Thursday, January 31, 2008


From the Newshoggers courtesy of the Daily Kos:

Let Them Breathe Poison

Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Texas, said Tuesday that Federal Emergency Management Agency tried to control the outcome of a scientific study on formaldehyde in trailers used to house victims of Hurricane Katrina.

"Someone from one of the agencies, the CDC, came to our committee and reported that he had information that indicated that good science wasn't followed when a decision was made to allow people to live in basically travel trailers that were not designed to be lived in," said Lampson, chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Technology.

In addition, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee -- Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Mississippi -- cited medical experts who said prolonged exposure to high levels of formaldehyde can cause ailments ranging from respiratory irritation to cancer.

The committee recently obtained internal CDC e-mail which showed that "despite the efforts of CDC professionals to bring these health risks to the public's attention, those concerns were thwarted by CDC leadership for roughly eight months," Thompson said.

Click here for more.

No surprise here. All very much in keeping with an already established method of operations, in more ways than one. That is, for seven years now Federal agencies controlled by President Bush have been ordered to keep a very tight lid on any information that might prove embarrassing to the administration, its policies, or its philosophy. This not only includes info about Federal misbehavior, corruption, and blunders, such as the "accidental" erasing of White House emails concerning the US attorney firing scandal, but also scientific information, such as global warming data researched by NASA scientists. It's political lying on a scale that would have made Nixon blush.

But wait, there's more. The other pattern here is the continued Federal fuckover of Katrina survivors. First, there was the predictable failure of the levees due to known but covered-up design flaws--granted, this goes back to the Clinton administration and earlier, but it happened under Bush's watch, so he bears ultimate responsibility; the Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees Mississippi River flood control through several states, is, after all, under the White House's command. Then there was the infamous Federal inaction for five days after Katrina. I suppose we'll never fully know or understand why this happened - plain old incompetence is my best bet - but happen it did, while Bush played air guitar out west, and his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, shopped for shoes in New York. Finally, Federal aid in reconstruction has come at an agonizing pace, with bizarre bureaucratic holdups, and this massive snafu of fucked-up toxic trailers.

The blogger from whom I snatched this report muses over calling this formaldehyde thing a "crime against humanity" because it's about Bush essentially gassing his own citizens. I'll take it a step further and observe that gassing his own citizens is one of the reasons we had Saddam Hussein hanged.

Which is exactly what we would do to Bush if there were any real justice in the world. Fuck impeachment; let's move on to the war crimes trial.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008


From the website of Bucknell University, courtesy of Eschaton, CNBC's capitalist guru Jim Cramer attacks a much loved central assumption of the prevailing economic orthodoxy:

Jim Cramer challenges 'laissez faire' government

"Ever since the (President) Reagan era, our nation has been regressing and repealing years and years worth of safety net and equal economic justice in the name of discrediting and dismantling the federal government's missions to help solve our nation's collective domestic woes," he said. "We call it deregulation … a covert attempt to eliminate the federal government's domestic responsibilities."


He said that deregulation is the equivalent of saying that "private industry will do it better, that volunteers will do it better, that business if left unfettered will produce so many rich people that they will do it better than the government can."

Even the best of the nation's private enterprises, Cramer said, citing companies like Wells Fargo, Pepsi, United Technologies, Google, and Costco, can't meet those demands.


In the end, he said, laissez faire policies are but a "fraud meant to get around the true role of a government in promoting the general welfare and enriching a select few" and called on enlightened caring capitalists to reassess the abilities of an unregulated marketplace and for the country to readdress the role of regulators "who would leave us at the hands predator capitalists."

It is necessary, Cramer said, to get the limitations of capitalism back on the agenda for the next generation in order to fulfill the mission statement made by the Founding Fathers "to promote the general welfare for all."

Click here for the rest.

All of this, back during the Great Depression and well into the 70s, was once well known by most Americans who knew anything at all about business and economics. I myself, as well as countless other left-wing bloggers, have been echoing Cramer's statements for years now. Actually, it's pretty obvious to anyone who thinks about such issues for about five seconds or so, but most people don't think: they simply repeat the laissez faire mantras they hear in the mainstream news media.

That such a well respected and popular capitalist as Cramer has dared to point out the obvious is a significant event.

Man, I don't even know where to begin addressing this; it's been a major theme for my online writing for the five years I've been blogging. Here's a thought. Back when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 signaling the end of the Soviet world, my old pal Matt told me that a historian who had predicted the fall of communism had also predicted the fall of capitalism. "Impossible," I thought at the time, but over the years this scholar's prognostication is becoming increasingly valid. The USSR fell apart because it couldn't get a fully state-controlled economy to work in the real world; The US is now falling apart because its ever increasing attempts to make a fully unregulated economy work in the real world are an abject failure.

