Thursday, September 29, 2005

Nature vs. knits

This week at kindergarten, Ben's been getting a tryout in the gifted class. Today, he brought a batch of uncompleted first-grade worksheets home for homework, and I'll be damned! He's getting the knack of it. (Where did he pick this up? Phonics, addition problems, word order—what?!?) I don't know if the teachers have made a final placement decision—no note has been sent home—but Ben is under the impression that he's being transferred to the new group.

Mr. Tangerine asked Ben, "How did you get to be so smart?"

Ben replied, "From school."

Mr. Tangerine prodded, "Oh, not from Mommy and Daddy's genes?"

"No, from school, and maybe from Mommy and Daddy's sweaters." (Rim shot.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Broke vs. poor

The Tribune's Clarence Page addresses the class divide in today's column, "Poverty IQ: Po' vs. broke". It's a good read.

Obstetric fistula

A couple years ago, the NYT's Nicholas Kristof wrote about the continuing crisis of obstetric fistula in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, a news article in the NYT tells us the problem is far from solved. In Nigeria alone, hundreds of thousands of women have unmended fistulas.

Obstetric fistula is what happens when a woman (usually in her teen years) is in labor for days without access to modern medical care. The baby can't fit through the birth canal, and the woman's urethra, bowels, or both sustain damage such that the body's waste products constantly drip out. A woman with a fistula is often abandoned by her husband and ostracized by her community and even her own family.

There is a straightforward cure for fistula, though: surgical repair. Unfortunately, there are nowhere near enough surgeons and facilities to handle all the cases that arise. Two groups that are working on this issue are the UN Population Fund and American Friends Foundation for Childbirth Injuries (the latter was featured on "Oprah" a couple years ago and is associated with a fistula hospital led by an inspirational surgeon named Catherine Hamlin). According to the NYT, the Population Fund managed to raise only $11 million in their two-year campaign; both groups need more money. The surgery costs only a few hundred dollars, but when there are so few surgeons and thousands upon thousands of impoverished patients in need. While ideally women would never sustain fistulas in the first place, that's a far bigger problem. In the meantime, we can help the women who have already been injured in childbirth, allowing them to return to meaningful lives in their communities.

Science education, kindergarten style

Here's what my boy claims he learned in school on Monday: The baby bird drinks milk from the mama bird's nipple. We've tried clarifying the facts here, but the boy is having none of it, because the teacher said. Man, I hope the teacher just talked too fast when explaining the various and sundry ways in which mammalian and avian creatures eat, and Ben was too bored to pay attention to the details.

Funky words the English language needs

Some dude named Adam Jacot de Boinod scoured foreign dictionaries for words that lack a precise equivalent in the English language and gathered the best ones into a book, The Meaning of Tingo: And Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World. According to Amazon, the book will not be available in the US until next March.

For a sneak preview, the review from The Independent offers a selection of these words. Here are some highlights:

mamihlapinatapei is from the Fuengian language in Chile, meaning "a shared look of longing between parties who are both interested yet neither is willing to make the first move"

tingo, from Easter Island's Pascuense language, means "borrowing things from a friend's house, one by one, until he has nothing left"

pomicione is Italian for "a man who seizes any chance of being in close physical contact with a woman"

senzuri is the Japanese word for male masturbation, or literally "a hundred rubs"—compare the word for women's good times, shiko shiko manzuri, literally "ten thousand rubs" (did they get the math right?)

fucha is a Portuguese verb meaning "to use company time and resources for one's own purposes"

buz-baz is ancient Persian for "a showman who makes a goat and monkey dance together"

mata ego, from Rapa Nui, Easter Island, means "eyes that reveal that someone has been crying"

desus is Indonesian for "the quiet, smooth sound of somebody farting but not very loudly," which I always thought was spelled pssssssffft

seigneur-terrasse is the French term for "someone who spends time, but not money, at a café"

And the beautiful xiaoxiao is Chinese for "the whistling and pattering of rain or wind"

(Thanks to Elise at After School Snack for the lead.)

Update: The folks at Language Log, as usual, have more on the topic.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


Squeamish Reader Alert: If you are easily squicked out, do not read this post. Really.

When's the last time you heard someone use the word douchebag but they weren't impugning anyone's character?

The other day, I drove my 93-year-old grandma to the gynecologist to get a pessary (s'posed to keep her uterus from popping out—she's got a wicked case of uterine prolapse going on) inserted. I'm guessing most of you don't quite know what a pessary is; this model basically looked like a diaphragm with vent holes. Anyway, the doctor advised Grandma to use a nonmedicated douche twice a week to basically, um, flush out stanky discharge. 'Cause the pessary, it stays in for 1 to 3 months at a time, unlike a diaphragm.

