Just Another Effin' Observer

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Location: Huntsville, Texas, United States

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...

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

They're Everywhere! And That is Important, How, Exactly?

The ever-worth-reading (and always easy on the eyes) Michelle Malkin has a post up about the state of the Blogosphere. The link to the study she refers to is interesting enough, but what really struck me was this little tidbit, perhaps to advise a bit of healthy skepticism about the alleged reach and influence of bloggers on the media, and the culture at large:
As I've noted before, however, many (most? almost all?) of these blogs are either not updated regularly or are updated by automated programs (as opposed to actual human beings).

One thing she does not mention (and neither does the study she links to) about these 14 million-plus-or-minus blogs is the probability that many (most? almost all?) of them are actually read only by the blogger who writes them, and maybe -- and I emphasize the word 'maybe' -- a couple of members of said blogger's immediate family who actually give a fat, furry gerbil's butt what the blogger has to say.

Maybe I'm being unnecessarily cynical here, or maybe I'm just plain, flat-out, freakin' jealous, but I just don't see the kind of profound, ground-shaking influence being attributed to blogs and bloggers by a lot of people who really ought to know better. Sure, you have your serious heavy-hitters, like Powerline, Instapundit, The Corner (my personal favorite), the afore-mentioned Michelle Malkin and about a dozen others, with their counterparts on the other side of the political divide. But let's face it: the overwhelming majority of the blogs out there are basically ego-trips for some self-aggrandizing dipstick (e.g., moi), and their cumulative influence makes the logarithmic inverse of Planck's Constant look like one of those numbers that you copy off the back of your DVD player onto the warranty-registration card. In other words, it is zilch; it is minus-zilch; it is zilch divided by i-to-the-nth-squared. It is, just like i itself, imaginary.

I'm beginning to see ominous parallels between the hype surrounding blogs and the Internet bubble of the late '90s; that is, as we here in Texas are fond of putting it, this thing, this "blog phenomenon", is "All hat, no cattle". I would sumbit that Ms. Malkin's observation -- that most blogs are not updated regularly -- has a deceptively simple explanation: it's because the bloggers who maintain them aren't taking them all that seriously.

So why the hell should the rest of us?

The Rest of the Story...

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

eBay? Don’t e-Bother

Do you remember that scene from the movie Pretty Woman, when Vivian (played by Julia Roberts) was shunned by the saleswomen in that exclusive Beverly Hills boutique? Well, I know exactly how she felt. Because I was shunned by the alleged "sellers" on eBay.

eBay, of course, is the online auction site, and one of the more resilient survivors of the dot-Con (and no, that wasn't a typo) debacle of 2000; while most of the Internet start-ups (or up-starts, as it were) had no product to sell except shares of their own stock, eBay was selling all kinds of stuff. Other peoples' stuff, to be sure, but stuff, nonetheless.

But over the past weekend, I learned (the hard way, naturally, because only lessons learned that way ever really get learned) that eBay is very much a "closed community". Forget their TV ads; they’re all lies. You ain’t gonna get jack shit from an eBay auction, because the sellers will only sell to buyers who have been playing the eBay game since the get-go. Newbies ain’t got a chance. You will be unceremoniously shut out of the bidding; your bids will be rejected; they will be completely ignored. Why? Because you don’t have a "feedback rating" with eBay, that’s why.

The "feedback rating" is what eBay uses to gauge the reliability of sellers and buyers – do the sellers deliver the products they advertise, do the buyers pay up, that sort of thing. In principle, it makes sense; people are more likely to buy stuff from sellers who do not have a history of ripping people off; and people are more willing to sell their products to people who have a history of actually paying for the items that they have agreed to buy.

But how do you get that coveted "feedback rating"?

Well, first, you have to complete a transaction on eBay. And that’s where the whole "feedback rating" system falls apart. Because if you can’t complete that first transaction – if no seller will take you sufficiently seriously even to consider you a viable prospect for that transaction – then that first transaction just ain’t gonna happen.

The bottom line is that unless you’ve been trading on eBay practically since the day they went online, any seller is going to treat you like a no-account, deadbeat loser. It's discrimination, pure and simple, in the classic Catch-22 mode: barring evidence to the contrary, new users are assumed to be liars, cheats, frauds and welshers. And that assumption of being a liar, a cheat, a fraud and a welsher is precisely the thing that bars evidence to the contrary. And as a consequence, that Babe Ruth autographed baseball that you’ve coveted since you were nine years old (or in my case, a plotter) is going to go to somebody with a "feedback rating" higher than the zero that you can claim – all because this is your first venture into online auction sites. New players most definitely are not welcome.

If you own eBay stock, you might consider selling. The site will last only as long as the life-span of its current membership; when they start to die off (and the sooner that happens, the better, as far as I’m concerned), the business is doomed.

But, if that's the way they want it, then that's the way they can have it. I have just instructed eBay to close my account. If they want to play their little reindeer games, and keep the deals all to themselves, fine. I've been able to muddle along without them up to now; I think I can survive without them in the future. And since PayPal is owned by eBay, then that account is going bye-bye, as well.

The Rest of the Story...