Saturday, December 31, 2005

Wassail Your Troubles Away

wassailing Here's to the old pagan tradition of wassailing the apple trees. From the Sulgrave Manor website we read:
" Apple trees were sprinkled with wassail to ensure a good crop. Villagers would gather around the apple trees with shotguns or pots and pans and made a tremendous racket to raise the Sleeping Tree Spirit and to scare off demons. A toast was then drunk from the Wassail Cup. Wassailing was meant to keep the tree safe from evil spirits until the next year's apples appeared.

Oh apple tree, we'll wassail thee
And hoping thou wilt bear
For the Lord does know where we may go
To be merry another year
To grow well and to bear well
And so merrily let us be
Let every man drink up his glass
And a health to the old apple tree
Brave boys, and a health to the old apple tree"
And a number of other variations on this theme can be found around the net, here:
"A cider-soaked cake is laid in the fork of a tree and then more cider is splashed on it. The men fire their guns into the tree and bang on pots and pans while the rest of the people bow their heads and sing the special `Wassail Song`. This custom is said to ward off bad spirits from the orchard and encourages the good spirits to provide a bountiful crop for the following year.
In other traditions, the men of the village went out to the orchards carrying the wassail bowl, to alternately serenade and browbeat the apple trees. There were songs, dances and libations (for tree and man) until finally, in frustration, the trees would be threatened with the axe if they did not produce well in the coming year. A newspaper account of 1851 documents Devonshire men firing guns (charged only with powder) at the trees."
and here:
"It was apparently an old midwinter custom (old Christmas eve or old twelfth night or some such time) to get together in an orchard and drink cider or strong beer, possibly warmed and spiced, have a bonfire, fire shotguns into the tres 'to frighten off hte evil spirits', sing, and depending on local tradition carry out various customs, the most common of which was for a piece of toast on which some cider had been poured to be put nto the oldest tree 'for the robins'. "
and here:
"Wassail is an ale-based drink seasoned with spices and honey. It was served from huge bowls, often made of silver or pewter. The Wassail bowl would be passed around with the greeting, 'Wassail'.
Wassail gets its name from the Old English term "waes hael", meaning "be well". It was a Saxon custom that, at the start of each year, the lord of the manor would shout 'waes hael'. The assembled crowd would reply 'drinc hael', meaning 'drink and be healthy'.
As time went on, the tradition was carried on by people going from door to door, bearing good wishes and a wassail bowl of hot, spiced ale. In return people in the houses gave them drink, money and Christmas fayre and they believed they would receive good luck for the year to come.
The contents of the bowl varied in different parts of the country, but a popular one was known as lambs wool. It consisted of ale, baked apples, sugar, spices, eggs, and cream served with little pieces of bread or toast. It was the bread floating on the top that made it look like lamb's wool."
The recipe for making a wassail bowl found in The Joy of Cooking is about as authentic as you can get:
• 1 dozen apples
• 1 cup water
• 4 cups sugar
• 1 tablespoon grated nutmeg
• 2 teaspoons ground ginger
• 1/2 teaspoon ground mace
• 6 whole cloves
• 6 allspice berries
• 1 stick cinnamon
• 1 dozen eggs, whites and yolks separated and reserved
• 4 bottles sherry or madeira
• 2 cups brandy
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Core and bake apples for about 30 minutes, until tender but not mushy.
In a saucepan, combine water, sugar, nutmeg, ginger, mace, cloves, allspice berries and cinnamon and boil for 5 minutes. Let cool.
Beat egg whites until stiff, forming soft peaks, but not dry. Separately, beat egg yolks until light in color. Gently fold whites into yolks, using large bowl. Strain cooled sugar and spice mixture through sieve into eggs, combining quickly. In separate pots, bring sherry or madeira and brandy almost to the boiling point.
Incorporate hot sherry or madeira with the spice and egg mixture, beginning slowly and stirring briskly with each addition. Toward the end of this process, add brandy. Just before serving and while mixture is still foaming, add baked apples. Serve in a heat-resistant punch bowl or in individual mugs."
You can read a similar recipe with song and story here.

A couple years ago some friends and we sang and danced around the old man apple tree in our back yard (the "old man" being the oldest, largest of the trees), and we had a remarkably huge crop of fruit from all the trees the following summer.

wassailWhile I can't recommend the activity for everyone, I enjoyed it immensely, and although the drink itself wasn't as tasty as I'd hoped for, it was an interesting exercise in reconnecting to the past. But on this, the nub end of the old year and the brink of the new, I can't think of anything better than to wish you all better days and better luck. As the old song says:

Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too,
And God bless you and send you,
A happy New Year,
And God send you,
A happy new year.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Black Sabbatical

(Crossposted in part at CorrenteWire)

I've been away, and I know the place has gone to hell. My TTLB eco-status is fast devolving to the paramecium level, and I'm too distracted to care. The news, when I let myself think too much about it, feels like a chunk of sharpened obsidian trepanning into my skull. If I'm going to be lobotomized, at least let it be by my own hand. The abortion thing, Alito, Iraq, Rod Stewart singing old standards...any number of rampant stupidities at large in the land at any given moment make me just want to hide my head and cry.
NOLA 188
So I can't blog now. I feel like I owe it to the people who have read my stuff to at least give that much notice. Fatigue, depresssion, constantly phasing in and out of illness, I'm pretty useless for anything except work, for which I save all my energy, and even there I'm pretty much phoning it in. I've decided to take a sabbatical for the next month, in hopes that after the holidays I'll be in better shape and more worthy to add my two cents here and elsewhere. I may sit down and work on the template now and then. Maybe even type something brief. But probably not.

In the meantime, keep plugging NOLA. And watch out for others who want to cover it over, using the excuse that it's not healthy to dwell on all the bad. There's a fine line to be walked between keeping up morale for the people who dream of rebuilding their homes, and rah-rahing a bunch of no-nothing bullshit to make the rest of the world think the place is going to be just like new in another couple months. The second approach is a sure way to let people off the hook from caring about the worst natural disaster to ever hit our country. It was 95,000 square miles of damage. Over 5000 people are still missing. Bodies were still being pulled out while I was there, only a couple miles from my shelter in Kenner.

If it was your home, you would tell anyone else who advised you to cash it in and move away to go fuck themselves. We owe it to them to remember, and do something about it.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Attention Science Wonks, Political Junkies, & Critter Lovers

That about covers my readership, doesn't it?

Philly's main PBS station, WHYY, has announced a trio of Katrina-related documentaries that sound good to me. Times and days may vary, depending on your local PBS station. From their e-mailed ad:

"Nature "Katrina's Animal Rescue"
Sunday, November 20 at 8 p.m.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, animal experts rushed to the frontlines of the disaster to stage emergency rescue missions for the tens of thousands of animals left behind. Nature recorded these amazing stories of courage and survival, taking viewers deep into the center of the hurricane catastrophe on small boats to search for surviving pets. The film captures the intensity of efforts to save not only dogs and cats (and reunite them with their families), but also penguins, dolphins and other zoo and aquarium animals, and imparts a sense of the triumphs and disappointments of this massive operation.

What Went Wrong?
Tuesday, November 22
WHYY presents two riveting new programs about the Hurricane Katrina disaster:

8 p.m.: NOVA "Storm That Drowned a City" analyzes the forces that made Katrina so deadly, and

9 p.m.: Frontline "The Storm" investigates the government's response before and after this national tragedy."

And if you're lucky enough to own a digital tuner, their HD station kicks ass.

