Friday, September 30, 2005

Sister Joan does it again

Another terrific essay from Joan Chittister: if you're not reading her regularly, you're really missing something. Putting herself side by side next to the apparently clueless Karen Hughes is a nice creative move, and Joan pulls it off with her usual aplomb. I sometimes think of her as the Molly Ivins of the religious world.

Juan Cole in Palo Alto

The esteemed Juan Cole will show up in our part of the world next month to talk about Iraq, at an event in Palo Alto sponsored by the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center. For those of us who admire and follow his blog, Informed Comment, it's a great opportunity to hear his views in person. Here are the particulars:

Juan Cole
Professor of History, University of Michigan

Iraq: How did we get into this mess and where do we go from here?

Tuesday, October 18
7:30 p.m.
Fellowship Hall, First Presbyterian Church
1140 Cowper Street, Palo Alto
$5 ~ $15 sliding scale admission - Wheelchair accessible

Juan R. I. Cole is Professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History at the History Department of the University of Michigan. He has written extensively about modern Islamic movements in Egypt, the Persian Gulf, and South Asia. He has given numerous media and press interviews on the "War on Terrorism" since September 11, 2001, as well as on the Iraq War of 2003. His current research focuses on two contemporary phenomena: 1) Shiite Islam in Iraq and Iran and 2) the "jihadi" or "sacred-war" strain of Muslim radicalism, including al-Qaeda and the Taliban among other groups.

Cole commands Arabic, Persian, and Urdu and reads some Turkish, knows both Middle Eastern and South Asian Islam, and has lived in a number of places in the Muslim world for extended periods of time. His most recent book is Sacred Space and Holy War.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

"Intelligent Design" back in court

Last spring when Kansas was holding its bizarre "evolution" show trial, I promised that I would hunt down a favorite old cartoon and share it with you. I finally found my well-worn paper copy (by Chip Bok, posted above), and then found the linkable version here.

Now "I.D." is back in court, this time in Dover, PA where teachers and parents are actually challenging the constitutionality of the school board's decision to require the inclusion of Intelligent Design in the biology curriculum. You can find regular updates here.

There's a refreshingly not-bad summary of current evolution research and how it supports evolution theory in the Washington Post. It's actually worth the annoying (free) registration. (See this Chris Mooney article from CJR for evidence of how rare good evolution coverage really is.)

And before* it slips into their pricey archives section, see this New York Times story on how science museums are preparing docents to deal with roving bands of Creationists. (*Update: Dangit. It's already there.)

The Big Tent

A Street Prophets diarist asks whether he is conservative or liberal. It's entertaining, thoughtful, and a useful reminder (to me, at least) of why it is impossible to make sweeping assumptions about people of faith.

The Incredible Shrinking Ice Cap

Cue the climate loonies. The Arctic is "becoming a profoundly different place than we grew up thinking about."
The floating cap of sea ice on the Arctic Ocean shrank this summer to what is probably its smallest size in a century, continuing a trend toward less summer ice that is hard to explain without attributing it in part to human-caused global warming, various experts on the region said today.

The findings are consistent with recent computer simulations showing that a buildup of smokestack and tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases could lead to a profoundly transformed Arctic later this century in which much of the once ice-locked ocean is routinely open water in summers.

It also appears that the change is becoming self sustaining, with the increased open water absorbing solar energy that would be reflected back into space by bright white ice, said Ted A. Scambos, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., which compiled the data along with NASA.

"Feedbacks in the system are starting to take hold," Dr. Scambos said. "The consecutive record-low extents make it pretty certain a long-term decline is underway."
Read on.

Geez, this is good

Here is the transcript of Washington Wizard forward - and poet - Etan Thomas's speech at the DC anti-war protest this past weekend. It's wonderful to read; I'll bet it was even better to hear.

Joe Jr.

Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Oakland, CA, wanted to name a Berkeley post office in honor of a 94-year old local civil rights activist. Iowa Republican Steve King started a "whisper campaign" linking the activist to the Communist Party, and then rallied enough votes to block Lee's effort - using a roll call vote, no less. THEN he called Joe McCarthy "a hero for America."

A hero for America.

There are no words...

Tom DeLay Indicted!

Tom DeLay has been indicted and under GOP rules, will have to step aside as majority leader!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Bush joke of the day

For your reading amusement, here's a little story a friend sent along:

Donald Rumsfeld is giving the president his daily briefing.
He concludes by saying: "Yesterday, 3 Brazilian soldiers
were killed."

"OH NO!" the President exclaims. "That's terrible!"

His staff sits stunned at this display of emotion, nervously
watching as the President sits, head in hands.

Finally, the President looks up and asks, "How many is a

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Saturday Cat Blogging

Riley, "birding" from the windowsill.

Friday, September 23, 2005

If it walks like a duck....

Loved this characterization of the global warming nay-sayers: "climate loonies." Read on.

Friday Cat Blogging

I'm working from home today and every time I look up from my monitor, Jack has contorted himself into a more ridiculous position. There's something Picasso-esque about this one.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Theology of Hurricanes

I need to freshen this place up before my mother notices that it's been 5 days* since I last updated the blog. School is back in full swing, and I'm a little disorganized and a little grumpy. I just need to find my rhythm and figure out how much sleep I can give up without suffering cognitive impairments. (*"Missing link" added.)

But maybe the grumpiness explains my admittedly-less-than charitable reaction to this: At work I received a sort of diary-email sent to many, many people describing the sender's recent visit to New Orleans as a medical volunteer. It was a long email, and probably very compelling, but I didn't get much further than the first few paragraphs, wherein the writer shared an anecdote about an evacuee and then described herself giving the woman a hug and whispering "God gives us these things to test us." Or words to that effect. I can't verify because I deleted it so quickly and irretrievably at precisely that point.

