Saturday, September 17, 2005

Friday Night at the Fight

People pretend that they are seeking enlightenment and thoughtful analysis of the issues, but what they really like is a good fight. So, I got a copy of the Galloway/Hitchens debate, and now I'm afraid I can't find the link to where I got it. Part of it is available at

Christopher Hitchens has style; can't deny that. I completely disagree with him, and a good deal of the time he sounds exactly like what his opponent accuses him of being: an apologist for the Bush administration. However, he parries Galloway's heated and creative ad hominems, not to mention the heckling of the crowd, in such a cool and almost lazy fashion that one can't help but enjoy it. So, I find a kind of guilty pleasure in listening to him. He's better to listen to than anybody actually *in* the Bush administration.

But Hitchens told a great big fib -- well, it's entirely possible he told more than one fib, but this one I know something about: Galloway brought up Juan's article knocking down his points in support of the Iraq War, and Hitchens responded by saying the "egegrious figure of Professor Cole" "had never set foot in the region" and "claims to know Farsi and all these other languages". Now, I would expect that those of us that have known Juan for a long time in Baha'i cyberspace would know rather more about his background than those who got to know him as the author of Informed Comment. However, it would not take extraordinary research skills to discover that he has an M.A. in Arabic from the American University in Cairo -- which, the last time I checked, was in the Middle East. This little bit of resume information is all over cyberspace. However, so is the claim that Juan doesn't know Arabic. Well, I've heard that one before; Baha'i fundamentalists were saying several years ago that Juan didn't know Persian very well, and therefore his translations of Baha'i scripture should be mistrusted. (For those who don't know: Juan is a very gifted translator, and this was the first work of his I ever encountered. Not know Arabic! Sheesh!)

Since Juan responds to Hitchens' charges in detail, outlining both his Middle East and language experience, I suppose I don't need to go into it further. But it's so foolish to try to get away with a slander that is so easily disproven that I can't help but wonder why Hitchens and those that do this think they can get away with it. It basically counts on an audience that is either too lazy or too anxious to believe a discrediting falsehood to check it out for themselves.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Trapped in New Orleans

This is the story of people who started out in the French Quarter, and ended up being pushed hither and yon all over the place, before finally being rescued. Here are some passages:

What you will not see, but what we witnessed, were the real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working class of New Orleans.

The maintenance workers who used a forklift to carry the sick and disabled. The engineers who rigged, nurtured and kept the generators running. The electricians who improvised thick extension cords stretching over blocks to share the little electricity we had in order to free cars stuck on rooftop parking lots. Nurses who took over for mechanical ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks stuck in elevators. Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, "stealing" boats to rescue their neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped hotwire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the city. And the food service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens, improvising communal meals for hundreds of those stranded. . .

We waited for 48 hours for the buses, spending the last 12 hours standing outside, sharing the limited water, food and clothes we had. We created a priority boarding area for the sick, elderly and newborn babies. We waited late into the night for the "imminent" arrival of the buses. The buses never arrived. We later learned that the minute they arrived at the city limits, they were commandeered by the military. . .

Quite naturally, we asked, "If we can't go to the only two shelters in the city, what was our alternative?" The guards told us that this was our problem--and no, they didn't have extra water to give to us. This would be the start of our numerous encounters with callous and hostile "law enforcement." . .

As we approached the bridge, armed sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions.. .

Just as dusk set in, a sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces and screamed, "Get off the fucking freeway." A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water. . .

We were dropped off near the airport and managed to catch a ride with the National Guard. The two young guardsmen apologized for the limited response of the Louisiana guards. They explained that a large section of their unit was in Iraq and that meant they were shorthanded and were unable to complete all the tasks they were assigned. . . .

This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heartfelt reception given to us by ordinary Texans. We saw one airline worker give her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered us money and toiletries with words of welcome. . . .

Click on the title to see the whole article.

Gore Airlifts Victims from New Orleans

Man, did we pick the wrong guy, or what?

On September 1, three days after Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, Simon learned that Dr. David Kline, a neurosurgeon who operated on Gore's son, Albert, after a life-threatening auto accident in 1989, was trying to get in touch with Gore. Kline was stranded with patients at Charity Hospital in New Orleans.

"The situation was dire and becoming worse by the minute -- food and water running out, no power, 4 feet of water surrounding the hospital and ... corpses outside," Simon wrote.

