September 13, 2005

Try Telling That to Keith

Well, now we know that Dubya comes by his “compassion” and his “foot in mouth” disease honestly—from both sides of the family.

On a serious note, I was at the Austin Convention Center on Sunday, and was talking to a man named Keith who had lost not just his home but his entire family—wife and kids—just gone. He was really shell-shocked, so I didn’t press him for details, but he had the otherworldly look of someone who had to stand by helplessly while his loved ones died. Oh, and he didn’t get rescued until the Sunday after the hurricane.

So, Bar, how would you say things were “working out” for him?

Barbara Bush: Things Working Out 'Very Well' for Poor Evacuees from New Orleans

By E&P Staff
Published: September 05, 2005

NEW YORK Accompanying her husband, former President George H.W. Bush, on a tour of hurricane relief centers in Houston, Barbara Bush said today, referring to the poor who had lost everything back home and evacuated, "This is working very well for them."

The former First Lady's remarks were aired this evening on American Public Media's "Marketplace" program.

She was part of a group in Houston today at the Astrodome that included her husband and former President Bill Clinton, wlho were chosen by her son, the current president, to head fundraising efforts for the recovery. Sen. Hilary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama were also present.

In a segment at the top of the show on the surge of evacuees to the Texas city, Barbara Bush said: "Almost everyone I’ve talked to says ‘we're going to move to Houston.’"

Then she added: "What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.

"And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."

September 8, 2005

The "City" of Louisiana

This is the most incisive and eloquent commentary on the post-Katrina situation that I've seen so far. Keith Olberman has a new fan in me.

The "City" of Louisiana

September 5, 2005 8:58 p.m. ET
Keith Olberman

Secaucus—Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said it all, starting his news briefing Saturday afternoon: "Louisiana is a city that is largely under water..."

Well, there's your problem right there. If ever a slip of the tongue defined a government's response to a crisis, this was it.

The seeming definition of our time and our leaders had been their insistence on slashing federal budgets for projects that might’ve saved New Orleans. The seeming characterization of our government that it was on vacation when the city was lost, and could barely tear itself away from commemorating V.J. Day and watching Monty Python's Flying Circus to at least pretend to get back to work. The seeming identification of these hapless bureaucrats: their pathetic use of the future tense in terms of relief they could’ve brought last Monday and Tuesday — like the President, whose statements have looked like they’re being transmitted to us by some kind of four-day tape-delay.

But no. The incompetence and the ludicrous prioritization will forever be symbolized by one gaffe by of the head of what is ironically called “The Department of Homeland Security”: “Louisiana is a city…”

Politician after politician — Republican and Democrat alike — has paraded before us, unwilling or unable to shut off the "I-Me" switch in their heads, condescendingly telling us about how moved they were or how devastated they were — congenitally incapable of telling the difference between the destruction of a city and the opening of a supermarket.

And as that sorry recital of self-absorption dragged on, I have resisted editorial comment. The focus needed to be on the efforts to save the stranded — even the internet's meager powers were correctly devoted to telling the stories of the twin disasters, natural... and government-made.

But now, at least, it is has stopped getting exponentially worse in Mississippi and Alabama and New Orleans and Louisiana (the state, not the city). And, having given our leaders what we know now is the week or so they need to get their act together, that period of editorial silence I mentioned should come to an end.

No one is suggesting that mayors or governors in the afflicted areas, nor the federal government, should be able to stop hurricanes. Lord knows, no one is suggesting that we should ever prioritize levee improvement for a below-sea-level city, ahead of $454 million worth of trophy bridges for the politicians of Alaska.

But, nationally, these are leaders who won re-election last year largely by portraying their opponents as incapable of keeping the country safe. These are leaders who regularly pressure the news media in this country to report the reopening of a school or a power station in Iraq, and defies its citizens not to stand up and cheer. Yet they couldn't even keep one school or power station from being devastated by infrastructure collapse in New Orleans — even though the government had heard all the "chatter" from the scientists and city planners and hurricane centers and some group whose purposes the government couldn't quite discern... a group called The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

And most chillingly of all, this is the Law and Order and Terror government. It promised protection — or at least amelioration — against all threats: conventional, radiological, or biological.

