Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Return

So Slate.com is giving the disgraced former Governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, a platform. I don’t have a problem with that. Just because someone has solicited a call girl does not mean that he or she has nothing still to offer. I say this in earnest; I am not being facetious.
And besides, I happen to agree with Spitzer’s opinion that bailouts of the “Big Three” automakers comprise bad policy. “(W)e are creating the significant systemic risk not just of rewarding imprudent behavior by private actors but of preventing, through bailouts and subsidies, the process of creative destruction that capitalism depends on.”
His prescription is a bit naive, however.
Spitzer says that the result of concentration of wealth is large companies involved in manufacturing and finance that, when they fail, take everyone else down.
But we knew that. The money that we are using on bailouts should instead be invested in creating a small-is-beautiful situation that would include big-time investments in research and education, “to restructure our bloated health care sector… to build the type of physical infrastructure we need to be competitive,” Spitzer says.
He wants to see us “return to an era of vibrant competition among multiple, smaller entities—none so essential to the entire structure that it is indispensable.”
Although I’m all for this, I see trouble down the road. The creation of this vibrancy is going to require regulation against companies becoming too big, and the Republicans are not going to go along with that. Waiting in the wings, eventually if not now, will be the next charismatic arch-conservative who will stage his or her own Reagan-style “revolution,” and vibrancy will be swept away. Greed is too profound a component of human nature to be mitigated for long.
Eras, after all, are temporary.
Of course there is the education that Spitzer would have us invest in. Education might stave off significantly the ignorance that embraces the powerful and blustering know-nothing and self-serving political ideologies. A significantly educated electorate just might stave off the return of the slinging of political crap.
That is, if the electorate is being taught history as well as in technology. The question: But history from which books? remains, and I don’t want to be the one who dictates what the masses shall learn.
Nevertheless things do change. We did elect an interracial man president.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A little voice of caution has entered my mind recently regarding Barack Obama, for whom I will vote on Tuesday. Deliberately failing to vote is unacceptable, and so I am interfaced with an electoral choice. (That of course is not the only choice we must make; whether we know it or not, we must choose whether or not to let other people dictate our diction. I would not use the word ``interface'' unless I was trying to have fun, which I was.)
Only individuals of great fortitude can't be corrupted by adulation. I'm not sure that Barack Obama is one of them. I've chosen him over John McCain, because McCain has left no doubt that he is a man of little principle. Time and time again during the campaign, McCain has misrepresented Obama's policy proposals; the idea is to employ the notion that if you repeat a lie often enough, people who first understood it to be a deception will begin to consider it to be the truth. This is his gambit to bring in the undecideds, the swing voters, whatever you want to call them.
The primary example is McCain's claim that Obama intends to ``spread the wealth.'' He lets Sarah Palin -- she has not repudiated the racism displayed at a rally she led this month -- label Obama, as a consequence, a socialist.
So, although there is a glow that surrounds Obama and that probably obscures our ability to get a clear vision of what President Obama's temperament and respect for accountability might be, we already know McCain's history of political inconsistency, his disregard for the truth, and his pugnaciousness. That's enough to drive me to Obama. Full disclosure requires me to say that I have never voted for a Republican -- I first voted for Kennedy over Carter in the 1980 primary -- I never considered voting for McCain, and have held Obama in high esteem. He is thoughtful and deliberative, and he seems to be a man of conviction.
McCain's tactic (did I get that right, John? Should I have called it a strategy instead?) to stigmatize Obama has worked on at least one individual, the obviously right-wing TV reporter who implied that Obama is a Marxist.
The Republicans have played up Obama's association with William Ayres, a former domestic terrorist who was a member of the Weather Underground. Then they hoped that repeating the loaded term ``spread the wealth,'' which Obama used with Joe the Plumber, would drop Obama. But after neither worked, they called him a socialist and now, as I said at least one TV reporter has implied that Obama is a Marxist. Yesterday, Fox News ran an investigation of Obama's affinity for Marxism and associations with Marxists. But Fox News never answered these questions: Even if Obama is a Marxist, so what? What would this mean, in concrete terms, for Obama's policy initiatives? What would be the consequences? And is a revision of the tax code necessarily Marxist? Could it be when accomplished by way of a democratic process? Does Fox News fear that Obama would have the audacity and employ the stupidity required to attempt to change the code by executive order?
Would Obama promulgate about covert acts of domestic violence?
And has it ever been a good idea to have such a percentage of wealth controlled by a small percentage of the citizenry? (I think I know how the powers that be at Fox might answer that one.)
The right would never have bothered to call Barack socialist or Marxist, never would we have been reminded of Bill Ayers, if the electoral polls had not consistently and heavily favored Obama. The Republicans don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. At this time I would not bet that Obama will be elected, but I would bet on him with less worry that I would lose my shirt than I would on John McCain.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

SARASOTA, Fla. -- During my stay at my parents' home here I watched the Red Sox lose their chance to repeat in the World Series. After game six, TBS broadcast the faces and body language of crestfallen and tearful Tampa Bay Rays fans. They looked like their team had lost the series, that there was no tomorow, no last chance.

Given their last chance the next night, Tampa Bay beat the Sox, which didn't surprise me at all. I was surprised that the Red Sox had managed to push the series out to seven games -- the Sox had fared so poorly against the Rays in the regular season.

After game seven I was neither crestfallen nor tearful. I had been expecting the Red Sox to lose for a long time.

Teams rarely repeat. History is against them.

As I went to bed I just couldn't feel bad about the defeat. After all, I knew perfectly well that I had not been defeated. For the most part I felt serene, unexpectantly satisfied, only a little empty.

Two days later, The Sarasota Herald-Tribune ran this a Boston Globe editorial:

``[W]e New Englanders can afford to be magnanimous. We have our memories of
October glory, and they are fresh; they are not shrouded in the mists of time that separate living generations from folks who were around in 1918, before Babe Ruth absconded to the Bronx... With only the tiniest tremor of regret, Sox fans may now salute the youth and brio of the Tampa Bay team.''