You've heard the term "theodicy"? This is, loosely, an attempt to explain how evil can exist if God is good and all-powerful. Sometimes these efforts lead to proclamations better described as theo-idiocy. I have so far steered clear of posting links to the inevitable "God is punishing New Orleans/the US"-type bandwidth-wasters on this site, even knowing that they can be very entertaining. (I do wonder, along with Left Coaster, what these folks will be saying now that a Category 5 hurricane is churning toward the president's home state.) But I find this kind of "God is testing you" pablum equally meaningless.

We were inundated with theo-idiocy in January after the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, and we'll be inundated with it now. I don't believe God sends hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes (or that God "lets" terrorists pilot airliners into buildings) to punish humans. I do believe, however, that God is keenly interested in how we treat one another in the aftermath.

Last January I posted a goodly chunk of a Jan 5 '05 LA Times editorial by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. I don't think you can link to the editorial anymore, so for convenience, I'll repost it here, since it remains relevant.
...The simplest explanation is that of the 12th century sage, Moses Maimonides.

Natural disasters, he said, have no explanation other than that God, by placing us in a physical world, set life within the parameters of the physical. Planets are formed, earthquakes occur, and sometimes innocents die.

To wish it were otherwise is in essence to wish that we were not physical beings at all.

Then we would not know pleasure, desire, achievement, freedom, virtue, creativity, vulnerability and love. We would be angels — God's computers — programmed to sing his praise.

The religious question is, therefore, not "Why did this happen?" but "What then shall we do?" That is why, in synagogues, churches, mosques and temples, along with our prayers for the injured and the bereaved, we are asking people to donate money to assist the work of relief.

The religious response is not to seek to understand, thereby to accept. We are not God.

Instead we are the people he has called on to be his "partners in the work of creation." The only adequate religious response is to say: "God, I do not know why this disaster has happened, but I do know what you want of us: to help the afflicted, comfort the bereaved, send healing to the injured and aid those who have lost their livelihoods and homes."

We cannot understand God, but we can strive to imitate his love and care.
Along these lines, Melinda Henneberger had a good column in Newsweek last week taking Democrats to task for forgetting their roots and failing to challenge Conservative Christian immorality and inhumanity toward the poor:
(Excerpt) But have Democrats loudly decried the inhumanity—or even the hidden, deferred costs of the Bush cuts in services to the most vulnerable among the already born? Heavens, no, with a handful of exceptions, such as former vice-presidential nominee John Edwards, who spoke every single day of his campaign—and ever since—about our responsibilities toward those struggling just to get by in the "other America.''

Most party leaders are still busy emulating Bill Clinton, who felt their pain and cut their benefits—and made his fellow Dems ashamed to show any hint of a "bleeding heart.'' Clinton's imitators haven't his skills, though, so his bloodless, Republican Lite legacy has been a political as well as moral disaster.

That's not, of course, because voters give a hoot about poverty, but because along with the defining moral strength of its commitment to the underclass went most of the party's self-confidence, and all of its fervor.

Incredibly, they even ceded the discussion of compassion to President Bush, a man who has always struck me as empathy-free—to an odd extent, really, as we saw again last week when he cracked jokes about his carousing days on his first trip to the Gulf Coast.

Immediately after the disaster, Bush quickly intervened—to make it possible for refiners to produce dirtier gasoline. He has since zapped working people on the Gulf Coast all over again by suspending the 1931 law that requires employers to pay the prevailing wage to workers on all federally financed projects.

Others in his party have expressed concern about all the freebies evacuees will be enjoying: "How do you separate the needy from those who just want a $2,000 handout?'' Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski asked—by way of explaining why debit cards for Katrina victims were a bad idea.

So far, though, I'd love to be wrong, I see no reason to think the president's sinking poll numbers will persuade him that there's more to (pro-)life than opposing abortion.

I still dare to hope Democrats may yet remember why they are Democrats, though. And that would be a real come-to-Jesus moment.
If I have a quibble with the piece, it would be where she suggests that we're all complicit in the government's failings because "top to bottom, we picked this government" -- 'scuse me, but who are you calling WE?!

(Incidentally, all those folks I didn't pick seem to be losing their edge as citizens awaken to the fullness of Bush administration incompetence, and even their own cheerleaders are noticing. Of course, the Democrats are certainly no better organized or united, but it's still kinda fun to watch. (There are, however, tantalizing reports of spinal ossification among leading Democratic figures.)

FYI -- Daily Kos has introduced a new "community" for discussions of faith and politics: Street Prophets. Read more about it here. I'll add it to the blog links on the side bar.

Friday, September 16, 2005

When will we ever learn....

Karen Armstrong's recent piece in The Guardian reminds us all, in the wake of Katrina, about the universal spiritual necessity of honoring the earth. As she points out, it's a religious as well as spiritual imperative, embedded in the teachings of all the great traditions. One of my own mentors, Sallie McFague, proposes that we understand sin as "living out of touch with reality." (See her book, The Body of God, for more about this. Of course, this could also be the definition of madness, for which see here.) What better description could there be of the way our current government has behaved, with respect not just to Katrina but to pretty much all else? Is this an example of how "Jesus touched my heart"? When the president was claiming Jesus as his favorite philosopher, he must have forgotten large parts of the Law (Torah), the Prophets, and the teachings of Jesus himself -- those parts that enjoin us to care for our neighbors, the widows and orphans, the strangers and aliens, and the earth itself.

