Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life: September 2005 .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life

Friday, September 30, 2005

Sometimes the jokes just write themselves...

Aggies prepare for Hurricane Rita

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Oh, Happy Day!

House Republicans face an uncertain future
Suspension could hamper GOP agenda

There is a God, and it appears he's not a Republican after all.

Rep. Tom DeLay, House Majority Leader, was indicted yesterday for felony criminal conspiracy, and House Republicans are at odds to find a leader to replace him while he defends himself against allegations of violating state election laws to bring about a Republican majority in the Texas Legislature.

The Republicans' first choice as temporary Majority Leader, Rep David Dreier, has been criticized as "too moderate", citing his voting record on stem cell research and gay marriage in California. They settled on Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt, who, contrary to his name, offered no clear path to the party's future.

"What we do here is more important than who we are," Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt said Wednesday after the rank and file named him as DeLay's replacement, at least for the time being. "We have an agenda to move forward here."

Democrats, 11 long years in the minority, said the GOP offered nothing of the sort.

DeLay's indictment marks "the latest example that Republicans in Congress are plagued by a culture of corruption at the expense of the American people," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader.

A plague of corruption by Repubilcans, you say? Could it have something to do with GOP Senate leader Bill Frist using insider information to bail out of investments before their stock value droppped?

Or perhaps Karl Rove's implication in revealing CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity, potentially leading to charges of treason?

Or maybe the Bush administration's connections to Jack Abramoff, who sold out two native american tribes to further his own personal fortune, not to mention his implicity in pending fraud cases?

But no, this is all about partisan politics. Pelosi, along with her band of cut-throats are attempting to draw attention away from the catastrophes of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which deserve our true attention, to gut the Republican leadership.

If anything this issue, which was going on long before the federal government's pathetic role in the Katrina aftermath, is important in that it shows how our federal government sees us, the people, in its overall view of the nation.

We're expendable.

As long as their pork still gets supported, the common man (or woman) can be sacrificed as long as it's for the "public good".

Let's get the focus back on holding our leaders accountable for their actions.

Tom DeLay skirted the rules so that he could put his people in power in Texas. Abramoff used his connections with DeLay and the White House to influence his clients. And Rove exposed a CIA agent in order to retaliate against someone who claimed that the Bush administration was intentionally using faulty data to justify a war in Iraq that could not be won.

Regardless of what else is going on in the country, these people should be held accountable for their actions. And that's exactly what is happening in Texas, of all places.

"Our job is to prosecute abuses of power and to bring those abuses to the public," Earle responded in Texas. Rebutting charges of partisanship, he said he has investigated four times as many Democrats as Republicans.

DeLay, 58, was indicted on a single felony count of conspiring with two political associates — Ellis and John Colyandro — to violate state election law by using corporate donations illegally. Texas law prohibits use of corporate contributions to advocate the election or defeat of candidates.

DeLay is the highest-ranking member of Congress ever to be indicted.

Houston, my home town, was instrumental in the relief effort in the aftermath of Katrina. It also happens to be the region where Tom DeLay won his most recent election to retain his Majority Leader status. Now he's lost that status, and has serious competition for his seat in Congress in the next election.

It's time for the people of District 22 to seriously contemplate what they want from their leader, and whether that leader is really looking out for their interests, or the interests of the big businesses in their area.

That may be a little much to ask of most voters, so let me pose them this simple question.

Do you want a crook posing as a religious man representing you?

He claims to have God's guidance, yet makes decidedly uninspired decisions.

He proclaims understanding of all people, yet asks young evacuees if they're having fun living in the Astrodome.

This is not a man in touch with reality.

He should be removed from office and held accountable for his actions.

The fact that he's been indicted restores my faith in humanity.

There's hope for us yet.

Monday, September 26, 2005

20/20 hindsight: MREs, edible

The Houston evacuees from Hurricane Rita may have been polite and patient, but they sure were litterbugs. Once traffic cleared out and it was down to us die-hards left in town, I drove down the service road along the highway - just to remember what it was like (having been denied the privelege for the preceding three days).

It looked like the morning after a Huey Lewis concert. Snack bags, fast food wrappers, styrofoam containers, aluminum cans - you name it. It coated the shoulders of the roadway like a bad case of dandruff.

I have an idea that will help reduce this litter and make it easier to stock hurricane supplies and keep our grocery store shelves relatively stocked during an emergency. Contract out the manufacture and sale of meals, ready to eat (MREs) to Frito Lay, Hershey's, Pepsi, Taco Bell, etc., and sell them on the internet.

To meet MRE standards, they'll have to be compact and complete, with virtually no expiration date. Cost is not a factor, which marketers should love. They won't need refrigeration, won't take up a lot of space in either the cupboard or SUV, and will produce less litter. And with marketing and test groups involved, they might even be palatable. Or at least marketable.

Think about it, you corporate conglomerates who are looking for the next big thing to sweep consumers off their feet. Think about it, you soccer moms and NASCAR dads who had to use half the space in your SUVs to store chips, snacks, crackers and beef jerky, only to find them gone by the time you got 20 miles into your evacuation. You could have achieved the same effect in the size of a suitcase. These things will go like hotcakes (which, unfortunately, don't travel well).

Twinkies last forever anyway, so surely there's a way for them to be shrunk and packaged so they won't get squished. Pringles has the right idea with chips (okay, purists, they're really not chips, but this is an emergency, okay?), if they could just package them in sturdy foil, the packages would crinkle up into an easily recyclable ball, resources could be recycled and reused, and our roadways wouldn't be so junky, even after gazillions of cars parked there for hours.

