Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Bridesmaids: 6 (four plus two junior ones)

Flower girls: 2

Types of vegetarian lasagna served for dinner: 2

Types of meat: 2

Sets of falsies worn (and admitted to) by party* and guests: 2

Bobby pins holding Satya's fabulous French twist in place: 20

Fifty-six year old men in wedding party who cover their gray: 2

Forty-one year old women in wedding party who do not: 1

Flirty handsome groomsmen who look far younger than their years, make a perfect Mai Tai and are bound to be nothing but trouble**: 1

Mai Tai's consumed: 2

Bachelorette parties abandoned: 1

Number of cats in ladies' dressing room: 9 (that we know of)

Total number of cats in house: 20

Wedding dresses peed on by cats: 1

Five-dollar dresses worn by Old Maid of Honor: 1

Chocolate wedding cakes topped by whip-wielding Catwoman and cringing bobble-head Ozzy Osbourne figurines****: 1

Major rainstorms: 3

Strolling minstrels: 2

Bands in basement: 1

Wedding licenses misplaced (and found): 1

Cars that wouldn't start after the festivities****: 1

Guys with ponytails: countless

Better parties in recent memory: 0*****


*The "girls" made all the difference, believe you me

**Known hereafter (if there is a hereafter) as Dorian Gray, he enlisted his daughter to fix the bride's nails and his teenage grandson to shoot the wedding video.

***They looked uncannily like the happy couple

****Jiggling the battery connections temporarily fixed it well enough to drive home in a treacherous downpour

*****In many ways it even topped 40 in '04

Thursday, September 22, 2005


People keep saying how surprised they are about what happened in New Orleans after Katrina hit. They cite all the poor people who were stranded, starving and shot at and say things like, “I can’t believe this could happen in America. It’s like we’re living in some other country.”

It makes me wonder where they’ve been over the past few years. Because anyone who’s been paying attention knows we’re actually A LOT like those other countries – only we’re fatter and have more stuff.

“Other countries” of course is code for the ones formally known as the third world –you know, developing nations -- where disasters kill thousands, governments are corrupt, elections are stolen, corporations run things, electricity is scarce and the leaders wear military garb. You know, countries that invade other ones for dubious reasons and then give their friends the contracts to rebuild the place.

We’re just better at hiding it than they are.

Does anyone else remember California’s rolling blackouts a few years ago – when people couldn’t get electricity? Well, they’re back again this year, and they’re going to get worse as gas gets scarcer.

What about the 1995 heat wave that killed over 700 people in Chicago? Pretty uncivilized.

Or take the time that Clear Channel Radio, which owns more American radio stations than any other company, instituted a nationwide ban on songs by the Dixie Chicks after singer Natalie Maines said she was ashamed that President Bush was from Texas and spoke out against his foreign policy -- even thought they were the country’s number one country act at the time. Then Bill Maher got fired. And then Bill Moyers got canned. And that’s just the tip of the free speech iceberg.

I was in New York when the Twin Towers were hit. Because I didn’t have any local ID, I was stuck for two days in the orange zone in lower Manhattan between Houston and 14th Street, where nothing was coming in -- no mail, no newspapers, no food – and no one was getting out. Checkpoints were everywhere. I actually wrote at the time that I felt like I was in one of those “other” countries. Now it doesn’t seem so strange.

In March of 2003, Chicago’s Finest targeted a peaceful anti-war march down Lake Shore Drive and arrested over 800 protesters, bystanders and office workers. The city went on to deny antiwar groups permits to march in 2004 and 2005.

And what about Chicago Mayor Richard Daley-the-younger bulldozing Meigs Field in the middle of the night because he couldn’t get rid of the lakefront airport through legal means? Sounds like the handiwork of a petty despot.

Which reminds me; it’s not just in other countries where sons pick up where their fathers left off. Does anyone else find it problematic that Mayor Daley and President Bush are both famous sons? And that their brothers all wield significant political power? Next thing you know, widows will start taking over for their dead husbands, a la Eva Perone.

Oh wait, that’s what happened in 2000, when Missouri governor Mel Carnahan died in a plane crash before beating John Ashcroft in the Senatorial election. Carnahan’s son, who was piloting the plane, died in the accident or I’m sure he’d be in power now. Instead Carnahan’s widow, Jean, was appointed to take his seat. (She lost the regular election in 2002 but her son, Russ, is now a member of Congress and her daughter, Robin, is Missouri’s Secretary of State).

In India, Bollywood actors get elected to office all the time. But at least they can act. In the US we get Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Racism and segregation may be against the law but from what we’ve seen lately they’re still alive and well – and not just during hurricanes in New Orleans. Chicago is still terribly segregated. If you don’t believe me, go to Madison Street and wait for a Red Line subway train at rush hour. The people waiting on one side of the tracks will be predominantly black, while the other will be predominately white. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Nor does New Orleans have corruption cornered. Former Illinois Governor George Ryan is in court on corruption chargers, and current Governor Rod Blagojevich is being investigated. I’ve lost track of all the investigations involving the mayor and his cronies.

Then there are the two most recent presidential elections and the dubious voter rolls in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004. Maybe we should get it over with and just start sticking a single name on the ballot.

Now might be just the time to do it. It’s been said that Americans vacillate between complacency and panic, and right now we’re in the latter mode – which is exactly where we were when the Bush administration pushed the Patriot Act through Congress and got the go-ahead to invade Iraq – despite protests from the United Nations.

Now, while people are still outraged at the federal government’s failure in New Orleans, Bush wants to get rid of Posse Comitatus Act. The law was passed in 1878 in order to remove the military from domestic law enforcement. Specifically, the idea was to keep the military from “keeping social order” and upholding racist Jim Crow policies at polling places during Reconstruction. Which makes it seem like a good law to uphold – especially when you consider the past two elections and the fact that the National Guard already has the power to act as a police force (they’re the ones who opened fire and killed those four anti-war protesters at Kent State in 1970). But something tells me the Democrats will roll over and let Bush win this one, too.

Which is not to say that he wouldn’t look good in a flak jacket. In fact, it might go well with the denim jeans he likes to wear during those long vacations in Crawford.

