that supersedes nationality? Are these people Americans or are they not? And if they are Americans, why don't I have just as much right to call them "my people" as Kanye West?

    So anybody out there that wants to do anything that we can help -- with the way America is set up to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off, as slow as possible.
    Sorry, but I'm unable to make literal sense out of that statement, although I think he's complaining that the country has been "set up" to help poor and black people as slowly as possible. If he means that white people would have been helped sooner under the same circumstances, what is his evidence of that? I'm not sure about the racial breakdowns of neighboring Alabama and Mississippi, but apparently the governors in those states requested more Guardsmen before Lousiania Governor Blanco did. I know that all three governors are white, but is West suggesting Governor Blanco is more racist than the other two? On what basis?
    I mean, the Red Cross is doing everything they can.
    Well, that's a nice concession. But is it intended literally, or as sarcasm? I cannot be sure, as I didn't see the show and I am forced to work from a written transcript. (Another limitation of blogging, I guess.)
    We already realize a lot of people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way -- and they've given them permission to go down and shoot us!
    That's quite a mouthful. Yes, there are people who could help who are in Iraq. But there are also people who could help who are not in Iraq. The latter outnumber the former by a fairly large ratio. If we look at the military figures alone, there are presently 138,000 troops in Iraq, out of a total of 1.4 million active duty personnel. Ten percent are in Iraq. But the complaint about the fact that they now have "permission to go down and shoot 'us'" strikes me as inconsistent with the complaint that they could help, but they're in Iraq.

    Statements like Kanye West's make me wonder again whether or not part of the delay might have been caused by fear of authorizing the pulling of triggers.

    Gee. I wonder if the critics of what's going on want to have it both ways.

    UPDATE: Donald Sensing compares Mayor Nagin to Kate Hale, and links to a common sense observation from Reason's Glenn Garvin:

    American presidents, with good reason, do not treat local jurisdictions like conquered territories, subject to military occupation at the whim of the White House.
    (Via Glenn Reynolds.)


    Does that mean Bush blew his moment of opportunity to really commit fascism?

    MORE: According to Mr. Snitch, the video seems to be disappearing.

    But the West video is nothing compared to the performance of Steve Gilliard (a humorless sort who tried to get Glenn Reynolds fired over a T-shirt):

    Well, motherfuckers, and that means you, fat ass Goldberg and your master, Rich Lowry, PNAC Bitch Beinart, the racist wannabe white Malkin and the little fucktards at LGF, Bareback Andy and "Diversity" Instacracker, all you backstabbing, fag hating uncle tom ministers, you can see Dear Leader in action. America's largest port is gone, maybe forever, gas is $5+ a gallon and FEMA is coming. Whores come faster with old men than FEMA is getting to NOLA.
    He's just getting warmed up, there.
    Say 9/11 changed everything now, motherfuckers. Ooops, 9/11, 9/11. 9/11. Doesn't work anymore? Gee, maybe the sea of alligator MRE's once known as the citizens of New Orleans has something to do with that. Now you can shut the fuck up about 9/11. Bush just proved what would happen with another 9/11. Dead Americans as far as the nose can smell.

    Drunken Chris Hitchens muttered some nonsense about blacks having it so good here. The poor man needs to stay in his bottle or go to Betty Ford before someone beats his treasonous ass stupid. Islamofascism means what, now motherfucker? Shove Islamofascism up your well travelled ass. The most dangerous thing to average Americans is not some mullah in Iraq, not even Osama Bin Laden, but George Bush. If he doesn't get you killed in Iraq, he'll fuck up saving your city so it turns into Escape from New Orleans. Armed junkies roaming the streets, looking for a fix, robbing and looting like Serb paramilitaries and about as sober.

    I support free speech and I understand the need to vent, but I don't see how incivility like that is going to help anyone. (The comments aren't much better.)

    Did I just say "incivility"?

    I shouldn't use such strong language.

    posted by Eric at 08:31 AM | Comments (3)

    Weather or not

    As Glenn says, "Advantage: Blogosphere!"

    I'd like to also say, "advantage, National Weather Service."

    Except I'm puzzled.

    On August 28, Brendan Loy linked and quoted what he rightly called an "apocalyptic statement from the National Weather Service in New Orleans." Here it is:

    413 PM CDT SUN AUG 28 2005







    Well, where is the apocalyptic statement? Right now, the link leads to a very different statement -- of a far less apocalyptic nature.

    Why, it's downright un-apocalyptic:



    And again:
    Why the change? And if it's a daily thing, why hasn't it been updated since August 29?

    Surely the Weather Service doesn't retract warnings retroactively, so there must be a simple explanation.

    In any case, official warnings went unheeded.

    (And that's in addition to the blogosphere.)

    MORE: There isn't much question that the official warning was given. Simply googling the phrase "MOST OF THE AREA WILL BE UNINHABITABLE FOR WEEKS" produces innumerable hits. (Including the news sites.)