That is, as American capitalism appears to be collapsing on itself, by way of a shrinking middle class, an ongoing health care crisis, increasing oil prices, a mortgage and lending crisis which threatens to dick everyone in the ass, and countless other "imbalances," it now appears that some of our popular economic ideology's biggest cheerleaders are having second thoughts about "greed is good." And when you get right down to it, what's amazing here is not that somebody like Cramer has decided to trash the concept of laissez faire; rather, what's amazing is that anyone ever bought into the bullshit in the first place.

I mean, think about it: "greed is good." That's like saying gluttony or murder is good. You know, fire is good too, but it's also widely understood that fire is pretty fucking dangerous, as well. The notion that countless organizations, all trying to maximize profits, to squeeze lots of blood from lots of stones, without any outside restraint at all, is somehow the greatest thing we can accomplish as a nation...well...that's just psychotic, and obviously so. That so many Americans don't understand or accept that there are inherent dangers associated with capitalism is the opus of the public relations and advertising industries.

And now that the whole shithouse appears to be caving in, guys like Cramer are abandoning the ideological bullshit that have made them media stars. Why couldn't they have come to their senses ten years ago?


Tuesday, January 29, 2008


...Captain Kirk! And he's wearing his kickass dress uniform!!!


Monday, January 28, 2008


From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Posh Spice tops Blackwell's worst-dressed list

LOS ANGELES — A decade after singling out the Spice Girls as fashion atrocities, Mr. Blackwell put just one of them — Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham — at the top of his 48th annual worst-dressed list.

The acid-tongued critic — who was designing dresses for the rich and famous when he originated the list in 1960 — skewered entertainment's biggest stars in the latest compilation of fashion follies.

More here.

Aw man, I just hate this shit.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not trying to defend my least favorite Spice Girl here--besides, I'm sure all her fame and money do a nice job of taking the sting out of Blackwell's "criticism." What I hate is the whole elitist top-down attitude associated with the fashion industry and their faithful dilettantes.

Look, we live in a society that utterly consumerizes the artistic impulse. That is, people are conditioned by advertising, pop culture, peer pressure, and other influences to leave creativity to the "experts," which ordinary citizens must then be "smart" enough to choose while at the mall. The net effect of all this is that human creativity, that spark of divinity which most makes us like God, is atrophied in most Americans.

The ONE realm where people kinda sorta get creative is when they pick out the clothes they're going to wear in the morning. Headbangers decide what metal band they'll celebrate on their chest for the day. Businessmen, like robot-clones in their dark suits, wear a different tie every day. Even the biggest dress-down slob makes a creative clothing statement saying "the hell with it all; I don't give a fuck." In a country where culture is something that you buy at a store, the mixing and matching of garments remains a large exception to the rule.

Not that the capitalists haven't been desperately trying to change that for decades. Really, the entire fashion industry exists only to get people to buy more clothes they don't really need. All a big scam. "Out of fashion"? What a big joke. Who decides what's
in fashion? Capitalist scumbags, that's who.

To be fair, Blackwell usually finds some pretty tacky stuff to condemn, and the assholes on TLC's
What Not to Wear usually make their victims look better at the end of the episode than they did at the beginning. Still. I hate their attitudes. I hate the fact that what they say looks good this year will look bad next year. I hate the fact that some people really do make good clothing choices which defy the mundane mainstream, but are condemned, anyway, for not being a fashion lemming. It's all a big stupid high-schoolish dick-club existing for the express purpose of separating you from your money.

They humiliate you
and rip you off.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Oregon town abuzz over mayor's MySpace lingerie shots

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Now only the 42-year-old mayor's friends have access to the page, but some people in this eastern Oregon community of about 500 are still upset.

Resident Lorena Woods said the photos reflect poorly on Arlington, especially since she was photographed on the fire truck. "This isn't the way we want our city to be portrayed," she said.

Kontur-Gronquist, who is also the fire department's executive secretary, said the photos were taken before she was elected mayor three years ago, and she saw no reason to remove them from the Internet after taking office.

She told the (Pendleton) East Oregonian that she did nothing wrong and those who are offended need to get over it.

Click here for the rest.

Okay, it's a three week old story, but still worth my commenting on, especially because I've been commenting on this wave of weird "gotcha" Puritanism against teachers and public officials taking place these last two years or so; this one is very much in that vein. And when I say "that vein," I mean "bullshit." That is, it simply doesn't matter if this mayor posts semi-nude, nude, or even pornographic pictures on the internet. She can do that. It's her right, and in no way does it affect the performance of her job. And don't try to tell me that controversy affects her job: maybe it does, but she's not causing the controversy; the neo-Puritans are. Fuck 'em.

I'm very glad to see that she's essentially taking the same attitude.

