Monkey Media Report Archive

A North Carolina
news and arts Weblog
October 2005

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10.19.05 - Links for this week's Monkeytime TV:

Why the Plamegate investigation matters despite right-wing attempts to minimize it, Part One - a Stratfor analyst examines the damage done to U.S. agents overseas who operate under non-official cover (NOCs). This one's a must-read if you're at all interested in espionage:

It is an extraordinary life. On the one hand, NOCs may live well. The Number Two at a Latin American bank cannot be effective living on a U.S. government salary. NOCs get to live the role and frequently, as they climb higher in the target society, they live the good life. On the other hand, their real lives are a mystery to everyone. Frequently, their parents don't know what they really do, nor do their own children -- for their safety and the safety of the mission. The NOC may marry someone who cannot know who they really are. Sometimes they themselves forget who they are: It is an occupational disease and a form of madness...

There is an explicit and implicit contract between the United States and its NOCs. It has many parts, but there is one fundamental part: A NOC will never reveal that he is or was a NOC without special permission. When he does reveal it, he never gives specifics. The government also makes a guarantee -- it will never reveal the identity of a NOC under any circumstances and, in fact, will do everything to protect it. If you have lied to your closest friends for 30 years about who you are and why you talk to them, no government bureaucrat has the right to reveal your identity for you...

There is more to this. When it is revealed that you were a NOC, foreign intelligence services begin combing back over your life, examining every relationship you had. Anyone you came into contact with becomes suspect. Sometimes, in some countries, becoming suspect can cost you your life. Revealing the identity of a NOC can be a matter of life and death -- frequently, of people no one has ever heard of or will ever hear of again...

Here's the key bit for anyone who wants to minimize this scandal:

What we do know is this. In the course of events, reporters contacted two senior officials in the White House -- Rove and Libby. Under the least-damaging scenario we have heard, the reporters already knew that Plame had worked as a NOC. Rove and Libby, at this point, were obligated to say, at the very least, that they could neither confirm nor deny the report. In fact, their duty would have been quite a bit more: Their job was to lie like crazy to mislead the reporters. Rove and Libby had top security clearances and were senior White House officials. It was their sworn duty, undertaken when they accepted their security clearance, to build a "bodyguard of lies" -- in Churchill's phrase -- around the truth concerning U.S. intelligence capabilities.

Some would argue that if the reporters already knew her identity, the cat was out of the bag and Rove and Libby did nothing wrong. Others would argue that if Plame or her husband had publicly stated that she was a NOC, Rove and Libby were freed from their obligation. But the fact is that legally and ethically, nothing relieves them of the obligation to say nothing and attempt to deflect the inquiry. This is not about Valerie Plame, her husband or Time Magazine. The obligation exists for the uncounted number of NOCs still out in the field...

Imagine, if you will, working in Damascus as a NOC and reading that the president's chief adviser had confirmed the identity of a NOC. As you push into middle age, wondering what happened to your life, the sudden realization that your own government threatens your safety might convince you to resign and go home. That would cost the United States an agent it had spent decades developing. You don't just pop a new agent in his place. That NOC's resignation could leave the United States blind at a critical moment in a key place. Should it turn out that Rove and Libby not only failed to protect Plame's identity but deliberately leaked it, it would be a blow to the heart of U.S. intelligence. If just one critical NOC pulled out and the United States went blind in one location, the damage could be substantial. At the very least, it is a risk the United States should not have to incur.

Fascinating perspective, anyway. How credible is it? Yeah, like I know when someone's accurately portraying spook culture. But it sure does have a ring of truth to me. Read it and see for yourself.

Why the Plamegate investigation matters despite right-wing attempts to minimize it, Part Two - Sydney Schanberg lays out the bottom line: people died.

Mickey Kaus at Slate has some provocative questions about the latest twists in the Miller/Libby mess. #5 is the one to show foolish observers who actually think Miller is some kind of journalism hero here:

5. Isn't this a major blow against testimonial immunity for reporters, in practice? Here is how the NYT itself reported the final argument made on behalf of Judith Miller before she was jailed:

'Robert S. Bennett, a lawyer for Ms. Miller, urged Judge Hogan to conclude that Ms. Miller would never talk, making confinement pointless.'