    There's no way to un-ring that bell.

    posted by Eric at 11:19 PM | Comments (4)

    I hate price gouging and high gasoline prices!

    But that doesn't mean I want the government to "fix" anything!

    Rand Simberg does a fine job of explaining in lay terms why government attempts at price fixing do more harm than good:

    Consider -- if a gas station owner has gas, someone has to decide who gets it. If the price remains at pre-hurricane levels, many will fill their tanks, because they can afford to do so, against the chance (and even likelihood) that gas will later become completely unavailable (a self-fulfilling prophecy if the price is not allowed to rise). Many will do so even if they have no immediate need for it. But after the first few people do this, the gas will be gone, and none will be available for those who come after, because it's now tied up in the gas tanks of those who didn't really need it. Those who didn't get any may include emergency workers, or truck drivers who need it to go out and find other goods to bring in. It is likely worth more to them, but they didn't get it, because the price was artificially fixed. Moreover, had the price been allowed to rise, they would have been able to afford it, because they would have been able to demand more resources with which to pay for it -- the emergency worker might have had aid from local agencies to pay for it, or the truck driver might have been willing to make the investment in order to recover it by bringing in necessary goods (assuming, of course, that prices on those weren't capped).

    Similarly, if ice prices rise to the market, the man who needs to keep his insulin cold for his diabetes treatment will place a higher value on it than the man who wants to keep his beer cold, and will have a better chance of getting it. The man who might rent two hotel rooms for his family for additional comfort might, in the face of appropriately higher prices, inconvenience himself and only get one, releasing one for another whole family.

    This works for the supply side as well. Making and transporting ice costs money. When the local ice plant is out of commission, it has to be brought in from other locations, in refrigerated trucks, at higher gasoline costs. Who would bother to take the trouble, expense and risk to deliver it at a loss when they can only get the same price for it as before the hurricane?

    That argument is as logical as it is absolutely right. But it won't stop meddlesome busybodies from trying to "help" people by using heavyhanded government solutions which will only make things worse.

    Of course, I filled my tank on Tuesday morning, and I'm glad I did, as the price was up thirty cents a gallon the next day (and I'm sure it's higher now). Eventually, the fill-up-now hysteria will stabilize, and the true price gougers will be stopped naturally.

    There's still a lot of oil out there, and a lot of people unwilling to buy as much as they did before the current mess flared up. What that means is that the high prices have to come down sooner or later.

    Which raises another interesting issue. There is a split in thinking among those who want government to regulate the price of gasoline. The populist type of approach (pass laws capping fuel prices) is appealing to those who claim to champion the cause of the poor (usually for their own political self-aggrandizement). On the other hand, there are people who favor an elitist approach which entails raising fuel prices (usually by higher gasoline taxes).

    Ironically, both of these groups are generally on the political left, yet they seek opposite results. The elitists are driven by a moralistic vision that gasoline is bad (if not evil), and that we should be using as little as possible. It's a quasi-prohibitionist mindset which reminds me of the movement to raise cigarette taxes to a level at which buying them becomes extravagant.

    I can't stand either regulatory mindset, and I'm glad we're not forced to choose between them.

    Maybe -- just maybe -- they'll get together and cancel each other out, and market forces will simply allow the price to rise -- and then fall.

    We should be so lucky. But they could also get together and agree to "fix" the prices when they're high, to "save the environment"!


    The more I think about the regulatory vultures (on both "sides" of the other "side"), the better the greedy, price-gouging merchants look.

    posted by Eric at 04:43 PM

    When all bureaucracy fails . . .

    Here's another reason to find a charity and donate to it.

    Giving money to private charities might be better than relying on big government bureaucracies. Here's's Daniel Henninger:

    We know what to do. We have many specialists in the arcane disciplines relevant to understanding natural and man-made disasters. We know what to do, but we are not good at using what we know. Why not?

    We fail to use well what we know because we rely too much on large public bureaucracies. This was the primary lesson of the 9/11 Commission Report. Large public bureaucracies, whether the FBI and the CIA or FEMA and the Corps of Engineers, don't talk to each other much. They are poorly incentivized, if at all. Budgets, the oxygen of the acronymic planets, make bureaucracy's managers first responders to constant political whim. Real-world problems, as the 9/11 report noted, inevitably seem distant and minor: "Once the danger has fully materialized, evident to all, mobilizing action is easier--but it then may be too late."

    Homeland Security, a new big bureaucracy, has struggled since 2001 to assemble a feasible plan to respond to another major terror event inside the U.S. The possibility, or likelihood, of a bird-borne flu pandemic is beginning to reach public awareness, but the government is at pains to create a sufficient supply of vaccine or a distribution system for anti-viral medicines. Any bets on which will come first--the flu or the distribution system?