That was what I felt. A tiny tremor of regret.
But the day before the paper reprinted from the Globe, the Herald-Tribune, as its lead story on the Rays' triumph, ran this from columnist Doug Fernandes. It read in part:`
Ding dong, the witch is dead.
It was destroyed Sunday night, reduced to the harmless title of ex-world champions by a team that didn't choke, didn't gag, didn't clutch.
No Heimlich required. Just a one-way ticket back to Boston for the dethroned Red Sox.''
No magnaminity there. Fernandes make it sound as though the Sox and the Rays had developed a bitter ages-old rivalry. The Herald-Tribune could have used an editorial cooling period, which could only doubtfully be afforded by the tight deadline Fernandes was working under.
Either that, or, before the series, the paper should have instituted an editorial policy mandating temperance.




Saturday, October 18, 2008

Stuck

SARASOTA, Fla. -- I was stranded in the airport in Atlanta Oct. 17 when CNN, avoidable on the airport concourse but ignored only with great effort at the gate, reported on the racist invective directed at Sen. Barack Obama at a Sarah Palin rally in Johnstown, Penn. a week earlier.
I was traveling alone to Florida, stuck in an unplanned seven-hour layover, killing time reading and watching TV. Except to trade acerbic comments about the airline's ineptitude for keeping us so long, I didn't converse with anyone.

The noise in the terminal drowned out CNN's audio so I couldn't get a sense of why the network was running the week-old footage of the smug bastard son of a bitch brandishing a stuffed-animal Curious Gerorge with an Obama bumper sticker for a hat. The report then used video having to do with the recent placement of Ku Klux Klan flyers on Sunday papers.


I concluded that CNN's angle must have been the Obama Campaign and Racism in America. That is based on what I saw. As I said, I couldn't hear the report. Therefore I got no answer to my question: Had Palin had repudiated the anti-Obama hecklers? As of today I could not find a news account to that effect through Google.

Facing me across the aisle of chairs was an older African-American couple. I put more value on their response to the TV story than on mine. I'm white and they're black; the video referred more directly than it did mine because they are the descendants of slaves, and I am not.

I glanced furtively at them. I saw enough of their response so that I could turn my eyes away before my eyes and theirs met.

I've lived in Massachusetts for 45 years and never in the South. If, during my brief time in the South -- vacations in New Orleans in 1996 and '97, and overnight stays in Virginia and North Carolina -- I had confronted the topic of racism, even in a brief glancing moment, to acknowledge with black person there, I would never have forgotten that encounter.


Of course I don't know what was in the couple's heads as they watched CNN at that moment. They shook their heads -- perhaps in amazement. I was puzzled that they didn't seem at all angry. I hope they did not feel resignation, but they might have.

Because I did not talk to them I never learned where they are from. I couldn't hear them. I was unable to listen for accents that would have allowed for at least a guess.
I was as able to do anything about the situation as I was able to bring Flight 5716 to Sarasota to the gate.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Despite the static and the fading signals broadcast from his father's CB radio, John Moe heard enough to know ``the trucks were out there.''

He was fascinated, ``hearing the lonely truckers talk to each other. It made me feel less lonely, somehow...''

Moe transmitted his remarks, and the images they evoke, in a commentary on ``Weekend America,'' an American Public Radio program he hosts. The year was 2008. The month and day: 10/4.

Truck drivers identified themselves with ``handles'' such as Big Ben or Rubber Duck -- used by C.W. McCall in his 1975 novelty tune, ``Convoy''. That way the information on who was doing the talking remained privileged.

I don't remember anyone using describing Citizen Band radio as interactive, the word we use now instead of two-way, although it was. (Another two-way invention, amateur or ham radio, caught on in the early 20th century.)

``We've ditched the CB, but its ghost entered our iPhone or Blackberry,'' Moe said.

``Instead of handles we have user names, which are never our real names.''

Sunday, October 5, 2008

This summer, the American Journalism Review published a piece on how National Public Radio is begging to be renamed National Public Portals. Although the AJR doesn't say that -- I made it up -- the journal quotes executives as saying they are emphasizing the improvement of NPR's on-line service
But the emphasis on getting the news outlets to publish in multiple formats may just require too much work. Reporters at NPR, and elsewhere, are complaining.
With $1.5 million from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and $1 million of its own money, NPR is training its 450 editorial employees ``in digital storytelling skills and to pay for substitutes to fill in for them while they learn,'' AJR reports.
Which means that NPR has been training its reporters with little or no Web learning in Flash multimedia software and the Premiere video editing program. They learn basic photography and videography and ``(create) one multimedia project per week,'' AJR reports. They have been trained in using NPR's content management program and search engine optimization, AJR reports.
The AJR quotes Dick Meyer, NPR Digital Media editorial director, as saying he understands if some staff feel uncomfortable with the tasks of getting videos and writing for the Web.

``We're not insisting that everybody become a multimedia artist.''
For now. In general, however, it is the highly skilled and versatile workers that employers choose to retain and reward.
Editors don't stick around forever. Down the road a new editorial regime that would not be so forgiving or even tolerant of non-multimedia artists could emerge at NPR. Communications technology is not the only thing that changes.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Journalists who choose to go multi-media are putting in a lot of unpaid hours. The AJR quotes Art Silverman, a senior producer of ``All Things Considered,'' as saying:
"For this to work, it must be clear how the time is supposed to be spent. It's not really clear now. People get praised for creating multimedia. If Miss X did a slide show or if someone else did a written story for the Web, they get a lot of praise. But when you drill down, and ask, 'How did you fit that in?' they say, 'Oh, I did it on my own time and stayed up late at night finishing it.' In order to get the attention one must tear oneself out of the day and do extra work. Time is often not allotted to do these things."
Neda Ulaby, arts and culture reporter, is quoted as saying she's glad that management is getting the training.
"It helps them realize how much time the assignment is going to take...'' If they want a picture, "they've got to know that it will take me an hour because I'm still not a trained photographer. I'm now a radio person who can take a picture better than your average schlump."