The next day, Grandma tells me she's gonna have to see what sort of douches they sell at Wa1-Mart. And "I'm not sure if I still have that douchebag around here. I'll need a new hose, anyway." Aaaagh! My ears! My ears are bleeding! I assured her that she could probably buy a handy-dandy douche with a self-contained squeeze bottle or something (what the hell do I know about such things?), and that I really didn't think she'd need to track down a douchebag. Much less a new hose. (Aaagh!)

Yes, I spoke the word douchebag aloud to my grandmother, and she didn't tell me to wash my mouth out with soap. Honestly? I don't think she has any idea how the modern generation uses that word.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Need a laugh? Yes! You do!

This is the funniest piece of writing I've seen in a month. Or maybe two months. Or three. To tempt you, I will say only that it's about the Mormon guidelines for youths who like to touch themselves, and Francis makes many incisive and entertaining comments. You'll love it!

Friday, September 23, 2005

National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

The eloquent cancerbaby has devoted a post to the early signs of ovarian cancer, screening/diagnostic methods, and the importance of being a strong advocate for yourself when you have symptoms that haven't been fully explained. Yes, it's National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Go read cancerbaby's post—I mean it, go read it all right now—and then come back here and click on the link up there on the right if you'd like to support ovarian cancer research and education.

If your doctor suspects ovarian cancer, there are two important things to know, cancerbaby says: First, don't consent to a biopsy, as a biopsy can inadvertently spread ovarian cancer cells within your body. Second, if you need surgery, insist on referral to a gynecologic oncologist who is specially trained in treating ovarian cancer, and don't settle for a regular gynecologist or a general surgeon.

What you can end a sentence with

A preposition. Really and truly. A learned Language Log linguist, Geoffrey Pullum, says so in a post this week. If you don't believe me, go read it yourself.

The short version of the story is that we can blame John Dryden for getting ranty about ending a sentence with a preposition, way back in 1672. Dryden gave no rationale for his judgment, and in fact ended sentences with prepositions in his own writing. A century after Dryden, a grammarian picked up the idea, and gradually other grammarians started to preach it, too. And today, of course, plenty of people who consider themselves educated writers meticulously strive to torture their sentences to put prepositions in highfalutin places, peppering their writing with pointless whiches.

You want to know where you can stick that preposition? You can stick it right at the end of a sentence. Really. It works. Let me show you: "What are you waiting for?" See? Compare that to "For what are you waiting?" Ick. "I couldn't find what you were looking for." Compare what the New Yorker web site will tell you if your search query comes up empty: "I'm sorry I couldn't find that for which you were looking." Eww! (The latter was what spurred Pullum to write his defense of putting prepositions where they naturally belong.) I've always enjoyed the tortured construction, "up with which I will not put"—I forget where I first read that one.

Donahue 1, O'Reilly 0

Via Elise at After School Snack, a link to a transcript of Phil Donahue's evisceration of Bill O'Reilly on "The O'Reilly Factor." Hoo-wee! That's some gooood stuff.

Mmm, that sounds about right

You are a

Social Liberal
(75% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(10% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Over in the United States Senate—isn't that where Dick Cheney let loose with the F word?—they're pondering a 15-fold hike in fines for naughty words that get broadcast. (Yes, apparently the Senators do have too much time on their hands. Idle hands, etc., etc.) It's time for some frank talk about, well, frank talk. In today's NYT, the fabulous Natalie Angier surveys the history and science of swearing a blue streak.

In general, men swear more than women, though there certainly are outliers like me who have been known to swear like the proverbial longshoreman. Personally, I love words so much, I'm not going to exclude these exquisitely useful oaths from my vocabulary. Fuck and shit are more utilitarian than, say, copulate and feces, as they can serve so many roles in a sentence and carry so many different meanings. "I am so sick of this copulating feces"? No. "Fee-i-cees!"? No. "Shee-it!"? Absolutely.

According to Dutch linguist Guy Deutscher, "In some cultures, swear words are drawn mainly from sex and bodily functions, whereas in others, they're drawn mainly from the domain of religion." And in cultures that emphasize women's purity and honor, "it's not surprising that many swear words are variations on the 'son of a whore' theme or refer graphically to the genitalia of the person's mother or sisters." Isn't it splendid that our culture encompasses all of the above? Those people who hype English as a rich language owing to the sheer number of words we have are onto something—our swearing partakes of that abundant wealth.

What happens physiologically when someone hears swear words? Angier writes, "Their skin conductance patterns spike, the hairs on their arms rise, their pulse quickens, and their breathing becomes shallow." Let's try it out. Goddamn fucking shit! Did you feel anything? No?

