Fuck Off and Die, 2005

As years go, 2005, you were the worst in decades. You were worse than a cash-laden frat boy high on meth at a strip club with a gun in his fist. You were worse than my burly boyfriend in prison, the one with a sadomasochistic streak and a penchant for hogtying with razor wire.

Once, when Alberto Gonzales was waterboarding me and John Ashcroft was pouring the contents of a chemical light on my scrotum while Dick Cheney questioned me, I thought, "This is so much better than 2005." Even after Condi Rice poured gravy over my head and loosed the famished german shepherd on me, I thought that.

2005 beat its children, stripped them naked and left them outside to starve in winter. 2005 kidnapped people it didn't like and boiled their hands in Uzbekistan. 2005 suspected everyone of something, and inflicted punishment just short of organ failure until they confessed. (The confessions proved false.) 2005 drowned hundreds of thousands of people. It buried thousands more in mountains of rubble, saving the cost of digging mass graves.

2005: Goodbye and good riddance.


Photos of the Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans

Within a few days of the ninth ward opening up for residents to check their property and leave, A. and I went to look at the ward*. Here's a collection of pictures I shot between the ninth ward and St. Bernard Parish (about 15 blocks east of the ninth ward). The pictures were shot on Dec. 1. And, yes, the peach-colored object in the foreground of the first photo is a dildo.

COMING SOON: Photos of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

BONUS: Why did the floodwalls fail? (Hint: sea level isn't the issue.) Take a gander at the the most recent report.

UPDATE: My most recent set of Lower Ninth Ward photos is here.

*An earlier version of this post said that we overshot the 9th ward. After (finally!) finding the excellent graphic by the Times Picayune, I found that we hadn't. We were near the river, where the damage was nowhere near as bad as it was further north.


Christmas in Iraq

My cousin's Christmas email from somewhere near Mosul:
Hello, everyone!

I'm sorry I haven't sent out an e-mail in such a long time. We've been without power for long periods (over six days once), so I haven't been able to send anything.

Christmas was good. I had Staff duty on Christmas Eve. When assigned to Staff duty, you have to stay up all night. I was able to spend the night webcamming with [my wife] and her family. I was able to talk to them, then watched as they opened their presents. It was the next best thing to being there.

I slept all morning on Christmas day. I then spent the afternoon installing a generator at our barracks. We got it put in and running just after dark, so we got power just in time. My Christmas dinner was a bratwurst and red beans and rice. We did have a "traditional" dinner trucked up to us from Tal Afar, but I was too busy getting the generator running. I'm not complaining, though. I would rather have power and heat than a piece of ham or turkey.

The rainy season has finally arrived. Now the whole place is one big mud hole. It is impossible to go through the day without getting mud everywhere - clothes, boots, in the rooms, etc. Along with the rain came the mosquitoes. We're getting eaten alive, especially at night. I've been trying to get a mosquito net, but the PX in Mosul sells out almost as soon as they get them in. The temperatures are falling, we even had a spit of snow.

I've attached a photo taken while on a convoy to Bayji, located just north of Baghdad. It took us four hours each way to get there, and we had to make the trip twice in three days. This photo was taken while we were recovering a vehicle that broke down. I was providing security while the vehicle was being prepared to tow.
I'd include the picture, but it's meaningless for anyone who doesn't know him. It's of a soldier in uniform in a desert similar to the one east of L.A.

By the way, I keep posting these because they're snippets of personal life that you don't get much of in the news (for once, I'm not criticizing the news, I'm just making an observation).

I should also add that while I think this war is based on a series of lies, I do hope Iraq gets some sort of decent government in the end and citizens wind up better off. I'm just afraid that it won't happen for many years, and in the interim there will be much more internecine violence.

Top Ten Myths about Iraq

Juan Cole dispels them.


Please Retire, Trent

Oh, for a wild wish to come true....
[Trent] Lott is having a sort of revenge, forcing the Republican establishment to beg him to stay. According to Novak, "Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman pleaded with Lott last week to run again. The senator was as blunt with this emissary from President Bush as he was with me. 'Where is our vision and our agenda?' he asked. The malaise afflicting the Bush administration not only threatens a Senate seat in Mississippi but impacts Lott's decision whether to retire."
Although I prefer cream cheese with my bagel and lotts, I'll take malaise any day.


I Love My New Big Brother

A few days ago, Kevin Drum speculated that Bush™ skirted the FISA court to cover for new technology: data-mining or some such, the sort of thing John Poindexter's into. It's looking more and more like he was right. On Thursday, US News reported that the Feds monitored Muslim sites and private property, searching for nuclear material. Now, the New York Times reports a massive federal data-mining operation reminiscent of convicted felon John Poindexter's proposed Total Information Awareness program, once again demonstrating Bush™'s propensity to do whatever he wants, regardless of what, say, other branches of government think. A few highlights:
The National Security Agency has traced and analyzed large volumes of telephone and Internet communications flowing into and out of the United States as part of the eavesdropping program that President Bush approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to hunt for evidence of terrorist activity, according to current and former government officials.

The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged, the officials said. It was collected by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system's main arteries, they said.

As part of the program approved by President Bush for domestic surveillance without warrants, the N.S.A. has gained the cooperation of American telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to streams of domestic and international communications, the officials said.
What has not been publicly acknowledged is that N.S.A. technicians, besides actually eavesdropping on specific conversations, have combed through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might point to terrorism suspects. Some officials describe the program as a large data-mining operation.
This so-called "pattern analysis" on calls within the United States would, in many circumstances, require a court warrant if the government wanted to trace who calls whom.
Several officials said that after President Bush's order authorizing the N.S.A. program, senior government officials arranged with officials of some of the nation's largest telecommunications companies to gain access to switches that act as gateways at the borders between the United States' communications networks and international networks. The identities of the corporations involved could not be determined.

The switches are some of the main arteries for moving voice and some Internet traffic into and out of the United States, and, with the globalization of the telecommunications industry in recent years, many international-to-international calls are also routed through such American switches.

One outside expert on communications privacy who previously worked at the N.S.A. said that to exploit its technological capabilities, the American government had in the last few years been quietly encouraging the telecommunications industry to increase the amount of international traffic that is routed through American-based switches.

The growth of that transit traffic had become a major issue for the intelligence community, officials say, because it had not been fully addressed by 1970's-era laws and regulations governing the N.S.A. Now that foreign calls were being routed through switches on American soil, some judges and law enforcement officials regarded eavesdropping on those calls as a possible violation of those decades-old restrictions, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires court-approved warrants for domestic surveillance.

Historically, the American intelligence community has had close relationships with many communications and computer firms and related technical industries. But the N.S.A.'s backdoor access to major telecommunications switches on American soil with the cooperation of major corporations represents a significant expansion of the agency's operational capability, according to current and former government officials.

Phil Karn, a computer engineer and technology expert at a major West Coast telecommunications company, said access to such switches would be significant. "If the government is gaining access to the switches like this, what you're really talking about is the capability of an enormous vacuum operation to sweep up data," he said.
Or, in simpler terms, Big Brother.

Thank you, New York Times, for doing your job.


Let's Invade Iraq! and the Library!

Some people still believe that Bush™ didn't make up his mind to invade Iraq until, say, 2003. Today, we learn from former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle that the day after September 11, 2001 the Bush Administration sought broad authority to make war on whomever it liked:
On the evening of Sept. 12, 2001, the White House proposed that Congress authorize the use of military force to "deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States." Believing the scope of this language was too broad and ill defined, Congress chose instead, on Sept. 14, to authorize "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed or aided" the attacks of Sept. 11. With this language, Congress denied the president the more expansive authority he sought and insisted that his authority be used specifically against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
Having been denied authority to take over the world, Bush™ then sought to make war in this country, Lincoln-style®:
Just before the Senate acted on this compromise resolution, the White House sought one last change. Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words "in the United States and" after "appropriate force" in the agreed-upon text. This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas -- where we all understood he wanted authority to act -- but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused.
Now given that all levels of government already have authority to, you know, arrest and shoot people under certain circumstances, seeking war powers within the United States seems an odd request. One wonders what, exactly, our Fearlesss Leader intended to do with it. I guess see who's checking out Mao's Little Red Book.*

*Not that I really think that's the reason why you'd skirt the FISA court, but in any case, turns out the Little Red Book story was a hoax. This one, however, is not.


He's Baaack

Le Savant returns....

The Real Meaning of Saturnalia Christmas

While Fox News is busy promoting the non-existent War on Christmas, we at realitique headquarters thought it fitting to point out that, like Easter, the Christmas story is fundamentally about the journey of the sun across the sky. Today, for example, is the winter solstice, the day the sun "stands still" or is "born." And if the Emperor Aurelian hadn't in 274 CE fixed the date as the 25th, today would be Christmas.