As for me – I’m starting to think that all of those scary National Rifle Association people may be onto something when they talk about people having the right to bear arms in order to protect themselves from the government. I’m not there yet. Not by a longshot.

But I certainly am thinking about it.


cartoon is from here. Good luck reading it....

Monday, September 19, 2005


So yes, while Bombay and New Orleans are both coastal cities perched on reclaimed land that received an insane deluge of rain, the latter experienced a full-blown Cat 5 hurricane with a storm surge chaser. I didn't quite understand the storm surge* part -- Was it a seiche?** Rain runoff coming up through the sewers? -- until yesterday, when I hit paydirt on NOAA's rather awesome website. It seems that a 20-odd foot wave with a bunch of smaller waves on top (kind of like frosting) hit the city and flooded Lake Ponchatrain and made the levees break. Apparently a surge is not so deadly when it nails a steep shoreline that's well above sea level. But when you build below sea level in a floodplain or marsh or wetlands or "reclaimed land," well ---....don't get me started.

This E-mail -- a rebuttal to yesterday's entry -- comes from Dreyfus and appears in its original (Dreyfusese) language:

No hurricane in Mumbai. 25+ foot storm surge in NOLA, washing over levees and sending a barge airborn to crash into another.

NOLA sits mostly below sea level. Mumbai sits 30-50 feet above sea level on average, with a high point of 1450 feet.

The problem in Mumbai was mudslides and flash floods, both of which are destructive, of course, but only in relatively limited areas. NOLA, OTOH, was almost entirely flooded, making nearly all the city uninhabitable.

One similarity, though - politics:

BJP agitates against tardy relief for Mumbai flood victims
Posted on Monday, September 05, 2005


Mumbai, The BJP on Monday took to the streets in Mumbai to protest against the alleged failure of the government to effectively carry out relief and rehabilitation in the financial capital.

Senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde, said that they would step up their agitation against the State Government for not providing relief as hundreds of people still continued to live in relief camps with not a day's meal to feed on.

Munde said that the government should rebuild the damaged hutments in slum areas and raise them to a higher altitude to lessen the damage during rains, which every year cause flooding but not of this extent. Later on activists including Munde courted arrests.

"It has been over a month that flooding and rains caused havoc in Maharashtra but the state government on its part has done nothing for rehabilitating the displace and affected people. BJP with the support of over 50,000 people had taken out a rally protesting government' failure. This is just a start of our agitation against the government," said Munde.

The Mumbai floods killed over 1000 people and caused damaged worth several hundred crore of rupees.

BTW, a hundred crore of rupees is about US$23 mil. "Several" of those might reach one tenth of one percent of the damage from Katrina. And this to a city of 12 million that is the financial capital of India.

And the Indian death toll from the flood, including water-borne disease and whatnot (including a stampede caused by rumors of an impending dam break), is over 900 but is probably much higher since many poor people -- always the hardest hit -- are undocumented.


*Sergio Stormm would be a great name for a minor character in some opus -- or, better yet, a weatherman. His co-anchor could be Seiche Montgomery.

**A ten-foot high, 25-mile long seiche*** or giant wave hit the Chicago shore of Lake Michigan in 1954 and killed eight people.

***It's pronounced "SAYsh."

Saturday, September 17, 2005

While we're on the subject...This came from Bindi, via, E-mail.

inches of rain in new orleans due to hurricane
katrina... 18

inches of rain in mumbai (July 27th).... 37.1

population of new orleans... 484,674

population of mumbai.... 12,622,500

deaths in new orleans within 48 hours of katrina...100

deaths in mumbai within 48hours of rain.. 37.

number of people to be evacuated in new orleans...
entire city..wohh

number of people evacuated in mumbai...10,000

Cases of shooting and violence in new

Cases of shooting and violence in mumbai.. NONE

Time taken for US army to reach new orleans... 48hours

Time taken for Indian army and navy to reach

status 48hours orleans is still waiting
for relief, army and electricty

status 48hours later..mumbai is back on its feet and
is business is as usual

USA... world's most developed nation


Friday, September 16, 2005


"When you write your first book, you really have no idea what you're going to do. When I signed my contract** I was elated. But then I had to write it."

--Suketu Mehta***, who took seven years to research**** and write the utterly brilliant Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found. (His initial manuscript was seventeen-hundred pages long).

"What sustained me was that I had to do it. I knew that if I called myself a writer*****, I had to write a book....

"I think the trick is to keep sending them pages."


"Write what feels true to you -- then see what the editor thinks."

Yes, but what if it's just a bunch of lists?


*A goonda put a gun to Suketu's head while he was researching MC:BBLF

**Beware of any "joint accounting" clauses.

***Suketu, who used to write for Chicago-based Computer Reseller News (or as he puts it, "the National Enquirer of the computer world"), got his book deal based on an article he wrote for Granta, about the 1992-93 riots in Bombay.

****He too types while the interviewee speaks

*****His heroes are old school New Yorker writers Joseph Mitchell and A.J. Liebling, who penned the infamous Chicago: The Second City. My hero is him.



"Studs Terkel tells a story where he was asked how he gets people to talk. He said, 'I listen.' But the problem in India is not to get people to talk but to shut up."

Thursday, September 15, 2005



In India, women on "ladies' holiday" are not allowed in the yoga shala (or temples) because if they were to set foot inside they would defile it. According to them the Time of Defilement lasts three days. Little do they know....

Women in India supposedly live in separate quarters during their holiday and aren't allowed to cook (which would of course pollute the food) or work. I suspect that if the quarters were posh this would not be such a bad thing. Except for the part where everyone thinks you're dirty and might get some of your dirt on them if you get too close.

My brother, who's not aware of this (and why should he be?) just sent me and a million of his friends the following BBC story with the heading, "It's always sunny in Nepal, lol." Because menstruation (like woman herself) is so, you know, scary and weird:

Women hail menstruation ruling
By Sushil Sharma
BBC News, Kathmandu

Women's rights activists in Nepal have hailed a Supreme Court order to end discrimination against women during their menstrual cycle.
There is a tradition in parts of Nepal of keeping women in cow-sheds during their period.

