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Friday, September 23, 2005

Pythonesque planning

The only thing worse than having no evacuation plan is to have one that primarily consists of the official recommendation to "run away!" Next time, maybe they can remember to bring the coconuts for the appropriate sound effects.

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Bush off the wagon?

When you think of reputable journalism outlets, the National Enquirer probably doesn't appear on your short list.

But after turning the really weird stories over to The Weekly World News a long time ago, the Enquirer switched to covering celebrities. And it's developed- believe it or not- something of a reputation for being an accurate source of reports on the scandalous behavior of the rich, famous and powerful.

Check out the links. This doesn't sound good.

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Caption of the day

Hundreds of Thousands Flee Jim Cantore!

(From Rising Hegemon)

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Let's give grandma a false sense of security...

Flu Vaccine Only Mildly Effective in Elderly

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 21 (HealthDay News)- The flu vaccine, a cornerstone of public health policy, is only mildly effective in the population for which it is supposedly most critical: the elderly.

According to a study appearing in the Sept. 22 online issue of The Lancet, vaccines against influenza are only "modestly effective" in people in long-term care facilities and even less effective for elderly people still living in the community.

That research is twinned with another flu study, which found more bad news: that resistance to drugs used to treat influenza has risen 12 percent in the past decade.

This finding, the authors stated, raises questions about the government's policy of stockpiling such drugs.

Strong opinions to the vaccine study came from all sides of the issue.

"The vaccine doesn't work very well at all," said study author Dr. Tom Jefferson, an epidemiologist with the Cochrane Vaccines Field in Rome. "Vaccines are being used as an ideological weapon. What you see every year as the flu is caused by 200 or 300 different agents with a vaccine against two of them. That is simply nonsense."

Dr. Marc Siegel, author of False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear, agreed. "We have set up a situation where a fear is created, and then we try to create the treatment for this fear. The public gets the idea that the flu is going to kill them and the vaccine will save them. Neither is true," he said. "The flu vaccine has use in cutting down on deaths from complications in the chronically ill and people at great risk, but it's not a panacea."

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Quote of the Day

Hurrican Rita has now strengthened into a Category 12 hurricane... it is just a small step away from being a black hole. But they expect that when it hits the United States, no matter will escape from it, and it will slowly suck the country into it, and as we are being sucked into anti-matter, environmentalists will go, (whiny voice) "I told you blah blah blah," and our only solace will be that they, too...
Jon Stewart, The Daily Show

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Me go fly plane now...

"We look forward to hearing your vision so we can more better do our job."-
President G.W. Bush, speaking to stunned people trying to rebuild Gulfport, Mississippi.

Evacuate the Gulf Coast? With this 'tard in office, we should evacuate the entire freaking country.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Life, alphabetically, by author

Or, it helps to have a huge quotes database when the old inspiration pump is bone dry:

Marcus Aurelius: Our life is what our thoughts make it.

Samuel Butler: All animals except man know that the ultimate of life is to enjoy it.

Herb Caen: I tend to live in the past because most of my life is there.

Joseph Campbell: Life is like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what was going on without bothering everybody with a lot of questions, and then being unexpectedly called away before you find out how it ends.

George Carlin: That's the whole secret of life. Life is a series of dogs.

Edward Dahlberg: When one realizes that his life is worthless he either commits suicide or travels.

Scott Hamilton: The only disability in life is a bad attitude.

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Can someone please explain to me...

...why The Onion and The Daily Show, supposedly satirical purveyors of "fake news," are the only media outlets which consistently and accurately predict where we're headed?

Thanks to my son Doug, who forwarded this link to a story in The Onion that originally appeared on January 17, 2001:

Bush: "Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over"
January 17, 2001 / Issue 37-01

WASHINGTON, DC- Mere days from assuming the presidency and closing the door on eight years of Bill Clinton, president-elect George W. Bush assured the nation in a televised address Tuesday that "our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over."

President-elect Bush vows that "together, we can put the triumphs of the recent past behind us."

"My fellow Americans," Bush said, "at long last, we have reached the end of the dark period in American history that will come to be known as the Clinton Era, eight long years characterized by unprecedented economic expansion, a sharp decrease in crime, and sustained peace overseas. The time has come to put all of that behind us."