It's now clear confinement wasn't pointless. It worked for the prosecutor exactly as intended. After a couple of months of sleeping on "two thin mats on a concrete slab," Miller decided, in her words, "I owed it to myself" to check and see if just maybe Libby really meant to release her from her promise of confidentiality. And sure enough-- you know what?--it turns out he did! The message sent to every prosecutor in the country is "Don't believe journalists who say they will never testify. A bit of hard time and they just might find a reason to change their minds. Judy Miller did." This is the victory for the press the Times has achieved. More journalists will now go to jail, quite possibly, than if Miller had just cut a deal right away, before taking her stand on "principle."

Editor and Publisher has more, reprinting a letter sent to Romenesko three days ago that notes "one major journalism scandal" hidden in this disaster

Other, more fun links:


10.12.05 - This week's Monkeytime TV focuses on adoption reform, particularly the attempt by adoptees to get full access to their own birth records. Roberta MacDonald, adoptee and chairwoman of the North Carolina Coalition for Adoption Reform, is our guest, along with local adoptee William Baumgartner and local birth mother Marianne Latz. We'll be taking your calls live tonight from 8-9pm. Some relevant links:

  • Bastard Nation, the Malcolm X to NCCAR's Martin Luther King, offers The Basic Bastard, a great introduction to the fight of adult adoptees to open their adoption records
  • The official site of Loggerheads, a movie about adoption (opening next week) that's based on a true North Carolina story. The birth mother is actually living in Chapel Hill right now. Watch the trailer here [.mov]

Update: The show went beautifully (but way too quickly), thanks to the openness of Roberta, William and Marianne and the impressive thoughtfulness of the calls. I really liked the answers from William and Marianne to the caller who asked about feelings of adoptive parents when their adopted children go looking for answers. William was particularly eloquent as he described his adoptive parents' initial hesitance - but later full acceptance - in the face of his intense desire to "fill the holes" in his personal story. And Marianne's description of extended visits with her birth son's adoptive family nicely solidified my own feeling that love isn't at all a zero-sum game, in which any increase in affection towards birth parents automatically translates into decreased affection for adoptive ones. It's really too bad so many folks scared of giving adult adoptees access to the truth are so completely wrongheaded on the nature of love.

Anyway, I was appalled to learn from Roberta that North Carolina joins New Jersy as the only two states in the country that don't even have a registry to help birth parents and adoptees find one another if they both desire it. How Cro-Magnon can state leaders get? Fixing that one should be the minimum NCCAR supporters accept when the group starts its legislative push next year. We'll be doing another show on this topic soon. Meanwhile, be sure to read Bastard Nation's history of sealed adoption records in the U.S. before absorbing its thoughtful take on the privacy issues involved.

Finally, if you're an adoptee (like the first caller to tonight's show) who wants to start a search for your birth parents, Roberta recommends the International Soundex Reunion Registry as a smart opening move. [link]


10.12.05 - Apologies for the delay in posting links about biofuels after last week's Monkeytime TV interview with Anne Tazewell, alternative fuels program manager at the NC Solar Center. Here's the info:




Mammatus clouds, actually. Named for the resemblance to tits.


[via the "extrabrain" at] [link]


10.4.05 - I just love that everyone in the USA is already expected to have a well-informed, thoughtful and completely solid opinion about what's-her-face (above). Ok, I admit to laughing when I learned Dick Cheney “worked over " Focus on the Family head James Dobson "very, very hard” (kinda hot if you think about it), but even I know that doesn't count as a valuable insight. Surely it's not that bizarre to suggest decent citizens spend, I dunno, maybe a day or three actually reading about the woman and the strangeness of her appointment before setting our feelings in stone? Waiting for a bit of solid investigative journalism, or even a decently researched and relevant opinion piece, isn't a bad idea either.

In other words, just fucking chill out for a second, would you? If the SCOTUSblog is right that "it does not seem likely that the fight over Miers' nomination will be resolved until well into the winter," the only need for the current frantic fuss is to fill the daily news/blog cycle. Fuck that crap. What the hell's the rush here, people?

Anyway, for what it's worth, my favorite entry from the Initial Miers Rush is this very apropos quote from Alexander Hamilton:

To what purpose then require the co-operation of the Senate? I answer, that the necessity of their concurrence would have a powerful, though, in general, a silent operation. It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity...

The possibility of rejection would be a strong motive to care in proposing. The danger to his own reputation, and, in the case of an elective magistrate, to his political existence, from betraying a spirit of favoritism, or an unbecoming pursuit of popularity, to the observation of a body whose opinion would have great weight in forming that of the public, could not fail to operate as a barrier to the one and to the other. He would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure.