The practice is common in far western districts of the country.

The Supreme Court has ordered the government to declare the practice as evil and given it one month to begin stamping the practice out.

The court reached its decision on Wednesday.

'Not enough'

Women's rights activists say the court has upheld their right to equality.

Pushpa Bhusal, a leading lawyer, said it was a positive move in removing the traditional discrimination against women.

She warned however, that a change in the law alone would not be enough.

She said people needed to be educated against such a scourge of society.

Women in poor villages in much of western Nepal are forced to stay in dirty cow-sheds outside the home for four days during their monthly period.

They are often given unhygeinic food and suffer verbal abuse.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2005/09/15 17:04:09 GMT


Anyone with half a clue knows that most religions -- Christian, Muslim, Orthodox Judaism, Zoroastrian, etc. -- have some frightening rules regarding women's "pollution" during that time, and keep them separate from the men. Which is kind of funny, when we all know the real danger occurs *before* menses.

There's still such shame surrounding it in secular western society. So much work goes into making sure we hide it; god forbid someone knows we're on holiday. I once got it, unbeknownst to me, during the middle of the afternoon at a temp job, where I was working as a receptionist. I got up to use the bathroom and a female employee pulled me aside and pointed out the giant dark red spot in the middle of my mint green summer dress. I was horrified with shame (boy, was my face red! and not just my face!); they let me go home for the rest of the day. First though I had to run to the bathroom and put cold water on the stain so it wasn't quite so bright. Then I had to walk home (oh, the days when one lived and worked in the South Loop) carrying my briefcase behind me, which is no easy thing.

Does anyone else remember the girls sitting out gym class, looking miserable? The contemporary version is the brazen women who practice yoga while on their cycle but don't do inversions (the reasoning is that inversions such as headstand and shoulderstand are counterproductive and can stop/reverse your flow. My firsthand research proves this, as do a few scientific studies. Nonetheless some teachers dismiss it as mysognist poppycock).** Fortunately there aren't too many snickering boys in yoga classes these days.

At the opposite end of the red spectrum are the two or three guys*** who are not just willing but wanting to perform oral during that time of the month. Bloody fools.

Then there's L7. In 1994 a member of the band pulled out her tampon and flung it at the crowd at Britain's Reading Festival. Singer/guitarist Donita Sparks then "proceeded to flash pussy to England's television audience."

Now that's putting a whole new spin on it.

However Native Americans beat her to it (notice however that it's a *man* who helps the narrator see the light):

The Native Americans understood very well the different feelings that women have when they menstruate--and for them, these feelings were part of something very meaningful about the cycles of the woman's body. The women would go to a menstrual hut to pass the time of their bleeding. It was considered to be the time that a woman was at the height of her spiritual power, and that the most appropriate activity was to rest and gather wisdom.

In 1986 I met a teacher of the Native American traditions. He taught me that a menstruating woman has the potential to be more psychically and spiritually powerful than anyone, male or female, at any other time. That turned my conditioned pictures of reality upside down. I'd always experienced my period as a time of weakness and difficulty--what on earth was the man talking about?

He told me to dig a hole in the ground and speak my negative thoughts about femaleness, about bleeding, into the hole. He said the earth would transform the negative energy I was holding about my female nature. I felt pretty silly doing this but I did it anyway, and I was amazed to discover how many bad feelings about being a woman I had lurking inside my highly educated feminist mind. This exercise was painful, but very effective.

I began to look at my blood with a tinge of awe rather than fear, disgust or indifference. By that time I no longer used tampons, so I got to look at my blood properly every month instead of just seeing it on a yucky old tampon. I saw that it was clear and red, and sometimes darker and clotted. If I really freed up my vision then I could see that it was full of life, full of magic, full of potential. I began to experience a frisson of joy when I thought about bleeding, about being a woman, that there was something, after all, so extraordinarily magical and mysterious about inhabiting a female body. The resentment about being female that I had had in my teens and early twenties, the feelings that boys had a better deal, faded away, and were replaced by a growing sense of wonder at the intricacies and depths and possibilities offered by the monthly cycle.

I began to take time to rest and meditate and just be with myself when I had my period. I found out that it was a time when I was particularly able to find insight, and that this insight was of a timeless nature. I felt I was tapping into some ancient and vast well-spring of female wisdom--simply by sitting still and listening when I was bleeding. Taking this time out when I was bleeding created a very different relationship with my body. My health improved, and gradually the bad cramps I had had for most of my menstruating life eased up, and my period became a time of pleasure rather than pain.

It's nice to know all that, now that it's about to start going away.


*you can find a picture of every possible sex act, organ, etc. on the Internet. But put "bloody tampon" in the search engine and it comes up empty. Still a little too taboo, perhaps?

**I usually don't practice on the first day of Ladies Holiday -- too weak and tired -- and then proceed as usual, sans inversions, until Aunt Rose has disappeared.

***again, primary research indicates that these men do indeed exist

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


I've been fighting an awful cold for the past few days and it's been winning, which means the new couch is getting quite the workout. It may not be good-looking but it certainly is comfortable.

Maybe I could learn a thing or two from that couch...

I like say I have digital cable for when I get sick since I don't watch it that much and should probably get rid of it (monthly media column nonwithstanding). But when I'm sick I looooove the boob tube.
On Sunday night I caught a screening of Danny Schechter's new documentary WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception, in which he examines the US government's war on journalism during the current war in Iraq, and the media corps' collusion in cheerleading the invasion and giving credence to / spreading goverment lies. Suffice to say the so-called fourth estate is a tool of the man, man.

I neutralized with some Oprah (today she had the Dr. Phil of Finance telling people how to make a budget and teach their kids the value of the dollar already). Oprah shows a lot of shots of Chicago during the program and can I just say how cool it is that she hasn't relocated to LA / NYC like all the other ones eventually do. Love or hate her, she's got people reading again *and* she used her show to make a point in New Orleans.

