Collapsing World

Friday, September 30, 2005

Banned Books Week

This is absurdly late, but it's Banned Books Week. So why not choose one of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books and subvert yourself?

For my part, I'm reading Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. It's about a group of women in Tehran, Iran, who gathered in secret to read forbidden Western classics. With Banned Books Week leading into the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, it seemed doubly relevant.

Quote of the day

"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."

--Former Secretary of Education William Bennett, demonstrating that gambling addiction isn't his only problem, on his talk-radio program Thursday.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


Mountain lions have returned to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Over the last decade, mountain lions, which once existed as little more than rumors, have gained a foothold and established a sizeable population. Now state officials say that there are too many lions and have authorized South Dakota's first-ever mountain lion season. Already, over 1,000 licenses have been handed out.

Problem is, there are only an estimated 150 lions in the Black Hills. The entire population could be wiped out in a single hunting season. Mountain lions are already extinct in many neighboring states in the west; South Dakota does not need to add to that. In theory, the season will end when 25 lions are brought into the Rapid City Game Fish and Parks office. How realistic is that? With 1,000 hunters prowling around the hills and prairies on opening day, what are the odds that the kill will be no more than 25 lions? I've seen these guys hunt and fish. It's common practice to take well over your limit and simply conceal the extra.

It's true that because a mountain lion has such a large territory (300 sq miles), they have encroached into populated areas as their numbers grow. However, if it's becoming a problem, the GFP should partake its own controlled hunt to cull their numbers. Letting a bunch of hunters do the job for them will only cause overkill and destabilize a mountain lion population that's only now emerging from the brink of extinction.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Damn right.

I'm the IT manager. Do you fancy me?
Which Office Moron Are You?
Rum and Monkey: jamming your photocopier one tray at a time.

I'll smoke you a kipper, because you'll be back for breakfast. You're the cult television show quoting, user account deleting, soap loathing IT Manager.

Something in your childhood has made you the way you are. You've been hired to provide a service to everyone else in the office - you make the computers run, and you make them run well. You've streamlined everything; you've removed all the viruses and installed all the firewalls. The only trouble - the only hole in your veneer of digital perfection - is the way you laugh at everyone.

If someone doesn't know UNIX, you laugh at them. If they lose their password, they laugh at them. If they visit a website using Microsoft Internet Explorer and their computer succumbs to an Internet worm, you laugh. Then you take a swig of your Coke, and with another hearty chuckle tell all your friends on IRC about the idiots you have to deal with.

Maybe it makes you feel better about yourself, although let's face it, you don't need help in that department. You're great, you. Fantastic like burning cool. If only those luddite office fools would let you play Unreal Tournament in peace.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

At summer's end

At summer's end, originally uploaded by olivander.

"Nothing so fair, so pure, and at the same time so large, as a lake, perchance, lies on the surface of the earth. ... It is a mirror which no stone can crack, whose quicksilver will never wear off, whose gilding Nature continually repairs; no storms, no dust, can dim its surface ever fresh; — a mirror in which all impurity presented to it sinks, swept and dusted by the sun's hazy brush — this the light dust-cloth — which retains no breath that is breathed on it, but sends its own to float as clouds high above its surface, and be reflected in its bosom still. A field of water betrays the spirit that is in the air. It is continually receiving new life and motion from above."

--H.D. Thoreau, Walden

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Nuage: Robert Wise 1914-2005

Legendary director Robert Wise died Wednesday from heart failure. He was 91. Wise's long career as a director ran the gamut of genres and gave us some of its greatest classics: The Day the Earth Stood Still, Run Silent Run Deep, West Side Story, The Haunting (a personal favorite of yours truly), The Sound of Music, The Andromeda Strain, and (debatable as a classic, but a landmark nonetheless) Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

It's telling that perhaps his most minor contribution to cinema was as an editor, splicing together such greats as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Citizen Kane, and The Magnificent Ambersons.

Robert, we tip the fedora to your remarkable versatility and talent, and we can't wait to visit with you in the big screening room in the sky.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Presidential profiteering

In typical fashion, Shrub has managed to turn tragedy into profits for his rich buddies. On Friday, Shrub suspended the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires federal contractors to pay at least the prevailing wage of the area in which they are working. For instance, the average roofer in Louisiana may normally make $12 an hour (a figure pulled straight out of my butt); suspending the Davis-Bacon Act means that federal contractors working in Louisiana can pay their roofers as low as the minimum wage of $5.25 an hour. There are a lot of unemployed people in the hurrican zone right now who are going to be temporarily hired by these contractors, and they aren't going to be paid what they deserve.

And who is going to benefit from this change? BushCo's old corporate pals. Two of the biggest federal contracts handed out so far have been to Kellog Brown and Root--a subsidary of VP Cheney's old company Halliburton (Remember them? The no-bid contractor who has made over $9 billion taxpayer dollars so far for work in Iraq)--and to Shaw Group, both clients of Shrub's former campaign manager and head of FEMA Joe Allbaugh. It's worth noting that Allbaugh resigned his position as head of FEMA to form a firm called New Bridges Strategies, which exists solely to discover profit opportunities for American companies in war-ravaged Iraq.

In addition, the CEO of another contractor, Bechtel Corp, is a Shrub appointee to the Export Council. A former Bechtel CEO and Bush for President 2000 campaign chair in Maine, Ross Connelly, was appointed to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a government entity which secures loans for American companies working in foreign countries.

One of the largest contributors to the human suffering in New Orleans and elsewhere on the Gulf coast was cronyism--inexperienced people appointed to high-ranking positions not because of what they could do, but because of who they knew. It seems that BushCo has learned nothing and is merrily bumbling along in the only way it knows how: political payback.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Voices from the storm

Some quotes seen/heard in the media over the last couple of weeks. I believe they are self-illuminating.

"Brown said President Bush authorized the aid under an emergency disaster declaration issued following a review of FEMA's analysis of the state's request for federal assistance. FEMA will mobilize equipment and resources necessary to protect public health and safety by assisting law enforcement with evacuations, establishing shelters, supporting emergency medical needs, meeting immediate lifesaving and life-sustaining human needs and protecting property, in addition to other emergency protective measures."
--"Emergency Aid Authorized for Hurrican Katrina Emergency Response in Louisiana," FEMA press release, Sat, Aug 27

"On Saturday, President Bush has declared an emergency for the states of Louisiana and Mississippi opening up FEMA’s ability to move into the state and assist the state and local governments with mobilizing resources and preparations to save lives and property from the impact of Hurricane Katrina."
--"Homeland Security Prepping for Dangerous Hurricane Katrina," FEMA press release, Sun, Aug 28

"A computer model run by the LSU Hurricane Center late Saturday confirmed [the potential for disaster]. It indicated the metropolitan area was poised to see a repeat of Betsy's flooding, or worse, with storm surge of as much as 16 feet moving up the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet and topping levees in Chalmette and eastern New Orleans, and pushing water into the 9th Ward and parts of Mid-City. High water flowing from Lake Pontchartrain through St. Charles Parish also would flood over levees into Kenner, according to the model."
--"Katrina Takes Aim," The Times-Picayune, Sunday, Aug 28

“I don't want to alarm everybody that, you know, New Orleans is filling up like a bowl. That's just not happening.”
--FEMA official Bill Lokey on Tuesday, Aug 30, as New Orleans filled like a bowl from breaches in three levees

"Paula, the federal government did not even know about the convention center people until today."
--Micheal Brown, who apparently does not own a television, in an interview with CNN's Paula Zahn on Thursday, Sept 1

"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."
--King George II on Thursday, Sept 1, in an interview with Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America

"The collapse of a significant portion of the levee leading to the very fast flooding of the city was not envisioned."
--Department of Homeland Security director Michael Chertoff on Saturday, Sept 3, who apparently missed the New Orleans Time-Picayune's 2002 5-part series outlining exactly what would happen if a hurricane hit the city

"It's going to look like a massive shipwreck."
--Walter Maestri, Jefferson Parish emergency management director, "The City in a Bowl", Sept 20, 2002

"I've heard you say during the course of a number of interviews that you found out about the convention center today. Don't you guys watch television? Don't you guys listen to the radio?"
--Ted Koppel, confirming that Michael Brown does not own a television on "Nightline," Friday, Sept 2

"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."
--King George II on Friday, Sept 2 to Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown

"So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway so this (laughs) this is working out very well for them."
--Former first lady Barbara Bush, touring the Astrodome on Monday, Sept 5, where conditions are said to be little better than in the Superdome.

"The world’s only remaining superpower that has taken upon itself the great responsibility of saving and reforming the rest of the world, couldn’t protect its own people in its own backyard."
--"From Mumbai to New Orleans: Bungling with the Basics," Dubai Khaleej Times, Wed, Sept 7

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Tom DeLay should be locked in the Superdome

And Dennis Hastert, too, for skipping the emergency relief funding vote so he could attend a fundraiser. They should be forced to live alongside the bodies piled in the freezer, including those of the 5-year-old girl who was gang-raped and the 7-year-old whose throat was slashed.

Reminds me of the mantra from Stephen King's Cujo: "Nope, nothing wrong here."

From CNN:
The House majority leader late Tuesday tried to deflect criticism of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina by saying "the emergency response system was set up to work from the bottom up," then announced a short time later that House hearings examining that response had been canceled.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Collapsing World

It strikes me that the title of this blog is more appropriate than ever. It has its origins in a regular column I wrote for my college paper many moons ago. In that particular frame of the film, the economy was stagnant in a recession no one would acknowledge, we were in the midst of (at the time) the most controversial war since Vietnam, and the emerging science of DNA comparison was revealing a ghastly number of innocent people sentenced to Death Row. Every facet of what we had known to be good and just about the world seemed to be, piece by piece, falling down around us.

How little things change, eh?

Now we have witnessed the literal collapse of both a city and society within it. Now that adequate relief support has finally reached the survivors along the gulf coast, the real questions are beginning to be asked. Primarily: why the hell did it take four days for meaningful help to reach these poor people? Even President Clinton, reluctant ever to speak a harsh word of anyone, said, "Our government failed those people in the beginning, and I take it now there is no dispute about it. One hundred percent of the people recognize that--that it was a failure."

At the end of Sunday's edition of Meet the Press, even milder-mannered Bob Schieffer delivered what for him was a downright foaming-at-the-mouth diatribe against the officals responsible. It bears repeating. I hope he will not mind my reprinting it here in full for those who missed it:

A personal thought. We have come through what may have been one of the worst weeks in America's history, a week in which government at every level failed the people it was created to serve. There is no purpose for government except to improve the lives of its citizens. Yet as scenes of horror that seemed to be coming from some Third World country flashed before us, official Washington was like a dog watching television. It saw the lights and images, but did not seem to comprehend their meaning or see any link to reality.

As the floodwaters rose, local officials in New Orleans ordered the city evacuated. They might as well have told their citizens to fly to the moon. How do you evacuate when you don't have a car? No hint of intelligent design in any of this. This was just survival of the richest.

By midweek a parade of Washington officials rushed before the cameras to urge patience. What good is patience to a mother who can't find food and water for a dehydrated child? Washington was coming out of an August vacation stupor and seemed unable to refocus on business or even think straight. Why else would Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert question aloud whether New Orleans should even be rebuilt? And when he was unable to get to Washington in time to vote on emergency aid funds, Hastert had an excuse only Washington could understand: He had to attend a fund-raiser back home.

Since 9/11, Washington has spent years and untold billions reorganizing the government to deal with crises brought on by possible terrorist attacks. If this is the result, we had better start over.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Total societal collapse

The raw stories coming out of New Orleans are un-fucking-believable. Civilization has collapsed. The police have become desperate animals right along with the rest of the people who have devolved into survival mode in the flooded ruins of The Big Uneasy. The streets are ruled by armed thugs. Gunmen have invaded at least one hospital, rescue operations have been suspended because helicopters and rescue boats are being fired upon. The situation at the Superdome is sickening and is about to implode.
"We tried to airlift supplies into Kenner Memorial Hospital late last evening and were confronted by an unruly crowd with guns, and the pilots refused to land."
Quite honestly, I don't think the situation is going to come under control until either there is a mass slaughter of survivors amongst one another, or the National Guard is reduced to machine-gunning people from the air.

It's hard to believe that this is America. These are stories we only hear out of second- and third-world countries where survival was pretty much your own to begin with.

Ten-thousand National Guard on the way. Those with the least training and experience (all of those were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan). An estimated 100,000 survivors and survivalists are left in the city. Ten-to-one. Ten-to-one odds for the National Guard to attempt to quell the violence, bring relief supplies, and construct evacuation routes while attempting to hold the crumbling levees together and drain the standing water.

Can the Shrub smirk his way through this human and political catastrophe? These are the types of conditions which cause the citizens of other countries to march upon the palaces with rifles and baseball bats. Do you think once the survivors escape their situation--which most likely will mean little more than tent cities with minimal food supplies and sanitation--that they will be thankful? Or will they ask, "Why did it take so long to rescue us from that hell? How were conditions allowed to get so bad? Why wasn't the city and government better prepared for what they had known could happen for years?"

A year and a half ago, New Orleans was awarded $7.1 million in homeland security funds. Apparently most of the money was earmarked for anti-terrorism measures in the city's ports. Why, in what we learned from the aftermat of Sept 11, 2001, did the city's police experience a total communcations failure? In a city in constant threat of flooding and hindered by isolating geography why were mass-rescue plans and facilities never created?

So where did the money go? One thing's for certain: money is now meaningless in the lawless cesspool that used to be New Orleans.