So far, that seems to capture the right nuances better than anything else. [link]


10.3.05 - He was gone for a year, but The Religious Policeman started posting again this August. Spend an hour at this sharp, courageous weblog about Saudi Arabian society, filled with scathing looks at the wealthy princes who control that particular mess of non-democracy, the country's disgusting treatment of women, the dumb way certain Muslims around the world take offense at the drop of a hat, and lots of other topics. Be sure to read the post about the Saudi debate over allowing young children to watch public beheadings and amputations. TRP's anger sometimes turns posts a bit too much to the juvenile for my taste, but the site is filled with revealing details about modern Saudi life. Dig into the archives if you want to learn more about the folks our President has the nerve to call one of our "closest allies." Now there's a horrifying thought. [via Mefi] [link]


10.2.05 - Can't tell you how excited I was when my friend Dusty scored some free tickets to Randy Newman's "Pops" performance with the NC Symphony a couple of Sundays ago. No way I could have spent $40 for an upper balcony seat - hey, if they want us to attend they're gonna have to give us some cheaper options - but I sure did jump at the free shot to see one of my favorite songwriters live. And damn, was I rewarded. The guy's a fucking genius.

Everyone knows classically trained musicians are often bored by the little they're asked to do at a Pops performance, so it's a testament to the NC Symphony's respect for its audience that the energy in the room was so electric during Newman's Sunday afternoon matinee. Of course, it helps that the guy routinely writes some of the most clever - and most cleverly arranged - songs in popular music. If you're not paying attention, it's easy to miss the sly intelligence in Newman's use of horns, strings, et al, to back his biting lyrics. "Great Nations of Europe" was especially effective live, its snide attack on 16th century European triumphalism gathering extra steam in a traditional classical music setting, where it was easy to hear the poke at bombastic, triumphalist European music as well.

What fun.

In case you haven't gotten the point, it was an astonishingly good show that satisfied my inner fanboy looking to snatch a piece of pop history while simultaneously revitalizing my interest in classical performance. Quite an accomplishment. The first set was a bit slow for my taste, with one or two earnest love songs too many, but watching Newman conduct excerpts from his film soundtracks on either side of the intermission kept me intrigued. Not sure if that means I need to pay closer attention to classical music or to soundtracks, but I liked what I was hearing regardless. And his second set was just plain brilliant, filled with achingly sad and deeply funny moments. I've heard "Sail Away" many times, but never has it been so goddamn touching as when I heard it from the NC Symphony.

Of course, no good turn goes unpunished, so I wasn't surprised at all to read the letter in Friday's N&O from a symphony subscriber deeply wounded by Newman's "language" and "crudeness" during the Friday opener. I'd actually turned to Dusty as we left Meymandi Hall Sunday and said, "I bet someone writes the N&O to complain about the cusswords." It's not clear to me whether the gussied-up Friday night crowd this guy represents were offended because Newman occasionally used the word "shit" or because they didn't get that "Short People" was satire, but I stopped caring after he slammed the show as not "pleasing music." Talk about cultural illiteracy. I sent my own letter late last night:

It's a shame that some people couldn't listen past Newman's light-hearted pokes at pretension and formality to hear the symphony's marvelous performance of some of the most cleverly arranged songs to come out of popular music. Gems like "Sail Away" and "Louisiana 1927" were achingly beautiful to hear live, even if they fit uneasily into what the letter-writer called "pleasing music." The NC Symphony should know that four of us in the upper balcony (not to mention the rest of the audience, which provided Newman a standing ovation) were completely captivated by the concert, and by Newman's slightly mischievous attempt to have a bit of a good ol' time on the Meymandi stage.

Hope they print it. And if you're one of the many who also got off on the show, consider encouraging the NC Symphony to continue untucking its shirt and taking a chance on something with a little bite to it. I mean, have you seen the rest of the Pops schedule? Not that there's anything wrong with reaching out for the familiar in a "Pops" series, but the Powers That Be do seem to have taken a chance with Newman as the season opener, and that sort of thing really ought to be encouraged. [link]


10.1.05 - So this woman comes up to the counter at the bookstore today wearing this hilarious shirt that makes me think of my pal Sean, who's into cognitive science and artificial intelligence. I tell her the shirt's awesome and ask where she got it and she says here. I love the fact that Jason Sho Green studied "autonomous robotics, embedded digital systems, and math" before realizing what he really wanted to work on was the art he'd stopped studying in 5th grade.