Just to drive the point home a bit further, compare one of Mayor Carmen Kontur-Gronquist's controversial pictures with one taken of a certain Senator-running-for-President while he was on a public outing:

Mayor Carmen Kontur-Gronquist; hubba-hubba!

Senator Barack Obama sexily sloshes in the surf.

See? Virtually no difference; they're both wearing black, even, and Obama is actually baring his nipples! In public! Bwah! If he can do it, everybody can.

Jesus Christ, people are so fucking stupid.



What, are there masques? Hear you me, Jessica:
Lock up my doors; and when you hear the drum
And the vile squealing of the wry-neck'd fife,
Clamber not you up to the casements then,
Nor thrust your head into the public street
To gaze on Christian fools with varnish'd faces,
But stop my house's ears, I mean my casements:
Let not the sound of shallow foppery enter
My sober house.

Shylock, from Act II scene v of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

Okay, so as I've observed before, the New Orleans suburb Metairie is most decidedly not New Orleans. Nonetheless, it is composed primarily of families who fled the Big Easy back in the fifties to avoid integration: think of Metairie, culturally speaking, as a white, family-friendly, version of New Orleans--totally unlike any suburb I've ever encountered, Metairie has a vibe that you can't buy at the mall.

That's why, even though I'm expecting a much more pure Mardi Gras experience on Fat Tuesday when I drive into the city for some debauch fun, Mardi Gras in Metairie totally kicks the Baton Rouge experience in the ass.

Of course, I brought my camera; pictures will follow. Forgive me, I'm still a bit drunk, from a beer, multiple swigs from a bottle of Rumplemints that a co-worker brought, and a swig of some rum drink from a stranger's bottle. That's why my commentary is sparse.

Anyway, the pictures, from Metairie's Caesar Parade:

Me and my pal Brian, a fellow waiter, and standup comedian.

Me and my best Metairie bud Matt, a wildman who comes out of the Kerouac tradition even though he's never read Kerouac.

Blurry, yes, due to my poor photography skills, bad lighting, and consumer grade camera. But, hey, aren't these weird Mayan warriors cool?

Also blurry, but pretty cool in a psychedelic way, don't you think?

A jazz float.

The head of Caesar.

These last four were all women in marvelous, feathered costumes.

Something Arthurian for some reason.

A jester head.

Drew Brees as a float.

More Mardi Gras psychedelia.

Mr. Bill as a float.

"See ya'll in 2009."

Happy Mardi Gras!


Friday, January 25, 2008




Be sure to check out Modulator's Friday Ark for more cat blogging pics!!!


Saturday, January 19, 2008


Day Five: Friday, October 19, 2007

"When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, you have taught me to say
It is well, It is well with my soul."

From the hymn "It Is Well with My Soul" by Horatio G. Spoffard

(It has now been over a month since my last entry in this Grieving Notes series. My memories of the five days following my mother's death, while still vivid, aren't quite as sharp and palpable as they were when I first started these essays a month after I got back from the funeral. It probably would have been best to just sit down and write it all when it was fresh, but, as I've noted, these posts are damned hard to write. That's why I've delayed this final part for so long. But I'm really feeling the itch to move on, to get back to some normal semblance of my previous life, to get back to the regular grind of blogging, expressing my daily outrages, poking fun at politicians and other powerful figures, all that good stuff. So, what I'm saying is that, even though I don't really feel like writing this, I want to get it out of the way. I'm just going to belt the damned thing out and call it done.

Here goes.)

I looked at my eye in the bathroom mirror. Actually, I had been periodically checking my eye for the last couple of days, ever since I had first seen my mother's dead body and then later noticed that a small growth I'd had for years had seemingly disappeared. Still gone. Maybe it was the lighting or something; I couldn't be one hundred percent sure until I got some better light.

Obviously, this was weird. No, I didn't think some minor miracle had occurred, but belief in spontaneous healing upon the sight of, say, a dead saint's corpse is part of the heritage of Western civilization. Little did I realize that in a couple of hours I was going to see my mother celebrated like a saint, or at least as far in that direction as the very Protestant Southern Baptists are willing to go.

I straightened my tie and checked my eye again. Amazing. Still gone. I checked my watch; it was nearing nine a.m. The limo would be there to pick us up very soon. I went downstairs and drank some coffee while my father and older brother fussed around, getting together whatever they needed to have at the funeral and burial. My younger brother Steve, along with his soon to be wife Lesley, and soon to be step kids Caitlyn and Abigail, arrived. Moments later, the limo was there.

I had never been in a limo before, and this one easily met my expectation. Full bar, which was empty--I guess this company did more than funerals. We didn't say much as we rode to the church, just the occasional remark like "what a beautiful day" or "be sure to get that ring before they bury her." My dad warned us that he wanted to keep as much distance as possible between us and Mom's family--there had been a falling out with most of her sisters some years before in the wake of their mother's death; it was all a bunch of bullshit that Mom never deserved and never asked for, but it meant essentially the end of our relationship with them.

