Friday, August 25, 2006

The Slow Death of an American City

New Orleans, one year out, remains largely unrebuilt. The lower-income areas, for example, seem to have stayed devastated. The negligence, corruption and indeed the criminality that have been associated with this tragedy have gone unanswered.

Judging by relevant reports I have come across, the massive levee failure that wrecked a home to millions, and a monument to our culture, was not only systemic but preventable. Eminently preventable.

No one person deserves sole blame for the entire chronicle of horror; rather, it is distributed among several actors, whose actions — and, crucially, inactions — magnified the scale of what Mother Nature wrought twelve months ago.

“Katrina,” not Hurricane Katrina, has become a political slogan, a rallying cry of the militant anti-Bush organizers, even “REMEMBER KATRINA!” — as if it were the Maine. But the event cannot be dissociated from the causal chain of events, and the context out of which they happened.

Yet the basic fact remains that our government failed the people of New Orleans, therefore all Americans; last year millions solemnly watched the city’s poor without means of escape packed into shelters, among the dead and scavenging for food. Last year we bore witness to the televised accounts of refugees in our own country.

The American people did a hell of a lot to help, immensely more than the government, which proved sickeningly dysfunctional.* The whole episode did indeed go a long way to show just how good and decent Americans are. In spite of it all, one year removed, an American city had been left to die.

Rebuild; Restore; Renew. That is the way, and that is the hope. No idea when it will happen, but until it does this will be a shame on our national conscience, for which someday we will eventually forgive. But not forget. May a dead city be reborn.

(Note: Do not know why I am feeling so personally affected here, as the above words suggest. But then I think about, as I have before, my father’s ancestors who came to Louisiana from Sicily and the Old Country back in the 1820s; and of my distant relatives living in Baton Rouge, thankfully far from the brunt of the damage. Never got to meet ‘em, though.)

An ugly myth has apparently circulated for awhile, in which the dastardly Army Corps of Engineers purposefully flooded the black Lower Ninth Ward, among other tall tales; I think that mirrors the story about the Maine’s sinking at the dastardly hands of wicked Spainards.

*Indeed the New York Times described the inaptly named Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as “an international symbol of dysfunction and incompetence,” and since the Katrina disaster “little has fundamentally changed” within its bureaucratic structure.

UPDATE: CNN reports, “Nationally, 67 percent of Americans disapprove of Bush’s handling of the Katrina disaster, according to an AP-Ipsos poll earlier this month.” This seems to match past poll results ever since the very beginning of the crisis. It adds, “The death toll in Louisiana from Katrina is close to 1,600, including nearly 300 who died in other states after fleeing from the hurricane” (Aug. 29, 2006). If I may, on top of the 2,600 brave souls who have perished in Iraq, the criminality and negligence of our government has topped bin Laden’s murder of 3,000 of our people by over one-third, whose fifth-year anniversary arrives soon.

(Re-post from July 5)

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
And let us destroy the Enlightenment together ...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

In light of ever-present ‘media overload’ (or M.O.), Wikipedia has long been an interest of mine, ever since it launched into my consciousness a couple of years ago. Science has rated it exceptionally accurate, regarding its scientific articles at least.* The attacks this self-described public encyclopedia has undergone are conclusively baseless.

To a large extent, as a previous post echoes, Wikipedia is a fundamentally democratic medium and is pointedly populist in its form. The content, to which my contributions have been few and far-in-between — given that, minor changes/fixes, does not deserve the overly critical reception it gets, for instance, from CNN — which once sarcastically described the Wiki as a source that “anyone can edit,” ignoring the stringent filtering process.

[Anyone can edit, true, but edits are peer-reviewed — P2P — by hundreds, indeed thousands, of people: fellow contributors, observers, etc.]

Marshall Poe, in the September issue of the Atlantic Monthly, notes that Wikipedia “has the potential to be the greatest effort in collaborative knowledge gathering the world has ever known,” while in its origins the collaborative ethic was jump-started with so-dubbed “‘wiki magic,’” which Poe writes is “the mysterious process by which communities with common interests work to improve wiki pages by incremental contributions” (p. 91), so the serial additions became parallel.