Gore responded immediately, telephoning Kline and agreeing to underwrite the $50,000 each for the two flights, although Larry Flax, founder of California Pizza Kitchens, later pledged to pay for one of them.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Red Cross Blocked

The Fox News Channel's Major Garrett was just on my show extending the story he had just reported on Brit Hume's show: The Red Cross is confirming to Garrett that it had prepositioned water, food, blankets and hygiene products for delivery to the Superdome and the Convention Center in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, but were blocked from delivering those supplies by orders of the Louisiana state government, which did not want to attract people to the Superdome and/or Convention Center. Garrett has no paper trail yet, but will follow up on his verbal confirmation from sources at the highest levels of the Red Cross.

What it's beginning to look like to me is that one of the things that went wrong in New Orleans is that concerns about crowd control outweighed concerns about the "crowd's" well-being. Same kind of thing with blocking off access to the highway thereby trapping thousands of people at the Convention Center -- they were worried about this crowd of potential "looters" flooding into the next town. And the way they just shoved supplies off the trucks, without stopping -- sometimes damaging the supplies in the process.

They were too scared to help. Now, there were some real reasons for concern; there were gangs with guns in the streets. There were snipers shooting at helicopters. But, to me, the whole point of establishing security was so the aid could get through, not so people could be helplessly trapped -- essentially left to fend for themselves without even the freedom that would allow them to do that. No doubt, if word had gotten out that food and water were being passed out at the Convention Center more people would have gone there. Folks started going there once word came that the Center was being evacuated. So, you're going to deprive people of food because they might show up to get some?

It's hard not to have the feeling that the agencies involved were fearful of the uncivilized hordes of the inner city -- the people that live in the bad part of town that even the cops avoid. It's like after the storm the Superdome and Convention Center became "the bad part of town". The first thought was control and containment, rather than getting help to them.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

More On New Orleans

The link above to Wikipedia has a pretty good round-up of "what went wrong" in its article on the political impact of Hurricane Katrina. Last night I ran into the stunning fact that the National Guard prevented people holed up at the Convention Center from walking across the bridge to escape New Orleans. I imagine they were concerned about a flood of people going into the next town, or whatever. It's bad enough that there were these ridiculous delays in getting help, but to even prevent people from seeking food and water on their own is just unimaginable cruelty. It's like locking someone in a prison cell without food and water.

During the disaster, I've been watching CNN, but I found some dramatic footage from Fox with Geraldo Rivera and Shepard Smith getting very emotional and pleading for these people to be let out of the Convention Center, to walk across that bridge to where food and water was. This was Friday, when the trucks and buses started rolling -- but the people at the Convention Center were still without food and water when this was shot, and there was no information about when it would arrive. Take a look; you won't soon forget it.

You know what's really amazing? That there wasn't a riot. If I'd been without food or water for six days, with old people and babies dying around me, and soldiers told me I couldn't go to where food and water could be found, I'd just say "Shoot me now. Better to die fast than slow." By not letting people through, they were killing them just as sure as putting a bullet in them anyhow. Why didn't the guys who set up this checkpoint have supplies to give these people? It just boggles the mind.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Baha'is of Plano, Texas helping Katrina Victims

Folks are asking about what the Baha'is are doing for the Katrina victims, and a friedn brought this to my attention. Besides the article above, there is also more information here -- Plano, is, apparently, one of the many places in Texas which has been taking in refugees.

A certain amount of cynicism has set in about Baha'is tending to be inwardly-focused and not doing very much charity. It has always been my contention that there is a tremendous charitable impulse among Baha'is, who really *do* care about humanity -- it's just that the impulse gets stifled by a feeling that Baha'is are working for the long term and shouldn't put a lot of energy for the short term. Another factor is that many Baha'i communities are small, and badly organized -- it's tough to get a charitable effort together when you can't even meet regularly.

However, I would like to commend the Baha'is of Plano for their efforts, and hope that every local Baha'i community that has the capacity to do so follow their example.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Figuring Out What Went Wrong in New Orleans

I suspect that talk about how the richest and most developed country in the world could be so unprepared for this crisis and handle it so badly is going to be around for quite some time. But I thought this was a pretty good article on it.

You're Kidding Me, Right?

The National Guard commander, Lieutenant General Steven Blum, said the reservist force was slow to move troops into New Orleans because it did not anticipate the collapse of the city's police force. . . .

"The real issue, particularly in New Orleans, is that no one anticipated the disintegration or the erosion of the civilian police force in New Orleans," Blum told reporters in Washington.

"Once that assessment was made ... then the requirement became obvious," he said. "And that's when we started flowing military police into the theatre."