The evil genius of it!

Wow, I'm really off my game.

If you start with the assumption that there is no road too low for the Bush administration to travel, then even their most diabolical actions and hate-mongering rhetoric can never really be considered "surprising." If they do something that surprises you, it can only be because (a) they violated your assumption and took the high road, or (b) -- I'll wait a sec and let you compose yourself after reading "a" -- they exceeded the reach of your imagination.

They exceeded my limit today: I hadn't thought of blaming environmental groups for the devastation of New Orleans...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Potty humor

I first saw this picture at the Left Coaster, in a slightly tacky and puerile but kinda funny set of "re-captioned" photos from Bush's apparently (from the look on his face in a couple of those) unbearable day at the UN this week. But I actually thought somebody had "photoshopped" the script on the note Bush is writing: "I think I may need a bathroom break?" Turns out, the photo is legitimate and untampered-with. It's also raising a bit of - you'll pardon the pun? - a stink! (After you've snickered at Left Coaster's reimaginings, just look at the series of photos. Is there any circumstance under which this president can momentarily suppress his obvious boredom and disdain for everyone around him?)

Thankfully, I was on BART while Bush was talking this evening, apparently reiterating his Tuesday claim of "responsibility" for the tragic aftermath of Katrina. I'm with Norman Solomon on this count: "It was a classic hollow statement, meant to sound important and meaningless at the same time." In any case, Think Progress suggests that as long as Bush is "in the mood for taking responsibility," he should address these issues as well.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

And the "evidence" would be ???

Every now and then a news item leaves me sputtering unintelligibly. This is one. I truly have no words... As I spot eloquent retorts on other blogs, I'll have to link to them.
Investigators appointed by the Vatican have been instructed to review each of the 229 Roman Catholic seminaries in the United States for "evidence of homosexuality" and for faculty members who dissent from church teaching, according to a document prepared to guide the process.

The Vatican document, given to The New York Times yesterday by a priest, surfaces as Catholics await a Vatican ruling on whether homosexuals should be barred from the priesthood.

In a possible indication of the ruling's contents, the American archbishop who is supervising the seminary review said last week that "anyone who has engaged in homosexual activity or has strong homosexual inclinations," should not be admitted to a seminary.

Edwin O'Brien, archbishop for the United States military, told The National Catholic Register that the restriction should apply even to those who have not been sexually active for a decade or more.

American seminaries are under Vatican review as a result of the sexual abuse scandal that swept the priesthood in 2002. Church officials in the United States and Rome agreed that they wanted to take a closer look at how seminary candidates were screened for admission, and whether they were being prepared for lives of chastity and celibacy.

The issue of gay seminarians and priests has been in the spotlight because a study commissioned by the church found last year that about 80 percent of the young people victimized by priests were boys.

Experts in human sexuality have cautioned that homosexuality and attraction to children are different, and that a disproportionate percentage of boys may have been abused because priests were more likely to have access to male targets - like altar boys or junior seminarians - than to girls.

But some church officials in the United States and in Rome, including some bishops and many conservatives, attributed the abuse to gay priests and called for an overhaul of the seminaries. Expectation for such a move rose this year with the election of Pope Benedict XVI, who has spoken of the need to "purify" the church.

It is unknown how many Catholic priests are gay. Estimates range widely, from 10 percent to 60 percent.

The catechism of the Catholic Church says people with "deep-seated" homosexual tendencies must live in chastity because "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."
Read the whole thing here.

Onward Christian Penguins

(Photo snatched from National Geographic.)

A story you almost must see to believe:
On the conservative Web site, an opponent of abortion wrote that the movie "verified the beauty of life and the rightness of protecting it."

At a conference for young Republicans, the editor of National Review urged participants to see the movie because it promoted monogamy. A widely circulated Christian magazine said it made "a strong case for intelligent design."

The movie is "March of the Penguins," and of all the reactions it has evoked, perhaps the most surprising is its appeal to conservatives. They are hardly its only audience; the film is the second highest grossing documentary of all time, behind "Fahrenheit 9/11."

But conservative groups have turned its stirring depiction of the mating ordeals of emperor penguins into an unexpected battle anthem in the culture wars.

"March of the Penguins," the conservative film critic and radio host Michael Medved said in an interview, is "the motion picture this summer that most passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child rearing."

Speaking of audiences who feel that movies ignore or belittle such themes, he added: "This is the first movie they've enjoyed since 'The Passion of the Christ.' This is 'The 'Passion of the Penguins.'"
Michael of Americablog has an alternative take on "what you actually see/learn in the film":
*Emperor penguins mate once, guard the egg until the baby is hatched and then -- once the season is over -- never see each other or the child again.

*Emperor penguins stand by and don't raise a flipper when their children are attacked by a predator -- one baby penguin is killed and taken away (survival of the fittest, kiddo!), a scene that makes the movie a tad too graphic for young and sensitive children.

*An emperor penguin who loses her egg is seen trying to steal the egg of another.

*Emperor penguins take a different lover every mating season.
The Revealer wonders if the Intelligent Designer in whose image we are made is a female penguin. (I just realized that my "header" is pretty close to theirs, but I can't give it up.)

Well, hey, as long as we're all open to discussing continuities in human and animal behavior... (By the way, in that book you'll find discussions of "penguins" on these pages.) For that matter, perhaps we can all revisit this story?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


(A TV screen shot posted on Daily Kos last week.)

Yes, I'm borrowing that headline from the Molly Ivins book more people should have read in 2003.

