Jesse KornBluth - Swami Uptown
Thought for the Day
Day No. 1: And the Lord God said, "Let there be light," and lo, there was light. But then the Lord God said, "Wait, what if I make it a sort of rosy, sunset-at-the-beach, filtered half-light, so that everything else I design will look younger?"
"I'm loving that," said Buddha. "It's new."
"You should design a restaurant," added Allah.
--Paul Rudnick, 'Intelligent Design,' in The New Yorker (9/26/05)
Iraq Casualties: We're Getting There
The latest figures
: 1,903 American soldiers dead. And, as we all know, the more who die, the more we must stay in order that those who died didn't die in vain.
By that logic, we should race to get to 2,000 dead soldiers, the better to defend the Administration's position. Let's see. Four died today. If we continue at this rate, we'll top 2,000 around Columbus Day. A holiday. Bet no one will notice.
Bottom of the Ninth Inning
Yesterday's note ('Decline and Fall') inspired a batch of email, all saying pretty much the same thing: 'I've been having trouble getting through the day. Thank you for giving me hope.'
I know what they mean. Katrina ripped the veil off. It's one thing to shoot an innocent child (like there is another kind!) in Iraq. It's another to see corpses in your own country floating in the streets. And then to know that many of the dead could have survived, if only.... And then to hear the politicians, with their words that never quite touch the reality of what we saw. And now, the companies rushing in to profit....
Today, I told Mrs. Uptown I'd love to be Mariano Rivera, the 'closer' for the New York Yankees. He comes in to pitch the 9th inning and preserve the lead, and that is what he does. Tons of pressure, to be sure, but he lives for it. He needs to matter, to be important, and, man, is he ever. This year, he has 40 saves--for the third consecutive year. Is there a worker in America more effective than Mariano Rivera?
I mentioned my Rivera fantasy to a friend, a healer. She wrote back:
I understand his appeal for you. He has power to finish a job, and we are systematically being deprived of any power to do anything. From a male point of view, lots of men are being frustrated to a very dangerous point because they (you) can't do a thing about what you all perceive as a threat.
I had mentioned that writing this blog sometimes makes me literally ill. My friend commented:
Not being able to act can make you literally sick. That's what they all have to answer for. Tying people up so they can't move and then doing provocative cruel stupid things. The behavior of bullies who hide behind others.
It would be really lovely to have a nice BAT and be able to use it, eh?
For the first time since 2000, after watching CNN for hours, I felt bloodlust and knew I could bludgeon certain people to death and continue until they were pulp and I was unable to lift the bat any longer.
This, from one of the most peace-loving women I know. I'm no conspiracy theorist--I don't, like some of you, think dynamite was used on the New Orleans levees--but I do think the White House masterminds are playing a dangerous game of psychological warfare. Their aim: to make those who are sensitive and caring--like my friend the healer, like you, like me--feel enraged and impotent. Why? Because they want us to be ineffective.
When law-abiding, peace-loving people want to club the king and his court--and if the Secret Service or other law enforcement types are reading this, there's no danger of this happening; you'll do better to investigate the uber-patriots who run meth labs in Kansas--we are reaching what looks like a crisis. A mental-health crisis. A spiritual crisis.
It looks like this: We who are not of the corporate, ruling class see ourselves in danger of losing everything. (That's one reason we identify with the victims of Katrina.) But we can't speak up, because 'they' are watching, ready to put us on the 'downsize' list if we make trouble. We trade our masculinity/autonomy or whatever for the mortgage/school fees/food.
We are thus invited to hate ourselves--even as we hate 'them.'
Think I'm making this up? Let's just look at NBC's Matt Lauer. He wasn't exactly Brian Williams or Geraldo Rivera during the worst of Katrina--but he was agitated. A few days later? He was laying lots of blame on the governor and mayor and, it seemed, going out of his way to defend Bush. Rather like Tim Russert, also on NBC. Rather like
MSNBC anchor Lisa Daniels
who suggested that President Bush's "likeability factor" would make him more popular than ever when the floodwaters finally subside. Of course: NBC is owned by GE, which is one of the biggest defense contractors. What's Russert or Lauer's manhood worth compared to the profits GE can make if the war in Iraq goes on and on and on?
Were NBC newscasters told to have a cheerful slant on anything coming out of the White House? Doubtful. They didn't have to be told. They knew--just as you know how to read the signals in your office.
This is not to say that GE is unpatriotic in that it wants soldiers to die for no cause so long as it makes money. It is to say that our entire system is painfully out of whack. That this imbalance is not sustainable. That we will see people crack under the strain of living a lie. And that this process--though apparently necessary, if we are ever to come to our senses--is going to be very painful.
What can you do? Thwart the powers that be--survive and prosper. Eat better, work out more. Maybe take in a little less news. Maybe upgrade your cultural diet. And so on. An old Ingmar Bergman movie began with an aphorism: 'A virtuous woman is a sty in the devil's eye.' In much the same way, happy and vibrant Americans--Americans who look fear full in the face and then spit--are a sty in the eye of the White House Misery Squad. So do try and get happy. It's almost the most radical thing you can do.
Food Fit for Soldiers--But Not Survivors
Having encouraged you to stay sane, here's something to make you crazy. From
The Mirror, of London
Hundreds of tons of British food aid shipped to America for starving Hurricane Katrina survivors is to be burned. US red tape is stopping it from reaching hungry evacuees. Instead tons of the badly needed Nato ration packs, the same as those eaten by British troops in Iraq, has been condemned as unfit for human consumption.
And unless the bureaucratic mess is cleared up soon it could be sent for incineration.
One British aid worker last night called the move "sickening senselessness" and said furious colleagues were "spitting blood."
The food, which cost British taxpayers millions, is sitting idle in a huge warehouse after the Food and Drug Agency recalled it when it had already left to be distributed. Scores of lorries headed back to a warehouse in Little Rock, Arkansas, to dump it at an FDA incineration plant.
The Ministry of Defence in London said last night that 400,000 operational ration packs had been shipped to the US. But officials blamed the US Department of Agriculture, which impounded the shipment under regulations relating to the import and export of meat.
The aid worker, who would not be named, said: "This is the most appalling act of sickening senselessness while people starve. The FDA has recalled aid from Britain because it has been condemned as unfit for human consumption, despite the fact that these are Nato approved rations of exactly the same type fed to British soldiers in Iraq. Under Nato, American soldiers are also entitled to eat such rations, yet the starving of the American South will see them go up in smoke because of FDA red tape madness."
This story hasn't been picked up by an American paper. Anyone in Arkansas know anything about this?
The Beauty Part
He moved to Chicago at 18 because his friends had gone there, scored factory jobs and returned home in hot cars. He played harmonica, so he hung out at Muddy Waters' home club, where a waitress friend told Muddy, 'You ought to hear this boy.' Muddy liked his style and the way he didn't push himself on his betters; he had the kid sit in. And, inevitably, Muddy shared some secrets.
Little Walter came next: 'We became friends right away. He had me sit in with him. He wouldn't invite me or anything -- he'd just walk up and hand me his harp and microphone and say 'Play, boy,' and leave me so he could go over to the bar or talk to some woman or something.'
