Friday, September 22, 2006

Do Andover Alums Dream of Gasoline SUV's?

There's the summer "driving season," then there's the "oh shit, it's election season:"

Light sweet crude for November delivery declined $1.04 to settle at $60.55 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. November Brent crude on London's ICE futures exchange declined 93 cents to settle at $60.41 a barrel.

Nymex futures prices also declined for gasoline, heating oil and natural gas, which finished at a new two-year low.

Houston-based oil consultant Dan Lippe of Petral Worldwide said that with worldwide supplies growing, he wouldn't be surprised to see oil back below $50 a barrel, and perhaps as low as $40, within a few years — if not sooner.

Can I get a "doubleplusgood?"
Compassionate Conservativism

A favorite GOP catch-phrase as interpreted in the midst of civil war:

Because this account of daily life in Baghdad reveals where the writer lives, his name is not being used to protect his safety. He is a 54-year-old Iraqi reporter in The Times' Baghdad Bureau.

BAGHDAD — On a recent Sunday, I was buying groceries in my beloved Amariya neighborhood in western Baghdad when I heard the sound of an AK-47 for about three seconds. It was close but not very close, so I continued shopping.

As I took a right turn on Munadhama Street, I saw a man lying on the ground in a small pool of blood. He wasn't dead.

The idea of stopping to help or to take him to a hospital crossed my mind, but I didn't dare. Cars passed without stopping. Pedestrians and shop owners kept doing what they were doing, pretending nothing had happened.

I was still looking at the wounded man and blaming myself for not stopping to help. Other shoppers peered at him from a distance, sorrowful and compassionate, but did nothing.

I went on to another grocery store, staying for about five minutes while shopping for tomatoes, onions and other vegetables. During that time, the man managed to sit up and wave to passing cars. No one stopped. Then, a white Volkswagen pulled up. A passenger stepped out with a gun, walked steadily to the wounded man and shot him three times. The car took off down a side road and vanished.

No one did anything. No one lifted a finger. The only reaction came from a woman in the grocery store. In a low voice, she said, "My God, bless his soul."

I went home and didn't dare tell my wife. I did not want to frighten her.

But what's one person's life when there are all those newly painted schools to consider? And you've gotta love the freedom--the writer's identity can't be revealed lest he be killed. Well, if that's not freedom, I don't know what is...
Hard Work

Yes, but somebody "had" to do it, eh?

The republic of fear is born again. The state of terror now gripping Iraq is as bad as it was under Saddam Hussein. Torture in the country may even be worse than it was during his rule, the United Nation's special investigator on torture said yesterday.

"The situation as far as torture is concerned now in Iraq is totally out of hand," said Manfred Nowak. "The situation is so bad many people say it is worse than it had been in the times of Saddam Hussein."

The report, from an even-handed senior UN official, is in sharp contrast with the hopes of George Bush and Tony Blair, when in 2003 they promised to bring democracy and respect for human rights to the people of Iraq. The brutal tortures committed in the prisons of the regime overthrown in 2003 are being emulated and surpassed in the detention centres of the present US- and British-backed Iraqi government. "Detainees' bodies show signs of beating using electric cables, wounds in different parts of their bodies including in the head and genitals, broken bones of legs and hands, electric and cigarette burns," the human rights office of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq says in a new report.

The horrors of the torture chamber that led to Saddam Hussein's Iraq being labelled "The Republic of Fear", after the book of that title by Kanan Makiya, have again become commonplace. The bodies in Baghdad's morgue " often bear signs of severe torture including acid-induced injuries and burns caused by chemical substances, missing skin, broken bones (back, hands and legs), missing eyes and wounds caused by power drills or nails", the UN report said. Those not killed by these abuses are shot in the head.

Human rights groups say torture is practised in prisons run by the US as well as those run by theInterior and Defence ministries and the numerous Sunni and Shia militias.

The pervasive use of torture is only one aspect of the utter breakdown of government across Iraq outside the three Kurdish provinces in the north. In July and August alone, 6,599 civilians were killed, the UN says.

One US Army major was quoted as saying that Baghdad is now a Hobbesian world where everybody is at war with everybody else and the only protection is self-protection.

I could just imagine someone asking the Boy Emperator a question while citing Hobbes...but whoever did would probably ended up being "rendered" to Syria for a bit of "special interrogation."
Ah, Compromise

Congressional Republicans reached a deal with Bush on torturing interrogating "suspected terrorists."