Front and center, you simply must see EJ Dionne's fabulous editorial in the Washington Post today. I don't want to get in trouble for posting too much of it (it will undoubtedly hit the hassle-free Truthout or somesuch, later this week) (Update: SF Gate has it, no registration required; thanks, cw!), but it begins thusly:
The Bush Era is over. The sooner politicians in both parties realize that, the better for them -- and the country.

Recent months, and especially the past two weeks, have brought home to a steadily growing majority of Americans the truth that President Bush's government doesn't work. His policies are failing, his approach to leadership is detached and self-indulgent, his way of politics has produced a divided, angry and dysfunctional public square. We dare not go on like this.
It's worth the hassle of free registration.

Other good reads this week: Newsweek's "How Bush Blew It", which is uncharacteristically blunt in its depiction of a president in a bubble:
Bush can be petulant about dissent; he equates disagreement with disloyalty. After five years in office, he is surrounded largely by people who agree with him. Bush can ask tough questions, but it's mostly a one-way street. Most presidents keep a devil's advocate around. Lyndon Johnson had George Ball on Vietnam; President Ronald Reagan and Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, grudgingly listened to the arguments of Budget Director Richard Darman, who told them what they didn't wish to hear: that they would have to raise taxes. When Hurricane Katrina struck, it appears there was no one to tell President Bush the plain truth: that the state and local governments had been overwhelmed, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was not up to the job and that the military, the only institution with the resources to cope, couldn't act without a declaration from the president overriding all other authority.
By the predawn hours, most state and federal officials finally realized that the 17th Street Canal levee had been breached, and that the city was in serious trouble. Bush was told at 5 a.m. Pacific Coast time and immediately decided to cut his vacation short. To his senior advisers, living in the insular presidential bubble, the mere act of lopping off a couple of presidential vacation days counts as a major event. They could see pitfalls in sending Bush to New Orleans immediately. His presence would create a security nightmare and get in the way of the relief effort. Bush blithely proceeded with the rest of his schedule for the day, accepting a gift guitar at one event and pretending to riff like Tom Cruise in "Risky Business."
Late last week, Bush was, by some accounts, down and angry. But another Bush aide described the atmosphere inside the White House as "strangely surreal and almost detached." At one meeting described by this insider, officials were oddly self-congratulatory, perhaps in an effort to buck each other up. Life inside a bunker can be strange, especially in defeat.
And the NYT has a blow-by-blow of the disasterous response.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

"Is this kind of fun?"

(AP Photo from Yahoo News.)

Chicago Tribune:
Doctors at the Houston Astrodome said Friday they have contained a viral outbreak that caused diarrhea and vomiting in about 700 Katrina evacuees. Forty people remained in quarantine as a precaution.

An estimated 3,000 people are still in the Astrodome.
Tom Delay, touring the Astrodome this week:
"Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?"

Saturday cat blogging*

It's a beautiful Saturday in San Francisco, and I'm inside for a marathon Kant-reading session. (Classes started this past week.)

I couldn't forget to share this gem, however: On the same day that Bush called for a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for Katrina victims, he suspended the federal wage act in areas hit by the storm, clearing the way for rampant profiteering. Of course, Halliburton is already there.

* Cats, left to right: Riley, Jack, Shirley, and Cosmo

Friday, September 09, 2005

He was leaving anyway

"Brownie" is no longer in charge of Hurricane Katrina operations. And FEMA spokespeople have let slip that he was probably going to leave the agency after "hurricane season." This, we can all rest assured, had nothing to do with Time magazine's story about his resume "discrepancies." Who's next? Five of the top 8 people at FEMA have little or no emergency management experience.

His beautiful mind? "Oblivious, in denial, dangerous"

Cheers and kudos for Nancy Pelosi and Mary Landrieu!

Nancy Pelosi:
At a news conference, Pelosi, D-Calif., said Bush's choice for head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency had "absolutely no credentials."

She related that she urged Bush at the White House on Tuesday to fire Brown.

"He said 'Why would I do that?'" Pelosi said.

"'I said because of all that went wrong, of all that didn't go right last week.' And he said 'What didn't go right?'"

"Oblivious, in denial, dangerous," she added.
Mary Landrieu:
Ms. Landrieu, a Democrat who was nearly put out of office in 2002 after Mr. Bush campaigned intensely for her Republican opponent, had mostly held her fire against the president in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But her tone changed markedly on Thursday, with a 20-minute speech that was at turns poignant and defiant.

"We know the president said, quote, 'I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees,' " Ms. Landrieu said. "Everybody anticipated the breach of the levee, Mr. President, including computer simulations in which this administration participated."

The senator went on to describe how the creator of Mr. Bill, the clay figurine whose cry of "Ohh noooo!" was long a staple of "Saturday Night Live," had used the character in public service announcements to warn southern Louisianians of the dangers they would face in an extraordinary storm.

"How can it be," she asked, "that Mr. Bill was better informed than Mr. Bush?"

Their beautiful minds

I have long suspected that the only way the Bush women can remain Bush women is with the aid of heavy medication. And almost every time one of them speaks publicly, I'm more convinced of this. I've been sitting on this link for two nights, so you've probably long since seen it: Barbara ("why should I waste my beautiful mind") Bush toured the Houston Astrodome and told NPR that most of the evacuees "were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them." This was after she said, "What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas." Why is that scary, Barbara? (I'm curious to know why some versions of the story deleted the phrase "which is sort of scary.")

These are the good guys?

If you didn't read the incredibly infuriating story my co-blogger abc posted yesterday, please do, or read the SF Gate version.