Two years ago today, ``All Things Considered'' ran a story about a Nashville TV station that was trying to retrain all of its reporters to become ``video journalists.'' Reporters and camera operators were required to do all the tasks involved in producing a TV story -- editing, writing, reporting and filming.
Al Devine, a veteran cameraman, said:
"It was a nightmare... All of a sudden, you had to use a whole different side of your brain. I wasn't a writer. I could edit. I could do most everything else. But I wasn't a writer. I still type like a pumpkin."
Last year, Mother Jones reported on the Tribune Co.'s new mandate that print journalists also
report breaking stories on its cable station
.
``Many reporters were anxious about the new arrangement, which meant more work without more pay, and less time to do their regular jobs. They weren't comforted when managers announced that they were remodeling the newsroom to put a television studio directly outside the editor-in-chief's door. These reporters recognized that technology was changing their industry, and most were eager to learn new digital skills and make the occasional TV appearance. Their main concern was that as `content providers,' they were losing time for reporting, thinking, and writing—the essential ingredients of their craft—forcing them to churn out increasingly dumbed-down articles.''
``Content providers.'' Gack...
Mother Jones reported this quote from an editor-in-chief, which appeared in the American Journalism Review in 1998:
"I am not the editor of a newspaper. I am the manager of a content company."
          Did the editor say that with a smile on his face?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Fighting Influenza

It's amazing what they expect you to find -- or even seek -- on YouTube.
On Sept. 24 the Centers for Disease Control posted an elegant and powerful documentary featuring the stories of parents who had suddenly lost their children to influenza.
I first heard that the video was put on YouTube from New England Cable News. I had always assumed that most of the stuff on YouTube was entertainment and cutting-edge stuff on politics -- the Saturday night sketch featuring Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, a video of John McCain losing his cool. I never guessed that a government agency would expect YouTube viewers to take time to watch a public service announcement.
As of this moment, the influenza piece has had 3,800 viewings.
I found a story on the video on USA Today on-line. The story mentioned an appearance, by a family named Lastinger, appearance on the video. Then I went onto YouTube, put ``lastinger families fighting flu'' in the search field. I found want I was looking for, but the keywords also brought up illegal dog fighting, fighting on ``Family Guy,'' a tape of a Punjabi family fighting, and a pretty funny sketch of a family fighting on an old comedy show.
Talk about free association.
In its story, published yesterday, USA Today reported that this is the first year that the Centers is using an all-out Internet-based awareness campaign on influenza vaccine.
USA Today reported:

``The CDC has hosted a Web seminar to encourage `mommy bloggers' to `spread
the word, not the flu. The agency has created flu e-cards that visitors to www.CDC.gov can send to friends, urging them to get vaccinated, flu badges for
members of social networks such as MySpace to post on their profiles, and `Get
Vaccinated' website buttons that allow visitors to go to the CDC's flu page.
`This is new territory for us,' says Kristine Sheedy, director of communications for the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.''
This is not the first time that the public health arm of the U.S. government has put out videos urging vaccinations for kids. Eight months ago, a YouTube member who goes by zektek5 who posted 7 videos promoting flu shots. The videos were produced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, of which the Centers is a ``family of agencies'' member.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Now There's No Reason to Blow Off the Debates

Now we know that John McCain will show up at the presidential debate scheduled for tonight in Oxford, Miss. A couple of days ago, he said he would not as part of his ``suspension'' of his campaign to concentrate on getting out the bailout.
It was hard to imagine McCain not participating. It would look like a round of Final Jeopardy with only one contestant because the other two ended the game with negative balances, no money to wager. Despite McCain's good intentions, it would still look like he had nothing to say -- even though this debate is scheduled to be about foreign policy, not domestic matters.
That's 'cause Barack Obama said he'll be there, McCain or no McCain, which would have presented us with a one-man debate.
If you won't be near a TV tonight -- it is Friday night, after all -- you can catch what transpires anyway, thanks to the Commission on Presidential Debates. The commission has established a partnership with MySpace.com. Right after the debate, full-length video can been here.
MySpace and the commission, a non-profit and non-partisan corporation, ``will feature video streaming, on-demand playback, and archival material'' on MySpace.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Win-Win for Advertisers and Publishers Alike

As part of their struggle to survive in today’s wired world, newspapers must devise ingenious methods to generate advertising revenue.

To its story announcing that two tipsters will split a $275,000 Broward County (Florida) reward for providing information that led police to arrest a man accused of gunning down a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent, MiamiHerald.com linked audio from five 911 calls made on the night of the killing.

“There is one man shot. I believe he is dead,” one caller said.

Another reported “there was a girl in the car with the person.” The girl turned out to be the daughter of the victim, Donald Pettit. Police said one James Wonder killed Pettit outside Pettit’s car in the parking lot of a U.S. Post Office in Pembroke Pines.

Readers may click on a link to one of each the 911 calls, prompting an audio window. Each is also a window of revenue — as of today, they displayed ads from Scan Design, the Miami Dolphins, classmates.com, Chrysler, the Florida Lottery, the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Miami-Dade Public Library System (reminding borrowers that it’s Amnesty Month).

Two audio feeds broadcast callers telling the dispatcher their phone number.

Broward County Crime Stoppers maintains the anonymity of the reward recipients.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Take some time to read from the speech in which Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts rendered the rear end of Republican presidential candidate John McCain to his fellow Americans. I wonder if viewers throughout the nation, not just those in New England, saw Kerry's talk at the Democratic National Convention. This fear is based on the fact that R.D. Sahl, anchor at New England Cable News, said he was informed that none of the networks broadcast the speech of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick the night before. Granted that Kerry's speech is arguably more prominent -- he was the 2004 Republican candidate, and he spoke just before the acceptance speech of Sen. Joe Biden -- and therefore more likely to run nationally, as of this morning I haven't confirmed that. All I've seen was a news story, the cable network, that left out a lot of good stuff. I've quoted the pith of the speech as published on Kerry's Web site.

``To those who still believe in the myth of a maverick instead of the reality of a politician: I say, let's compare Senator McCain to candidate McCain.
Candidate McCain now supports the wartime tax cuts that Senator McCain once called irresponsible.
Candidate McCain criticizes Senator McCain's own climate change bill.
Candidate McCain says he would now vote against the immigration bill that Senator McCain wrote.
Are you kidding? Talk about being for it before you're against it.
Let me tell you, before he ever debates Barack Obama, John McCain should finish the debate with himself...