Angier's article was accompanied by a sidebar listing curses through the centuries. Among my favorites: In the 1400s, scullion meant a servant of the lowest class. The 1500s ushered in slangrill (oaf) and brock (rotten man). The 1600s gave us gadzooks (God's hooks, whatever that means), sfoot (to have sex), and criminy (Christ). Moving along to the 1800s, Jesus was transformed into both Jiminy Cricket and Gee whillikins, and drat abbreviated "God rot." Apparently, somewhere in the 1900s, meddle was used to mean "to have sex." Go figure.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Baby-name nerd

I admit it. I'm a baby-name nerd. When I was a kid, I'd buy those teeny 49-cent books sold in the grocery-store checkout lanes, and I'd read through them, studying the derivation and meaning of each name, the variations (Margaret, from the Greek for pearl: Maggie, Peggy, Margarita, Meg, Margo, Marguerite, etc.). And now the Internets, they bring us so much more. There's the interactive graph thingy at Baby Name Wizard, the Social Security Administration's baby-names database, and a hilarious snarkfest mocking the ridiculous names people concoct these days.

That last link is especially juicy. From section 13 (and it takes hours to get through all the content at this site!) comes this listing of oddball spellings and associated snark: Skylar Makinzy, Jayden Mokol, Karryllinne Sweet ("I must've stared at this for five minutes before I figured out it's just Caroline."), Schuylar Daymen, Dominick Kaaynen, Duglass Link, Kenadeigh Aiden ("I never, in a million years, would have thought someone would have screwed with 'Kennedy.' Yes, caconomenology is a field of limitless suprises."), Jarret Kaylub, Nicklaus Santana. Then there are freaky names, like Celestial Rage and Gunnar Blayz, Crimson Tobias and Sloe Harlotte. Head over to this site whenever you need to laugh repeatedly. If your eyes should begin to bleed, though, please turn off your monitor.

Today in the New York Times, there was an article on baby naming trends in NYC. While Brooklyn has become the 101st most popular name for baby girls throughout the country, whaddaya know? New Yorkers, dey ain't having none of dat. In New York, names like Fatoumata (West African girl's name) and Moshe (old-school Jewish) are coming on strong, while the cockamamie naming trends that sweep the rest of the nation scarcely pop up.

Closer to home, I find that my son Benjamin's name is pretty common in yuppie circles. But in the Chicago Public Schools? There might be another Ben among the 165 kindergartners. But the Madisons and Olivias and the Dylans and Austins tend to blend in with the kids named Miguel, Reda, Oumar, Ousaf, Maham, Darion, and Tinuola. Frankly, I'm glad Ben's not traveling in the circles where there's always another kid by the same name. I grew up with such a common name, there were four of us with the same name in my tenth-grade English class. Who needs that?

Am I the only baby-name nerd here? I bet I'm not...

Friday, September 16, 2005

If Bob Newhart were in The Aristocrats

As imagined by Tabetha Wells at McSweeney's Internet Tendency. Including the line, "Uh-huh. Balloon animals. I see. You put them in your ... oh ... oh dear ..."

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Good news for anyone who's uncomfortable with the insertion of the phrase "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance: U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton has ruled that the phrase is an unconstitutional violation of schoolkids' right to be "free from a coercive requirement to affirm God." Michael Newdow filed the case on behalf of families in three California school districts after he was deemed to lack standing to sue on his daughter's behalf.

A "religious rights" group called the Becket Fund plans to appeal the ruling. If the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals doesn't overturn its precedent, the Becket Fund plans to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Moyers on fundamentalism

Bill Moyers recently spoke at the Union Theological Seminary on the topic of religious fundamentalism and the American government. The text of his address is must reading. I'd excerpt and describe the article, but I couldn't do it justice. Just go read it.

Link via the nut.

"Look, Mom! I'm classical!"

That's what Ben said as he stood in his Gap Kids boxer briefs, waving a pencil like a conductor's baton.

That is all.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Advice, anyone?

First request for your wise counsel: What do those overexposed-at-the-swimming-pool dreams mean? I dreamt I was heading to the pool with my friend Kristin, who assured me it was fine to wear a white tank top in lieu of a swimsuit top since we'd just be sitting out in the sun. Then we ended up in the pool playing mixed-doubles volleyball—and me in a scarcely adequate, thin, wet tank top! Why?