NBC's Brian Williams blogged about his recent experience with law enforcement in New Orleans:
"At that same fire scene, a police officer from out of town raised the muzzle of her weapon and aimed it at members of the media... obvious members of the media... armed only with notepads. Her actions (apparently because she thought reporters were encroaching on the scene) were over the top and she was told. There are automatic weapons and shotguns everywhere you look. It's a stance that perhaps would have been appropriate during the open lawlessness that has long since ended on most of these
streets. Someone else points out on television as I post this: the fact that the National Guard now bars entry (by journalists) to the very places where people last week were barred from LEAVING (The Convention Center and Superdome) is a kind of perverse and perfectly backward postscript to this awful chapter in American history."

Connecting the dots

What does Katrina have to do with the John Roberts confirmation hearings? Read this statement from Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance to find out.

"You can hear the dogs barking for miles"

From CNN:
(CNN) -- On the flooded streets of New Orleans you can hear the dogs barking for miles. They are trapped -- in houses, on roofs, tied to porches. They are frightened and hungry.

For the pets left behind after Hurricane Katrina, relief is on the way, but it's a race against time.

"It's a dire situation," said Melissa Seide Rubin of the Humane Society of the United States.

Rescue workers are worried most about pets locked inside homes and whose food and water supply may have run out. For them, rescue is their only chance of survival.

"It's one at a time, and it's fairly slow work," said Michael Mountain, president and CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, one of the first animal organizations allowed into the city to rescue pets.

"They are certainly all frightened," Mountain said. "The most difficult ones to work with are the cats who hide under furniture. The dogs tend to be easier. You can put out a treat for them, you can generally bring them to you."

With federal agencies and law enforcement agencies overwhelmed with rescuing people, it has been left to animal welfare groups and civilians to help stranded pets.

"We weren't allowed into the really bad areas until just recently, so now we are playing catch-up," said Rubin, the Humane Society's vice president of field and disaster services.

The American Society for the Protection of Animals, the Humane Society, the Louisiana SPCA, and the Texas SPCA are involved in the operation.

The Humane Society has 200 people in the field to handle the more than 2,000 requests it has received from people who have called a hotline or sent information.

The rescues are being conducted mostly by boat. Teams using inflatable rafts locate stranded pets and take them to a drop-off point, where they can be transported to a shelter.

Since Tuesday the Humane Society has rescued 90 dogs and 34 cats. Mountain estimates his group has rescued between 800 and 900 animals since entering the city on August 30.
Read the rest here. You can donate to Humane Society efforts here. If you're a vet or vet tech, you can volunteer your skills here.

"Parts of the US as poor as Third World"

Timing is everything. After a week in which the world learned how America takes care of its poor, the UN released its annual Human Development Report. Among the unflattering statistics and conclusions:
  • the long decline in US child mortality (children who die before their fifth birthday) has reversed since 2000
  • the infant mortality rate in the US is now the same as in Malaysia
  • Blacks in Washington DC have a higher infant death rate than people in the Indian state of Kerala
  • Hispanic Americans are more than twice as likely as white Americans to have no health coverage
  • Child poverty rates in the United States are now more than 20 per cent
  • The report describes the US as having "an overdeveloped military strategy and an under-developed strategy for human security."

    Thursday, September 08, 2005

    Community in spite of everything

    Check out this story from two California paramedics who were attending their annual meeting in New Orleans when Katrina hit, and the stories of many others on the EMSNews website. Heartbreaking.

    ...and more on the denial of death

    The laudable Editor and Publisher has picked up the "no photos of the dead" story. Is it possible the U.S. media themselves are actually rising from their previously moribund state? We can only hope.

    Wednesday, September 07, 2005

    Iraq Redux

    No pictures of the Katrina dead allowed: apparently the whole Bush administration is infected with thanatophobia. I guess the idea is, if you don't see it, it didn't happen?

    Tuesday, September 06, 2005

    Beyond belief

    I suggested the other night that FEMA's incompetence bordered on malice. Take a look at these stories assembled at Daily Kos. The Times has more on the White House campaign to smear state and local officials in Louisiana (OK, they call it a "plan to ease political damage"). A similar story appears in the Guardian (where you don't need to register). Frank Rich notes, among many other salient observations, the irony in the president's willingness to dart back to the White House from Texas to sign the Terry Schiavo bill, while lingering on vacation and attending fundraisers while Katrina was moving in. As Josh Marshall said in a post I cited the other night, "It's almost awe-inspiring to see the level of energy and coordination the Bush White House can bring to bear in a genuine crisis. Not hurricane Katrina, of course, but the political crisis they now find rising around them." I can't express my disgust any better than Joe of Americablog already has. And there's a good editorial in the LA Times today.

    But we can all rest easy knowing the president has promised his own investigation into what went wrong.

    Sunday, September 04, 2005

    Stuff Happens

    "Stuff happens," Donald Rumsfeld famously observed while downplaying the looting that erupted in Baghdad following the US invasion. "And while no one condones looting, on the other hand one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression..." (Hmm, nothing about zero-tolerance at that time).

    I think the best line of Maureen Dowd's latest column is right at the top:
    Stuff happens.

    And when you combine limited government with incompetent government, lethal stuff happens.
    This lethal.

    I think words are beginning to fail a lot of us. I watched "Meet the Press" this morning, which is something I usually carefully avoid for mental health reasons. Tim Russert came on loaded for bear. (I find it kind of encouraging that so many media talking heads and administration apologists are so clearly shaken by the federal government's display of near-complete failure and ineptitude this week.) After discussing the implications of Rehnquist's death with NBC court analyst Pete Williams, he turned to Michael Chertoff, "director" of Homeland "Security":
    MR. RUSSERT: Now, let's turn to Hurricane Katrina. Joining us is the man in charge of the federal response to the disaster, the director of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff.