It has just proved that it cannot save its citizens from a biological weapon called standing water.

Mr. Bush has now twice insisted that, "we are not satisfied," with the response to the manifold tragedies along the Gulf Coast. I wonder which "we" he thinks he's speaking for on this point. Perhaps it's the administration, although we still don't know where some of them are. Anybody seen the Vice President lately? The man whose message this time last year was, 'I'll Protect You, The Other Guy Will Let You Die'?

I don't know which “we” Mr. Bush meant.

For many of this country's citizens, the mantra has been — as we were taught in Social Studies it should always be — whether or not I voted for this President — he is still my President. I suspect anybody who had to give him that benefit of the doubt stopped doing so last week. I suspect a lot of his supporters, looking ahead to '08, are wondering how they can distance themselves from the two words which will define his government — our government — "New Orleans."

For him, it is a shame — in all senses of the word. A few changes of pronouns in there, and he might not have looked so much like a 21st Century Marie Antoinette. All that was needed was just a quick "I'm not satisfied with my government's response." Instead of hiding behind phrases like "no one could have foreseen," had he only remembered Winston Churchill's quote from the 1930's. "The responsibility," of government, Churchill told the British Parliament "for the public safety is absolute and requires no mandate. It is in fact, the prime object for which governments come into existence."

In forgetting that, the current administration did not merely damage itself — it damaged our confidence in our ability to rely on whoever is in the White House.

As we emphasized to you here all last week, the realities of the region are such that New Orleans is going to be largely uninhabitable for a lot longer than anybody is yet willing to recognize. Lord knows when the last body will be found, or the last artifact of the levee break, dug up. Could be next March. Could be 2100. By then, in the muck and toxic mire of New Orleans, they may even find our government's credibility.

Somewhere, in the City of Louisiana.

September 7, 2005

Post-Katrina Shame

An excerpt from an opinion piece by the NY Times' John Tierney, entitled "Magic Marker Strategy.":

We can learn more by listening to men like Jim Judkins, particularly when he explains the Magic Marker method of disaster preparedness. Mr. Judkins is one of the officials in charge of evacuating the Hampton Roads region around Newport News, Va. These coastal communities, unlike New Orleans, are not below sea level, but they're much better prepared for a hurricane. Officials have plans to run school buses and borrow other buses to evacuate those without cars, and they keep registries of the people who need special help.

Instead of relying on a ''Good Samaritan'' policy -- the fantasy in New Orleans that everyone would take care of the neighbors -- the Virginia rescue workers go door to door. If people resist the plea to leave, Mr. Judkins told The Daily Press in Newport News, rescue workers give them Magic Markers and ask them to write their Social Security numbers on their body parts so they can be identified. ''It's cold, but it's effective,'' Mr. Judkins explained.

Here's my letter in response:

I’m not even from New Orleans or the Gulf Coast, so I don’t have a personal axe to grind. I am a human being, however, and I’m completely outraged by the terrible, unnecessary suffering I have seen and read about. Your remarks about how local authorities should have taken care of evacuating locals were way off base, especially when you said that local authorities needed to be able to take care of refugees, and that they shouldn’t have expected assistance for at least 72 hours. Even if local government had bused people out, who could have paid for their gas, food and lodging without the official “disaster” designation that permits federal help? As you know, New Orleans has been begging for federal help with all manner of disaster preparedness, but has been coldly and efficiently refused by the Bush administration. Who knows if the “Sharpie strategy” would have worked, but the City of New Orleans did demand that people evacuate their homes, and pledged to shelter those too poor to leave the city in the Superdome and Convention Center. One or two days in the damaged Superdome might have been tenable, but how could local authorities foresee the sluggishness of the response? Evacuees were forced to stay there for at least 5 days, well beyond the 72-hour mark. Included in the number of people who died in those shelters were two babies who died from heat exhaustion. If those had been your grandchildren, you wouldn’t be calling for “cold effectiveness” -- you’d be raising hell! During the 1927 flood, Herbert Hoover, the then-Secretary of Commerce, managed to get help to the stranded within one day. ONE DAY. This was without planes or helicopters. Shame on our government!

