Just Another Effin' Observer

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Location: Huntsville, Texas, United States

Sunday, November 13, 2005

I Have A Little List....

A friend of mine read my most recent entry to this blog, and he made what I'm sure he considers a rather astute and pointed observation, to wit: that every book I listed, indeed every book on my currently-in-play bookshelf, is a “conservative” book. I’m not entirely sure how my friend makes the connection between a conservative point of view and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, or Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, both of which titles are on said bookshelf, awaiting their own turn in the bathroom (which is where I do most of my reading, now that my globe-trotting, itinerant rent-a-geek days are in hiatus), but I suppose he does have a point. Simply because, in a larger sense, my friend is entirely correct: the overwhelming majority of the books I read are written from what one might correctly regard as a conservative perspective. But you know what? I’m okay with that. In fact, it doesn't bother me in the least that I read “conservative” books, because I am - true confession time - a conservative.

Whoa! What a load off my conscience! I guess confession really is good for the soul.

In Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, Polonius advised his son Laertes, “To thine own self be true,” and I have always believed that that was pretty good advice, especially considering that his advice to “neither a borrower nor a lender be” proved to be spot-on in my own circumstances. “For surely it will follow, as night follows the day, thou canst not be false to any man.” I assume that that observation would also include women, but since Shakespeare never had to contend with Eleanor Smeal and NOW picketing the Globe Theatre, we can only speculate. In any event, it’s a pretty good rule to play by, so I try. Do I invariably succeed? Of course not; who, in this imperfect world, does? But holding a standard of behavior and occasionally falling short of it is not the same as the attitude that, since we cannot expect to live up to a lofty standard 24/7, we should not even bother to try. “Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good,” is the maxim we frequently hear in this context.

But, in a cynical effort to be “fair” (cynical because I frankly don’t give a fat, furry gerbil’s butt whether I’m “fair” or not, and ‘fair’ in irony quotes because the very concept of ‘fairness’ is, in my mind – if you’ll pardon the expression – horseshit; and you will please note the conspicuous absence of irony quotes around that last word), I will hereby acknowledge that there are several “liberal” books on my reading list, if not yet physically on the shelf. The fact that those titles are not yet on my bookshelf, and the reasons for their absence, is not entirely irrelevant. So I will herewith explain my appalling insensitivity to left-wing authors and the size of their royalty checks.

The reason I tend not to read “liberal” books is a deceptively simple one. It isn’t because I generally don’t care about what liberals have to say on a particular subject (although in the “to-thine-own-self-and-for-surely-it-will-follow” theme I’m embarking on…, I don’t). No, it’s even more basic than that.

You see, I don’t like to get angry. And reading liberal talking points tends to make me angry. Sure, anger is useful when you’re in a kick-ass-and-take-names mood, but I’m just not an ass-kicking kind of guy. On the other hand, I don’t subscribe to the “Make Love, Not War” mindset, mainly because I recognize the fact, driven home over the course of over four decades now, that I couldn’t get laid if my name was Stainmaster. (It’s an obscure reference, I’ll admit, but come on; you’re a clever bunch.) I have always believed that anger is a largely useless, and frequently counterproductive, expenditure of emotional energy. It raises one's blood pressure (widely regarded by the medical profession as a Bad Thing), clouds one’s judgment, and rarely actually accomplishes much. “Don’t get mad, get even,” is one adage that perfectly describes the essential uselessness of anger, and Ivana Trump’s “Don’t get mad, get everything,” is even better. Instead of sitting around fuming, how much better to be relaxing with a cold Rum Collins on the verandah of the beach house in Barbados!

Dorothy Parker (an almost incandescent Leftist herself, but whom I have always enjoyed reading) wrote in one of her more infamous book reviews, “This is not a book to be set aside lightly; it should be hurled with great force.” I know the feeling all too well. It is the almost uniform reaction I have (go ahead, Leftists, say ‘Pavlovian’; I know you want to, and frankly, you wouldn’t be far off-base), whenever I read something like What’s the Matter With Kansas?. So, in order to maintain my much-sought-after equanimity, I tend not to read books from the Left.

But sometimes, you gotta make exceptions. So yes, I do have a list of books from the left side of the political and cultural divide that I fully intend to read, no matter how much I expect them to piss me off.

