Friday, September 30, 2005

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Putting the "butt" in "rebuttal"

Like all good things on this blog, the following column comes from Nick. I audibly gasped when I first read it, as well as the second time and the third time. If there's anything I can't stand worse than the ignorance of south Louisianians, it's ignorance about south Louisianians from someone based in South Carolina.

This column is attributed to Michael Graham, a right-wing reactionary "humorist" who was fired from ABC Radio for excessively racist tirades, and who even admits on his own site that:

In 1999, when my talk radio career was just beginning, I said something stupid on the air about the Columbine shooting in the hours the story was unfolding. It was just a passing joke, made before I understood the true level of horror that Columbine would come to represent. When I realized the gravity of the situation at Columbine, I took the first opportunity I had to go on the air and apologize. I didn't apologize because I was ordered to or threatened with my job (I was eventually fired anyway). I apologized because I said something stupid, and it was important to me that the listeners know I realized I'd said something stupid.

As you'll see below, he clearly has not learned his lesson.

Man bites hurricane

They were poor. They lived in homes that, to some Americans, would appear no more than shacks. They've suffered discrimination at the hands of their fellow Americans. And when the hurricane came, it seemed to veer out of its way, just to hit them.

So why didn't hundreds of Cajuns from western Louisiana appear on my TV screen this week, complaining that George W. Bush doesn't like them, demanding $200 billion of my tax dollars or blaming the bad weather on Halliburton?

1) Cajuns aren't based in west Louisiana. Not the best show of expertise regarding the place. And though Vermilion Parish is indeed in Acadiana, it is in the south-central part of the state.

2) Kanye West is not a Cajun, and anyway it's doubtful his statement is any less true this time around. Besides, nobody asked me to be on TV.

3) As a taxpayer, Michael, you are responsible for helping your fellow citizens in tough times, just like all of us did when Hurricane Hugo devastated your own state in 1989. We were happy to pay for that. Why? Because we care. Don't be so stingy.

Hurricane Rita may have hit western Louisiana harder than Katrina hit New Orleans, but Rita across folks made of sterner stuff then you'll find in the Ninth Ward.

How to read that: "Western Louisiana" equals the tough white people, while the "Ninth Ward" equals those poor, whiny black people. Never mind that Rita was a Category 4 storm that hit with much advance warning and with FEMA trying to cover its ass, or that Katrina was a Category 5 hurricane that hit an unprepared target that received help far too late. But why let that get in the way of good old-fashioned race baiting?

Here's how one Washington Post story described the scene just hours after Rita made landfall near Intracoastal City, a "city" that in many senses barely exists:

"The only people who can get here are the sturdiest of sorts, a small armada of Cajuns with pretty French names and sunburned skin and don't-mess-with-me bravado. The bayous were full of them Saturday, gliding high and quick in airboats, and so was the Vermilion River, where they were spinning steering wheels on fast Boston Whalers and kicking up wakes in flat-bottomed, aluminum boats. They did not wait for the president or FEMA or anyone else to tell them that there were people out there--out there and desperate, on rooftops...

Let me get this straight: you're comparing these "benevolent" people, who chose to ignore mandatory evacuations and warnings of massive storm surges, favorably to New Orleanians whom you say were too stupid to evacuate? As far as I can tell, there is virtually no difference between these two groups, except that the second group had a chance to learn from Katrina. Which they apparently did not.

'I got out of the sheriff's office in about 20 seconds,' said Steve Artee, as his son, Chris, made a hard, boat-tilting turn on the swollen Vermilion. 'They just took my cell phone number, and I was gone. That's because Kathleen Blanco wasn't involved.'"

Oh, I see! They conducted rescues not because they care about the survival of their neighbors; they did it just to spite Kathleen Blanco! Too bad Bobby Jindal didn't win the gubernatorial election, because then they could have stayed home!

Now, anyone who hates Blanco and bureaucrats can't be all bad. But I don't agree with Mr. Artee that the people of Vermilion Parish behaved more responsibly or showed more strength of character because Gov. Blanco didn't have their parish on her speed dial.

Earlier this year, a friend of mine from Abbeville (in Vermilion Parish) died in a car accident in Los Angeles. At his funeral, I literally bumped into Governor Blanco, who is a friend of the family. So I can personally attest that Gov. Blanco DOES have Vermilion Parish on her speed dial.

I believe the people of western Louisiana behaved better because they are, in fact, better people. The failure revealed by Hurricane Katrina was not a failure of government, at least, not any more than government always fails. The failure in New Orleans was a failure of character. [Emphasis mine]

Who are you, Michael Graham, to gauge the betterness of one group of Louisianians over another? Do you actually know any of these people? Anyway, why do you choose to pit groups of victims against each other? Even for an editorial, this is irresponsible. These statements are strictly for the purpose of racial instigation.

Corrupt people electing corrupt politicians who gave millions in tax dollars to corrupt cronies to either mis-construct vital levees or to spend the money on entirely useless pork projects. Then, when disaster struck, these same people--living a Faustian deal of votes for tax-funded handouts--were utterly lost when those corrupt government officials headed for high ground without them.

Louisiana politics is corrupt; I'm not going to deny that. But that point is better made in ways other than accusing New Orleans politicos of deliberately sabotaging the survival of their own city. Elsewhere, I've read this same allegation in words that implied that N.O. politicians were giving the money to their (black) cronies who possessed insufficient knowledge to properly rebuild the levees. Which is why it's an accusation I'm not at all surprised to see here.

As John Fund of the Wall Street Journal wrote: "In just the past generation, the Pelican State has had a governor, an attorney general, three successive insurance commissioners, a congressman, a federal judge, a state Senate president and a swarm of local officials convicted. Last year, three top officials at Louisiana's Office of Emergency Preparedness were indicted. Just this summer, associates of former [New Orleans] mayor Marc Morial were indicted for alleged kickbacks involving public contracts. Last month the FBI raided the home and car of Rep. William Jefferson as part of a probe into allegations he had misused his office."

In other words, the federal government's negligence in addressing Katrina's devastation is justified because a handful of Louisiana politicians are under investigation? In that case, let's hope nothing happens to Texas for the rest of the decade.

Not to mention the widespread looting by the citizens of New Orleans themselves, which included televised looting by police officers, too. The chief administrative officer for Kenner, LA, was just busted for pilfering food, drinks, chainsaws and roof tarps from New Orleans and stashing them in his suburban home.

From what I've read, the looting by cops was far greater and more brutal than the over-publicized incidents done by a handful of thugs in New Orleans. But the looting of merchandise by black people seems to be all anyone remembers.

Hey? Stay classy, New Orleans!

"New Orleans," of course, equals "Black Thugs." I can tell you're from South Carolina, jackass.

Then came Hurricane Rita, Katrina's ugly sister, to wreak similar havoc just a few hundred miles to the west.

Bullshit. Rita was big, but not as big or as dramatically devastating as Katrina. Also, FEMA and the rest of the nation learned from its most recent mistakes. That's why the people who you too-broadly classify as "Cajuns" fared so much better. Last I checked, hurricanes really don't give a damn about the so-called "character" of their targets.

The communities affected were, on the surface, similar as well: Abbeville or Cameron, LA were "low income" communities. The education levels were similar to the Ninth Ward, too. And you won't find many branches of the Aryan Nations meeting among the dark-skinned natives of Cajun country, whose heritage is a genetic gumbo of Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and American Indians.

"So, you see, I can't be racist! I acknowledge that darkies live here too!"

But while the people of New Orleans were panicking and complaining (not to mention stealing, shooting and stabbing) days after the storm, the Cajuns of western Louisiana were out in their boats, looking for lost neighbors and rescuing strangers off rooftops.

Wow, can you say, "overgeneralization?" Like I've already said several times, preparation for Katrina was terrible. People living in the targeted area of Rita had much better opportunities to evacuate or otherwise make plans. Everyone in the affected area seemed to be diligent because they were the few stubborn enough to stay.