    Mr. Secretary, this is yesterday's Daily News: "Shame Of A Nation." And I want to read it to you and our viewers very carefully. It says, "As for Chertoff, if this is the best his department can do, the homeland is not very secure at all. It is absolutely outrageous that the United States of America could not send help to tens of thousands of forlorn, frightened, sick and hungry human beings at least 24 hours before it did, arguably longer than that. Who is specifically at fault for what is nothing less than a national scandal... It will never be known exactly what a day could have meant to so many unfortunates whose lives came to an end in those hopelessly tortured hours--on scorching roadsides, for lack of a swallow of water, in sweltering hospital bads, for lack of insulin. But what is already more than clear is that the nation's disaster-preparedness mechanisms do not appear to be in the hands of officials who know how to run them."

    Mr. Secretary, are you or anyone who reports to you contemplating resignation?
    Yeee-haa! Chertoff put on a masterful display of prevarication and talking-point-discipline; if you have the time to waste you can read his responses in the transcript. Russert then turned to Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard:
    MR. RUSSERT: Jefferson Parish President Broussard, let me start with you. You just heard the director of Homeland Security's explanation of what has happened this last week. What is your reaction?

    MR. AARON BROUSSARD: We have been abandoned by our own country. Hurricane Katrina will go down in history as one of the worst storms ever to hit an American coast, but the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history. I am personally asking our bipartisan congressional delegation here in Louisiana to immediately begin congressional hearings to find out just what happened here. Why did it happen? Who needs to be fired? And believe me, they need to be fired right away, because we still have weeks to go in this tragedy. We have months to go. We have years to go. And whoever is at the top of this totem pole, that totem pole needs to be chain-sawed off and we've got to start with some new leadership.

    It's not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now. It's so obvious. FEMA needs more congressional funding. It needs more presidential support. It needs to be a Cabinet-level director. It needs to be an independent agency that will be able to fulfill its mission to work in partnership with state and local governments around America. FEMA needs to be empowered to do the things it was created to do. It needs to come somewhere, like New Orleans, with all of its force immediately, without red tape, without bureaucracy, act immediately with common sense and leadership, and save lives. Forget about the property. We can rebuild the property. It's got to be able to come in and save lives.

    We need strong leadership at the top of America right now in order to accomplish this and to-- reconstructing FEMA.
    He then rattled off three of the most mind-blowing examples of FEMA incompetence -- if not outright malice -- that I've yet heard:
    MR. RUSSERT: Hold on. Hold on, sir. Shouldn't the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of New Orleans bear some responsibility? Couldn't they have been much more forceful, much more effective and much more organized in evacuating the area?

    MR. BROUSSARD: Sir, they were told like me, every single day, "The cavalry's coming," on a federal level, "The cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming." I have just begun to hear the hoofs of the cavalry. The cavalry's still not here yet, but I've begun to hear the hoofs, and we're almost a week out.

    Let me give you just three quick examples. We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water, trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn't need them. This was a week ago. FEMA--we had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard said, "Come get the fuel right away." When we got there with our trucks, they got a word. "FEMA says don't give you the fuel." Yesterday--yesterday--FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice. Our sheriff, Harry Lee, goes back in, he reconnects the line. He posts armed guards on our line and says, "No one is getting near these lines." Sheriff Harry Lee said that if America--American government would have responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn't be in this crisis.

    But I want to thank Governor Blanco for all she's done and all her leadership. She sent in the National Guard. I just repaired a breach on my side of the 17th Street canal that the secretary didn't foresee, a 300-foot breach. I just completed it yesterday with convoys of National Guard and local parish workers and levee board people. It took us two and a half days working 24/7. I just closed it.
    A bit later, Broussard completely broke down:
    MR. BROUSSARD: ...And I want to give you one last story and I'll shut up and let you tell me whatever you want to tell me. The guy who runs this building I'm in, emergency management, he's responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, "Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?" And he said, "Yeah, Mama, somebody's coming to get you. Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday." And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night.

    MR. RUSSERT: Mr. President...

    MR. BROUSSARD: Nobody's coming to get us. Nobody's coming to get us. The secretary has promised. Everybody's promised. They've had press conferences. I'm sick of the press conferences. For God sakes, shut up and send us somebody.

    MR. RUSSERT: Just take a pause, Mr. President. While you gather yourself in your very emotional times, I understand, let me go to Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi.
    Russert never went back to Aaron Broussard, although the man appeared briefly - wiping his eyes and trying to compose himself - on a split screen with Haley Barbour.

    On CNN's web site yesterday, they engaged in a random act of reporting: comparing the "official" version of events with reports from the ground. (I just, at 5:20 p.m. PST, rechecked that link on the CNN site, and see "breaking news" that a rescue helicopter has crashed in New Orleans; no further details.) And Josh Marshall posted a scathing dissection of the lies and spin coming out of the White House right now. It begins:
    It's almost awe-inspiring to see the level of energy and coordination the Bush White House can bring to bear in a genuine crisis. Not hurricane Katrina, of course, but the political crisis they now find rising around them.
    It's a longish post, but worth reading for its comprehensiveness.

    Finally, I wish I could find the links to these two pictures -- and if someone has them, feel free to post them in the comments section. On CBS Sunday Morning Harry Smith narrated a "feel good" segment of photos illustrating the resilience, compassion, bravery, determination, etc. of Katrina's victims. As he uttered the word "ingenuity," they showed a photo of a dozen or so people who had commandeered a postal van to flee the city. Just Friday, I saw a photo of those same ingenious people, hand-cuffed, face down on a highway, a police officer standing over them and another searching the truck. Zero-tolerance, you know.