It was a great life. Music, women, booze--the South Side of Chicago had everything but money. But by 1967, when he was just 23, he got a record contract. His first CD: 'Stand Back!' It's a classic--from
Thought for the Day
What a girl called "the dailiness of life"
(Adding an errand to your errand. Saying,
"Since you're up ..." Making you a means
to a means to a means to)is well water
Pumped from an old well at the bottom of the world.
The pump you pump the water from is rusty
And hard to move and absurd, a squirrel-wheel
A sick squirrel turns slowly, through the sunny
Inexorable hours. And yet sometimes
The wheel turns of its own weight, the rusty
Pump pumps over your sweating face the clear
Water, cold, so cold! you cup your hands
And gulp from them the dailiness of life.
--'Well Water', by Randall Jarrell, in 'The Complete Poems'
Decline and Fall
I once wrote a book with a Mafia guy. He presented himself as a gent, but he turned out to be a thug. A charismatic bully has a way of getting into your head, and this guy did--it seemed he had the ability to read my mind.
In the psychic war that accompanied the writing of the book, I often felt defeated. As if I could not win. For his part, he presented my every attempt to escape his dominance as doomed. No matter what, he was going to prevail--he was, he said, just one of those guys who don't lose.
But he did lose. I got him out of my life, and then he pulled some stunt that got him locked up, and then he got out and committed a larger fraud, and then, as the Feds were closing in, he killed himself. Forgive me, all of you who are better people than I am, but I laughed when I heard the news.
George Bush is no Mafia thug, but I realized last week that I had ascribed to him the magical powers I used to think Luigi had. Namely, that he can't be beaten.
Yes, his polls are doghouse putrid. And that speech in New Orleans fooled nobody. And he can't win the war. As a psychic warrior, all he can do is that weak thing--he can say he 'means well.' But here is what's in my head all day: George Bush controls Congress. The press still bows down. He's going to get this Supreme Court justice and maybe even the truly wretched candidate that follows. He's 'The Terminator'--you can't stop him.
Then I realized. I don't have to stop him. I just have to stand up to him. And join with others who feel as I do. And not worry too much about the day-to-day results, because it's going to look as if he's unstoppable.
And I have to remember--most of all--that nobody's in more danger of losing control than a control freak. The bottom line fact: George Bush is not used to failure without subsequent rescue. He's not used to people blowing him off. To the widespread assumption that he and his cronies are corporate gangsters whose only real skill is the legal transfer of wealth from the government to a handful of companies.
He's a weak guy, and he can't take this kind of rejection, and he's gonna crack. Which could be terrible for the country--scary! spooky! downright frightening! But he called this tune, and now it must play out to the end. The crack in the mirror is just the start. The general collapse is straight ahead, and he'd going for it, full speed.
So do not despair. Stay the course, brothers and sisters. He just might not be coming back from this one. Stay the course.
What's a Billion Dollars Between Friends?
Looting in Iraq. Old story. You don't care. Well, try--a billion ain't small. From
One billion dollars has been plundered from Iraq's defense ministry in one of the largest thefts in history, The Independent can reveal, leaving the country's army to fight a savage insurgency with museum-piece weapons.
The money, intended to train and equip an Iraqi army capable of bringing security to a country shattered by the US-led invasion and prolonged rebellion, was instead siphoned abroad in cash and has disappeared.
"It is possibly one of the largest thefts in history," Ali Allawi, Iraq's Finance Minister, told The Independent. "Huge amounts of money have disappeared. In return we got nothing but scraps of metal."
The carefully planned theft has so weakened the army that it cannot hold Baghdad against insurgent attack without American military support....
There's much more. Force yourself to read it all.
How You Can Help Your Government Bring Democracy to Iraq
Doing anything with your tax cut? Anything meaningful, that is?
Well, you now can do something completely original with your money. Why be like everyone else and give to Katrina's victims when you can help create a democracy in Iraq?
Yes, that's right. You can donate to a US-government-backed project:
Hey, $8 billion (or more) earmarked for the Iraqi Reconstruction can't be found. And as you just read, another billion got stolen. So the water in Iraq is spotty, the electricity sucks. And it's going to take money, honey, to fix all that.
You in or out? Love America or hate it? Thought so. And, hey, you never know, maybe they'll name something after you.
A Note to Message Board Posters
Last week someone posted this on the message board to your right:
Ms. [sic] Kornbluth is working like hell to get a liberal, left wing Democrat back in the White House.
Hate George Bush, hate the Republicans....in essense [sic] saying elect an extremist left winger to the White house [sic] next time to help carry on the Marxist agenda.
The 'Ms.' tells me this is a newbie. The rest says this is an operative of the Free Republic crowd; they go to 'liberal' websites and dive-bomb the boards. They're known as 'trolls.' You don't feed them (react to them). You just regard them as compliments--they think you're big enough (or important enough) to bother.
Another post from last week:
Swami, why the easy and inauthentic dip into regional stereotyping with your "Mississippi and Louisiana are notoriously corrupt"?
Now this cheeses me off. Unlike She Who Shall Not Be Named, I do a ton of reporting before I write. And I usually link to a news site--not an opinion site--to support my views. So one time I'm in a rush, and I don't put the link in, and someone gets all over me.
'Easy and inauthentic,' my friend? Consider
Public Corruption in the United States
, a 2004 report from the Corporate Crime Reporter. Go to page 6. You will see that 'the most corrupt state in the country is Mississippi.' North Dakota is #2. And #3? Louisiana.
Suggestion: You wanna fact-check a Beliefnet blogger? You won't have to look hard to find there is Another. Why not go there? If 'gotcha' is your game, who knows what you might find?
My Weekend with Bob Dylan
As the Dylan orgy starts on PBS and music stores, my pal Sally Swift writes in
about her collegiate weekend with Bob:
One morning in late June, my friend Karen and I were awakened far too early by music coming from the open window directly opposite ours. At first groggy, then annoyed, then stilled by the plaintive, haunting sounds drifting through the clear morning air. We listened, confused, and said to each other, "God, that's incredible. I didn't know Dylan had a new record."
I'm sure I've telegraphed the punchline. There was no new record, at least not yet. It was Dylan himself, a house guest of the next-door neighbor, sitting in his room, playing and singing...
There's more. Savor it all.
'Get Your War On' Goes to New Orleans
It had to happen--floating corpses have their say.
Get Your War On
. Guaranteed to offend.
The Beauty Part
'The Koln Concert'--66 legendary minutes long, recorded in 1975 --- isn't like anything else. For one thing, it's completely improvised. Keith Jarrett takes a simple figure and explores it, then starts again, a strategy that requires enormous courage and thinking at super-computer speed if the pianist hopes to avoid cliche--and Jarrett, astonishingly, does avoid every cliche. For another, it involves so much more than piano. Jarrett is really playing duets with himself; he hums, taps his foot and sighs, and the microphone gets it all.
Jarrett doesn't pay rapt attention, he is rapt attention; he's so into the music that he merges with it. If there's a greater argument for mindfulness--being in the moment--I don't know it. That kind of consciousness tunes the listener's consciousness. An artist takes a technique--improvisation, in this case--far beyond its old borders. Inevitably, this pulls his audience to a new place. Generally, this experience is accompanied by a lot of moaning and an ever-shrinking audience.