    Big public bureaucracies are going to get us killed. They already have. (Via G. Gordon Liddy.)

    I have a question.

    If big public bureaucracies fail to work efficiently in non-emergency settings, is it reasonable to expect them to work efficiently in emergencies?

    posted by Eric at 11:02 AM

    Triggers and itchy fingers

    A lot of people -- including Andrew Sullivan, who is indignant -- are upset about the lack of law and order in the filthy muck that was once New Orleans, and I don't like it either. (My natural response when I saw reports of rescue helicopters being fired upon was "Why the hell didn't they shoot back?" Obviously, they lack the orders to do so.)

    What's being forgotten (except by those who'd have ultimate responsibility) is that shooting poor black people who are struggling for their lives won't play well on TV. Bush doesn't want to be the fall guy. Neither, it seems, does the Louisiana governor.

    Accepting responsibility for the actual pulling of triggers which will kill Americans is not an easy thing.

    Something easier to avoid than do. It's tough for me to point the finger of blame.

    EXAMPLE: In a NYT article titled "Officials Struggle to Reverse a Growing Sense of Anarchy," Governor Blanco's measured words reflect this hesitancy:

    Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana said that the death toll from Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath would be in the "thousands," based on reports that she was receiving from officials throughout the state, The Associated Press said.

    In a televised news briefing, she said that 12,000 National Guard troops were to arrive in the area in the next several days, as well as police officers and sheriff's deputies from as far away as Michigan.

    They will be given arrest and other law enforcement powers, she said, and "looting and other lawlessness will not be tolerated." She also said had instructed them to "strictly enforce Louisiana laws and to use necessary force."

    As this Navy site explains, the powers given the National Guard are limited to law enforcement functions, and do NOT include martial law.

    (Reports like this to the contrary would seem to be unfounded.)

    posted by Eric at 08:37 AM | Comments (2)

    In the wake of the Flood come the moralizers

    Not long ago, I was surprised to see Professor Bainbridge criticize the war in Iraq, but that was "pre-Katrina." At the rate things are going, I wouldn't be surprised to see public support -- and the key here is conservative public support -- for the Iraq war (if not the concept of GWOT) drowned in foul New Orleans water.

    I expect to see a chorus of thinking along the lines of "The War in Iraq was lost in New Orleans" -- and I hope I am wrong. But opportunistic moralists (people who make connections between flooding and Broadway plays) always climb out of the muck at times like this.

    I worry that they'll emerge from both "sides," and emotion will prevail.

    posted by Eric at 07:49 AM


    In addition to Catholic Charities, I have now donated the American Kennel Club's Canine Relief Fund, the American Red Cross, and the Salvation Army.

    I plan to give more.

    New Orleans is a festering squalid mess -- a total disaster, which is getting worse fast. If you think it's bad now, just wait until another week. I fear that the country might implode emotionally, because there'd already been so much blaming of everyone for almost everything that there wasn't any room for more -- and then this.

    People are unable to tolerate situations where there isn't an enemy or a scapegoat, and I fear that they may turn on each other. I hope this doesn't spark unrest in other cities, but I fear that's a possibility. A nasty incident -- possibly people being shot, possibly a riot at one of the "bowls" -- might set something off, and all the demagogues stand ready and waiting to exploit it.

    What this means is that the more money there is, the better things will be. Any amount of money each and every one of you readers can give, please give. It is a dire emergency. I've never had a tip jar, but if there is anyone who might have entertained the slightest thought of tipping me if I had, please give to charity now.

    It's too bad it's all we can do, and it isn't enough.

    AFTERTHOUGHT: One of the biggest problems with the refugees from this flood is that so many of them were unemployed, retired, disabled, living on fixed incomes, living in subsidized housing, or living on various forms of public assistance. What this means is that the question is more complicated than one of simply "getting them back on their feet." (It might not be possible to get people back on their feet who weren't fully on their feet in the first place.) Conventional economic models might not apply.

    It will mean more money.

    posted by Eric at 08:15 PM | Comments (3)

    A single tragedy (which I'm praying will end happily)

    I just heard that Fats Domino (who refused to leave his New Orleans home) hasn't been heard from since Monday. He was last seen on the porch on the second floor of his flooded home. I hope he makes it out of there somehow.

    I don't think I'll ever hear "I'm walking to New Orleans" the same way again.

    I've got no time for talkin'
    I've got to keep on walkin'
    New Orleans is my home
    That's the reason why I'm goin'
    Yes, I'm walkin' to New Orleans
    Fats was 76, and in bad health.

    Tragic as this news is (and it made me cry), it's nothing compared to what's in store.

    I wish Fats the best -- wherever he is. He brought happiness into my life. I hope they find him, but it doesn't look good (for Fats or some of New Orleans' other musicians) -- at all :

    To begin with, one of the city’s most important legends, Antoine "Fats" Domino, has not been heard from since Monday afternoon. Domino’s rollicking boogie-woogie piano and deep soul voice are not only part of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame but responsible for dozens of hits like “Blue Monday,” “Ain’t That a Shame,” “Blueberry Hill” and “I’m Walking (Yes, Indeed, I’m Talking).”