    Saturday, September 03, 2005

    It's all about the photo op

    Mark Kleiman posts an almost unbelievable press release (except that we know better than to underestimate this White House's capacity for treachery) from LA Senator Mary Landrieu's office:
    Sen. Landrieu said:

    "Yesterday, I was hoping President Bush would come away from his tour of the regional devastation triggered by Hurricane Katrina with a new understanding for the magnitude of the suffering and for the abject failures of the current Federal Emergency Management Agency. 24 hours later, the President has yet to answer my call for a cabinet-level official to lead our efforts. Meanwhile, FEMA, now a shell of what it once was, continues to be overwhelmed by the task at hand.

    "I understand that the U.S. Forest Service had water-tanker aircraft available to help douse the fires raging on our riverfront, but FEMA has yet to accept the aid. When Amtrak offered trains to evacuate significant numbers of victims -- far more efficiently than buses -- FEMA again dragged its feet. Offers of medicine, communications equipment and other desperately needed items continue to flow in, only to be ignored by the agency.

    "But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast -- black and white, rich and poor, young and old -- deserve far better from their national government.

    "Mr. President, I'm imploring you once again to get a cabinet-level official stood up as soon as possible to get this entire operation moving forward regionwide with all the resources -- military and otherwise -- necessary to relieve the unmitigated suffering and economic damage that is unfolding."
    More about the fakery here (via Kevin Drum).

    This should be front and center on all the Sunday yak shows tomorrow, but the passing of William Rehnquist assures that Bush will get off easy.

    Chief Justice Rehnquist Dies

    Chief Justice William Rehnquist has died.

    Amen, Kanye!

    I wish I'd seen this! But I was only half-listening to the program from another room, and part of the incident was apparently cut from the West Coast "edition." Kanye West is not in our CD collection, although I considered it after hearing "Jesus Walks." I may just have to give him another listen...

    And by the way, it's not God's fault

    Incredible as it may be, some folks are shoving off the responsibility for Katrina on the source (for Christians) of all love, compassion, and mercy ("God gave us this disaster."). Give me a break! Better yet, give God a break. When I read statements like these, I am reminded of the most poignant writing to come out of the post-September 11 period, this piece from The Onion. When creation suffers, so does God. (Remember that little event on a hill in Palestine one Friday a while back?)

    No shame? Question answered...

    The pictures and stories coming from Louisiana and Mississippi, depicting the suffering and misery of the survivors, are almost unbearable. What is completely unbearable is the utter lack of compassion coming from some of the highest offices in the land. Take Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, for example. So it was more important to be at a fundraiser in Indiana than to be in Washington to cast a vote for the $10.5 billion of disaster relief? Yessir, got your priorities straight, don't you? The empathy deficit of the president is hardly worth mentioning, since no one should have expected anything better from him.

    And here's a commentary from a perhaps unlikely source: the sports page. Dave Zirin is the news editor of the Prince George's Post in Maryland, and he writes a weekly column for this ommunity newspaper called "The Edge of Sports" (see his website for past writings). His latest piece is a biting indictment of policies that led to the disaster, epitomized by the example of "the earth's most damnable homeless shelter, the Louisiana Superdome." Read and rage, and weep, and resolve, we can do better than this, all of this.

    The Superdome: Monument to a Rotten System

    By Dave Zirin

    There is nothing “unnatural” about the disaster of New Orleans. When politicians smirk at global warming, when developers look at our wetlands and dream of mini malls, when billions are flushed in the name of war and tax-cuts, when issues of poverty and racism don’t even register in Presidential debates, all it takes is wind, albeit 145 mph wind, to expose a sturdy superpower as a house of cards.

    Nowhere is this personified more painfully than in a monument to corporate greed that has rapidly become the earth’s most damnable homeless shelter, the Louisiana Superdome.

    The Superdome is perhaps the most unintentionally appropriate name since Mr. and Mrs. Cheney looked at their newborn son and said, “Dick.” It was birthed in 1975 with pomp and bombast, as the largest domed facility in the world. It was also funded entirely on the public dime. In a case of brutal foreshadowing that would shame a B horror flick, the dome was constructed on an old cemetery for the poor. The burial grounds were dug up and discarded with a promise that the Superdome would the centerpiece of a New Orleans “Central Business District” that would benefit all. The results are certainly now in plain, ugly view. This past week, 25,000 people, walked through its doors, many for the first time. They entered a stadium where tickets go for 90 bucks a pop, season passes cost $1,300 and luxury boxes can run for as much as $109,000. The arena boasts of having a capacity that can comfortably seat 72,000 people, with 9,000 tons of air conditioning, and 88 massive restrooms. But for the 25,000 that can’t afford the oxygen, there has been no air conditioning and bathrooms without electricity, running water, or working toilets. Feces and garbage now pack the upper decks. The traumatized people finally emerging tell of dead bodies on the 50 yard line. One man even committed suicide, throwing himself off the upper deck. Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco called theSuperdome shelter strategy an "experiment", when asked if it could hold the storm or the flood. Chuck D’s line about Housing Projects comes to mind when he said, “What is a project but another word for experiment?”

    Saints' receiver Joe Horn has looked at the place where he has set receiving records and said that football couldn’t be farther from his mind." It's devastating to us. I've cried three or four times. Seeing kids without any food, elderly people dying and the government saying that help is on the way - that's the most shocking part.”