I know, I'm dreaming. You'd probably throw those little foil balls out the window anyway. Or, during extremely slow, boring evacuations, at the other cars. Hey, but at least your kids would have entertainment.

Better late than never

Unlike my friend Northstar, who conveniently lined up guest hosts for the duration of the storm, I had to shut down my CPU to protect it from potential category 4 winds, and am therefore woefully behind on posts. I've had to resort to manually jotting down my thoughts on paper (remember paper? Keystrokes don't work no matter how hard you try), so now I have to decipher my musings and attempt to make them intelligible, which I will now attempt to do.

Northstar had these guest hosts lined up, he says, because he "was going to be out of town anyway". Yeah, right. I think he planned this whole thing from the start. He knew that Mother Nature was going to punish us, and arranged this "vacation" so he could miss all the fun of trying to evacuate millions of people from an area smaller than the footprint of the storm. I believe this proves wrong all of his detractors - he really does have a clue.

By the way, I'm glad his pets are okay. So are ours, and thanks for asking.

Natural cycle?

Yours truly has dodged another bullet. Not that I feel bulletproof, mind you, as there's still plenty of time left in hurricane season this year, and potentially progressively stronger (triple adjective - woo!) tropical storms in the years to come.

Natural cycle, human self-destruction, or a combination of both? I suspect the latter. Everything we're doing to reduce our planet to a toxic wasteland is certainly not helping, except to return it to the primordial soup that existed before we came along. I guess you could call that a natural cycle.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

At the mercy of the water merchants

Well, here it comes.

Hurricane Rita is coming full force at the Texas Gulf Coast. And no matter where it hits, it seems that my little corner of the world will be adversely affected.

If it hits me dead on, I'm toast. If it hits southwest of me, I get all the messy thunderstorms, tornadoes and massive rain that follows the trailing edge of the storm.

So the odds of my dodging this bullet are nil, and I'm obliged to make the most of it.

Everyone else in this part of the world seems to be running for cover. The highway out of town is bumper to bumper, and the gas stations are lined up for blocks.

Am I a total idiot for hunkering down in my brick-encrusted abode and hoping for the best?

Probably, but I don't see much alternative.

I've heard that it's a 16-hour drive to San Antonio, a jaunt that normally takes three hours. The last time I ventured to Galveston took about an hour and a half, yet now it's a more than four hour drive from there to Houston.

I don't think I could get anywhere safe in enough time, and even if I did, how comfortable would I be?

I think I'll ride this storm out.

If a tree falls on my head, well, that will just be one point scored for the away team, which won't mourn my loss.

I heard yesterday that water was not to be found in Houston, yet I picked up five gallons at Kroger for about five bucks yesterday evening.

Today may be a different story, though.

I had no problem finding batteries at a decent price, and even got bonus NASCAR scale model cars with the 8-packs of AAs.

Most everyone seems to be either panicking or being very cautious. I guess I'm one of the very cautious.

My house was flooded in Allison, and I rebuilt it to tolerate another flood - no carpet, flooring that can flood and drain, and walls that can get wet without molding.

We've got water and dry goods, flashlights, a radio and batteries, and about a gaziliion candles, so we're here for the long run.

As time and utilities permit, I'll attempt to keep you posted.

Wherever you are, keep your feet dry, and as many other parts as possible moist...

I have good news

Hurricane Rita is going to slam the Gulf Coast as a Category 5 hurricane.

But I have good news!

I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance!

Never mind all of the folks who are going to lose pretty much everything they have to the wrath of Mother Nature. We're going to be happy for you because you saved a few bucks on your car insurance.

Get real. Marketing like this will backfire, and people will equate your name with a lack of empathy for those affected by this disaster.

But then, it doesn't really matter, does it? You'll just employ another public relations firm to reaffirm your reputation as a corporation that can relate to the common man.

Like offering to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company...

Friday, September 16, 2005

New Nawlins without new taxes - the sleight of hand begins...

Bush rules out raising taxes to pay for rebuilding along Gulf Coast

It's good to know that Bush will rebuild New Orleans and end poverty without raising taxes. I'd just like to know how he plans to do it. Unfortunately, that information is classified.

At the White House, the chairman of Bush's National Economic Council, Al Hubbard, made clear that Hurricane Katrina recovery costs are "coming from the American taxpayer."

Another top aide, domestic policy adviser Claude Allen, said the administration had not identified any budget cuts to offset the disaster expense, and Bush did not name any either.

All agree that its going to cost billions to reconstruct the Gulf Coast, and Bush is quick to promise that things will be "better than before". Where is he going to get the money? From the same place he's always gotten the money, either from taking from existing programs, or from increasing the national debt.

"You bet it's going to cost money. But I'm confident we can handle it and I'm confident we can handle our other priorities," [Bush] said during a news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "It's going to cost whatever it costs."

So it's either "borrow and spend", or "cut services and spend", as he's done with other social services to pay for his war in Iraq while maintaining his tax cuts for the wealthy.

He can't do this indefinitely. Eventually the heart of America will realize that the only people getting the tax cuts are those who can most afford it, and there will be a rebellion. But in the meantime, the average Joe will continue to foot the bill for Bush's initiatives, and will gladly pay it so they aren't branded "UnAmerican" by the majority spin machine.

Eventually, the majority of Americans will see that we are being taken for a ride, and that the current administration is dedicated to providing the maximum return on investment for those willing to invest in this administration.