    Domino, 76, lives with his wife Rosemary and daughter in a three-story pink-roofed house in New Orleans’ 9th ward, which is now under water.

    On Monday afternoon, Domino told his manager, Al Embry of Nashville, that he would “ride out the storm” at home. Embry is now frantic.

    Calls have been made to Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s office and to various police officials, and though there’s lots of sympathetic response, the whereabouts of Domino and his family remain a mystery.

    UPDATE: Reader Daniel Wiltshire of Kicking on Doors to the rescue! Fats is alive and apparently well!

    My favorite feature of the blogosphere is that someone always knows more than I do.

    Thanks Daniel!

    posted by Eric at 07:55 PM | Comments (1)

    Which Convention is to blame?

    Because of all that's going on, something doesn't seem right about writing satire today. But something never feels right about satire, and I think this issue is important enough that perhaps an overabundance of satirical logic is the best way to tackle the problem. If this offends anyone, please remember that it isn't my intent to be offensive or to ridicule religion. My religious views are extremely unconventional, but part of my misfortune is that I'm not an atheist. (My life would be much easier if I were, because if you're not an atheist and admit it, atheists will ridicule your views, while the dogmatically religious people will consider you a "partial victory for God" - and thus fair game.)

    Anyway, while researching the last post, I stumbled onto WorldNetDaily's story about the latest Michael Marcavage outburst, which zeroed in on the details of the city's annual "Southern Decadence" festival (which would have run from August 31- September 5).

    The fact that people would want to make such a connection struck me as not only profoundly illogical, but downright cruel to the people who are suffering with the effects of this disaster. So I thought I should apply a simple logical analysis, by way of testing the theory that God would destroy a city in order to, yes, stop a convention.

    Did God intend to stop that convention?

    It occurred to me that we might as well weigh all the possibilities, leaving no stone unturned in our search for the truth. Accordingly, I conducted a little more research, and the results are quite puzzling.

    Because, sure enough, I found that by applying the same logic I was able to determine that there were a number of other conventions which God -- acting through Hurricane Katrina -- prevented from happening.

    Stopped 'em dead in their tracks.

    For example, before we rush to blame the "Southern Decadence" convention, shouldn't we at least ask whether God might have intended to stop the National Business Aviation Association convention, which was also canceled? Surely it doesn't take much imagination to understand that if God intended man to fly, God would have given him wings. Isn't the NBAA guilty of contributing to major, repeated violations of the law of gravity? I think it's beyond debate that gravity is one of the laws of nature and of nature's God, and that these people have violated it shamelessly, and gotten away with it for far too long.

    Lest you think the aviators and the homos are the only people whose conventions God might have wanted to stop, read on. Because there are plenty more reports of conventions blocked by God, and I'm sure I haven't found reports about them all.

    While it may not be easy for us to understand each and every "why," isn't it also possible that God might have sent the hurricane to stop the North American Building Materials Distribution Association from holding their convention? If you think about it, buildings have a long history of being used for sinful and wicked activities, and I'm not just talking about the defiant Tower of Babel. Some of the most heinous crimes ever perpetrated have taken place entirely indoors, and were it not for the building materials used in constructing the places, the wicked acts might never have taken place. Furthermore, many wicked men have lived in buildings which were constructed entirely from -- guess what? building materials! Aren't those who distribute the tools used to facilitate sin at least as guilty as the sinners themselves?

    I also see that The American Society of Anesthesiologists was also forced to cancel their convention. While there's no word at their web site about why God would want to stop this convention, it is well known that anesthesia thwarts the natural pain which God intended the body to have -- pain which 19th Century surgeons feared would harm their patients' character. Perhaps God meant to deliver a stern warning along the lines of, "Enough with this human interference with my pain, already!"

    Then there's the wicked Specialty Graphic Imaging Association The fact that God hates images is too well known to require extended discussion. Image makers beware!

    How about the canceled American Society for Microbiology convention? What sort of evil doings did these perverters of nature have in mind? Is not microbiology at the heart of innumerable untold evils, from plant reengineering to cloning? Well, why wouldn't God want to stop that?

    These ridiculous speculations assume, of course, that God would punish the many for the conduct of the few, and would compound this fiendishness by never making it clear which group was the real target. Farrakhan and others are blaming Katrina on America because of the War in Iraq -- and while that is just as silly as blaming the conventions which were scheduled to be in town, it will play out all over the world.

    More inane (but more insidious) is the idea that the hurricane was caused not by God, but by human beings themselves -- through not-yet-fully-explained actions such as "Global Warming." Or that the people who lived there "brought it on themselves" by living there. This substitutes "nature" for God, but is equally cruel because it holds people responsible for things they did not do without any causal connection other than "because they were there."

    I hate seeing such massive failures of logic (with more certain to come), because it reminds me of a stubborn pattern people have of plugging in their favorite enemies, and blaming them for whatever crisis might come along. Never mind who might have done it, just say that your most hated target was responsible for 9/11. Ditto for Columbine. Even abu Ghraib. Blogs were responsible for violence at athletic events.

    In the case of a horrendous natural disaster like this, the blame-your-enemy approach is so heinously irrational that I'd like to think it wouldn't happen at all. But it is, and I fear it will get worse. I don't mean to minimize the suffering of anyone by saying this, but Americans are all victims right now. To blame Americans as a group (or groups of Americans) for this awful tragedy is a form of blaming the victim. It's as inexcusable as it is conventional.

    UPDATE: CNN's Wolf Blitzer just read an email from a listener reading "I am ashamed and disgusted to be an American right now" and who blames Bush. Appalling.

    MORE (4:14 p.m.): Former President George H.W. Bush just said it's natural for people to seek to blame someone when disaster strikes. I remember this happening during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, when some of my close friends -- not including me -- were convinced the federal government deliberately infected gay men with a virus created in military laboratories.

    I guess I'll just have to sit through the cycles of blame for a while.

    AND MORE: Numerous reports indicate that the situation is getting very ugly, with snipers shooting rescue workers.


    An old man in a chaise lounge lay dead in a grassy median as hungry babies wailed around him. Around the corner, an elderly woman lay dead in her wheelchair, covered with a blanket, and another body lay beside her wrapped in a sheet.

    "I don't treat my dog like that," 47-year-old Daniel Edwards said as he pointed at the woman in the wheelchair. "I buried my dog." He added: "You can do everything for other countries but you can't do nothing for your own people. You can go overseas with the military but you can't get them down here."

    The street outside the center, above the floodwaters, smelled of urine and feces, and was choked with dirty diapers, old bottles and garbage.

    "They've been teasing us with buses for four days," Edwards said.

    People chanted, "Help, help!" as reporters and photographers walked through. The crowd got angry when journalists tried to photograph one of the bodies, and covered it over with a blanket. A woman, screaming, went on the front steps of the convention center and led the crowd in reciting the 23rd Psalm.

    John Murray, 52, said: "It's like they're punishing us."

    The Superdome, where some 25,000 people were being evacuated by bus to the Houston Astrodome, descended into chaos as well.

    Huge crowds, hoping to finally escape the stifling confines of the stadium, jammed the main concourse outside the dome, spilling out over the ramp to the Hyatt hotel next door _ a seething sea of tense, unhappy, people packed shoulder-to-shoulder up to the barricades where heavily armed National Guardsmen stood.

    Fights broke out. A fire erupted in a trash chute inside the dome, but a National Guard commander said it did not affect the evacuation. After a traffic jam kept buses from arriving at the Superdome for nearly four hours, a near-riot broke out in the scramble to get on the buses that finally did show up.

    The first of hundreds of busloads of people evacuated from the Superdome arrived early Thursday at their new temporary home _ another sports arena, the Houston Astrodome, 350 miles away.

    But the ambulance service in charge of taking the sick and injured from the Superdome suspended flights after a shot was reported fired at a military helicopter. Richard Zuschlag, chief of Acadian Ambulance, said it was too dangerous for his pilots.

    It's like they're punishing us.

    Situations like this are going to generate a lot of blame. I like Donald Sensing's idea (via InstaPundit) of dropping leaflets, because people have a need for basic information. Any information. I get angry just from an airport or traffic delay. But the most irritating thing is not knowing.

    This was just confirmed by a reporter at Fox News, who said, "what they want to know more than anything else is how much more they have to endure."

    MORE: Here's Stephen Green:

    Imagine trying to resolve the 9-11 mess if NYC was under six feet of water, all comms were out, the interstates were flooded and the majority of the infrastructure more or less completely out of commission.
    Or Philadelphia.

    MORE: Here's Aaron at FreeWillBlog:

    Today while watching CNN, I saw a guy who was sitting on the lawn in front of his house in New Orleans, complaining that his two neighbors' corpses were in the apartment next to him, nobody had come to get the bodies, and FEMA hadn't brought him any food yet. Equally astonishing, I've seen a number of complaints from liberals looking for an opportunity to condemn Bush along the same lines: "Why aren't they sending the military in, all of it? Why aren't we airdropping food and water into the city? Why isn't the city filled with small boats trying to rescue trapped people? Why not send dozens of helicopters to try to plug the levee? Why aren't we doing more to save New Orleans? Don't we have a giant watervac to clean it up in one big slurp? Didn't they plan for this?" It goes on and on, and often there are bizarre conspiracy theories to explain it, so let me put it bluntly:

    Years ago, when I was in school, I was invited to participate in a think-tank type of workshop at SIU on a similar scenario for Southern Illinois if the New Madrid were to blow and turn this joint into a sandbox. You know what we found? That we were screwed. There was no way to plan ourselves out of the worst-case-scenario. That, as it turned out, was the point of the exercise: To impress upon us that there was no Batman, there was no Superman, and that if the earthquake hit, with hundreds of thousands of people spread out across dozens of devastated towns, it would take days, at a bare minimum, before anyone could reach us, and that we had to take this threat seriously and convey to others the importance of preparing for the disaster, having a bugout kit, being at least moderately prepared for a survival situation. (Instapundit defines "moderately prepared" well: "If you've got a week's supplies, and a gun, you'll usually do okay after a disaster. If you don't, you're in much bigger trouble...") Same rule applies here.

    ...Nature is history's greatest monster, and when it decides to go on a killing spree, even the most powerful superpower in human history is simply incapable of fighting back. Nothing within the scope of our imagination can make New Orleans a habitable place right now.

    (Via Glenn.) The post is a must-read, directly applicable to this debate.

    (I suggest reading it before blaming.)

    I know it's hard, but I wish people would remember the main difference between this and 9/11:

    We have no enemy to blame!

    UPDATE: We don't? According to James Wolcott, "New Orleans Died for Bush's Sins."

    I blame Gaia. (Heaven knows where Uranus is at.)

    MORE: Does God have a two-fer?

    Stephen O’Leary, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California and an expert on the media and apocalypticism, says, “God’s got a two-fer here. Both sides are eager to see America punished for her sins; on one side it’s sexual immorality and porn and Hollywood, and on the other side it’s conspicuous consumption and Hummers.”
    Such zeal for punishing the innocent strikes me as more human than divine.

    MORE: Similar nonsense from a Google News Site:

    New Orleans City Council President Oliver Thomas after witnessing the horrors first hand and hearing talk of Sodom and Gomorrah commented, "Maybe God's going to cleanse us."

    The theme of cleansing or purification has become a frequently discussed topic as the tragedy in the affected states unfolds. European papers have suggested that Katrina was the punishment the US received for failing to sign onto the Kyoto accord, Islamic militants have rejoiced that "private" Katrina has joined in the holy war against the U.S. for - among other things - the Iraq war. Some have even suggested that the hurricane was God's punishment on the U.S. for cooperating in the removal of Jews from the Gaza strip.

    However, beyond these speculations is a more general acknowledgement that New Orleans, the epicentre of the disaster, was a "sin city" which harboured few rivals. The New Orleans "southern decadence" festival which was to take place Labour Day weekend, is described by a French Quarter tourism site as "sort of like a gayer version of Mardi Gras" which is "most famous (or infamous) for the displays of naked flesh which characterize the event," with "public displays of sexuality . . . pretty much everywhere you look."

    The city is also renowned for occult practices, particularly voodoo.

    Michael Brown, creator of the immensely popular website - popularly known as the Catholic DrudgeReport, has said that Katrina was "definitely" a purification for New Orleans. Brown points out that the name Katrina itself means "pure". And that, Brown told, is not a coincidence. "I don't believe in coincidences," said Brown, adding that God has everything in His control and "I think that everything is interwoven." contacted Brown due to his startlingly accurate prediction of the events in New Orleans in 2001, when he issued what is now being seen as a warning to New Orleans. In 2001 Brown wrote a piece about what he felt was upcoming disaster for New Orleans.

    Brown began, "There are few cities with so many good as New Orleans and also few cities where there is such a stark coexistence with the bad. It is this city, the Big Easy, that is home to kind and generous and Christian people . . . and yet also this city that has allowed evil to flourish in a way that has become truly dangerous." Noting the occult practices and the sexual immorality, Brown warned, "When you invoke dark spirits, you get a storm. The very word hurricane comes from the Indian hurukan for evil spirit."

    More here. I think I hear "The Twilight Zone" theme playing right now, and I don't know who to blame.

    UPDATE: More here about "End Times":

    A national talk-radio host believes the severity of Hurricane Katrina is clear evidence that civilization is now in the "End Times" described in the Bible.

    "I don't think there's any doubt," George Noory said this morning on his "Coast to Coast AM" program. "I think we're in it. I really do."

    People obviously have a need for this sort of thing or there wouldn't be so much of it.

    AND MORE: Nice collection of memorable idiotarian quotes (mostly blaming Bush/ Iraq/"GlobalWarming"). (Via Glenn Reynolds.)Here's one:

    "The Terrorist Katrina is One of the Soldiers of Allah, But Not an Adherent of Al-Qaeda"

    MORE: According to every report I've seen, the French Quarter has come through in good shape, and is the least affected area of New Orleans.