First on that list is the new book by Bill Press, How the Republicans Stole Christmas. The main reason I have that title on my list is, quite simply, the utter absurdity of the title itself, and the apparent premise behind it. The Republicans didn’t “steal” Christmas, they rescued it from Democrats who are trying diligently to abolish it. What the hell was this guy smoking, and where can I get some? Let’s face it, the world of letters lost a refreshingly twisted point of view when Lewis Carroll died; for someone to offer us another, more contemporary glimpse through the looking glass is most welcome. Even more intriguing is the book’s subtitle: “The Republican Party’s Declared Monopoly on Religion and What Democrats Can Do To Take It Back”. Do you think there’s a chance that ‘Ending their overt hostility to religion’ might be on his list of recommendations? Me neither. But I'm curious to find out, so it's on the list.

Another title on my list is Are Men Necessary?, by Maureen Dowd. I’m going to assume that the question presented in the title is a rhetorical one; I’ve always felt that there was something vaguely dikey about her (“not that there’s anything wrong with that” – Seinfeld, ad nauseum). I’ve seen a lot of pictures of Maureen Dowd floating around the Web in recent weeks, evidently plugging her book. The all seem to be asking, “Wouldn’t you date this woman?” Short answer: uh, no. For my money, Maureen Dowd has been on the wrong end of a camera entirely too much lately. Anyone who has seen both Casablanca and Murder on the Orient Express cannot help but notice that the intervening years were exceedingly unkind to Ingrid Bergman – from ethereal beauty to horse-faced harridan in the space of less than thirty years. Perhaps Ms. Dowd’s hostility toward men is a case of casting them as proxies for Father Time. A rather lengthy profile of her in the Washington Post (complete with photograph that I think pretty much makes my point – and what’s up with those shoes!?) covers a broad range of topics, up to and including her dating history. I closed the browser window when I got to that part; if I wanted that kind of images leaping out of my subconscious in the middle of the night, I’d read Steven King.

If nothing else, buying these books and reading them might give me an opportunity to test something that I’ve been curious about for a long time: Can you really flush a Koran down a toilet? Of course, I would never use an actual Koran; I’d need to find a stand-in. And scientific research is a much better use of my time that just sitting on the throne being angry.

The Rest of the Story...

Saturday, November 12, 2005

So Many Books , So Little Time...

I've been reading quite a bit lately.

Now, anyone who knows me would also know that a phrase like, "I've been reading" carries about the same stop-the-presses impact as, oh, say, "I was breathing the other day...." Like Wal-Mart’s lower prices , I am always reading something. Always®.

Back in my itinerant rent-a-geek days, I generally did the bulk of my reading in bars. After I got off work, I would mosey over to my neighborhood hang-out (it was always the first thing I looked for when I arrived in a new city, after checking into the hotel and locating the office), ensconce myself on a stool in my favorite quadrant of the bar, order a Martini ("and keep ‘em coming"), open my book, and become the World’s Best Bar Customer; i.e., an excellent tipper who seems never to get drunk (in point of fact, I got frickin' ripped, but I drank slowly – a Martini is not a drink that one chugs, unless you want to give the room a new paint job – so the alcohol tends to get more completely metabolized; my patented technique for 'Endurance Drinking'), one whom the bartenders could pretty much ignore all evening long. After a couple of chapters I would have dinner, then call a cab, and go home.

Strangely, this behavior has actually gotten me on the wrong side of more than one of my fellow bar patrons. There was one fellow who asserted that it was rude of me to sit at a bar and do nothing but read. Funny; I had been brought up to believe that behaving oneself, minding one's own business, and not bothering other people was anything but rude. Live and learn.

Another fellow barfly, a woman I'll call Ronnie (since that was her name), first made my acquaintance when she noticed me sitting at the opposite side of the bar, thumbing through a dictionary. (I had just acquired a new copy of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, and I was exploring. I'm a nerd; I do that kind of thing.) She thought I was some kind of nut. I thought she was a loud, brassy, obnoxious strumpet. Then we got to know each other, had some rather entertaining evenings, and found out that we were both right. The most valuable lesson I carried away from that experience was: Never again will I second-guess a first impression.

This essay was going somewhere, but I cannot for the life of me recall where. Oh, yes, now I remember: the summer reading list that I’ve been whittling away at.

Last night, I finished reading Tammy Bruce's The New American Revolution, and I thought it was just swell. At the same time (yes, I can read as many as three books concurrently), I am reading Scalia Dissents, a collection of Justice Antonin Scalia's more fascinating opinions, edited by Kevin Ring. A couple of days ago, I wrapped up Intellectual Morons, by Daniel J. Flynn.