When Barack Obama promised to honor the best traditions of both parties and talk to our enemies John McCain scoffed. George Bush called it: "The false comfort of appeasement." But today, Bush's diplomats are doing exactly what Obama said: talking with Iran....
When Democrats called for a timetable to make Iraqis stand up for Iraq and bring our heroes home, John McCain called it "Cut and Run." But today, even President Bush has seen the light: He and Prime Minister Maliki agree on - guess what? - a timetable!...

So, the candidate who once promised a campaign of ideas, not insults, now has nothing left but personal attacks.
How insulting to suggest that those who question the mission, question the troops?
How pathetic to suggest that those who question a failed policy doubt America itself?
How desperate to tell the son of a single mother who chose community service over money and privilege that he doesn't put America first...

You don't decide who is a patriot.
You don't decide whose service counts and whose doesn't.
Four years ago I said - and I say it again tonight - that flag doesn't belong to any ideology. It doesn't belong to any political party. It is an enduring symbol of our nation and it belongs to all the American people.
After all, patriotism is not love of power; or some cheap trick to win votes - patriotism is love of country.''

Thursday, July 17, 2008

That Tree

In the clump between Granby Heights and Route 116, this is the only tree that's pockmarked like this. I've heard woodpeckers here, and I'm guessing this has to be the work of woodpeckers. Or maybe it's sick. A fungus or something. Perhaps it is the work of a bear. Bears roam occasionally into Granby Heights. But why only this tree? Some things are singular or singled out, or both.
Because I'm not a naturalist, I would like to know what is that silver sack in the top hole in the above photograph. My best guess is that insects were incubating in there when I took these photos in June.

Blues musician Howard Armstrong once told a story about how his teacher beat him (this was a long time ago) when he wrote a poem that included lines that went something like, ``He pecked on the door until his pecker was sore,'' and ``He pecked in the yard because his pecker was hard.''

Saturday, July 12, 2008

This photograph of a total eclipse of the sun was taken in 1919 to prove Einstein's general theory of relativity. Reading this summer, in Ann Hagedorn's ``Savage Peace,'' about the attempt by two teams to photograph the eclipse sparked my interest of taking impeded images of the sun. Everyone knows that it is harmful to gaze at the sun, but these pictures allow us to look as long as we want with no harm.
I would look at the sun just long enough to make sure it was centered in the viewfinder. Then I would look away immediately and snap the picture.
I took these pictures in the woods adjacent to Granby Heights, where I walk Grace. You can see the path in the bottom photo. Walking in these woods is not always fun; in the summer it is hot and there are often gnats and mosquitoes. In winter footsteps often sink deep in snow. Hoisting every step up gets tiring.



Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Don't Let the Web Net You

Inside Trader Joe’s this past winter I came across Meg, a high school friend who had been away from the Amherst area for years. She said that Amherst during her absence had lost its soulfulness and become cold. The people had become cold to each other. I hadn’t noticed the change as sharply as she did, but only because I have lived in western Massachusetts for the last 25 years, so it had come too gradually for me to notice. But I agreed, Gone are the days when bands played concerts on the common, and a lot of people saw each other at the same time. There doesn't seem to be a desire for that sort of thing anymore.
``Everyone’s stuck on the Internet,’’ Meg said.
On July 2, Marc Maron, hosting the Thom Hartmann Program, said the obsession with the Internet indicates that people are much better at isolating themselves than taking care of each other. I believe that folks should go out of their way to not take the Web too seriously. The simple pleasures that existed before the Web was introduced in 1992 can still be found.
I maintain this blog for fun, but if I ever become obsessed with it I hope the fact will make itself known to me and I’ll have the good sense to stop.
Maron referred to two incidents: 1) in which a woman died while waiting for treatment in a hospital, and 2) the case of the old man who was hit by a car in a business district -- the impact threw him into the air -- only to be ignored by every passer-by. He eventually died from his wounds. You may have seen the video on the TV news. Maron asked:

``What are people so self consumed with that they can’t check to see if someone’s all right?

``Are we that jaded, are we that self-involved, that… those are indications to me of the real problem of why when somebody calls me up and says, `You got to get rid of political labels, right, left, Democrat, Republican, and just realize that we’re all Americans in trouble.’ What, we’re all selfish because of America and what America’s become on some level. We’ve all been isolated into our homes. There’s no reason to even go out anymore. You can shop on-line. You can have sex on-line. You can talk to other people on-line. And I’m guilty of this. Yesterday, I just broke up with a girl -- online. I don’t know who did it, it’s unclear to me, but where is the humility in that? Where is the exchange? Where do you learn wisdom? Where do you learn from your mistakes if you can’t look at somebody and see how they’re reacting to what you’re saying? If you can’t actually go over to someone’s house and talk to them?

``If you’re immersed in yourself and toys, it will just isolate you. We’re just like the little emperors of own desks.… (T)he idea of community, in and of itself, is disintegrating altogether. An on-line community is not really a community. A community where people take real action, where people help each other -- I mean, that’s what you would hope would happen. That’s what the New Deal represented. That’s what America should be about. But we’ve all become isolated, and because of the way our brain works, our belief systems are what they are, they’re very hard to shake, and a lot of people will just seek information that supports their own belief system. It’s a disaster.