Sometimes people really are funny, in a really good way.

Oh, and be sure to explore that "cognitive science" link up there if you're at all interested in what makes us human. You are interested in what makes us human, aren't you? [link]


9.30.05 - Choice quotes about the film industry from Time magazine's great double interview with Joss Wheedon and Neil Gaiman:

NG: America, it almost seems like family has become a code word for something that you can put a five-year-old in front of, go out for two hours, and come back secure in the knowledge that your child will not have been exposed to any ideas. I didn't want to do that. I like the idea of family as something where a seven-year-old would see a film and get stuff out of it, and a fifteen-year-old would get something else out of it, and a 25-year-old would get a different thing out of it. [...]

JW: I find that when you read a script, or rewrite something, or look at something that's been gone over, you can tell, like rings on a tree, by how bad it is, how long it's been in development.

NG: Yes. It really is this thing of executives loving the smell of their own urine and urinating on things. And then more execs come in, and they urinate. And then the next round. By the end, they have this thing which just smells like pee, and nobody likes it.

JW: There's really no better way to put it.

I hadn't been to Gaiman's promo-heavy blog in a while, but the Sept 27 entry has a great link to a hilariously insulting review of his new movie Mirrormask. Forget the merits of the movie, which doesn't look all that exciting; it's astonishing that someone at the Voice, of all places, could still be using moronic, irrelevant slams at the entire medium of comics to set the tone for a review:

The contemporary zeal for graphic novels—fiction, let us remember, equipped with drawings and speech bubbles—

So much for a medium that mixes pictures and words to tell stories. The combination can surely only result in Lesser Art, right? Whatever.

Beyond Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World, there doesn't seem to be an American subgenre entry suitable for adult teeth...

Uh, there is Zwigoff's other movie, too, and the beautifully hard-boiled violence of Sin City, just off the top of my head. But the best part is at the end:

The measure of conviction needed to make and read comic books is all that's brought to bear....

That's a legit criticism of a movie? Where's this guy's editor? I would've thought the Voice was past printing such a broadly scattered attack on an entire medium while reviewing a piece of art from, er, a different medium. Sigh. It's an obviously wrong-headed attempt to rile readers, a sure sign of a writer trying to be a Bad Boy, but just coming off like an asshole. What a disappointment. [link]


9.28.05 - Links for this week's Monkeytime TV:

1. Did the Republicans pass over powerful 12-term congresscritter and chairman of the House Rules Committee David Drier as a replacement for Tom Delay because Drier, who used to live with his male chief of staff, is a closeted gay Republican? Ya think?

2. D.C. chief of police estimates last weekend's antiwar marchers: Protest organizers estimated that 300,000 people participated, triple their original target. D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who walked the march route, said the protesters achieved the goal of 100,000 and probably exceeded it. Asked whether at least 150,000 showed up, the chief said, "That's as good a guess as any.

Now, sports fans, ask yourself why the same story (and the N&O report of the march) starts with a mention of "tens of thousands" of people. Did the editors who minimized those numbers have better ways to estimate than the head of the D.C. cops? Yeah, right. It's doubtful they have a methodology that can withstand scrutiny; for years, journalists have simply relied on estimates from officials. So what was different this time? Hmm. Let's ask the N&O's public editor.

3. To news that New Orleans head cop Eddie Compass has resigned, careful Katrina observers can only say, "Good riddance." Forget the reports of cops failing to show up for duty; the real scandal is revealed in this Times-Picayune story. Compass (and his boss, Mayor Ray Nagin, but we'll leave that aside) was apparently the source of some of the most ridiculous exaggeration and fear-mongering we saw in the storm's aftermath:

Police, according to their chief, Eddie Compass, found themselves in multiple shootouts inside both shelters, and were forced to race toward muzzle flashes through the dark to disarm the criminals; snipers supposedly fired at doctors and soldiers from downtown high-rises.

In interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Compass reported rapes of "babies," and Mayor Ray Nagin spoke of "hundreds of armed gang members" killing and raping people inside the Dome. Unidentified evacuees told of children stepping over so many bodies, "we couldn't count." The picture that emerged was one of the impoverished, masses of flood victims resorting to utter depravity, randomly attacking each other, as well as the police trying to protect them and the rescue workers trying to save them. Nagin told Winfrey the crowd has descended to an "almost animalistic state."