Recently completed books include Madame Bovary's Ovaries, by the father-daughter team of David P. and Nanelle R. Barash (highly recommended); 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, by the inestimable Bernard Goldberg (the best part is why Al Franken is #37 -- but I won't spoil it!); and Isaac's Storm, by Erik Larsen, about the devastating Galveston hurricane of Septemer, 1900.

And then there is the stack still untouched. Or, in some cases, tasted but not yet devoured. One particular example of that category is 1776, by David McCullough, whom I regard as one of, if not the, best historical writers of this, or any, century. (No disrespect intended toward Victor David Hanson, whose works I devour like, oh, sharp cheddar cheese whenever the stuff is within arm's reach.) Another is Black Rednecks and White Liberals, by whom I regard as one of, quite simply, the best of the best (the precise category is profoundly irrelevant here, he is just flat-out worth reading - even his laundry lists are worth reading), Thomas Sowell. And then there is the latest by Ronald Radosh, Red Star Over Hollywood. (I have read a lot by Ronald Radosh; the man simply does not know how to disappoint a reader.)

My summer reading list is taking me well into autumn. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Books are good. Books are your friends. Books are easier to take into the bathroom with you than a laptop. (Speaking of which, my current bathroom reading - no disrespect intended - is Stet, Dammit! (which I acquired from National Review Books but cannot seem to find a reference to - anywhere), an anthology of Florence King's 'The Misanthrope's Corner, originally published in National Review).

I have never been a huge fan of First Lady Causes (Lady Bird Johnson's Highway Beautification mission left me absolutely cold, and Nancy Reagan's 'Just Say No' campaign required me to say 'No' to everything to which I was most inclined to say 'Yum, Gimme!'), but I can really get behind Laura Bush's mission to promote universal literacy. Because you haven't lived until you have read. (And if you have gotten through your sophomore year of high school, I strongly suggest that you read Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities again, just for the sheer joy of it. Trust me, it's a much better book when your grade doesn't hang on it.)

And if you're reading this right now, I rest my case.

The Rest of the Story...

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Of Golden Apples and Golden Hair

While cleaning out a closet the other day, I found an old book, which, given that 'words on paper' thing (if it's words, and it's printed on paper, then it's a moral imperative), I started reading, and suddenly found myself transported back in time to the days of my dissipated youth (which actually includes my last birthday, but that's a topic for another day); remembering two fine gold chains, from which were suspended two gold charms, in the shape of an apple; an apple with the word KALLISTI engraved upon it. I wondered whether those gold chains still encircled two slender necks, whether they still occasionally got entangled in long blonde hair. I had a profound weakness for blondes in those days, one of many weaknesses I had back then, some of which I eventually outgrew. Two tales of bittersweet romance, painful at the time, but now little more than poignant memories, encased in the protective amber of a great many intervening years. I've changed a lot since then; I'm older now, and I like to think wiser, and absolutely certain that my taste in women has improved.

The story I found in that musty old book reminded me of how I said goodbye to two women I should never have said hello to in the first place. The story began with a party, a long, long time ago, in a land far, far away . . . .

To celebrate the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, Zeus hosted a wedding feast. He invited all of the gods and goddesses of Olympus, with one exception: Eris, the goddess of discord. Zeus wanted nothing to disrupt the festivities, so he felt that not inviting the goddess of chaos was a wise precaution. He couldn't have been more wrong.

Eris, quite understandably, was somewhat put out by her exclusion from the list of invited guests. Not to put too fine a point on it, she went downright logarithmic over Zeus' obvious snub, and vowed to get even. Hell hath no fury, and all that.

The party was in full swing, everyone just having the grandest time, when the doors opened and a solid gold apple was thrown into the ballroom. Thrown in by Eris. On the apple was engraved the word KALLISTI, 'the fairest'. Three goddesses -- Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite -- immediately pounced upon the apple, each claiming it for herself; each considered herself the fairest, and thus deserving of the prize.

A near riot ensued. In an effort to restore order to the proceedings, Zeus commanded that a contest be held. For this first-ever recorded beauty pageant, Paris, son of Priam, king of Troy, was selected to be the judge. (Zeus knew a no-win situation when he saw it, and wisely decided to let somebody else take the heat. One winner meant two losers, and one of the potential losers was his wife; like a lot of long-married couples I know, they didn't get along all that well. And an omnipotent, supremely honked-off deity can lay some serious hurt on you, even if you're another omnipotent deity.)

Paris, as the legend goes, was reputed to be rather naive, just this pretty, dumb kid who hung out on Mount Ida, tending his sheep. In his favor, it must be said that he wasn't too thrilled by the spot Zeus had put him in, for exactly the same reasons. Ticking off goddesses was, as a rule, not exactly conducive to a long and healthy life. Whatever; each of the goddesses put her case before the reluctant judge; in other words, all three contestants offered him a bribe. (Things like morality, honor and fair play were virtues that the gods of Olympus didn't have much use for.) Hera offered Paris power and riches beyond his wildest dreams; Athena offered him glory and renown in war; Aphrodite offered him the most beautiful woman in the world as his wife.

Paris proved to be not as naive as everyone had assumed: his hormones took over, and he awarded the apple to Aphrodite. (Although I suppose it should be acknowledged that his decision may actually have been based on the objective merits of the case; the Goddess of Love was reputed to have been exceedingly beautiful, and Hera was getting a bit long in the tooth by then, and probably beginning to sag a bit in all -- well, both, anyway -- of the wrong places. And Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, probably had a certain bookish, Marian-the-Librarian look about her, and although I personally find that almost irresistably attractive, a guy spending all of his time alone on a mountaintop, with nothing but sheep to keep him company -- and no, we are not going to go there -- might well have been of a different frame of mind.) In return, Aphrodite awarded Paris the most beautiful woman in the world: Helen. (Yeah, that one.)

There was just one minor complication to this arrangement. Helen was already married, to Menelaus, king of Sparta. A complication, yes; an obstacle, no. After accepting a bribe and making formidable enemies of the two runners-up (another characteristic of deities: they were notoriously ungracious in defeat), was a little kidnapping going to stop him? Not bloody likely. Paris, aided and abetted by the goddess of love, seduced Helen and convinced her to elope with him back to Troy. Menelaus raised an army to get her back. The result was the Trojan War. It lasted ten years, reduced the city of Troy to rubble, brought down Priam's kingdom (to say nothing of the fact that Priam didn't come out of it too well, either), and decimated the ranks of the heroes of ancient Greece.

And all because Zeus didn't want any trouble at his party.

Reading about the Judgement of Paris, and about the Trojan War, reminded me of those two golden-haired vixens, and I wondered where they are now. I wondered if they ever think of me, and if so, whether they recall me with a twinge of regret at what they turned away, or with an enormous sigh of relief at their narrow escape. (Probably the latter; I am very much an acquired taste, always have been.) The golden apple charm was a sort of symbolic message to them. I have always been fond of myth and legend, and that particular myth is one of my favorites, being about how the wrong woman can really screw up your world. Anyone who has ever been in love, or thought he was, knows very well just how foolishly a man will behave while in the grip of that particular form of insanity. To this day, I am persona non grata at several restaurants in Houston, and for a while I was on a first-name basis with at least half of the staff at the crisis-intervention hotline there. I still get Christmas cards from several of them.

In the three decades and change since I discovered the fundamental differences between males and females and, more importantly, the reasons for those differences, there have been only two recipients of the golden apple; the two women who goobered up my life so totally that the experiences changed me forever.

I'm still partial to blondes, though. Some people just never learn.

The Rest of the Story...

Monday, October 10, 2005

Belaboring the Painfully Obvious

Practically everyone with a blog (which seems to be, these days, practically everyone) has posted repeatedly, and with the periodicity of a tolling bell, on the manifold failures of the Mainstream Media, or MSM. (A brief and utterly irrelevant aside: These acronyms always annoy me, in a vague, inchoate way, ever since people started referring to the year 2000 computer bug as Y2K, thereby perpetuating -- and practically trademarking -- the same sort of half-assed, lazy shorthand that got us into that particular mess in the first place!) The evidence abounds, and you don't even have to go near Dan Rather to make the point. The post-Katrina revelations of the media's breathless reportage about the descent of New Orleans into utter barbarism is a good example, probably better than most.