Lots of mangods (some of them explicitly sun gods) were born or reborn on this day. Beli Mawr, Mithra, Tammuz, Adonis, Baal ("lord"), Horus, Heracles and Dionysus are a few. Many mangods were born in caves, to virgins, and could look forward to a period of teaching mankind followed by a trial, death and resurrection. This usually led to a father-figure god forgiving humanity's sins.

In some cultures, this astronomical event was mythologized as a battle between light and darkness (which eventually interpenetrated the constructs of "good" and "evil"). The Hopi celebration of Soyal and the Mesopotamian ("Iraqi") celebration of Zagmuk both stress such a battle, and during the Iranian celebration of Yalda, bonfires are used to help the sun grow stronger. Shades of this conflict also appear in the Christian theological argument that Jesus' birth signalled the defeat of Satan.

Celebrating the solstice over 12 days was also popular, as the solar year was (and is) commonly divided into 12 periods. In ancient Babylon, slaves and masters exchanged places and a mock king ruled in the palace. In Italy—where Saturn had once ruled but now lay sleeping near Britain, one day to return and usher in another golden age—gifts were exchanged and a mock king, the Lord of Misrule, reigned. In Greece, the monsters of chaos were said to roam free, playing pranks.

These variations on the theme of moral license and tricksterism may have originated in older rites of human sacrifice, which along with divine births and resurrections also occurred regularly around solstices and equinoxes. In many of these traditions, the victim was allowed for a short time to do whatever he wanted to (sinning, or breaking taboos) before dying. The free-for-all Carnival, or Mardi Gras, may a variation of this, perhaps in preparation for the spring equinox.

In ancient mystery religions, such as Mithraism, adepts were taught a narrative of the religion's founder or god. Newcomers were taught the exoteric, or uninterpreted, version. But once these newcomers were initiated into the mysteries, they were often shown a dramatized version of the narrative (or "passion") and were told the symbolic meaning of it—the esoteric version. Fittingly, Jesus does this, telling the crowds parables but revealing to his followers the parables' secret meaning. Gnostics, most likely the earliest Christians (such as Paul), interpreted the gospel narrative symbolically, as being about the growth of the self*. Because they didn't misinterpret the story as being literally true, they were often initiates of other mystery religions, without conflict.

Early anti-Gnostic Christian apologists had a hard time rebutting criticism that their nascent religion was just another mangod-centered mystery religion. They argued that Satan had copied God's plan and reproduced it around the world in anticipation of Christ's birth, death and resurrection. The big difference, they said, between Christianity and pagan mystery religions surrounding man-gods, was that Christianity was based on a "real" incarnate god. To prove their point, they produced gospels written long after the birth of their religion. Then demagogic bishops sent the faithful to burn pagan and gnostic texts that promoted the spiritual, ahistorical nature of the mangods. The rest is propaganda history.

*This gnostic tradition continued in the West, undercover, as a branch of Alchemy, in which lead and gold were symbols for states of the self, not literal metals. Another form of it is still practiced in Masonry.

BONUS: The God Who Wasn't There, a movie about Christian origins (i.e. paganism, the inclusive type of religion that Christianity robbed blind for every one of its exclusive claims).

SUPER HAPPY WINTER HOLIDAY BONUS: Hitchens drips derision all over Christmas.

DISCLAIMER: I actually like Christmas—as the annual solar holiday it is.


Impeach Bush (Reprise)

There are already more reasons for impeaching Bush than I'm willing to list, but the latest is an excellent one: breaking the law. As I recall, a few years ago power-hungry Republicans were in a lather over a certain man lying under oath. That, they said, required impeachment. If it did, then so does authorizing wiretaps by executive fiat*. By the way, I'm not astonished that we haven't yet heard in the news this obvious question and answer:
Q: The FISA law allows you to start spying on somebody as long as you seek a warrent within 72 hours—and fifteen days in emergencies. If so, why did Bush need to claim the right to wiretap citizens without going through the FISA court?

A: Because he didn't want anyone to know who we were spying on or why.
This is called "abuse of office," but unlike the other abuses of office Bush has committed, this one is clear cut.

P.S. Thanks, Mistuh Preznit, for the levee dough. It's probably the only thing you've done that's good policy.

*In the initial version of this post, I accidentally used the word "caveat." Thanks, G, for the correction.

UPDATE: Larry Johnson, who knows a bit about spying, weighs in:
It appears the most likely explanation is that the Bush Administration did not want to have to tell a Federal judge that they were using information obtained from interrogations that violated the spirit and the letter of the Geneva Conventions. Instead of protecting the nation the President may be covering his derrier.



Death of an American City

The NYT editorial is here. Saving the city would cost so much less than this misguided war. We've already lost half as many Americans to Katrina as have been killed in Iraq, and one third as many as we lost on 9/11. That we lost those Americans to a preventable, mostly man-made disaster for which the Corps of Engineers was in part responsible is all the more reason to renovate the levee system. If Congress isn't willing to do that, will they help fund the rebuilding of the Mississippi Gulf Coast within half a mile of the beach?


Election Patrol

My cousin's latest email:
I've just been told I will have to go out on patrol for the elections. I will leave tomorrow (12/12) and will stay gone until after the elections are over. Subsequently, I will not be able to contact you for the next several days.

If you get a moment, say a small prayer that this will go smoothly. I will e-mail you when I return. Hopefully I will have enough time to send some photos I've been wanting to e-mail, as well.

Take care, and I'll talk to you in a few days.

Gary Webb and the CIA-Contra-Cocaine Connection

Since I've made such a fuss in the past about the Washington Press Corpse, here's an excellent overview of the big story of journalist Gary Webb's career—and how the national media punished him for breaking it. (Via some big-time blogger or something.)


The Most Expensive (and Fatal?) Engineering Mistake in US History

Thank the Corps of Engineers.

But hey, New Orleans is just a America's whore, right? Fuck her, tell her she's pretty, then short change her and kick her out of the car.


The Sebastian Mallaby Contest

In a “column” defending All Things Wal Mart yesterday, enlightened turd-shiner Sebastian Mallaby called decorated war veteran John Kerry “John ‘Benedict Arnold’ Kerry.” I not so promptly informed said turd shiner of his offense and added that
...I propose we sane folk (i.e., not you) start referring to you in a few truthful and creative ways:

Sebastian "Bush Toady" Mallaby
Sebastian "Benedict Arnold" Mallaby
Sebastian "Bought-And-Paid-For" Mallaby
Sebastian "Smug And Stupid" Mallaby
Sebastian "Wal Mart Ass Puppet" Mallaby
Sebastian "Waste of Water" Mallaby

On second thought, maybe we should use your name in some creative and obscene way, just as Dan Savage used Senator Rick Santorum's surname to signify a side-effect of anal sex.

A few inspiring possibilities:

1. I was straining on the toilet when I felt a mallaby pop out. Fortunately, my insurance plan (non-Wal-Mart!) covers rectal surgery.

2. The fetid Wal-Mart pork that Rishi ate soon turned a mallaby and he vomited all over his new satin sheets.

3. After the hooker finished, he wiped a drop of mallaby off the tip of his member.

4. Sorry, babe, I really can't. If I go upstairs with you, you might catch a mallaby and need a shot of penicillin.

5. Frank would've been fine, if the virus hadn't resulted in a mallaby. The lobotomy, he reports, was a success.

6. The neurosurgeon had no choice but to perform a mallaby on Rick. Now Rick stares out the window at the pretty birds and scratches at the floor for nonexistent seed.
I don't know what Sebastian "Shoe Shit" Mallaby thinks of this, if he thinks at all, but if you're game, I propose a contest. Give me your best shot at what "mallaby" should henceforth mean and (cross my stony, godless heart) I'll give you a prize (feel free to suggest low-cost prizes). The only rules I can think of right now: "Mallaby" has to be useable as a verb, meaning something gross, if not disgusting. On second thought, other meanings, such as those indicating lying, manipulation and corruption would work (use your imagination). The word can also be used as other parts of speech but those must be defined.

Official contest slogan: "Mallaby": Just two letters short of disease.

(Felt-hat tip to Atrios for the original offending article.)


Iraqi Civilians, or Contractor Targets

Unbelievable. (Hunting-cap tip to Crooks & Liars and Atrios.)

Dear Washington Post

Next time you write a slightly snide editorial about my city (not yours), please bother getting your facts straight. But then your paper and "facts" have a rocky relationship.

Contrary to your assertion, New Orleans doesn't have 1.5 million residents. Perhaps you were thinking of the Greater New Orleans Metropolitan Area, which according to the 2000 census has (had) 1,337,726 residents (closer to 1.3 or 1.4 million). New Orleans proper has (had) only 484,674 residents. It was New Orleans proper that got flooded; most of the surrounding area did not.