Oh, really?

Four weeks after the storm, few of the widely reported atrocities have been backed with evidence. The piles of bodies never materialized, and soldiers, police officers and rescue personnel on the front lines say that although anarchy reigned at times and people suffered unimaginable indignities, most of the worst crimes reported at the time never happened.


In many cases, authorities gave credibility to portraits of violence broadcast around the world. Compass told Winfrey on Sept. 6 that "some of the little babies (are) getting raped" in the Dome. Nagin backed it with his own tale of horrors: ''They have people standing out there, have been in that frickin' Superdome for five days watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people.''

But both men have since pulled back to a degree. "The information I had at the time, I thought it was credible," Compass said, conceding his earlier statements were false. Asked for the source of the information, Compass said he didn't remember.

Nagin frankly acknowledged that he doesn't know the extent of the mayhem that occurred inside the Dome and the Convention Center - and may never. "I'm having a hard time getting a good body count," he said.

These were the leaders of the city, remember. Wait, the idiocy goes on:

Compass said rumors had often crippled authorities' response to reported lawlessness, sending badly needed resources to respond to situations that turned out not to exist...Compass, however, promulgated some of the unfounded rumors himself, in interviews in which he characterized himself and his officers as outgunned warriors taking out armed bands of thugs at every turn.

"People would be shooting at us, and we couldn't shoot back because of the families" [...] Compass added that he and his officers succeeded in wrestling 30 weapons from criminals using the follow-the-muzzle-flash technique, the story said. "We got 30 that way," Compass was quoted as saying.

Asked about the muzzle-flash story last week, Compass said, "That really happened" to Winn's SWAT team at the Convention Center. But Winn, when asked about alleged shootouts in a separate interview, said his unit saw muzzle flashes and heard gunshots only one time. Despite aggressively frisking a number of suspects, the team recovered no weapons. His unit never found anyone who had been shot.

Many soldiers and humanitarian workers now agree that although a number of bad actors committed violent or criminal acts, the evacuees responded well considering the hell they endured.

Jeebus. Remember how those awful stories contributed to the sense of hellish anarchy and horrible negativity in New Orleans during those crucial first days? I'm sorry, but spreading stories of rape, murder and chaos without the slightest regard for verification - to fucking Oprah, no less - is surely grounds for dismissal of a police chief. Talk about losing it in a crisis. Yeah, Mike Brown's a complete prick, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day. The New Orleans leadership failed miserably before and during Katrina. And that's a fact. [link]


9.15.05 - For the folks who watched this week's Monkeytime discussion of natural ways to get high, here's the article about, yes, monkeys rubbing millipede juice on their fur for an ecstatic lift. It originally appeared in the Miami Herald on Aug. 8, 2002, but isn't available at the site now. Luckily, I posted it in full three days later to

An imported species of millipede from the West Indies is flourishing in parts of South Florida, experts say. The capuchin and owl monkeys at the park like to rub the creatures on their fur, which sends them into a delirious state, said Sian Evans, who heads the DuMond Conservancy, a primate conservation group based at Monkey Jungle, the South Miami Dade tourist attraction...

Millipedes defend themselves by secreting a chemical that acts as a natural bug repellent, said Virginia-based millipede expert Richard Hoffman, who helped identify the species. Scientists believe the monkeys rub the bugs on their fur to ward off mosquitoes, a behavior documented in capuchin monkeys but never in the nocturnal owl monkeys.


The millipedes' secretions induce an excited state in the monkeys that lasts up to 30 minutes, kind of like how cats react to catnip.

''They bite the millipedes, then reach behind their back and rub it on their fur,'' said Evans, who added that the behavior is natural but rarely seen. "Their eyes glaze over and they're completely focused on what they're doing.''

Last week, one monkey shared a millipede with four family members and the entire family turned into a "writhing mass.''

''Could it be we have stumbled upon an ancient primate form of hallucinogens?'' Hoffman said. ``Who knows?''

Who indeed? [link]


9.7.05 - Katrina links for this week's show:

Tales of "anti-looting" from the president of the National Association of Black Journalists, just returned from southern Mississippi. A heartwarming antidote to last week's idiotic focus on stolen TVs and such.

Detailed first-hand account of ordinary people banding together in New Orleans last week in the face of few supplies and "numerous encounters with callous and hostile 'law enforcement.'" A must-read.