Not in Keith Jarrett's case. 'The Koln Concert' was a huge seller when it was released. It has sold hundreds of thousands of CDs over three decades. It's now a certified classic. It deserves to be--this is very accessible music. You don't have to know anything about jazz to love
The Kohn Concert
Thought for the Day
We're going down down down in quicksand
Our country's law is left in slippery hands
So many educated yet no solution
We're going down down down in quicksand.
The President's Speech
I didn't watch it--Mrs. Uptown has declared our home a Bush-Free Zone, on the theory that the President's penchant for not telling the truth will leach out from the TV like fog in a horror movie and make its way into Little Uptown's room, and, overnight, she'll turn into Regan, the kid in 'The Exorcist'--but I read it. And
I noted these words
The government will cover the great majority of the costs of repairing public infrastructure in the disaster zone, from roads and bridges to schools and water systems.
Our goal is to get the work done quickly. And taxpayers expect this work to be done honestly and wisely. So we will have a team of inspectors general reviewing all expenditures.
What the President failed to mention:
1) He has already made sure that companies need not pay prevailing wages to local employees in the rebuilding effort. This guarantees that those at the bottom of the economic chain lose twice. First, they lose their homes; now, as rich companies get richer, they must struggle for solvency. Jimmy Breslin got it right: 'The poor can never be made to suffer enough.'
2) Louisiana and Mississippi are notoriously corrupt. And, I'm told, the New Orleans Mafia is quite powerful. 'Teams of inspectors' are to no point--the stakes are too high. Anything short of a special prosecutor is just PR.
3) The usual suspects have already nabbed fat no-bid contracts. Judging from the names of the corporations lining up in the trough. this is going to be Iraq all over again.
4) Karl Rove. The President didn't mention the Master Fixer's name last night, but as
The New York Times reports
Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary ...indicated that Mr. Bush would not use the speech to name a "reconstruction czar" to oversee the effort. A number of White House officials have advised the president to name such a czar, with Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of forces in the 2001 war in Afghanistan, being a favorite of Republicans who are pushing the idea.
Republicans said Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff and Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, was in charge of the reconstruction effort.
Rove? What has he ever run that wasn't followed by charges of dirty-dealing and fraud? What if he gets indicted for his apparent role in the outing of a CIA deep cover agent? And even in the best of circumstances, isn't he needed in Washington to tell the President what to think?
Ten Americans Who Could Run the Reconstruction Right
What if putting Rove's name out there was just a test? What if the White House would--for the first time ever--consider appointing notable Americans not obviously beholden to Republican and corporate interests?
In that spirit, here are ten Americans who could, I think, get us some results from the $200 billion this reconstruction is going to cost our children:
ROGER ENRICO: Twenty years ago, when Roger was CEO of the Pepsi division of Pepsico, I wrote his book, 'The Other Guy Blinked,' with him. What a lesson in leadership and commitment that was! This guy ran a demanding business all day, then worked me under the table at night. Inquisitive and demanding, compassionate and warm, tough and loyal--Roger was the complete CEO package. If you were in an alley fight, this is a guy you'd want at your back.
KRISTIN BREITWEISER: The most visible of the 'Jersey Girls'--the others are Mindy Kleinberg, Lorie Van Auken, Patty Casazza, and Monica Gabrielle. They lost their husbands on 9/11 and asked one question ('Our husbands went to work one morning and didn't come home. Why didn't they come home?') over and over until they simply overwhelmed a recalcitrant White House. We owe the 9/11 Commission to these women. Surely they could stand face-to-jowl with construction companies.
BARBARA EHRENREICH: For her book, 'Nickel and Dimed,' she worked minimum-wage jobs and showed exactly how hard it is to live with dignity In her new book, 'Bait and Switch,' she explores what Bush economic policies have done to the middle class. Think she can read a balance sheet? I do. And as for connecting with workers, no question.
BOB PITTMAN: I worked for him for five years at AOL, and I'd be shocked to hear there's a tighter executive on the planet. His directives are unsparing, even for executives--public transportation is a good thing, cabs are acceptable, black Lincolns sitting for hours at the curb are borderline felonies. Early in my tenure, when we were both working in Virginia, far from our homes in New York, he ragged me for never getting together with him. 'If I had an assistant, I'd get out of here early enough to have a social life,' I shot back. 'Nah,' he said, 'I don't need to see you that much.' Managing a turnaround? Yeah, he could get 'er done.
ELIOTT SPITZER: He's as ambitious as Rudy Giuliani, and ten times as competent. And he's a Democrat, which gives the White House a good chance to show that at least one decision in two terms isn't based on political loyalty.
CAROL FITZGERALD: Over eight years, Carol turned
--one of the most unlikely ideas for a Web-based business: book reviews, book chats and services to writers and publishers--into a network of sites that pretty much owns books on the Web. And she's done it on a shoestring: $2 million in income over 8 years, 3 employees in the office, a large, mostly volunteer virtual staff. As her business partner, I'm in awe of her integrity, work ethic and willingness to speak blunt truths. Could she run a reconstruction? Hey, she could run anything.
HARRY PARKER: He became Harvard's crew coach in 1963, when he was just 27. For the next 6 years, Harvard did not lose a single intercollegiate race. His crews won 18 consecutive races against Yale. His winning percentage from 1963 to 1997 is .806--he is, very probably, the most successful coach in any sport in the whole and entire world. As a leader, he is sparing with praise, long on inspiration. His philosophy: "To build a winning crew, select the right athletes, place them in the proper seats, and allow for the freedom to create. In other words, hire the right people for the right jobs and manage with a long, loose leash." Just what the White House says, and never does.
JAMES SINIGAL: Co-founder and CEO of Costco--the 'good' version of Wal-Mart--he has made it a point to treat his employees fairly. And still he produces profit. Apparently it can be done.
HAROLD MOORE: Mel Gibson played him in 'We Were Soldiers,' a film that only hints at his greatness as the leader of American troops at the first battle between US soldiers and the Vietcong. He flew in to Ia Drang on the first helicopter. He led his men from the front. When he saw men from another company beginning to haul one of his dead soldiers out of a foxhole with a harness, he snapped, "No you won't do that. He's one of my troopers and you will show some respect. Get two more men and carry him to the landing zone." When it was over and it was time for Moore to turn over command, he requested a full battalion formation. One soldier recalls, "We stood in formation, with some units hardly having enough men to form up. Colonel Moore spoke to us and he cried. At that moment, he could have led us back into the Ia Drang." Think of him as Patton, but with a bigger heart.
MICHAEL DOUGLAS: He's already played the President, and he wasn't half-bad. Acting is the least of what he does now; he's an artful producer and a productive activist. He eats issues for breakfast. He can meet a budget. And he's survived studio chiefs and studio accountants--he knows the game.
Not that the White House could care what you think, the place to send your suggestions is
The Beauty Part
In a grand 1920's home, a New York society matron's Italian lesson is just beginning. 'Midway along the pathway of our life,'" she recites with a trill, "'I found myself in a forest dark'--we say: a dark forest, don't we?--'because the direct way was lost.'"