It wasn't just because Gov. Blanco wasn't involved--it was because almost NO government is involved in these folks' daily lives. The people of rural Louisiana grow up with the assumption that their survival in this world of woe is their responsibility. Unlike far too many people in New Orleans, "low income" isn't an excuse to the working families in rural Louisiana. It's just a condition to be dealt with. They live their lives as though they own them, unlike those government-dependent "victims" who live as though life is something the state provides for them and is responsible to maintain.

This is such sheer bullshit that I could shovel it. Rural Louisianians are probably imbued with less state government, true, but local government exists there on a big level. You write as if these people live in a state of self-imposed anarchy; they don't. Furthermore, the people of New Orleans live in a city, one of the largest in the United States. Why shouldn't they expect a responsible government? They pay the taxes for such, after all. Which is precisely why so many of them are "low-income" and unable to survive on their own. In any event, none of this should be relevant; Americans should help all victimized Americans in times of crisis. Blanket hatred of government should not override this, as it apparently does for certain right-leaning pundits.

Randy Gary, a fisherman from Cameron, LA, was asked about his future after his boats were destroyed and flooding poisoned the oyster beds he fished.

He didn't blame FEMA or accuse President Bush of stealing his lunch money. He wasn't spotted kicking in the door of the local Wal-Mart to snag a plasma-screen TV "for survival purposes." He has yet to join the Cajun Action Committee to investigate why so many of Rita's victims spoke French.

Instead, as the AP reports, he smiled.

"What else we gonna do?" he said, pledging to rebuild his shattered home and work. "It's my life. It's what I do."

Well, sure. But would he really refuse government help if it were offered? I'll bet you anything he won't. If he does, he's just as ignorant as you accuse the Ninth Ward of being.

Hurricane Rita, you've met your match.

Yes, a devastatingly awful windbag by the name of:

Michael Graham

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Shirley Temple in a fizz over Paris

A classic never fades, but New Coke did

I can't believe I'm linking to this

Former child star Shirley Temple Black has some very grown-up criticism of Paris Hilton.

The 77-year-old former curly topped cutie has blasted Hilton, saying that those like the partying heiress are “stealing the thunder from really talented actors who have learnt their craft,” reports the London Express.

When asked for comment, Paris Hilton responded, "Oh come on, a drink can't talk. As if!"

Shirley Temple hasn't made a movie since 1949. Paris Hilton is just starting her film career. Still, who is more likely to be remembered in five years' time?

That's what I thought.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Why I hate the Pledge of Allegiance

Their patriotism burns like a pile of schoolbooks

Ever since I first bit the forbidden apple of political awareness, I have tastefully refrained from saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Is it because I equate support for the flag with support for the Bush administration? Because I hate America? Or could it be because I haven't been in a grade-school class in seven-plus years?

Actually, those reasons would be irrelevant anyway. Part of what I love about America is that we (at least in principle) do not enforce national pride; indeed, not requiring it seems to truly bring it out in people. And that's the way it should be--because Americans aren't forced to say anything patriotic, they are more likely to affirm that pride out of genuine spirit. I show my patriotism in numerous ways, such as by exercising my personal freedoms and by being actively aware of political society. The issue I have with the pledge, then, is that it is a purely symbolic and robotic recitation of what it means to be an American. And as the past few years have shown us with a proverbial slap to the face, we need far more than simple lip service to truly act as Americans.

With that in mind, here are three major reasons why the pledge (as well as most national statements and songs) are flawed in purpose:

1) Schoolchildren have to say it every day. Even as a four-year-old in Head Start, I had the say the pledge on a daily basis. This was the same year I learned (via flashcard sessions) how to pronounce and define such words as "word" and "learn." The hardest word I dealt with that year was "together;" how, then, could I possibly understand such concepts as "allegiance" and "indivisible?" And yet, we're all told repeatedly how important it is for students to reaffirm their devotion to their country every morning. Curiously, such lessons in good citizenship are rarely, if ever, accompanied by deeper introspection.

2) And adults don't. If we are to believe that saying the Pledge of Allegiance is a major ingredient for responsible American citizenry, then why aren't adults given more opportunities to say it? As far as I know, the pledge is spoken mainly at local council meetings and--since 1999!--the Senate. It seems to me that reciting the oath would have far more significance in adulthood, once one has had a chance to become an active citizen. But then again, the pledge never really comes off as an assertive civic act, does it? Perhaps the adults are onto something...

3) It contains the words "Under God." Regardless of how you feel about the sectarian mention of a deity in the pledge, you have to admit that the issue is divisive. Kind of ironic for an oath in which people pledge devotion to an "indivisible" country, right? That fact alone is proof that the pledge needs an overhaul. A national statement of patriotism should bring people together instead of causing conflict. The United States is a nation supposedly founded on the idea that no person should be limited in terms of choice, belief or outlook. Consequently, a national motto should steer clear of the specifics the government can't and shouldn't control, such as faith and personal politics. In such a diverse nation this might mean having no pledge at all; maybe that's the price we pay for our ideological freedom. But if we are going to have a pledge, then we should have a purer statement of national pride--one that hints at love for country without thumbing its nose at others or reflecting the reactionary furor of an era that belongs in the past. One, dare I say, such as this:

"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all."

Yeah, I can definitely handle that one. It worked from 1892 to 1923, after all. As long as we speak it without the Hitleresque salutes, then we have a winner!

Now please be seated.

Where morons go to sound dumb

Presenting the College Republicans script on the War on Terror!

Wonder no longer as to why your friendly local GOP fanboys always sound like concussion-addled cheerleaders when discussing current events! The aforelinked list is a service of the College Republican National Committee (the outfit once headed by college dropout Karl Rove) as a tool for its faithful members to express what's on their collective brain.

This list of undeniable factoids will endow even the most casual GOP Drekkie with the information needed to set the record straight regarding the foreign affairs of the Bush administration. Recite these truths as written, and rhetorical opponents will bow at your feet! Why? Because the left can recite facts and figures all they want about the roles of various nations in the 9/11 attack. But the truth is much simpler and harder to counter. What follows is but a sample of the wisdom you can rely on from the CRNC. For your convenience, key terms to remember are printed in bold.

President Bush has outlined three commitments in America’s new approach to peace in the world, and we have found successful results:

President Bush is defending the peace by taking the fight to the terrorists.

President Bush is protecting the peace by fostering good relations among our allies and international institutions to isolate terrorists and outlaw regimes.

President Bush is extending the peace by supporting the rise of democracy, as the alternative to hatred and fear in the Middle East.

With talking points like these, who can deny that George W. Bush is a man of peace? But lest some wonky liberal claim that Bush has repeatedly called himself a "war president," or that a state of never-ending war is not peace, remind them of this:

As the world’s most powerful nation, President Bush believes that the United States has a special responsibility to help make the world more secure.

And who can argue that Bush is the world's most powerful nation? No one who knows what's good for them, that's who!

There's much more on the talking-points page. I won't even go into the part about Saddam Hussein being "swiftly captured" on Dec. 13, 2003. Suffice to say, only people whose idea of "swift" comes from the "Boat Veterans for Truth" could take that adjective seriously.

As an added bonus, also check out the CRNC job bank. Work with them now or for them later! Hey, it's how Ted Bundy got his start. And he's famous!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

This cheddar's aged, not sharp

There's a prevailing piece of wisdom that the President of the United States is one of the most taxing jobs in terms of premature aging. This fact is backed up by at least 42 examples, most visibly among Bill Clinton and our current "president," George W. Bush. But this malady strikes everyone sooner or later, regardless of presidential material-worthiness.

Inspired by Flamingo Jones' recent missive on her feet, I dug up some choice photographs of my own to illustrate just how life can take its toll on a face. Being 25 years old with two degrees, I spent my college years in a unique political time frame. In 1998, the prevailing presidential crisis involved love, not war. The economy was booming, and 15 people I cared about were still alive and kicking. Here I am at 18, in my driver's license photo. Look how full of life I am, ready to take the world by the horns and conquer it!

Between 1998 and 2005, however, lots of bad stuff went down. The Clinton impeachment. Kosovo. Columbine. A failed relationship. My massive concussion. The dot-com bust. The 2000 election. Dubya. The recession. Back surgery. 9/11. Iraq. More Dubya. Unemployment. Hurricanes aplenty.