We've all heard the story by now: the lurid tales of widespread looting, rape, wholesale slaughter in the Superdome and Convention Center, Visigoth-caliber pillaging of the city, and general rampant chaos turned out to be -- what's the polite word? -- somewhat exaggerated. In fact, practically none of it was true. So how did the media get so thoroughly snookered? Hey, I'm not a professional journalist -- I don't even play one on TV -- but if an Arkansas National Guardsman told me that there were 30 to 40 bodies piled in a freezer at the Convention Center, before I put that story on the AP newswire, I'd be strongly inclined to open the door for a first-hand look-see into the abatoir. The reporter in question didn't do that. As it turned out, the bodies on the floor that the Guardsman pointed out to the reporter with his flashlight didn't exist, either. It was all just regurgitated rumors, accepted uncritically and without corroboration as fact, and disseminated around the world at the speed of light, less signal attenuation and router latency; the truth attenuated even more dramatically, especially since there was never much of it to begin with.

I found it deliciously ironic that one of the reporters who broke the story -- that most, if not all, of the descent-to-Hell reports were not, in fact, true -- was one of the most enthusiastic propagators of the initial, subsequently-proven-false, horror stories. It was a journalistic trifecta: breaking news, which turned out to be manufactured news, which led to breaking the news about the manufacturing of news. Anyone want to bet that this guy will be in the running for a Pulitzer?

Did these nitwits learn nothing from the New York Times' Jayson Blair debacle?

The big question, in my mind at least, is why? Why did these outlandish rumors start circulating? Why were they so readily accepted as fact by the news media? And why did they gain such traction that practically everyone on the planet believed them, and in several cases (the Mayor and Police Chief of New Orleans most notably come to mind), even elaborated on them? What does it say about us as a culture, as a civilization, hell, even as a species, that we are so ready, willing and able to believe the absolute worst about our fellow human beings?

Tough questions, to be sure. And the answers, if we can summon up the courage to hear them, are liable to be extremely uncomfortable. But what are the answers?

The answer to the first question is both simple and profound: how does any urban legend get started? "Word gets around, guys talk, you hear things," as the old beer commercial tag-line went. The situation in New Orleans, particularly in the Superdome and the Convention Center, was dire; there simply is no other word for it. If it was bad where you were, you didn't want to imagine how bad it was in the cheap-seats or the nosebleed section. And what you don't want to imagine, you just can't help but imagine. And it was all so plausible.

As for the second question, why the media accepted all those horror stories as fact, without bothering to check them out, that one is even easier to answer: because they desperately wanted the stories to be true. Let's be candid here, they made for good copy. The stories had "legs", as they say in the business. They were, in the immortal words of the producers of 60 Minutes Wednesday, "too good not to run with". It isn't necessary to ascribe any venality to the media for wanting to believe the tales coming out of New Orleans; ratings and circulation numbers are all you need by way of explanation. You don't have to believe that the media's eagerness to promulgate unsubstantiated rumors as fact illustrates their shockingly low opinion of humanity -- their pervasive belief that this is the way people in a dangerous, stressful situation are likely to behave -- although I'm inclined to think that that was a factor. The news media are some of the most cynical people in the known Universe; they have seen so much of the absolute worst of human nature, that they think it's the norm.

And why were the stories so widely believed? The answer to that question is the easiest to answer of them all, and that answer is the most disturbing. It is because the tales were so easy to believe. It is true that journalists are among the most cynical people in the world -- with the singular exception of the rest of us. We don't just believe that people, when left to their own devices, will descend to the most loathsome behaviour imaginable -- we know it. Hell, we've heard it from everyone: our politicians, our teachers, our syndicated columnists, our celebrities (with our sports stars providing real-life, show-and-tell examples), even our parents have drilled it into our heads: people are the scum of the earth; we're a blight on the planet. The veneer of civilization is wafer-thin and easily fractured. And when that thin veneer of civilization shatters, we are, underneath it all, worse than animals. We eat our dead; sometimes, we don't even wait for them to be dead before chowing down on Braised Brisket of Barney with steamed asparagus and au jus. The most aberrant, deviant behaviour, the most reprehensible conduct, is blithely explained away as being "only human".

And that, my friends, answers the final question, for it speaks volumes about us as a culture, as a civilization, as a species. We believe the worst about us because we've been told that we really are as bad as we've been told. We believe it because we're just dumb enough to believe it. We believe it because we've heard it so often, and from so many quarters, that we've come to accept it as true, on the theory that "if three people say you're sick, lie down." And we believe it because not enough of us have had the courage to answer the charges with a single, all-encompassing rejoinder:


The Rest of the Story...

