Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Is There an Echo?

Seems like only yesterday that I was commenting on Republican crybabies.

Oh, right. It was only yesterday.

Saving De rest of De Lay puns for some other time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Brown: Nosing

The comic strip The Family Circus often shows the children of the strip blaming domestic disasters on three evil spirits: Ida Know, Notme, and Nobody Didit.

Sort of like Michael Brown before Congress today. This is a man who has taken the Republican whine to the lowest circles of hell: he actually believes that his ego is more important than the dead of the Gulf States.

I was amused to hear him grilled by a Mississippi congressman who asked if it was part of the FEMA plan to have first responders need to loot in order to get food and changes of clothing. Incredibly, Brown did not have an adequate answer for that. Could it be shame? Naah: he just got off message.

Republicans in general, Michael Brown in particular, here's a news flash. Outside the Beltway, people who don't take responsibility for their fuckups, and keep it, are called crybabies. You got the big bucks so you could be the lightning rod for failure. Your agency failed. Now, grow up and take it: you make me puke.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Today's Non-News

A "christian" school has expelled a girl with lesbian parents. Shocked: I am shocked to my foundations.

Naturally, it doesn't shock me at all that any institution with the C-word in its name will exhibit bigotry at every possible opportunity. They seem to have taken their time about it, and that is one puzzlement.

I am also amazed, every time, at the powers of denial owned by so many of the sexually different. Nothing else can explain why these parents would try to give this kid a religious education. It's the same impulse that has kept my affluent, well-connected , gay nephew and his life partner in the Republican Party long past the point of reason.

Read the signs on those gates, people: They don't like you in there. In fact, they hate you. You will...gain civil equality, but they will hate you to their dying breath, and nothing else their organisations can offer you will ever compensate for that.

Ladies, if you must be spiritual, try another brand.

Nephew, try the Libertarians: they don't care if you're gay and they'd like you to keep more of your money.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

One More Reason to Feel Safe

With another high-octane hurricane drawing a bead on the Gulf Coast, it's good to know that our Department of Homeland Misery is right on top of non-existent threats. Of course, one can still wonder if they can deal with a real one.

Do we get to wonder who the "god-father" has a contract on this time? I mean, this is god-fearing, home-of-Dubya, deep-in-the -heart of, Texas. Can't be Barbara Bush: I suppose they haven't closed up shop at Kennebunkport yet. Still, one can dream the dream and imagine the dear lady sacked out in a shelter.

Oh wait, I get it. The weather is conspiring to take advantage of our weakness.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

A Roberts Moment

Well, Alan Dershowitz has had his prediction. He's probably right on most counts about Roberts as Chief Justice, and for the best possible reason: he's a lawyer looking at another lawyer.

Here's my thought on some unexamined dimensions of the whole process.

I spent a good part of my college years and young adulthood in the company of affluent and conservative young Catholics who were much like the Roberts we see in those early briefs: flip, snide, smartassed, and very full of Jesuitical hair-splitting. They had very little idea that their attitude would ever be of this much consequence, because they were sure that liberal hegemony was a windmill they could tilt at forever. It has to suck for Roberts to have some of his remarks from that era buzzing around his ears now.

For this fallen Catholic, that's the only part of Roberts-as-Catholic that gets my favourable attention. What gets more of my attention is a nasty little subtext that has resurfaced, thanks to the Vatican hierarchy meddling in American politics. Read Dershowitz carefully, and a number of other anti-Roberts commentators and bloggers, and you'll see the old ogre of anti-Catholicism peeking over the serifs. Like tuberculosis, it's been away, but was never vanquished. The only difference between the lies of 50 years ago and the suspicions of today is that Rome has become spectacularly insensitive to the consequences of playing in the American sandbox. All this will inevitably lead to schism between American Protestants and Catholics, and I'm for schism in religion every time. I'd prefer it, though, if progressive people took a hard look at their motives and language. I cannot forget that when my maternal grandmother was a girl in the mill towns of the Merrimack Valley, Catholics lost their jobs if they sent their kids to high school. We could do without that, and it is what happens when people get manic about Catholics.

Back to Roberts. Ideology, of any kind, is the last refuge of the mentally lazy. Consequently, neither set of ideologues quite get it when they're confronted with someone intelligent. When the someone won't commit in advance to a course of action, they absolutely don't get it and grow quite huffy.

I'm betting on Roberts' ego, not his ideology or his religion.

1) Lifetime offices that are bigger than their incumbents have had a way of changing the incumbents, and have done so at least since Thomas a Becket. It doesn't really matter whether the urge to go one's own way in such a position springs from ego, ambition, devotion to a higher calling, or all of the above. My intuition says Judge Roberts is a very big fan of Judge Roberts. He will be very willing to grow into this office.