The number of Wikipedia articles increased from 100- to 500-thousand, from January 2003 to March 2005; by March 2006, it had doubled, as the Monthly explains (pp. 90, 91). Founders Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales set up a framework in which “authors were enjoined to present the conventionally acknowledged ‘facts’ in an unbiased way, and, where arguments occurred, to accord spaces to both sides,” Poe writes, lest the entire project “slide into a morass of unproductive invective” (p. 91).

He opines that “Wikipedia suggests a different theory of truth” from the standard, objective… encyclopedic one. Continues: “The community [of dedicated Wikipedians and fellow path-takers] decides that two plus two equals four … by consensus. Yes,” Poe exclaims, “that means that if the community changes its mind and decides that two plus two equals five, then two plus two does equal five.

“The community isn’t likely to do such an absurd or useless thing,” he adds, “but it has the ability” (p. 93). Sure, true enough, as Merriam-Webster has the same “ability” to define democracy as an empty slogan, or a commodity for export (preferably at gun-point).

Mr. Poe concludes that the network “is well ordered and … very useful” and “is laying claim to … a territory we might call ‘common knowledge,’ … the place where all nominal information about objects of widely shared experience will be negotiated, stored, and renegotiated” (p. 94). Oh, almost forgot; it’s all for free, as any decent store of information ought to be.

*As is typical, I am mistaken; the journal Nature, we read, “compared [Encyclopedia] Britannica and Wikipedia science articles and suggested that the former are usually only marginally more accurate than the latter” (ibid, my emphasis), not Science.

Also, Poe refers to an IBM “study [which] suggests that although vandalism does occur … watchful members of the huge Wikipedia community usually swoop down to stop the malfeasance shortly after it begins” (ibid). Very true. In fact, the day after satirical troublemaker Stephen Colbert — while riffing on “Wikiality” — called on people to edit the ‘Elephants’ page to read that the number of elephants has “tripled in the last three months,” sure enough someone (out of who know’s how many) added in caps at the top, THE NUMBER OF ELEPHANTS HAS TRIPLED IN THE LAST SIX MONTHS! It was gone a few minutes later. (I was kind of disappointed that I hadn’t had the chance to write it myself.)

To be sure, I am not a committed ‘Wikipedian’ by any possible measure, but I am thoroughly committed to the idea of such an open-source, democratic body of knowledge. As I’ve said before, keep it alive. And I fuckin’ meant it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Cannot think of a better way to describe it, but it definitely seems like we are not only looking at information overload but media overload. Whole blocs of overwhelming, instantly-analytical-perpetually-updated chunks of posts, bulletins, comments, diggs (patent pending, right?), et cetera. Not only can one not keep up, but a clear picture of the world, or of anything, is denied. How can any decisions be made in an environment like this?

Further, we have a really self-conscious media culture. People talk about ‘self-parody,’ and that is part of it but there’s more to the mix than the reflections at the surface. Granted that this culture has become increasingly complex and accelerated, and in the interests of simplicity and clarity (but not oversimplification and hypercoherence), we need to either break away from it or break it down. I am not talking about destruction; there is too much of that already.

Some dissonance is good. But I think too much is out there, anyways. For instance, How can the world’s most feared nation (and its most necessary) understand the world it has come to dominate? It may be an insane question, but it is posed here nonetheless. By this I do not mean the media cultures, and subcultures, that both connect and divide Americans have a purely political outlet. But how we perceive the world, much less each other, is undoubtedly important in any sphere; what we do to act on it moreso.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


“Well I’m about to get upset from watchin’ my TV, been checkin’ out the news until my eyeballs fail to see/

“I mean to say that every day is just another rotten mess, and when it’s gonna change my friend is anybody’s guess/

“So I’m watching and I’m waiting, hopin’ for the best/

“Even think I’ll go prayin’, every time I hear ‘em sayin’ that there’s no way to delay that trouble comin’ every day ...”


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Snakes-a-Comin' (Real Soon)

Re-postage (from January 13), with different words and different picture ... but same spirit:

Snnnaaaakes! 3-Day Weekend $100 mil blockbuster? Can Jackson get those motherfuckin snakes off his motherfuckin plane??
Rumble-Jumble, Parte Trois...

The Post’s Metro section printed up a piece on “freegans”, or “free vegans”, who dumpster-dive but don’t actually need to. These kids have a point, if they’re not also sort of insane. Indeed there’s a lot of overconsumption and waste in our society when it comes to food.

But they’re running a risk, at least health-wise. And it is naïve to attack a system from the waste end — you’re working backwards.