As an example of the dearth of altruism in America, Maron noted a TV news report about the flooding in the Midwest.
``… (A)nd it really struck me, because you have people who interpret catastrophe and disaster in a religious way. Like the floods in the Midwest. This is when it first started happening. People are losing their homes. Thousands of people are out of their homes. Levees are breaking. Main Streets are flooding. The Mississippi has made a decision, and it’s very hard to stop the Mississippi when it makes a decision. Now you can look at that as a sign of The End. You can look at as an environmental catastrophe that was bound to happen.’’
The TV reporter was ``standing on a flooded Main Street, abandoned, destroyed... talking about how horrible it was. This flood is horrible, thousands of people are out of their homes, it’s gonna cost millions and billions of dollars to fix. And then out of nowhere he pulls a fishing net out, and says, `But you know what? You can fish on Main Street.’ And he tries to catch a fish. That, my friends, is the sign of the End of The World. That a roomful of producers and a guy reporting on one of the great tragedies, certainly of the last 20 years, and decides, like, `This’ll be good. Let’s try to catch and a fish. That’ll be cute.’ … And he did it two days running -- until he caught a fish.
Who lets that happen? Who lets a guy die in the street when he’s hit by a car? Who lets a woman die in the waiting room of a hospital? Who decides it’s a good idea to catch a fish on a flooded Main Street when there are thousands of people out of their homes, and millions of dollars are going to be needed to help those people, and I’m sitting at home, going, `Yeah, I feel bad for them.’ I’m not doing anything. Who’s doing something? People who really help. Are you one of them? Is there really community?’’
The first video is a surveillance tape of the woman dying in the waiting room. The second is of the man being hit by the car.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Stimulate the American Economy -- Recycle

``Nightly News'' on NBC produced an interesting report that Asian economies including China have been buying greater and greater amounts of recycling from the United States -- the figure rose to $6.1 billion in 2006 from $1.2 billion in 2002.
This is a by-product of huge economic growth of the national clients of firms that sell recycled goods. An eco-system, however, is quite vulnerable to being a victim of economic expansion.
So the situation represents good and bad.
The recycled materials are scarce in these booming markets' geographical areas.
For the U.S. to supply recyclables is good for their economies and the U.S. economy and, in one respect, their eco-systems.
It takes 90 percent less energy to produce a can from recycled cans than from ore, the ``Nightly News'' report said. Use of recyclables involves less water, less energy, and it produces less waste and greenhouse gases, according to a spokesman for the Natural Resource Defense Council whom the network interviewed.
But the key word here is less. What is the total consumption of water and energy, what is the total production of waste and greenhouse gases, even after the recyclables are included? After the large-scale use of recyclables is instituted, does a nation's industrial system become sustainable -- does it not jeopardize the environment -- or does it only delay the day of reckoning?
As I said, the key word is less, also as in consuming less.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Getting A Grip on Oil Speculation

A lot has been made, including in Congress, of the idea that gas prices would not be as high as they are today if it weren't for speculators playing in the oil commodities market.
In an NPR interview, Andrew Liveris, CEO of the Dow Chemical Company, made a comment that makes me wonder if there is an implicit agreement between speculators and the big oil companies for the oil companies to put much less effort than they might into development of alternative energy sources.
Dow Chemical's products are plastic goods, which are made from petroleum. This week Dow announced that it will raise prices and slash its production because of lower demand for its products and the increased cost of petroleum.
Today, NPR's ``Day to Day'' interviewed Liveris as part of a report on the upward effect on inflation caused by increases in the price of oil. Liveris called for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, and off the coasts of the United States. Both proposals are controversial, Liveris admitted.
He said he is not only interested in the drilling projects. He called for an effort -- a new Manhattan Project, as he put it -- to build more nuclear power plants and develop wind- and solar-power technologies.
``The signal on increased production, and really speeding up the alternatives in terms of nuclear and, of course, renewables; I think that would send a signal to the market and help stabilize this volatility we're all seeing,'' Liveris said.
(The Manhattan Project was the huge international effort that produced the first nuclear weapons during World War II.)
Liveris has in mind a program that would necessitate government action. The drilling would require legislation to go ahead. Also, Liveris suggested use of funds from the Department of Energy in part to development more efficient forms of transportation.
Today I e-mailed Liveris, asking if energy firms aren't undertaking a large-scale effort because volatility may be in their interest. ``The trend of sticking with petrochemicals has meant, of course, dramatic increases in the price of gas, a component of increased profits. Also it seems, at least for now, to be benefiting oil-commodities speculators.''
I asked Liveris if he would agree that the petrochemical industry, to serve its at least short-term interest, is doing significantly less than it could to steer the U.S. away from its status quo carbon-based economy.
It shouldn't surprise anyone if Dow does not reply to my message. It's a huge company, and Liveris and his public relations people have bigger matters to attend to. If I get a reply more substantial than a form letter, I'll post an update.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

To Speak Ill of the Grieving

For maybe half a minute Rush Limbaugh came off like a classy guy. On Monday, June 16, Limbaugh mentioned the untimely death of Tim Russert three days earlier.
``A very, very, very sad thing.'' Limbaugh said. ``I knew Tim Russert, and he was just a prince of a guy.''
But in the next breath, he describes the media follow-up as an ``orgy'' that's ``been about the media and who they think they are and how important they are.
``All these people, second and third, fourth, fifth tier people coming out, `Yeah, Tim was a big friend of mine,' and telling all these stories. The media doing everything they could to make this about them and their role in American culture today. It got to be a little unseemly after a while...''
I watched ``Meet The Press'' hosted by Tom Brokaw last Sunday. Brokaw and his guests told stories about Russert, his life, and his work habit of careful preparation; I don't particularly remember themselves and their role in American culture as a topic of conversation.
But of course, that's not the point.
The point is that he's no one to complain about media figures boasting about their significance.
The day before Russert died, Limbaugh was on the air denying that he was the source of the rumor that somewhere out there was a videotape of Michelle Obama in the pulpit of  Rev. Jeremiah Wrigbht's Trinity Lutheran Church, using the word ``whitey.''

No, Rush said, the rumor had been out there for quite some time, and so, as of May 30, he could not put off mentioning it anymore because it had hit ``critical mass.''
``So it had finally risen to a heat level, if you were, that it warranted mentioning on this, the most listened-to talk radio show in America.''
No, it wasn't really a story, Rush Limbaugh said, until it got on Rush Limbaugh. When the liberal media
``are looking at Republicans or conservatives to really nail us to the wall, until I mention it, it doesn't matter. 'Til I bring it up, it doesn't exist.''
Talk about bragging.

Then he went on to say that perhaps Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, should advise the church to close down for five months, or move it into Rev. Jeremiah Wright's home, in a gated community, ``so noboby can know what you're doing in there.''
A little unseemly, Rush.