By the time I took this university ID picture in February 2004, I was pretty beat down. The sad thing is, I had actually primped for this picture and thought I'd take a studious pose for once. I knew how bad I looked (and felt) when the photographer showed me the pic on the monitor (next to the picture which I had recently lost) and asked, "Are you sure you want to change this?" Why don't I ever listen? All I know is this: if I'm ever arrested for any reason, the police need only to tack a placard underneath this atrocity.

As it seems to have been for most people, 2005 has been a super-shitty year for me. I graduated from college yet again, which has since left me jobless and brutally underprepared for the local job market. In the span of less than a month, two hurricanes have nearly wiped out my state. And as if the job search wasn't already horrid enough with a weak market and 40,000 new residents from New Orleans, I no longer have a functioning vehicle. Yep, all of these and several other factors have aged me even further.

So if you're feeling older these days, take heart: at least you'll die sooner. Just kidding! Actually, just know that times are tough and that it's only a matter of time before even the most beautiful Republican celebrities look like holy hell as their paradise world collapses around them. Also, take lots of pictures and keep only the good ones. Hey, we're already doing that with history!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

It was a dark and stormy night

As I write this, I should be on a flight to Minneapolis (or at least to Atlanta to get to the Twin Cities, to watch the Saints cream the Vikings). But alas, I'm still here thanks to Hurricane Rita.

But I guess I should be thankful. I just woke up after an extended nap to the evident realization that the worst is over for us. Sure, the wind is still swirling and continuing its impression of a dead scream queen from a Stephen King novel, but the old hag's died down considerably. I might have been halfway dreaming, but I think I heard that at this point we're receiving tropical-storm-force winds. And, as we all know, those things can't cause any harm.

As always, I stayed up very late to watch the storm. Unlike most nights, everyone else also stayed awake. At almost the same moment during the night, I said "Lili was much worse than this," my mom said she had never endured a worse storm in her life. We just kind of looked at each other.

Over the course of the night, I camped out with my teenage sister, mom and their puppy in our hallway. I attempted to sleep, but couldn't, because halfway across my house my dad was blaring the news on his TV. At one point I think I blurted out, "I really wish the power would go out." In order to go to sleep, I need a generally quiet atmosphere. Compare that to most of my family, who cannot sleep without a television ON. My sister's been known to wake up if I turn off her screen, even if the volume is all the way down. As soon as I heard my dad snoring--a phenomenon louder than any network offering--I crept into his room and turned his system down. Damn you, surround sound!!

For hours, my mom sat transfixed in the hallway, watching the storm through the patio doors across the way. Her expression was an almost continuous gasp. Though watching the gale-force winds ravaging our backyard freaked her out, she could barely pull away. She must have had that famous proverb in mind, "A watched pot never boils." Of course, that standard did not apply to me, for any effort on my part to watch the storm was met with, "Oh my god, don't go in there! I'd like it if you stayed in the hallway." Right, like being stuck in my house most days isn't already suffocating enough without being confined to the space equivalent of a Thai prison cell. But I braved numerous trips to all of our windows, watching in awe at humankind's deserved humility against Mother Nature. Mom kept imploring me to come out of my room, lest the massive pine tree in our driveway fall over and slam into it like that utility pole in the movie Pulse. I assured her that I would have advance warning, and would almost want to see something like that anyway. In case anyone hasn't noticed, I have a sick side.

I was also warned by my loving parents that I could be sucked away in a split second if I played it too dangerously. Though that suggestion failed to scare me, it did put me in the mood to watch Cast Away. Which I could have done, because at no point did we ever lose power. On a related note, watch me suddenly lose this entire post!

For several months now, one of the two pine trees lining our circular driveway has had a long branch that points straight down, looks almost exactly like a gout-ridden hand and sways precariously in the breeze. I call it "the dagger branch" and tried my best not to park directly underneath it (or to deliberately do so, depending on the state of my vehicle), because a demonstration of its impaling qualities always seemed imminent. As of this writing, most of the dagger branch is gone, though it took some time to fell that bastard. So much for calling State Farm--my truck is not there to be impaled. It's already dead, currently parked at a garage in New Iberia, where it may or may not still have a roof.

During my most recent nap, I had a dream I believe to have been dictated by the radio. It involved trying to publish a newspaper and keeping a portable TV and radio dry right outside a makeshift Red Cross shelter set up in my house. I suppose I'll have to look that one up in the Book of Dreams.

At the moment I woke up, our radio was blaring an interview with an editor from our local newspaper, who explained that they had employed several journalists and technicians from other areas in order to get off today's issue. I hope they felt free to use my resume as extra post-consumer pulp for one of their advertising inserts.

By the way, I'm fine. Just in case you weren't sure. I hope everyone else is the same way.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

That was then, this is now

A tale of two shitties

It looks like Hurricane Rita is going to hit my city, albeit just with its far-right perimeter. From all accounts, that would appear to be a Category 2 breeze--about the same as what we had with Hurricane Lili in 2002.

During Hurricane Lili, we stayed here at my parents' house. This is likely where we will continue to be, given that as of this writing we haven't made the move to leave. At 7 p.m. tonight, I could have sworn we were leaving the area for good. We were all packing and securing items, and there was talk of heading to my uncle's house in Arkansas. Also hinted at was a trip to my other uncle's house in Baton Rouge. But at some point during the night, everyone just went to bed. They said they "wanted to see in what direction the storm would turn." Nice going, guys.

So why haven't I taken any action on my own, independent of my parents and siblings? Several reasons. First off, I no longer have my own transportation; on Sunday morning at 3:30 a.m., my truck conked out on Highway 90 near Baldwin, some 50-odd miles from my house. It needs a motor transplant, and I'm not doing that. Second, I was hoping against hope that my trip to Minneapolis to catch the Saints game and Second City was still possible (which, as of now, is canceled). Third, I figured I'd stay with my family. Fourth, I really don't have much say among said family. So there you go.

But I'm just fine with staying here, to be honest. During Hurricane Lili, we stayed at our house and the worst that happened was that we lost our power for close to five days. Oh, and that a massive oak in our backyard nearly fell on our house. But that tree's gone now! Now all we have are several pine and oak trees around our front yard. Following our date with Lili, our neighborhood was a mess of tangled branches and clogged gutters. We spent our humid evenings walking outdoors in an eerily unlit neighborhood, and our nights reading by dim light or by playing games. And you haven't lived until you have taken a bath or a shower with freezing-cold water. When you're done, you really feel clean because you take on an oddly antiseptic scent (not unlike that of medicated dandruff shampoo). You also feel like the hardest ass in the world for going through that.

Though Lafayette expected a hard hit from Lili (and wasn't disappointed), the city adapted impressingly quickly. In fact, I distinctly recall that my parents and sister were able to drive to Baton Rouge that Saturday to watch the much-hyped LSU-UL Lafayette football game. I stayed behind, briefly visiting Barnes and Noble for the air conditioning before a city-mandated curfew forced me home. I then sat home alone in a pitch-black and quiet house, listening via radio as my cousin's football team crushed mine, 48-0. It was sitting there, lonely, sweaty and feeling defeated, where I wondered if I could ever feel any worse. I wish I didn't now know the answer to that.

My neighborhood was one of the last to get its power back. I biked through the adjoining neighborhoods and noticed that they all had their power on; it was like we were in a bubble. My aunt and uncle lived in one of those power-blessed neighborhoods, and they invited us over that Sunday to watch the Saints defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 32-29. That was the beginning of the healing, and the first time in several days that I really felt that everything was returning to normal (make your own Saints-winning joke here).

One of the funnier things about Hurricane Lili was that it fell straight on UL Lafayette's first-ever Fall Break, which fell on Wednesday through Sunday. So I didn't miss a day of school. Good times. When I think about how Hurricane Rita has similarly ruined my vacation, and with basically the same expected force as Lili, I wonder if the two events aren't strikingly parallel. Speaking for Lafayette at least, we weathered that storm relatively well.

I wish the same for everyone else who must endure the worst of Rita. I'm pulling for all of you.

Double whammy!

Rita flirting with Texas/Louisiana coast

LAFAYETTE, LA (PIMP)-- The atmosphere in this southern Louisiana city is one of cautious preparation, as hordes of drivers from the area clog the streets in an effort to beat traffic.