Whistling Past Somebody Else's Graveyard

In NOLA there is no dearth of signs like this:


popping up all over street corners and other high-visibility sites, advertising jobs, loans, cleaning and restoration services, "house gutting", and often just that businesses closed for storm damage have re-opened again. Among these are always the ones announcing "Katrina lawsuits" and legal assistance.



In yesterday's NYTimes, the editorial noticed that Katrina survivors, having had enough of Bush's compassionate conservatism, are taking matters into their own hands:
"Public outrage is clearly growing over the federal government's woefully inadequate program for housing the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Last week a group of survivors filed the first of what are likely to be several lawsuits alleging that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has failed to live up to its responsibilities. The recovery effort has been subject to blistering criticism from conservative, nonpartisan and liberal groups alike.
The same basic question is this: Why did the Bush administration focus on trailer parks built by FEMA - which is actually not a housing agency - instead of giving the lead role to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has so much experience on this issue?"
"Outrage" barely expresses it. Everywhere you go in New Orleans and environs you can see the anger, written on the sides of buildings ("Screw you, Nagin, we made our own plan"), spelled out on broken signs with magnetic letters ("Where was FEMA?"), scrawled on the ruined appliances that litter the streets ("Build a crap wall. What Katrina left, Wilma will take"), on homemade signs propped up in the piles of detritus and trash unbiquitous to the curbs in front of almost every house ("Evacuate Broussard" "Thanks, Aaron!"), and on the T-shirts sold by small vendors in the Quarter ("FEMA: Federal Employees Missing Again").

That anger shouted eloquently from the buildings of New Orleans, gave voice to the diaspora long since departed and the powerless still trapped inside. Here is what I wrote on 10/26/05 in the journal I kept while down there:
"The broken bodies of rotted and collapsed buildings have become billboards for the anger and pain of the people of NOLA and the towns surrounding it. Sprawled over 4 corners (of an intersection) and down half the city blocks beyond, piles of ruined stuffed animals 6 or 7 feet high, the ruins of a warehouse that held a man's entire livelihood. Delicate little houses with wrought ironwork and still-vibrant paint jobs, broken, rotting, and abandoned for miles. The fluorescent red or orange "X" painted on house after house, a sign left by those who entered searching for bodies or the still-living in need of rescue. At the top is the date of inspection--most are dated around 9/15 or later, some as late as early October. On the left, the initials of the inspecting group.

9th Ward

At the bottom, the number of dead found; usually that was a "0", meaning none. To see a number other than the struck through zero there always gave me a chill. The letters in the right side of the cross still remain a mystery. Sometimes they seemed to indicate a direction, as in "NE". Other times they made no sense at all. And often I'd see "TFW" written (inside a circle). I still don't know what it is. The SPCA would sometimes weigh in, as well. Their messages were easy to decipher: "K-9 moved to corner"; "1 dog alive"; "2 cats under house"; and sometimes "no dogs" or "1 dead cat".
Between these signs and messages, and the words written by the ones who had to leave in anger and bitterness, even the parts of NOLA that are still and lifeless vibrate with a thousand voices, reaching out to communicate with anyone who comes after. "Help! Help! Help!" reads the house on the street in the lower Ninth Ward. Places where not a living thing moves can make the tears come, when you read the stories that have been left there. Holes in roofs torn by the desperate, trapped inside their houses while trying to escape rising waters, still gape to remind us of their terror.
To imagine living here, constantly facing the massive deconstruction on every corner, in every yard, with your entire environment looking like one big landfill;

17th St Levee

to live growing numb to the ugliness; to expect mud, cracked earth, endless dust, to always be hacking and coughing, living with low-level respiratory ailments; to wait without hope for salvation from the insurance company, the city, the federal government, to live with price gouging. To live in tents.
At home it has rained endlessly, and been cold. Here, the sun has shone everyday, and the earth is parched. Hurricane Wilma's hellacious winds sent water into the Ninth Ward again Tuesday, and what small progress made there was halted.
Halloween in the Quarter I wish I could say I'll miss NOLA, or Louisiana, but I won't. It's too flat for my soul, and I miss the seasons. Fall doesn't exist here, at least in a way that makes sense to a Yankee. The few Halloween decorations I've noticed look as out of place as a Christmas tree in the middle of a bandstand on a summer night. But most of all, I won't miss the constant low-level misery, the endless fighting back against despair that is the lot of every person here. I've come to love the strength, humor, and compassion of the local people. But I don't have enough of any of those qualities to bear their miseries."
On my day off wandering the French Quarter, one of the last people I talked to before leaving New Orleans was a small, sweet Filipino woman who ran a little souvenir shop across from the French Market. She told me how her children,ages 10 to 16, lived in Florida now because there was no place for them to stay since the storm had destroyed her house. How she was waiting and waiting and waiting for FEMA to provide her with a trailer. How the insurance company had kissed her off. How determined she was to stay on and keep trying. I told her about the Vietnamese community of Willowbrook, still deprived of power and water and being pressured to allow their land to be condemned, and the people of Lakeview, who came up to our trucks sobbing, who told us of having no income for 2 months and being made to jump through hoops by the city (set up an inspection of the property which will take half a month, then wait, then send in over $100 for the permit) in order to repair their homes. I shared with her the stories other residents had shared with me, and it made her feel less alone. We hugged and cried together.

One of the striking things about the NOLA area was the brightly colored blue tarps I had seen on roofs everywhere since I'd been down there, and shortly after my conversation with the souvenir shop owner, I learned what it was all about. A few blocks down I met an Army Corps of Engineers engineer, who had been inspecting buildings for the FEMA Blue Roof program. As it turns out. this is nothing more than plastic sheeting installed over the damaged areas, in order to stem any further damages from the elements, until the homeowner can pay someone to fix it. If the damage is too extensive (50% or more) or makes the roof structurally unsound, it disqualifies the applicant for assistance. He told me about the Blue Roof program, and how the ACE works with FEMA on it. This is what one of their notices looks like when it goes up on a property that fails to conform to the criteria for eligibility:

French Quarter

We also talked about what we had seen in the Ninth Ward, and he told me of a little old woman with problems getting around who refused to leave her house (no one was supposed to be cleared to stay there at the time). I gave him the cell phone number for one of my Red Cross supervisors so he could pass on her location. Later I learned from one of the supervisors that ERV crews had seen an old woman there rocking on her porch. I don't know what, if anything, they did.

And this is what FEMA puts up when they are trying to get in to inspect a property where the owner has requested assistance, and the owner is not at home.

French Quarter

The owner may have been applying from Texas or New York, for all I know, which could account for them not being home. Whether FEMA would be aware of those circumstances would, I guess, depend on whether they are currently being run as a real agency or just a money-laundering crony employment initiative. But the condition of the house in question, which was obviously damaged and shuttered on a street with very little sign of life, might give a clue:

French Quarter

Public outrage? Not nearly enough. The majority of those affected are still reeling from massive psychological damage. Struggling just to get by from one day to the next makes it hard to think about the political and legal affronts that facilitated your misery. It takes awhile to organize behind that. People continue to suffer without power or water or transportation or easy access to food. The most common request from the people we served from the trucks was for ice. Yet for some reason people think ice is no longer an issue. Illness is rampant. Businesses are struggling to open. Jobs go begging because there is no place to live. There is no real infrastructure. Migrant workers have been shipped in to do the dangerous work of salvage, and are being forced to sleep in buses or in tents in fields. Homelessness is starting to climb again, now that the evictions have started and the vulturine landlord class has price-jacked rents. The displaced are sleeping with their children in tents while trying to find or keep jobs.