It's as simple as that. For those with money, it's a damn good investment to put money into an administration that is willing to give money back to those who keep it in power. That's why Halliburton gets a lucratiive no-bid contract to rebuild both Iraq and New Orleans.

It's also why Bush was able to negate the minimum wage law in the region so that the no-bid contractors can pay less than a living wage to rebuild. It will appear that he rode in on a white horse and saved the region from racism and pestilence.

Or at least that's what he's hoping.

So Bush is going to rebuild the region without raising taxes. How do you think he's going to do that?

If you think he's going to do it without eliminating tax breaks for the wealthy, guess again.

If you think he's going to do it by taking away benefits from the poor he's so vocal about helping, you're probably a little more closer to the mark.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Dollars to beignet, rebuilding makes sense

Okay, I'm a little slow as usual, but I just found out Brown resigned as head of FEMA.

Too bad he didn't do it before it really meant something. After padding his resume and accepting the post because he was a crony of a Bush fundraiser, he headed our main defense against a natural disaster, and the civil unrest that might ensue in an aftermath without response.

He seemed to know what he was doing when supplies, troops and emergency response were ready during the four hurricanes that Florida received last year.

We had a hint of impropriety when millions were awarded to homeowners who were not even affected by natural disasters in Miami-Dade County, but we expected errors to be made in such a large endeavor. After all, bureaucracy has its drawbacks.

But when such a large error was made in favor of the state governed by dubya's brother, and then a larger error lead to the detriment of the poor, downtrodden, and Democrats in the rest of the Gulf Coast, you gotta wonder.

The storm displaced a million people, destroyed large areas of cities and communities and heavily damaged roads, bridges, canals and oil and natural gas facilities.

Oh no, not oil and natural gas facilities! We've got to save our phoney-baloney jobs, gentlemen! Let's pretend that we're helping poor people, and get in there and reconstruct that region!

President Bush rode in an open truck Monday for his first close-up look at New Orleans' ravaged, trash-strewn, flooded neighborhoods. He denied that poor, black victims of Hurricane Katrina were ignored because of their race.

And as for leadership, let's take the lessons learned from Abu Graib and blame those on the front lines so that we don't have to take responsibility for our own actions or inaction.

Mike Brown quit Monday as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the White House moved quickly to replace him, installing an FEMA official with three decades of firefighting experience as the acting director.

At risk of being politically incorrect, appointing a firefighter to head flood relief is like appointing a surfer to assess drought damage. Of course, he couldn't be any worse than Mike Brown. Is that what we're reduced to?

And since finger pointing is the rigueur du jour these days, let's blame others for everything else we've screwed up lately...

With nearly 29,000 hurricane evacuee students already enrolled in Texas schools and more expected this week, state education officials are disappointed that the federal government has said it will not pay for additional teachers and textbooks at this time.

Since Texas Legislators were unable to come to grips with teacher salaries and textbook costs during their regular legislative session and two special sessions, they're trying to use this catastrophe to pull their butts out of the fire.

Our schools are currently working without many textbooks (recommending that students access textbooks online), and teacher pay has barely been accounted for in existing emergency funding.

I'm all for help in paying teachers, but for legislators to pull this kind of sympathy play to solve the problems they themselves couldn't, reminds me that we need a change of leadership come the next election.

And may I remind you that the majority of that leadership that needs replaced is Republican, thanks to Tom DeLay and his cronies?

It seems that the biggest catastrophe to hit our county in decades (other than 9/11, where we had a specific enemy to hate) has lead to opportunism for anyone who has an ax to grind, an elected position to protect, or an issue to promote.

Let's get back to the basics, people. We have victims to help, and lives to rebuild. Whether or not the French Quarter is reopened in time for Mardi Gras is irrelevant. If you think otherwise, you're just buying into the economic bourgeois theory that says that a reborn Mardi Gras will help rebuild New Orleans as we knew it.

The Crescent City was much more than the tourist attractions on Bourbon Street, and covers more ground than was drowned after the levees broke. Likewise, Biloxi was much more than the casinos. Sure, there are areas that we shold allow to go back to nature. Overdevelopment of wetlands was one of the reasons New Orleans was so vulnerable.

But there were thousands of lives displaced by this disaster, and only a small percentage of them relied on the French Quarter bistros and Biloxi gambling halls.

Most of these people worked in the everyday jobs that make this country what it is. Most of those businesses are out of business, or at least displaced.

Let's concentrate on getting these people jobs wherever they've been displaced to, and finding them permanent work if they've decided to stay.

If the most we can say for an area is that tourism would benefit it, then people aren't measuring with the right yardstick. One of the main requirements of a good tourist attraction is weather, which also adds to the 'quality of life' quotient. People want to visit the Gulf Coast - why wouldn't they want to live there?

It's primarily the economy. But why isn't the manufacturing industry there, as well as the service industry? If they were, they would have an abundant supply of workers and a temperate climate (why do you think there are so many call centers in India?)

Granted, industry would have been temporarily set back by this catastrophe, as would service organizations. But they have no qualms about setting up in California, which is susceptible to earthquakes, mudslides, etc., and the cost of living there is much higher than in the Gulf.

Likewise Omaha, the Mecca of insurance call centers, which is in the heart of Tornado Alley.

So let's rebuild the Gulf Coast, but in the right way. Rebuilding New Orleans just for the well-to-do and tourists would be a mistake. Rebuilding Biloxi's Casinos would be an exercise in capitalism gone horribly awry.