In a related story, factory-raised Congressional Chickens reached a deal with Col. Shrub on preservation of dignity during, um, you know, "the process:"

Chicken John McCain (R-Ariz.)...who led the Senate rebellion...said, "The agreement that we've entered into gives Col. Shrub the tools that he needs to protect the entire flock, which is his sole interest." But he added: "There is no doubt that the integrity and letter and spirit of the process has been preserved."

"After all," he continued, "Just because our destiny is, well, sort of preordained, it doesn't mean we have to surrender all dignity and run around like, um, you know, our head's been cut off--even if it HAS been cut off. Besides, we've received assurances from the Colonel that he'll do his utmost to keep that to a minimum.

It's expected the agreement will include a signing statement that makes oblique reference to "eleven herbs and spices," although spokesperson Tony Snow insisted that these ingredients were matters of "utmost national security" and therefore could not be revealed to the general public.

Graphic inspired by PGR.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Blame the Victims--A Neverending Story



When the "Katricians" rise up in violence, Houstonians had better be packing some serious heat.

That's the inflammatory message of a new gun-shop commercial on the radio that gives Hurricane Katrina evacuees a vaguely alien-sounding name, and advises Texans to take up arms to defend themselves against crimes committed by the newcomers.

"When the 'Katricians' themselves are quoted as saying the crime rate is gonna go up if they don't get more free rent, then it's time to get your concealed-handgun license," warns the radio ad by Jim Pruett, who co-hosts a bombastic talk-radio show and owns Jim Pruett's Guns & Ammo, a self-styled "anti-terrorist headquarters" that sells knives, shotguns, semi-automatic rifles and other weapons. As Pruett describes the dangers posed by "Katricians," glass can be heard shattering, and a bell tolling ominously.

The radio spot highlights what many gun-store owners say is a hot trend in Houston: trade in weapons amid a surge in the homicide rate that police attribute to the more than 100,000 hurricane evacuees still in the city. Though the gun sale reports are largely anecdotal, Texas officials said applications for concealed-weapons permits were up statewide: 60,328 from Jan. 1 to Sept. 1 this year, compared with 46,298 for the same period last year.

The Houston Police Department estimates that one in five homicides in the city now involves Katrina evacuees — as suspect, victim or both. Many Houston residents, including some evacuees, are worried that crime will only get worse once housing and other public assistance end.

OK, I'm not going to sugarcoat things or otherwise be naive: as much as I love the Crescent City--I'd like to think as much as a non-resident can--it's not like I'm unaware of the ominous underside: the high crime, the desperate poverty, the abysmal state of public services/education, etc. Hell, there are areas I would otherwise have NEVER gone to had it not been for the flood (e.g., the Lower Ninth). My immediate supervisor at work grew up in NOLA, and I don't think he misses living there (hint: he lived in some rough neighborhoods). Some of my Red Stick friends were once denizens of the city, and likewise don't miss it (hint: see the first hint).

So when the Houston police report that Katrina evacuees are committing crimes, well, I'm not going to immediately call bullshit. But the fact is that these folks were, first, more or less abandoned by this country while living in The Big Easy and second, have received pretty much the same treatment post-flood. Houstonians can thank the administration of fellow Texan George W. Bush directly for the latter, and his political forebears for the former.

The distinct lack of priority in dealing with a disaster they're responsible for--to repeat, as others have, for what seems like the 2millionth (pun intended) time, the levee failures are the result of irresponsibility at the federal level--merely underscores the long term neglect our country has had for the impoverished. Indeed, since "Reagan-style" conservativism became a popular political movement, the country seems to have gone even further: instead of merely neglecting the poor, it's become downright hostile towards them.

In fact, I'm often surprised we don't have even MORE examples of ugly criminal behavior...and again, lest anyone think I'm a criminal coddler, let me disuade you right away: twice I've been mugged/assaulted, less than a month ago someone tried to break into my house--no, I don't like crooks and would like to see them in jail (oh--and I also support efforts to hire more police and raise officers' salaries, often fruitlessly here in Red Stick, to my chagrin).

But again, this goes back to something Scout asked in After the Levees: what sort of government do we want? Hmmm...I forget now, but I think one of her major criteria was: a COMPETENT government.