But her reading of her beloved Dante ("Dante and Shakespeare: they seemed to know everything") proceeds no further. First she calls a friend for a quick gossip. Then she consults with the cook, plays with a new puppy, gets her husband's golf clubs to him, disposes of symphony tickets, thrills to her lover's call. And so on for 28 minutes as Ruth Draper, the grande dame of the one-woman show, adjusts her voice for each caller and interloper so precisely that, by the end, we know almost everything about this woman--and her world. This remarkable monologue is on
The Art of Ruth Draper
Thought for the Day
I don't think the President should have taken responsibility.... I don't blame the President. I blame the American people. Y'all knew the man was slow when you voted him in. You can't blame the blind man for wrecking your car when you're the one who gave him the keys.
The President's Potty Break, Explained
By now, everyone who forwards emails--you know who you are! Please stop! I saw it on my own!--has seen
the note President Bush wrote to Condi Rice
at the United Nations yesterday: 'I think I may need a bathroom break.'
Beyond hoots of derision, you've also heard the Instant Analysis: The President is like a small child, and he was asking Condi for permission--like he was a kindergarten kid and teacher had to write him a note.
Cute. And very, very satisfying to masochists who plan to spend the next two years moaning about life under Bush. (How upset about the prospect are they? Upset enough to post on message boards and forward accounts of the President's latest outrage to people who agree with them. Which is to say: upset in a kind of self-referential, politically useless, entirely to the President's advantage sort of way.)
Say I: that explanation is wrongheaded. Yeah, it tees you up to feel superior to him. But in year five of this guy's Presidency, doncha think you ought to be a bit....beyond that?
What I think: The President wasn't communicating that his bladder was full. He was saying that he'd had enough of the UN. That he was bored. That he wanted o-u-t. 'Bathroom break' was code--a witty way of expressing an unacceptable thought. Yeah, it was a weak joke...but so is he, kids, so is he.
'The Tears of Autumn'
I've just read a remarkable novel about the JFK assassination, written by Charles McCarry. You've never heard of him because this novel first came out in 1974. It was a bestseller. And then it disappeared.
The Tears of Autumn
is a great thriller, with a startlingly original answer to the question: 'Who killed JFK?' In its pages, Paul Christopher--a brave and brilliant CIA agent--thinks he has figured out whodunnit and sets out to prove his theory.
But what really blows the mind of a first-time reader in 2005 is how much JFK was--in McCarry's view, anyway--like George Bush.
In Paris, visiting his spymaster a month before the Kennedy assassination, Paul Christopher meets a close colleague of the President. The man has seemingly cloned John F. Kennedy, Jr. He is brash. He uses words like 'freedom.' He talks excitedly about 'action.' When Paul suggests that sometimes it is best to do nothing, he snarls: 'Buddy, that's not the style any longer.'
McCarry creates a conversation between Paul Christopher and another veteran agent:
'They got into the White House and opened the safe, and the power they discovered took their breath away. 'Christ, let's use it!' Power really does corrupt. They think they can do anything they like, to anyone in the world, and there'll be no consequences.'
"But there always are."
"You know that," Patchen said. "For those who never smell the corpse, there's no way of knowing."
Later in the evening, someone mentions a rumor: The president works on his putting game in the Oval Office when he's making a decision. JFK's colleague confirms this:
"Yes, the boss putts occasionally. He'll do it at the damnedest times. The other day a couple of us came in with a recommendation. It was serious stuff. A decision had to be made - the kind of decision that would drive me, for instance, into agony. But his mind is like crystal . . . He got up, grabbed his putter, lined up a shot, and tapped it across the rug. We all watched the ball roll. Somehow - this will sound corny, but it's true - we all suddenly saw that golf ball as the symbol of the fate of a nation. Not a very big nation, not our nation, but a nation. The ball ran straight into the cup. 'Okay,' said the boss. 'Go.'"
Go. Do it. Or not. Like flipping a coin. That's how it's done when you work on gut instinct. Or have a Big Idea you can slot everything into.
The problem, of course, is what happens next. Buddhists--and est graduates--know that some problems disappear if you don't pick at them. Other problems need to be studied, then attacked. There's no General Theory that applies.
Except this, perhaps: If you don't deal with Real Problems now, it's likely you'll see them again--as Crises. The levees in New Orleans, for instance. No estimate I've seen suggests they would have been more than $50-75 million to fix (even in a city as mobbed-up as New Orleans). Now the bill is $200 billion--and that doesn't factor in the human costs.
I hate to sound like
, but this is a lesson little kids learn: Put things away. Clean up after yourself. Powerful men don't have to do this. They snap their fingers, as if they are all-powerful. And everyone suffers.
But it's really impressive how buff and butch and manly they are, isn't it? Worth every penny your kids will have to pay for their boneheaded errors.
Iran at the UN: Deja Vu All Over Again
. But it's quoting the Washington Post, so don't tune out:
U.S. officials tried to gain support of their allies on referring Iran's case to the UNSC by presenting an hour-long slide show that included satellite images with uncomfortable assumptions about Tehran's nuclear program, The Washington Post reported.
The Power-Point presentation, titled "A History of Concealment and Deception," has been presented to diplomats from more than twelve countries. Several officials said the briefing ignores ambiguities in the evidence about Iran's nuclear ambitions and skips alternative explanations.
Several officials said the presentation reminded them of the flawed briefings on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction given by the then-secretary of state Colin L. Powell to the UN Security Council in February 2003. "I don't think they'll lose any support, but it isn't going to win anyone either," said one EU official who attended the recent sessions.
And you still don't think we'll find some reason to bomb Iran?
Is Charity for Suckers?
A new idea, and not one I necessarily endorse. In
Charities Are For Suckers
, Ted Rall argues thus:
Hurricane Katrina has prompted Americans to donate more than $700 million to charity, reports the Chronicle of Philanthropy. So many suckers, so little foresight.
Government has been shirking its basic responsibilities since the '80s, when Ronald Reagan sold us his belief that the sick, poor and unlucky should no longer count on "big government" to help them, but should rather live and die at the whim of contributors to private charities. The Katrina disaster, whose total damage estimate has risen from $100 to $125 billion, marks the culmination of Reagan's privatization of despair....
Why should New Orleans' dispossessed have to live in private shelters? We live in the United States, not Mali. There's only one reason flood victims aren't getting help from the government: because the government refuses to help them. The Red Cross and its cohorts are letting lazy, incompetent and corrupt politicians off the hook, and so are their donors.
It's ridiculous, but people evidently need to be reminded that the United States is not only the world's wealthiest nation but the wealthiest society that has existed anywhere, ever. The U.S. government can easily pick up the tab for people inconvenienced by bad weather -- if helping them is a priority
Maybe FEMA Was Right
When last we checked--just yesterday; scroll down to 'And Don't Think It's Better Now in New Orleans'--FEMA was making it difficult for Kenyon International to collect bodies in New Orleans. And we all said, in unison, 'Bad FEMA!'
Well, maybe we were too hasty.
has a different take:
Kenyon is a subsidiary of Service Corporation International (SCI), a scandal-ridden Texas-based company operated by a friend of the Bush family. Recently, SCI subsidiaries have been implicated in illegally discarding and desecrating corpses.
Louisiana governor Katherine Blanco subsequently inked a contract with the firm after talks between FEMA and the firm broke down. Kenyon's original deal was secured by the Department of Homeland Security...
In other words, FEMA and then Blanco outsourced the body count from Hurricane Katrina -- which many believe the worst natural disaster in U.S. history -- to a firm whose parent company is known for its "experience" at hiding and dumping bodies.
The Menorah Gardens cemetery chain, owned by SCI, desecrated vaults, removed hundreds of bodies from two cemeteries in Florida and dumped the gruesome remains in woods frequented by wild hogs, investigators discovered in 2001. In one case, a backhoe was used to crack open a vault, remove corpses and make room for more dead bodies.
SCI paid $100 million to settle a lawsuit filed by outraged family members of the deceased.
A secretary at the law firm that sued SCI over the Florida cemetery scandals gasped when informed that FEMA had outsourced handling of Katrina victims' bodies to an SCI subsidiary. 'Oh, good lord!" she said.
Peter Hartmann, general manager of the Menorah Gardens Cemetery chain, was later found dead in his car from carbon monoxide poisoning outside his parents' home in an apparent suicide.
Waltrip, chairman of SCI, is a longtime friend of Bush's father, former President George Herbert Walker Bush. The firm's political action committee donated $45,000 to George W. Bush's 1994 gubernatorial campaign. The company also contributed more than $100,000 for construction of the George H.W. Bush presidential library.
I wonder: There was no other company that could do this work?
The Beauty Part
The President, chastened by his bumblemouthed remarks about hot times in N'Orleans when he was just a boy--of 35?--will surely make the city sound like a pillar of civilization from here on. In that case, this CD could be a sanity check. It's got a lewd, ass-shaking boogie-beat, atmosphere thicker than Louisiana fog, production that emphasizes the sensuality, molasses-thick lyrics that don't aspire to profundity--
by C.C. Adcock is a worthy successor to Dr. John and John Fogarty.
Thought for the Day
Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority we've pared it [government] down pretty good.
, House Majority Leader
Right Ruling, Wrong PR
So a U.S. District Judge has ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance's reference to one nation 'under God' violates the right of school children to be "free from a coercive requirement to affirm God."
Good ruling. A no-brainer, really. Assuming, that is, that we don't live in a theocracy (a point that seems to elude the Right, which can--and does--conjure up fictitious 'proof' that our Founders intended this to be a 'Christian' nation).
At the same time, a terrible ruling. The fact is, there are some fights that are better not fought. Because even when you 'win,' you lose.
This is one of them.
There are precious few parents who care--deeply care--if their kid is exposed to two words in a pledge recited by rote.
There are, however, a great many Americans who will regard this ruling as the wrong-headed decision of an 'activist' judge. Those Americans will then cheer when Bush nominates a wingnut for Sandra Day O'Connor's seat on the Supreme Court. And their cheers will drown out the very sane protest against that nominee.
Sometimes good law is bad PR. In other times, I might have felt differently about this ruling. I might have said, 'Let's get this debate about God in public spaces out in this open.' But we're very far down the line toward losing some large battles. My side needs to be strategic, not doctrinaire.
I wish this suit--and this ruling--never happened.
Give It Up for the Nurses
When you're sick, a woman in white is as close as you're going to get to an angel.
A report from the post-hurricane front
Here in our shelter more displaced Orleaneans have arrived. Most of them come from one of the poorest areas, unable to leave under their own steam because of lack of personal transportation or pre-existent illness.
They arrive in whatever clothes they had when they were evacuated. Yesterday when one of CNA's RN's went to get one of her male patients mobilized, she had a surprise. She asked the patient where his shoes were. They were under his cot -- size 13+ and still wet from the water. He had walked in those shoes for 5 days before his rescue. We had no shoes large enough. The RN's went to a local K- Mart after their 12 hour shift and presented a new pair to him this morning.
Also yesterday it was a patient's 84th birthday. Everyone sang Happy Birthday. She started to cry and soon there was not a dry eye in the shelter.
Two nights ago, our RNs went looking in K-Mart for something special for an elderly lady. She has been a widow of many years and her life and joy were her two dogs and 'mama' cat, as she called her. She was unable to save them as they drowned before her -- she is deeply grieved by their tragic loss. So CNA RN's Vicky and Victoria came back from K-Mart with stuffed toys that now have a place on her cot just as her pets had done for many years.
Since I arrived here, this is what I've seen RN's doing -- good solid nursing care. Here it's mobilizing elderly people. Wound dressings. It's assisting them with the daily living needs they cannot do for themselves. It's about enabling them to find some of their dignity and self-respect -- even as they share their 'bedroom' with 50+ others in a sports hall.
Nearly 150 Nurses are on the ground now providing direct care and supporting exhausted caregivers. 1,000 more signed up to go, and a jet carrying 50 of them will leave for Baton Rouge Thursday morning.
Now we need your help to "Send a Nurse to Help." Every dollar you can spare will be spent directly to transport, feed, and house the RNs working in the disaster zone. Click here to learn how you can help.
Sounds like a great, great cause. I'm breaking open the piggy bank for this one.
And Don't Think It's Better Now in New Orleans
Hard to believe, isn't it--we're still hearing about bodies in the streets of New Orleans. According to the Governor of Louisiana, the problem is FEMA, which refuses to simplify matters for Kenyon Worldwide Disaster Management. From
The New York Times
Kenyon officials said they had been struggling under cumbersome conditions to execute a task that gets grislier by the day. The company, which has a contract with FEMA to respond when called, arrived Sept. 1 but was not asked to begin recovering bodies until Sept. 6, said Bill Berry, a company spokesman.
The company's 100 or so workers have bunked in a funeral home in Baton Rouge, forcing them to drive four hours round-trip each day, and Kenyon officials said they had repeatedly asked for living quarters in New Orleans.
On Sunday, Kenyon officials told FEMA that they would not enter into a contract with the agency and would pull out as soon as a replacement was found, Mr. Berry said.
Mr. Berry said he did not consider it appropriate to discuss why the company did not want to continue working under FEMA. But he had high praise for the state, which reached out to Kenyon after the company notified FEMA on Sunday that it would not accept a contract.
"I can't say enough about the Louisiana state people," Mr. Berry said. "They heard our problems, and they simply fixed them. It's beautiful to see a general sitting there from the National Guard saying, 'I can do that,' and it's done."
Which leads us to....
Mr. Hollingsworth was rescued yesterday in New Orleans, SIXTEEN DAYS after the hurricane hit. He's 74.
Here's a picture worth 1,000 words
Edgar Hollingsworth should be dead:
In the past few days, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has ordered searchers not to break into homes. They are supposed to look in through a window and knock on the door. If no one cries out for help, they are supposed to move on. If they see a body, they are supposed to log the address and move on.
Luckily, a National Guardsman broke the rules. His men beat in the door. And there was the naked, near-dead Edgar Hollingsworth.
And you thought you were angry last week....
Wait! He Didn't Take Responsibility
I have now seen the video of President Bush acknowledging that things went wrong in the government's response to Katrina--and that he bears ultimate responsibility. Yeah, he said the words. But when you look at it, you'll see that he was distracted and uneasy, like a kid forced (in this case by Karl Rove) to apologize for something he things he didn't do. But
look for yourself (scroll down)
I thought he was human. My bad. Promise not to make this mistake again.