Rebuilding the best of the Gulf Coast for true economic recovery can help both the local economy and the people of the region achieve the true American ideal of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Four years of aftermath and counting - 9/11 revisited

Four years ago today, our world shook. Life as we knew it, along with the lives of thousands who thought they were safe, was gone. The perception that terrorism was something that took place far away was shattered.

As this blog is relatively new, I've not yet written my thoughts on 9/11 other than the occasional mention of how politicians use the memory of those horrific events to promote their own agendas. Now that I have my own forum, and four years worth of perspective, I'll use the anniversary of these events to attempt to wax eloquently, or at least at length, on how those events changed the world as viewed from my cheap seat.

For me, the day began normally enough. I remember the receptionist at work making a rather racy sign from poster board to take with her to Wrestlemania that night at the Astrodome, an event that was later canceled. I was talking to a contractor on the phone, and he mentioned that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I thought, "well, that's something that doesn't happen everyday". I pictured some novice in a Cessna that didn't know how to fly, or had a heart attack or something.

When I turned on a TV, I thought I was seeing the re-running of a tape of the crash. Except it wasn't a small private plane, it was a commercial airliner! And the tower next to the one being crashed into was already smoking. WTF?

Of course, by the time I gathered my wits, I realized that what I had witnessed was the second plane being flown into the second tower and I understood, as did everyone else by now, that we were under attack. When the planes crashed into the Pentagon the field in Pennsylvania, fear became our new national pastime.

Across the country, airports and financial markets were closed, sporting events were canceled and high-rises evacuated. But I don't think we responded quite the way that the terrorists expected us to. Instead of cowering under our beds, we mobilized.

Many a hero was born that day, and many a hero died. Law enforcers, firefighters, medical personnel and civilians all rushed to the scenes to help attempt to evacuate and assist those immediately affected by the attacks. Many people who were safely out of harm's way were crushed when the towers collapsed because they could not stand idly by and watch others in danger without at least trying to help, regardless of the risk to their own lives.

Those were the people that embodied what America is supposed to stand for. Their sacrifice was nothing short of Christlike - giving their own lives to save others - and I will honor their memory forever.

Likewise the group of people on Flight 93 that rushed the cockpit and forced the plane to crash, fortunately in an unpopulated area, because they had heard the news and realized what was happening. Again, sacrificing themselves to save others. Heroes all.

Once the dust settled and realization set it, America united as it never had before. Unprecedented cooperation between political parties saw quick action to attempt to restore order, honor the dead and begin prevention measures against future attacks. Patriotism was alive, and flag sales went through the roof.

President Bush achieved the highest approval rating of his presidency following the disaster, although it was later reported that he sat stunned for several minutes after being informed of it at a photo op in Florida. He was later put on Air Force One and flown around for the rest of the day, while Vice President Cheney was whisked away to his infamous 'undisclosed location'.

America received the full support and sympathy of almost the entire world, with the exception of radical Islamics, who danced and chanted "God is great" and passed out candy, thus giving us someone to hate.

Bush wanted to blame Saddam Hussein, but when it became apparent that Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks and was being given asylum by the Taliban in Afghanistan, that's where we went. But only after we secretly evacuated all of the bin Ladens that were in the United States without bothering to question them first.

We attacked Afganistan, which had already been pounded into rubble by the Soviets back in the '80s when we supported the Taliban. We quashed the Taliban (temporarily) and chased bin Laden into the hills. We never did find, capture or kill him, though, so Bush and company decided to use the momentum to move onto Iraq.

Although we had (most of) the rest of the world's approval to attack Afghanistan, we didn't for Iraq, so the Bush administration invented evidence of weapons of mass destruction and managed to convince a majority of Americans that Iraq was somehow involved in 9/11, and off to war we went.

Meanwhile on the home front the powers-that-be began to use the power of fear and the specter of terrorism to push legislation disguised as "war on terror" tools like the Patriot Act, which actually removes the protections and constitutional rights of ordinary citizens. They also declared that the tenets of the Geneva Convention, which lay down ground rules for treatment of prisoners, don't apply to us, because "we're "murica, by God!" This led to atrocities conducted and tolerated at Guantanimo Bay and Abu Graib.

When the WMDs didn't materialize in Iraq, we said we were at war "to fight terrorism over there so we don't have to fight it here". Even though we're still fighting it here, this turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Bush's actions have done more for Al-Qaida recruitment efforts than bin Laden ever could, and Al-Qaida recruits continue to pour into Iraq and American soldiers continue to die almost two years after our Commander-in-Chief declared "mission accomplished".

Yet still, those who disagree with our government's decisions are called traitors, ridiculed and discredited. Division between ideologies is greater than it has been since the Red Scare of the 50s. Fear has been used effectively to deny basic rights to those deemed not to be ideal citizens based on standards set by right wing zealots.

And now, four years after the horrific events of 9/11, we are faced with yet another great catastrophe. Only this time, there is no enemy to hate. Unlike the aftermath of 9/11, this event has polarized America, driving us further apart as we attempt to blame each other for the failure to prepare and respond to this most basic of natural phenomenon.

The Department of Homeland Defense, created after 9/11 to prevent catastrophes of this kind, has focused mostly on preventing terrorism, and not preparing us for natural disasters, even though it absorbed the Federal Emergency Management Agency whose function it is to respond to just such an emergency. The National Guard, which was created to respond to disasters in their home state, did not have the manpower or equipment to respond because a good third of their manpower and half of their equipment were unavailable, being used in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And unlike the response of the world after 9/11, much of the internationally offered aid came with strings attached. Iran offered oil, but only if we agreed to lift trade sanctions. Venezuela offered aid, but we refused because we're currently trying to discredit - and some say depose - their leader because of his ideology. We also refused Canada's offer of their crack urban rescue teams because, well, they're Canadian.