Save New Orleans Cocktail Hour!
Monday, September 12, 2005, 5-7pm. Courtesy of the New Orleans-based Museum of the American Cocktail. No bars in NC are participating yet, but let's just make our own and send a few bucks to a decent relief organization.

The photographer who wrote the caption about white folks "finding" food in New Orleans, Chris Graythen, defends his description here:
[scroll down about halfway]

Jeasus, I don't belive how much crap I'm getting from this. First of all, I hope you excuse me, but I'm completely at the end of my rope. You have no Idea how stressful this whole disaster is, espically since I have not seen my wife in 5 days, and my parents and grand parents HAVE LOST THIER HOMES. As of right now, we have almost NOTHING. Please stop emailing me on this one.

I wrote the caption about the two people who 'found' the items. I believed in my opinion, that they did simply find them, and not 'looted' them in the definition of the word. The people were swimming in chest deep water, and there were other people in the water, both white and black. I looked for the best picture. there were a million items floating in the water - we were right near a grocery store that had 5+ feet of water in it. it had no doors. the water was moving, and the stuff was floating away. These people were not ducking into a store and busting down windows to get electronics. They picked up bread and cokes that were floating in the water. They would have floated away anyhow. I wouldn't have taken in, because I wouldn't eat anything that's been in that water. But I'm not homeless. (well, technically I am right now.)

I'm not trying to be politically correct. I'm don't care if you are white or black. I spent 4 hours on a boat in my parent's neighborhood shooting, and rescuing people, both black and white, dog and cat. I am a journalist, and a human being - and I see all as such. If you don't belive me, you can look on Getty today and see the images I shot of real looting today, and you will see white and black people, and they were DEFINATELY looting. And I put that in the caption.

His pics at Getty from that day, though - including both white and black folks - don't currently have "looting" in the captions. The captions simply describe people getting "supplies" from a Walgreen's. Which is as it should be, but still doesn't address the issue at hand, which is that a lot of reporters apparently have a really fucked-up notion of what constitutes "looting" in a disaster. Clearly, the term is a loaded one that should seldom, if ever, be used by a thoughtful reporter of the facts. Taking a picture of a group of folks coming out of a store and labeling them all "looters" without seeing what they're "looting" is crock of shit journalism. It was also disgustingly common last week.

Hey, did ya here that Dick Cheney not only stayed on vacation until Thursday of last week, but also apparently doesn't think his disappearance at a time of national crisis is something he needs to explain? The political hubris is hilarious. Nothing wrong with the vice president fly fishing in Wyoming while New Orleans citizens are dying by the day, is there? Of course not. [link]


9.6.05 - Holy spin on a stick. It's simply mindblowing - wait, make that disgusting - to try to keep up with the partisan rage being spewed by left and right in the aftermath of Katrina. Is anyone able to see beyond the standard idiotic Republican-versus-Democrat lines? Yeesh. Do we want to prevent this kind of thing happening again or not? I sure do. With that in mind, here are three undeniable points about the Katrina mess:

1. It's completely indefensible that Bush appointed someone like Mike Brown to head FEMA. Any conservative who really believes people should get the jobs they deserve through hard work and solid qualifications has to be raising eyebrows at the fact that Brown had no disaster relief experience before his college buddy offered him a job at the federal, er, disaster relief organization. Come on, conservatives; it's a plain fact that Brown's previous job - from which he'd been forced out - had been "commissioner of judges and stewards for the International Arabian Horse Association." And his two chief deputies also apparently had no disaster relief experience before getting their jobs. Only a complete partisan hack could fail to see that Bush's decision to treat the management of FEMA as nothing but a political patronage plum was a pathetically short-sighted move. What on earth was our president thinking? I'm sorry, but that should be all you need, smart conservatives, to realize that someone high up in federal government wasn't taking American disaster relief seriously.

2. That said, any lefty who still wants to let local and state officials off the hook needs their head examined. I'm not talking about the absurd attempt by the White House to spread the lie that the Louisiana governor didn't declare a state of emergency until days after the hurricane hit; that's Rovian nonsense we now know was bullshit. I am talking about the obvious failure to adequately plan for the evacuation of sick, elderly, handicapped and poverty-stricken residents from New Orleans. I encourage anyone who thinks nothing more could have been done about that to spend time reading this April 2004 Oxfam America report [pdf] about the way Cuba deals with hurricane preparedness. It was released five months before Category 5 hurricane Ivan hit the island and resulted in zero deaths, and has lots to say about the importance of local and community efforts in keeping people safe:

The Potential for Disaster Mitigation: Focus on Local Government

Cuba’s reliance on local government authorities for risk reduction has demonstrated real benefits as a disaster mitigation strategy. Taking into account the differences in political systems, there is potential positive impact in strengthening the role of local government in risk reduction in Central America. The political will so lacking in the national arena often exists at the local level. Promoting local government as a principal actor in disaster preparedness and response builds on the philosophy behind decentralization, which is to make local government more accountable to the population.