A competent government would most certainly not let thousands of its own citizens, be they good, bad, or ugly, languish in, in this case, Houstonian limbo (and I'll forego my normal Houston bashing here). Neither would a competent government allow for the equal abandonment many of these citizens felt prior to the flood, when the VAST MAJORITY were living almost as prisoners in their own neighborhoods, the police unwilling or unable to enforce more than the barest minimum of order (or sometimes less) while yes, criminals (NOT a majority, but it doesn't require a majority) were actually powerful or brazen enough to fight the police to what amounted to a stand-off. Oh, and another thing: I SERIOUSLY doubt that this is or was a problem unique to New Orleans. I'd bet that in virtually every moderate to large sized city in the country (and even a few small sized ones) there are areas that, if you value your life and/or health, you don't want to get caught in. And if, for whatever reason, you DID, and suffered the consequences, well, most folks wouldn't even bother with sending a sympathy card.

Which, if you think about it, is bizarre/scary: the richest nation on the face of the planet--by an almost absurd degree--has entire swaths of its own territory that are barely governable. Call it the slum, the ghetto, the "inner city," whatever--but they sure as hell are more than a mere embarrassment. They're a damning indictment.

Well, that was a bit of a tangent, so to hopefully focus back: in the case of New Orleans, the forced evacuation, yes, has resulted in good people, bad people, and ugly people all having an impact where they've moved. For the most part, it's a positive impact: aside from the unique cultural legacy of the city, the displaced residents purchase goods and services, which provide employment and tax revenues, etc. etc.--I'm sure y'all all know the details. Some displaced residents no doubt commit crimes--and again, I'm NOT going to justify criminal behavior. But ALL displaced resident are, well, DISPLACED--except for the almost 2,000 who are, well, you know, DEAD, and that itself is a crime.

One that DIDN'T have to happen.
Small Brained

Evolutionary Dead End

Mickey Z. lists ten reasons why "cars suck." Which reminds me that this Monthly Review Essay, entitled "Cars and Cities," while over 30 years old and kind of long, is still well worth a look:

Since 1920 the people/car ratio has further declined as follows: 1930—4.5; 1940—4.1; 1950—3.1; 1960—2.4; 1970—1.9. At the present time, in other words, there are more than half as many cars as people in the United States. The automobile has become a mass-consumption commodity in the fullest sense of the term. And in the process it has profoundly altered many aspects of social existence for all classes and strata of society.

The most obvious manifestations of this process—which the late Paul Baran and I have called the "automobilization" of society7—are traffic congestion and pollution, and these are also the effects which have been most instrumental in focusing public attention on the social and environmental implications of automobilization. But congestion and pollution are essentially superficial phenomena, comparable to the outward symptoms of a disease with deep roots in the organs of the body. If we are ever to deal with the disease itself we must go beyond the symptoms and study its etiology. In the present instance what we need first of all is to understand the ways in which the automobile in the process of becoming a mass-consumption good impinged upon and ultimately transformed the geography and demography of the country.

Or, if you prefer a shorter version, consider: Los Angeles. Houston. And, in miniature form, Baton Rouge. Need I say more?
Post Non-Haste

Busy day here...hopefully things will be slower later today (but before the scheduled blogger outage at 6pm Central Time).

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

But Does He Wear Prada?

Hugo Chavez opts for understatement today.
Dune Buggy to Judgement Day

Well, I sure enjoyed the break--as did my shoulder and elbow--and I hope y'all haven't given up on me.

Maybe I wasn't doing the internets for the past week, but I managed to read a couple of short novels, enjoy some museums in the nation's capital...and, as soon as I manage to load the drivers, etc., I'll post a picture of yours truly with one of my favorite writers/activists: that's right--I had the lucky fortune to be in Durham at the same time as Barbara Ehrenreich. More on that later...

In the meantime, I'll simply note, as per the picture above, that the apocalyptic rhetoric seems to be emanating from Team Bush--both in volume and "subtance"--at levels normally associated exclusively with young males playing car stereos. As you might expect, my reaction is the usual mix/match: outrage, appalled, angered, troubled are just a few descriptives.

From what I guess we all can see, there's maybe a method to this sort of madness, in much the same way that, oh, I don't know, say, Microsoft products have a logic that's merely tangential to genuine logic...between the law breaking, the sweetheart deals at the expense of the general public, the military, and so on, the sheer incompetence that oozes from the pores of Team Bush at oceanic levels...perhaps they really DO feel like there's an apocalypse on THEIR horizon, should Democrats find themselves with subpeona power come next January.

On the other hand, and again, I'm not saying anything new here, shilling for mass murder with the zeal and enthusiasm they've demonstrated is, to understate, pretty goddamned disgusting. To paraphrase Marge Gunderson--and for what? A little bit of money...

I bet they don't even lose any sleep.