Brian Williams Really Does Need Vin Diesel
The government says it's changed the rules for the press, and that if there are problems it's because a couple of grunts don't get it, but it certainly sounds as if a significant number of soldiers aren't making it easy for the press to cover the continuing disaster that is New Orleans.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports
A long caravan of white vans led by an Army humvee rolled Monday through New Orleans' Bywater district, a poor, mostly black neighborhood, northeast of the French Quarter.
Recovery team members wearing white protective suits and black boots stopped at houses with spray painted markings on the doors designating there were dead bodies inside.
Outside one house on Kentucky Street, a member of the Army 82nd Airborne Division summoned a reporter and photographer standing nearby and told them that if they took pictures or wrote a story about the body recovery process, he would take away their press credentials and kick them out of the state.
"No photos. No stories," said the man, wearing camouflage fatigues and a red beret.
On Saturday, after being challenged in court by CNN, the Bush administration agreed not to prevent the news media from following the effort to recover the bodies of Hurricane Katrina victims.
But on Monday, in the Bywater district, that assurance wasn't being followed. The 82nd Airborne soldier told reporters the Army had a policy that requires media to be 300 meters -- more than three football fields in length -- away from the scene of body recoveries in New Orleans. If reporters wrote stories or took pictures of body recoveries, they would be reported and face consequences, he said, including a loss of access for up-close coverage of certain military operations.
Gays CAN Die for Us in Iraq
You can be gay and serve in our Armed Forces--as long as there's a war on. The regulation allowing gays to serve dates from 1999, but it didn't mean much until the government couldn't find enough patriots, farm boys, and poor black kids to sign up for its excellent adventure in Iraq. Here's more from
Scholars studying military personnel policy have discovered a document halting the discharge of gay soldiers in units that are about to be mobilized.
The document was made public Tuesday by Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military (CSSMM), a think tank at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It was found during research for a story for the ABC news program Nightline.
The regulation...states that if a discharge for homosexual conduct is requested "prior to the unit's receipt of alert notification, discharge isn't authorized. Member will enter AD [active duty] with the unit.
As Rumsfeld likes to say, 'You go to war with the gays--I mean: guys--you've got.'
The Beauty Part
No Direction Home--a Martin Scorsese documentary about Dylan--is about to air on PBS. (It's also for sale.) Starbucks is selling a CD of early Dylan bootlegs. There's a two-CD soundtrack of the Scorsese movie, which tracks Dylan from Minnesota to superstardom in just seven short years. And finally, there's the Bob Dylan Scrapbook, 1959-1966, an artfully designed collection of memorabilia that has cool inserts like ticket stubs and scribbled sheets of lyrics.
Lotta Dylan. But--skipping his music--what do you know about Bob Dylan? There will be a quiz. So
here's a primer
Thought for the Day
Everything I've seen needs rearranging
And for anyone who thinks it's strange
Then you should be the first to want to make this change
And for everyone who thinks that life is just a game
Do you like the part you're playing?
, leader of Love, in the 1968 classic, 'Forever Changes'
Mrs. Uptown and I watched 'The Magnificent Seven' not long ago. And giggled at an astonishing moment--the first shot of Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner. Now those were real men! Movie-thin, of course. But with testosterone to spare.
I was thinking about this movie when I read how FEMA--in a decision it's now rescinded--planned to keep the press out of New Orleans. I imagined Brian Williams, the media hero of this story so far, deciding that he had no intention of obeying this decree. And so he hires Blackwater, the private security company whose guys are, apparently, allowed to patrol New Orleans with weapons.
Imagine the scene: Brian in that crisp white shirt, surrounded by guys who look like Russell Crowe and Vin Diesel--and maybe Linda Hamilton, from the first 'Terminator'--and Arnold, of course. All of them (except Brian) armed. Unshaven. And striding, in slow mo, toward a bunch of bureaucrats to see if they're dumb enough to block them.
I know why I like this image: It's the wimp--and his new best friends--standing up to the neighborhood bully. Fantasy? Sure. But oh so satisfying.
First Loose Canon, Now George Bush
Am I going crazy, or are these conservatives finding new ways to screw with my head?
took a sane--that is, intellectually consistent--position about entitlements.
Now, for the first time in the five long years of his Presidency,
George Bush acknowledged
that the buck stopped with him:
Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government. And to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility.
Okay, so he didn't say: 'I hired an idiot for a key job because he was a crony. And I'm going through my entire staff now to see if I have more idiots in sensitive positions.' But this was at least a start. Still, you have to wonder: Why now?
While I'm grateful for any sign of a recognizable human emotion coming from the White House--well, from the President, anyway; who dares hope for accountability from Dick Cheney?--I don't trust this. The right hand is open. What is the left hand hiding?
Is Iran Next?
Just as neo-cons once frothed at the mouth in anticipation at invading Iraq, now the dream is bombing Iran. Our meddling in their election produced victory for the anti-American hardliners. And Iran is generally regarded as a big supporter of everyone in Iraq who wants us gone.
Which sets Iran up as an enemy-in-waiting.
Obviously, we can't invade Iran--not even if we conscript every alleged thug from New Orleans. But what kind of Air Force does Iran have? Nothing that can compare to ours.
And we have something Iran doesn't--yet--have: nukes. Which may soon be easier for us to justify than ever before.
The New York Times reports
The Pentagon is preparing new guidelines governing the use of nuclear weapons that foresee possible pre-emptive strikes against terrorist groups or nations planning to use unconventional weapons against the United States.
The draft document, the Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, updates procedures for using nuclear weapons that were last changed in 1995. The plan is undergoing final review by the Pentagon's joint staff and by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, and it could be finished in the next few weeks.
The scenarios for a possible attack described in the draft include one in which an enemy is using "or intending to use" unconventional weapons against the United States, its allies or civilian populations. Another scenario for a possible pre-emptive strike is in the event of an "imminent attack from adversary biological weapons that only effects from nuclear weapons can safely destroy."
The draft document also envisions the use of atomic weapons for "attacks on adversary installations," including "deep, hardened bunkers containing chemical or biological weapons."
So Is FEMA Better Now?
Not according to
FEMA staffer Leo Bosner
Right now as we talk, unfortunately, Homeland Security is actually impeding --- in my view --- impeding the rescue effort. As I mentioned, we're running a 24/7 operation down there and we're trying to do the best we can at FEMA. And we're getting held back because we're bombarded with telephone calls, day and night, from Homeland Security, saying, 'Oh, Secretary Chertoff has a press conference coming up, uh, stop everything and get us this information: Can you tell us exactly how many pounds of ice have been delivered to such and such county,' or, 'Why are the number of rescues different from what they were six hours ago?' They're impeding the effort right now.
Once as Tragedy, Once as Farce
Should Bush's approval rating be linked to interest rates? What can a sock drawer teach you about Iraq? And this 'Downing Street'--he's cute, right? A summer's worth of
Get Your War On
(discretion advised) awaits you.