This is an important distinction. Most of the hundreds of thousands of residents outside New Orleans proper have returned. If you don't believe me, try one of the traffic cams on nola.com. The heavy traffic in Metairie and Kenner isn't from contractors, and it's not contractors I stand behind in line at Bed, Bath & Beyond, nor is it contractors I overhear discussing damage to their houses.

Now it's true that most of New Orleans' former 484,674 residents (note: not 1.5 or even 1.4 million) haven't returned, because most of the city is without power and most of the houses are uninhabitable. But in the habitable parts of town, there's plenty of traffic, and not from contractors. Unless all the cars lining my residential street are those of contractors who've taken up residence in my former neighbors' houses. And most of the people at restaurants and in grocery stores (long lines of people) appear to be residents--perhaps by subterfuge. There are even lots of tourists in the French Quarter, and this weekend, when the zoo reopened, you couldn't find a parking place for acres (lots of contractors, I guess, pushing all those strollers). Would you like me to take some pictures for you? The fact is, the livable parts of New Orleans are full, and more lights come on every day. People are coming back and cleaning up. But then you wouldn't know that, because you didn't bother to look. You didn't even bother to read the census.

There's a reason why getting your facts straight is important, even when it doesn't involve misleading your country into war. When you don't get your facts straight, you mislead your readers, some of which are in positions of power. When they read that most residents of "New Orleans" haven't returned, they might think that New Orleans is a dead city, when it is not. And they might hesitate to rebuild it. And if they don't rebuild it, they can find some other port to ship all their precious cargo through and some other swamp to run their oil pipelines through, because this strategic port will be gone, and many of the refineries and pipelines that feed the greedy American beast will be gone with it.

And, in part, that will be your fault.


He'll Send More Troops

Bush, Fort Bragg, 6/28/2005:
Some Americans ask me, if completing the mission is so important, why don't you send more troops? If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job. Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are, in fact, working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave. As we determine the right force level, our troops can know that I will continue to be guided by the advice that matters: the sober judgment of our military leaders.
(Emphasis mine.)

TIME, 11/21/2005
If the Repulblican Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee wants to get a second opinion on how the war in Iraq is going, where does he turn? To the Pentagon, but not to the top brass this time. In an unusual closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill last week, Virginia's John Warner, joined by Democratic Senators Carl Levin of Michigan and Mark Dayton of Minnesota, sat across the table from 10 military officers chosen for their experience on the battlefield rather than in the political arena. Warner rounded up the battalion commanders to get at what the military calls "ground truth"--the unvarnished story of what's going on in Iraq.

"We wanted the view from men who had been on the tip of the spear, and we got it," said John Ullyot, a Warner spokesman who declined to comment on what was said at the meeting but confirmed that some Capitol Hill staff members were also present. According to two sources with knowledge of the meeting, the Army and Marine officers were blunt. In contrast to the Pentagon's stock answer that there are enough troops on the ground in Iraq, the commanders said that they not only needed more manpower but also had repeatedly asked for it. Indeed, military sources told TIME that as recently as August 2005, a senior military official requested more troops but got turned down flat.

There are about 160,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq, a number U.S. commanders in the region plan to maintain at least through the Iraqi national assembly elections on Dec. 15. But the battalion commanders, according to sources close to last week's meeting, said that because there are not enough troops, they have to "leapfrog" around Iraq to keep insurgents from returning to towns that have been cleared out. The officers also stressed that the lack of manpower--rather than of protective armor or signal jammers--posed one of the biggest obstacles in dealing with roadside bombs, which have caused the majority of U.S. casualties in Iraq. The commanders, according to the meeting sources, said there are simply "never enough" explosives experts on the ground.
(Article via Andrew Sullivan.)


Al Jazeera's Future?

An interesting side note about Al Jazeera, from Steve Clemons:
To add one other interesting dimension to this debate about Al-Jazeera, one of my friends asked novelist Tom Clancy what he thought about the mid-term future of the arab network at the major September terrorism conference where Clancy spoke. Tom Clancy replied that he thought that in five years, Al-Jazeera would be just another mouthpiece of American interests.

Fascinating, counter-intuitive statement -- in TWN's view -- that I hope is wrong, but which many inside the Al-Jazeera network feel strikes close to home and the realm of likelihood.


Our Man in Mosul

A cousin of mine who's in the National Guard has been in Iraq for the past few months. He got to guard polling stations during the last vote and (I'm guessing) will do so again on Dec. 15. Here are highlights from his latest mass email:
We don't have any special plans here. I believe the mess hall manager is preparing us a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, though we may have to go to Mosul to pick up some of the things they don't have here (which is alot, since its an Iraqi mess hall). They will close it off to the Iraqis, so we will be able to socialize and fellowship for a little while. Other than that, its business as usual.

I'm sorry I haven't been keeping in touch with everyone (sending the mass e-mails). There's not a whole lot to update you on. I work what I call the daily grind with the Iraqi G-2 (intelligence), and run up and down the road to Mosul. Mosul is getting pretty crazy, it makes for a nerve-wracking trip. I've also had to go over to Tal Afar a couple of times, but that was uneventful.

As I'm sure everyone can understand, we're gearing up for the December elections. I can't wait for it to happen. Hopefully some of the crazy stuff that's going on around here will ease off. We're doing a lot of planning/preparations, so I hope it will go smoothly, at least in our Area of Operations.

I guess winter is starting to set in here. It gets down into the 40's and 50's at night, but is still comfortable during the day. We've had two straight days of rain. Nothing heavy, but its turned this whole place into a mud hole. Several of our guys have gone out 4-wheeling in it, driving Russian-made jeeps. I will get out there eventually, and have a little fun, also. I've been told that we will get more rain for about a month, then "true" winter will set in. It will snow in late December, January and February. Who would have thought about snow in the desert? We've got some large mountain ranges visible from the FOB [Forward Operating Base -Ed.]. Once the snow starts, I'll get some pictures of it e-mailed.


Scott Pelley Is Sinking

Gee, Scott, maybe next time you could give the other 9 sides of the story, like a real journalist would, instead of the controversial one you adore.



Impeach the Bastard

Sure, you say, nearly every president deserves impeachment. But who deserves it as much as this guy?

CAVEAT EMPTOR: Then again, you might have to drill down to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson to find a decent replacement, and I don't know if he's trustworthy either.

Putting the Ann in Annti-American

"Frankly, I'm not a big fan of the First Amendment."
- Ann Coulter at the University of Florida
(Via Brad Blog.)


Can Bush Beat Nixon?

He's a contender.

Michael Brown's Image-Makers

Why work hard when you can look like you've been working hard? The Baton Rouge Advocate reports on an email that former FEMA-director Michael Brown received several days after Katrina struck:
Several days later, Brown received yet another e-mail about his attire. This time, Worthy instructed Brown: "Please roll up the sleeves of your shirt...all shirts. Even the President rolled his sleeves to just below the elbow. In this cris[is] and on TV you just need to look more hard-working...ROLL UP THE SLEEVES."


Dear Max Boot

I read with interest your list of half-truths and lies in the LA Times today. Then on NPR I heard you mislead the American public.

In the LA Times, you called Joseph Wilson "Plamegate's real liar." But anyone who read the Joseph Wilson's NYT op-ed or interviews with him knows he didn't lie. Anyone who read the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report knows it was skewed and that the Bush toady Pat Roberts and Orrin Hatch lied in their comments.

On NPR's All Things Considered, you claimed that Democrats voted for the Iraq war. But anyone who paid attention knows that the Democrats didn't "vote for war" but authorized the use of force as a last resort. And anyone not suffering from Down's Syndrome knows that the invasion of Iraq was far from the last resort. Or did you miss the weapons inspectors report before the invasion?

I don't think you're stupid enough to sincerely believe any of what you've said or written on Joseph Wilson or those pesky Democrats. Instead, I think you're the worst sort of liar, the kind who, conscienceless, uses whatever means necessary to achieve underhanded policy ends. Do you get paid to lie or do you do it on principle? You belong in a dark cell, with a guard who turns a blind eye and several large, libidinous cellmates who can't wait to get into your jumpsuit.


Pretty Please...

M. Night Shayamalan sez that if movie distributors start releasing films on DVD and in theaters simultaneously, he'll stop making them.
I'm going to stop making movies if they end the cinema experience. If there's a last film that's released only theatrically, it'll have my name on it. This is life or death to me.
I fervently hope he follows through. (Via Kos.)