After 9/11 Americans were willing to make sacrifices. Now, they panic because gas prices went up, and sat in lines for hours to pay exorbitant prices (up to $6 per gallon) so they wouldn't be stuck with half a tank if prices went up further.

One thing American's did do right, however, was in responding to the victims of the disaster. Although a few of them expressed their opinion that those who were displaced got what they deserved, using as justification the looting and violence that followed in the wake of their abandonment, the majority of Americans opened their hearts and wallets to provide aid in the form of food, water and shelter and other basic necessities for those who lost everything.

This alone gives me hope for the future of this country. Amid all the finger pointing and blustering about who was to blame in the absence of an actual enemy, the good people of the country - America's heartland, whether it be rural Iowa or urban Houston - stepped up to the plate and swung away for the home team.

Let's hope the effort helps win the game. Because when it's all said and done, if America survives this disaster with its integrity intact, we will have won. If not, we'll degenerate into the chaos that characterizes those regimes that we so love to despise, and given the success of the political spin machines that have worked so much overtime lately, we'd never even know it.

That would make us the losers, and the worst kind of loser is one who doesn't know it.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

On the Road to Forty

Ya gotta hand it to , they've got cojones. They kicked off the 2005/2006 NFL season with a pageant filled with artists that push the envelope of political correctness. If only they weren't owned by Disney, the antichrist.

Kicking off the festivities was the Rolling Stones, dubbed the World's Greatest Rock & Roll Band (or did they mean to say the world's oldest rock & roll band?). They performed "Start Me Up" and later "Raw Justice", but skirted the band's contoversial hit "Sweet Neo-Con", which lambasted Bush and his cohorts for their complicity in the bogus reasons for war in Iraq.

Next up was Kanye West, who acheived notoriety last week on the Katrina benefit concert when he went off-script and pronounced that "Bush hates black people". This time he stayed on script, but rapped that poor folks are downtrodden and petitioned to raise the minimum wage.

Also on the menu was Green Day, whose critically acclaimed "American Idiot" also criticizes our foreign policy, who perforned "I Walk Alone".

The preseason special, which was hosted by Freddie Prinz, Jr. (of Scooby Doo fame) at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, also contained some Super Bowl-class commercials, including one that named a Diet Pepsi machine as the game MVP.

The festivities included Carlos Santana, which, without Rob Thomas, did a respectable "Smooth" and was made even better with cheerleaders. Carlos even helped with Michelle Branch's set, which was none too shabby either.

Ozzie Osborne did "Crazy Train" as the Patriots were introduced, and it was made better with cheerleaders also.

Trisha Yearwood sang the National Anthem. Is she getting chunky or what? Not that that's a bad thing. Girth is a sign of prosperity, and it would be nice if our poor looked as prosperous as her. Some of them do, although most of them don't.

All in all, I think this will be an interesting NFL season, on the road to Super Bowl XXXX.

I think I'll open a forty myself to celebrate. But I think it'd be much better with cheerleaders.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Proud to be a Houstonian

I've been reading today how Houston stands to benefit from Katrina's aftermath, and about the resultant disdain being heaped on us by certain other cities who wish they could reap such benefits. But let's face it folks, we didn't ask to be the nearest major city to a disaster stricken area. Most of the people with money to spend who arrived in Houston from Louisiana got here before we offered to take in the hungry, weary and poor. When Mayor White offered to house, feed and minister to those who most suffered from this catastrophe, there was not much more economic benefit to achieve.

The inference is that there were back room meetings that decided "hey, this could buy us some great PR. We can get the Sugar Bowl, and maybe even the 2011 Super Bowl!". I kinda doubt this happened. There wasn't time, given the bureaucratic process that usually accompanies these discussions. Instead, it was more like an immediate response, as evidenced by the Mayor's comments when the 'dome complex was overfull and he said (referering to the George R. Brown Convention Center) "I want these exhibit halls open. Let them sue us, and explain their lawsuit to the American people".

As one who has experienced this exodus firsthand, first let me respond to those far away that don't seem to grasp the concept. We have thousands of new vehicles on our freeway, all sporting Louisiana plates, all adding to our traffic woes. Granted, they don't necessarily know how to drive on Houston freeways, but we give them leeway. They also compete with us for available gas, but we don't mind.

Second, we see them at grocery stores, deciding how best to divide up 16 packs of popsicles among a dozen children living in their homes, and we usually offer to buy them extra boxes to make the math easier.

We show up at the Astrodome and food banks hoping to help, only to be turned away because they already have too many volunteers.

My son called me from a grocery store yesterday, saying he went to volunteer but was turned away, and wanted to know what they needed most, so that he could buy and donate it.

Sure, we may get the Sugar Bowl, but we probably would have gotten it anyway, since the Superdome would most likely be unavailable. And whether we get the Super Bowl in 2011 - well, that just doesn't matter right now. What matters is that these people - human beings - who deserve our help and respect, get back on their feet and on with their lives, regardless of their economic standing before this disaster happened.

They were happy before this catastrophe. Even though they lost everything, they deserve to be happy again.

The New Re-smug-licans

One thing that has emerged in this disaster is a new term. The Re-smug-licans. These are the people who believe that there should be no fault in this disaster attributed to the federal government, , i.e. the Bush administration. They feel that it was solely the fault of the Mayor of New Orleans to not coordinate and administrate the warning, evacuation and rescue of the people of New Orleans, and of the poor of the city for not heeding the warnings. "They should have evacuated when they were told" is their battle cry.