2) John Roberts is alive to precedent in a way that few journalists, politicians or bloggers understand, and has no doubt reviewed the careers of preceding Chief Justices. If he is to be the prisoner of his ideology, to be the judge the right hopes he is and the left fears he is, he will resemble no predecessor so much as Roger B. Taney, today mainly remembered for the Dred Scott decision. Only Plessy v. Ferguson can claim to be in the same league of judicial infamy as Dred Scott v. Emerson, and Taney comes down to us as a byword for judicial obstructionism in the face of profound social change. As for being remembered, does the name of Melville W. Fuller spring to your mind? He was Chief Justice when Plessy was decided. Someone of Roberts' aptitude will surely have noticed that it is the reactionary Chief Justices who are forgotten, the ideologues who are condemned, and the consensus-builders who are honoured.

Suppose, too, that a new Chief Justice not only created judicial consensus, but returned compromise to a place of honour in American public life, and exercised the unique opportunities of that office to defuse the near-terminal polarisation of our civic life. Such a Chief Justice could be the most important since Marshall, more important than many Presidents, with good reason to believe his fame would last for ages.

Implausible? Perhaps. What I suggest is that some such siren seduces Judge Roberts in his private moments, and that it will make for very interesting times indeed.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Is it Just Me?

I'm looking forward to seeing The Corpse Bride, even if Tim Burton is getting more slice-of-life every year. This isn't because he's mellowing, but because life is increasingly surreal.

Speaking of, am I the only one who thinks Michael Chertoff looks like the Corpse Groom?

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Hallowed Ground...

The benefit of age is recognising that history doesn't repeat itself so much as themes do.

Republicans like to think the 1950s were the Golden Age, and certainly most of their "traditional values" appear to have roots in that sorry decade, even if they have none in earlier times. The Fifties were golden, if you happened to be white, male, Protestant, and even more golden if you were above the 50th percentile in income.

In 1956 a middle-aged white Protestant historian named Bruce Catton published a one-volume survey of the Union's Civil War, This Hallowed Ground. Catton -- and a growing number of others -- seemed aware that something was rotten in paradise. All of Catton's histories were illuminated by the understanding that while the fighting had ended in 1865, the war still went on.

One of his more memorable passages concerns the first conflicts between the Western Federal armies and slave owners. Fifty years later, it is just as telling, though the stage is different:

...There was no patience. The slaveholder was driven on by a perverse and malignant fate; he could not be patient, because time was not on his side. Protesting bitterly against change, he was forever being led to do the very things that would bring change the most speedily.

Tom Reilly, Mittsy, and Ah-nold should be reading their Catton. So of course should the leaders of that "base" they are so wary of. What sort of victory is a 2008 ballot initiative, if it holds? Every week, a few more of the most adamant voices and votes against change (the real enemy) pass from the scene. (The outcome of a combination of a cold winter, high heating costs, and a worse-than-average flu season probably keeps people up late at the American Family Association.) Every week, a few more people who have grown up with little or no fear of sexual difference mature, and more and more take the trouble to vote.

Time is not on their side: opponents of change understand that. Their chief hope is that the proponents of change don't.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Well, this explains everything...

Including why Michael Brown treats human beings like animals. It isn't that he's a racist, he just has no experience with customers who don't neigh. Since he works for a President who doesn't seem ever to have fired anybody, except for disrespecting him personally by telling him the truth, I suppose Mr. Brown will be free to blunder through further natural disasters.

Just to go on being contrary, I have no particular beef with the use of "refugee" to describe Katrina survivors. Racism? Just keep in mind that some of the same people objected to the term "niggardly" as racist. I imagine some of them are also in favour of making English the USA's official language.

I'd back that idea, if only a few more people here actually spoke it.

Back to the point. Long before Dubya was anything but his father's wastrel son, I worked for a most unusual boss. By a long train of circumstances, she had been placed in charge of a small city's signature commercial development by her husband. The husband knew, as those of us who worked for her slowly discovered, that this person literally had the intellect of a second grader. The property's failure was foreordained from that moment, and the husband was avenged on the people who had limited his hand in dealing with this property. I learned then that few organisations are better than the brain of the person in charge. It is that person who sees the right path in difficulties and who gets his or her employees moving in the right direction. Measured by that experience, there is only one resignation that is likely to improve the Federal emergency response effort. We're no more likely to get it that we are to get Michael Brown's.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Needless deaths

Funny expression, isn't it? After all, death is the common expectation, even for those who opt in to the institutionalised denial sold by religion.

Most of us, given the chance, would prefer a death other than drowning, sunstroke, heat exhaustion or dehydration. Most of us would rather not die by a flooded roadside in a wheelchair waiting for help that never came. If we knew that a pampered, arse-kissing Washington bureaucrat was blaming us for our own deaths, we would rather not be blamed. If we knew that he was telling Washington anchors that reports of the New Orleans situation were "exaggerated," we might want him with us to share in the exaggeration.

Some few of the Gulf Coast's dead and dying no doubt made a deliberate decision to "ride out" Hurricane Katrina. Most of us are primates of experience, not intellect. Those who stayed were perhaps lulled by years of ceaseless media hyperbole about Category 1 and 2 hurricanes that may have lost even that punch when they came onshore. Their experience informed them that a hurricane was not to be feared. Their mathematics weren't equal to the concept of an exponential increase in force for each additional mile per hour of wind speed. They were further lulled, maybe, by a news media that dismissed Katrina on the day she landed because she had "missed" New Orleans, because she was "only" Category 4 at landfall.