    He’s right. That is the most shocking part. Leading this carnival of disgrace is “Mr. Shock and Awe” himself, George W. Bush. Every day, President Bush doles out comments that signal his removal from any basic notion of humanity. Perhaps the most galling,"The good news is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. AndI'm looking forward to sitting on the porch."

    But happy visions of mint juleps with Trent, while Mamie and Prissy tighten Scarlett’s corset, just will not sell. The discussion instead, from right wing editorial pages in New Hampshire and Mississippi to a vocal, angry, Civil Rights community, is about the racism, profiteering and vile hypocrisy at the heart of this system.

    As Norman Solomon wrote, “The policies are matters of priorities. And the priorities of the Bush White Hous eare clear. For killing in Iraq, they spare no expense. For protecting and sustaining life, the cupboards go bare The problem is not incompetence. It's inhumanity, cruelty and greed.” Frederick Douglass said it even better a century ago in his speech, “What to the Slave is the 4th of July,”

    “[Y]our national greatness, swelling vanity; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings,with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”

    I would amend the great Mr. Douglass just to say that we are not at present a nation of savages. The unreal outpouring of both aid and the furious call for answers are not the actions of beasts. But it is now clear that savages rule our lives. The echoing cry from the Gulf Coast is that we deserve better than living under a system that weeps over spilled oil, and rolls its eyes at our spilled blood.

    Friday, September 02, 2005

    A Field Guide to "Left At The Altar"

    A little administrative business.

    First, after the recent acne product ad disguised as a comment, I think I will indeed fire up Blogger's new spam-comment blocker. You'll notice it next time you try to comment.

    Second, remember there are now two bloggers at Left At The Altar. After a couple of puzzled email inquiries from friends wondering how I managed to retire at age 42, I feel I should point this out. You can see who posted what on the "posted by" line at the end of each post. Blogger abc recently celebrated her retirement. Blogger MizM (that's me, the originator) (is that a word?) is a second-go-round graduate student who, by the time she finishes a doctorate in environmental ethics, will not be able to retire before she's 150. At the earliest.

    But that's OK, because this White House will have left a lot of work for me.

    Just when you think you've heard it all....

    I've read about the less-than-savory recruitment practices of the U.S. military in a lot of places, but at Chuck E. Cheese?? Honestly....our tax dollars are going for stuff like this. I was about to say, "Unbelievable" -- but oh, wait. I forgot that I do my best to live in that much maligned "reality-based community," where 3-year-olds are subjected to things like Duck, Duck, Goose and Chutes and Ladders, not feel-good videos about an invading army during birthday celebrations. Silly me.

    "Where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die"

    I was doing housework last night - while listening to U2's How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb CD - and occasionally drifting into the bedroom to look at the late and increasingly awful news from New Orleans. I bent over my speakers just as this line from "Crumbs From Your Table" rang out: "Where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die." It came to mind again as I read this editorial from Jeff Sharlet this morning:
    ...But if this is a religion story, it's not about an act of God or the banal use and abuse of the Bible as substitute aid for people dying of literal thirst; it's about sin. And no vague, blustery "pride of man" stories about ill-preparedness or mistakes by the Army Corps of Engineers will address the original sin of this event. We need theologically-charged, morally outraged, investigative historical reporting to tell us why and how the dead of New Orleans died, and when their killers -- not Katrina, but the developers and politicians and patricians who are now far from the city -- began the killing. It wasn't Monday, and it wasn't last week. We need journalists, not just historians, to look deeper into the American mythologies of race and money, "personal responsibility" and real responsibility.

    This isn't a religion story because God acted, but because people acted. It's not about what they didn't do, it's about what they did do, under the cover of civic development and urban renewal and faith-based initiatives that systematically eradicate the possibility of real, systemic response to a crisis that is more than a matter of individual souls.
    Another Revealer editorialist, Anthea Butler, is even more blunt:
    ...New Orleans, a major slave port, will be the place of death once again, for thousand of Africa's descendents. In these states, persons of African descent are the ones who are most impoverished, hurting, and dismayed. Yet our news broadcasters continue to ask inane questions, such as "Why didn't they leave?" Or, "Why are they looting?"

    People are looting because they are tired of being at the bottom. If you don't have gas money, or a working car, or the government check that would come on September 1, you could not leave New Orleans. Never mind the fact that New Orleans, as a tourist capital, never funneled any of that money back into impoverished communities. Katrina didn't care that monthly stipend hadn't come yet. She came instead.

    The majority of persons in this desperate plight simply want to get out, anyway they can. And the help that was so delicately listed by our ever-vacationing president in his address to the nation is taking its own sweet time getting there. This started as a natural disaster, but the aftermath is genocide of black people, once again.
    Read this Times story.

    Then marvel over the Republican strategist (who had the good sense to speak anonymously) smacking his lips over the political "cover" offered by the disaster. And over RNC Chair Ken Mehlman, who had the presence of mind, in the midst of this chaos, to send out a mass email urging recipients to call senators and tell them to repeal the estate tax. No kidding.

    Which reminds me: I happened to catch part of the Al Franken radio show yesterday, while I was returning from a doctor appointment. The guest host was interviewing Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant. I tuned in just as he was talking about how the Bush administration uses national distractions to do dastardly things or dump potentially damaging news stories. The two examples he gave for this past weekend are things I'd meant to link to but got, well, distracted. (1) As Katrina was arriving in New Orleans, they announced Susan Wood's resignation from the Women's Health Office (FDA) - in protest over the FDA's continued delays on the "morning after pill" approval process. And (2) Bunnatine Greenhouse, the woman who went public with concerns over Halliburton's no-bid contract for work in Iraq, was demoted for her efforts.

    Have you read Molly Ivins, yet?