More and more we're hearing about those who feel that the federal government had no culpability in the delayed response that cost thousands of lives from dehydration, starvation and neglect due to almost a week of inaction by FEMA and the rest of the federal government.

There is plenty of blame to go around, from the Mayor, to the Governor, to the President. But as long as everyone is pointing fingers, no one is making changes.

They say that the first stage of healing is denial. Apparently this is true, as denial is playing a major part in America's reaction to the worst disaster in recorded history. Let's just hope that we can move beyond this stage, and can continue the healing process toward's understanding of the failings that caused this disaster, and begin the process that rectifies the conditions that caused it, so that it never happens again.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Some thoughts on the new Labor Day

Ah, Labor Day! A day to reflect on all it is that we're laboring for. Typically spent with family and friends, and usually one of the busiest days on the highways of America, as people travel to see loved ones, or to the mountains or beach for a picnic, or just to go out and see something new in this great, big country of ours.

Yet the highway leading in and out of Houston in my part of town is virtually devoid of vehicles. This time last year, it was crowded going both directions with people heading off to their activites. And of course, this is because of the astronomical price of gas.

Having no family within a day's drive, we usually head to the beach for Labor Day. Not this year, though. I think we'll just throw some steaks on the grill and have a small gathering.

Last year, we could get to the beach and back for about forty bucks worth of gas. This year it would cost over $100, as forty bucks will barely halfway fill up the tank. I'm sure people will still be at the beach, but fuel to get there and back is no longer an incidental, it's something that needs to be budgeted for. What would before have gone for a night at a hotel or a nice meal in a resteraunt, now gets consumed by the car.

We also have a different perspective on the issue than we did last year. Today I feel good that the price of gas has not gone up at my gas station for almost three days now. Never mind that the price increased more in the past week than in the previous month, and that's it's gone up more in the last month than in the year prior.

So are we progressing as a society? Sure, we have high speed internet, wireless communications and nano-technology, but as we burn more petroleum, cause global warming, and continue to hate those not like us, are we really moving forward?

So as we ponder what it is we're laboring for, let us not forget that it's not just about family and friends, although those are of the highest import. We're also laboring for (or at least should be) a better world for our children and grandchildren, and for mankind as a whole.

Lessons learned in the aftermath

Well, it appears that the victims of Katrina's aftermath are finally getting the help they need, and that volunteers and relief supplies are getting the organization they need to do the most good. We learned a lot of lessons from this catastrophe, unfortunately at the expense of too many people's lives.

The first of which, is that an evacuation plan needs to be more than just saying "okay, everybody leave". I'm still hearing some people suggesting that the people left behind should have started walking out. Like you'd up and start walking away just before a hurricane.

Second lesson learned is that we need to rethink our risk vs. cost analysis model. Decisions were made to remove funding for levee system improvement, and it's turned out to be much more expensive to not have done so, to an estimated cost of $100 billion or so.

Third, that our National Guard remains at home to do the job they signed up for. They are supposed to be there to respond to emergencies at home, not to fight a war halfway around the world.

And finally, that human beings are still human. Despite different philosophies on social, spiritual and political ideologies, people from virtually every walk of life opened their hearts and wallets to help their fellow man, woman and child. From major corporations who donated millions and/or matched contributions, to public personas that gave huge chunks of cash, to the poorest among us who put more than they could afford into collection plates, it seems everyone was touched by this disaster and gave what they could to help alleviate the suffering of those in need. Even those with nothing took people in or showed up in person to try and help.

As an aside, I'm impressed how churches of all denominations are pitching in to help. Granted, that's what they should be doing, but I've been disheartened lately to hear so much hate speech coming from those who profess to serve God. The trend toward unchristianlike principles in supposedly Christian faiths disturbs me as a trend away from the teachings of Christ. Their response to this disaster restores my belief that God is alive and well and still inspires people to do good works.

As a skeptic, though, I wonder how well these lessons have been learned. Will our government learn that the economic loss from a disaster that could have been prevented, plus the human loss in both lives and livelihood, far outweighs the cost of preventive measures. Our economy will take a long time to fully recover, if it ever does. A few billion spent to prevent just such a disaster would have greatly diminished the impact of Katrina, would have left us with far more to work with to rebuild, and would have saved countless lives.

I also wonder if evacuation planning will change. I would hope so, since it's obvious how to fix it - have transportation available for those without, and plan in advance for a place to take them. Likewise the National Guard issue. Keep them in the state where they belong so that they can do the job they were recruited and trained for.

And finally, I hope that those of spiritual faith will continue to do good works, and not fall back into complacency where they can focus their efforts on trying to mold others into their ideal (which, unfortunately, is difficult for even them to achieve), and launching venomous attacks on those who believe differently than they do.

I'm a skeptic, but I'm also an optimist (I hope this doesn't create some sort of paradox). I believe that this tragedy has brought us closer together, and if we continue to work together, we can bring our country back into line with the ideals on which it was created. Respect, equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Images from Lake George

A liarwood tree Posted by Picasa

A dogwood tree Posted by Picasa

I hope they're exiting... Posted by Picasa

A city under water Posted by Picasa

A city in need Posted by Picasa

volunteers prepare for evacuees

This is what it's all about Posted by Picasa

Houston, TX: a chance to rest at last Posted by Picasa

Clueless in Biloxi

I think it's becoming obvious that you can't count on the federal government to help in times of crisis. This would seem to play into the hands of the Republican mantra of "the less federal government involvement, the better off you are". Unfortunately, the federal government is in the firm control of Republicans, so this turns the entire argument on it's head.