The outrage is that for some reason many people have put this unprecedented disaster behind them, and think that it will all be over in a year or two. The outrage is that Bush and his coterie of fratboys and creeps still animate the governmental corpse like a cabal of voodoo priests, and that not once since the embarrassment of the initial inconvenient slaughter has he willingly looked in on the progress being made in the Gulf Coast, or offered anything like an open hand to its ravaged victims, 5000 of whom remain missing in action. The outrage is that he still sits in the White House, and the rest of us yawn and go back to picking lint from our navels, or whatever it is that passes for quality time spent in America these days, and wait for someone else to fix everything.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Checking In

American Government Awash In Cases Of Avian Flu
---Thousands Believed Braindead

Just a note to those who may have wondered if I died.

The answer is: not yet, but my body keeps trying. I've been dragging around with some kind of chest infection for over a week, and I may be fighting off a re-visitation of my illness in New Orleans. Whatever it is, it's made it really hard to sit in front of the computer after spending all my energy on day-to-day chores, and I'm finally giving in and seeing the doc tomorrow. Hopefully this will get me back into the soup and writing. After that baldly shameless shit-slinging of Bush's last week, I can hardly stand to sit by and let these golden opportunities go past. After all...there he was, channeling Karl Rove's up-is-down junkyard dog snarl and blaming the Democrats for giving him exactly what he wanted back at a time when anyone who dared speak out against the resolution was being branded a traitor by Bushco operatives in and out of the media.

In the meantime, while we're on the subject of the braindead, read Charles Pierce's wonderful assessment of the state of the Union's literacy rate, Greetings From Idiot America.

Just in time for Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Grave Blanket Of Comforting Lies

Leah has a thoughtful post up marking Veteran's Day.

Me, I'm sick of it all. I just got back from a part of the world where the destruction is so vast and pitiless that I think we have more on our plate than we can handle, just dealing with Nature's wars. Yet we persist in creating more for ourselves. marsI'm not adding one more voice to the chorus, however well intended, about how brave and heroic the warrior class is. Because what it comes down to is that you put people out there in endlessly repeated situations where all that matters is staying alive and depending on their comrades to help them do that, and then you praise them for it. You pick out the inevitable shining diamonds of decency and the moments of humanity that many of them act out, that will let them rise above the carnage for however brief a moment, and praise them and what they have had to endure, and it makes the attraction of fighting and dying all the more alluring, cements the mythology even more tightly to the reality it obscures, the reality that war is death to the human soul and a wallow in the worst evils man can produce. The young are full of fire and believe in their own immortality and are eager to prove to themselves and the world that they can walk through that fire, and the old are eager to give them the chance by stoking them with jingoistic lies and the false religion of patriotism.

Every time we cry over our dead and elevate them above us as heroes for fighting in a war we did not, we give fodder to the war-making machine that is never filled, and we give the halo of desirability to the deaths to come.

I refuse to do this anymore. War is not heroic. It is not a lesser evil. It is not an inevitable fact of life we must adjust ourselves to, and everytime we pacify ourselves with that lie, we make the next war as inevitable as the next rainstorm.

It's time to end this myth, because the only thing it does is provide never-ending justification to the warmongers who need us to believe it in order to power their machine.

I hate the loss of so much life. It is a crime and a sin. It is a sin for which no church can offer justification. It's time to pull the tooth of the war god, and say "Enough."

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Law

"Power is always gradually stealing away from the many to the few, because the few are more vigilant and consistent; it still contracts to a smaller number, till in time it centers in a single person. Thus all the forms of governments instituted among mankind perpetually tend towards monarchy; and power, however diffused through the whole community, is by negligence or corruption, commotion or distress, reposed at last in the chief magistrate."---Samuel Johnson

stgeorgeandthedragon-raphael A writ of habeas corpus is an ancient legal protection grounded in English Common Law that allows a prisoner to demand an appearance before a court as to the lawfulness of his or her detention. It has always been one of the most basic sovereign rights accorded to individuals by our justice system for protection against an unlawful imprisonment, even before our revolution and the drafting of our constitution. Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution states:

Clause 2: The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.
That's "Rebellion or invasion", neither of which have occurred here, regardless of how Bushco tries to deform the definitions of those terms. The BBC gives a quick overview:

" Sir William Blackstone, who wrote his famous Commentaries on the Laws of England in the 18th Century, recorded the first use of habeas corpus in 1305. But other writs with the same effect were used in the 12th Century, so it appears to have preceded Magna Carta in 1215.
Its original use was more straightforward - a writ to bring a prisoner into court to testify in a pending trial. But what began as a weapon for the king and the courts became - as the political climate changed - protection for the individual against arbitrary detention by the state.
It is thought to have been common law by the time of Magna Carta, which says in Article 39: "No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor will we send upon him except upon the lawful judgement of his peers or the law of the land."
Over the next few hundred years, concern grew that kings would whimsically intervene on matters of detention, so it was enshrined in law in 1679. "
Now Jerrilyn Merritt at Talk Left reports that the attack on this ancient right that began last spring has geared up:

"Tinkering with habeas corpus is a dangerous thing. Today, Sen. Lindsay Graham and his fellow Senators told you they are only restricting habeas rights of enemy combatants, i.e., foreigners. But on November 16, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a second hearing on S. 1088 (pdf), a bill that would gut habeas corpus rights for Americans.
The legislation, known as the Streamlined Procedures Act, would effectively kill the writ of habeas corpus by stripping federal courts of jurisdiction to consider cases in which a prisoner's constitutional rights may have been violated. The legislation would apply to all criminal cases, including capital cases. The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) in the Senate and Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) in the House."
What I don't think these people anticipate is the firestorm of objection that will surely come from, not just bleeding-heart liberals, but foamy-mouthed reactionaries and libertarians as well. The same "unlikely bedfellows" principle that foiled Michael Powell's FCC fold to the media giants will likely prevail in this case as well; simply too many people's oxen stand to be gored. And while this alone keeps me from freaking too heavily behind this bald-faced attempt to deep-six the Constitution, the other part scares me even more deeply: that we ourselves are sending representatives to Washington who neither understand nor care about the law or its protections against tyranny. And that even if this travesty is defeated, the mindset that conceived it is not going to go away.

Is it any wonder Bushco shills have been trying to disembowel the public education system?

Friday, November 04, 2005

More Pictures

I-10 Downtown
I-10 Downtown.

17th St Levee
17th St. Levee.


Everywhere you go in New Orleans and environs you'll see these small signs popping up like mushrooms, advertising house gutting or clean water or legal services, or simply announcing that some local business has re-opened.

17th St. Levee
17th St. Levee.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Some Pictures

Without comment.
Rampart St
Rampart St.

Vieux Carre
French Quarter.

17th St Levee
17th St Levee.

Canal St
Canal St.


Monday, October 31, 2005

Shell Shock

I'm back.

I got in last night after a long day in airports via Baton Rouge and Atlanta, and I'm decompressing right now. I'm taking a couple days off from work, and I'm not writing yet. It's turned out to be a much more complicated emotional journey than I expected, and I really need some time to process what I've been through. ARC mental health staff who interviewed me during outprocessing said it's normal, and that I will be working through a grieving period that could last a long time. In addition, the work was physically exhausting, and I came down with strep throat while I was there. I had no internet access, and hardly any access to news of the rest of the world, which was probably a blessing, given what was already on my agenda. Right now, away from the work and the situation and able to finally let down my defenses, I'm surprised to discover that despite a day off Friday and a day to outprocess Saturday, I'm exhausted physically and mentally, and operating on about 20% of my usual brain cells. Everything seems to be happening in slow motion, and a lot of what I'm experiencing doesn't yet seem real. I cry easily when I talk about the people of New Orleans, and it's because I fell in love with them. I don't know HOW I'll be able to go back to work in this state, but I know I need to go...they are short-handed right now.

I have 205 pictures, and a journal to glean stories from, as well as my own raw memories, so I will be telling quite a few tales soon. In the meantime, I really need to take my own time in getting the stories out, for my own mental well-being. That means I'll be writing soon, but not tomorrow, or the next day. I don't know when. Set up an office pool: "Riggsveda will return on-line on "X" date". But soon. Be patient with me.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Good Night And Good Luck

If you read my previous post on the subject, you know I signed up to do Red Cross disaster assistance for the hurricane survivors. Well, today I got the call, and at the ungodly hour of 5:40 a.m. on Sunday morning I'll be leaving Philly for Baton Rouge. That's the staging area I'm being sent to, and the place whose hurricane damage Bill Clinton, upon his visit there Tuesday, called "astonishing." I heard him talking about it on the radio, and in a few brief minutes he spoke more sense about the disaster and its ramifications for the region and the country than I have ever heard come out of George Bush's mouth in 5 endless years of stumping and photo ops.

Anyway, I'll be away for 3 weeks, so this my temporary sign-off till I get back in November. Lately I've missed a lot of great opportunities to write loud and bitter polemicals against the increasing stupidities of the age, and now it's too late. And I'll miss being here for my favorite month of the year, and my traditional October reading of stories of the supernatural on my daily commute. I'll miss my family, and my home, and my pets, and all the old familiar things that I usually bitch so much about. And it's kind of scary, not knowing what lies ahead, or what people will think of me when I get there.

Then I think that the people who suffered through the storms are also missing many of those same things, and the difference is that I'll get to come back to my life and my precious things pretty much the way I left them, whereas those folks will never be able to. And the people who have been uprooted and forced to disperse to strange places where they have no friends or family are also scared, and the stakes in not knowing what to expect are so much higher for them.

So I think I'll just shut up now, and wrap this up. Wish me bonne chance, and that I can make myself useful.


Scary Stories

flu virus penetrating human cell wallI love this time of year. Time for scary stuff, like more mad cow disease news, and brand-new Supreme Court deliberations, and creepy pictures, like this one of a virus penetrating a human cell. That's right, folks, it’s Pandemic Flu Awareness Week, and that means learning all about how the influenza virus works, what it can do to you when it gets its hemagglutininous hands on your sialic acid receptors, and lastly, getting worried enough to pay attention to what the powers that be are doing (or not doing) about it all.

The synchronicity of this is also fairly creepy. Over the last couple years I've been learning about the great flu pandemic of the early 20th century. Just a few years ago PBS ran a documentary about it, Influenza 1918. Then last week, baited by the Borders' 3 for 2 sale, I picked up a copy of John M. Barry's fine book, The Great Influenza, an account of the 1918 pandemic of the influenza virus known affectionately among scientists as good old "H1N1". And I've been buttonholing friends and innocent bystanders with all the gory details ever since.grim_death_william_strand_20cent

In that exponential way the quest for knowledge expands when a curious reader is exposed to the virus of a fascinating concept, I started reading everything I could find to try to understand what all this was about. I knew something about viruses from the first literary Big Scare, brought on by Richard Preston's The Hot Zone, which gruesomely detailed the habits and effects of the Ebola and Marburg viruses. What I didn't know was that the 1918 pandemic killed "more people than any other outbreak of disease in human history," as Barry put it in his book. And it did it in only 2 years' time. The last two days the papers have been full of the latest Bush talking points about how to prepare for a pandemic. Yesterday, as I was working on this post, I heard NPR announcing that a couple teams of scientists have made a major breakthrough, identifying the 1918 H1N1 killer as a bird flu virus that had jumped species directly into humans. The story has been on the online NYTimes for two days now.

chickenInfluenza virus is believed to have originated in wild birds. The one that particularly worries scientists today is known by the catchy name “H5N1”. You've probably heard plenty about this by now: the intermittent reports of avian flu in Southeast Asia, the slaughter of over a million domestic fowl in Hong Kong, the deaths of a Thai woman and her daughter that pointed to a possible first human-to-human transmission, the surprise deaths in a wealthy Jakarta suburb of a father and his two young daughters who had no known contact with birds.

Why is this so worrisome? While the virus has demonstrated that it can transmit itself bird-to-human, it has not been positively identified as being able to transmit human-to-human (though some circumstantial evidence exists that it may have). And in human-to-human transmission lies the potential for a pandemic. If it establishes itself as a human vector, it can devastate untold numbers of people around the world because, since no such virus has ever attacked the current living human populace, no one now living has developed any immunity to it.

four_skulls_and_an_infant_lucas_kilian_1614Transmission is a tricky business, because viruses have an almost sci-fi ability to mutate. Most of them are species specific; they may only infect horses and birds, or birds and pigs, or humans and monkeys. Some can adapt to leap the species barrier from, say, bird to human, but once into the new species, cannot go any further. Others, though, can adapt to not only leap that barrier, but settle in and spread throughout the new species, and these adaptations are made possible by genetic mutation. But more on that in a minute.

Yesterday Bloomberg reported:
“A 23-year-old Indonesian man who died last week tested positive for bird flu, increasing to seven the number of human fatalities from the disease, a doctor at the Sulianto Saroso hospital in Jakarta said.
death_plays_violin_annymous_britishThe World Health Organization laboratory in Hong Kong will need to confirm the local test results. The UN agency has so far confirmed four human fatalities from H5N1, a deadly strain of the avian influenza virus, in Indonesia....
More than 140 million chickens have been slaughtered in Asia because of concern the H5N1 strain of the virus may mutate into a form easily transmissible between humans. As humans are unlikely be immune to such a virus, the World Health Organization is concerned it may trigger an influenza pandemic like the one that led to more than 40 million deaths worldwide in 1918.
The highly pathogenic H5N1 is endemic in poultry in many parts of Indonesia, WHO said in the statement, citing the Food and Agriculture Organization. More than 10 million chickens have been killed by the virus since the outbreak in 2003, Agriculture Minister Anton Apriantono said on Sept. 19.
There has been no confirmation of human-to-human transmission of the virus. One case of probable human-to-human infection occurred in Thailand last year, when a mother and her daughter died from the disease.”
No confirmation. But the more recent deaths in Jakarta also occurred where no direct contact with fowl was known to have taken place. Let’s take a few steps back, and see what we’re dealing with.

flu virus cutawayThe influenza virus, like all viruses, has only one known function: to replicate itself. It does this by invading a host cell, hijacking the gene-making machinery inside, and forcing the cell to reproduce so many of the original virus that the sheer number of them finally bursts open the cell and kills it. The newly-escaped brood of up to a million new viruses then sets out to do the same to the nearest suitable cells.