Second request: That dream ended quickly, probably because Ben kept finding new ways to wedge his feet against me from about 5 a.m. on. He sleeps soundly throughout, but destroys any chance that I'll get a good night's sleep since my bedtime isn't 8:00. Would it be bad for me to use my kid's-in-school productive time to nap every day? I suspect Ben's wandering into my room and poking me incessantly with his feet is tied to kindergarten adjustment stress. The World's Most Independent Little Boy has been clingy for the past week, and I don't know what to do. Do I just wait it out, keep asking him if anything specific is troubling him, and reassure him that everyone else is feeling the same way? Or is there something more I should do? Do I talk to the teacher?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Busy weekend, sleepy head, quick links

Busy weekend: Why haven't I been posting anything? I went out for a belated group birthday dinner with two old friends last night (the Moroccan chickpea/sweet potato tagine at Lula Café is indeed delicious, but would benefit from the addition of some dried fruit). It was a sad little gathering. Three women, all sleepy, going to dinner at 7:00 and ordering iced tea instead of wine so we could stay awake. Ben keeps meandering down the hall into my bed in the late wee hours and jostling me awake while he returns to sleep, and then I can't get back to sleep. Seriously, five or six hours of shut-eye is nowhere near enough. (This is why I have zero interest in ever adopting a newborn. Sleep deprivation sucks.)

Ben's first soccer game was this morning, in the hot sun, on a dusty, dry field (it hasn't rained in a good three weeks here). I spent the second half sitting on a park bench in the breezy shade, yapping on the phone. I have no idea if Ben's team (The Revolution!) won, or if a victor was even declared. He was too hot and sweaty to really enjoy the game—and I can totally relate. I'm hoping to get back to the health club now that Ben's in school, and I've got my eye on the Hydro-Fit class so I can avoid sweating while supposedly getting a cardio workout with a bunch of elderly women who are arguably in better shape than me.

After we hosed Ben off, it was time to take a scheduled tour of Wrigley Field. Any of you local Cubs fans should look into that—on weekends when the Cubs aren't playing at home, they have tours to support the Cubs Care charity, and you learn a lot of ballpark trivia and history. (Take the kids only if they're good at behaving for two hours straight.) I sat at the Associated Press's assigned seat in the press box. I sat in the home and visitor dugouts, wishing I had something to spit or a Dusty Baker toothpick to gnaw on. I learned that the three to six people who work inside the manual scoreboard during each game are always men. The guide explained that first, women are too smart to work inside a steel box that becomes an oven on warm days and a refrigerator on cold days. That, plus the limited plumbing facilities for the scoreboard staff—basically a funnel connected to a pipe. We also toured the Cubs clubhouse. Did you know that in the narrow hallway that leads from the clubhouse to the field, there's a little alcove containing a grungy sink and a urinal? With no door? Lovely, just lovely.

Then we had a late lunch at Heaven on Seven, Chicago's outpost of New Orleans cuisine. The poboys were shockingly underwhelming, but the creamy garlic mashed potatoes? All three of us enjoyed them. And the Tangerine Man and I did our share to support a Louisiana business by ordering Abita beers (the dark-brown Turbo Dog for the Mr., the Amber Ale for me). The culinary highlight for Ben was using my wee dish of balsamic vinaigrette as a dipping sauce for everything. Who needs ketchup for your tater tots when there's balsamic on hand?

Tomorrow, I have to haul ass to Target and get a birthday gift for a Sunday afternoon kid party. I asked the mom what her daughter likes. "Oh, she likes the same stuff Ben likes," she assured me. "Trucks and cars?" I asked. "And Spider-Man?" Actually, no, as it turns out. The birthday girl prefers Barbie and Bratz to vehicles and superheros. Ben likes the concept of Barbie more than the dolls themselves. Barbie toothbrush? Check. Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus necklace from a Happy Meal? Check. Pink, in general? Check. But when the girls pull out Barbie dolls, he loses interest quickly. You know, when I was a kid, my sister and I had a Barbie doll (might've been her redhead friend Stacy) with an inverted nipple. Seriously. Our dog chomped down and left an inverted-nipple tooth mark.

Sleepy head: The only reason I'm not sound asleep right now is that I took a much-needed nap from 6 to 8:30 tonight. I'm still sleepy, but feel compelled to put out for you, even though it's been less than 48 hours since I last posted. Is that OCD? An overly acute sense of blogger duty? Self-defeating behavior keeping me from actually catching up on my sleep, even though I've been complaining of sleepiness for days?

Quick links: Check out Mona's funny brain poems.

And Francis Heaney finally ponied up some delicious new Six Things cartoons.

There's a new blogger in blogtown: DoctorMama. She's got me on her blogroll, so clearly she's a woman of great discernment. The comments she's left here indicate that she'd totally fit right in with my circle of friends. Here are her qualifications: She shares my friend Kristin's fondness for the New Yorker writer Hendrik Hertzberg; she reads magazines while brushing her teeth, as I do; and she's a heathen like me and most of my closest friends.