It also leads to dual speculation: 1) are the ideologies shifting, to where the Democrats are more into states helping themselves rather than relying on the federal government? and 2) is the federal involvement in our daily lives, in the form of anti-gay and anti-choice regulation, and the Homeland Security absorbtion of FEMA, signaling a Republican embrace of federal oversight into the lives of individual citizens.

The uproar from citizens across the battered regions devastated by Hurricane Kristina and it's aftermath lends us to believe that the delayed response by the federal government has soured millions of voters in predominately Republican territory. Yeah, the poor of New Orleans were not Bush supporters, but plenty of other Bible Belt strongholds were the victims of his inaction as well, and their frustration may turn Missisippi and Alabama into swing states.

A good example of Bush's cluelessness is exemplified in a Daily Kos post detailing his conversation with the devastated sisters he encountered in Mississippi. You know, the photo op where he looked and acted like a sexual predator?

Bush to women: "There's a Salvation Army center that I want to, that I'll tell you where it is, and they'll get you some help. I'm sorry.... They'll help you.....
Woman 1: "I came here looking for clothes..."
Bush: "They'll get you some clothes, at the Salvation Army center..."
Woman 1: "We don't have anything..."
Bush: "I understand.... Do you know where the center is, that I'm talking to you about?"
Guy with shades: "There's no center there, sir, it's a truck."
Bush: "There's trucks?"
Guy: "There's a school, a school about two miles away....."
Bush: "But isn't there a Salvation center down there?"
Guy: "No that's wiped out...."
Bush: "A temporary center? "
Guy: "No sir they've got a truck there, for food."
Bush: "That's what I'm saying, for food and water."
Bush turns to the sister who's been saying how she needs clothes.
Bush to sister: "You need food and water."

Bush to storm trooper: "these are not the droids you're looking for".

Of course, there are still plenty of those who blame the devastation on the victims. I still see lots of comment that the people who stayed behind did so out of a refusal to conform to the call of the city to evacuate. This is bunk! Most of the people left behind wanted to get out of harm's way, as evidenced by the multitude of people who attempted to walk out when they realized no aid was coming their way. The people of New Orleans know that that a hurricane would flood the city. But most of these people had no way of leaving when the evacuation was announced. And anyone who would even think about walking out in the midst of the hurricane would have to be insane anyway.

Of course, after this fiasco, I would think about taking my chances and walking out of Houston during a hurricane if I could expect the same response that New Orleans got.

The evacuation plan in New Orleans was the same as it is in every coastal city. An announcement to get out of town, and that's it. No buses, and no plans for where, if there were buses, they would go. (If you think the Astrodome was ready to receive evacuees before yesterday, you're delusional). This crisis has shown us that we haven't a clue how to handle the full evacuation of a major U.S. city. In effect, the evacuation plan counted on everyone to provide their own transportation out of the city and their own plan for lodging once they left. This plan is not only unrealistic, it's unreal.

And as for the civil unrest among those remaining, I think Rick Casey says it best:

But fears that the refugees will become an uncivil mob at the Astrodome are overblown. The concerns were, inevitably, tinged with race and class perceptions. The pictures we see from the Superdome are of people who are mostly poor and black.

Yet imagine that the entire population of The Woodlands, mostly white and prosperous, were confined for five days to an Astrodome that had no air conditioning, few working toilets, no showers, dwindling supplies of food and water, inadequate medical assistance and a likelihood that things would only get worse.

Anyone who thinks they would politely, without anger, queue up for an inadequate number of delayed buses has never driven I-45 during rush hour.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Just stay out of the way and let us get the job done

The president is expected to visit hurricane sites later this week

Word has it that Bush will visit the disaster sites on the Gulf Coast, including Louisiana, Missisippi and Alabama. I have one word for this.


We have enough trouble getting capable help into these regions without POTUS poking his ignorant nose into things. We need all available able bodies helping with recovery. If dubya is involved, there'll be hundreds of his entourage in the way with no other goal than to protect the prevaricator-in-chief or score political points with photo ops and sound bites, and those who can actually help will be hamstrung by the Secret Service because of National Security.

We've got more important things to do than babysit his pampered butt - like rescuing the people who have been waiting for us to haul them to safety and explain to them how we had money to build up the levees, but this clown who wants to come in for a photo op took the money away to pay for his war in Iraq.

It's a good thing these were red states, otherwise the shrub would've had to come up with justification for withdrawing funds from protecting them from this disaster. Being in the Bible Belt means never having to say you're sorry, right?

Think again, shrubya. You've played the good ol' boy card before, but this time your base voters got screwed, and your flag waving won't buy you their good will anymore.

It's devastating. Doubly devastating.
Infinity devastating, plus one!

“It’s devastating,” POTUS said as he watched, according to Scott McClellan. “It’s got to be doubly devastating on the ground.”

Doubly devastating? Try "a lot more devastating" on the ground. It's horrific. Indescribable. You'll never even have a clue of the devastation here on the ground. Just stay the hell away, because there's no way you can express what it's like down here. Go away, and let the rescuers do their jobs. Fly away. Don't darken our skies. Be gone, already.

A paws for the cause

Regardless of the different classes of people there were in America last week, there are two classes today. Those who need help, and those who can help.

Today is Blog For Relief Day, and it's brought together conservatives, progressives, moderates and non-political bloggers in an attempt to get the message out that "Hey, these are our fellow Americans, and human beings, and they need help!".