Today's Miers Headline Should've Been


Mischievous Hard Motor

The following appeared in my email this morning, with the subject line "NOT ONLY RICH CAN AFFORD BRANDED WATCH, U CAN GET ONE AT $160 or":
profession parents gym anything.
added is commit commit money studied. prison side mischievous respect
development, she social back anybody explain.
is pride my promised explain.
beautiful suddenly the filled my. mischievous hard motor reply arms light. make
taught find hard you.
end added force shining off you? black the corner different black carefully.
different off appearance wanted miserable.
Almost sublime nonsense. I especially like "make taught find hard you" and "black the corner different black carefully." "Mischievous hard motor" would make a good band name.

UPDATE: Today, this succint gem arrived with the subject line "Fannie, your refill is due."
desire embarrass shining,
bridge commit necessary. saying horses filled not? better miles pretty husband.
changed justice word?
pretty filled argue you within. argue wonder disappoint arm within latter.
become science again, disease nothing longer. gym grave next.


The Edge of the Light

A lyrical snippet from an acquaintance's email (he's in New Orleans, in the Marigny):
...I had a moment two nights ago. Walked over to St. Claude, along Franklin, and stood in the middle of the road, on the edge of the light. Across St. Claude, for a long stretch, there is no electricity. It's kind of like standing on the edge of the sea. A windowless furniture shop alarm was going off. Across the street, the second story of a furniture warehouse rested wide open, a gaping wound. I walked over to Press Street, looked to the faintly lit -- kind of two dimensional skyline (Tron-like), then up. After asking why rather than why not, I received my answer in the form of a white unmarked police SUV blasting some hard core music. Interesting.


Back to New Orleans

On September 19, A. and I returned to New Orleans to check the apartment and pick up some items and a few trapped pets. Aside from the damage, two oddities stood out the entire time we were in the city: the military presence and the post-apocalyptic, ghost-town feel. We saw few people, but what few we saw were mostly in humvees or manning checkpoints. Unlike the New Orleans police who questioned us later, they were very polite.

Legally, we weren't supposed to be there. We left early from Laurel, Mississippi, which is about 100 miles from the decimated Coast but not far enough to've escape Katrina's wrath itself. After topping off the tank in Mandeville, scarfing down a poboy (the first authentic one since the storm) and making sure the way was clear, we crossed Lake Pontchartrain on the causeway. Relatives had told us it was impassable. It wasn't.

Arriving in Metairie, we were surprised at both the destruction and the lack thereof. When Katrina threw her tantrum, she was selective: most buildings were intact, with minimal wind damage, but here and there was a building missing a wall or an entire story. When we reached River Road, traffic was doing what FEMA did the week after the storm: nothing. So we took Jefferson Hwy and eased through a National Guard checkpoint. A few cars were being told to turn around and go back. For whatever reason, we weren't.

Uptown was lucky; it wasn't low enough to flood. Our apartment, a few blocks from the river, was untouched, as was all our stuff. The power was off and it was in the mid-90's outside, so we sweated our way through the apartment, hurriedly gathering a few items to ease our exile. Computer monitor. Router. Clothes. DVDs. I'm relieved I lost nothing but felt a little guilty that I didn't while so many others did, including my cousin who lost his house. A. and I suffered psychologically, but I was already in the middle of an existential crisis anyway, so even that doesn't count for much.

We locked up the house and headed for the Quarter. There was little damage there. Some signs dangling. The occasional car buried beneath a fallen facade. The Faubourg Marigny, just east of the Quarter, did equally well (the lack of trees probably helped).

That's where we broke into our first house.

We'd come with a list of pets to either feed or rescue, and the owner of this shotgun house had asked us to get the cats inside. They'd been there for three weeks and we didn't know what we'd find. A., an animal devotee, was afraid we'd find carnage. Fortunately, we'd planned ahead: In addition to 20 gallons of water and big bags of pet food, we'd brought a crowbar, an axe and a shovel, in case the animals we'd come for were dead.

Now I'd never opened a gate with a crowbar before, but it wasn't hard, even with the deadbolt, and the National Guard troops manning the barb-wired barricade a block away either weren't paying attention or didn't care. Once through the gate, we walked alongside the house and found the back door and side windows locked. One of them, however, was missing a small pane, but that wasn't enough to get in. The windows were about six feet aboveground and the latches were halfway up the windows, so we weren't sure how to get in. We found a plastic ice chest in the walkway and tried standing on it. That got me close enough to break enough windowpanes for A. to crawl through--with much wriggling and grunting and acrobatics.

Once through the window, A. looked anxious and said there was something unidentifiable on the floor. Afraid the cats had turned cannibals, she searched the rest of the apartment. She said it was a mess inside, with cat shit, torn food bags and so on. But no cats living or dead. Presumably, they'd exited through that one missing windowpane.

Getting out of the window proved more difficult than getting in. The jump was a long one, especially for non-cheerleaders, and there were a couple of shards of broken glass sticking out of the sides of the window, like the curled lip of a sneer. A. cut herself on one of these. Blood streamed down her forearm. Then I saw blood streaming down mine too. A. started sobbing. She said she wished we'd never come. (Later, she told me this was because she was afraid we'd find nothing wherever we went.) I shouted at her to jump down, and she did. I squirted water on her hand and my arm. She'd cut her hand--a minor wound. Same with my arm--just a nick near the elbow.

We drove through Bywater, checking on a couple of other houses, to no avail. Occasionally, we'd see a dog or cat and stop to give them water. At one point, a white cat nuzzled up to A. She nabbed him and put him in the car, planning on putting his mug shot on the web once we got back to Laurel. Moving on, we passed through Mid-City, we started seeing some of the damage we'd heard about. In some cases, it didn't look as bad as we expected, but there were always water lines on buildings. They gave better testimony than the detritus and dead grass.

We drove down Carrollton, in Mid-City, searching for a house not far from the initial 17th St. levee breach. The sister of the man who lived in the house had called me while we were driving to New Orleans, asking us to rescue her brother's cats. He'd been injured in the storm and, she said, needed something to live for. Along the way, we ran into a couple of official animal rescue volunteers in a white van. We gave them the address of a 9th ward Yorkshire Terrier on our list, the pet of a nursing-home resident, who was sure her dog was dead. They gave us air-filter masks and agreed to check on the dog.

After driving down a few streets covered in a dingy film, past innumerable abandoned cars detoxing from the flood waters they'd bathed in, we found the house. The water line almost reached the top of the first floor. An old car in the back of the driveway looked like someone dumped their trash on it. We made our way through an obstacle course of absurd litter on the outside stairs--the sort of stuff that would be on a porch, hinting at all the stuff that the waters had moved from one home to another.

The door was locked. Breathing through an air-filter mask (without it, the air smelled like sewerage), I tried to pry open the door with the crowbar. Several frustrating minutes later, I switched to the axe. But it's a stubborn door and the wood on the other side of the frame is strong. Kicking helped a bit, especially when I accidentally hit the panes of glass in the middle. They shattered on the other side and we crawled through.

Clearly, cats lived here. There was food and water in containers on the floor, though one or the other was almost out, and the leather furniture in the living room had become a toilet. To make matters worse, there was lots of junk in the hallway--perfect for cats to hide under. After searching for a while, we were about to leave when A. found a calico kitten, Jill. Jill wasn't happy about being found and was even less so about being jailed in a carrier. A few more minutes' searching revealed an adult Siamese, Jackie, which sank his claws into A. before she jailed him with his roommate.

It wasn't until we drove up Robert E. Lee, towards the lake, that we reached another National Guard checkpoint. There A. told the two soldiers about our friends' pets and led them to believe that she sort of lives in this area. Genial, they smiled awkwardly at A. and then let us through. Passing the bayou, we turned into Gentilly.

Everything looked like it was covered in ash. The roads were dirt once again. Here, large oaks lay uprooted on sludge-covered yards, many crushing cars and roofs. No one was here.

It was the last neighborhood on our list. We had a few places to check but I told A. that I thought we should leave. The first place was a ruined apartment complex. A circle with a slash through it was painted in glowing orange on the dingy brick. The entranceway was blocked by a long, broken awning. Beyond it was glistening foot-printed toxic sludge ending in a closed metal gate. I'd heard about rescue workers getting decontaminated after falling in the 9th-Ward water, so I was leery of getting near the sludge, even if it was mostly mud. We were not going in there, I said, and A. suggested we try around the side. I could hear in her voice she was determined to get in.

Along the side of the complex was a graveyard of cars. A couple we passed were half full of sludge. We stepped carefully through the courtyard, trying to stay on the dried mud. But the wing of the complex that was full of mud was the one where the apartment on our list was located, and A. was wearing flip-flops. So I went in. I climbed over the pool fence--the pool full of what looked like bubbling tar--and went up the stairs. The door I was looking for was open, with signs of tampering. A track of black footprints ran through the musty apartment. What little was inside was intact. No animals, though the food and water in bowls on the floor attested to their recent stay there.