Though Rita is currently expected to impact the east coast of Texas near Galveston, its swath will most likely cover as far east as the greater Lafayette area, 236 miles away. Lafayette was spared the destruction of Hurricane Katrina in August, though it did absorb a considerable amount of the migratory aftermath. Now it's Lafayette's turn, apparently.

The Gulf Coast region, encompassing Southwest Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, has a long history of enduring hurricane-related damage. Why? Because it's the goddamn Gulf Coast. That's where hurricanes like to go for drinks.

So far, authorities have evacuated Galveston and the outlying areas, as far north as Houston. New Orleans has been evacuated yet again, though it is far outside the projected path of the hurricane. Probably just a reflex at this point.

Popular evacuation destinations at this point include east Louisiana, Arkansas, north Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Interstate 10, U.S. 90 and that really crowded Chevron off the St. Martinville/Cade exit, the one with no food left and fuel that's in the freaking stratosphere and--what? You're sold out of gas? Bite me!!

Reports also indicate that a few choice parking spaces are still available on I-10 eastbound between Houston and Lake Charles.

Local residents offered very different reactions on the storm. Clyde Bergeron said that he tuned his radio occasionally to track the latest Rita coordinates, and described himself as "cautious, but not scared.

"Earlier this morning, I went to the store and stocked up on supplies," Bergeron said. "We're tracking Rita, and hoping for the best. But just in case, we have adequate food and water and a place to go up north if the need arises."

Lafayette resident Jessica Darby, however, voiced a very different view.

"They said on Fox [News] that we're going to suffer heavy winds and pounding rain, if not apocalyptic forces unparalleled in this millennium," Darby said. "Holy shit! I don't think we can handle that. We could get out of here if these motherfuckers in front of me would GET A MOVE ON!!" Darby then leaned on the horn of her SUV for 20 minutes, during which time traffic moved an estimated eight inches.

"Now I wish I hadn't entered that wet t-shirt contest last weekend. I feel somewhat responsible for this pestilence," Darby eventually added.

Weather reports indicate that Rita is down to a Category 4. Everyone's breathing a collective sigh of relief, just as they did when local gas prices went "down" to $2.58. Hopefully those collective sighs don't result in another butterfly effect. I'm shooting cocoons at this point.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Hurricane expert predicts years of more storms

WASHINGTON - Expect more hurricanes large and small in the next 10 to 20 years, the director of the federal National Hurricane Center said Tuesday.

Max Mayfield told a congressional panel that he believes the Atlantic Ocean is in a cycle of increased hurricane activity that parallels an increase that started in the 1940s and ended in the 1960s. Mayfield also listed a number of cities and regions in addition to New Orleans he believes are “especially vulnerable” to damage from a major hurricane: Houston and Galveston, Texas; Tampa; southern Florida and the Florida Keys; New York City and Long Island; and New England.

In other words, we can expect more hurricanes in the coming years, in areas that have always been hit by hurricanes. The point of this declaration is that we should simply expect more than usual. Except that we have had just as many at various times in the past. Hmm...

In the spirit of the above article, I have compiled a few other recent articles of equally breaking news. Science rules!

Sky expert announces the sky is blue

The hues that we see in the sky are not only determined by the laws of physics, but are also colored by the human visual system, shows a new paper in the American Journal of Physics. [...] Combining physics with quantitative data on the responsiveness of the human visual system, Glenn Smith of Georgia Tech points to the way in which our eye's three different types of cones detect color. As Smith shows, the sky's complex multichromatic rainbow of colors tickles our eye's cones in the same way as does a specific mixture of pure blue and white light.

Study: pollution is bad for the planet

– One in a new generation of computer climate models that include the effects of Earth's carbon cycle indicates there are limits to the planet's ability to absorb increased emissions of carbon dioxide.

"It's all about rates. If the rate of fossil fuel emissions is too high, the carbon storage capacity of the land and oceans decreases and climate warming accelerates."

Smoke from fires can be dangerous

The data portion of the program will examine existing information on post-fire health effects and prior studies of laboratory animals exposed to gases typical of those in fire smoke. Fire scenario analyses will help determine the types of fires in which these sublethal effects are likely to affect survival. The research team will develop a standard method for measuring the gases produced when everyday products burn, and they will construct a database of that information. The team also will assess the potential societal costs and benefits from the inclusion of tighter smoke requirements in building design specifications. Additionally, the team will study the potential for long-term health effects from exposure to smoke.

Government corrupt

Speaking of DUH...

Monday, September 19, 2005

Lame game notes

Saints, the NFL's current metaphor, fed to Giants

In a score I should have seen coming, the New York Giants beat the Old Orleans Saints 27-10 in a contest that served as a metaphor on too many different levels to explain on only one blog. What follows are my more-or-less random observations about the night.

Mick Jagger opened the broadcast by saying, "Hello, New Orleans Saints fans!" That was so surreal and awesome that I wished I'd taped it. The Saints played their first season in 1967, when the Rolling Stones were already icons, and most likely had no clue as to the nature of American football.

The Stones' appearance reflected the Saints' center-stage presence in this year's football conscience. On one commercial, New York Giants players wore Saints jerseys and introduced themselves, imploring us all to "be a Saint." The commercial temporarily derailed my vocal requests for Michael Strahan to "break his Mike Tyson face and get violently paralyzed by a vengeful God" and for Eli Manning to "take his overrated quarterback-dynasty ass back to the home city he betrayed." Similarly, seeing some the signs Giants fans had made showing solidarity with the Saints and New Orleans put the game in perspective for me. But once the Saints' offense apparently got scared of scoring late in the second half, I began looking for the "We're all Gi-Aints" commemorative paper bags. When I see those, I'll know that football fans truly stand united.

Seriously, though, the NFL has turned the team's scheduling and personal woes into an increased awareness of the disastrous effects of Hurricane Katrina. The way the league has come together, in all ways, for the victims has been nothing short of spectacular. Having the Giants-Saints game (originally a New Orleans home game) as the centerpiece of Monday Night Football would have been the icing on the cake.

Too bad the Saints dropped the ball, in every sense of the word. Literally speaking, they didn't drop the ball many times, but just enough to cost at least two touchdowns and turn the similarly uneven performances by both teams into a rout. Aaron Brooks had said before the game that the team intended to carry the victims of Katrina on their backs. He should have told the defense not to take it literally.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin made some hilariously frustrated faces late in the game, which in my angry-football-hooligan mode was oddly satisfying. Speaking of angry-football-hooligan mode, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to God and/or the forces of karma and nature for certain comments I made over the course of the night:

--I don't really want Michael Strahan to die of a heart attack on the field after breaking his face, nor do I think he is an asshole for pummeling people from New Orleans in this time of need;

--I apologize for suggesting that Eli Manning should have every tooth from his pretty-boy mouth broken in a nasty sack-gone-wrong, and that he be met with random gunfire in San Diego next week since he refused to play for the Chargers;

--I repent profusely for using the name of Tiki Barber in vain, as well as for suggesting that Joe Horn's horn of plenty wasn't plenty enough;

--I apologize to God for suggesting that he/she/it sucked, enjoyed dumping on Louisiana and is obviously a huge fan of the Giants (God is obviously a Patriots fan);

--I apologize to my television screen for spitting on it at the sight of Michael Strahan's face. It was in no way a statement against Monday Night Football, the Katrina benefit telethon or Sansui electronics;

--I also apologize to my wall-mounted master's degree, which I also spit on and rapped with my knuckles. That was just tangential rage;

--Finally, a big "sorry" to my mom for catching me at my football worst. Watching the NFL's goodwill ambassadors lose on the same day that I lost my truck got to me. I still love you, mom, and I can't wait for you to drive me around town tomorrow.

Still, You Gotta Have Faith. And I do, because I plan on watching my beloved Saints rip the Vikings in person next weekend. Just to make sure they do it right like they did against the Panthers. See you on TV!

A day at the racists

I got the following list from Nick (the one-time Conservative Cajun), so you just know it's good. Because the list is poorly organized, I have assigned each "fact" a number to lump it into one of three groups. As always with the red-text entries, misspellings and atrocious sentence structures are left intact.

Thing I have learned from watching the news on TV during the last eight days:

1) The hurricane only hit black families' property.

2) New Orleans was devastated and no other city was affected by the hurricane .

2) Mississippi is reported to have a tree blown down.

1) New Orleans has no white people.

2) The hurricane blew a limb off a tree in the yard of an Alabama resident.

3) When you are hungry after a hurricane, steal a big screen TV.

3) The hurricane did 23 billion dollars in improvements to New Orleans. Now the city is welfare, looters and gang free and they are in your city .

1) White folks don't make good news stories.

3) Don't give thanks to the thousands that came to help rescue you, instead bitch because the government hasn't given you a debit card yet.

1) Only black family members got separated in the hurricane rescue efforts .

3) Ignore warnings to evacuate and the white folks will come get you and give you money for being stupid.

Wow! Where to start? Actually, this isn't that complicated:

1) Oh no! The blacks got noticed! What was that again about liberals always playing the race card?

2) Hey, Katrina hit other places too! Where's the massive coverage on that? Katrina's destructive swath cut far and wide. But just as I don't expect the media to harp on Hurricane Katrina's effect on Lafayette, neither do I expect it to equate the damage in Mississippi and Alabama to that of the New Orleans area. Why? Simply because New Orleans, Chalmette and the rest of southeast Louisiana weathered an unprecedented amount of hurricane fury.

3) White people are smart and benevolent, while black people are stupid and lazy. Looks like some peoples' attitudes never change, or grow even more blatant with news of tragedy. I can only hope that the long list of people who had forwarded this trash weren't really paying attention.

There, that wasn't hard. But then again, ignorance is never hard to counter.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Dueling quotes

"Some people think because they subscribe for a paper and pay for it, the editor is thereby under obligations to write especially for them, and when they see anything in it that doesn't exactly suit their views they pronounce the paper a fraud and the editor an ass."
--Oklahoma Star editorial, Jan. 4, 1876 (as quoted in Newspapering in the Old West by Robert F. Karolevitz)

"We can't print that use of the American flag in advertisements is illegal, even though it's true. That would upset our advertisers."
--Told to me by my then-editor, July 2002

The good old days weren't always good, but they did have their moments.

Friday, September 16, 2005

"Days of sorrow and outrage"

Bush speaks in New Orleans

I could tell that Dubya was in my state yesterday, and not because I watch the news. When Bush enters within a 100-mile radius, the chill in the air is palpable. Every time Dick Cheney makes a speech at the local City Club two blocks from my house, I have to wear a jacket indoors.

Yesterday's speech was a bold declaration by Bush that New Orleans will be rebuilt. A tough stance? Maybe; but in these terroristic times, we need a strong leader to take a stand, even if that stand is popular. Read all about Thursday night's speech, including its not-bad-but-could-be-better initiatives, here.

Bush was definitely his own man as he spoke in Jackson Square, exhibiting all the trademarks that we have come to expect from our fearless leader:

--He was there long after the disaster hit, when photo-ops would be more convenient;

--He said New Orleans "will rise again," which is an unfortunate quip even for him. Dubya's unnecessarily vivid statement has the same Freudian impact as when he told David Letterman, "I'm glad you finally had the heart to invite me," just after Letterman had had his emergency quadruple-bypass;

--And of course he mentioned 9-freaking-11! When doesn't he?

“Four years after the frightening experience of Sept. 11, Americans have every right to expect a more effective response in a time of emergency,” the president said. He said when the federal government fails to meet such an obligation, “I as president am responsible for the problem, and for the solution.”

And once again, these rank among the least-assuring presidential words ever. We deserve a more effective response after 9/11? Really? Hasn't the government learned anything in the last FOUR YEARS? At least lie and say you have! Personally, I'm a little tired of Bush's lazy and retrospective lip-service. The only time his administration takes preemptive action is when they have oil to steal in countries we can only see via satellite. Did anyone tell him that New Orleans is actually flooded in a toxic petrochemical soup? Maybe that's why he's here so much now.

Bush proposed establishment of worker recovery accounts providing up to $5,000 for job training, education and child care during victims’ search for employment.

In this job market? Make that $50,000, at bare minimum. How far can $5,000 possibly go for job training, education and child care? I hope for their sake it goes farther than I think it will.

In his speech, which lasted a bit over 20 minutes...

This is obviously a subliminal appeal by the reporter for a pay raise...

[H]e also said he would ask Congress to approve an Urban Homesteading Act in which surplus federal property would be turned over to low-income citizens by means of a lottery to build homes, with mortgages or assistance from charitable organizations.

"'Cause you know how them poor black folks like themselves a lottery!" Paging Kanye West!

Bush described the hurricane’s aftermath as “days of sorrow and outrage,” and he said the nation had “witnessed the kind of desperation no citizen of this great and generous nation should ever have to know.” He deplored scenes of victims calling out for food and water, criminals who had no mercy, and bodies of the dead lying uncovered in the street.

This report doesn't make it clear if Bush deplored the conditions of these people or if he deplored having seen the footage itself. Overanalyzation? Perhaps. But these people have been living in poverty and squalor for years, and for anyone--much less a world leader--to only notice it now displays staggering ignorance.

To the hundreds of thousands of people forced from their homes, Bush said, “You need to know that our whole nation cares about you — and in the journey ahead you are not alone.”

He's way too used to talking to Iraqis. On second thought, maybe we should let Bush talk to New Orleanians as if they were foreigners. It seems to be the only way he can even pretend to muster sympathy for people.

“That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America,” Bush said. “We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.”

Notice he didn't say anything about confronting the racism...

Bush said auditors would be watchful of the massive outpouring of tax dollars.

After all, we don't want to be wasting money in New Orleans that would be better wasted in Iraq.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

You get what you pay for

Free job-seeking advice from MSN

Does hunting for a job give you the blues? Of course it does; few things suck worse in life, in fact. The insecurity of getting through life, the pitiful head-shaking of your peers and mentors and the frightening realization that you may lose everything you still own, among many other horrible thoughts, can painfully gnaw away at your being--oh wait, I mean, everything's going to be fine! That's the thrust of this article on MSN, written by Robert Half International (I'm sure it's an adopted last name):

Set goals.
When you're between jobs, you may miss the feeling of accomplishment derived from completing tasks and meeting objectives on a regular basis. Make up your own “to-do” list by setting daily or weekly targets for your job search. Give yourself firm deadlines and stick to them. Write notes, like “Send a tailored cover letter and résumé to XYZ Corp. by end of day” or “Thoroughly research 10 new companies in the next week.” Meeting specific goals will boost your morale and add momentum to your search.

Smart idea. Some of my objectives in the past few months have included, "Find 10 real jobs in Lafayette" and "Spend what's left of my money at Kinko's designing a fancy portfolio that's just going to be dumped in the trash on sight by some grumpy personnel intern." With a little perserverance and elbow grease, I have managed to accomplish these beyond my expectations.

Find the right targets.
You could save time (and avoid frustration) by narrowing your focus. For example, instead of faxing a generic résumé to every company that is advertising an open position, develop targeted materials and send them to a small list of firms that are most appealing to you.

Bad advice when even the positions for which you're qualified refuse to speak with you. But judging by the writer's use of the word "firms" to describe companies, I'm guessing this is some highbrow corporate advice that was probably unleashed to the filthy public by the wrong stroke of a key. So I expect a certain degree of detachment.

Seek expert assistance.
If you're sending scores of targeted résumés and cover letters and still aren't being called for interviews, contact a staffing or recruitment firm and ask for suggestions on how to improve your application materials. Staffing professionals can provide you with invaluable tips and feedback. It’s their job to stay current on market conditions and hiring trends. They also can help you locate temporary positions that will allow you to keep working — and earn money — while you continue searching for full-time employment.

Well, duh! The solution, of course, is to spend money on professionals just like the experts who created this job guide! Is the word "ADVERTISEMENT" at the top of this article?