This is a non-partisan effort to supply relief to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. If you're a supporter of The American Red Cross, please give what you can. If you believe that The United Way is the way to go, pledge away.

I, personally, believe that both of those organizations will receive beaucoup donations from the corporate world, so I'm promoting a more or less avant-garde cause.

Many people who fled the southern coast had to leave their "other loved ones" behind because of logistics, and they had every intention of returning home in time to reunite with their pets in a happy homecoming. Circumstances changed, and now there are multitudes of "family members" who are safe, but have no way of reuniting with their life partners.

That's why I'm supporting pet fostering and the American Humane Society.

Studies have shown that pet ownership has great therapeutic value for those suffering from trauma. The relationship between humans and animals has long provided a buffer from hardship for those who have suffered catastrophic emotional distress. This bond between owner and pet can be stronger than that between neighbors and friends, and can therefore be valuable in the healing process necessary in the psychological trauma that this disaster presents.

There are thousands of animals who have been orphaned during this catastrophe. They're homeless, and for all practical purposes, ownerless. They need somewhere to call home, at least temporarily, and this is where you can help.

If you can't send cash (or credit) to a cause that will help alleviate the suffering of those displaced by this disaster, you may be able to foster a pet while his or her owner gets their life back together and makes a place for their best friend to come home to.

Those of you who know me realize I'm not a cat-blogger, and I seldom post cute pictures of puppies. Although I'm more of a wild animal advocate than a domestic devotee, I'm concerned for the innocents, and in the pet world that usually means the animal, not the person.

If you have room, fostering a pet can be a low-maintenance way of supporting disaster recovery, and I guarantee that you'll feel good about your contribution when the grateful parents show up to retrieve their loved one.

If fostering pets isn't your thing, you can donate to the cause. In any event, it's all good. Pets are rescued and hopefully reunited with their owners, or find new homes. As with all things pets, there are not a lot of complications - they're happy anytime we meet their needs.

Lets face it, pets provide unconditional love. Pet owners, not so much. This project will attempt to reunite pets with pet owners, and forge bonds beyond geographical boundaries. If this succeeds, then the human race has hope for it yet.

Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief

Wonkette posted something the other day that aroused my interest (no, not that, ya perv!). It may have been an innocent mistake by the press, but it appears that they are differentiating between finding and looting based on the race of the person performing the act.

Please match the pictures above with its -- ahem -- correct caption below.

It may have been unintentional, but it certainly says a lot about perception. And it's not isolated. Today she posts another example:

Now, I'm not one to cry "foul!" anytime someone doesn't feel like they're being treated fairly. After all, life isn't fair. Suck it up, and work to change it if you can. Which is what I'm attempting here. Realizing that there are inequalities in our perceptions of people based on their appearance is the first step towards rectifying the situation.

A disaster waiting to happen, happened

If it seemed like I was minimizing the effects of Katrina by saying it was not our tsunami in my previous post, I apologize for the misunderstanding. That was not my intent. I was responding to the flurry of media hype that jumped on the concept bandwagon. And, to paraphrase the Bush administration’s tired excuse, “we acted on the information we had available at the time”. At the time, it seemed there were a hundred deaths. Now the death toll appears to have increased exponentially, and the economic, social and psychological impact is becoming apparent, and indeed it seems that this will go down in history as one of America’s most severe natural disasters.

It’s also becoming apparent that much of the devastation could have been prevented. The Bush administration is responsible for selling off wetlands, which form a natural buffer against hurricanes, to real estate developers. Bush reversed restrictions on wetlands put in place by the Clinton Administration and ordered federal agencies to stop protecting as many as 20 million acres of wetlands.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14 (2002) — The Bush administration announced today that it would ease some Clinton administration regulations covering wetlands and streams, saying the changes would reduce unnecessary paperwork.

John Studt, chief of the regulatory branch of the Army Corps of Engineers, said the revisions "will do a better job of protecting aquatic ecosystems while simplifying some administrative burdens for the regulated public."

The steps outlined today by the Army Corps angered environmental advocates, who accused the administration of capitulating to the interests of developers and miners and jeopardizing ecologically sensitive areas.

In addition to reducing natural protection, the administration slashed the budget of the New Orleans branch of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers by $71.2 million, a 44.2% reduction, eliminating many hurricane and flood prevention projects and causing the branch to institute a hiring freeze. Funding for this branch has been on a downward trend for the past several years.

And of course the traditional first responder in any disaster is the state National Guard. Unfortunately, available Louisiana National Guard units are at a minimum, seeing as how a good third of them are currently deployed in Iraq, along with their support and ground equipment, including generators. Maybe this disaster will allow dubya to withdraw a good portion of our troops from Iraq without losing face. After all, we’re not backing off, we just need them at home. With better National Guard representation in New Orleans, the chaotic pandemonium that occurred yesterday during evacuation could have been eliminated, or at least minimized.

In 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked a major hurricane strike on New Orleans as "among the three likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country," directly behind a terrorist strike on New York City.

We knew it was possible – even probable. But in order to fund the war on terra and give tax breaks to the wealthy, budget cuts had to be made somewhere. There was also money to be made by selling off wetlands to developers. It was a win-win situation, right? Well, they made their decisions based on the information they had at the time, and they took a risk that since the first most likely disaster occurred, then the odds were down for the second and third. They gambled and lost, and now it’s going to cost us much more to recover, and some of us will never recover the human losses.

Incidentally, the third most likely and catastrophic disaster? An earthquake in San Francisco. Let’s hope disasters, like bad luck, don’t come in threes.