    (A hell of a way for God to punish "sodomites," if you ask me....)

    posted by Eric at 01:25 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (1)

    Not helping at all

    In hateful remarks which will doubtless be echoed elsewhere, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan has stated that Hurricane Katrina is "God's punishment" for the war in Iraq:

    Speaking to a large crowd in South Philadelphia tonight, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan suggested that the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina was divine punishment for the violence America had inflicted on Iraq.

    "New Orleans is the first of the cities going to tumble down... unless America changes its course," Farrakhan said.

    "It is the wickedness of the people of America and the government of America that is bringing the wrath of God down," he told several hundred people at Tinsley Temple United Methodist Church.

    His remarks were enthusiastically received.

    He was in town as part of a multicity tour designed to drum up support for an Oct. 15 event in Washington designed to build on and commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March he organized in 1995. The new effort is called the Millions More Movement.

    Farrakhan made similar remarks at a luncheon hosted by District 33 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents blue-collar city workers.

    "The justice of God is coming home now," he said in an hour-long speech. Among those attending were City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, Mayor Street's son Sharif Street, and Imam Shamsud-din Ali, the Muslim cleric convicted in the City Hall corruption probe.

    Were I a captive of ad hominem rhetoric, calling the man a despicable loony tune and his comments reprehensible would be an understatement. No hyperbole would be strong enough.

    And it would be wasted on Farrakhan, whose remarks are, after all, wholly in character. What's more disturbing is to see the remarks were "enthusiastically received" by Philadelphia city officials. (It's also disturbing that he's reportedly engaged in a "gay outreach" campaign.)

    The wickedness of the people of America?

    That doesn't sound like brotherly love to me.

    AND MORE: In other local news, "evangelist" Michael Marcavage (a longtime topic of satire here) stated that hurricane Katrina 'destroyed a wicked city':

    Repent America, the Christian ministry in Lansdowne known for its street demonstrations against homosexuality, said yesterday that Katrina was "an act of God" that "destroyed a wicked city" because it hit on the eve of a large gay festival in New Orleans.

    Michael Marcavage, Repent America's leader, cited Southern Decadence, an often-raucous celebration that was to open today in the French Quarter for the 34th year. "Let us pray for those ravaged by this disaster," he said. "However, we must not forget that the citizens of New Orleans tolerated and welcomed the wickedness in their city for so long."

    While this is mainly local Philadelphia news, it's been picked up by the Advocate, which added an additional remark:
    An antigay activist group based in Philadelphia says that the disaster wrought by Hurricane Katrina reflects God's judgment on New Orleans for hosting the gay Southern Decadence party. In a statement issued Wednesday, Repent America described "homosexuals engaging in sex acts in the public streets" at the annual event, which draws some 125,000 revelers to the Big Easy each Labor Day weekend. "Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city," said Repent America director Michael Marcavage. "May it never be the same."
    I imagine the same type of hateful rhetoric could be leveled at just about almost any American city to suffer a disaster. (Might have been a gay bar or two in Biloxi or Mobile....)

    Not to be outdone by the likes of Marcavage, has of course gotten in on the act:

    Thank God for Katrina
    New Orleans, symbol of America, seen for what it is: a putrid, toxic, stinking cesspool of fag fecal matter.

    No surprise there.

    These guys all deserve each other, and I suspect they'll eventually join each other.

    MORE: Among other odd ideas, Marcavage thinks the government should execute homosexuals:

    Marcavage never uses slurs to describe homosexuals; rather, he turns the word homosexual itself into a slur, using it as a sort of branding. He is a deliberate speaker, careful as any politician. But if he is diplomatic with his words, he uses them to advance a militant agenda.

    "According to the Scriptures, it's the government's job to enforce God's law and to uphold his law, and the Bible talks about how, I don't want to really get into this — it'll make me sound like I'm crazy — but it does talk about how [homosexuals] are to be put to death. The wages of sin is death. But I want to make [it] clear that I'm not advocating the [independent] killing of homosexuals. … I'm saying that the government's duty is to uphold God's law. … I know that's harsh, but we have all broken the law, God's law, and we need to be held accountable."

    (Via Ex-Gay Watch.)

    He's also anti-Catholic, anti-Bush and probably against the war in Iraq. Read the whole thing. (Obviously, he knows how to get headlines, while discrediting whatever God he claims to worship.)


    posted by Eric at 11:39 AM | Comments (1)

    (Just trying to help)

    Like so many bloggers, I feel a little powerless where it comes to assisting with the Hurricane Katrina effort.

    What I'd say again, is GIVE, GIVE, GIVE.

    I donated to Catholic Charities, and I also plan to donate to the American Red Cross.

    Animal lover that I am, I have just donated to the American Kennel Club's Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund (recommended by Greg Hlatky), because there are many abandoned, sick or injured animals (which often had to be left behind by owners prevented from bringing them to shelters).