A Category 4 hurricane equals an F2 tornado: Katrina was an F2 tornado 500 miles wide. That is a bit of scientific extrapolation beyond the skill of poufed broadcast journalists.

We are forgetful primates, or at least we remember only what lies within our experience. So, if you are black and in New Orleans, you remember a past occasion when the evacuation buses left the city full of white faces taunting the blacks left behind. That memory makes one a little skeptical of evacuation promises. You add that to the many false alarms and then perhaps you don't even think of leaving until it is too late to leave. You don't have an SUV, may not even have a car. It is too late and your situation is "exaggerated." You can now be dismissed by bureaucrats whose chief concern is CYA.

If you are a New Englander of my age you remember seeing, as a child, the woods full of fallen trees that were growing when American Independence was declared. You were brought up with stories of the hurricane that felled those trees and denuded the southern coast of Rhode Island, scoured it so completely that the trees have yet to come all the way back. It clocked a maximum of 186 mph, 50 miles inland from landfall. At landfall nothing survived to record the wind speed.The 1938 New England hurricane was Category 5 only because there is nothing higher. It bludgeoned its way almost to the Canadian border before falling away to a mere tropical storm. Had Katrina made landfall with those velocities, we'd be kissing Memphis goodbye too.

I can't claim to have seen a lot of needless death. One was enough.

At Philadelphia Naval Hospital, most of those who died because the urgency of the need was "exaggerated" had the decency to die in the small hours, that deadly time before dawn when all our vital energy runs lowest. There was simply an empty bed the next morning, and no explanation made or sought ( no one is more selfish than a trauma casualty).

I knew when the Chief died, though. I couldn't help it, since he was in the next bed. Today, after a re-education in health care, I know this too. It wasn't much short of murder to place a man with no back, merely one horrendous burn, on an open medical-surgical ward with open windows for air conditioning. Then, you staff that ward with one nurse and a couple of corpsmen per watch to care for forty-some sick and wounded. Of course the Chief died: by any practical measure he was dead the minute they deposited him there. But to acknowledge that need was to admit that the war had gone terribly wrong, was wounding Americans faster than they could be healed.

Then, as now, those who try to rescue and heal against impossible odds have more of my admiration than I can express. The politicians and bureaucratic thumb-suckers who thwart them have a greater portion of my outrage than is legal to put into words.

Over this Labour Day weekend, health care professionals from Boston Children's Hospital were boarding airplanes at Logan to fly to the Gulf States. They knew the desperate need, and so brought with them quantities of medical instruments and syringes..."sharps" as they're known to the trade.

They could not board the planes with the sharps, because the Department of Homeland (In)Security that had just murdered tens of thousands of hurricane victims through ineptitude and neglect wanted to kill a few more to enforce its regulations. Thus, the Gulf States have several dozen more health care providers who will have to use sewing kits, nail scissors and Swiss Army knives for surgery (if they can find those) and lord knows what to administer injections because the syringes are long gone. Perhaps they'll resort to having people bite on bullets during surgery.

I would utter a political slogan, but that is stale and trite and pointless now. Even rage does not answer my feeling in this extremity.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

I'm back

I'm just going to take off where I left off after a few weeks of escapism.

Somewhere back in the archives are a few comments of mine about the organised pessimism of leftists too preoccupied with their ideology to consider their responsibilities to their species. The particular issue was a "Club-of Romish" contention that the end of oil meant the end of the world or some such drivel.

I invite the pessimists to read Peter L. Bernstein's The Wedding of the Waters.

Most of us got about a page in our public school American history books on the Erie Canal. Trust me, even in grad school you don't get much more unless you're specifically studying transportation history.

The building of the Erie Canal, Bernstein argues persuasively, was a critical moment in the shaping of the modern world. It created the American nation, and prevented the otherwise inevitable spinoff of the transmontaine West from the Atlantic seaboard. By moving the produce of that West into the stream of international commerce, it literally nourished the poor of the world and accelerated the pace of social change.

It was all done by people who didn't have so much as a day's training in canal building. (The better-trained engineers of Europe had written the thing off as impossible. ) None of them were civil engineers. Some of the most effective innovations were created by workers who may not have been able to read or write. What they had was a clear vision of the value of their work, and boundless self-confidence. This world-altering feat did not use one drop of oil. So primitive were the conditions of construction that it may not even have consumed a lump of coal to produce the iron...charcoal was more common.

It was also achieved with public sector funding when private capital had given up...and turned a profit. The modernised canal still exists, and while today serving recreational ends, it could be turned commercial in a heartbeat.

I'm no friend of doom and gloom, especially when it has an ideological agenda. Nor do I care to hear about what can't be done: It's far more impressive to discover what can.