Seriously, though, I can see how lots of people might need help with creating an attractive and professional employment package. The only thing is, I had an entire semester-long college course on how to construct all of that, along with learning the art of the job interview. I did so well in this course that my resume (the crappy 2001 version, not the sparkling 2005 version that we all know and love) was offered as an example to other classes in how to do it right. Even so, the main thing I've learned about resume-writing over the years is that different people want different things. And that even the most beautiful ivory paper can be tossed if no one wants to read it. There, just saved you a lot of time and money.

Get to work.
It’s often said that getting a job is a job in itself. Take a 9-to-5 approach to your employment search. Be disciplined for a solid eight hours each day — regardless of the time of year. A common misconception is that hiring grinds to a halt during the summer months and around the holidays due to vacation schedules. The truth, however, is that good companies are always looking for good people.

Yes, you'll want to fit right in with the next job that you get. So in addition to making your job search a 9-to-5 affair, set up a handy job cubicle right in your own home! Clip "Dilbert" comics from your local newspaper and study them carefully. Treat yourself to poorly percolated coffee every morning and lunch on half-eaten bologna sandwiches from the communal refrigerator stocked with your neighbors' leftovers. Don't forget to pitch in 50 cents every time you take some chips from your kitchen! Oh, and absolutely NEVER forget to punch out at the end of the day; that's a special skill you'll need when it actually matters. And with today's line between work and home blurrier than ever, you'll be ahead of the game when somebody finally notices the eight-hour days you've been putting in there in an effort to escape!

Keep it positive.
A long and vexing job search can test your pride, patience and self-confidence. The key is to recognize those feelings of doubt, accept that they are part of the job-hunting course, and redirect your energy back to your professional goals. Rather than thinking, “I'll never get a job,” say, “I haven't yet found the right job — but I will.”

Few people know this, but there's actually a standardized test for this sort of thing--the Normalizing Job-Optimization Battery, or NO-JOB. It tests such job-hunting particulars as pride, patience and self-confidence. I got a 56 on pride, 95 on patience and 12 on self-confidence. I haven't yet got the ideal scores--but I will!

Hit the club scene.
Many job seekers rely solely on family and friends for emotional support. But there are other helpful outlets that offer opportunities to vent (or even laugh) about the trials and tribulations of an extended search for work. Job club members meet to share war stories, employment leads, interviewing tips and more. Look online for groups in your area.

Is there any greater indicator of the crummy state of the job market in 2005 America than "Job Clubs"? I'm so out of the loop that I've never even heard of these (before, I just called them "my friends"). I ought to try a job club. It could be just like networking, except with other total losers without connections. Such an apt name, too, "job club." Like "fire fighters" put out fires, right?

Ask why.
If you interviewed for a job but were turned down, follow up with the company and ask why you didn't land the position. Rather than trying to convince the interviewer that the company made a mistake by not hiring you, solicit constructive criticism that can help you refine your approach. Ask the employer about areas that need improvement. Example: "What skills do you suggest I build in order to be considered for positions like this one?" Learning how you are perceived will help you in future interviews and networking situations.

It must be heartbreaking to get this far, only to not make it. I have no clue about this, so I'll just assume it's decent advice and move on.

It’s important to keep your job search active, but not at the expense of your own sanity. Take respites to keep your spirits and energy level high. Unchecked stress can feed on itself, so make time for enjoyable pursuits. Go away with your family for a couple of days, treat yourself to a nice meal or simply place all applications aside for one weekend. You'll come back to your search with new perspectives and strategies.

Like the rest of this article, this tip is apparently targeted toward mid-level professionals facing a temporary layoff or who otherwise have enough capital saved up to actually enjoy things. And while not letting the job hunt consume you is the best advice given here--I myself sometimes have to take a week off--it doesn't address the very real problem of struggling young job seekers (college-grads or otherwise) who are jobless and have nothing substantial to fall back upon. Fortunately for me, I enjoy cycling, walking and similarly free stuff. And food. I enjoy that too, once in a while.

While keeping up your spirits during an extended job search can be difficult, you certainly aren't alone. At some point, most professionals will ride the highs and lows associated with finding a new position. If you're hunting for a job now, use the tips above to keep your search on track — and your head up. Success is just around the corner.

I sure hope so, for the sake of everyone who is suffering because of this job crunch. Sometimes it takes a little cynical keyboard-pounding to make you feel better. I highly recommend it. Why, I'm now fully recharged and energized, ready to grab the world by the horns and join the ranks of the movers and shakers! I learned that in my in-home corporate seminar.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A sane reaction

Last week I wrote about the UL Vermilion staff editorial, which you might remember for making this bold statement:

Then there are the type of people who were unable to leave town had no transportation. Why? Because they had no jobs. Why? Because they’d simply rather not work. If you’re able-bodied enough to steal a television set and arms full of designer clothing, you’re able-bodied enough to get a job and buy a car like I did. If you were stuck in the city because you were just too lazy to work, don’t expect my sympathy.

Reflecting my description of this piece as a "smug, analysis-free, first-draft editorial," a student has written his own response in today's issue of the Vermilion. That person would be my good friend Dave Yost, a one-time Peace Corps worker and current graduate student from Missouri. Here's what he writes:

Dear Editor,

How disappointing, how infuriating it is to open the Vermillion this week and see that your staff response to Hurricane Katrina is nothing more than “your suffering is your fault, and we have no sympathy.” Of course we’re all frustrated with those individuals who have been sniping at government helicopters or looting electronics stores, but to pretend that this represents all of the tens of thousands of Katrina victims is the most callous stupidity. I’m sorry you lost your house, Mr. West--I really am--but that doesn’t give you an excuse to suggest that the suffering and the dead of New Orleans had it coming. Maybe after they publish the lists of the dead you can help us sort out which were the “genuine poor” who deserved life, and those lazy people who really should have drowned.

I’ve never loved Lafayette as much as I have this week, watching the endless influx of volunteers to the Cajundome, the donations from every local business, the church congregations gathering supplies and food, the librarians working round the clock to help people find relatives and government aid, the families taking total strangers into their homes, and most impressive of all, the evacuees who are turning right around and helping the other evacuees find what they need to make it through the day. It’s too bad the Vermillion couldn’t lend its voice to this effort, instead of spitting in its face.

Dave Yost
M.A. Student, Dept. of English

I couldn't have said it better. Rock on, Dave.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Caption Central

"Unplugged and disconnected" edition

--Can't spell "New Orleans" without "N-E-R-O"
--White man sings with forked tongue
--What is the sound of a one-track mind on an eight-track recorder?
--Bush's appearance at the Katrina benefit concert yielded the most funding of the telethon, as irate concertgoers threw dollar bills on stage while pleading, "Please, just stop!"
--"Baby I...I'm hooked on a FEMA!"
--In an attempt to reach out to the victims of Katrina, Bush introduced himself as Stevie Ray Nagin
--SNL: "Ooh, Fred's got slacks on the boulevard!"
--Bush's chance encounter with Willie Nelson backstage led to some killer "honeysuckle"
--It also gave a whole new meaning to, "Brownie, you're doing a good job"
--Apollo: Where's the sandman when you need him?
--There wasn't a dry eye in the house...and come to think of it, nothing was dry in New Orleans at the time
--You're looking at the only time during the Katrina crisis that Bush bothered to fret
--Though Dubya strummed, Cheney really held the pick
--In 2009, Bush appeared on the lowest-ever rated "Hit Me Baby One More Time"
--Played backwards, Dubya gets his popularity back, his military back, his dog back...
--Talk about being out of tune!!

Happy fourth!

Are you better off now than you were four years ago?

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The thin blue flatline

I first found this through a mailing list, and then found it online in Counterpunch. It's the story of two paramedics, Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky, and their experiences in New Orleans. Though these are excerpts, I recommend reading the whole thing to truly feel the frustration of the rescue effort. If, after reading this, I was given the choice between dealing with the hurricane and its ugly aftermath, I'd pick the wind, easy.

This piece implicates several groups with accusations ranging from overburden to southern hostility. If these are indeed true stories--even if they aren't representative as a whole--then I hope they open millions of eyes to the ugliness that pervades this area in times of crisis.

