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119 posts from August 2005

August 31, 2005

The City of New Orleans

Tonight I'm listening to City of New Orleans and thinking about Katrina. The song is about a train that runs between Chicago and New Orleans every day. Steve Goodman's lyrics make our latter day divisions between "Red" and "Blue" seem stupid.

In 1970, Goodman wrote a song which would eventually be called by many people "the best train song ever written." Steve pitched the song to Arlo Guthrie, and in 1972, Arlo included the song on his album Hobo's Lullaby. It was then released as a single and became a big-time hit record. Steve always thanked Arlo for recording the song, and for making it possible for Steve to do what he loved -- playing music for a living.

ABC News' morning show, Good Morning America, which started in the mid-70's, took its name and its original theme from the chorus of City of New Orleans. []

City of New Orleans is one of the songs that made me love the USA when I was still a kid living in Canada. Dad my tells the story of driving his in-laws' car back from San Francisco airport at daybreak and hearing Arlo Guthrie's newly-released recording on the radio. He pulled off the highway, parked at the nearest record store and waited for them to open. He just had to have that album. About 15 years later, it was waiting for me on audiocassette.

So far, I've collected three versions, and I never get tired of listening to any of them.

City of New Orleans is not only one of the greatest train songs ever written, it's one of the greatest songs ever written about America.

Jonah Goldberg speaks


Jonah Goldberg, ladies and gentlemen:

I think it's time to face facts. That place is going to be a Mad Max/thunderdome Waterworld/Lord of the Flies horror show within the next few hours. My advice is to prepare yourself now. Hoard weapons, grow gills and learn to communicate with serpents. While you're working on that, find the biggest guy you can and when he's not expecting it beat him senseless. Gather young fighters around you and tell the womenfolk you will feed and protect any female who agrees to participate without question in your plans to repopulate the earth with a race of gilled-supermen. It's never too soon to be prepared.

Scott Lemieux responds to Jonah Goldberg's non-apology, which reads:

Perhaps Professor Bainbridge -- of whom I am a fan -- thinks something really awful will befall the denizens of the Superdome and therefore making a joke at their expense is wrong. My guess is that it will simply be a really unpleasent time for the remainder of the day, but hardly so unpleasent as to sanctify them with refugee or some other victim status. [Jonah Goldberg, NRO]

Image courtesy of Geoff Arnold, via Boing Boing.

New Orleans' "Flood Rush"

Two disasters hit New Orleans this week: a hurricane and a flood. We all know the name of the hurricane, but we still need a name for the flood that submerged 80% of the city.

Remember that the storm swell didn't swamp New Orleans. The city flooded after the storm had receded. The hurricane was a natural disaster, but the flood was the product of more mundane human priority-setting. It had long been known that New Orleans' levees weren't prepared for the aftermath of a major hurricane.

Luckily, Rush Limbaugh reacted quickly to the hurricane--by attempting to shame the editor of the Nation for emphasizing that the poor bore the brunt of the cataclysm:

So Katrina vanden Heuvel, Hurricane Katrina vanden Heuvel was an equal opportunity destroyer. It spared nobody. It made sure that not only did the poor who normally get hit by hurricanes get hit, but the rich got hit, and the affluent got hit! What a way to look at this. What a way to look at it. It's not enough just to say that there's devastation all along the Gulf coast, but to have to divvy it up into the haves and have-nots and somehow express some sort of... Not pleasure, but why else would you note this?

Floods aren't usually named, but I think we should make an exception in this case and refer henceforth to the great flood of '05 as the "The Big Rush."

August 30, 2005

"Dried Squid Shred"

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New Oreleans levee break pics

These gave me some idea of Katrina's destructive power: A variety of before and after illustrations of New Orleans levees and their hurricane-induced absence, courtesy of Kathryn Cramer, Flickr citizen journalist Matt Harris, and many others--especially Teresa who's chronicling events at Making Light.

Hat tip to Steve.

Help the Red Cross help Katrina's victims

Officials are surveying the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and finding a situation even worse than they expected.

Revised estimates place the damage at $25 billion dollars.

As of this afternoon, over 80 deaths had been reported in Mississippi alone--and 30 of the losses so far accounted for are known to have occurred in a single Biloxi apartment complex. No doubt the death toll will continue to rise as reconnoissance continues.

Thousands of Gulf Coast residents will be homeless and countless others will be without water or power for weeks to come. Please, make a donation to the American Red Cross to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Also, be sure to check Wikipedia for real time updates on Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

Oh what a lovely war!