Monday, September 05, 2005

Over the Edge and Around the Bend

If memory serves, it was the inimitable P.J. O’Rourke who observed that “liberals think conservatives are evil; conservatives think liberals are stupid.” (I could be wrong about the attribution, and if I am, I apologize; but it sounds like something P.J. would say, and if he didn’t, he should have.)

It’s hard to argue with, or to dismiss, such trenchant analysis.

The political debate over the past six – no, make that twenty – years provides more than ample evidence that P.J., as usual, was right on the money. In fact, we can even add Ken’s Corollary to the O’Rourke doctrine: “the conservatives are right.”

We need only to take a gander at the bilge being spewed forth by such exemplars of the “reality-based community” as the Democratic Underground, MoveOn.org, and some of their more illustrious fellow-travellers on the leftward fringes of the blogosphere, to see the unassailable truth of Mr. O’Rourke’s observation.

Exhibit A: The Daily Kos entertains the thought – however briefly – that the Administration killed Chief Justice Rehnquist.

Exhibit B: An unidentified idiot, allegedly a member of the media, raised the question that the failed levees surrounding New Orleans were deliberately breached to kill black people in the city.

Exhibit C: The Mayor of New Orleans, C. Roy Nagin, is convinced that the C.I.A. is out to get him. (Although if it's true, he's safe as a kitten; if you can count the number of times they've tried to take out Castro -- and failed -- you're probably an astrophysicist. Because only an astrophysicist is comfortable with numbers that large.)

There are more, many, many more, but these should suffice for the time being.

The question before the panel is two-fold: 1) do these clowns honestly think the American people are that fucking stupid that they will believe this rot; and 2) are they?

Based on some of the comments, the answer to part 2, apparently, is an unqualified 'Yes'. Ken's Corollary is hereby proven. QED.

But what of the larger issue of the O'Rourke Doctrine? Well, the second part, the assertion that liberals are stupid, appears to have been borne out by by the proof of the Corollary. For the first, that conservatives are evil, well, if we look at the numbers, the evidence does not support the contention.

So now we know.

UPDATE (6 Sept 2005): A teeny-weeny little devil on my shoulder seduced me into adding Exhibit D, Sean Penn's Rescue Mission. There's a Gilligan joke in there somewhere, but I can't quite find it.

UPDATE #2 (6 Sept 2005): At the time I posted the preceding update, I was not aware that the real "Gilligan", actor Bob Denver, had passed away. My apologies, Bob; I meant no disrespect.

The Rest of the Story...

The ONE Must-Read on the Web

I link to this item, from Bill Whittle at Eject! Eject! Eject!, without comment. Because nothing I could possibly say could improve on it, add to it, or or do anything, really, except to diminish it.

Except this:

Thanks, Bill. We needed that.

BTW: It was Beth at My Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy who pointed me to this item. Thanks, Beth.

The Rest of the Story...

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

After the Storm..., the Imbeciles Swarm

I had not intended to post anything about the horrific events of this week -- the hurricane, and the virtual destruction of New Orleans and the Mississippi coast -- at least not for a while. I thought it would be prudent of me to wait a bit, to let the shock wear off, to allow sober reflection to take the place of the mind-numbing horror evinced by the images that I have been seeing on television, and on the Web. And besides, there are scores of other bloggers offering endless post mortems (if you’ll pardon my use of such a macabre expression under the circumstances) of the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina, that anything I could have added would be superfluous. But after reading everything I could find on the 'Net about this disaster, I have discovered that I am decidedly in the minority on this topic; no "sober reflection" for a lot of the afore-mentioned bloggers; no, these bloggers have opinions (which, as we all know, are like assholes: everyone has one, and the vast majority of them stink), and by God, they're going to let the world know about it.

I guess that it should be regarded as almost axiomatic that some of those bloggers would feel compelled to lurch beyond the surreal, which this story arguably is, and into the realm of the utterly unhinged. It appears that some people just can’t help themselves; if an opportunity arises to make a complete and public ass of themselves, they must seize that opportunity with both hands and hang on tight.