Really, read as much of that report as you can, then go on to this praise from Medicc Review: "Of those evacuated, fully 78%...were sheltered in the homes of family, friends or neighbors. 8,026 tourists were transferred to safe areas. 359,644 boarding school students were transferred to their homes. 898,160 farm animals in vulnerable areas were moved to safer ground." If that's not enough, the International Red Cross had similar praise for Cuba's planning after Hurricane Michelle in 2001: " The contrast between events in Cuba and earlier disasters, such as Hurricanes Mitch and Georges in 1998 and the floods in Venezuela in 1999, is enormous." Any U.S. lefty who reads those reports and doesn't see the failure here of the Louisiana and New Orleans governments - a failure that ranks right up there with FEMA's astonishingly inept performance - is being a partisan fool.

3. That said, any smart observer of the Katrina mess has to be paying close attention to the repeated reports of FEMA's idiotic behavior - including my favorite so far: using qualified firefighters to hand out flyers with unusable phone numbers. And come on, if even a handful of the reports of FEMA turning back help are true, heads should roll:

Let me give you just three quick examples. We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water, trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn't need them. This was a week ago. FEMA--we had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard said, "Come get the fuel right away." When we got there with our trucks, they got a word. "FEMA says don't give you the fuel." Yesterday--yesterday--FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice. Our sheriff, Harry Lee, goes back in, he reconnects the line. He posts armed guards on our line and says, "No one is getting near these lines."

Someone please show me a reasonable explanation for the above. Please.

Others who went out of their way to offer help were turned down, such as Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who told reporters his city had offered emergency, medical and technical help as early as last Sunday to FEMA but was turned down. Only a single tank truck was requested, Daley said. Red tape kept the American Ambulance Association from sending 300 emergency vehicles from Florida to the flood zone, according to former senator John Breaux (D-La.) They were told to get permission from the General Services Administration. "GSA said they had to have FEMA ask for it," Breaux told CNN. "As a result they weren't sent."

And did you know that paperwork from Washington apparently delayed the deployment of National Guard troops from other states?

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson offered Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco help from his state's National Guard last Sunday, the day before Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. Blanco accepted, but paperwork needed to get the troops en route didn't come from Washington until late Thursday.

How moronic is that? Yes, New Orleans should have done more to plan for its poor and disabled - it's a city in a bowl below sea level, for crying out loud. But the federal response was utter horseshit, and conservatives need to wake up to that fact, too. Can we please stop defending indefensible partisan positions and just try to figure out what's gone wrong? And make sure this kind of preventable destruction doesn't ever happen again? [link]


9.4.05 - It couldn't be more obvious that the disgustingly mismanaged federal response to Katrina is a sign of colossal failure in the Bush administration, but smart lefties simply have to acknowledge that some of the failures also occured at local and state levels. Anything less is pure partisan hackery.

This post at the lefty blog Lenin's Tomb is a great place to start. It nails former Republican New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin as someone who, er, never had a plan to evacuate the poorest of the poor:

No help for the poor, car-less, aged, or infirm...I learned why in a New Orleans Times-Picayune article dated July 24. The city, state, and federal governments’ official plan or non-plan was simply to tell the poor, car-less, aged and infirm that they were on their own. If a hurricane struck, we, your government, can’t help you; we have no resources...Here are the Times-Picayune’s opening paragraphs from the July 24 story:

City, state and federal emergency officials are preparing to give the poorest of New Orleans' poor a historically blunt message: In the event of a major hurricane, you're on your own.

In scripted appearances being recorded now, officials such as Mayor Ray Nagin, local Red Cross Executive Director Kay Wilkins and City Council President Oliver Thomas drive home the word that the city does not have the resources to move out of harm's way an estimated 134,000 people without transportation.

In the video, made by the anti-poverty agency Total Community Action, they urge those people to make arrangements now by finding their own ways to leave the city in the event of an evacuation.