I'd been taking pictures the whole time we'd been in New Orleans and now was no exception. On the way into the complex, I noted the abandoned muddy boots standing in the parking lot, as if their owner had been raptured. Now I stopped to photograph them before I got back in the car. Wary of the sludge, I put my muddy shoes in plastic bags.

We tried to get to the next place on the list, but there was a short bridge between here and there, and on the other side of the bridge everything looked wet, recently drained. "Fuck!" A. exclaimed. I didn't see how we could drive through what was on the other side, and neither did she. But I had to take a picture. Making a U turn, she stopped at the edge of the bridge and I walked onto the median in my socks. I went up a few yards and snapped a picture. A SUV passed, the Indian-looking driver wearing a dark blue tee shirt with official-looking yellow lettering. In the distance, another SUV, black-and-white with a bar of lights on top, was headed for the bridge. I got back in the car.

We were only yards from the bridge when the SUV turned on its lights and pulled us over.

A fit, balding cop appeared at A.'s door and beckoned her to get out. After a while of talking with him behind the car, a tall, steroid-abusing cop in a standard blue uniform motioned at me and I stepped onto the mud-caked road, my feet in plastic bags. He stood at a distance, his hand on his holster. Who was I? I handed him my passport. What was I doing on the bridge? Taking a picture. Was I supposed to be doing that? I thought I was free to do that, I said. He didn't like this response and told me that I couldn't "win" against him. He asked me if I was sure that there was nothing in the car that shouldn't be there, and I told him yes. Just water and cats. (Later, A. would tell me that they showed interest in my computer monitor. While that made sense, I was surprised they didn't ask to look in the trunk. I can't say whether asking to look is legal, but if they'd looked, they would've seen water and food--not looting materials.) I told the cop that the National Guard let us through the checkpoint. Frustrated but satisfied that I couldn't add anything more, he returned me to the car. Several minutes later, A. got in the car, sobbing.

She drove back toward Robert E. Lee, telling me details of what the cops had asked for. Like most cops who pull you over, they seemed intent on her convincing them that they were important men with authority. They didn't take kindly to the word "but" or to any sentence that was not a plain statement of fact. They stressed how dangerous the area was and asked her why she was trying to kill her boyfriend. They said women had been raped, though given the lack of people one wondered by whom. A. said that during the interrogation, they pushed the point that our being in Gentilly was illegal and that if we returned A. would be thrown in jail.

We weren't so sure of that, but we were leaving anyway and didn't want any (more) trouble. We tried exiting New Orleans the way we came in, but the National Guard stopped us at a checkpoint. Again, they were sheepish with A., like adolescents. But they were clear, so we left via Metairie. Seems that's where everyone was: on I-10, either coming or going. The traffic was bad but we got out quicker than we could've gotten to the airport during rush hour on a normal day.

It was a long drive. We were both emotionally exhausted, and the cats were yowling for the first few miles. After a couple of attempts at finding functioning cities in the far south of Mississippi, eventually we reached Hattiesburg. We were disheveled. My shoes were covered in mud and A.'s shirt was torn and stained. But we walked into the "New Orleans style" Crescent City Cafe without a problem, washed up and got a table.

BONUS: Pictures! (Apologies for the low aesthetic.)

POST SCRIPT: Cookie, the 9th-Ward Yorkie, was rescued that same day by the volunteers we gave her address to. They found her weak, barely breathing, in a space beneath fallen shelves, resting in a pool of toxic sludge. She couldn't even lift her head. Eight veterinarians spent hours saving her. Now she's recovering with one of the rescue workers, in New York. Supposedly, she was on local TV, but the worker who saved her hasn't sent us a tape or anything yet.

Jack and Jill, the two cats we took from the Mid-City apartment, were returned to their owner yesterday. We'll miss them.

The white cat tested positive for feline leukemia, though he seems healthy. He's in quarantine and will be tested again in a couple of weeks. We haven't yet found his owner.


Little Red Scooter

Okay, so it's no surprise that Scooter Libby was Judith Miller's source, but how could we have guessed that he'd replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the bench?


Paneed Lobbyist with Side of Staffer and the House Red

I have lamb chops thawing right now but they look like mouldering bread compared to this. O, ye bitter partisans....

P.S. I know I've broken delayed fulfilling promises in the past, but I swear to recount my recent adventures in my sodden city of New Orleans.


David Brooks: Deception is White House Policy

In case you missed it, David Brooks reports what's been obvious for years: The Bush White House's public relations strategy is intentionally deceptive and usually involves deflecting blame onto other, less blameworthy people. Next: David Brooks admits that the sky really is blue and not fuchsia, as Ari Fleischer claimed in 2003.


Brian Williams might want to mention illustrative moments like this on more than just his blog:
I am duty-bound to report the talk of the New Orleans warehouse district last night: there was rejoicing (well, there would have been without the curfew, but the few people I saw on the streets were excited) when the power came back on for blocks on end. Kevin Tibbles was positively jubilant on the live update edition of Nightly News that we fed to the West Coast. The mini-mart, long ago cleaned out by looters, was nonetheless bathed in light, including the empty, roped-off gas pumps. The motorcade route through the district was partially lit no more than 30 minutes before POTUS drove through. And yet last night, no more than an hour after the President departed, the lights went out. The entire area was plunged into total darkness again, to audible groans. It's enough to make some of the folks here who witnessed it... jump to certain conclusions.
(Via TPM.)

Now I'm not one to give this president the benefit of a doubt, since he gave up any right to one years ago, but could there possibly be security reasons for such an occurrence? If not, then it's noteworthy as political theater aimed at Bush's ego, not at the electorate whose slipping faith in him was the impetus for last night's monologue.


Bigger, Faster, Stronger!

In his speech tonight, President Bush asserted that the federal government's failure to adequately respond in the aftermath of Katrina indicates that it needs more power and authority.

But according to emergency management expert William C. Nicholson (and several other experts, according to Ira Glass of This American Life), the Department of Homeland Security had all the authority it needed, once the president had declared a state of emergency. Nicholson said that "there was all the authority in the world." Under the National Response Plan, even if the president hadn't declared a state of emergency, Chertoff, the head of Homeland Insecurity, could have acted. "It's utterly clear that they had the authority to preposition assets and to significantly accelerate the federal response.... They did not need to wait for the state." (Click on the Ira Glass link above and listen to the first few minutes.)

But Louisiana Governor Blanco did declare a state of emergency on the Friday before the storm. (Administration shills claimed she hadn't.) She then asked the president to follow through, which he did, and...well, you know what didn't happen then.

The point isn't to assess Bush's proportional responsibility for the weak federal response but to stress that this situation should not be used as a pretext to give the federal government more power. It may, however, be a great reason to fire the political appointees who staff FEMA (following the late but welcome resignation of Michael Brown) and to liberate that agency from the yoke of Michael Chertoff, who we could roast over some hot coals while we're at it. That would give the agency its former power without actually increasing that of the federal government. And it would give some stray New Orleans dogs some much longed-for, if stringy meat.

DISCLAIMER: I'm not suggesting Blanco, Nagin, Barbour, or anybody else down here be absolved of responsibility. But the early Administration "don't look at us" line was perfumed bullshit.

Supreme Soviet US Senate Republicans Want Partisan Katrina Kommission

Let the whitewashing begin. According to an ABC-WaPo poll
...76 percent of the public favors an investigation of federal storm response efforts by an independent commission similar to the one that probed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The proposal drew strong bipartisan support: 64 percent of all Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats favored creating the independent panel.
So what did the new Supreme Republican Soviet do? They voted against it. Don't you love Imperial life?

Of course, not all Republican bootlickers voted against it. For example, chickenshit Louisiana senator David "I helped DeLay and Abramoff fuck over them gambling Indians" Vitter just didn't vote. The wrath of Rove presumably would've been too much for a fledgling water-carrier senator.

We're looking forward to a thoroughly biased report with cherry-picked information that exonerates the administration while shitting on everyone else. You know, like the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on all those pre-war CIA failures. A nice, thick, meaningless report that propagandists can quote whenever Bush-undermining facts get in the way.

Unfortunately, what America needs is a thorough, unbiased investigation that lays bare every iota of this travesty, regardless of party affiliation, and puts the entire event in the decades-broad context of US emergency management, the Army Corps of Engineers' levee system and the erosion of Louisiana's wetlands.

Too bad we won't get it.