The Weakening of the Dollar is Spooky

Last night, ``NBC Nightly News'' ran this succinct report on the consequences of the weakening of the US dollar. The network hooked its story on the proposed takeover last week of Anheuser-Busch, which makes Budweiser, by InBev, a Belgian beer company. The report also refers to the possible transfer of the Chrysler Building to foreign ownership.
The point is that the extent to which fewer American-based manufacturers and pieces of real property in America owned by Americans, the standard of living here will go down. The big money behind our business and our real estate migrates. As the report quotes one of its sources:
``We've been buying more than we've earning, and as a consequence the world wants to be paid. And the only thing we have left to pay them with is our property.''
The only trouble with the story is that it does not say one way or the other whether it is too late to do anything about the problem. And if it is not too late, what can government do about it? How should individuals change their habits?
We can't kill this recession through a program of conspicuous consumption. After all, the weakening of the dollar was caused by ``buying more than we've been earning'' (read=consumer and government debt). As a whole, we certainly aren't earning a lot now. I don't see how more conspicuous consumption on credit would suddenly bring about a positive result.
Furthermore, when we talk about consumption, we talk inevitably about using up petroleum and food. Energy is involved in the production and transportation of everything, and corn is used in production of food, goods, and fuel itself. The supply of gas is finite, the supply of corn short. The laws of supply and demand dictate the price of these can only rise.
We also have to do away with government debt in the form of massive military budgets. For what it's worth, I elaborate on that a little here.
All of this is scaring the hell out of me.
``Somebody get me a Bud. I want to get a little wiser.'' -- Mississippi bluesman R.L. Burnside, from the stage of the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Massachusetts, around November 1995.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I want to see an advertisement for the Best Business Bureau.
Until then I will not be satisfied.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

We live in a world running out of food, out of fuel, and out of room.
Yet the tone of a June 11 Associated Press report that life expectancy in the United States has passed 78, ``as top diseases decline,'' demonstrates an eerie detachment from the consequences of scarcity.
The AP marched out complaints that the United States wasn't doing as well as other countries. Expectancy in Japan, Switzerland and Australia is even higher, the report noted.
Samuel Preston, ``co-chairman of a National Research Council panel looking at why America's life expectancy is lower than other nations,' '' is quoted as saying, "The international comparisons are not that appealing, but we may be in the process of catching up."
The implicit end message is: The older and greater number of people to consume food, deplete soil, burn fossil fuels and project greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the better.
I have no problem with people living longer. We have a moral obligation to care for people, and sustain them toward the end of their lives, if that's what they desire.
Still, public policy has to bring in an emphasis on population control. We are really good at extending endings, as we should be. We don't have the first idea of how much better we must be at limiting the number of beginnings.
So the AP story was not entirely good news. It was news about the continued clotting of highways and the continued deterioration and inflated pricing of housing. Of course, declining populations will mean fewer workers to pay into Social Security and Medicare, which will eventually go insolvent. But we'll still need these programs. Funding the programs will require reduction in military spending, which will mean figuring out ways to solve problems without resolving to war. Wars tend to be conflicts over scarce resources; we must stop needing so many fossil fuels. We must start developing alternative energy technologies, in such a way that they are readily cheaply available, and beginning a massive program of construction of public transportation. It must be done immediately with a New Deal-type scale and articulated sense of emergency. There is no getting around this.
Life expectancy, according to the report, is defined as ``the period a child born in 2006 is expected to live, assuming mortality trends stay constant.''
``Mortality trends,'' one way or another, won't stay constant over the next 78 years anyway, making life expectancy really nothing more than a silly notion to be toyed with. I am deathly afraid that mortality trends will be affected for the worse by the worsening environment. My nephew was born in 2006, and of course I hope he lives a good long time.







Samuel H. Preston
None of this is to be disrespectful to Dr. Preston. He is hardly interested in filling the world with people and warfare and misery.
The Frederick J. Warren professor of demography at the University of Pennsylvania, Preston has studied the effects of economic growth on health, and the effects of the Iraq War on veterans.

Monday, June 9, 2008

I Should Have Mentioned Woody Guthrie As I Paid Tribute to Utah Phillips

I put up the first two videos because they are reportedly the only surviving footage of Woody Guthrie. The last one I included because it's lots of fun -- images of Woody juxtaposed with scenes from New Orleans and some hokey effects. Of course, Woody and Utah were balladeers of freedom, if you will, but I won't tire you with that.
``Ranger's Command:''
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This one has Woody singing ``John Henry'' with Sonny Terry (harmonica) and Brownie McGhee (guitar). Sharing anecdotes are Alan Lomax, the great folklorist who discovered Guthrie, Leadbelly and Muddy Waters, and recorded an international compendium of folk music and dance, and Ronnie Gilbert, who was a member of the Weavers with Pete Seeger, Fred Hellerman and Lee Hayes. Guthrie recorded a lot with Leadbelly and with Terry. Before that I had concluded that black and white folk and blues musicians never recorded together. This is apparently a British documentary. Those Americans and their folk culture. Turns out Arthur Stern was in the Almanac Singers.
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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Dylan at the March on Washington

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I suspect all that a lot of people know about Martin Luther King Jr. is his ``I Have a Dream'' speech that he delivered to Aug. 28, 1963 March on Washington. That and the Mountaintop sermon. What fewer people know about the march is that Bob Dylan sang there! ``When The Ship Comes In,'' with Joan Baez; ``Only A Pawn in their Game,'' concerning in part Medgar Evers, an NAACP field secretary who had been gunned down in his driveway by a white supremacist June 12, 1963; and ``Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,'' with Baez and Len Chandler, a New York folk music scene regular of whom I otherwise know nothing.
We have got to get a political uprising carried forth by substantive popular culture. We have got to get corporate funding of political campaigns.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Bruce ``Utah'' Phillips 1935-2008