"You're responsible for your safety, and you should be responsible for the person next to you," Wilkins said in an interview. "If you have some room to get that person out of town, the Red Cross will have a space for that person outside the area. We can help you. But we don't have the transportation."

Yeah, that's right, the same guy who tugged our collective heartstrings in the post just below - and who is now saying he "kind of went off a little bit" - told the poor people of his city just a few weeks ago that "we don't have the transportation" to evacuate them in case of an emergency. I'm sorry, but all you folks rushing to condemn Cheney & Co. really need to address that. This isn't moronic spin from right-wing bloggers who'll do anything to deflect blame away from their Fearless Leader.

It's complex reality.

Which a lot of lefties seem to have trouble grasping these days. [link]


9.2.05 - If you want to understand what's happening in New Orleans, you have got to listen to this interview with an alternately furious and heartbroken Mayor Nagin, who says of the folks running the national rescue operation: "They're feeding the public a line of bull, and they're spinning." His comments about drug addicts wreaking havoc and attacking hospitals to take the edge off their fix are completely chilling. Seriously, listen to this:

"I don't want to see anybody do any more goddamn press conferences! Put a moratorium on press conferences. Don't do another press conference until the resources are in this city! [link]


8.31.05 - Links for this week's Monkeytime TV show:

Compare the conservative Carolina Journal and the liberal Common Sense Foundation on the sleazy way the NC Senate just approved a statewide lottery:

Carolina Journal - GOP members who were present accused Democratic leadership of reneging on a promise to not consider any further business this session. Sen. Harris Blake, a Pinehurst Republican, implied that Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight acted unethically by pressuring Garwood to not pair his vote with a lottery-supporting Democrat in order to allow passage...

When members of the Senate are unable to be present for a session, they sometimes “pair” their votes with a Senator on the other side of an issue, so that their missing vote will not affect the outcome. It is considered a common courtesy regularly extended to both parties. However, Garwood and Brown did not seek to pair their votes, which permitted the majority of Democrats to achieve a 24-24 split. The tie was broken by Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, a Democrat who presides over the Senate.

Common Sense Foundation - The shenanigans surrounding the bill were familiar; one public opponent, Republican Sen. Harry Brown, simply cannot be located (he is apparently on his honeymoon), and another, GOP Sen. John Garwood, was away due to illness. Despite (or more likely because of) their absence, the Senate leadership went ahead and held a critical vote on the state’s most controversial issue.

Word around the legislative chambers today was that Sen. Garwood initially asked for a “pairing” (a Senate courtesy that allowed his vote to be considered by canceling out an opposing vote), but then withdrew his request, allowing the lottery to pass. Assuming that this is true, then the leaders who encouraged this abdication (as well as the reluctant Sen. Garwood himself) deserve heaps of contempt for creating this dodge.

Heaps of contempt. Yeah, that about covers it.

Wish Raleigh had this kind of fun: Zombie kids - one of over 900 amazing and hilarious photos in the Vancouver ZombieWalk 2005 Flickr pool.

Eye-opening links about Hurricane Katrina:

A wife's desperate journey with her husband's corpse

Suicide at the Superdome

Cool New Orleans blog updates regularly

Armed looters are a real problem

Beautiful Metafilter comment about looting and morality

Sunset over the eyewall of the hurricane, taken from above

More to come...



8.16.05 - I haven't been regularly posting since God's voice first cracked, so I figure most of you reading this either watch my Raleigh cable access show or arrive via my user page at faraway blogs like Mefi. That being so, I feel a bit of a challenge to dig for posts that'll please both groups. Here's the first in what will hopefully be a long series of brilliant observations (if, that is, I manage to keep my anti-writing demons at bay [back, you fucking bastards]):

Triangle-based artist Phil Blank has been doing an amazing blog for almost a year, focusing on drawing, Buddhism, Beat philosophy and the psychology of creativity. He's a former co-worker I haven't seen for years, but the cool art and depth of insight he's been putting on display have been truly inspirational. Plus, he was the first person to clue me in to the fact that Robert Crumb is working on a comic book adaptation of the Book of Genesis, the beginning of which just so happens to have been the Torah portion I read for my bar mitzvah. That's as good a reason to keep on living as most others, right?

In a sane world Phil would be near the top of any of those moronic blog-rank schemes, but in this world he's nowhere close.

Gosh, what does that tell you? [link]

You can't stop now.


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