Bush swore to do "everything in [his] power" to undo the damage wrought by Clinton's two terms in office, including selling off the national parks to developers, going into massive debt to develop expensive and impractical weapons technologies, and passing sweeping budget cuts that drive the mentally ill out of hospitals and onto the street.

During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

"You better believe we're going to mix it up with somebody at some point during my administration," said Bush, who plans a 250 percent boost in military spending. "Unlike my predecessor, I am fully committed to putting soldiers in battle situations. Otherwise, what is the point of even having a military?"

On the economic side, Bush vowed to bring back economic stagnation by implementing substantial tax cuts, which would lead to a recession, which would necessitate a tax hike, which would lead to a drop in consumer spending, which would lead to layoffs, which would deepen the recession even further.

Wall Street responded strongly to the Bush speech, with the Dow Jones industrial fluctuating wildly before closing at an 18-month low. The NASDAQ composite index, rattled by a gloomy outlook for tech stocks in 2001, also fell sharply, losing 4.4 percent of its total value between 3 p.m. and the closing bell.

Asked for comment about the cooling technology sector, Bush said: "That's hardly my area of expertise."

Turning to the subject of the environment, Bush said he will do whatever it takes to undo the tremendous damage not done by the Clinton Administration to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He assured citizens that he will follow through on his campaign promise to open the 1.5 million acre refuge's coastal plain to oil drilling. As a sign of his commitment to bringing about a change in the environment, he pointed to his choice of Gale Norton for Secretary of the Interior. Norton, Bush noted, has "extensive experience" fighting environmental causes, working as a lobbyist for lead-paint manufacturers and as an attorney for loggers and miners, in addition to suing the EPA to overturn clean-air standards.

Bush had equally high praise for Attorney General nominee John Ashcroft, whom he praised as "a tireless champion in the battle to protect a woman's right to give birth."

"Soon, with John Ashcroft's help, we will move out of the Dark Ages and into a more enlightened time when a woman will be free to think long and hard before trying to fight her way past throngs of protesters blocking her entrance to an abortion clinic," Bush said. "We as a nation can look forward to lots and lots of babies."

Continued Bush: "John Ashcroft will be invaluable in healing the terrible wedge President Clinton drove between church and state."

The speech was met with overwhelming approval from Republican leaders.

"Finally, the horrific misrule of the Democrats has been brought to a close," House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert (R-IL) told reporters. "Under Bush, we can all look forward to military aggression, deregulation of dangerous, greedy industries, and the defunding of vital domestic social-service programs upon which millions depend. Mercifully, we can now say goodbye to the awful nightmare that was Clinton's America."

"For years, I tirelessly preached the message that Clinton must be stopped," conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh said. "And yet, in 1996, the American public failed to heed my urgent warnings, re-electing Clinton despite the fact that the nation was prosperous and at peace under his regime. But now, thank God, that's all done with. Once again, we will enjoy mounting debt, jingoism, nuclear paranoia, mass deficit, and a massive military build-up."

An overwhelming 49.9 percent of Americans responded enthusiastically to the Bush speech.

"After eight years of relatively sane fiscal policy under the Democrats, we have reached a point where, just a few weeks ago, President Clinton said that the national debt could be paid off by as early as 2012," Rahway, NJ, machinist and father of three Bud Crandall said. "That's not the kind of world I want my children to grow up in."

"You have no idea what it's like to be black and enfranchised," said Marlon Hastings, one of thousands of Miami-Dade County residents whose votes were not counted in the 2000 presidential election. "George W. Bush understands the pain of enfranchisement, and ever since Election Day, he has fought tirelessly to make sure it never happens to my people again."

Bush concluded his speech on a note of healing and redemption.

"We as a people must stand united, banding together to tear this nation in two," Bush said. "Much work lies ahead of us: The gap between the rich and the poor may be wide, be there's much more widening left to do. We must squander our nation's hard-won budget surplus on tax breaks for the wealthiest 15 percent. And, on the foreign front, we must find an enemy and defeat it."

"The insanity is over," Bush said. "After a long, dark night of peace and stability, the sun is finally rising again over America. We look forward to a bright new dawn not seen since the glory days of my dad."