Instead of taking advantage of the fully-provisioned hospital ship parked in the harbor outside of New Orleans, the many truckloads of food and water from Wal-Mart, from charities, and from private citizens, federal authorities actually SENT AWAY desperately needed supplies, while dickering over who was in charge. The New Orleans police and fire officials were overwhelmed and admitted early on, i.e., Tuesday morning, that the lack of electric power, plumbing, and telephone service was severely hampering their efforts, and that they needed manpower on the ground immediately. There has always been one open highway into NOLA, and there was sufficient dry land for helicopters to land and set up emergency shelters, evacuations, medical care, and feeding stations. This was not done until the following Friday or Saturday. That’s 126 hours, not 72. On NPR I heard the head of Homeland Security, the catastrophically inept Michael Chertoff, insist that correspondent John Burnett’s first-person account of thirst, heat, starvation, and complete lack of sanitation in the Convention Center was merely an unfounded rumor. At all times, the media, even Fox News, had a better idea of conditions than anyone at FEMA or in Homeland Security. Shame, shame, shame.

August 14, 2005

Girl With A Pearl Earring Review

Here's another review I wrote for Netflix.

If you're the kind of person whose travels to new cities always include a museum or two, then you'll enjoy this film. The movie is like a magic window that allows the viewer to enter the world of Vermeer, the 17th century Dutch painter. The exact furniture, musical instruments, rugs, dishes, paintings, maps, and windows that formed the settings for Vermeer's own paintings are reproduced and brought to life in a manner so startlingly accurate and familiar, it caused me to gasp with astonishment and then weep with joy at the beauty of the images. The story, based on Tracy Chevalier's novel, focuses on the "girl" of the title, a maid who has a keen artistic sensibilities, but because of her class and station in life, will never realize them.

June 29, 2005

IM 6-29-05

I find that IMing friends works kind of like brainstorming--I tend to be more left-brained and come up with lots of off-the-wall ideas.

Peter says:
you doin Krunkaoke tonight?
Julia says:
Hmmm. I was thinking about that. I got, like, NO sleep last night, and I am dead tired tonight. It's going to be hard for me to just muster the energy to work out and take a shower. So, I don't know if I'll make it. I'll have to take a disco nap and see how I feel later. You?
Peter says:
i dunno. my decision can be put off more since i live a 5 minute walk from it
Peter says:
it being tambaleo
Julia says:
The "it" spot. Well, I do own an automobile capable of propelling me from my house to said spot in less than 15 minutes. However, I am not an iPod, and my batteries don't recharge a lot in 20 minutes.
Peter says:
Julia says:
If I *were* an iPod, however, and I broke my arm, I could wear a Podcast.
Peter says:
hehe. nice
Julia says:
I wonder what it would play—music or news? Probably NPR during drive time, Ambient Alt. during the day, and dreamy, seductive music at night.
Julia says:
With that cast in the way, though, I don't know how popular the iPod me would be, or if that nightmusic would just taunt me with its smoothness.
Peter says:
i figure the cast would work well. come up with some great story about how you got it. i dont get how you’d be taunted though
Julia says:
I meant that if you're a crip and your broken arm is playing sexy music, that could be kind of cruel. Like, ha ha, you can't get any, you freak. See?
Peter says:
ahh ok. i still think you could use it as a marketing ploy somehow
Julia says:
I'd be like the Mechas in "A.I." But broken.

February 20, 2005

Oscar Party 2005

My 2005 Oscar Party invitation: