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September 22, 2005

Prejudice and perversion

Would it ever occur to the Catholic Church that sexual predation of juveniles in the ranks of its clergy might be the result of the church's moral condemnation of a naturally occurring preference, which causes adherents trapped between faith and their own biology to become celibate priests in a desperate attempt to flee or suppress their true selves? And then the clerical training combusts, in some, with bitterness, self-denial, self-preservation, and still-powerful physical drives to fuel a God/martyr complex that enables them to victimize the young in the name of a church by which they themselves have felt victimized?

You know, as opposed to the predation being the result of just the original preference?

Posted by pk at 11:39 AM

September 16, 2005

Cryin' won't help you, FEMA won't do you no good

You know, far be it from me to defend Bar's remarks, and I do think she meant them in the obtuse and unfeeling way we think she meant them. But I've read and seen enough comments from displaced residents to allow that, although they surely don't prefer the Astrodome to their own homes, many of them are indeed grateful for the ticket out. They didn't have good lives, and simply putting together bus fare to start over someplace else wasn't possible before. They're staying, and not just because they'd be scared of hurricanes now.

That doesn't excuse a society that couldn't give enough of a begrudging damn to keep being wiped out by a hurricane from feeling like a lucky break. Just sayin'. Bar was so wrong, she was right.

So, how's her boy doing? I caught only a few opening moments of Bush's speech last night, but I think I've gotten the gist from analysis this morning. Bush nominally accepted responsibility, avoided sweeping rhetoric, and outlined vague rebuilding plans without saying where the money will come from or where it will go.

It's an outrage that Bush has already ensured that his friends who've been awarded no-bid contracts will be permitted to pay rock-bottom wages to the needful people who'll actually do the work. Presumably, as Republicans always assure themselves, "they'll be glad just to have a job." Just as this administration was absolutely the wrong one to take on nation-building in Iraq, it is the wrong one to take on the massive social and civil engineering projects that lay ahead in New Orleans and Mississippi. Taxpayer money will be spent and deficits will be run up, billions will line the pockets of Republican cronies and political supporters, and working people will have to satisfy themselves (as many have for years) with their leaders' superior morals and patriotism.

So, OK, that's outrageous. But this morning when I heard Bush say he was going to find out what went wrong with the federal government's disaster response and fix it, I blew up. This is not some political skullduggery of which he can feign ignorance and pretend to seek the truth. This is not a problem or a dysfunctional agency that he inherited. His administration fucked up FEMA: When he took office, it was a model of efficiency (at least relative to its history), and he fucked it up. And protecting us from and responding to disasters is the one thing his administration has staked its legitimacy on. When you consider that, and compare the response to Katrina with the foresight, efficiency, and generosity of FEMA's work through four hurricanes in Florida last year, it's enough to...

To make you wonder whether they draw any distinction at all between "crisis" and "opportunity," and how much of the former they'll allow (or calculate they can allow) in order to capitalize on the latter. Because they have an amazing knack for creating or countenancing disaster, and then cashing in like gangsters--financially, politically, and political-financially.

Again, the question is, are they epically incompetent and yet somehow blessed with a historically forgiving American electorate, or are they awesomely ambitious, Machiavellian geniuses?

Or, you know, just beneficiaries--half by design, half by luck--of a weird series of events and sociopolitical currents? Katrina, high gas prices, and our declining (if not already bottomed-out) prospects in Iraq have brought the Bush administration to its lowest ebb. Its only proactive agenda items, further tax cuts and Social Security reform, are floating face-down in the muck. After all this, will the neo-cons have to satisfy themselves with two Supreme Court justices and otherwise live with the wreck of their long-cherished ambitions? Or will Karl Rove, with the numb acquiescence of the public, the press, and a confoundingly hamstrung opposition party, once again pull his boy from the ashes of his own reckless arson?

Are we in the grip of criminal masterminds, or are the past five years just a bunch of stuff that happened?

Posted by pk at 10:10 AM

September 7, 2005

Happy birthday, PuddingTime!

So "On This Day" reminds me that it's PuddingTime's third anniversary. If I'm the Editor in Chief, Michael Hall is the Publisher, so three cheers to him as well.

Myself I've been funneling some of my obsessions through this medium for over two of those years, gradually and unofficially assuming responsibility for the content while Mike pursued experiments in more conducive formats, which led him here, even as he continued to provide the technical and design support without which I'd just be a guy with opinions and mad typing skillz. To me, this is still Mike's establishment; I just pour the drinks. Thanks for the outlet, dude.

I don't know how many readers have followed the changes because, well, if we ever had a tradition of rousing give-and-take on this blog, it hasn't endured. But to you who are out there--and I know there are two or three, besides my Secret Service monitors--I appreciate your attention and your indulgence. I hope you occasionally find it worth your time, and will continue to stop by.


Posted by pk at 7:22 PM

Toxic waters

I don't think it's rotten for anyone to want safety and order. The liberal challenge isn't to single-mindedly tolerate even junkies, crazies, and looters; it's to maintain the intellectual/ideological balance between that and surrendering to selfishness and class bigotry. That's hard, that balance; it's hard because it's the entire crux of social organization.

What's rotten is to wall off the unfortunate and pocket the tax rebate we get for pretending they aren't there. Moreover, it's just as short-sighted, impractical, and ultimately costly, in every sense, as any imagined program of liberal molly-coddling could ever be. Class conflagrations are like hurricanes themselves, and everybody who wants to spend money on palliative or protective measures is a chump, until one hits.

Now we see how well conservatives protect us, from external disaster and internal disorder. Now we see to where their policies bring us. It may not have been his goal, but Grover Norquist's vision of government is hopefully small enough to have drowned in the bathtub of New Orleans.

Sunday afternoon some blowhard at our swimming pool was chewing my friend David's ear, saying, out of annoyance with critics of the president, that they didn't get out when they were warned, and now they're looting, so why should I care about them? "I'm not there. All I know is gas prices are up." (I was a bystander to this. I offered, "But those were people who couldn't get out," but he'd have none of it, and I was collecting our stuff to leave, and that way lay only trouble anyway.)

You know those people--and, of course, far worse--are out there in great numbers, but it's sort of stunning to meet them in civil conversation. On the way home I said to Cindy that such people always seem to trap you and go on and on, daring you to challenge them, maybe even dying for you to; and I said it's because that attitude is fundamentally SELFISH, and they KNOW it's selfish (because many of them are "church people"), so they need constant affirmation. And of course common courtesy prevents you from flatly saying, "That's fucked," and so they receive it, or can believe they have.

Then that evening I found that link to someone who called conservatism "a rationalization of selfishness," and felt quite pleased with myself. Except it isn't enlightened selfishness, it's delusional greed, and now we have seen the delusion crumble. They're not protecting society, they're denying they have any obligation to do so. They're denying that the competitive free market produces losers as well as winners, and losing begets losing just as money begets power.

I'm selfish. I want law and order. I want trouble-free public schools. I don't want drifters in my yard. But I'm not under any illusion that we can just invest our dividends, make Bibles available, and society will be secure.

This isn't about any "blame game" or partisanship, this is about ideology, and theirs has been shown for the hollowed-out lie that it is. George Will dropped some Hobbes on Newsweek readers this week, rattling his teacup over the Boschian catacomb into which the dripping-fanged savages pulled New Orleans last week. He did generously allow that this was "a liberal moment" for its illumination of the necessity "and dignity" of the public sector, and that it was "a conservative moment" because only they are sufficiently pessimistic about human nature to protect us from the Leviathan whose scales we so recently glimpsed.

I won't deny there were some bad motherfuckers on the loose last week. We'll never know how many or the true extent of whatever mischief they got up to, but I hardly think they're significant except as an indicator of our authorities' failure: after all, even the Pentagon will tell you there are a few bad apples in every barrel.

But the economic "state of nature" so sacrosanct to today's Republican Party has allowed Enron, Halliburton, the profiteering oil companies, Rumsfeld's Pentagon, and Dick Cheney and George W. Bush to rob American consumers and taxpayers of BILLIONS--far more thoroughly and efficiently than any poor black man with a shopping cart and a stolen gun. They will continue to do so: Halliburton has already won contracts to repair the damage of Hurricane Katrina. Joe Allbaugh, the former director of FEMA who left the agency to his old crony Michael Brown so he could hook up Iraq War carpetbaggers with federal contracts, is now in Louisiana "helping coordinate the private-sector response to the storm." And a healthy amount of all that money will end up in the campaign coffers of the leaders responsible for the damage.

Law-and-order conservatives have done nothing to protect us from man or nature. Only a fool would believe they'd handle a terrorist attack less disastrously than they handled this hurricane. Under their own newly punitive system, they have clearly gone bankrupt.

Posted by pk at 3:40 PM

September 2, 2005

New Orleans funeral

That sounds pretty morose (OK, and cliched; at least it gets "Wade in the Water" off the top), but remember that when the parade turns around, the party starts. Which also sounds more optimistic than I feel. New Orleans will come back; maybe as just a memorial to jazz, cuisine, and culture, since that's all on the high ground--but that will be better than never having it at all.

This is mostly a public archive for myself--clipped from e-mails to various people through the week. This is the closest I can come to summing things up. Along with all the links to the right (and click the LinkLog header, because it's overflowed the front page), it'll have to do for now.

Mon, 8/29, 9:23am: My fingers are crossed for your beloved New Orleans.

Tue, 8/30, 5:07pm: I can't imagine the scene inside the Superdome. Tonight is going to be a weird, bad, dangerous night.

No pun intended, but given the scope of the disaster and the broader national ramifications, one begins to wonder if Katrina won't in many ways turn out to be a watershed.

Wed, 8/31, 11:09am: Looking at CNN this morning, I thought, "It's like a dead, drifting ship. I feel like I'm looking at a dead city." And it's not getting better, it's getting worse.

The leaders and politicians are saying what they have to say, but I don't know. It was folly that it was ever built and sustained there, and it's only been compounded by the things they've done to protect it in the long-but-finite term.

I suppose they'll say, "It can't happen like this AGAIN," and they'll do whatever it takes. I can't pretend I don't want them to--I mean, it's New Orleans. And, almost certainly, almost without a doubt, something will endure there. But whatever happens, I'm already kicking myself for not making it back there again, "before."

I feel dumb and awestruck, to see an entire major American city just...adrift.

Here's my shame: Listening to NPR yesterday morning before the levee(s) broke, I thought, "Well, it sounds like it was catastrophic, but not Biblical." And a part of me that is very small was let down, the way you are when, say, a promised blizzard doesn't materialize. Something big was going to happen but, well, it didn't, so today's pretty much just another day. I don't feel like that now.

Wed, 8/31, 11:35am: I don't want to overdo the guilt talk--I'm not beating myself up about it or anything. It's normal. I think it's comparable to the gravity that crashes lend to auto-racing. It's not as simple (or craven) as "people like to see cars crash and drivers die." (For that matter, you could liken it to punk fans wanting to see blood.)

I think we all want to feel the delicious thrill and shiver from the notion that the stakes are high; life is death; to survive is a triumph of balls, will, and luck; and luck is fucking good enough. We praise the lucky, we mourn the unfortunate, but most of all, when we witness the significant, we are elevated.

Wed, 8/31, 11:55am: But, jeez, what I wouldn't give for a more coolly measured tone. I'm tired of hysterics.

For that matter, what I wouldn't give for Peter Jennings right now. I know it's a cliched observation, but watching the cable anchors (not the actual "show" talent like King, Blitzer, Olbermann) over the last three nights, I just keep thinking, "Where are the grown-ups?" All of them are air-brained spokesmodels promoted--after a baseline pre-sort for elocution and ability to emote "gravity" and "concern"--on the basis of good hair, perfect skin, and symmetrical features.

Back to the looters: watching a lot of the footage from yesterday was disorienting, because we were seeing, for the first time in awhile, the Third World component of American demographics, risen to the top now that every other layer, including Authority, has fled or been overwhelmed. There's sometimes a "tsk--you were warned" aspect to talk about people who "thought they could ride it out," but these were people with nowhere to go and no way to get there. And now they're looting, some of them, so we can all be satisfied that their cancerous morals are the cause of their plight.

Sean Hannity is shocked, SHOCKED that people too poor to escape from a hurricane are getting a little something back--in a lot of cases just diapers and food--but I'll bet he hasn't said one fucking word about corrupt contractors grafting millions off the Iraq war.

Wed, 8/31, 3:41pm: I almost think you have to go back to the New York Draft Riots to find anarchy like this; I don't think L.A. '92 or Watts quite compare. I don't think anything does, with natural disaster compounded by civil disorder.

Wed, 8/31, 3:52pm: You'd have to think that if terrorists were capable of opportunism, our soft underbelly will never be more exposed.

Wed, 8/31, 4:38pm: Maybe if the Draft Riots had happened immediately after the Great Chicago Fire.

The whole city has to be abandoned. It's astounding. How do you completely evacuate a city of half a million? What's that look like? Who's going to come back? I keep picturing "Escape from New York." How does a skeleton authority force keep armed gangs from setting up urban fiefdoms?

And even though New Orleans is getting all the attention, it's maybe just a third of the disaster.

And over 700 Iraqis killed themselves today.


Thu, 9/1, 2:07pm: I was home with a sick Tommy until just now, watching CNN almost all day, and there are hundreds of people marooned outside the New Orleans convention center, some of them dead or dying, all of them lacking food, water, and sanitation, and it is THURSDAY. If a CNN crew could get there, WHERE are the police, Nat'l Guard, Army, Coast Guard--SOMEBODY?

The scale of the disaster notwithstanding, I defy anyone to say it's "partisan" to call this a national disgrace.

Thu, 9/1, 2:51pm: CNN: "New Orleans hospital halts patient evacuations after coming under sniper fire, a doctor who witnessed the incident says."

What in the hell is going on?