The National Guard comes off bad, but mainly because of the idiotic decisions they keep getting handed:

We waited for 48 hours for the buses, spending the last 12 hours standing outside, sharing the limited water, food, and clothes we had. We created a priority boarding area for the sick, elderly and new born babies. We waited late into the night for the "imminent" arrival of the buses. The buses never arrived. We later learned that the minute the arrived to the City limits, they were commandeered by the military.

As we entered the center of the City, we finally encountered the National Guard. The Guards told us we would not be allowed into the Superdome as the City's primary shelter had descended into a humanitarian and health hellhole.

The guards further told us that the City's only other shelter, the Convention Center, was also descending into chaos and squalor and that the police were not allowing anyone else in. Quite naturally, we asked, "If we can't go to the only 2 shelters in the City, what was our alternative?" The guards told us that that was our problem, and no they did not have extra water to give to us. This would be the start of our numerous encounters with callous and hostile "law enforcement."

This reminds me of a far-less-serious, but still parallel, incident that happened to me in 10th grade. After eating lunch one day, I had about 20 minutes to kill, so I stood in the lobby of the lunchroom. Being sick at the time, I stayed there in order to keep the freezing wind and rain outside from making things worse. Despite the fact that I was alone, and that several students were eating lunch at tables mere feet away, the duty teacher asked me in a particularly rude manner to hightail it outside. "Why?" I asked. "I'm sick, and I'm not bothering anybody." Visibly irritated, she replied, "You have to leave once you're done because there isn't room for you here." Panning my eyes around the almost empty cavern of a lobby, I actually had the nerve to ask, "So it's better to shove me outside, where it's freezing and raining and everyone's huddled up under the commons area?" So I walked out into the virus-abetting, snot-festering winter cold, making sure the lunch wench saw me getting my ass kicked by her sister, Elvira Nature. Is there any worse pestilence on this land than assholes with authority?

Of course, I'm all for good law enforcement; it's necessary, and I've benefited from it numerous times. Most of these people do their jobs professionally and with inadequate compensation. But after reading the following accounts of law-enforcement fiascos, particularly with the Gretna police, I'm thinking maybe NWA got it right:

We walked to the police command center at Harrah's on Canal Street and were told the same thing, that we were on our own, and no they did not have water to give us. We now numbered several hundred. We held a mass meeting to decide a course of action. We agreed to camp outside the police command post. We would be plainly visible to the media and would constitute a highly visible embarrassment to the City officials. The police told us that we could not stay. Regardless, we began to settle in and set up camp. In short order, the police commander came across the street to address our group. He told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge where the police had buses lined up to take us out of the City.

The crowed cheered and began to move. We called everyone back and explained to the commander that there had been lots of misinformation and wrong information and was he sure that there were buses waiting for us. The commander turned to the crowd and stated emphatically, "I swear to you that the buses are there."

As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander's assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move.

We questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.

Our small group retreated back down Highway 90 to seek shelter from the rain under an overpass. We debated our options and in the end decided to build an encampment in the middle of the Ponchartrain Expressway on the center divide, between the O'Keefe and Tchoupitoulas exits. We reasoned we would be visible to everyone, we would have some security being on an elevated freeway and we could wait and watch for the arrival of the yet to be seen buses.

Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking City) was correct. Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, "Get off the fucking freeway". A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water.

Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we congregated or congealed into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of "victims" they saw "mob" or "riot". We felt safety in numbers. Our "we must stay together" was impossible because the agencies would force us into small atomized groups.

In the pandemonium of having our camp raided and destroyed, we scattered once again. Reduced to a small group of 8 people, in the dark, we sought refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were hiding from possible criminal elements but equally and definitely, we were hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and shoot-to-kill policies.

Stereotypically southern cops make me sick. Why do I get the feeling they enjoyed shooing these people away and taking away their hard-deserved swag? And what makes them any better than looters or the thugs with guns we all love to hate? A badge? Different skin? They are different in one respect: at least the looters and thugs steal from storefronts rather than from groups of neglected survivors. Disgusting.

At this point, the National Guard redeems itself, which is nice after all these people went through with Buford T. Justice and the Gretna Playboys. Still, the squalor was not over yet:

The next days, our group of 8 walked most of the day, made contact with New Orleans Fire Department and were eventually airlifted out by an urban search and rescue team. We were dropped off near the airport and managed to catch a ride with the National Guard. The two young guardsmen apologized for the limited response of the Louisiana guards. They explained that a large section of their unit was in Iraq and that meant they were shorthanded and were unable to complete all the tasks they were assigned.

Most of us had not eaten all day because our C-rations had been confiscated at the airport because the rations set off the metal detectors. Yet, no food had been provided to the men, women, children, elderly, disabled as they sat for hours waiting to be "medically screened" to make sure we were not carrying any communicable diseases.

This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heart-felt reception given to us by the ordinary Texans. We saw one airline worker give her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered us money and toiletries with words of welcome. Throughout, the official relief effort was callous, inept, and racist. There was more suffering than need be. Lives were lost that did not need to be lost.

When even "ordinary Texans" treat New Orleanians better than the government, you know we are living in a bass-ackwards, redneck, racist, neocon wet dream of federal screwocracy. Can we all finally learn something from this, please?

Friday, September 09, 2005

An ad you never see anymore

Just a friendly reminder never to forget 9/11. You haven't forgotten, have you, liberal heathen? Well, you have two days to remember. If you don't, September 11 may very well come around again! And it will be all your fault for being against us, not with us.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

How to write an editorial

A hands-on learning experience with your teacher, Chad West!

Just like you must shop for groceries only when you're hungry, you should write only when blindingly angry. This way, your words can explode in all of their incendiary glory.

I, like many others, lost my home and belongings to Hurricane Katrina. I believe that entitles me to everything you own. So, please, step aside while I steal from you.

I apologize. Please forgive my bitter rhetoric. Since I lost two houses and a wealth of belongings to a storm surge as large as the Berlin Wall, I’ve been a bit cranky. I hope you understand.

When addressing a national tragedy, considering what went wrong is paramount. Confront these issues head-on by accusing the victims of asking for it. Lump them together with criminals for a little extra flavor.

But I want to know what drives a person to stay and face a storm that he knows can kill him in seconds. More importantly, what drives that person to steal from the people who’ve opened their arms and pocket books to him?

Now that you have your conceit (in this case, victims = looters = scum), continue this device throughout your editorial. This works particularly effectively if you take yourself out of the equation. A little self-righteous, quasi-racist hypocrisy always makes matters entertaining.

You’ve seen the news footage of people being rescued from the roofs of housing projects in New Orleans. Soon after many of those people have been rescued, violent looting started. You are animals - every last thieving one of you. I too have lost all but my life and family, but that doesn’t give me a golden ticket to shoot at the police, rob gun stores and steal television sets. Looting for food is called survival. Looting for expensive electronic merchandise in a flooded city with no electricity is called greed and stupidity.

For the benefit of those who still fail to see where you stand on the political spectrum, say where you stand on Houston. It just doesn't get any plainer than that.

Amidst the shambles that my family’s life has crumbled into, I still have human decency. We might have lost the life we’ve come to know, but we’re determined to start over. My mother and father are taking new jobs in Houston. My sister is currently enrolled in Cypress Fairfield High School there.

If you are fortunate enough to offer a personal example of how to do things right, by all means do so. But don't feel like you have to explain what "doing it right" actually means. Let your readers figure it out! How else will those welfare cheats learn?

It’s hard, but we’re doing things the honest way. We’ve never cheated the system and never will. We’re not alone in this. Many families are doing the same thing in Texas, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and so on.

Just as no man is an island, no man is a continent either. No one expects you to understand every facet of the human experience. Showing daft ignorance of local job markets and socioeconomic reality, then, renders you more human and approachable as an editorial writer.

Then there are the type of people who were unable to leave town had no transportation. Why? Because they had no jobs. Why? Because they’d simply rather not work. If you’re able-bodied enough to steal a television set and arms full of designer clothing, you’re able-bodied enough to get a job and buy a car like I did. If you were stuck in the city because you were just too lazy to work, don’t expect my sympathy.

Finally, tie up your refreshingly callous screed with a token qualifier that points out that you do, in fact, feel sorry for certain groups of victims. This is particularly effective for reversing any rhetorical damage you may have caused in your editorial. Listing the objects of your concern as "exceptions" shows you care and saves valuable print space by not forcing you to explain the difference between these people and those you violently attacked the whole time.