Okay, I thought this was going to be a 5-minute post, and it's taken me an hour. I really must go to bed. G'night!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Presidential prayer pandering

Straight from President Bush's official Proclamation comes this beaut: To honor the memory of those who lost their lives, to provide comfort and strength to the families of the victims, and to help ease the burden of the survivors, I call upon all Americans to pray to Almighty God and to perform acts of service. Yes, that's right. Dear Leader is urging every citizen to "pray to Almighty God." I completely support the idea of a Day of Remembrance for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing governmental bungling, of course—just as Bush once said he thinks about Iraq every single day, I've been thinking about the victims of Katrina each day. What I object to is specifically calling September 16 a Day of Prayer as well, given that not every American is inclined to pray.

Of course, Bush presumably believes in his heart of silver-spoon hearts that a Day of Prayer makes sense for everyone. And heck, it's exactly what his "base" asked for. The Christian Defense Coalition and the National [Christian] Clergy Council specifically lobbied for it, writing this: "Americans are people of faith. Please use your post to once again unite us at the deepest level of our common life." Bush's Proclamation even mentions "the promise of the Scripture." So, who exactly is Bush uniting here? I'm kind of thinking that everyone who doesn't buy into Christian Scripture might feel a tad excluded, as I do. But the folks who really matter—Bush's conservative Christian base—are probably feeling mighty gratified.

So, if you share my distaste for the "Day of Prayer" concept, and even if you appreciate it, please join me in marking September 16—and September 9, and the days in between and the days that follow—as a time for remembrance and service. National organizations such as the American Red Cross and the many local groups that are aiding evacuees throughout the nation could all use our continuing help.

(Proverbial hat tip to Kristin for telling me about the Day of Prayer business.)

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Tiptop spam

Every now and then, I like to clear out my bulk mail box and trash the spam. But it's getting so genteel now! Case in point: A subject line reading "Receive a significant discount on your medications" is followed by another reading "Be given a considerable markdown on your medicine." How thoughtful, you think. Then you're totally ripe for the picking by the time the quaint "These tiptop goods are provided at lovely prices" note arrives. Damn! I don't know anyone who doesn't appreciate tiptop goods. And at such lovely prices, who can resist?

I don't know how Bukowski wrote drunk. I'm tempted to write another story featuring the spam sender names, but the four ounces of beer I've already downed are quashing my creativity and addling my pate. (Yes, I'm a lightweight.) I know there's got to be a great story about Chang Boswell, Roderick Shindle, Sean Tulip, Jimmy Polisky, and Thaddeus Cartagena but...I got nothin'. Sean "Tiptop" Tulip?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Phase 2

We are pleased to announce the grand opening of Phase 2 of the Orange Tangerine parenting development. It's just past 8 a.m., I'm showered and dressed, and I've got the house to myself until 1:45. Hooray for kindergarten!

Just imagine how productive I could be today if the mood strikes. If the mood doesn't strike, eventually my client will smite, so the mood will just have to strike this morning. The beautiful part of this full-day kindergarten business is that even if I fritter away three full hours, I'll still be able to crank out some work for a couple hours and take a much-deserved lunch break. Phase 2 looks extremely promising.

Hmm, I wonder how the teachers are doing right now, sorting 165 kindergartners into six homeroom groups within one giant "pod" classroom...

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Coming to terms

Over at Shades of Grey, Charlie’s written a thought-provoking essay defining nonmonogamy and infidelity. What Charlie means by a nonmonogamous relationship is a serious relationship in which all parties involved consent to having multiple sexual partners.

What is infidelity, then? In Charlie’s view, there can be infidelity in a nonmonogamous relationship, but the two are not tantamount. In most monogamous relationships, there is an assumed promise between both partners that each will have sex only with the other. Charlie writes. With such an assumption, it is easy to see how sex becomes the focus of infidelity. But in a nonmonogamous relationship, both partners recognize that it is not the sex itself that is wrong, it is the broken promise. “Cheating” is anything that breaks a promise to one’s significant other. For a nonmonogamous couple, that could mean violating the terms of the agreement the couple has reached (e.g., no sex with exes, or no outside relationships without talking about it first).

Jettisoning the automatic assumption of complete monogamy that permeates our society would encourage couples to hash out the terms that work for them. How much flirting is okay? What about porn? Are strip clubs okay or off-limits? What constitutes cheating? Many couples probably define things differently from one another, and clear communication of their expectations is key to avoiding hurt feelings or a sense of betrayal. If a husband thinks it’s cheating only if there’s sex involved but his wife thinks that kissing or romantic conversations also constitute cheating, it’s going to get ugly if he’s making out at the office party.

I think it’s crucial for any couple to discuss where their comfort zones are and how they define the limits. Just as couples strive to reach agreement on where they’ll live, how or if they’ll raise children, how they save and spend money, and who does the laundry, it makes sense to talk about where they draw the lines on sexual matters. Many couples commit, at least nominally, to traditional “forsaking all others” monogamy, but they do still need to hash out the particulars on issues like flirting and how they define cheating.