Apparently BBC America had some time to fill between screenings of Benny Hill. But why should they treat us to five seasons of Cold Feet, one of the best series ever produced (it's up there with 'Once and Again' and 'TV Funhouse' and 'Freaks and Geeks' and 'Rescue Me'). Perhaps one day....I did catch the Scottish serial 'Monarch of the Glen' (annoying) and 'Cash in the Attic,' which combines PBS's 'Antiques Road Show' with the TLC program 'Clean Sweep.' You know you're sick when it seems like a good idea to watch inbred Brits shed their dreck. But nothing makes one want to feel better, fast, like the Indian soaps on TV Asia and Zee TV.


-My SF chemist friend -- not exactly Sporty Spice* -- is featured in a new TV ad for the Oakland Raiders.

-The Hex appears in the new Franz Ferdinand video

-Yet another friend has separated from his spouse

-An ex's s.o. expects twin sons

-West Nile means many dead pidgeons mashed into pavement w/ bloody fluttering feathers.

-Neck Tattoo appears to have disappeared

-I'm to be an (old) Maid of Honor for the first time, in two weeks time

-The evacuees are poised to move into my neighbor's apartment *tomorrow*

-No payment yet, but the publisher has finally signed my book contract

-However the book editor does not respond to my e-mails

-Which means that I've done zero work (except for teaching four classes) since falling ill

-Practice? What yoga practice?


*He's straight but wore a skirt and makeup (no heels, just combat boots) when we were in college -- back before the Utilikilt people were even born.

Monday, September 12, 2005


During our many years of hanging out, Larry David Midwest and I have seen some of the most challenging (ie; worst) films and plays ever produced. The most recent of the former was Must Love Dogs. We only went to see it because we were tired, it was at the Davis Theater (a discount venue where you are encouraged to talk back to the screen, and which is an easy walk or bike ride for each of us), and the two art films we wanted to see either played at the wrong time or were too far away. I went under the guise of doing “research” for the screenplay that Gridlife and I are supposed to be writing (as of this writing we’re on page 33).
Much wincing took place during the screening. Did you know that wearing pyjamas during the day means you’re depressed? You do now…. The evening was saved by a mildly overpriced al fresco dinner across the street at Essence of India. There’s plenty of people-watching to do in Lincoln Square, and that’s a primo location in which to do it. Unfortunately most of the people look/dress the same – like an episode of What Not to Wear -- but what else is new in Chicago. At least it was a nice night.

On Labor Day we hit the jackpot with a daytime (discount) screening of Junebug, which along with Crash is one of the best American films to come out in some time. You know, they have the drama and the good-looking people AND they deal with real issues (race, class, conditioned existence, etc.) in a provocative way. Junebug also made some interesting statements about outsider art, sibling rivalry, Chicago vs. New York and that whole thing where your city-dwelling self goes back to see the family and feels like an alien and eats too much and watches TV the whole time. This film had one of the most astonishing opening scenes I'd ever seen -- it shut everyone up and pulled us in immediately.

After Junebug, which we saw at Piper's Alley in Old Town, LDMW and I headed over to to see if we could find Old JerUSAlem, one of the oldest Middle Eastern restaurants in the city. It was so long since either of us had been there that we thought it might be gone. But it was right where we had left it, with a more luxurious interior and outdoor seating to boot.*

Not only had the interior of old JerUSAlem changed. The prices had gone up and the service was no longer surly! And, somehow, they had made the food even better (suffice to say, it makes Andie’s seem like airline food). So we sat outside and talked and talked and talked about the movie. Then we rode our bikes to Ben & Jerry’s and talked about it some more (is it just me, or is it IMPOSSIBLE to get frozen yogurt these days?). Then we stopped near my house and talked some more while watching a parade of drunken, red-faced parrotheads in grass skirts and Hawaiian shirts weave their way home after an afternoon of watching multimillionaire Jimmy Buffet go through the motions at Wrigley Field.

It’s always hit-or-miss with Larry David Midwest and I -- more often the latter -- and on Saturday I had press tickets to see Hephaestus at the Lookingglass Theatre (that’s the company known for its adaptations of literary works and which boasts David Schwimmer* and other Northwestern alumnae as founding members. I saw Killdozer and Karen Finley perform – separately – at their first space, a rough loft called Edge of the Lookingglass, back in ‘88. Now they pay the city $1 a year for posh digs in the city’s landmark Water Tower pumping station). The show was subtitled “A Greek Mythology Circus Tale,” which should have been fair warning. But it starred several members of the Wallenda family and promised circus tricks plus it was free and included a reception beforehand and besides, I’d never been to the new space.

We took the El to the theatre, which is next to Water Tower Place mall in the most shimmering party of the Gold Coast. When we got there we found that the AC wasn’t working. The snacks consisted primarily of bags of pop/caramel corn that no one could open. So we sat on the steps and watched people arrive (OMYGOD! HOW ARE YOU!) and try to open their bags. Popcorn flew everywhere, much to our delight. Again it was a lovely night, and we watched a man arrive with a hand-truck stacked high with cases of bottled water. Nicely-dressed Lookingglass company members or employees made many trips back-and-forth toting the stuff inside, one case at a time.

Finally the lights blinked and we went inside and found that the AC was still out and there was a bottle of water on each and every seat, which delighted me. Everyone was fanning themselves despite the fact that it was a comfortable 72 degrees. A man came onto the stage with a child on his hip, and announced that the AC was out and that they would give people tickets for another night if they couldn’t deal. He said that we could only leave the (65 minute long) show if there was an emergency, since it could get dangerous what with all the performers doing trapeze acts so close to us in the intimate theatre.

I think Larry DMW hated the singing little girl on the bed the most. The show opened with a thunderstorm and real rain – a Steppenwolf***-esque stunt typical of theaters with money to burn – and the cute little girl crawling under the covers. Then she came out, opened a book and started to sing about Hephaestus, a minor Greek god who didn’t have a father and was disfigured with a scraggly beard. He was cast out by his mother, Hera, and fell down down down from the ceiling via trapeze to a world filled with four beautiful Wallendas who did some stunning stunts (including Hanumanasana or splits), each with two long banners of fabric. It was amazing to watch but could have been edited a bit.