Because the casket would be closed during the service, we spent about a half hour with her body once we got there. I had a strange and wonderful moment. An old friend from my Southern Baptist youth days had gone on to work for the funeral home running the show. We were never really pals; he's a couple of years younger than me, and was a bit awkward back in the day, so our social circles simply didn't overlap. But we shared some experiences together while young, and I always liked him. More recently, he had befriended my mother while I was off in Louisiana getting my MFA. Floyd approached me at the front of our old church while I was looking at Mom. We didn't say anything. He just hugged me, something that would have never happened while we were teenagers. It was totally unexpected. In that moment, it was as though a particular era in my life, not just one person, was comforting me, telling me everything would be okay. No words. Floyd retreated as quickly and quietly as he appeared.

When people started arriving, we were hustled into a sort of pastor's lounge to wait for it to start. I went to the bathroom twice during the forty five minutes or so that we waited, again checking my eye each time. My father said his chest hurt, and my cousin, a psychiatrist, managed to find a nurse to take his blood pressure and vitals; it was just stress--he would make it through the day. My dad's weird brother, Uncle Dean, a Catholic priest, the Choctaw who had lived on reservations on and off for years, joined us with his wife. I asked him to explain the relationship between his Catholic church, which allows priests to marry, and the Roman Catholic Church, which is the one with which I am familiar. He then regaled us with some European history and alternative theology, which was quite interesting, but more valuable for helping us pass the time.

Then it was time. I had an idea of what to expect because I had been with my ex-wife Becky's family at her father's funeral back in 1998. Nonetheless, it was all very unsettling. We entered the sanctuary in a rush. There were hundreds and hundreds of people in attendance. A woman I had known for over twenty years was playing hymns on the organ. Familiar faces, faces I hadn't seen in I don't know how long, dotted the crowd. We took our seats on the front row.

Then it began. Everybody who addressed the crowd glowingly praised Mom. She was a great Christian woman, who tirelessly labored for the Lord in her chosen ministry, working with children. Indeed, it was becoming apparent to me that she had been doing this kind of work for so long that the kids she first started working with back in the late 70s had grown up and had children of their own, to whom she had also ministered, many of whom were there in attendance. I mean, I had always known that she was doing this kind of work, that she was the much loved "Miss Birdie" of her church's Sunday school, mother's-day-out, and vacation Bible school programs, but over the years it just never occurred to me how many lives she was affecting, probably counted in the thousands. And it wasn't just children: my mother had spent the last few years since retiring helping to run the church's prayer ministry. She facilitated countless prayers for countless individuals, many of whom she had never even met. None of this even gets into the numerous mission trips she had taken over the years to foreign countries, often bringing shoes and clothing to orphans.

And that's exactly what the former pastor spoke about in his eulogy when it was his turn at the pulpit. I had never thought of my mom as some kind of Mother Theresa, a saint, working ceaselessly for the souls of humanity. She was always simply "Mom," extraordinarily important, yes, but important to me. All these years while I had been so narcissistically involved with myself, I had been missing the plain-as-day fact that my mother had been building a legacy. Turns out she was a big fucking deal. How could I have missed it?

Here's why: she never thought of herself as a big fucking deal; she was always "Mom." And the meek shall inherit the Earth.

The service closed with my favorite hymn, which was also her favorite hymn, "It Is Well with My Soul." I stood and sang with the congregation even though I hadn't counted myself one of them for fifteen years. Tears streamed down my face. I got so choked up I couldn't get the words out.

Then it was over. We were quickly hustled into the limo and hit the freeway for the VA cemetery where my parents had plots because of my father's longtime service in the Texas Air National Guard. The graveside was more of the same, with only a fraction of the attendance of the church service. It was a beautiful day, and as the preacher prayed his final prayer, all of us holding hands, a bird nearby started to chirp conspicuously. If you don't already know, my mother's name was "Birdie." If this had been a movie or play, the writer would have rejected it as being way too unlikely--you just don't get symbolism like that in real life. But this is real life. The moment simply capped a week of amazing events.

Hours later, after I had gone home and gotten a nap, a few church people arrived with our dinner. One of them was a man who had worked in the prayer ministry with my mother, about her age, a former Marine colonel who fought in Vietnam, and a football player for Rice University back when they were good enough to beat Texas in the late fifties and early sixties. He led us in prayer while we stood in a circle in the kitchen. As I stood there with my head bowed and eyes closed I felt myself being moved and comforted by his Charleton Heston voice. I allowed myself to temporarily abandon my anti-Christian attitudes and views and let it all envelop me.

For the moment, I was in the presence of the Lord.

My mother at some point in the last five years of her life. This is how I will always remember her.