I’m sure every one of you has examples from your own relationships of conflicts that arose as a result of differing definitions and expectations. Were you able to talk it out and reach an agreement, or were your views so divergent that you couldn’t get past the issue? In a minor example, I finally gave up asking Mr. Tangerine to unroll his rolled-up shirt sleeves before tossing a shirt in the hamper; it pissed me off for a few years that he’d never do that, but eventually I realized that it was a stupid thing to make an issue of. And he finally realized it wouldn’t kill him to put the bottle opener back where he found it. On the bigger issues, he and I generally reach a mutual agreement. With the little things we argue about chronically (e.g., who dawdles in which troublesome fashion before road trips), we really ought to come to terms once and for all, and quit having the same routine spats. Really, after 17 years together, shouldn’t we be over the routine-spat thing? Gotta work on that.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Today in the Times

In Paul Krugman's column today, he writes about the administration's "general hostility to the role of government as a force for good. And Americans living along the Gulf Coast have now reaped the consequences of that hostility." A strong and capable FEMA, as we see clearly now, is vital to America's security and safety. The man in charge of FEMA, Michael ("Brownie") Brown, was appointed director after his college roommate left the post. That roommate, Joseph Allbaugh, was himself a political confidant of George Bush rather than a seasoned emergency-management professional. That's right: Brownie is a crony of a crony.

Krugman mentions a Chicago Tribune article I saw yesterday morning: The U.S.S. Bataan is a Navy hospital ship sitting off the Gulf Coast, where it rode out the hurricane en route from Panama to Norfolk. The ship remained in place for days but, to my knowledge, still has not been mobilized to help Katrina's victims. On board that ship are 1,200 good folks in the Navy, ready and willing to help out, and 600 empty hospital beds. Gee, doesn't that sound mighty convenient? And yet while hospital patients grew sicker and died, that hospital ship was never called into service. I don't like to see my tax dollars blown on foolishness like the missile defense pipe dream, or on the prosecution of a war I don't believe should have been started. And here's a way to make use of those defense dollars to help save American lives, and instead the administration dawdled and bungled and blamed the victims.

The Bush administration and I have a core difference in our beliefs about the purpose of the federal government. Silly optimist me, I thought one of the government's roles was to keep the citizenry safe. The politicians and ideologues allied with Bush want to "starve the beast" of federal government; in so doing, we see, some citizens may end up starved as well, drowning or dying of thirst. It's every man, woman, and child for themselves, and if they didn't happen to be born with privilege, the government sure isn't going to help them get it.

One thing that gives me hope for the future is the lack of outspoken support for Bush and FEMA. Republicans and Democrats alike have called for full investigation of the many deadly failures of the past week. I hope more Americans now understand that those Republicans who want to starve the beast threaten every American's safety net—and will quit voting them into office.

As Bob Herbert concludes in his column, "this is not about politics. It's about competence. And when the president is so obviously clueless about matters so obviously important, it means that the rest of us, like the people left stranded in New Orleans, are in deep, deep trouble."

From the NYT's news section rather than Op-Ed comes this article, "After Failures, Officials Play Blame Game." Fucking FEMA officials obstructed relief efforts in a multitude of ways. Rather than asking businesses to help out, FEMA turned back three Wal-Mart trucks filled with bottled water. The Coast Guard wasn't allowed to deliver 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel. They turned down the City of Chicago's offer of personnel and equipment (FEMA agreed to accept a single tanker truck from Chicago). Michael Chertoff, the director of homeland security, naturally enough blames the flood-damaged local government for the delays. The local authorities, of course, have example after example of requests that sat unanswered by FEMA, promises made but not kept.

The lead paragraph of this article says it all: "Under the command of President Bush's two senior political advisers, the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina." Does it seem a little early for that? Like maybe they could have the respect to wait until the bodies have been counted and finally accorded a mote of dignity?

On another subject, John Roberts is now up for Rehnquist's spot rather than O'Connor's. What? Oh, I guess it makes perfect sense for a man with a couple years of experience as a judge to be Chief Justice. (Boy, I'll bet Scalia is pissed.)

New Orleans, Louisiana: October 1994

In October 1994, I traveled to New Orleans for the first and only time. I had an editorial board meeting and dinner to host, so Mr. Tangerine and I made a company-subsidized vacation out of it.