The Beauty Part
He grew up in New Orleans, where music is in the blood at a tender age. School was not his thing. By l6, he was a working guitarist and, the books say, a heroin addict. Something went wrong, and he spent a season or two in jail. Something went wrong again--a gun, a disagreement, the details are AWOL--and he was shot in the hand, ending his career as a guitarist. But New Orleans was the right place, right time; he had cut his teeth on Fats Domino, Little Richard and Professor Longhair. The piano beckoned.
As did the particular charms of the mid-'60s. To New Orleans Creole lore, he added the spice of psychedelics. He wore Mardi Gras duds onstage. He invoked voodoo. And soon he was a kind of Cajun Jimi Hendrix--
Dr. John the Night Tripper
Thought for the Day
I'm not saying you don't love this country. I'm just wondering how much worse it could be if you were on the other side.
--Bill Maher, writing about President Bush
Good News: From the Pro-War March in DC
Oh, sure, there were the usual police overreactions at the Pentagon's 'War on Peace' March yesterday. From
One man who registered for the walk was detained by a Pentagon police officer after he slipped a black hood over his head and produced a sign that read, "Freedom?"
The man was removed from the Pentagon registration area, handcuffed and taken away in a police car. It was not clear whether he was charged or simply detained and the police did not respond to messages requesting more information.
Ann Grossman, 56, from Silver Spring, Md., also carried a homemade sign, which read "Honor Our Troops, Respect Their Lives," that was confiscated by police at the Pentagon.
And there were the usual lies--like Donald Rumsfeld addressing a crowd estimated in the low thousands, most of them federal employees who had been ordered to attend:
Rumsfeld took the microphone to rally the crowd to march again next year. "This is our first March for Freedom and by the size of the crowd, I suspect it will not be the last," he said. Department of Defense materials said organizers will try to hold marches next year in all 50 states.
So where is the good news? In the clean-up. Someone in government is getting really efficient, because just a few hours after the event ended--like maybe two hours, max--the site was totally clean.
See for yourself
Isn't that great! Just ten days after the government couldn't find New Orleans on a map, it cleans up after a rally chop-chop. Makes me feel better about the terrorist attacks
has promised for Ramadan (October 4 to November 4). Or is it that Real Patriots are like Miss Tidy Bowl--and we continue to be at crazy risk from anything more unexpected than Dick Cheney's temper?
More Good News: A Surprise from Loose Canon
A few days ago, my blood pressure dropped enough for me to read
. And it sure seemed like a mistake! In a note about New Orleans, LC wrote:
I am hoping that Katrina will force us to take a hard look at a number of things, including corruption and a culture of dependency.
As I understand 'dependency,' it has a special meaning for conservatives--as code for 'welfare and other government money earmarked for poor black people who breed too much, forget to marry and don't graduate from high school.'
So I wrote LC: "Does this 'culture of dependency' include agricultural and tobacco and sugar subsidies, etc, or is this limited to what conservatives would label 'entitlements'? In other words: just poor blacks? Or the Fanjuls [rich Cuban emigres who became sugar barons in this country and are now much, much richer], too?"
LC's response: "I'm very much against agriculture and sugar subsidies, etc. I think they are wrong; if cotton farming is not sustainable without government money, then perhaps it is time to find other ways to make a living. Subsidies go against the notion that the market, not central planning, should be allowed to operate."
Well, knock me over with a feather! Goes to show: People are full of surprises, aren't they? So here's a Swami first-ever: a shout-out for LC. Feels good. Hope it happens again.
Euthanasia in New Orleans: Cruel to be Kind
There's the 'culture of life' and then there's reality. From
The London Daily Mail
With gangs of rapists and looters rampaging through wards in the flooded city, senior doctors took the harrowing decision to give massive overdoses of morphine to those they believed could not make it out alive.
One New Orleans doctor told how she 'prayed for God to have mercy on her soul' after she ignored every tenet of medical ethics and ended the lives of patients she had earlier fought to save.
Her heart-rending account has been corroborated by a hospital orderly and by local government officials. One emergency official, William 'Forest' McQueen, said: "Those who had no chance of making it were given a lot of morphine and lain down in a dark place to die."
The doctor, who finally fled her hospital late last week in fear of being murdered by the armed looters, said: "This was not murder, this was compassion. They would have been dead within hours, if not days. We did not put people down. What we did was give comfort to the end.
"I had cancer patients who were in agony. In some cases the drugs may have speeded up the death process. We divided patients into three categories: those who were traumatized but medically fit enough to survive, those who needed urgent care, and the dying. People would find it impossible to understand the situation. I had to make life-or-death decisions in a split second. It came down to giving people the basic human right to die with dignity. There were patients with Do Not Resuscitate signs. Under normal circumstances, some could have lasted several days. But when the power went out, we had nothing. Some of the very sick became distressed. We tried to make them as comfortable as possible. The pharmacy was under lockdown because gangs of armed looters were roaming around looking for their fix. You have to understand these people were going to die anyway."
Mr McQueen, a utility manager for the town of Abita Springs, half an hour north of New Orleans, told relatives that patients had been 'put down', saying: "They injected them, but nurses stayed with them until they died."
Lives in the balance. People under fire. Decisions to be made. Unlike some people we can think of, these doctors stepped up to the challenge and acted. Who would be the first to condemn them?
Meeting Mr. Cheney
You have heard about the guy who told Dick Cheney what he could do with himself--using the very words the Vice President did on the Senate floor. But there is
more to that story
Dr. Ben Marble is a complex guy, to say the least. Some of the lyrics he writes can be considered harsh by some - personally what I've heard is very much on target - but he has a softer side as an organizer of breast cancer fund-raisers, not to mention an ER doctor.
"Thanks to Dubya Gump and Mr. Cheney, gas is really expensive and extremely hard to get anywhere Katrina has destroyed," Marble wrote. "So needless to say, I was extremely aggravated that they wouldn't let me pass."
Suddenly a long line of dark cars pulled up, and they honked at Marble to back up to let them through the barricade that supposedly no one could drive through. That only made Marble madder so he did what most of us would do - or at least consider doing. "I waved a middle finger at the caravan," Marble wrote.
After driving the extra 20 minutes and filming video of destruction along the way, he made it to his home. Marble overheard a neighbor say that Cheney was down the street talking to people. That's when he got the idea to go meet Dr. Evil himself.
"I am no fan of Mr. Cheney because of several reasons," Marble wrote. "For those who don't know, Mr. Cheney is infamous for telling Senator [Pat] Leahy 'go f--- yourself' on the Senate floor. Also, I am not happy about the fact that thousands have died due to the slow action of FEMA, not to even mention the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time, i.e. Iraq."
So Marble, who was wearing an old Mr. T "I Pity Da Fool" t-shirt since he was sifting through the wreckage, asked a couple of police officers if he and a friend could walk down to Cheney. They told him Cheney was "looking forward" to talking to "the locals."
"So we grabbed my Canon digital rebel and my Sony videocamera and started walking down the street," Marble wrote. "And then right in front of the destroyed tennis court I used to play on Dick Cheney was giving a pep rally, talking to the press. The secret service guys patted us down and waved the wands over us, and then let us pass."
Read what happened next
The Beauty Part
Virtually unknown in America, Xinran is a legend in her native China--from 1989 to 1996, she hosted "Words on the Night Breeze," a radio call-in show in Beijing. In 1994, someone suggested she meet a Chinese woman with an intriguing story. Her name was Shu Wen.