When I encountered Utah Phillips, he was standing at the bottom of the narrow stairway that led to the basement at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Massachusetts. I would have had to go out of my way to keep my head down to avoid eye contact, which is not what he wanted. He had just finished a set of songs and stories of the lives of hobos and workers who provide their labor, as the saying goes, for a song. After the set we went downstairs, I to the bathroom and he to the dressing room. Phillips was interested in the people he sang and spoke of. A great many people are bums or working stiffs, and the only way they will have a chance in this life is if they keep talking to each other, so let nothing isolate them from each other. Phillips took an opportunity to resist alienation in a small way by gently insisting, through his body language at the bottom of the stairs, that audience members say hello and exchange a few words.
Utah died May 23 of congestive heart failure at age 73.
All I knew about Phillips was what I heard from a tape, ``The Telling Takes Me Home,'' that my girlfriend's father had loaned us, and which I listen to while changing the sheets and the blankets. I asked Utah if he would play that song with the line, ``I don’t a lot about what you call class/But the upper and middle can all kiss my ass.’’
``Larimer Street'' condemns gentrification for pushing out the hobos by demolishing their haunts, the flophouses and bars, and the bookie joint and the Chinese cafe that was open all night, and replaces them parking lots and ``counterfeit hippies and plastic boutiques.’’
Utah told me he didn’t remember ``Larimer Street’’ well enough to sing it that night. Turns out the song goes back a ways. It didn't occur to me that the song would be old enough for him to forget. Despite the references to hippies and boutiques, it sounds contemporary to me.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

``Iron Man'' Ignores its Inner Robots

In ``Iron Man,'' Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), techno-genius and massively successful head of weapons manufacturer Stark Industries, is captured by guerrillas in the Kunbar region of Afghanistan. The guerillas force Stark to make, with material they just happen to possess, a rendition of his latest and most lethal weapon.
Monitoring his work via closed-circuit TV, the rebels discern eventually that Stark is not fabricating a missile. Nevertheless, they give him more time -- just barely enough for him to assemble the prototype Iron Man suit, which provides Stark with armor, ballistic and incendiary firepower. He escapes by walking through hails of bullets, assassinating and blowing up Afghans before the suit -- which was also supposed to give Stark the power of flight -- onto the open desert.
Just then two helicopters fly over, site Stark, and he is rescued.
At a press conference back home Stark announces he will not make weapons any more. In the desert he had seen his firm's legacy, to paraphrase Yinsen (Shaun Toub), who was imprisoned with Stark and who helped him make the suit. (Yinsen is killed in the escape scene.)
Ignoring the fact that Stark Industries' stock price has tanked, Stark works obsessively -- with help from a few robots -- on the perfected robotic Iron Man armor
He flies back to Kunbar and destroys more of the rebels that had imprisoned him, just before they can execute a father in front of his family.
Senior Stark Industries executive Oidiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) is incensed by Stark's announcement that he will build plowshares from now on. Stane invents his own outfit, which compared to Stark's, is mammoth. The two go at it, and Stark kills Stane, thanks to his superior technological acumen, and the movie ends.
I haven't ruined it for you. I haven't conveyed the special effects, the out sized mise en scene, opulence, sexual tension and Stark's verbal energy. All that makes the film a lot of fun to watch, assuming you aren't distracted by the suspicion that you've seen the essence of this before.
I had already seen a building of a lethal suit -- technology gone terribly wrong -- by Otto Octavius in ``Spider-Man 2.'' Octavius let his anger defeat him, and make him the the villain after a misguided attempt to capture the sun's power. The suit bound him physically and psychologically; he becomes bitter after realizing he is stuck to that monstrosity for the rest of his life.
In ``Spider-Man 3'' there is the gargantuan Sandman. Although the Sandman dwarfs Spider-Man, Spidey defeats him anyway.
``Iron Man'' incorporates the themes of the treachery of technology and the myth of David and Goliath.
But why did Stark attack the rebels? Why did personal revenge trump his declared intention to do his bit to bring peace to the world? No indication that he had thought these questions over.
``Iron Man'' may be interpreted as saying that technology is the Goliath we face, but we can't get to that battle until we settle our personal scores.
But the real, untold story in ``Iron Man'' is the matter of the robots.
The film alludes to ``2001: A Space Odyssey'' by giving the suit, actually a tailored robot, a voice much like that of HAL the talking robot in the 1968 science fiction classic.
Stark's HAL, however, is droll, allowing for light banter. He is never malevolent; he always obeys orders.
In the real world, however, concern has been expressed that humans could develop robots sophisticated enough to discover free will. At that point, they would not settle for being tools, and they would rebel and enslave humanity.
So for the time being, Tony Stark and his helpmates are on good terms. It's possible, however, that he may end up in mortal combat with his creation.
But that sounds like good stuff for a sequel.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I screwed up my first post about the debate on how to pay for a new septic system at Granby Heights in Granby, Massachusetts. The 35-year-old septic system, which is already obviously incontinent, especially on hot days, could ``fail'' this year. A new one should be installed before the ground freezes, according to the engineering firm consulting with the Granby Heights Association.
Cost of the project has been estimated roughly at $1.2 million. There are 76 condos at Granby Heights.
Condo owners must vote whether to allow the condominium association to borrow money to replace the system. I used incorrect, second-hand information to say that if the association is not allowed to borrow, each of the condos would have to cough up a $16,000 ``assessment'' to cover the cost. I said wrongly that if the condo owners instead decide to let the association borrow, each condo would face a $100 monthly fee for the next 20 years.
In a May 13 memo, announcing a question-and-answer meeting at 7 p.m. May 21 at the West Street School, the association's Board of Directors does not specify assessment or fee levels. Assessments would be calculated ``proportionate to each owner's share in the Association,'' with a lump-sum payment up front.
The memo doesn't exactly specify who would make the calculations of proportionate financial responsibility -- board members, the association's property manager or banker?
It appears that the association's Board of Directors prefers assessments. Getting acceptable financing could be a difficult, if not insurmountable, ``burden'' -- it could be hard to get a bank to provide a financing package that the condo owners would accept.
The directors said that if residents vote to allow borrowing, it doesn't mean that the board will immediately turn around and shop for a loan. It would just allow the board to do so. ``Too many unknowns'' have to be clarified and too much research is left before the board can feel confident presenting condo owners with a financing package, the memo said.
A March 3 memo, circulated attached to the May 13 memo, addresses, implicitly, the national credit crunch. Even if condo owners vote to allow the association to borrow,
``there is no guarantee that a financial institution will offer to loan us the necessary funds on terms that are acceptable to the association.''