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Lessons learned

Following the catastrophe of Katrina, the one lesson you'd bet that the Administration has learned is the importance of appointing qualified persons to positions of authority in agencies responsible for the safety of the nation and its citizens.



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Monday, September 19, 2005

A Soviet-style collapse for the U.S.?

This is from Dave Farber's Interesting Persons list. It's long, but essential reading. And it's disturbing.

From: Adam Aston
Date: September 19, 2005 2:44:24 PM EDT
To: Dave Farber
Subject: Katrina, view from afar (Figaro)

dave, for the IP list, if suitable. long, but worth digesting. - adam

Here is a stunning interview, published in Le Figaro (conservative), where Emmanual Todd (important commentator from the French perspective on the States, he's a French "Americanist") says amazing things about catastrophe and neo-liberalism. The counterpoint, or really the view from afar, is sage...

Though this was sent to me as you see it, I do apologize for the sometimes spotty translation, and the poor formatting!

A view from Le Figaro:

Emmanuel Todd: The Specter of a Soviet-Style Crisis
By Marie-Laure Germon and Alexis Lacroix
Le Figaro
Monday 12 September 2005

According to this demographer, Hurricane Katrina has revealed the decline of the American system.

Le Figaro. - What is the first moral and political lesson we can learn from the catastrophe Katrina provoked? The necessity for a "global" change in our relationship with nature?

Emmanuel Todd. - Let us be wary of over-interpretation. Let's not lose sight of the fact that we're talking about a hurricane of extraordinary scope that would have produced monstrous damage anywhere. An element that surprised a great many people- the eruption of the black population, a supermajority in this disaster- did not really surprise me personally, since I have done a great deal of work on the mechanisms of racial segregation in the United States. I have known for a long time that the map of infant mortality in the United States is always an exact copy of the map of the density of black populations. On the other hand, I was surprised that spectators to this catastrophe should appear to have suddenly discovered that Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell are not particularly representative icons of the conditions of black America. What really resonates with my representation of the United States- as developed in Apres l'empire- is the fact that the United States was disabled and ineffectual. The myth of the efficiency and super-dynamism of the American economy is in danger.

We were able to observe the inadequacy of the technical resources, of the engineers, of the military forces on the scene to confront the crisis. That lifted the veil on an American economy globally perceived as very dynamic, benefiting from a low unemployment rate, credited with a strong GDP growth rate. As opposed to the United States, Europe is supposed to be rather pathetic, clobbered with endemic unemployment and stricken with anemic growth. But what people have not wanted to see is that the dynamism of the United States is essentially a dynamism of consumption.

Is American household consumption artificially stimulated?

The American economy is at the heart of a globalized economic system, and the United States acts as a remarkable financial pump, importing capital to the tune of 700 to 800 billion dollars a year. These funds, after redistribution, finance the consumption of imported goods- a truly dynamic sector. What has characterized the United States for years is the tendency to swell the monstrous trade deficit, which is now close to 700 billion dollars. The great weakness of this economic system is that it does not rest on a foundation of real domestic industrial capacity.

American industry has been bled dry and it's the industrial decline that above all explains the negligence of a nation confronted with a crisis situation: to manage a natural catastrophe, you don't need sophisticated financial techniques, call options that fall due on such and such a date, tax consultants, or lawyers specialized in funds extortion at a global level, but you do need materiel, engineers, and technicians, as well as a feeling of collective solidarity. A natural catastrophe on national territory confronts a country with its deepest identity, with its capacities for technical and social response. Now, if the American population can very well agree to consume together- the rate of household savings being virtually nil- in terms of material production, of long-term prevention and planning, it has proven itself to be disastrous. The storm has shown the limits of a virtual economy that identifies the world as a vast video game.

Is it fair to link the American system's profit-margin orientation- that "neo-liberalism" denounced by European commentators- and the catastrophe that struck New Orleans?

Management of the catastrophe would have been much better in the United States of old. After the Second World War, the United States assured the production of half the goods produced on the planet. Today, the United States shows itself to be at loose ends, bogged down in a devastated Iraq that it doesn't manage to reconstruct. The Americans took a long time to armor their vehicles, to protect their own troops. They had to import light ammunition. What a difference from the United States of the Second World War that simultaneously crushed the Japanese Army with its fleet of aircraft carriers, organized the Normandy landing, re-equipped the Russian army in light materiel, contributed magisterially to Europe's liberations, and kept the European and German populations liberated from Hitler alive. The Americans knew how to dominate the Nazi storm with a mastery they show themselves incapable of today in just a single one of their regions. The explanation is simple: American capitalism of that era was an industrial capitalism based on the production of goods, in short, a world of engineers and technicians.

Isn't it more pertinent to acknowledge that there are virtually no more purely natural disasters, rigorously defined, by virtue of the immoderation of human activities? Isn't it the case that the "American Way of Life" must reform itself? By, for example, agreeing to the constraints of the Kyoto Protocol?

The societies and ecological incorporations of Europe and the United States differ radically. Europe is part of a very ancient peasant economy, accustomed to draw its subsistence from the soil with difficulty in a relatively temperate climate, spared from natural catastrophes. The United States is a brand new society that began by working a very fertile virgin soil in the heart of a more threatening natural environment. Its continental climate, much more violent, did not constitute a problem for the United States as long as it enjoyed a real economic advantage, that is, as long as it had the technical means to master nature. At present, the hypothesis of man's dramatization of nature is not even necessary. The simple deterioration in the technical capacities of a no-longer-productive American economy created the threat of a Nature that would do no more than take back its [natural] rights.

Americans need more heating in the winter and more air-conditioning in the summer. If we are one day confronted with an absolute and no longer relative penury, Europeans will adapt to it better because their transportation system is much more concentrated and economical. The United States was conceived with regard to energy expenditures and space in a rather fanciful, not well-thought out, manner.

Let's not point our fingers at the aggravation of natural conditions, but rather at the economic deterioration of a society that must confront a much more violent nature! Europeans, like the Japanese, have proven their excellence with regard to energy economization during the preceding oil shocks. It's to be expected: European and Asian societies developed by managing scarcity and, in the end, several decades of energetic abundance will perhaps appear as a parenthesis in their history one day. The United States was constructed in abundance and doesn't know how to manage scarcity. So here it is now confronted with an unknown. The beginnings of adaptation have not shown themselves to be very promising: Europeans have gasoline stocks, Americans crude oil stocks- they haven't built a refinery since 1971.

So it's not only the economic system you blame?

I'm not making a moral judgment. I focus my analysis on the rot of the whole system. Apres l'empire developed theses that in aggregate were quite moderate and which I am tempted to radicalize today. I predicted the collapse of the Soviet system on the basis of the increases in the rates of infant mortality during the 1970-1974 period. Now, the latest figures published on this theme by the United States- those of 2002- demonstrated the beginning of an upturn in the rates of infant mortality for all the so-called American "races." What is to be deduced from that? First of all, that we should avoid "over-racializing" the interpretation of the Katrina catastrophe and bringing everything back to the Black problem, in particular the disintegration of local society and the problem of looting. That would constitute an ideological game of peek-a-boo. The sacking of supermarkets is only a repetition at the lower echelons of society of the predation scheme that is at the heart of the American social system today.

The predation scheme?

This social system no longer rests on the "Founding Fathers" Calvinist work ethic and taste for saving- but, on the contrary, on a new ideal (I don't dare speak of ethics or morals): the quest for the biggest payoff for the least effort. Money speedily acquired, by speculation and why not theft. The gang of black unemployed who loot a supermarket and the group of oligarchs who try to organize the "heist" of the century of Iraq's hydrocarbon reserves have a common principle of action: predation. The dysfunctions in New Orleans reflect certain central elements of present American culture.

You postulate that the management of Katrina reveals a worrying territorial fragmentation joined to the carelessness of the military apparatus. What must we then fear for the future?

The hypothesis of decline developed in Apres l'empire evokes the possibility of a simple return of the United States to normal, certainly associated with a 15-20% decrease in the standard of living, but guaranteeing the population a level of consumption and power "standard" in the developed world. I was only attacking the myth of hyper-power. Today, I am afraid I was too optimistic. The United States' inability to respond to industrial competition, their heavy deficit in high-technology goods, the upturn in infant mortality rates, the military apparatus' desuetude and practical ineffectiveness, the elites' persistent negligence incite me to consider the possibility in the medium term of a real Soviet-style crisis in the United States.