In addition to the almost incomprehensibly self-absorbed (e.g., QueerDay.com worries that Katrina may – or may not – have put the kibosh on the annual Southern Decadence Weekend), we are also being treated to recriminations from the likes of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and the German Environmental Minister, Herr Jürgen Tritten, blaming the whole catastrophe on George W. Bush’s refusal to whole-heartedly (and empty-headedly) adopt the Kyoto Protocol. Others merely quibble over the exact nature of Bush malfeasance: according to these guys, the fault lies in the Administration's gutting the funds of the Army Corps of Engineers, through the misallocation of resources (blowing scads of money on the war and all), "tax cuts for the wealthy", and similar incompetence; money that, if Al Gore or John Kerry had been President, almost certainly -- no, make that positively, absolutely, without question -- would have been used to shore up the system of levees that failed in New Orleans. (What a President Gore or Kerry would have done to hold back the storm surge that wiped out the Mississippi coastline doesn't get mentioned; maybe someone will cover it in the comments.) Still others choose to use the occasion of this catastrophe to demonstrate that they do, in fact, have a use for religion -- but only if it can be used to blame religious people for the disaster, and thereby ridicule them, in a 'God has spoken, and boy, is He pissed!' form of snarkiness.

Forgive me for stating the unflinchingly obvious, but now really is not the time for this kind of idiocy.

First, let's deal with the essentials. For full, comprehensive, up-to-the-minute coverage of the storm and its aftermath, there is no better place to go than Michelle Malkin. None. Period. At all. (Well, actually, Brendan Loy has been doing an absolutely fabulous job of reporting on the storm's aftermath, but since Michelle links to him on a regular basis, I thought I could slough him. For all of ten seconds. Damn conscience!)

Next, if you want to do something to help the survivors, the best place to start is right here. I've already made my donation to Operation Blessing, but don't let my choice dictate -- or even influence -- your decision. There are plenty of worthwhile charities and relief organizations to choose from, so why limit yourself to only one? Or even two? Come on, people, pony up. Give till your banker stops breathing. (Whoa, a two-fer!)

Look, I'll be completely up-front about this: I've never been much of a fan of New Orleans. The city's "laissez le bon temps roullez" mind-set, and its legendary official corruption, aren't exactly the sine qua non for a slot on my list of Favorite Places to Visit. The idea of a city dedicated to non-stop, 24/7 partying simply has no appeal for me. The steamboat-gothic architecture of the buildings in the French Quarter, with their ornate wrought-iron tracery, is picturesque and enjoyable (yeah, I'm a self-styled student of architecture, and I get off on that kind of thing), but the endless procession of bars that those buildings house is not. And I don't even know if that marvelous restaurant (Sclafani's) where my father treated me to a truly memorable dining experience (okay, I was twelve at the time, but even then, I could still appreciate magnificent food) still exists today. So, New Orleans qua New Orleans is not the focus of my anguish over the events of the past several days.

I certainly do not intend to suggest that I am unmoved by the damage that the storm inflicted on the city, or the loss of life and property suffered by the city's residents. The people of New Orleans have suffered a grievous blow. There are still (as of the time I write this) an unknown number of people stranded on rooftops and in attics throughout the city. Because of the imperative of getting those people to safety, the authorities aren't even bothering to collect, or even to count, the dead. Looting, by many accounts, is out of control; the fabric of social order has almost completely unraveled. And the current situation in the Superdome is too grim for me even to imagine. But as bad as the situation in New Orleans may be (and it is worse than anyone imagined, pre-hurricane, that it could possibly get), New Orleans is not the only place that this hurricane has ravaged, and it should not be the sole focus of our attention. Hundreds of thousands of people along the coasts of Mississippi, Alabama, and even the Florida panhandle have had their lives devastated by this storm, and they are every bit as deserving of our attention, our concern, our efforts to relieve their immediate suffering, our continuing efforts to help them put their lives back together, and of course, our prayers. New Orleans is the most prominent victim of this disaster, but New Orleans is by no means the only victim. So let's give a care to the people of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, okay?

And with that said, I'll return to the original topic of this post -- if, indeed, there ever was one.

It simply appalls me that anyone would take the circumstances of this nearly-unprecedented disaster to try to score some cheap political points. The people who do so make me ashamed to carry the same number of chromosomes in my DNA; I am repulsed by the thought that we are of the same genus and species, for these low-life cretins cannot possibly be human. We are witnessing the ravings of people who have completely unmoored themselves from anything even remotely resembling reality.

I've got a story to tell you....

I am a life-long resident of the Texas Gulf Coast and its environs, and I have lived here for a good number of years. In consequence, I know a thing or two about hurricanes. I've ridden out two (Carla and Alicia), and have run from several others; so you can take my word for it that, of the two options, running is the far wiser course of action.