The four beauties saved Heph but his legs didn’t work and he became God of Fire / The Forge and crafted beautiful jewelry for them. Every time he forged, two silver guys appeared and played big drums in profile, a la Blue Man Group. But things are funnier in threes and this was dead serious from start to finish. The bulk of the music was canned newage straight out Cirque.

Many of the pieces Heph forged looked like silver hula hoops, and a woman came out and did some tricks with them. And more tricks with them. And more tricks with them. So many hula hoops at one time! Two silver chicks stood nearby (they had those silver go-go boots I looked so long and hard for last year and never found), coolly hula-hooping one ring each the entire time. Their hair was in pigtails and also silver.

Then more forging and at some point Heph was given some silver shin guards that allowed him to walk. His mother (his wife in real life, hmmm) came down from the rafters in a silver hoop he made for her. After some tricks she threw off her cape, at which point LDMidwest made a circular gesture with his hands, suggesting that she continue to remove her clothing.

Hera sent down Aphrodite, the goddess of love, as a gift. This pretty girl was a contortionist – doing those Cirque Chinese acrobat girl stunts on those three vertical sticks with square blocks on top, amazing – so of course he married her. He was happy but still had that scraggly beard.

The silver girls bounced up and down like crazy (very cool) and did somersaults on trapezes while delivering to him little pieces of wood that he arranged and then threw into the forge. More Blue Man Group drumming. Then a chair (wood! Ugly!) came out of the forge. He tightroped it up to his mother Hera in the heavens. She liked it and they performed a major tightrope trick which had her standing on said chair balanced on a pole suspended between Heph and a silver guy, who were themselves walking a tightrope. That was cool but if I’m not mistaken the little girl started to sing again.

Afterwards LDMidwest heard a man (possibly a local drama critic Lawrence Bommer, I’m not sure) say, “Where was the story? Where was the story?” and LDMW chimed in of course. LDMidwest could not stand the little girl. He suggested the show would attract many suburbanites who would think it was cutting-edge. He thought it would be much improved, and would play well in Las Vegas, if they admitted it was just a highfaloutin’ striptease with highwire, and had everyone (minus the little girl of course) perform naked. “Turn it into a real strip show, which is what it is!” Yeah, I said. They could change “Hephaestus" to “Hef.”

I suggested that they don’t ever have AC during the run of the show, since if my yoga practice is any indication, it might make the contortionists and other performers (all of whom were short, gymnastic types) too stiff to perform. LDMW said that the guy who made the announcement brought the kid with him to get sympathy. I envisioned a scenario in which he comes out every night to make the same announcement, each time with a smaller child on his hip until finally he comes out with a hugely pregnant woman who can barely walk, and whom he must support. Now that would be good theater.

All in all, it was well done but simply not our cup of chai (took itself way too seriously, we thought). But I was glad and thankful to have seen it. Yes, I know how easy it is to riff on someone else's art. But one thing is true -- Lookingglass did indeed succeed in its mission to present "theatre without a net."

But next time I think we’ll go to see some “alternative" theatre event. Maybe Plasticene has something coming up soon. They have neither net nor budget and yet manage to run circles 'round the other troupes. No $1 lease from the city for them, though.


Le Giger poster (left)

*I used to eat at Old JerUSAlem quite often in the late 1980’s, when I was a board member of the Illinois Coalition Against Censorship. Our meetings were held at the nearby Bijou Theatre, which was famous for its oft-hilarious recorded messages advertising the gay porn they screened and sold. The board members were all liberal idealists, fueled by outrage against Edwin Meese, the proposed flag-burning amendment, and the witchhunts against the Last Temptation of Christ and the work of arists Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe. Adding fuel to the fire was the Parents Music Resource Center hearings (Dee Snyder, John Denver and Frank Zappa were among those who gave testimony defending free speech and pop music lyrics, while Tipper Gore and the late Illinois senator Paul Simon’s wife headed the pro-censorship side of things; the latter succeeded in getting warning labels stuck on albums and essentially paralyzing the careers of all three recording artists). As if that weren't enough, the Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra was being attacked for including a HR Giger poster depicting interlocked genitals in the band’s Frankenchrist album, and both he and Zappa gave speeches and had anti-censorship groups setting up booths at their concerts / talks (In a single month in 1987 [?] I saw Zappa perform at the Auditorium Theatre – amazing, and I don’t even like/get his music – and Jello speak at Northwestern University). ICAC’s funding came entirely from pornographers, both gay and straight, since they’re always the first ones to take a hit when the conservatives go after the First Amendment. My anti-censorship career had two highlights: hooking up Jello Biafra (whom I met when he was eating at Chicago Diner and recording down the street at Chicago Traxx) with Libertyville-based Mary Morello (Tom’s Mom), who had just started a new group called Parents for Punk and Rap. The other highlight was planning a well-attended benefit screening (35MM!) of Lenny (the Bob Fosse biopic about Lenny Bruce and his demise, which was caused in part by the authorities who repeatedly arrested him for the “obscene” content of his act). The wine-and-cheese reception featured a very cool display and timeline created by my boyfriend-at-the-time and I. Those were the days. Before the Internet and cell phones, when one had actual tangible free time.

**The actor who will forever be known as Ross is dating The Hex’s cousin, who served in the Israeli army, and with whom we stayed during our 2000 trip to London.

***Steppenwolf is the well-endowed Chicago theatrical institution that counts John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf, John Mahoney, Gary Sinese and Martha Plimpton among its many ensemble members.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


Buyer's Remorse: hospital-bed-meets-futon-meets-collegiate-Black-Hole

I have had no fewer than six sofas in my current apartment -- including the Weird Wood Loveseat Thing that Kirchoff Gave Me, the Maroon Futon that had been My First Real Bed, the Blue Fold-out Loveseat from Pier One, and the Pink Cloud. So why do I get so attached to furniture? Lately I've been searching and searching for a comfortable couch and finally settled on a charcoal gray "seating combo" that also serves as a twin bed. You know, so I can have house-guests again. I had the guy at Kmart strap it to the top of my car -- which took forever -- brought it home and dragged it to the storeroom.