2000 Doesn't Equal 618

Prominent right-wing propagandists have been proclaiming that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin didn't use 2000 buses to evacuate poor, carless people from the city before the storm. They're right. But only because New Orleans didn't have 2000 buses. Media Matters, which unlike Jack Kelly and Sean Hannity bothered to check facts, reports that New Orleans has had a total of 618 working school and city buses. Now according to my calculations, if each bus had been able to hold 50 people—and that's unrealistic if not impossible—and had made three trips apiece, they would've been able to transport 92,700 people somewhere. Not out of the city, though, since one trip a reasonable distance from the city would've taken hours with all the traffic, and they wouldn't have been able to return because of contraflow (which worked pretty well, by the way). I imagine this is why the weekend before the storm the mayor told New Orleanians that buses would pick them up and take them to one of several shelters of last resort. Apparently some of those buses didn't show up; but that's a different issue.

We're Getting Out of Here

This story from a friend of a friend appears in the 9/16 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription only). It isn't as dramatic as some, but it makes me really glad I left before the storm.

Bill Lavender runs the Low Residency Creative Writing Program at the University of New Orleans. His companion, Nancy Dixon, teaches in the university's English department. Over a cellphone, Mr. Lavender described their journey out of the city.

When we heard about the storm, we decided not to evacuate, because we really didn't think our house was in grave danger. We live in Mid-City, which is a part of New Orleans that's relatively high but not as high as the French Quarter. It's an old house. It's been through plenty of hurricanes.

I guess the storm was at full force at midmorning on Monday. It never was really that bad -- I actually put on my motorcycle helmet and walked around outside at the height of it. We lost power, of course. We still had water, we still had gas.

By about 2 o'clock in the afternoon, the storm was over. There was a little bit of water in the street, but nothing I couldn't have driven through. Our reaction at that point was, Well, this wasn't really that bad.

If that had been all the storm was, I wouldn't have regretted staying.

At some point in there, the water did start to rise. It was rising in the full sunshine, with no rain, just coming up in the streets.

Our neighbor across the street, who had evacuated, had a boat under her house -- a 14-foot light aluminum skiff with oarlocks and oars. As kind of a lark, I went and pulled it out from under her house and put it in the street.

That night, Monday night, we went out on the front porch. There was absolutely no light, and there was no noise, and the stars were fantastically clear.

We got up the next morning, and the water was higher. We were trying to listen to the radio, trying to figure out what was going on. We were hearing that the flooding on the east side of New Orleans was really bad. We were starting to hear helicopters flying around.

There was a rumor that the levee was broken somewhere, but that they were going to be fixing it, and that as soon as they got the levee fixed, they were going to be able to pump the water out. I was thinking maybe the end of the week, at the most.

One of my neighbors came to my door and said there was a guy around the corner with a baby who needed to go to the hospital. The guy was scared to death of water.

So we got in the boat, and we were rowing down the street, trying to pick the best route to Mercy Hospital. There was water all the way -- right up to the front door.

Some guy in scrubs got down in the water and helped me dock the boat there on the steps. He was a paramedic who worked for the city. He said they had no power in the hospital, and he had a generator down at his office. He wanted to know if I could row him down there so he could get this generator.

And I asked him, "Doesn't the hospital have backup power?" He said, "Yeah, they have a generator, but it's in the basement."

It was ludicrous, this notion of going to get a 5,000-watt generator to power a hospital. But he said, "There are people dying in here, and it's all we can do."

So we went to his paramedic station, a little two-story metal building. Two of his colleagues were there.

This guy I'm with told them, "I've come to get the generator." And they told him no. He said, "Look, there are people dying in Mercy."

"Well things are tough all over, and before this generator comes out of here, I've got to get me and my dogs out."

At that point, I kind of exploded. I said, "You're not even using the generator. The generator has nothing to do with your dogs." It kind of shamed them. We finally did get the generator.

We had our last good meal that night. We were having wine on the front porch, all the neighbors were out on their porches, and I got out my guitar and sang "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall."

That night it was really hot and really still. There were helicopters messing around all night. I had this idea they were either evacuating Mercy Hospital or bringing them a generator. At one point they were so close that I could feel the wind, so I took to praying for them to come over.

It wasn't until Wednesday that we started to get more information. There was a press conference at 12. They said they thought the levee repairs would be done by about Friday. Then they said they should have the water out of the city within about 30 days. I said, "We're getting out of here. We can't live like this for 30 days."

We packed up very hastily -- all our drinking water and a good bit of food. I left my hard drive with 30 years of miscellaneous writings on it, plus Nancy's hard drive with all her scholarship on it. I just tried to hide them in the attic. I didn't know what else to do.

We had to put our cat in a carrying cage, and we put our dogs on the boat. We went and got our neighbor, my friend Charlie Franklin. We told him what we'd heard and we told him it's time to go. He thought about it for about two minutes, and then said OK.

We were nervous. We knew there were no police. We'd been warned that there were roving bands of armed looters. We knew that the boat was becoming a valuable commodity. The dogs were nervous also. They would not let anyone approach closer than about 10 feet from the boat. Charlie had a gun.

When we turned one corner, there was a kiddie pool floating in the middle of Canal Street, and I could see a head sticking up over the side of it. There was another guy pushing it and another guy wandering around in the chest-deep water looking kind of dreamy. They were junkies that had looted the Rite Aid. They were using this kiddie pool to get out of the water to shoot up.

A little further, there was a dead man in the water. Someone had hung his shirt up on a street sign. I couldn't really see his face, but the shirt was sticking up like a tent. We heard later they were tying corpses to street signs and poles.

Across the street was a building called the City Hall Annex. It has a big front porch that was just above water level, and it was full of people, maybe 150. On one end, there were women and kids holding up signs saying, "Help us please." At the other end of the porch there was this mad party going on. They were breaking windows and throwing whiskey bottles around and kind of whooping and yelling.

We were starting to get very careful about our route because we were getting close to the Superdome, and we didn't want to get caught there. Our plan was to go to the Macy's parking lot, which is just adjacent to the dome, where we had parked our car. We were just praying that we might be able to get to the car and drive out.

There were no cops. In this whole ride, we never saw a cop.

When we got to the Macy's parking lot, we saw that the entrance was four feet deep. So we couldn't get our car. We followed the water to the corner of Girod and Carondolet, and that's where the water ended. We had to abandon the boat.

So we started walking uptown, to go to my ex-wife's house, which we knew was dry, and they had a generator and probably food and water. For all I knew, they were still there, because I hadn't talked to them since Monday morning when the phones went out.

We saw this two-story house with the facade completely removed. It was just like a dollhouse. I could see the furniture and the bookshelves, everything neat, nothing in disarray, and these two black labs up on the second floor looking down at us.

After a while, a guy caught up with us. He told us he had walked all the way from the lower Ninth Ward. I'm guessing that must be at least five miles. He told us that down in the Ninth Ward he was literally wading through bodies on the way out. He didn't know where any of his family was. He had a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old kid, and he suspected that they were both dead. He was coming uptown because he had a brother who was a butler in a Garden District mansion.

He told us that in the end there will be tens of thousands dead.

We got to my ex's house. We were just praying that we were going to see her pickup outside the house. But there was nothing, and our hearts just sank. We'd been on the road now for about four to five hours. We were exhausted.

Then I remembered that our friends lived just a few blocks away, and they had left their car. Not only that, but I knew right where the key was. We got to Alex and Kat's house, and the car was intact, and the key was in the mailbox. But we couldn't make the key work in the door. I tried it and Charlie tried it, and finally I said, "Charlie, move," and I threw a brick through the window.

We crammed all of us in the car. We drove to Tchoupitoulas Street and then straight across the bridge to the West Bank, the only way out.

The next day, we were going to leave Charlie in Baton Rouge to take the bus to Alexandria, but we found out that there were 200,000 people downtown trying to get out. So we took him all the way to Alexandria. We started to have the emotional breakdown. It was strange how, going through the whole thing, I just sort of never stopped. None of us did.

But when we dropped Charlie off, all three of us broke down and started crying and pretty much didn't stop for about three days.

Section: Notes From Academe
Volume 52, Issue 4, Page A56


I'm on TV!

Not really. But CNN just did a piece on a family who appear to be my neighbors. We thought the homes they were walking past looked familiar, and then they walked past Ms. Mae's, the corner bar one block north of our apartment. The neighborhood doesn't look much different from when we left--just that the only cars are camoflaged.

Sing, Caged Bird, Sing!

Oh, please, please, let it be true....

(Just admit it, people, even you want just a teensy bit for another news story to come along. How much Katrina koverage can you take?)


On Your Own, Baby

Heartwarming and Heartwarming II. (Via Andrew Sullivan.) Don't worry, I'm sure that if any of this gets any press, the Bush shock troops will start attacking the victims, per usual.

UPDATE: Think the two eyewitness accounts above aren't bad enough? Try what happened to Charmaine Neville (for those who don't know, she's a famous local singer). It's somewhere approaching what happened when the USS Indianapolis sank, only with choppers flying overhead that don't drop any food or water or offer any assistance whatsoever. Heartwarming. WARNING: Not for the faint of heart or those without ample supplies of Kleenex. (Also via Andrew Sullivan.)

Note: A previous version of this post overreached. The comments refer to that.



A Refugee's Tale

P., a friend of A.'s, had this to say about leaving New Orleans:
Well, you know me... everyone evaced on Sunday but G. and I stayed along with our soccer buddy J. (british) and Katrina wasn't too terrible. The wind was crazy and the water rose and the trees lost huge branches. We stayed in a friends big brick house, they'd taken off for Houston, and the top windows blew out and we had to board them up with nails and beach towels, the next door landlords weren't as lucky, their windows blew in and the rain destroyed their ceilings, collapsed them, but just wallboard, an easy fix really. My house was fine, just two knocked down fences and a broken gate. The shed I built was fine and only lost a few shingles. The three of us spent Monday night frying up chicken and potatoes and drank port on the porch and enjoyed the no lights and the fact we could see the stars. But come Tuesday, when we heard the water was rising and that the Mississippi was getting in [Note: it was Lake Ponchartrain. -Rob] we rode bikes to the business district and saw the water advancing and people looting, albeit small-scale. We headed to Wal-Mart where we heard they were handing out free water. We get there and the place was an orgy of looting. Cops putting TV sets in their gov't cars church ladies stealing pots and pans and tampons and facial cream. I can only assume that the items on the shelves left were condoms, encyclopedias, and healthy foods like fruits and veggies and whole wheat bread. We made the decision to leave then and spo we ciphoned fuel from G.'s car and a couple of neighbors' gas cans into my car and took off. The Rite-Aid was being looted as we did this and shots rang out and a chase ensued as a mid-fifties man on a bike who took a few photos had to pedal for his life. Its a mess, quite literally and now there are supposedly armed gangs on the streets and the water ain't stopping. My story really ends there, and now I'm here in Austin, TX and looks like we'll have some time off from work, so wonder what I'll do.


P.S. Hurricane Katrina is a major cock-block.
ED. NOTE: It's worth mentioning that when the upscale Whole Foods Market was looted, people allegedly took only what they needed, like water. The wine and much of the rest of the merchandise was left on the shelves—and they have some kick-ass wine.

Move over, Harding

From David Remnick's 9/12 New Yorker editorial:
...In an era of tax cuts for the wealthy, Bush consistently slashed the Army Corps of Engineers' funding requests to improve the levees holding back Lake Pontchartrain. This year, he asked for $3.9 million, $23 million less than the Corps requested. In the end, Bush reluctantly agreed to $5.7 million, delaying seven contracts, including one to enlarge the New Orleans levees. Former Republican congressman Michael Parker was forced out as the head of the Corps by Bush in 2002 when he dared to protest the lack of proper funding.

Similarly, the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which is supposed to improve drainage and pumping systems in the New Orleans area, recently asked for $62.5 million; the White House proposed $10.5 million. Former Louisiana Senator John Breaux, a pro-Bush Democrat, said, "All of us said, 'Look, build it or you're going to have all of Jefferson Parish under water.' And they didn't, and now all of Jefferson Parish is under water."

The President's incuriosity, his prideful insistence on being an underbriefed "gut player," is not looking so charming right now, either, if it ever did. In the ABC interview, he said, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." [Note: I heard about it on the radio before the hurricane. -Rob] Even the most cursory review shows that there have been comprehensive and chilling warnings of a potential calamity on the Gulf Coast for years. The most telling, but hardly the only, example was a five-part series in 2002 by John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, a newspaper that heroically kept publishing on the Internet last week. After evaluating the city's structural deficiencies, the Times-Picayune reporters concluded that a catastrophe was "a matter of when, not if." The same paper said last year, "For the first time in 37 years, federal budget cuts have all but stopped major work on the New Orleans area's east bank hurricane levees, a complex network of concrete walls, metal gates and giant earthen berms that won't be finished for at least another decade." A Category 4 or 5 hurricane would be a catastrophe: "Soon the geographical 'bowl' of the Crescent City would fill up with the waters of the lake, leaving those unable to evacuate with little option but to cluster on rooftops—terrain they would have to share with hungry rats, fire ants, nutria, snakes, and perhaps alligators. The water itself would become a festering stew of sewage, gasoline, refinery chemicals, and debris." And that describes much of the Gulf Coast today.
New Orleans, yes. That's on TV right now. Apparently, the first G.W. saw of the disaster was when he flew over it in his chopper. If that's true, it's appalling. We know Bush doesn't read the papers—the best source of in-depth information—but did he not even turn on the television to see what was going on?

In any case, there's plenty of blame to spread around, going back decades. But I want the head of this serial abuser of office and the public trust on a pike in front of the White House, warning all future holders of that office not to do what this man-child has done. Move over Harding, here comes G.W. Bush, the worst president in United States history.


Bill Shanks: God Punished New Orleans

Pastor Bill Shanks, of New Covenant church, which I used to visit on occasion, back in my Christ-worshipping days, thinks Katrina was, you know, good for New Orleans:
"New Orleans now is abortion free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion -- it's free of all of those things now," Shanks says. "God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there -- and now we're going to start over again."
Unfortunately, New Orleans isn't free of Bill Shanks.

I hate to say it, but I know this guy (haven't seen him in years). I've even taken his kids to the zoo. His church is pretty insular and cult-like. Not on purpose; he's no David Koresh. But Bill's only moderately educated and is self-taught in all things biblical. He's short and chubby and could be anybody's uncle. He'd blend right in at a barbecue. Until he started talking Jesus. And prophesying and laying on hands and casting out demons (you know, for kids!). Like many folks on the religious Right, he means well but he's just really, really misguided.

I know you're never going to read this, Bill, but for the record, you can go to hell.

Gross Negligence


UPDATE: With a side order of Sick.

UPDATE: Finally, some relief for those in the Convention Center.

Halliburton Gets Katrina Kontract

Surprise, surprise. (Thanks, Larisa.)


Dear News Media

As usual, the national print coverage of the Katrina aftermath has been good if not excellent (e.g. Knight Ridder), while the national TV and radio coverage has been mediocre. That's not to say that CNN, NPR and others haven't filed some oustanding reports from New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but (unfortunately) their reporting stops there. Many refugees are starved for information about their cities and homes, and the national news media aren't providing it.

I know it's hard to fathom, but the function of news reporting isn't solely to fill corporate coffers with advertising dough wrung from others' suffering. It's also to inform the public.

I am that public. Many of my friends are that public.

We who fled New Orleans would like to know the state of our homes. CNN has show innumerable helicopter shots of New Orleans, careful to pan east where the worst flooding is, and to zoom in on the Superdome and the fire on the West Bank. That leads me to believe that CNN is capable of determining what parts of the city aren't yet flooded, how fast the water may or may not be moving and how high the water appears to be from various rooftops. That would be useful information. Wolf Blitzer in his "situation room" could show a map with, say, blue indicating where water is. He could tell us where the water isn't. This could take, say, five minutes, tops.

We who fled South and Central Mississippi (and those who remained) would like to know the state of Hattiesburg, Meridian, Laurel, Brookhaven, Jackson and other places that, unfortunately, don't provide the dramatic footage available on the Gulf Coast. There are, however, plenty of trees down and homes wrecked. Might that not justify a quick trip north, Mr. Cooper? We promise to have plenty of starving, heat-exhausted people desperate for a meal and a drink. We promise to give you lots of tragic stories of families torn apart, relatives lost and couples reunited. Come, will you? Please? Those of us who fled would like to know if we can go back. Those who remained would like to know (if they have batteries and a portable TV) where and when food and ice and water will arrive, and when the phones and lights and water will work. Well, CNN, NPR, MSNBC and FOX, can you spare one reporter and a camera crew?

UPDATE: We finally got somebody on the phone in Laurel, Mississippi. The power's supposed to return on Sunday. I found no reporting on this; even Mississippi Power's website had nothing. How did we find out? A phone call to neighbors in Laurel (the phone must've come back on in the last 24 hours).


Changes in Attitudes

Rumsfeld on looting in post-Saddam Baghdad, 2003:
"Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things," Rumsfeld said. "They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what's going to happen here."

Looting, he added, was not uncommon for countries that experience significant social upheaval. "Stuff happens," Rumsfeld said.
Bush on looting in post-Katrina New Orleans, 2005:
I think there ought to be zero tolerance of people breaking the law during an emergency such as this — whether it be looting, or price gouging at the gasoline pump, or taking advantage of charitable giving or insurance fraud," Bush said. "And I've made that clear to our attorney general. The citizens ought to be working together.