I understand, of course, that there are those such as the sick, elderly and genuinely poor who were honestly unable to evacuate—you are the exceptions. Otherwise, the bottom line is simple: Your peril is your fault.

Follow these rules and you're on your way to writing the same smug, analysis-free, first-draft editorials you've come to expect from American student newspapers. Good luck!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Katrina: The fuzzy aftermath

--The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina continues as evacuees are being bussed all over the nation, with most of them being taken to Houston. Just in case they haven't already suffered enough.

--Though prices have reportedly leveled off, gasoline costs continue to hamper motorists in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Likewise, Hurricane Katrina continues to hamper Louisiana motorists in the wake of having destroyed their cars.

--FEMA. It's the new four-letter word!

--Britney Spears recently told USA Today that her pregnancy has been "mind-blowing." If that blows her mind, imagine when someone tells her what just hit near her hometown of Kentwood, Louisiana. I heard it blew too!

--Hip-hop artist Kanye West stunned viewers during a live hurricane-benefit broadcast when he claimed that George W. Bush "doesn't care about black people." The White House immediately condemned the statement, clarifying that Bush hates all poor people equally.

--The annual Southern Decadence parade marched through the French Quarter Sunday, drawing more than two dozen gay revelers. Sorry, Pat! God missed.

--Bob Denver, the actor best known for playing Gilligan, died Sept. 2 at the age of 70. Actually, he died at 55; but hey, the Minnow had been lost!

--In world news, a sleeping man in Russia emerged unscathed after being overrun by a train. He did, however, dream about eating a very long marshmallow.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

John Paul Stevens loses again

Bush withdraws nomination of inexperienced judge, nominates him instead for CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT!!!

Honest! Could I make up something that stupid?!!

Apparently Bush isn't satisfied with his current (and generous) 44 percent approval rating and wants to diminish it further by nominating John G. Roberts for Chief Justice. If Congress has any sense whatsoever, they will trounce this blatant power grab. This attempt at a right-wing takeover is more naked than Madonna in a mirror-lined shower.

You'd think that a prerequisite for being Chief Justice of the Supreme Court would be, I don't know, experience sitting on the Supreme Court? But as pointed out when Roberts first made news, his experience barely qualifies him for being on the U.S. Court of Appeals. But because Bush's entire life has been about bucking the merit system, I'm not at all surprised that he would bypass convention and really push for his guy. Makes me suspicious of Roberts all over again. I figured Scalia was a lock for Chief Justice, and now I wonder if that would be a better alternative.

But the news isn't all bad! A Roberts appointment could shift the nation in deliciously unprecedented ways. Inspired by Bush's actions, I've since applied for the following positions:

--Editor-in-chief, New York Times
--Head writer, Saturday Night Live
--CEO, Google
--Governor, state of California

Hell, why not? They say that landing the perfect job is all about the connections! And chances are that at least one of these entities is going to see me as the perfect vehicle for the next generation of promulgating its views. It's the New American Way!

More on John G. Roberts (pun intended)

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The evacuee diaries

In my first 15 hours volunteering to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina, I've already seen a great deal. Some of it has been chronicled in the media; some of it hasn't and probably never will. Here are some of the highlights:

Shift one: 12 a.m. to 10 a.m., 9/3/05:

--I first worked the registration table, where I was part of a group checking in evacuees. Though it wasn't required, the process went a lot more smoothly with an ID. Many of the people I checked in had identification cards instead of driver's licenses, bringing to light their probable dependence on public transportation and effective contingency plans. Several of them voiced to me their anger over resources and warning systems that could have been used in their areas but weren't. They also expressed surprise and extreme gratitude that the Cajundome was stocked with every possible amenity, in refreshing contrast to the heat, hunger and disease of the sewage-laden Superdome.

--In a quiet moment, I walked into the main arena, where the majority of the then-6,000-strong crowd was camped out. Not a sound. I've heard more noise in the Dome when no one is there than with all of these people catching some rest. Having heard all of the stories about looting, violence and (false incidents of) random Lafayette carjacking, I did not expect this scene to ensue at all.

--For more than an hour, a woman who had lost everything except her husband poured out her feelings to me. Most of the things she said reflected what others there had said, that they were at a genuine loss as to how the government could have dropped the ball. They weren't vindictive (or making it a political issue), but they were more than a little angry and upset that FEMA and the National Guard, among many others, failed to address the issue as early as they should have. Her greatest concern was that she had no clue as to the whereabouts of her 25-year-old daughter. It reminded me of earlier that night, when a young man had come up to the registration table asking if we knew of a phone number he could call to recover his father's body, in the likely event that he was dead. The woman asked why there was currently very little attempt to enter the check-in cards into a master database so that people in shelters all over the affected area could do a better job of matching estranged families. I said I had no idea, but hoped it was ongoing.

--In the couple of hours leading up to 8 a.m., a large crew of volunteers set up five long tables for breakfast. Food items included everything from single-serve cereal, apples and oranges (don't even think of comparing them) to McDonald's biscuits and Danish pastries. We also had a disturbingly high ratio of fruit punch to milk, leading one woman to remark, "should we really be giving these kids all this pop?" We also had real Dole orange juice, but at one point I was asked to hide it because there wouldn't be enough for the demand. To the credit of the assembled masses, everyone waited patiently in line until we opened for business. Aside from a few people sneaking coffee at the drink kiosks, the patient line was a far cry from what I would have expected from thousands of people just one barricade away from more food than any had probably seen all month. One smiling man asked me if we had Raisin Bran, which we didn't have in our line. He replied that he was okay with his Corn Flakes, because after spending four days last week with water up to his shoulders and nothing to eat or drink, this was a feast. He said he was "blessed," which was a word I heard a lot that day. I drove away that morning feeling really good, not due to any self-gratification but because even in the worst situations, the good people at the Dome held hope for the future.

Shift two: 11:30 p.m. to 3:45 a.m., 9/3-4/05:

An unsettling sight awaited me before I even walked through the doors of the Cajundome: an ambulance, lights flashing, with a stretcher being pushed in by someone wearing a surgical mask. The guy at the door, with whom I worked on my first shift, didn't recognize me and asked me to present some ID. I got asked twice by the Red Cross if I were over 18 and not a resident of New Orleans--apparently some people were trying to hoodwink the system somehow. In any event, I said how different this had been from the previous night and they said, "Yeah, everything's different." I never did figure out why, because things eventually seemed to be the same as the night before, only with even cuter Red Cross girls.

My duty Sunday morning was to help sort out donations of food, clothing, toys and toiletries. We did this under dim lighting and mostly silence, as to not disturb the hundreds of evacuees camped out in cots in the same room. Aside from the occasional crying baby and a handful of people needing items, the work--and the sleep--continued quietly. At one point I found myself with nothing to do and asked the girl in charge what needed to be done. She said, "find something that isn't on the table and make a box for it." My kind of job exactly, being that I love coming up with organizational systems. What follows is a list I compiled of the most interesting moments of the night:

--Finding a marykateandashley telephone among a box full of hair dryers and baby monitors;

--Leafing through a stack of magazines ranging from Boys' Life to Black Confessions;

--A blood-pressure machine that, to my horror and amusement, went off in the quiet auditorium;

--Finding a syringe, presumably unused, among the donated items;

--I very thickly marked a box, "Toys" before noticing that there already was one, resulting in me changing the box to read, "Not Toys"

--Marveling at the cultural and economic diversity that are boxes of tampons;

--Making the best damn maxi-pad and diaper display ever;

--Hearing a woman on the ever-blaring Fox News say from New Orleans, "Things will never be the same again" as the bulletin, "Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist has died" flashed across the screen;

--On my way out, reading the artwork and signs that Lafayette children had put out in a show of support, including the endlessly ambiguous "I am sorry that you have to live here";

--And finally, after assuring my family that I was not going to bring home typhus or dysentery, I did bring home food poisoning from a bad sandwich. Fortunately, the good people of New New Orleans have a different, better-regulated food source. We'll talk to them again soon.