But what to do with The Heaviest Sofabed in the World? I bought the vintage, mustard-colored vinyal hide-a-bed for $60 at the Brown Elephant in 1998. It has been in my possession the longest of any couch, and it took two Hurley burly men to bring it up to my third floor apartment. (No, I never used it as a bed! Gross! Although I did thoroughly disinfect it once I got it home). It was easy on the eyes but uncomfortable (why is it that form and function are so often mutually exclusive -- and not just when it comes to furniture?). The cushions had been squashed and shrunk to the point that they had the consistency of bricks. Boyfriends had always complained about it, since it was a couch built for one and suggested that I didn't need them in my life. In the sweaty summer whoever sat on it got stuck to it. On the other hand, you could wipe off anything you spilled on it.

My plan was to round up some big burly men -- harder to do these days, when they're all married with kids / have bad backs -- and put it in the alley and hope for the best. But then I talked to Jack, who is no longer AWOL. Since he is also Mr. Online, he talked me out of advertising it on the free stuff website and suggested that I put it on Craigslist. "I know you don't like people coming into your apartment, but you should do it." The reasoning was that if they paid for it, they'd care for it -- kind of like when you charge for kittens instead of just giving them away (they'd also be less creepy). Better yet, they'd pay me to take the thing away. Of course I was convinced that whoever contacted me thru the ad would be interested in one thing -- casing the joint so they could come back later and rip me off.

After much hemming, hawing and procrastinating I took some pix and created an ad:


This cheerful, mustard-colored sofabed boasts a sleek profile and is 5.5 feet long. It pulls out into an (uncomfortable) bed. It's served me well as a primary couch but now it's time to move on. It's ideal for a small living room. Full disclosure: It's on the third floor and because it's well-made it's quite heavy.

The Hex calls it the most honest ad ever to appear on Craigslist.

Nonetheless, people started e-mailing me right away. So I raised the price to $50. Then I changed it to $40. And then back to $25 again. Some people wanted to set up a time to look at it. HUH? IT'S A $25 COUCH -- EITHER YOU WANT IT OR YOU DON'T. I was too creeped out to call any of them back at first, but then finally phoned couple of the women, whom I was sure were shills for Creepy Guys. I blocked my number with *67 so they couldn't track me down, break the door down and get me. At one point someone e-mailed saying, Would I take $20 and When could they come and look at it. I e-mailed back: How about we call it $22.50 and you come and get it right now. They didn't write back. Finally a young-sounding woman wanted to set up a time to pick it up: Noon on Saturday. OK, I said. But do you have someone to carry it? Yes, she said. It's heavy and you'll need two people, I reminded her. No problem, she said.

It's always good to have a deadline, so on Friday Jack and I put together the new couch (well, he did most of it). He's wearing a Utilikilt these days. With his desert boots. Afterwards we ate pizza and watched the first two episodes of Over There. We winced at each instance of Stupid Exposition, which means our facial muscles got a good workout. According to Jack (who spent a year In Country) they are using the wrong helicopters. Also, not everyone in the Army has nicknames (his was Captain Safety). There would be female soldiers at the checkpoints, to frisk the women in cars. And they would not spend so effing long in one place.

Next day I woke up with a migraine that more or less dissipated with sinus medication. I was nauseous yet unusually flexible during practice and only did primary series. After yoga I went into cleaning mode, wiping down the new couch, liberating all the cat toys and paper clips that had fallen between the cushions and clearing out the myriad dead leaves and other junk that had collected beneath it. Dust flew everywhere. Then I got going on the many plants in the window (see photo), removing all and sundry dead leaves and making an even bigger and dustier mess. I made myself sick in fact, and today I have the kind of sore throat where you feel like there's a hole punched in it.

Not so good for telling well-heeled fancy health club students again and again to put their palms in prayer in Utkatasana. "Some of you should look at your thumbs and tell them again that they shouldn't be crossed." I think I even resorted to the old "I've been to India so you should listen to me" routine, which surprised me when it came out of my mouth and made me want to vomit.

By noon I had cleared a path and hidden all the valuables. By 12:15 the young couch-buyer had not shown and Surfer Girl was waiting for me at Jim's Grill. So of course I pictured myself keeping the old couch and getting rid of the new one. But the young lady eventually showed up in a purple van with a girlfriend and two skinny boys --one of whom she'd recruited that very morning, after he'd awakened at her apartment. She's furnished her entire pad via Craiglist, and nothing could possibly be heavier than the five theatre seats they picked up in Hyde Park.

We tied the thing shut with a phone cord so it wouldn't come open on the way downstairs. They got it into the rear balcony and stopped, untied it, and pulled out the mattress (which, it turns out, weighed A TON). It took the skinny boys forever but they finally got it down. No one was hurt. When the girl pressed $25 into my hand I felt like I'd won the lottery. But then I went back upstairs and looked at the new charcoal seating combo and felt very sad indeed. Almost everything I own is old, and this thing is new new new. It creates a dark area where there was once light. Worse yet, it lacks a soul....

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Ira is a hero in more ways than one*

This week's installment of This American Life, called After the Flood, is utterly amazing. It is some of the best radio I've ever heard, period, and I had to stop cleaning the house to make sure I heard every word. Suffice to say neither Sarah Vowell nor David Sedaris weighed in with quirky essays about New Orleans and what it means to be an American / ex-pat.

We hear the show live on Friday nights here in its hometown but it airs all weekend around the country. Simply click on the link above, find to "Where to listen" on the left, put in your state abbreviation and go from there. It'll be archived on the site next week.

Really, even if you're overwhelmed with flood coverage, do this. Hearing firsthand interviews with people who were chased and shot at by the representatives our government while trying to escape the city -- and hearing about looters as saviors --completely contradicts everything we've been getting in the mainstream media. And this from a show that extolled the macho exoticism of riding on a US Navy air carrier not too long ago. It's must-hear radio. And, for the moment anyway, it's made right here in Chicago.


*more on that later.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


Our friend Munkin's sister fled New Orleans with her husband, who works at Tulane University, and two small children. Their house is next to one of the levees that broke, in a neighborhood called Lakeview. They've been living in Munkin's basement for several days.