Once, I opted not to run; that was in 1983, when Hurricane Alicia swept onto the Texas coast, and then proceeded to trot up Main Street, through downtown Houston. One image, that remains vivid to this day, offers an example of what these storms are capable of: I watched, from the window of the third-floor cafeteria of the building in which I had reported to work (for I had no place to run to at the time, and I thought that the office building was probably the safest place for me to be), as the storm's winds ripped a 1000-plus pound bronze-and-glass door off its hinges and frisbeed it across the parking lot, until it decapitated a Nissan Sentra that was unlucky enough to be in its path -- and the door kept sailing. I don't know where it eventually came to rest.

And Alicia was a pissant storm compared to Katrina. But even a pissant can do some serious damage. Alicia killed twenty-one people, and injured more than 3,000 more. A total of over 2,000 homes were destroyed and another 3,000 or so suffered sufficient damage to render them uninhabitable. All in all, Alicia was responsible for damages totalling more than $2 billion. And Alicia was a small hurricane; the track of the storm (where hurricane-force winds were recorded) was barely sixty miles wide.

Hurricanes are nasty. They are dangerous. But they also are -- and this is where I'm going to lose a few left-leaning readers, if in fact I actually have any -- they are natural phenomena. They are (not to promote an absolutely abysmal Ben Affleck film, despite the fact that Sandra Bullock was in it, too) Forces of Nature. Neither George Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Halliburton, nor the Trilateral Commission have any influence over their creation, their growth, the direction of their track, or the amount of destruction they leave in their wake. Sometimes, shit happens. And sometimes, it really is nobody's fault.

To blame a politician you don't happen to like for this kind of destruction is not just irresponsible; it is not merely inappropriate; it is not only wrong. It is, in the immortal words of Douglas Adams, "at right angles to reality." It is, in short, insane.

If you want to make a political case, and expect rational people to take you seriously, you first have to convince those rational people that you are, yourselves, rational.

You have failed. Spectacularly.

You people are out of your freakin' minds.

The Rest of the Story...

Friday, August 19, 2005

Go Home, Cindy; Paris and Tom Want Their Spotlight Back

It has been noted almost everywhere I look in the blogosphere that August is traditionally a slow news month (the heat-wave in Europe a couple of years ago that killed almost 20,000 un-air-conditioned old people in France, while the kids and grandkids were busy cavorting topless on the Cote d'Azure notwithstanding), so Cindy Sheehan's fifteen minutes of fame getting a mid-season renewal is not surprising. It may also speak tellingly of other matters: the fact that the major network news outlets apparently have nothing better with which to occupy their resources being one, as is the apparent fact that the MoveOn.org crowd feels that this story is their last, best chance to bring down the President.

But the simple fact is that this story started out lame, and has not improved with age.

But it looks like this long, national nightmare may finally be coming to an end, if this post in The Corner turns out to be true. (UPDATE: The story is true, and Mrs. Sheehan's mother is improving, which is good news, although the doctors are concerned that there may be some continuing paralysis, which is not good news. And she has reportedly said that she hopes to be back in Crawford by next Wednesday, which most decidedly is not good news.)

Cindy Sheehan has lately been expressing concern that this story is turning into a "media circus", and in point of fact, it has. But you're the ringmaster of this circus, Cindy, and any complaining about it at this point sounds suspiciously like -- oh, hell, what's the word I'm looking for? Ah, yes, I have it: horseshit.

Now, I have no children of my own, so I honestly cannot relate to the wrenching pain of losing one's child as the result of an act of war. But previous generations did have to go through that ordeal, and until relatively recently, they managed to "soldier on", if I may use the phrase; for a specific example, Mrs. Sheehan might look into the story of Thomas and Alleta Sullivan, whose five sons -- George, Francis, Joseph, Madison, and Albert -- all died on the same day, while serving aboard the same ship (the USS Juneau), at the Battle of Guadalcanal, during World War II. (The Navy actually had a policy -- still does -- of not allowing siblings to serve on the same ship, but it was not rigorously enforced at the time, and the brothers insisted that they be allowed to serve together.)

Did Mrs. Sullivan honor her sons' sacrifice by camping out in FDR's front yard, in protest of their loss? No, she did not. In fact, she did exactly the opposite of what Cindy Sheehan is doing -- she spent a great deal of her time making speaking engagements in support of the war effort.

Then again, people were made of sterner stuff back then, and most people in this country actually knew what we were fighting for, and what we were fighting against. More than that, they thought the fight was worth it.

Apparently, that isn't true today. Pity.

The Rest of the Story...