Now, let me get this straight -- The commander of our forces thought the New Orleans police would be able to handle the situation when:

1. Policemen are just as vulnerable to being killed or injured by storms and floods as anyone else.

2. You have 1700 police to take care of 100,000 people who were stuck in the city.

3. Communications were down, which should have been expected in the aftermath of the storm.

4. Even if they arrested anyone, they had no way of getting them into jail. The only thing they could have done was shoot people in the streets, and since gun stores were among the first places looted, they were quickly outgunned.

5. The police didn't have any more access to food and water than anybody else trying to survive in that city.

6. Police are human beings who have their own families to worry about.

And they thought the New Orleans police force *wouldn't* disintegrate?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

What's Looting and What's Not

There are stories coming out now about how most of the "looting" was survivors simply looking for food and other basic necessities. I wouldn't consider that looting; I'd consider that good common sense in a survival situation. Any fresh food in the grocery stores is going to go bad anyway -- it might as well be feeding someone's children. You can't politely sit around and die of dehydration, something that can happen in as little as three days of water deprivation, while waiting for help to arrive, if water bottles are available at the stores. Especially when it became clear that it was going to take a while before supplies arrived. Some of those people watched trucks roll right past them, without stopping to give them anything -- they can hardly be faulted for deciding they'd better find their own food and water, or they could die waiting for help.

On CNN,I heard a story of a woman who had been trapped at the Ritz-Carlton hotel with about 300 other people, and they were forced to wade through the toxic water in order to get to the rescue buses. Before they left, she said, doctors who had been among the crowd with them "commandeered" some antibiotics, to protect them from infection. That's the polite term -- it's obvious that what they did was break into the nearest pharmacy. And you can bet your fanny that nobody is going to arrest those doctors for looting. Having antibiotics on hand in such an unsanitary environment is nearly as much a necessity for survival as having food and water.

Looters are the guys stealing guns, t.v. sets, jewelry and drugs. (T.V. sets? The power isn't even working. Who are you going to sell them to?) When I said I wanted good guys with guns down there, it was because aid workers were afraid of getting shot while trying to help because of the violent gangs prowling around, so that rescue efforts were disrupted -- and that wasted time was costing lives.

In spite of all the noise Bush is making about zero tolerance for looters, there isn't going to be any more than a few symbolic prosecutions. How are you going to be able to separate out those who were stealing necessities and those who were stealing luxuries, except where it's very blatant?

I have heard that Bush is not making a distinction between the two, but haven't found anything other than this , which looks more like a condemnation of the violent offenders. It would be very bad politically to go dragging off to jail some poor desperate soul for stealing bread and milk, and they just aren't going to do that. And if the troops should, even accidentally, shoot somebody who is taking necessities, howls of protest will ring far and wide.

If you don't want folks stealing food, water, medicine, and sanitary supplies, then you'd better make sure they have some -- and damned quickly too.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Chaos in New Orleans

What's happening in New Orleans really goes to show just how thin the veneer of civilization really is -- and, of course in some of those poor neighborhoods where these trapped people come from, it's even thinner. Living in small towns all my life, it's tough for me to fathom. When we have floods, guys walk or boat around, checking on the elderly, and exchanging news. It sometimes has the feel of a neighborhood party. But big cities are so dependant upon the infrastructure that even a big power outage, all by itself, is an emergency.

It seems pretty clear to me that top priority has to be restoring enough order that aid can get through. We're seeing scenes like this:

Although obviously he has no exact count, he estimates more than 10,000 people are packed into and around and outside the convention center still waiting for the buses. They had no food, no water, and no medicine for the last three days, until today, when the National Guard drove over the bridge above them, and tossed out supplies over the side crashing down to the ground below. Much of the supplies were destroyed from the drop. Many people tried to catch the supplies to protect them before they hit the ground. Some offered to walk all the way around up the bridge and bring the supplies down, but any attempt to approach the police or national guard resulted in weapons being aimed at them.

They're afraid to stop and pass out supplies in an orderly fashion, so the troops just chuck the boxes over the side of the truck. I found this really sad:

The people are so desperate that they're doing anything they can think of to impress the authorities enough to bring some buses. These things include standing in single file lines with the eldery in front, women and children next; sweeping up the area and cleaning the windows and anything else that would show the people are not barbarians.

The buses never stop.

And, of course, there's been story after story of rescue workers being shot at, or vehicles being hijacked. Bush is making noises about lawlessness not being tolerated, but unless you get good guys with rifles down there, nothing is going to stop it. And as long as lawlessness reigns, people are going to die, first from lack of medical care, then from lack of food and water, and disease. So, what I'm asking is where are the troops? Where are the good guys with rifles?