What makes a suitable cell? When a bird gets the flu, it goes for the gastrointestinal tract. In human beings, it attacks the respiratory system, which means the epithelial cells that protect the surface of the lungs and bronchi. (While it may take the virus less than 72 hours to denude the respiratory surfaces of epithelial cells, it will take the body weeks to build them back up again--if it survives). In the meantime, their destruction can allow the virus to penetrate deep into the lobes of the lungs, resulting in viral pneumonia, or let bacteria in, causing bacterial pneumonia. In either case, the resulting war between the invader and the body's immune system can wreak such destruction that, in the worst cases, the capillaries can be destroyed by killer proteins and the lungs fill up with fluid, blood, dead cells, collagen, and fibrin, drowning the victim or causing heart failure or death by exhaustion from the sheer strain of trying to breathe.biohazard

Normally when a micro-organism invades the body, the immune system rallies to attack it, and it recognizes the foreign invader by the antigens it carries. Once it has engaged the enemy in combat, the immune system "remembers" what that enemy looks like because the antigens have caused it to release antibodies specific to those antigens. Thereafter, any further attack will rally the same antibodies, resulting in a response so swift and effective that the body can be said to have developed an immunity to the invasive organism. The principle of vaccination capitalizes on this process by introducing antigens into the body in a controlled way so the immune system can learn to recognize them and create the antibodies that will immunize the body in case of future encounters.

death_and_the_fool_Albrecht_Durer_1507The antigens of the influenza virus consist of two types of protrusions carried like spikes all over its surface: hemagglutinin (the "H" factor), which enables it to bind to the host cell, and once inside, break into the genetic machinery, and neuraminidase (the "N" factor), which destroys the sialic acid of the host cell and allows the newly-created viruses to escape the dying cell and explode into the body. The flu virus' RNA-based genetic code provides no safeguard against mutation as it replicates in the hijacked cell (resulting in the creation of literally millions of different kinds of "quasi-species" in the course of a few hours), and unlike many other viruses, it can survive the mutation of its antigens and continue to function. Worse, it has the demonic ability to mutate not only properties of these antigens when replicating (antigen drift), but even entirely new antigens if it comes into contact with other different types of flu viruses (antigen shift). "Antigen drift" hides a virus from an immune system that once recognized it, resulting in epidemics, which is why flu vaccines have to be constantly changed and updated. But “antigen shift”, essentially the creation of a brand-new type of virus that the immune system has never encountered in any form, is what causes pandemics, the ultimate concern scientists have about the H5N1 virus. This means if a human being contracts the H5N1 virus from a bird, and also happens to be carrying a human flu virus, the two organisms may collide during replication, where the loose strings of RNA genes may come apart and reassort with each other, suddenly resulting in a virus that inherits the human virus’ ability to transmit from person to person. The same can happen when a 3rd party “mediates” the mutation, as with pigs, which are susceptible to both avian and human viruses. If a pig happens to carry both at the same time, it may pass to its handlers a mutant that may go on to infect other humans.

death_snares_the_king_german_17centAt this point there is uncertainty as to whether H5N1 has yet mutated in this way, though if it had, its virulence would have likely begun killing far more people by now. The World Health Organization reports that as of 9/29/05, there were 116 cases resulting in 60 deaths--a mortality rate of 52%. But even if the transmission issue is still uncertain, there is absolutely no doubt among scientists everywhere, from those at WHO to the Center for Disease Control, that it is a very real danger. The announcement yesterday by the teams of researchers at the CDC confirms that the pandemic flu of 1918 developed just as they fear H5N1 is developing.

Here is the paradox: the more virulent the influenza virus, the more violently the immune system reacts, and the healthier the immune system is, the stronger that reaction will be. This is why the pandemic of 1918 killed so many young adults. The deaths of young, healthy people in Asia who contracted H5N1 is a warning signal.

flu campWhat can we do? It's not as if we can get into the lab and whip up our own genetically recombined virus for a vaccine. Mike Davis, author of Monster at Our Door, outlined in Common Dreams last year the many problems that would prevent an appropriate and sufficient response to a pandemic: lack of a vaccine and limited production capacity, lack of a vast-enough vaccine delivery system, and lack of public knowledge or interest. Add to that John Barry's more recent assessment: drug-resistant bacteria, insufficient medical facilities, long waiting lists and insufficient manufacturing capacity for antiviral drugs like Tamiflu, massive economic and social disruption, and of course, the deaths, for which current casket inventories would be completely inadequate, resulting in the piling up of corpses in homes and everywhere else.

How many corpses would H5N1 leave in it's wake? Barry's equation is that a new flu virus will make between 14-40% of the population symptomatic. Using that percentage, and using the mortality rate of 52% mentioned above, here in the United States we could expect from 44 million to 115 million to fall ill, and from 23 million to 58 million dead. We have never, ever experienced that kind of devastation: 20% of our populace dead, and the majority of them, if true to the 1918 virus, young adults.

So now the government has been all over the news the last couple days crowing about all the work they're going to do on this issue.

You saw the Katrina response.

What will you be expecting?

Monday, October 03, 2005

You'll Want A Cigarette After This

Informed Comment gets down.

After collecting all the circumstantial evidence on the Plame affair from the last few years and tying it all up it a neat, convenient package for easy consumption, Juan Cole fingers the real culprits, then tacks up his 95 Theses to the old wooden door of his blog:

"Rove and Libby were chosen as the hatchet men who would actually talk to the reporters and put the information around. But of course Bush and Cheney were part of the deliberations that set the plan in motion. It involved outing a career CIA operative (and likely getting her contacts in the third world killed). It was very serious business. Bush would have had to have signed off on it, at least orally.

As long as the Republicans control both houses of congress, Bush is probably safe. I'm not sure a special counsel like Fitzpatrick could by himself bring down a president. But if the Democrats can take the Senate in 2006, this scandal could turn into an impeachment trial.

I have long been frustrated by the US press's tendency to talk about Bush's cabinet officers as though they were independent agents, and to put Bush on a pedestal. Let me just follow through on some further assertions in the spirit of Stephanopoulos's remark.

It is fruitless to speculate about who dissolved the Iraqi army in May of 2003, and why. (This move contributed to the rise of the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement). Bush did it!

Who ordered the Marines, against their better judgement, to launch a reprisal attack on Fallujah after four Western private security guards were killed and their bodies desecrated there? Bush did it!

Who authorized torture at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib? Bush did it!

Who appointed Michael Brown, a man with no experience in emergency management, head of FEMA? Bush did it!

Who let Bin Laden escape from Tora Bora? Bush did it!

Who completely destroyed the fiscal health of the US government and forced us into massive debt, squandering Clinton's surplus and endangering social security? Bush did it!.

Bush is the president. He makes the decisions. If there has been a major bad decision, it has been his.

Who outed Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA operative? Bush did it!"
My man.

Here's Your Moral Majority

bushg1There's just no point in commenting on something as self-evident as the cold, calculating fascism in this:
"The White House on Friday threatened to veto a $440.2 billion defense spending bill in the Senate because it wasn't enough money for the Pentagon and also warned lawmakers not to add any amendments to regulate the treatment of detainees or set up a commission to probe abuse."
Not enough money for the most wasteful program of corporate welfare ever devised by man! And we'll have none of that "accountability" horseshit, while we're at it; that stuff's for impoverished shitkickers and ghetto denizens. This is an administration that has carved out previously unhoped-for Executive power, thanks to the likes of John Roberts and Alberto Gonzales, and there's no way the Little Man is going to start answering to the American people, let alone Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Constitution.