But due to the graciousness of my neighbor and his new wife, they will soon be moving into a fairly-decent one-bedroom apartment that's just around the corner from Joan Cusack, and equidistant to a playground. They'll stay for the next few months; apparently Tulane plans to have a spring semester. During the walk-through - the two-year-old was enchanted with the staircase -- the husband mentioned that so many people have flooded Baton Rouge that the entire city is out of key blanks.

Afterwords we had lunch at the Southern/Cajun Wishbone restaurant (the two-year-old was craving red beans and rice and jambalaya). We all laughed as the husband regaled us with headlines from the latest edition of The Onion:

God Outdoes Terrorists Yet Again

Louisiana National Guard Offers Help By Phone From Iraq

Government Relief Workers Mosey In To Help
FEMA representatives call out to survivors, "Show us your tits for emergency rations!"

Refugees Moved From Sewage-Contaminated Superdome To Hellhole Of Houston
HOUSTON—Evacuees from the overheated, filth-encrusted wreckage of the New Orleans Superdome were bussed to the humid, 110-degree August heat and polluted air of Houston last week, in a move that many are resisting.

White Foragers Report Threat Of Black Looters
NEW ORLEANS—Throughout the Gulf Coast, Caucasian suburbanites attempting to gather food and drink in the shattered wreckage of shopping districts have reported seeing African­Americans "looting snacks and beer from damaged businesses."

Another Saints Season Ruined Before It Begins
NEW ORLEANS—Front-office executives of the New Orleans Saints football team provided a much-needed dose of normalcy Monday when they announced that, for the 23rd year running, the Saints season had been ruined before it began.

Shrimp Joint Now Shrimp Habitat
NEW ORLEANS—Big Etienne's, a popular stop for New Orleans-style jambalaya, shrimp po' boys, and gumbo, has become a near-perfect habitat for Penaeus setiferus, the ubiquitous white shrimp used in jambalaya, shrimp po' boys, and gumbo.

Bush Urges Victims To Gnaw On Bootstraps For Sustenance
WASHINGTON, DC—In an emergency White House address Sunday, President Bush urged all people dying from several days without food and water in New Orleans to "tap into the American entrepreneurial spirit" and gnaw on their own bootstraps for sustenance. "Government handouts are not the answer," Bush said.



It seems that women are doing some of the most thoughtful and incisive writing about the Disaster -- which only make sense when you consider that we must work twice as hard and be twice as smart as our male competitors. Apparently our headshots must also be twice as glamorous.

September 7, 2005
Haunted by Hesitation

It took a while, but the president finally figured out a response to the destruction of New Orleans.

Later this week (no point rushing things) W. is dispatching Dick Cheney to the rancid lake that was a romantic city. The vice president has at long last lumbered back from a Wyoming vacation, and, reportedly, from shopping for a $2.9 million waterfront estate in St. Michael's, a retreat in the Chesapeake Bay where Rummy has a weekend home, where "Wedding Crashers" was filmed and where rich lobbyists hunt.

Maybe Mr. Cheney is going down to New Orleans to hunt looters. Or to make sure that Halliburton's lucrative contract to rebuild the city is watertight. Or maybe, since former Senator John Breaux of Louisiana described the shattered parish as "Baghdad under water," the vice president plans to take his pal Ahmad Chalabi along for a consultation on destroying minority rights.

The water that breached the New Orleans levees and left a million people homeless and jobless has also breached the White House defenses. Reality has come flooding in. Since 9/11, the Bush administration has been remarkably successful at blowing off "the reality-based community," as it derisively calls the press.

But now, when W., Mr. Cheney, Laura, Rummy, Gen. Richard Myers, Michael Chertoff and the rest of the gang tell us everything's under control, our cities are safe, stay the course - who believes them?

This time we can actually see the bodies.

As the water recedes, more and more decaying bodies will testify to the callous and stumblebum administration response to Katrina's rout of 90,000 square miles of the South.

The Bush administration bungled the Iraq occupation, arrogantly throwing away State Department occupation plans and C.I.A. insurgency warnings. But the human toll of those mistakes has not been as viscerally evident because the White House pulled a curtain over the bodies: the president has avoided the funerals of soldiers, and the Pentagon has censored the coffins of the dead coming home and never acknowledges the number of Iraqi civilians killed.

But this time, the bodies of those who might have been saved between Monday and Friday, when the president failed to rush the necessary resources to a disaster that his own general describes as "biblical," or even send in the 82nd Airborne, are floating up in front of our eyes.

New Orleans's literary lore and tourist lure was its fascination with the dead and undead, its lavish annual Halloween party, its famous above-ground cemeteries, its love of vampires and voodoo and zombies. But now that the city is decimated, reeking with unnecessary death and destruction, the restless spirits of New Orleans will haunt the White House.

The administration's foreign policy is entirely constructed around American self-love - the idea that the U.S. is superior, that we are the model everyone looks up to, that everyone in the world wants what we have.

But when people around the world look at Iraq, they don't see freedom. They see chaos and sectarian hatred. And when they look at New Orleans, they see glaring incompetence and racial injustice, where the rich white people were saved and the poor black people were left to die hideous deaths. They see some conservatives blaming the poor for not saving themselves. So much for W.'s "culture of life."

The president won re-election because he said that the war in Iraq and the Homeland Security Department would make us safer. Hogwash.

W.'s 2004 convention was staged like "The Magnificent Seven" with the Republicans' swaggering tough guys - from Rudy Giuliani to Arnold Schwarzenegger to John McCain - riding in to save an embattled town.

These were the steely-eyed gunslingers we needed to protect us, they said, not those sissified girlie-men Democrats. But now it turns out that W. can't save the town, not even from hurricane damage that everyone has been predicting for years, much less from unpredictable terrorists.

His campaigns presented the arc of his life story as that of a man who stumbled around until he was 40, then found himself and developed a laserlike focus.

But now that the people of New Orleans need an ark, we have to question the president's arc. He's stumbling in Iraq and he's stumbling on Katrina.

Let's play the blame game: the man who benefited more than anyone in history from safety nets set up by family did not bother to provide one for those who lost their families.


Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Monday, September 05, 2005


My mother often said she preferred animals to humans. She had a point....