It Was Such a Pretty Name

Katrina. I'm on the one available computer in the La Quinta Inn in Prattville, Alabama, just north of Montgomery. Most of the guests are, like me, refugees. I don't know at what point you get to apply that word to yourself without being guilty of hyperbole, but that point is fast approaching.

We arrived last night after a nasty couple of days. Coming from Laurel—NE of Hattiesburg, SE of Jackson and about 100 miles from the coast—we were elated when half an hour past the Alabama line we found a working gas station with little traffic. Until that point, we'd seen few gas stations open and the lines were 20-30 cars long. From Laurel past Meridian, one, sometimes two lanes were clear, with one lane often covered with felled pine trees.

Which pretty much describes Laurel itself. Yesterday, before we decided to run for it, we'd driven around north Laurel (a city of ~15,000) and seen few buildings down. Lots of roof damage, a few crushed cars, but mostly felled trees—on roofs, in yards, in roads. It's that latter category that made much of Laurel impassable. Old Bay Springs Road, which runs in front of the family home, was littered with pines, two of them from our property, both of which helped bring down innumerable power and telephone lines. Down the side street, transformers threatened incautious passersby, and catty-corner to our house a big old sycamore reclined against our neighbor's porch, dead.

Our yard (2.5 acres) was a game of pick-up sticks. Approx. 20 large pines were down, one of them blocking an entrance to the house, one providing an unwanted entrance to a shed, two blocking either end of the semicircular driveway, a few napping against the garage (the car "safely" on the other side) and the rest providing a surfeit of firewood for a passing Union army.

But trees are nothing compared to power, and power to water, and water to life. Our two-story house is big and old and sturdy, so we weren't too worried about dying. I say "too" because the eye wall passed near or over us (we missed the eye, unfortunately), spawning a fair share of short-lived tornadoes, which I suspect are responsible for the shredded homes you see on TV news.

But we were worried about power, and not enough about water. By the time we got up Monday morning, the power was already out. The water followed at noon, when the storm was throwing a tantrum in town. I'd meant to clean out one or more of the bathtubs and fill it with water, but they were so filthy (no one lives there now) and littered with dead bugs that I put it off till morning (we'd arrived anxious and tired that evening after a six-hour drive). While we were dithering about heading north (was it more dangerous to drive or to stay? the wind was getting harsh then), I filled up as many pitchers and bowls as I could find. Good thing, too, because the water stopped flowing around noon. I'd stayed in that house during hurricane Frederick, which was a strong storm, and we'd gone without power for all of a day and hadn't had a water shortage, so I didn't think the aftermath would be unbearable.

I was wrong. As the next day made clear, we were facing 1-6 weeks without power (more likely a month), in 90-degree late summer heat, with no running water for an indeterminate length of time and dwindling supplies of water and ice. (But thanks to my deceased grandmother, we had a month's worth of canned food.) I did find a working water tap in the pasture, which eased my concerns, but it had taken a bit of driving around and standing in line for ages just to get a couple of gallons of drinking water and three bags of ice (only six remained).

Communications were another concern. Luckily, we'd made it to Laurel just in time to ransack the local Kroger grocery store before they closed, and luckily I'd had enough sense to buy batteries. So we had working flashlights and a radio, which from Monday on was all we had. The problem was that, try as they might, the steadfast people on the radio just didn't know that much. We heard about outtages, closings, estimated damage and where the eye was from time to time, but during and after we heard little about Laurel, and after the storm passed, information was just as scarce. Like everyone else in central and south Mississippi, those reporting on the radio were having trouble with power and telecommunications, so few knew much of anything about what was going on.

We still don't know much, and we're waiting to find out if our apartment in New Orleans is dry. Even though we live in the high part of Uptown, it's looking increasingly likely that it's very, very wet.

UPDATE: Maybe not. Thank you, satellite imagery.


The Big One?

Katrina can't wait to booze it up on Bourbon Street, so me, A. and our four cats and one dog are headed for Laurel, MS., mañana, to my deceased grandmother's house. Since we'll be right in the hurricane's path there, too, we might subsequently flee to a hotel in Arkansas. We'll see. If anybody needs a place to stay, let me know quick, fast and in a hurry. Meanwhile, I'm finally turning that chicken I bought last weekend into a chicken parmegiana. Because when trouble's comin', you might as well cook a good meal.


The Washington Press Corpse, Part Umpteen

Finally, an explanation for the fundamental problem. There's access--that's a biggie--and fear of killing your career. And let's not forget increasing consolidation, obeisance to maximum profit, and its corollary, the desire not to offend the consumer. But then there's the bigger, more nebulous problem of culture, of cozy good-ole-boy-network elitism, of what Josh Marshall termed "the right-leaning dinner-party centrism of establishment Washington," which informs every coquettish line of ABC's The Note and which lights the fires of Bohemian Grove.

Time for another revolution.


Finally, an Able Danger Confirmation

Following the questionable allegations of Rep. Curt Weldon, a "veteran Army intelligence officer," Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, has come forward to confirm that Able Danger did uncover an Al Qaeda cell with Mohammed Atta's name associated with it before 9/11. Money quote:
Colonel Shaffer said he had provided information about Able Danger and its identification of Mr. Atta in a private meeting in October 2003 with members of the Sept. 11 commission staff when they visited Afghanistan, where he was then serving. Commission members have disputed that, saying that they do not recall hearing Mr. Atta's name during the briefing and that the name did not appear in documents about Able Danger that were later turned over by the Pentagon.

"I would implore the 9/11 commission to support a follow-on investigation to ascertain what the real truth is," Colonel Shaffer said in the interview this week. "I do believe the 9/11 commission should have done that job: figuring out what went wrong with Able Danger."
Shaffer claims that Pentagon lawyers blocked Able Danger from sharing the information with the FBI, basically to cover their asses if something went wrong. Well, something did, and if this is true, I'm sure they've had a few sleepless nights since then.


What Is “Conservatism”?

Please, somebody, tell me. Because I don't know.

The Best Cottage Cheese Ever

I'm a big fan of cottage cheese. Until recently, I carried the flag for New Orleans' own Zara's Supermarket's cottage cheese. But I have seen the light: Horizon Organic's cottage cheese trumps every cottage cheese I've ever had. It's light, creamy and smooth. And I will stop there before I start sounding even more insane.


I'm gabberflasted:
...Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi expressed "deep reflections and a heartfelt apology" for the Tokyo's wartime colonization and pledged that his country would never forget the "terrible lessons" of the war, which ended Aug. 15, 1945.

"Our country has caused great damages and pain to people in many countries, especially our Asian neighbors, through colonization and invasion," Koizumi said in a statement.
Wholesale slaughter can hurt, as can bubonic plague, which the Japanese used against Chinese peasants--you know, out of scientific curiosity.

So, uh, Mistah Bush... Oh, never mind, he never, ever, ever admits mistakes. But can't he apologize for ones he didn't make?

(Read the whole story; it gives great context.)


Plame Rogue's Gallery

Think Progress has an extensive guide to Bush™ officials tied to the Plame affair (with pictures!).

Abramoff Indicted


(If cornered, can Abramoff trade the goods he's got on Tom DeLay for a reduced sentence or even freedom?)

UPDATE: Josh Marshall says maybe not.


Daily Howler

(With apologies to Bob Somerby.) Remarking on the Federal Reserve's imminent interest-rate hike, Bush said that he trusts Alan Greenspan, that "he makes decisions based on fact, not on politics."

NOTE: Transcribed from the radio. I don't know where Bush was speaking.

Nagasaki: See Below

Why drop one bomb when you paid for two? Sixty years ago today, we dropped Fat Man on Nagasaki.


The Worst Thing We Ever Did

Tough call, that, what with genocide and slavery under our belts, but dropping two atomic bombs on mostly unarmed civilian women and children, after fire-bombing to death many hundreds of thousands of civilian Japanese is arguably the greatest blight on our record.



Novak's Email Address

Can't say if he actually reads messages sent to novakevans@aol.com, but it's worth a try. (Via Media Matters via Eschaton.) Visit Media Matters and watch the video of Novak walking off the set of Inside Politics. If you get bored, ask Novak why he relied on a report by Jeff Gannon for his false assertion that Kerry dumped Joseph Wilson from his campaign. Ask him if that affects the non-existent journalistic integrity he lately tried to defend.

UPDATE: Crooks and Liars has a longer version of the Novak CNN walk-off and a round-up of what umpteen bloggers have to say about it.

JEBUS GAWD UPDATE: CNN's suspended Novak "indefinitely."

MORE UPDATEY GOODNESS: Novak may have been reacting to the big Who's Who book that may have been sitting on the table (me likey)....