Would such a crisis be the consequence of Bush Administration policy, which you stigmatize for its paternalistic and social Darwinism aspects? Or would its causes be more structural?

American neo-conservatism is not alone to blame. What seems to me more striking is the way this America that incarnates the absolute opposite of the Soviet Union is on the point of producing the same catastrophe by the opposite route. Communism, in its madness, supposed that society was everything and that the individual was nothing, an ideological basis that caused its own ruin. Today, the United States assures us, with a blind faith as intense as Stalin's, that the individual is everything, that the market is enough and that the state is hateful. The intensity of the ideological fixation is altogether comparable to the Communist delirium. This individualist and inequalitarian posture disorganizes American capacity for action. The real mystery to me is situated there: how can a society renounce common sense and pragmatism to such an extent and enter into such a process of ideological self-destruction? It's a historical aporia to which I have no answer and the problem with which cannot be abstracted from the present administration's policies alone. It's all of American society that seems to be launched into a scorpion policy, a sick system that ends up injecting itself with its own venom. Such behavior is not rational, but it does not all the same contradict the logic of history. The post-war generations have lost acquaintance with the tragic and with the spectacle of self-destroying systems. But the empirical reality of human history is that it is not rational.

(Emmanuel Todd reviews for Le Figaro the serious failures revealed by the storm. He is also a research engineer at the National Institute of Demographic Studies, historian, author of Apres l'empire [After the Empire], published by Gallimard in 2002- an essay in which he predicted the "breakdown" of the American system.

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You say pottable, I say potable...

Why can't Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen pronouce the word "potable?" And why won't someone correct him?

He keeps saying "pottable."

Admiral, the water is pottable, but not potable. You can put it in a pot, but you better not drink it.

This stuff just makes me go nuke-ular.

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The looting never ends...

If you thought the sight of looters carting off liquor and television sets in New Orleans following Katrina was repugnant, just wait: it's about to reach apocalyptic levels.

I'm referring to the looting of the U.S Treasury. More specifically, to the loans that stream into the treasury from Saudi Arabia, China, and other foreign countries on daily basis, that are used to cover the revenue shortfall from the administration's tax cuts, pay for the war in Iraq, and are now pouring into the Gulf Coast for recovery and reconstruction efforts.

Republicans plan to use the Katrina aftermath to further their ideological beliefs: relocating the poor from areas which could be more profitably developed; the introduction of school vouchers and the destruction of public schools; faith-based social initiatives- refunding money to churches and religious organizations for their relief efforts (am I the only one who heard Bush say that during last Thursday night's pageant?); the outsourcing of government responsibility to specific private interests, directing public money into the pockets of a selected few; and constructing a debt so huge that the federal government will eventually implode and will only be able to fund the military and those agencies essential to the operation of business.

As George Carlin noted, "The real looting in this country takes place in the transfer of the wealth from the poor to the rich... Class is class, and the poor have been systematically looted in this country. The rich have been made richer under this criminal fascist president and his government. When fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown and black shirts. It will not be with jack-boots. It will be Nike sneakers and Smiley shirts... Germany lost the Second World War. Fascism won it.

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Quote of the Day

I'm fighting a personal battle with alcohol. I sure as hell wouldn't want to fight a personal battle without it.
The Covert Comic

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So there.  
The e-mail address is now something other than saga. used to be until December, 2007 when the domain name broker Trout Zimmer made an offer I couldn't refuse. Giving up and adopting created a significant problem, however. I had acquired the domain name in 1993, and had since that time used as my sole e-mail address. How to let people know that was no longer but rather which is longer than and more letters to type than and somehow less aesthetically pleasing than but actually just as functional as I sent e-mails from the address to just about everybody I knew who had used in the past decade and a half but noticed that some people just didn't seem to get the word about the change. So it occurred to me that if I were generate some literate, valid text in which was repeated numerous times and posted it on a bunch of different pages- say, a blog indexed by Google- that someone looking for would notice this paragraph repeated in hundreds of locations, would read it, and figure out that no longer is the they thought it was. That's the theory, anyway. Ok, I'm done. Move along. Nothing to see here...


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