Thu, 9/1, 3:36pm: Stopping mere looting [instead of getting on with evacuations] I don't understand--and I don't consider anyone taking food, fluids, or any essentials to be "looters"--but what I was initially reacting to was those shots apparently being fired at evacuation efforts. There's some dead-end gangsta element there, up to something that I don't understand. The city is washing out from under them: where are they going with their TVs and guns?

I don't know what to make of it. I've never seen anything like it. This is America?

Thu, 9/1, 5:30pm: I'm just totally preoccupied with the disaster in New Orleans. I'm shocked, ashamed, depressed, baffled, and outraged.

As I was WRITING that, I heard an NPR reporter describing the scene (which I'd also seen a report on CNN several hours ago) in and around the Convention Center--NOT the Superdome--with around 2,000 people, some of them dead, some of them dying, all of them desperate, with no food, no water, no aid, no one in charge, no one coming; and then Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, whom they talked with immediately after, called that a RUMOR he hadn't heard, and had no information about when those people might see some relief. (The second time the report aired, the host added that an aide to Mr. Chertoff had called and said that after speaking to NPR, Chertoff had gotten a report and was doing something about it. CNN knew about this SIX HOURS AGO.)

The Bush administration and the GOP Congress will pay a steep price, I hope, for what they've done to FEMA and to the New Orleans flood-control/levee projects. It's not their fault New Orleans was built on a swamp between a river, a lake, and a gulf, and it's not their fault the hurricane struck--and it's not their fault New Orleans had such poor evacuation/relief plans--but almost everything else this week is their fault.

Fri, 9/2, 12:53pm: I continue to be in utter disbelief. For some reason, I think some kind of corner will be turned today; too late for many people, and perhaps too late for Bush.

Surely, when the attack gave three days' warning, allowing three-quarters of the citizenry to escape, and the response is still a failure and a disgrace, no one can believe he is "protecting" them, from anyone or anything.

This is only beginning.

Fri, 9/2, 12:59pm: Because I couldn't think of a fancy--or maybe just new--or maybe just composed--way to say it, I didn't, but I'm really, really angry.

Fri, 9/2, 1:20pm: Maybe I'm naïve, but I don't think I'll ever believe, even with the hurricane and the levee failures, that the worst of this couldn't have been eased, eased much earlier, or prevented entirely. And I make that particular statement with the responsibility directed at everyone in authority, from mayor to president.

I keep thinking of the way "Natural Born Killers" climaxed in a prison riot. That's what this feels like. The entrenched policy failures, the illusions and myopia, the demonization of the Other, the class conditions and conflicts, the war's tapped resources, the guns: This feels like the climax of our national orgy of hysteria and violence since September 11.

Fri, 9/2, 1:38pm: Although I've been thinking about it a lot, I of course left out "race." I think I did so because racism is a nasty thing to go unpacking, and I prefer to think about it from a class perspective, which is easy to do when you see all the elderly white people outside the convention center.

But of course they are a minority, and you see even fewer able-bodied white folks, male or female. And what would a culminating American reckoning be without our Original Sin represented?

Setting aside the easy observation that loads of armchair pigs are denouncing all the thieving jigs, I think that the race of the majority of the victims is disorienting. (As well as the fact that they speak with heavy Cajun-Creole-N'awlins accents.) It makes it harder, for those not willing to make an effort (and I have to consciously do so), to see the victims as AMERICANS, to feel this happening on AMERICAN SIDEWALKS, and to be outraged that this has been allowed to happen in AMERICA.

Because, honestly, a lot of the time the pictures look like Mogadishu.

Fri, 9/2, 9:32pm: The "Mogadishu" line--I guess that could be read like a suburban white kid going downtown and saying, "Whoa, it's like AFRICA down here," when he hits the first "urban" neighborhood. I'm meaning a lot of things: The shame that there is an America so thoroughly--and now literally--left behind. The shock that America could so thoroughly unravel as to look like one of the countries we're so proud to not be like. An admitted projection onto presumed American observers to whom the Other (at home or abroad) is just the Other--no more, and, often, less. A slightly milder projection onto presumed American observers who just don't make much of an effort one way or the other. And, finally, just the simple, superficial observation that this kind of societal collapse and refugee crisis doesn't LOOK like anything that could happen in America.

Which is really an observation that--in addition to all the OTHER forms of reality that Katrina showed we weren't in touch with--we are obviously just as out of touch with the Other America as we are with Haiti, or Rwanda, or Nigeria. How did this happen? Who are those people? Why didn't they leave? How could we not know?

How could we not know the fault line between the First World and the Third runs right through our country? Well, how indeed? And what do we do now that we know? Do we even admit it?

Finally, on this day, PT!, 9/2/03: "I hope the President had a very nice vacation."

Posted by pk at 11:39 AM