The board said it would not accept financing that would impede buying or selling of condos, and that it would schedule a meeting to talk about a financing package it obtains, if the association goes the borrowing route.
I see debilitating delays. According to the March 3 memo:
If residents vote to allow borrowing, the directors would establish a committee of condo owners, board members (same thing) and the association's finance director to
``explore financing options,'' such as ``conversations with banks and other lending organizations... possible grants, low-interest loans and other forms of assistance.''
The committee would also sound out a real estate lawyer. Sounds like a lot of work.
And then yet another committee would have to come up with a financing plan that would have to be passed by a majority of condo owners. (I rent here.)
The board recommends that condo owners get loans and pay their share of the septic-system cost up front. Doing so could get owners a tax break, depending on how they get their financing. It would ``remove the burden of borrowing from the Association...''

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Legalize Prostitution -- Vote Republican

If this primary season proves anything, it's that religion is everywhere. Consider
  1. Barack Obama's former pastor.
  2. Rev. John Hagee, televangelist, who has called the Catholic church ``the great whore,'' and who for some reason felt compelled to endorse John McCain, with McCain, seeing fit to spend precious campaign time standing by Hagee as the Rev. announced his endorsement. (How many people knew about Hagee to make his support so important, anyway? Maybe John McCain knows some things I don't -- such as the wisdom of hewing closely to George W. Bush's ideology, or assuming that the religious right matters in politics right now.)
  3. And speaking of your religious right, former Southern Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, who prompted chuckles May 16 while speaking to the National Rifle Association convention. Gearing up to make the point that folks who behave poorly beg for expensive and intrusive government, Huckabee heard a noise from behind the stage.
``That was Barack Obama... He's getting ready to speak, and somebody aimed a gun at him and he dove for the floor,''
quipped Huckabee, whose reflexes probably just got the better of him.
NRA delegates laughed -- some did find it funny, despite what The Wall Street Journal reported. Huckabee indeed went on to say that those who want less government must live ``more honestly and more ethically.''
``A democracy cannot operate in a moral vacuum.''
Bullseye, Mike.
Although Hagee and Huckabee have apologized, they wouldn't have done so if they weren't embarrassed. In the meantime, consider
  1. Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright, who promotes none but the Heavenly Father and himself.
  2. John Hagee, whoring for John McCain, and John McCain, pandering to the Christian Right.
  3. Rev. Mike Huckabee, pandering to the NRA for the GOP.
Which of those three categories does not mention whoring or pandering?

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Cape Ann, Gloucester, May 4, 2008

We went to Gloucester during the off-season; based on what we saw last year on the postcards in the inn lobby we figured that the city and the beach would be impossibly crowded during the summer. Of course the off season was also cheaper, especially in 2007. There are always trade-offs to everything, however. In our case the trade-off for a better rate, a quiet inn and an empty beach was that during the first two days it rained and it was cold. When I took these pictures that afternoon I was afraid my hands would be chapped.
We stayed at The Good Harbor Beach Inn with a view of the beach from a sliding glass door. We were the only guests in the quaint worn out 98-year old building. It's the red structure at the bottom of the embankment in the bottom photo.
Of course, I could not photograph the smell in the air and the sound of the rushing of the water.
This tree is scrub near the marsh on the other side of the dune, which was grown along the top with long grass.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Who is that guy under `About Me?'

Charlie Patton (1891-1935) is a canonized unknown. If you've heard of him, chances are someone has tried to persuade you that he was great. The guitar and the voice scrape and rail against desperation. If you claim not to have heard of Charlie Patton, chances are you have no trace of awareness of him in your unconscious. There is no middle ground.
In 1900, Patton moved with his family to Dockery Farms in Mississippi, and he lived there at the same time with early Delta blues musicians -- Willie Brown, Tommy Johnson and Eddie James ``Son'' House. According to myth the Delta blues originated at Dockery. We know that Son House taught Muddy Waters slide guitar.
An image from Dockery is in the first video below.
I identify with Charlie Patton. Why? That's too personal a tale.
Here is Patton's ``Rattlesnake Blues:''
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Mississippi John Hurt, Rev. Gary Davis and Howlin' Wolf took on the notion of a blues spoonful. Patton's ``Spoonful of Blues:''
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Here are two wonderful Patton videos by SchwarzHee on YouTube. To make up for the existence of the only known photograph of Patton, SchwarzHee curated slide shows of Americans taken during about Patton's time. That many of them portray poverty suffered by black and white folks is significant.
``It Won't Be Long:''
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``High Water Everywhere:''
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I recommend ``Complete Recordings: 1929-1934.''

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A New Orleans Interior












Because the New Orleans Heritage and Jazz Festival is scheduled to start Friday, April 25, I thought I'd post some photos I took in 1996 inside the
Josephine Guest House in the city's Garden District. I was fascinated by the decor and the gorgeous and exotic folk art.
I went down to Louisiana to attend Jazz Fest with my friend Susannah Pugh. She and I were reporters at the Springfield Union-News. As the driver left us off at The Josephine, he warned us that it didn't matter what part of town we were in -- they'd shoot us anywhere.
I feel as though I was spared not just bullets but a hurricane. Katrina could have happened in '96. What's nine years in the grand scheme?
I'd been listening to southern acoustic blues from the 1920s and '30s for years, but I hadn't been down south for 20 years. The culture was a shock because it was so rich and colorful and joyful. Of course this wasn't Mississippi, where most of the blues I'd been listening to began. My impression of Mississippi is that, in general, it's not as much fun as New Orleans. (Try reading `` `Worse than Slavery,' '' and you'll catch my drift. A lot of great music from a hell.)
I wish I could say who the painters are. If any of you recognize one of these painters, please let me know. If you can tell me something about the decor, please.
Before I would consider going to New Orleans again, I'd have to be assured that Katrina had not washed away the essence of the architecture and the music, leaving only germinating ground for crime, not culture. I'm sure that's not the case, but I'm still afraid that his time around my number would come up.
In 1997 I pressed my luck and went to New Orleans without incident.
The Josephine took some damage but re-opened two months after
Katrina.