Christopher Hitchens looks on the bright side, viz Iraq, hilarity ensues.

JM Tyree responds at 3 Quarks:

The matter of a potentially failed state riddled with sectarian violence and vaste swathes of ungovernable territory from which jihadists can launch terrorist attacks worldwide does not really come into very sharp focus here.

Ablow's folly

Salon culture critic Meghan O'Rourke discusses Dr. Keith Ablow's recent New York Times essay about men who are put off sex by childbirth. [Permalink] The blogosphere's heated reaction to Ablow's essay prompted O'Rourke to wonder: "How do we deal with the messy, intractable fact that our desires don't conform to our ideals for an egalitarian society?"

But Ablow's piece isn't about men who don't want to attend births as much as society thinks they should. It isn't even about normal visceral reactions to birth and fatherhood. The article described a few cases of men who developed long-term sexual dysfunction after witnessing childbirth. Ablow didn't spot a trend, he described a rare pathology. His proposed solution? That women and health care professionals coddle the entire male gender to protect the libido of a handful of weak-minded individuals. Now that's male privilege!

O'Rourke writes:

Today's women aren't celebrating pregnancy as a mystical orgasm, but they do see having the father in the delivery room as a necessary component of a healthy marriage, one in which both partners contribute equally to collective partnership. This is an absolutely reasonable request: Childbirth is scary and painful, and it makes sense to have reassurance and help from the person you're closest to (and your child's father). But the belief that men should be on duty no matter what assumes on some level that sex is just like all the other functions that the body performs. What the experience of the men in the therapist's article suggests is that, for at least some, this isn't true; for some, the erotic depends on maintaining a distinction between the sexual and the reproductive.

O'Rourke is urging us to be compassionate towards these poor souls whose libido is no match for biological reality. Fair enough. However, it sounds as if many of the "traumatized" fathers are responsible for their own ongoing discomfort insofar as it arises from modifiable irrational beliefs. Despite what O'Rourke says, the conviction that men should be on duty for their wives and children doesn't assume anything about the ontology of sexual and reproductive functions. Reality, however, establishes that sex is like other bodily functions. If that's not true "in your experience," you need a therapist who will emphasize gross discrepancy between your experience and real life.

Feelings are what they are. But mature adults develop coping strategies to prevent these feelings from derailing their lives. Adults understand that real life isn't always as sexy as fantasy. To borrow a construction from Jaegwon Kim, "That's why real life is real life and fantasy is fantasy." A patient who claims to have permanently lost sexual desire for his wife after seeing her give birth is laboring under some classic irrational expectations: That traumatic experiences necessarily cause permanent emotional damage, that if his wife isn't perfectly sexy she's not desirable at all, that it's intolerable that his real-life responsibilities interferred with his fantasy life, etc.

Appropriately, an interview with Albert Ellis, the father of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) appeared in the Village Voice about the time Ablow's essay came out. I couldn't help but imagine how Ellis would approach a man who was complaining about losing desire for his wife after seeing her give birth.

Patient: I'm alienated from my wife's vagina.
Ellis: Is there something wrong with it?
Patient: No, but I saw it give birth--it was so awful, there was blood and stuff.
Ellis: It still works, right?
Patient: Yes, but now that I've seen it squeeze out a slimy, bloody baby...
Ellis: It's not bloody now, is it?
Patient: No, but every time I look at her I can't help thinking about how awful it looked.
Ellis: Why can't you help it?
Patient: The mystery is gone.
Ellis: What mystery? What part of making babies didn't you understand? [...]

There's plenty of good advice that Ablow could have offered to dads and prospective dads. Practical: Guys, if you're squeamish, park yourself at the head of the bed and don't look under those drapes. Logical: The whole idea of "mystery" is pretty nebulous. You already knew where babies came from. Maybe you saw some gore and maybe that upset you. But why should a fleeting visual sabotage your libido indefinitely? Existential: Yes, parenthood requires major psychological and physical adjustments. No, of course you're not a bad guy for getting squicked. However, if this experience is chronically undermining your sex life, the problem lies with your coping skills, not with the intrinsic horror of the natural process you witnessed. In these cases, the patient's attitude is making his dick limp, it's his therapist's job to help him adjust that attitude. It's not the therapist's job to convince the rest of the world to accomodate the patient's delusions.

US poverty rate up to 12.7%

The US poverty rate rose for the fourth consecutive year, according to the Census Bureau. Thirty-seven million Americans lived in poverty last year, an increase of 1.1 million over 2003. [NYT permalink]

Design reprise

The Orac brought back treatzes from vacation, precioussss....