Xinran spent two days with her--and found that Wen was "one of the most exceptional women I would ever know." Xinran then moved to London and never saw Wen again. But she was so haunted by Wen's story that she has turned it into a terse, 206-page novel.
This is the story: Wen and her future husband, Kejun, were Chinese medical students in the mid 1950s. They married when they graduated. Wen was 26. Kejun was 29. They were blissfully happy. Three months after they were married, Kejun was sent to Tibet with the Chinese Army. Soon afterward, Wen received notice that he had "died in an incident."
Impossible, she thought. He's not dead. And if he is, I cannot leave him in Tibet. And so she set off on an impossible mission: to reclaim her present, her future, her one and only love.
And off she goes--on a 30-year-search. An astonishing book:
Thought for the Day
Indifference is a weapon of mass destruction.
--Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich
Four years? No way! Feels like yesterday--I can access 9/11 on any sunny day when the sky is clear and the New York City air is crisp as a September apple.
My 9/11 story isn't much. I saw the smoke from the World Trade Center as I walked to work; I watched the news as I walked through the office; I logged onto AOL, where I was then Editorial Director; by that time the second plane hit the second tower; minutes later, I was moderating an AOL chat room, sharing information with tens of thousands of members and trying to dampen their panic. I sat in what I called the "Tom Brokaw chair" for much of the day, and then I walked home. A long walk--maybe 3 miles--and an ambivalent one, because I couldn't resist making the imaginative leap from the instantly dead to lucky me, blissfully alive.
In the weeks that followed, I edited a book about 9/11--"
Because We Are Americans
"--but I never went down to the hole where the Towers once were. I saw the "Missing" posters, and they were plenty hard to take. Going to the place where thousands of people were incinerated....nope, I'm not that guy.
Anniversaries are tricky for me; they seem arbitrary. And exploitative: This Sunday's Pentagon-prompted event in Washington is no better than a dance on the graves of martyrs. I'm more sympathetic to
The Flight That Fought Back
, a re-created documentary about Flight 93, which airs on the Discovery Channel this Sunday at 9 PM ET. While it's not shy about pumping up heroic mythology, it delivers the goods--it's very satisfying to see people refuse to be victimized.
Four years have changed the world a lot and not at all. The same clowns who blew off a specific warning of a terror attack using hijacked planes are still asleep at the controls, with consequences that make us less safe and less solvent. It's getting to be old news that they can't do anything right. The new news is that we're in charge, if not of our nation's safety, at least of our own integrity--we've got to stop bitching about our bad parents in Washington and start acting like grownups in our own communities.
So it may be relevant to share this with you: this September 11 is "Compassion Sunday," with the victims of the hurricane firmly in the center of the effort. The service will be held at the Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, and it will be taped and broadcast via the Internet, probably by midweek, at
The Compassionate Community
Finally, I want to take a moment to deal with the frustration I see on the message boards and in conversations with friends--a justifiable rage with George Bush, the Governor of Louisiana and the Mayor of New Orleans. Lord knows there's blame enough to go around. And enough cronyism ahead to make the purchase of Halliburton stock, even now, a shrewd buy--and an infuriating symbol of all that's wrong in our country. Meanwhile, our soldiers are dying (and killing) in Iraq for no reason anyone can credibly explain, and children are starving in Africa.
It's very hard to think about all this. And harder to focus on what we might do. In such a moment, screaming comes easily.
But I think about what Brian Williams said last night on Jon Stewart--what pushed him over the edge in New Orleans was the realization that those kids didn't have any of the advantages his kids enjoyed. Starting with food. Ending with education. And I thought: "Good for you, Brian. You got to a place where you could own a feeling."
Feeding children happens to be the obsession of the Uptown family. But so, these days, are little things. Trying to be kinder to people. Holding doors for people even older than we are. Smiling to strangers on the street. Just generally putting a bit more effort out to put a spitshine on a dirty, nasty world.
I firmly believe that the planet is kept in balance not by the laws of physics, but by the psychic force of good holding firm in an eternal battle with evil. I believe the souls incinerated in the World Trade Center surround us and help us; I believe they want a better future for those they left behind a lot more than they want revenge.
On 9/11, I want to look past the ways the government will screw the hurricane victims and the rich will get richer. I want to remember that it was WalMart--mean old WalMart--that opened its flooded stores in the South and told people to take what it needed. I want to think about the armed black kids who didn't shoot, but went out to help. I want to make some small connection to the goodness that fills my email. I want to do my small part to balance the world.
And I want that for you too.
Where Is the NRA?
The New York Times
Mr. Compass, the police superintendent, said that after a week of near anarchy in the city, no civilians in New Orleans will be allowed to carry pistols, shotguns, or other firearms of any kind. "Only law enforcement are allowed to have weapons," he said.
That order apparently does not apply to the hundreds of security guards whom businesses and some wealthy individuals have hired to protect their property. The guards, who are civilians working for private security firms like Blackwater, are openly carrying M-16s and other assault rifles.
Mr. Compass said that he was aware of the private guards but that the police had no plans to make them give up their weapons.
New Orleans has turned into an armed camp, patrolled by thousands of local, state, and federal law enforcement officers, as well as National Guard troops and active-duty soldiers. While armed looters roamed unchecked last week, the city is now calm.
And I wondered: Isn't the right to bear arms an absolute right? Indeed, according to the NRA, the most important right we have? So why is there no outcry from
? Could it be that the guns being confiscated belong to people the NRA doesn't much like?
Wait! Why Are Private Security Companies Patrolling the Streets of New Orleans?
With FEMA refusing the media unfettered access, and trying to limit photographic chronicling of events and scenes, there is indeed a sinister undertone to events in New Orleans. Bush suspending Posse Comitatus, the presence of Blackwell, forced abandonment of personal property and real estate....it is an eerie picture of a police state in training, as if techniques and strategies are being tested. Good God, we allow the employees of private firms to carry M-16's in an American city?
What about all the firemen, policemen and the NorthCom folks who wanted to volunteer? And what about the other nations that wanted to volunteer their forces? Instead, Bush is recreating Iraq in New Orleans. He didn't want conventional volunteers or forces because Katrina is a money-making opportunity for Cheney, Allbaugh, and all the other bastards.
Well, maybe the second time is the charm. Or just a better opportunity for us to see, in our own backyard, what "nation-building" means to this Administration. Either way, it proves--to me, at least--a spiritual point. There's no 'here,' no 'there.' The war has come home? No, the war is home.
The Beauty Part
After World War II, the USSR invited exiles to return to Mother Russia. But the country that "welcomed" the exiles home was a harsh, quixotic police state--no sooner had refugees cleared the border than they learned the horrible truth. And then there was nothing they could do about it.
A remarkable escape movie focuses on two of those refugees: Alexei (Oleg Menchikov) and his wife Marie (Sandrine Bonnaire). The Russians suspect her of espionage and take her passport. She decides at once that she must somehow return to France. Easier said than done.
This virtual imprisonment takes a toll on the marriage. And yet this is a great love story, for Alexei--a doctor--slowly learns how to manipulate the system to help his family get free. Marie tries another path. Your heart weeps. What is freedom worth? You'll find out in "