    In the case of New Orleans, I thought it might help for people to see in graphic form what it is that's at the heart of the problem. There's an excellent map here, showing the layout of New Orleans from different vantage points, with very easily understood cross sectional diagrams.

    Like this ground elevation map -- which shows that New Orleans is really a gigantic soup bowl:


    The height of levee walls was increased following Hurricane Betsy in 1965. I don't know why there hasn't been more discussion of this hurricane, but it left the city flooded for as long as three weeks. A 2003 USA Today article recalled the event:

    As the hurricane moved ashore south of New Orleans it destroyed almost every building in Grand Isle, where the Coast Guard station reported gusts up to 160 mph.

    Winds up to 125 mph were measured in New Orleans.

    Betsy drove storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain, which is just north of the city and is connected to the Gulf of Mexico, pushing water over levees around the lake. Flood water reaches the eves of houses in some places in the city.

    A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Web site notes that "Betsy prompted Congress to authorize a ring of levees 16 feet high around the city — a project the Corps of Engineers is completing today. This level of protection was based on the science of storm prediction as it existed in the 1960s. The question remains, however, whether this level of protection would be sufficient to protect the city from a category 4 or 5 hurricane today — or even a category 3 storm that lingered over the city."

    Individual Betsy stories are recorded here.

    Betsy, of course, was a drop in the bucket compared to Katrina.

    Aside from my concern about the dead and injured, I'm really worried right now about the wisdom of cooping people up in stadiums for an extended period of time. Agoraphobe that I am, I can only imagine how horrible it must be to be forced to leave the security and sanctity of one's home for a huge public arena. (A small room the size of a prison cell would be better in many ways....)

    I'd want to stay in my home and defend it if necessary, and I'm glad to see that honest citizens are protecting themselves. As Glenn said:

    If you've got a week's supplies, and a gun, you'll usually do okay after a disaster. If you don't, you're in much bigger trouble, because it generally takes that long for some sort of order to be restored. We saw that after Andrew, and we're seeing it again.
    What I don't like is stereotyping, and I dislike seeing all looters being portrayed as black -- or armed citizens as white.

    Since I'm into being "graphic" lately, I thought I'd share a picture of a looter from today's Philadelphia Inquirer.


    (This is not to suggest that I favor "reverse discrimination" against whites or anything like it. I'd love nothing more than to upload a picture of armed black store-owners, but I have a sneaking suspicion that MSM photographers would avoid taking such pictures, and that if they did they'd be unlikely make it into the New York Times.)

    Anyway, in the Inquirer's accompanying story, reporter Lisa Herndon shares an observation worth keeping in mind:

    For television reporters, shots of blacks looting are quick, easy and downright expected.

    New Orleans is more than a party-time tourist destination. It's a city where two-thirds of the population is black, so I'm not surprised to see black people looting. Many are poor: The median income for whites is a low $31,971; for blacks it's a subterranean $11,332. Truth is, life in the Big Easy has never been that way for many.

    My question is, are blacks really the only looters? Or are they the only ones deemed worthy of camera time? Does 30 seconds of tape, rewound and replayed, tell the whole story? If pictures of looters never made it onto the air, would viewers be deprived of crucial information? Do these images advance the story of the plight of people?

    Or do they play to stereotype, prejudice and fear?

    Yes, stealing for profit and personal gain is wrong. And I hope those who decided to take advantage of a disaster to haul off flat-screen televisions and DVD players find no way to profit from their theft.

    But during a devastating disaster like this, good, law-abiding citizens may do things they would never do normally. On TV I saw people carrying what appeared to be groceries, water, and bags of ice. With no water, power, or way out of town, it looked to me that the "looters" were trying to survive rather than upgrade their stereo system.

    Before you say "I would never," just remember that's pretty easy to say and believe as we sit in our comfortable, dry, air-conditioned homes with ice, water and food a few steps away. Hunger to us means we haven't eaten in a couple of hours.

    I've been in emergencies before, the most notable one being the October 17, 1989 San Francisco earthquake. (I was on the Bay Bridge, part of which had collapsed, and I felt very lucky when help finally arrived, and the completely stuck cars like mine were turned around one by one and diverted back to San Francisco.) People everywhere were helping each other, because that's human nature in emergencies.

    I'm sure there's a lot more of that going around than is being reported.

    MORE: Via Instapundit, I have learned that thanks to my contribution to Catholic Charities, I qualify for a free refrigerator magnet from The Raving Atheist.

    Gee I'm thrilled! And may I be the first to say, God bless the Raving Atheist!

    posted by Eric at 10:52 AM | Comments (5)

    March 2011
    Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3 4 5
    6 7 8 9 10 11 12
    13 14 15 16 17 18 19
    20 21 22 23 24 25 26
    27 28 29 30 31    


    Search the Site


    Classics To Go

    Classical Values PDA Link


    Recent Entries


    Site Credits