Why, if we started expecting Bush to look critically at the waste of the Defense Department, or demanded he be held accountable for the deterioration and ruination of Constitutional law, we might actually expect him to put some of those much publicized Christian principles into play and help the hurricane victims. And Christ knows, that way lies madness. As Paul Krugman noted this morning:
"Start with health care, where conservative senators, generally believed to be acting on behalf of the White House, have blocked bipartisan legislation that would provide all low-income victims of Katrina with health coverage under Medicaid.
In a letter urging Senate leaders to reject the bill, Mike Leavitt, the secretary of Health and Human Services, warned that it would create "a new Medicaid entitlement." He asserted that victims can be taken care of by Medicaid "waivers," which basically amount to giving refugees the health benefits, if any, that they would have been entitled to in their home states -- and no more.
As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, many needy victims won't qualify for aid. For example, Medicaid doesn't cover childless adults of working age. In fact, surveys show that many destitute survivors of Katrina are being denied Medicaid, and some are going without medicines they need."
We have neither the time nor the dogma to get behind ministering to the health needs of those of our citizens who have lost everything but the clothes on theire backs. It simply doesn't fit into the Conservatives' New World Order. And we're not going to house them, either, unless it's to sit them on the curb while we funnel plenty of money to our buddies, then shove them into some trailer that will dump over like a toy when the next hurricane comes along:
"These days, both conservatives and liberals agree that public housing projects are a bad idea, and that housing vouchers -- which help the poor pay rent -- are much better. In the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge earthquake, special housing vouchers issued to victims worked very well.
But the administration has chosen, instead, to focus its efforts on the creation of public housing in the form of trailer parks, which have been slow to take shape, will almost surely be more expensive than a voucher program and may create long-term refugee ghettoes."
Krugman comes to the conclusion that Bush is trapped between being politically unable to ignore the needs of the hurricane survivors, and yet wanting to forge ahead with his destruction of the social safety net:
"So here's the key to understanding post-Katrina policy: Mr. Bush can't avoid helping Katrina's victims, but he doesn't want to legitimize institutions that help the needy, like the housing voucher program. As a result, his administration refuses to use those institutions, even when they are the best way to provide victims with aid. More generally, the administration is trying to treat Katrina's victims as harshly as the political realities allow, so as not to create a precedent for other aid efforts.
As the misery of the hurricane's survivors goes on, remember this: to a large extent, they are miserable by design."
As are the poorest and the working poor among us, and as are the prisoners of war being held legitimately and illegitimately by our war machine.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

More Than One Way To Cook A Fish

puffedporcHere's a site where you can do an end-run around the NY Times' Select stonewall. Once there, just type in the author you want to read, and voila.

UPDATE: I forgot to thank Lee for the info. Thanks, Lee!

NEWER UPDATE: I gave up trying to update the Frank Rich link because the website keeps changing one crucial little number in the address, rendering the URL inevitably out of date after a period of time has elapsed. Better you should just go there and ask for the author yourself.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

At Last

affsPaul William Roberts' book, A War Against Truth, has just arrived at my home today, having only just been released in the States. I've been waiting to get my hands on this. I mean, this is a man with all the street cred you could ever expect from a reporter in Iraq, a man who speaks the language, who has lived among the people and had friends there, who has spoken with Saddam Hussein, and who knows what it feels like for the bombs of 2003 to tear apart the house in which he is living, and kill his friends in front of his eyes. A man who is telling you things like this:
""My Mummy and Daddy," Bassim explained, the strained rationality in his voice making his words sound like plastic. "I must help them … in there … They're in there," he added, in case I had forgotten who lived in the house.
Bassim tried climbing up the exterior wall, but his efforts just dislodged more concrete and masonry. We picked our way around to the rear, looking for a way in but finding nothing viable. The fire inside was getting worse, snapping and spitting as it gorged on kerosene and cooking oils.
Then, on the far side, we found an entire upper room exposed intact to the black night air. Its outer wall had been peeled away, like a dolls' house or an architectural illustration, revealing the interior: a tiny wardrobe, a small armchair, a little writing table, a narrow pallet with a diminutive person asleep beneath pristine white sheets.
There was a noise like some giant beating on a steel door with a 200-foot-long hammer. Then came an intense roaring sound followed by a staggeringly huge explosion not far away. My cheeks flapped and lips opened involuntarily as the wave hit, shattering more glass and causing the dying house to lurch as if galvanized. Great pistons plunged through the tiny canals in my ears; I felt as if my brain was being squeezed by big soft hands.
Bassim, oblivious, had already scrambled up the brickwork and was soon cradling the little head. It was his great-aunt. She had probably died of heart failure around the time of impact.
I recalled the only thing she had ever said to me, the day before:
"You must tell Mr. Bush that this is not a good thing he does here. He thinks it is a good thing, but it is not at all good. Ask him which of his own children he would allow to die to destroy Saddam Hussein. He will not be willing to see his own child die for this. Then why must we see our children die for this madness? This is what you must write for the Americani to read … is it not so?" She had turned to the others for support here.
"Aunty wants to be the next Minister of Information," Bassim had told me, gently mocking the frail old lady.
"I don't have the imagination for that any more," she had said, not missing a beat. "Mohammed Sayeed Sahaf is doing a fine job, anyway, and this is because, you see, he always wanted to be a writer of novels. The 'Mother of All Battles' was his phrase, you know?"
"This is the Mother of All Aunties," Bassim had confided to me, loudly enough for his great-aunt to hear.
"Take him back to England with you," she had asked me, suddenly very serious. "Rana and Amira too. There is no life for them here. Make him go back with you …"
Her voice had sounded so desolate and drained that I simply nodded to her grimly — Yes, I will, I will. I promise.
"Bassim, promise you will go back with Mr. Robert. Take your family. Get out of here!"
"Oh, Aunty, don't be so grim. Look on the bright side. Everything will turn out fine — you'll see …""
If you don't have this book, go to the link and read the first chapter.

Then follow this link to Roberts' Globe and Mail piece done September 10, on the desolation of New Orleans, the p/blunder of Iraq, and the American death-wish that is our foreign policy, where you'll read things like this:
"All the television pictures from New Orleans of water with people and houses under it certainly captured the world's attention. What the world attended to, however, wasn't so much the feeble efforts to relieve the city as the startling and unfamiliar sight of, as one of my Iraqi e-pen pals puts it, "so much terrible poverty in a country so much rich."
Many of the people being winched off rooftops did not even own television sets, let alone cars or telephones, so it is hardly surprising they had made no plans to escape until their shacks were under 20 feet of water.
Another Iraqi pen pal was disturbed by the sight of the looters: "Some I see, they look not much human, like wild men." Some were also cops.
But, as a rehabilitated looter myself — I was in Baghdad two years ago when it fell to the invading Americans — I am in no position to judge a little petty pilfering, particularly when the perps have just lost everything they owned.
All in all, the general feeling I derived from these ripples of Arab thought was that, in terms of peeling the veneer of society back to reveal what lurks beneath the codes of law and those who enforce them, the Iraqi capital comported itself a good deal better than New Orleans did.
At least under Saddam Hussein, everyone knew the government lied to them about everything all the time, and also that the media were merely a wing of the regime. Americans may just be waking up to a similar realization, since, thus far at least, no one has told them just how disastrous this disaster is going to be for the nation. You can always tell when the neocons are rattled by some event: They accuse anyone discussing the corporate or government role in it of playing politics with human tragedy. This, of course, is not something they would ever do."
Then, totally off-topic, check out David Strathairn in Good Night and Good Luck. Maybe the current crop of "journalists" will pick up a few tips.

Certainly they could learn something from Roberts.

So They Broke The Law (Again)

Literacy is the path to CommunismAccording to Editor & Publisher:

"The Bush
violated laws prohibiting the use of covert propaganda when it secretly paid broadcaster columnist Armstrong Williams to promote its education policies, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said Friday...
The GOA's report also uncovered a previously undisclosed case in which the Education Department had commissioned a newspaper article. The article, on the "declining science literacy of students," was distributed by the North American Precis Syndicate and appeared in numerous small newspapers around the country, according to the report in the Times. The government's role in the writing of the article, which praised the department's role in promoting science education, was never disclosed."
Now, this is not a surprise. We who follow these things have been watching the Department of Propaganda spewing its nonsense for years out of this administration. Remember the TV ads faked up as news reports on the "benefits" of the new Medicare drug plan, right down to releasing talking points to news station anchors to be read during the braodcasts? Those were ruled illegal, too. In March, TalkLeft highlighted a lengthy NYTimes story on the continuing Bush propaganda war, and reported that at least two laws and regulations had been violated or broken by the administration.