It was Halloween that Monday when we were there, so we went to a dime store in search of quasi-costumes; we chose felt jester hats with bells. We still have the hats, though the bells are long gone; Ben actually pulled one out for dress-up this morning. Walking the tourist route through the French Quarter, fighting the congestion (both on the streets and in my sinuses—I had a nasty cold), we stopped at a to-go bar (a refreshing difference from Chicago with its ban on open containers of alcohol). On the bar TVs, we saw the Bears playing the Packers in a cold downpour back in Chicago, and we were delighted to be enjoying the Louisiana warmth and clear skies. (The Packers pounded the Bears, much to Mr. Tangerine’s delight.) Bourbon Street on Halloween was nuts—hordes of people, crazy costumes, partying and dancing in the street. I imagine it held but a fraction of the decadence of Mardi Gras.

We’d booked a table at NOLA, which I think was Emeril’s first restaurant there, but cancelled because I was feeling lousy and wouldn’t have been able to taste anything. This was before I ever heard his catchphrase “Pork fat rules!” (um, unless you don’t eat pork) and before Emeril became totally overexposed on the Food Channel, so it’s just as well, eh?

I met with my editorial board, a group of esteemed physicians, in a meeting room at the convention center. As we planned out the next year for our publication, we had a duck-breast salad for lunch. The convention center’s caterers made some surprisingly good food.

One of the physician editors was from Shreveport, so he was my go-to guy for picking a restaurant for the editorial board dinner. Most everyone was staying at the Hilton, so he’d suggested one place (I forget the name) that he described—and you must drawl this out—as being “hahhrrribly convenient,” but rather stodgy and beef Wellingtonny. When he learned that the budget would allow a nicer joint, he was delighted to recommend Commander’s Palace. So I took four doctors and their dates (three wives plus a beard) to Commander’s Palace. I had a delicious piece of pecan-crusted fish, just perfect. Everyone at the table but me had ordered the bread pudding soufflé for dessert; having never so much as tried bread pudding, I opted for a flourless chocolate cake. When the waiter brought out the soufflés for everyone else, he cracked each one open and spooned a vanilla cream sauce into the molten center. My cake? Far too dense. The doctor seated next to me was a sweetheart, though, and happily shared his soufflé with me. Best. Dessert. I’ve. Ever. Had. Ever ever ever. No bread pudding can compare.

Mr. Tangerine and I didn’t get to replace our NOLA reservations with anywhere fabulous (and he missed out on my Commander’s Palace dinner), and went out for a merely decent dinner at a forgettable place. Mr. Tangerine more than made up for missing NOLA, though, with biscuits and debris at Mother’s and a poboy at Uglesich’s. And we loved walking around town. The beignets—oh, the beignets—and chicory coffee at Café du Monde, the ground dusted with sugar. Voodoo shops. The beautiful, if a tad fussy, architecture. The quiet and the stink at 10:00 a.m. when the sidewalks got rinsed off after the night’s carousing had finally ended. The gallery with the blue-dog paintings. A long stroll by the river as the night cooled.

I hope we can take our son to New Orleans some day and share the city with him. But will it seem like the same city at all? I hope it will. And I hope it will again feel like home to the people of New Orleans.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Christmas in September

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass is sharing an idea from one of his readers, a writer and English profressor named Virginia Brackett: "Instead of buying gifts for each other around Christmas," says Brackett, "we're going to donate that to the relief for the hurricane victims. They need so much help now. That's why we're calling it Christmas in September in our family."

Brackett explains, "It's a way for family members, for children, to talk about the disaster. And it gives us something to do. Right now, there's this feeling of desperation among so many. This gives people a way to act right now. And it also helps build bonds among family."

It's a great opportunity for teaching our children about the importance of giving, of helping those less fortunate than us. And when the holiday season rolls around and we're not running around to crowded stores, stressing about about picking out cool gifts for our friends, feeling the inevitable time pressure that holiday shopping involves—we will have the time to reflect on how fortunate we are, and how good it feels to give to people in need, when it counts most, rather than just giving fun toys to kids who have too many toys already, or a thoughtful gift to a friend who already has everything she needs. And from a purely selfish standpoint, what could be easier than making a donation and skipping the whole holiday-shopping hassle?

Some people can afford to make generous donations without having to sacrifice holiday shopping. For others, that looming $500 budget for Christmas shopping means there's $500 they can't afford to donate. Christmas (or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or New Year's, or solstice, or Ramadan, or whatever) in September could free up a lot of resources to help the people affected by Katrina to start rebuilding their shattered lives.

I admire the work done by the Red Cross; in addition to their comprehensive responses to a multitude of emergency situations, they provide much-needed psychological counseling for disaster victims (I've got a relative who volunteers for them as a trauma counselor). America's Second Harvest is dedicated to feeding the hungry and the displaced. If you prefer faith-based giving, this list includes plenty of links besides Red Cross and Second Harvest.

Christmas in September. Think about it. Give what you can, and talk it up. See if you can persuade your family and friends to give your holiday gift to Katrina's victims instead.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Links about Katrina

John Scalzi on the FEMA director blaming the people who couldn't evacuate.