Besides, to make a last (but not least) point, what about the people who actually have to bum food out of the dump to survive? It is selfish on principle, and we read that such freegans seem to be principally-motivated at some level, to act in such a self-illusory (and likely pointless) way — especially if it deprives ... panhandlers. You know, homeless.

(The people most often ignored, or best simply invisible; more often than not, they don’t get the front-page of a major newspaper’s Metro pages.)

Crunchy Cons: Sounds like something I’d want to be a part of at first look, at least to be a kind of honorary observer. They’re a motley sort of freewheeling, unconventional right-wingers. To be clear, not an orthodoxical Right, but probably conservative in disposition instead of an ideological sense, a tricky stand to which I have much sympathy — and some attachment.

I’ve often been styled, cast or even pigeonholed into a number of ideo-set designations, be they “ultra-liberal” by those who really don’t know who I am, even “reactionary” — by people who really have no idea. (Although I’m not comfortable with such place-markers and ideological thinking in general, and for the most part ideology as a practice is bullshit, ‘left-wing conservative’ seems comfortable.*)

*Then again, social libertarian seems fitting, too; essentially, anything that isn’t extreme, intolerant or irrational — if it blossoms within those bounds, chances are I might go along with it.

ISRAEL/LEBANON update: The fire has largely ceased for now, as far as I can tell from the far-outside, so at month’s end it looks like this...

If the guns were reversed, with the proportions kept, the Israeli and Lebanese civilian deaths (respectively) are 1,840 and 24. To deny the obvious tragedy that has befallen Lebanon, from within and without and with the help of several actors, is to deny the equal moral weight between Israelis and Lebanese.

The Post published an op-ed by the Secretary of State, who writes (“A Path To Lasting Peace”, A13) that “we have increased our immediate humanitarian assistance to $50 million” (my italics). Increased to 50 million dollars? The paper, on page 10, reads that “Losses to infrastructure” in Lebanon have thus far totaled $2,400,000,000. The 50 mil is 1/48th of that; in proportion to the Israeli infrastructure damage, that comes out to 27 mil.

“For our part, the United States is helping to lead relief efforts for the people of Israel, ... we have increased our immediate humanitarian assistance to $27 million.” You would not see that sentence, especially by our State Secretary, and for good reason. The idea is simply insulting to Israel; such little funds for so much damage.

For the U.S., again keeping the proportions, if we take the place of Israel, is 1,860; if the place of Lebanon is taken, 87,630 ... which is about 29 9/11s (over the course of a month, roughly one every day), whose fifth anniversary looms quite soon. [Suppose a far greater power promised financial aid for our reconstruction? It would be (by my count) a transparently paltry $3,947,305 for our $1,894,736,832 in damages. Maybe my math is wrong. But it would be a start.]

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Realist Decries 'Unrealism', Delusional Idiocy

I’ve had, and continue to have, plenty of respect (and occasional disagreement) with conservative commentator George Will, who in today’s Washington Post (“The Triumph of Unrealism”, A13) is right on the money about the recent MI-5 disrupt of the liquid-bomb plot.

He writes:

“Cooperation between Pakistani and British law enforcement ... has validated John Kerry’s belief ... that ‘many of the interdiction tactics that cripple drug lords, including governments working jointly to share intelligence, patrol borders and force banks to identify suspicious customers, can also be some of the most useful tools in the war on terror.’”

Will adds that “a ‘senior administration official’ ... denied the obvious, that Kerry had a point,” informing the radical Weekly Standard that, with a straight face,

The idea that the jihadists would all be peaceful, warm, loveable, God-fearing people if it weren't for U.S. policies strikes me as not a valid idea. [Democrats] do not have the understanding or the commitment to take on these forces. It’s like John Kerry. The law enforcement approach doesn’t work.”

As the staid, reasonable columnist concludes, “This farrago [wtf?] of caricature and non sequitur makes the administration seem eager to repel all but the delusional. But perhaps such rhetoric reflects the intellectual contortions required to sustain the illusion that the war in Iraq is central to the war on terrorism, and that the war, unlike ‘the law enforcement approach,’ does ‘work.’

“The official is correct that it is wrong ‘to think that somehow we are responsible - that the actions of the jihadists are justified by U.S. policies.’ But few outside the fog of paranoia that is the blogosphere [hey!] think like that. It is more dismaying that someone at the center of government considers it clever to talk like that. It is the language of foreign policy — and domestic politics — unrealism.”