So they did it again. Yawn.

What will be newsworthy will be the day they are arrested and prosecuted. I expect to be in my grave before I see that.

Friday, September 30, 2005

I Wish I Was In New Orleans

Painting by
John Haymsen
0433~Royal-Street-New-OrleansYesterday I spent all day in an expedited training in preparation to go south to do disaster assistance work with the Red Cross in the hurricane areas. The standard Disaster Assistance training takes days, and normally volunteers require some local experience responding to disaster incidents, before they can be sent off to a national disaster site. But as the trainers told us, this is the worst natural disaster to have ever hit the U.S., stretching over more than 90,000 square miles, and many of the olf protocols and practices have been streamlined in order to get aid to the survivors as quickly as possible.

I still have to get my doctor to sign off on a health status form to assure them I won't keel over dead while I'm down there. We will probably deploy within 2 weeks, but likely much sooner, to either Baton Rouge, Biloxi, or Jackson (not certain about Texas). I don't know where I will be going once I get to the staging area I'll be assigned, nor what I will be doing exactly. I asked to do bulk distribution, that is, travelling around the damaged areas in an ERV to deliver meals and/or supplies and check on the survivors' needs (my first choice), or I may do feeding, sheltering, or casework. They told us we could request specialties, but need to be flexible, as we will probably do a little of everything as needed, and will be put wherever they need us.

Regardless of what happens, I doubt I will have access to a computer, or that I will have the time to post anything if I do. People who were there during the worst of it spoke at the training session to tell us what they experienced, and as has come out the last few days, the reports of dangers and shootings and criminal behavior were very much overblown. But they worked 20 hour shifts, and slept in sleeping bags on the shelter floors, and the temps were 95 degrees with 80% humidity and bugs from hell, and people are traumatized and angry and in need of much patience and understanding. The weather and the bugs, they told us, will probably be the same till mid to late October. We may stay in hotels--there is more of that now--and electricity and water are available more widely, or we may be put in shelters. The shifts will probably be closer to 8 to 12 hours than 20. It's much better now than it was a few weeks ago. Traveling down will require going light, so I'll pretend I'm going backpacking. Toilet paper, insect repellent, sunscreen, and every expectation of living in dirty clothes for much of the time...sounds like the woods to me, except that I will have my cell phone with me at all times, as they recommended.

Don't think that just because a few weeks have passed that things are almost wrapped up. On hearing about me going down, some have said, "Oh, I thought they stopped sending people down there." They haven't, obviously. They need volunteers badly. The Red Cross chapter I will be part of, Southeastern PA or SEPA, is the 2nd largest in the country, and they have only gotten 90 people down there since Katrina hit, for 2-3 week stints. That's just 2 waves of volunteers. They expect to need people at this level through December, and the holiday season may be a time of even greater need. In Philly alone they have been working with over 700 families displaced by the storms, and over 600 of those came up here on their own without government or NGO aid. Just this morning the NYTimes reported that FEMA has only been able to house 109 families from Louisiana, which means hundreds of thousands remain homeless and in shelters and hotels.

Anyway, that's the situation so far. I have my employers to thank for allowing me to take this time off when it comes, and for paying me for it while I'm gone; otherwise I would never be able to afford to do it. It's a gift that's been offered to me, so I want to make it a gift to the people of the hurricane. I know many, possibly most people, are unable to afford the time away from work or their families, and this kind of work is not for everyone. But if you can possibly do it, if you are physically and emotionally and financially able to do it, please consider volunteering. The need is desperate.
More updates as the time gets closer.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Celebration Of A Modern Master

skeleton dog Pat Oliphant is the premiere editorial cartoonist living today. His work combines classic draftsmanship, beauty and mastery of medium with a powerfully keen sardonic edge and an unmatched ability to marry symbols to issues.

And one of the things that makes his work so singular, and has earned him the Pulitzer Prize and a place in the collections of the Library of Congress, is his timeliness; his eye catches those foolish evils of civic outrage that repeat again and again over decades, and he captures them in a way that remains fresh and open to continually new interpretations. Here is how the Library describes him in the introduction to Oliphant's Anthem; Pat Oliphant at the Library of Congress:
"Pat Oliphant won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1966, just two years after he left his native Australia for an American career. Now, thirty years later, he is considered among the most gifted practitioners in the history of the profession...

Oliphant weds two great traditions in political cartooning: the subtle wit and detailed artistry of the British tradition with the more blunt, spare style that persists in America. At the Library of Congress his cartoons and sketchbooks will be preserved alongside the most extensive collection of American political prints in existence, one of the finest assemblages of English satirical prints outside Great Britain, and thousands of original works by the most influential European and American cartoonists from the seventeenth century forward."
Because we can read him several times a week, and his work is familiar to nearly anyone who ever picked up a newspaper, it's easy to dismiss him as just another cartoonist. The familiarity renders him mundane. But he is anything but, and he has been particularly fine these last years of the Bush occupation, and especially with regard to the Iraq War. So I wanted to call your attention to the site--visit it and become acquainted with his amazing body of work. Below find a sampling of his earlier works, which resonate with relevance for today.


Above: Drawn when the 1991 Gulf War began. The streets were full of celebration, flag-waving and jingoistic fever. I remember being afraid to voice my dissent in the small, conservative town where I lived. Dissenters were threatened and sometimes harmed.


Above: Published the day after the February 13, 1991 bombing of a building where Iraqi civilians had taken shelter and pictures of the victims had filtered onto television past the Pentagon media blackouts, to shock the clueless American public.


Above: The destruction of the EPA, as epitomized by the appointment of Ann Goresuch and the beginning of the ruination of the Superfund, in 1982. Today, with the Bush appointment of Stephen Johnson at the EPA and the steady erosion of monies for the Superfund and other programs to deal with toxic chemicals, the agency is virtually moribund.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

And That's The Way It Is

24_Sept_DC 061It’s been a few days since the anti-war march in D.C., and by now there are some excellent write-ups about it out there, especially from Max Sawicky, eRobin, and William Rivers Pitt. Their experiences mirror what I saw and felt there, which was that it was an incredibly diverse grassroots commingling of countless groups and individuals who all shared a common goal--to end the Iraq war--and that the attendance was massive. Listen, I have been in large crowds before. I know what 100,000 people in one place feels like, and this was far vaster than that. There is no question in my mind that a half million would be a defensible count.

Coming out of the train at the Archives/Navy Memorial station, we were greeted by pro-war agitators with signs that read “War IS The Answer”, and “They’re Not Anti-War Protesters, They’re Traitors”. 24_Sept_DC 060 We headed up Pennsylvania Ave. and stopped at the Old Post Office for a break, where we discovered the American flag is considered a dangerous weapon. “No flags!” barked the guard, and one of us had to stay outside with the arsenal, while the rest of us had to empty our pockets and remove our traitorous buttons before we were allowed to proceed to the venerable inner sanctum, which, while lovely, still bore a suspicious resemblance to your local yuppie galleria.