Bitch PhD shares Mayor Ray Nagin vs. the feds.

Also via Bitch PhD, President Bush has a good chortle about how nice Trent Lott's rebuilt house will be, here.

My friend Rob at Un-apologetic Atheist lost a friend who was shot by a looter in his New Orleans bait shop.

Michael Bérubé on government-shrinking Republicans and the current disaster.

The Rude Pundit, over here, writes: But the Bush adminstration has broken the basic social contract in New Orleans, the one that goes all the way back to Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, the one that says we adhere to laws because you agree to protect us, and thus the city and its citizens have returned to the state of nature, which is to survive, motherfuckers, just survive.

Friday, September 02, 2005

People are dying

I just read something that shatters me on the Tribune website. Their TV blogger, Maureen Ryan, gives the transcript of an NBC photojournalist's report from the NO convention center (it was on NBC Nightly News early this evening). People were instructed to go to the convention center, so thousands of them did. And yet apparently there was no thought given to what would happen next. These people have no food, no water, no support, no information. People are dying of dehydration. Babies dying. Adults sitting dead in their lawn chairs. Right here in America, folks. What are these helpless people supposed to do? How will they survive? Certainly I don't condone the use of violence, but the whole situation is violent at its core. The violence of nature, compounded by poor planning and grossly inadequate disaster response. People are dying of thirst while trapped by filthy flood waters. Right here in America. It is just a complete shock that three and a half days after a hurricane hit, so many people could still be left utterly helpless.

Don't forget to go to the Red Cross site and donate what you can. I know it will be too little and too late for many people, but what else can we do from afar?


I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around the vast implications of the disaster down south. Hundreds of thousands of people left without homes, without access to...everything. Their banks, their schools, their jobs, their stores, their friends and neighbors and relatives. Their stuff. Their daily routines. No checking their e-mail. No stopping by the gym. No TV. No phones. No lights. No fresh water. No indoor plumbing. Hell, some of these people are probably still trapped on roofs and inside attics. WIth much of New Orleans and the Mississippi coast essentially uninhabitable for the near future, the diaspora of displaced persons is just...beyond my ability to conceptualize in practical terms.

It's easier to conceive of a disaster in a far-off land, stricken by war or famine. NGOs will come in, set up refugee camps, and make do until the situation improves, trying to save as many lives as they can. But here in America, it's such a foreign concept to have so many people in such desperate straits. It's one thing to be homeless in a city with a functioning infrastructure and economy—the average homeless American faces terrible risks, yes, but he or she lives at the edges of a society where food is plentiful.

My city was largely destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Yes, it was rebuilt, bigger and better than it had been, but there were only a few decades of development to replace; New Orleans has so much more history than Chicago had in 1871. Interesting fact, though: The population of Chicago was about 330,000 when the fire hit. Seeing how solidly the city grew after a catastrophic fire gives me hope that the hurricane- and flood-damaged areas can rise again, too.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

I am appalled

Have you seen these Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus toys? Ben's been intrigued by the commercials. The Barbie dolls have a "fashion transformation feature" (rotate the dress for a new look?), and I wasn't really paying attention but it's possible the alternate dress is a wedding gown. Barbie is marrying Pegasus, or Pegasus is introducing Barbie to eligible bachelors? It's not clear to me. The mini version is now a Happy Meal toy, and I bet Ben would love to have one. Sparkly! And pink!

There is a frightening customer review at Amazon: "My daughter loves this doll! She was a huge fan of the Princess and the Pauper dolls last year, but I just bought her this one and she loves it even more. The dress is gorgeous and the fact that it comes with two dresses in one is great! She can't wait for the Magic of Pegasus movie now, and she wants the entire line - I guess I know what I'm getting her for Christmas. At least I feel like this line helps keep my daughter young and dreaming about what's possible - and those Barbie movies are great for teaching her about morals and the arts (unlike those Bratz dolls!)."

Yeah. Right. The Magic of Pegasus is all about achieving what's possible. And the arts education in those Barbie movies—splendid! (Not like I've watched one. They could be truly great. I'm just being bitchy and skeptical about the feminist bona fides of the latest Barbie craze.)

Obligatory slumgullion post

The other day, I finally read another article about Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. (I'd stopped reading anything about him a couple days after he was nominated.) What drew me to the subject? It was Roberts' propensity for proper grammar and usage. (He uses awesome words like slumgullion!) I haven't been closely following the reports of his political and legal opinions, but this? It's almost enough to give me a crush on him. The Language Log people, of course, picked up on the story in this post.

P.S. Slumgullion means "a watery meat stew." It also sounds very Tolkien, doesn't it? The Slumgullion Silmarillion?