(I don’t appreciate the cheap swipe at bloggers, but then again some among us can reach heights of paranoid fantasy at times, on any range of topics. We’re not robots, Bow-tie.)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Crazy Thought (Again)

Ummm... should we actually negotiate with these people? Lookat the salute for God's sakes! Why are we even thinking about doing that? Look at them! Just fucking dangerous.

God forbid I demonize the official enemy, in this case Hizb'ullah (the Party of God). God forbid I choose to demonize demons. God forbid I react negatively to what appears to be a Nazi salute.

But, go ahead, hammer out a negotiated settlement with these folks. (I am talking to you, Kofi!) Of course I want this war to stop, do not get me wrong. (I often get myself wrong.) But do not lose your heads. I am trying not to lose mine. A wise man said, Do not cut what you cannot untie. That implies the Lebanese government, at a last option, must cut it off with these so-called Holy Partisans or whatever the else these murderous thugs want to name themselves. If it cannot, sorry Mr. Siniora, but the bullshit has got to end.

Both states must respect the territorial sovereignty of the other; as I have consistently advocated, a cease-fire must be enforced by the relevant multinationals or what-have-you, and by the by such a call to lay down arms has begun as of a few hours ago; reparations by Israel and Lebanon must be paid immediately for their respective collateral damage; and the political structure of Lebanon must be re-made from within, toward the effect of leaving a disarmed Hizbollah and, instead, a political party without recourse to violence, a choice that is entirely up to the Lebanese (at that an acceptable one for Israel, as top Israeli officials have in fact indicated).

No more for now. On a personal note, may this ceasefire have lasting value, indeed a semblance of permanence; may Israel and Lebanon find the peace their people both seek; and may rogues like Hezbollah and their thuggish minions be stamped out once and, hopefully, for all.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


The enemies of free people are the temptations to be naïve, embrace cynicism to suffice for a lack of spirit or common energy and turn ourselves into fatalists only trusting an invisible predetermined Higher Plan.

These are not abstract words, nor are they slogans in the hope of rallying some deeper cause, a target hidden from the piercing light of day that drives out the fog of contradiction and confused, interpretive talking-head shout-match referees who radiate from lofty perches of assumed expertise.

What am I talking about, hell, if I only knew. Power is out of the hands of people like me, we’re just left to comment and rant and ceaselessly opine, presuming there’s anything useful to say that hasn’t already been said. Lacking qualities in our collective experience, maybe to simplify and generalize beyond the scope of which is surely legit, are Honesty, Trust and Respect. These are taken for granted to not exist practically anywere outside the realm of the imagined or aspired.

There’s your summer reading. (Goodnight.)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Re-posting (from May 26), with some updates...

A team of UCLA researchers under the direction of one Donald Taskin is
reported to have found, contrary to malicious Drug War agitprop, that inhaling the haze of Mary-Jane, “even regularly and heavily, does not lead to lung cancer.”

Intaking the toke, according to Tashkin’s work, may — perhaps — even have “‘some protective effect’” on the lungs.

The Post adds that past studies Tashkin conducted had pointed to toxic agents in marijuana akin to those which are understood to be cancerous in tobacco. However, “the chemical THC [TetraHydroCannabinol] … may kill aging cells and keep them from becoming cancerous,” Tashkin asserts.

Unlike the wacky tobacke, the other leaf is highly addictive thanks to nicotine; likely, there’s the greater health threat — with the accepted, massively subsidized cash crop and not the demon-plant sown into the black market.

NOTES: (Researchers of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, in 1997, tentatively “
concluded that … marijuana use and cancer were not associated in overall analyses” in their study.

(Ahmedin Jemal and Kenneth Chu of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute write that “a contribution” to overall trends of “lung cancer mortality” post-1950 among people under the age of 45 “from marijuana smoking cannot be ruled out.”

(L.E. Hollister of Pharmacological Reviews, however, pointed out in 1986 that cases of “emphysema or lung cancer have not yet been documented.”

(Yet according to a 1998 Lancet study, “chronic” smokers — and this is portrayed as by no means certain — may suffer “bronchitis and histopathological changes that may be precursors to the development of malignant disease” [p. 3].)

Who knows? I don’t, certainly.