We (my husband, our friend Lee, her daughter Dani and friend Alena) met fellow bloggers extraordinaire Robin and AltHippo at Freedom Plaza, and arrived at the ellipse around 11:30. Shortly after we were joined by another fine blogger,Thomas Nephew, and we so enjoyed our own company that we "remained together till almost the end of the march; chanting, singing, waving our PA For Democracy" banner and upside-down flag, getting to know folks as varied as a Latino union worker from Texas, an elderly blind rabbi, and a fellow SubGenius (Hey, Dr. Pissoff!) 24_Sept_DC 028 Even then the crowd, nearly elbow to elbow, was so huge we couldn’t see anything except what stuck up above our heads. Although the march was supposed to start at noon, we stood there for 2 more hours as the crowd grew and surged around us, absorbing more and more people, clueless as to why we couldn’t get started. It was only later that we realized the crowd had become so big that they couldn’t fit us all onto 15th Street.

We had decided to wait in front of the Code Pink folks and their banner, since it seemed like the obvious starting-point of the march, yet thousands of people had gathered ahead of us even then and kept coming, coming for hours, spilling out onto the sidewalks and lawns and park area, and still they couldn’t hold us all. (We later discovered that both Amtrak from NY and two of the DC Metro rail lines had stopped running—interesting timing--which makes the number of people then present even more amazing.) 24_Sept_DC 016 We watched the grassy area around the Washington Monument fill in with people. (The Monument, by the way, has glowing, blinking red eyes that glare down at you while the 1st Air Cav or something buzzes around it like a biplane trying to distract King Kong.) The speakers’ area and tents were only about half a city block away from us, yet the effort to fight our way through to get to them was so great that most of us decided to stay put, while Robin and her husband sallied forth to get the full technicolor experience.

Street theatre puppets shaped like skeleton horse and rider, giant sculptures, and people in death’s masks and costumes entertained and excited us while we waited. The union people beside us sang an infectious call-and-response. Lady Liberty on stilts. Numerous Uncle Sams. 24_Sept_DC 018 A guy in a George Bush mask on a tricycle with a backpack PA, welcoming us to his parade. When the crowd did finally start to move, it was extremely slow and intermittent. It took almost two hours to get from 15th Street to the White House in peristaltic contractions, working our way through the streets like a large meal through a python’s guts. Old people wore “Bush is a Moron” t-shirts. Babies wore buttons telling us to ask them about the Downing Street Memo. Songs and chants birthed and died in our throats along the way.

24_Sept_DC 025In spite of the tight quarters and forced intimacy, in spite of stepping on toes and shoving flagpoles into each other’s faces, in spite of the usual problems that arise in any enormous crowd, the feeling was mellow. People were gentle with each other, and patient, and the only anger I saw was directed at the murderers in the government. Regardless of the scowling, screaming youths in the few photos run by the media, there was none of that anywhere within our sphere. People were enjoying themselves, and welcoming each other, and tolerating each other. 24_Sept_DC 030 The atmosphere was festive, like a fair or a carnival, and it was exhilarating to be with others who shared our goal. It was a constant high, being with them and feeding off their excitement. It was always about ending the war. I never, ever felt the anti-war message was lost or watered down. Only near 4:30, at the very end of the march, did a group of youngsters come drumming down the street chanting about Palestine. By then things were breaking up. We were heading for the train. Their appearance seemed like an afterthought, and about as important.

But by the time I got home and had a chance to peruse some of the initial reporting on it in the main news outlets, I couldn’t believe how trivialized and ignored it had been, and how tiny the numbers were that were reported. Today, as I told some of my co-workers about the day, they shook their heads, saying it was the first they heard of it and they hadn’t noticed any coverage of it in the news. Most of the first reports didn’t even waste the usual snark on the event. That job was left up to The Left That Eats Its Own. Some merely pretended it didn't even happen. Some were too interested in a sci-fi movie to care. By far, the most vituperative accounts I saw came from bloggers who weren't there, and relied on their exposure to an hour of television news for their information--the very same hated MSM they rail so poignantly about. They thought they were seeing the truth on that screen? What happened to the day when people expected the MSM to distort things? Did they suddenly become real journalists overnight? Why is this suddenly an issue of almost fatal merit?

24_Sept_DC 020 Marching in Washington D.C. on September 24 was the best thing I could have done that day, and I’m proud to have been there, and proud to have contributed to it, and I don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks. I’m sick of reading the broadsides against the organizing and the sponsors, the marginalization of the event, the trivializing of the numbers who attended, and the wailing about how this is no way to get the Democratic machine to get on board because that’s the only way to end the war, world without end, amen.

You know what? You’re going to grow old and gray and watch your last eyetooth fall out before you see the timid-ass, clueless, idea-impoverished, greedy, cowardly, opportunistic Democratic machine get on board with anything that doesn’t guarantee them a steady influx of lobbyists’ dollars and a safe and soft ride from one election to the next. Yeah, they know how to organize the skeleton of a campaign, they have the infrastructure in place, but what’s it to you if they don’t use it for what’s important? The last decades are full of chump arguments by the oh-so-moderate liberal contingent about how oh if only we could get those big dogs on board we would have a shot at making the world bloom again, tra-la! Decades full of left-brained, hard-nosed, practical, realistic, centrist arguments like the kind you read ad nauseum in The New Republic. Hasn't worked for ya so far, has it folks? 8 years of Clintonesque compromises and keeping the nose clean and avoiding dirtying yourselves with the too, too left. It ended in a facsist takeover and a one-party state, if you didn't notice by now.

24_Sept_DC 040Anyone who looks at the march and says it didn’t matter because no one important was on board doesn't know how to measure importance. They want a leader, a Martin Luther King, to get up and speak at these things, but where do they propose we find such a one? Not one person, outside of Robert Byrd, can match that kind of eloquence, and the left holds its nose at Byrd because of his white-robed past. They say the message was too diffuse, but they weren't there to be able to say exactly what the truth was. They sit in their comfy chairs like the 101st Keyboard Kommandos they love so to skewer, and pronounce judgement on things they neither experienced themselves nor lifted one finger to change. They compare today's mobilization efforts to the 60s and think somehow things are different. They hold up the Winter Soldier as the moment of perfection that changed it all. It was not. It was only one of thousands of marches, demonstrations, and public maneuvers to grab the attention of the media and the powers that were. It took years and years and thousands of the dead. Yippies and street theatre and chants were "diffusing the message " back then, and it took more than a couple hearings. It took a gradual groundswell of people, led by the students and the wackjobs, taking to the streets over and over again, in numbers large and small, forcing the media to pay attention and fighting constantly against distortions of the movement, to get to that last helicopter evacuating Saigon. Even the clear criminality of the president of the United States could not unseat the machine that sent our children to their deaths and living deaths back then. Things don't change with the snap of a finger or a lightbulb cartoon balloon going off over some yupscale DLC type's brain.

24_Sept_DC 067 Anyone who says there was too much theatre there on Saturday, or the people behind it were too wacky, or the wackjobs ennabled the media to make it a joke, or one march isn’t going to change anything, needs to stop whining and fingerpointing, get off their ass, and show us some blueprints: what's your big idea for turning the country around? What have you done so far, other than type out your disapproval for the efforts of others? Let's have it, and let's hear what you yourselves are doing to make changes, and then maybe I'll listen. Till then, I'll do what I think is important for others, and what is life-affirming for me. Because declaiming in H.L. Mencken tones about the crappiness of it all is good for blowing off steam for awhile, but it doesn't do a damned thing to make things better. (And yes, I'm both inside and outside the system, working on multiple levels to bring positive change to my community and to the nation and the wider world as well. Just in case you wondered. And even if you didn't.)