Some of the people in New Orleans couldn't leave, while others chose to stay. The animals didn't have a choice, and James Janeg's article by about the Superdome evactuation in yesterday's Chicago Tribune makes me feel a bit ill (and I don't even like dogs that much):

"People, we got to be moving," Sgt. 1st Class Michael Glenn said through a bullhorn. "You see the fence. You've got to be on the other side of the fence."

Angry faces in the crowd glared at him, but moved on. A cursing man in a purple hat stayed behind until five Guardsmen towering around him convinced him to go. Weary families hobbled out together. Dogs were not allowed, and were left behind, tied under tables in front of a ticket counter.

No one knew what to do with the dogs, some of which ran free. A few Guardsmen poured water into popcorn containers for them, but many of the animals looked beyond help.

Lt. A.J. Ylizaliturri, a personnel officer with the 61st Troop Command, threw them some food as she worked her cell phone to find veterinarian groups interested in helping.

"I'm trying to get in touch with anyone on the Internet, animal organizations, anyone," she said.

After nearly a week of staying still, the people of New Orleans were getting somewhere.

"I've seen some stuff," said John Ballard, 40, who left the Superdome in a clean shirt he had saved for the occasion. "Right now, I just want to go be with my family."

This piece in Sunday's Newsday includes contact info for various humane groups at the the end. I've not researched any of them yet, but Noah's Wish sounds legit....



September 4, 2005

While the focus in New Orleans is on rescuing the hundreds of thousands of people still stranded in the water-logged city, animal-welfare groups also have mobilized there in an effort to save dogs, cats and other creatures left adrift by Hurricane Katrina.

"People were told when they evacuated to leave their pets behind," said Michael Mountain, president of Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah, which is helping to evacuate the city's animals in the hopes of later reuniting them with their owners. "For those people who have lost so much, it's just another heartache to wonder what happened to Fido or Fluffy."

Mountain said the number of stray animals in the New Orleans area could be in the millions, and he noted that the goal was to retrieve free-roaming dogs "before they start forming packs, their version of looters."

New Orleans isn't the only focus of animal advocates: Noah's Wish, a Placerville, Calif.-based group that helps rescue animals during disasters, has established a makeshift shelter in Slidell, La.

"People are absolutely desperate," says volunteer and spokeswoman Patricia Jones. "I got an e-mail from a 10-year-old saying, 'My gecko is in my bedroom - can you please feed him crickets?'"

Among the animal groups accepting Hurricane Katrina monetary donations:

Noah's Wish, 530-622-9313.

American Humane., 303-792-9900.

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals 2005 Disaster Relief Fund., 866-275-3923.

American Veterinary Medical Association Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams., 800-248-2862 ext. 6689.

Best Friends Animal Society Hurricane Relief Fund., 435-644-2001 ext. 104.

Humane Society of the United States Disaster Animal Response Team., 800-HUMANE-1.

Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association., 800-524-2996.

United Animal Nations., 916-429-2457.

Sunday, September 04, 2005



Why do people -- men -- bring mix CD's with uneven sound levels and dead air between songs to a party, and, upon arrival, make a beeline for the host, pull it from their pocket (it's never in a case or envelope), brandish it about and demand that it be played? Why do they then add insult to injury by hovering over the appointed DJ, who has provided and schlepped the sound system, and claiming, "I'm a deejay?" as if that somehow makes it OK? Because we all know they're deejays for one, at Club Mi Casa es Mi SUV. Of course there is exactly ONE GENRE of music on said CD -- usually songs no one has heard, or would want to hear again -- because why would anyone at an exquisitely set and well-appointed outdoor party crave variety? This has happened at so many parties -- and at so many of my own DJ gigs way-back-when -- that some brilliant young S & A grad student should do their dissertation on the topic. Fortunately the appointed DJ (not I) was diplomatic enough to allow some songs to be played (much to the delight of three people in the alley) and then segued to his foolproof 70's funk mix, which got the whole place moving -- even the sleek ladies whom Larry David Midwest dubbed "soap opera women."*

That said, it was somehow OK for me (DJ Spinsta Caca) to spring mine own painstakingly-crafted party mix (featuring even levels and mostly-exquisite segues) on Gridlife just hours before the fete, and harass him mercilessly with pleas that it be played....**


Now that that rant is finished....I just read a thoughtful and loaded piece about New Orleans' history of flooding and government largesse in today's NYT:

September 4, 2005
The Prologue, and Maybe the Coda

I CALLED my home in New Orleans Wednesday to listen to the phone ring. I didn't call for messages, knowing that without power the answering machine had not taken any. I called to connect to my home. No neighbors remained to talk to. The few who had remained through the storm and through the first part of the week had finally gone. Listening to the ring, imagining it echoing through the silent house, its sound waves caressing so much that I loved and so much of my life, I was reluctant to hang up. It seemed as if hanging up meant abandoning my home and my city, as if I were holding onto it, and hanging up meant letting it all ... go.

What we are seeing is well beyond the worst natural disaster in American history. We will never know the exact death toll, the direct monetary loss will easily exceed that of any other disaster, and the entire population of the New Orleans metropolitan area and much of the Gulf Coast will soon be scattered across much of the country.

We may also be seeing the virtual destruction of one of the world's great cities as well. In a way, though, that seems the least of the thing, and less important each day. The initial inability of local or national government to respond, our own impotence and rage over events, and the worst of it, the rapid descent into chaos - more like Baghdad or Mogadishu than an American city - each one of these things may be more disturbing than the heart-song of the loss.

How did it come to this, and where does it go?

Geology and economics answer part of the first question.

All the land in the Mississippi River's flood plain from Cape Girardeau, Mo., to the Gulf of Mexico - more land than Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont combined - was created by the deposit of sediment by the river.

New Orleans itself was located at a point particularly conducive to commerce, and the first areas settled were relatively high ground (and remain dry today). Levees, which go back to the Tigris and Euphrates, had long been in use to control floods, and also helped guarantee a shipping channel; until 1928 virtually all federal money for levees was justified by the river's role in interstate commerce.

This effort was, in effect, to channel the river, and it has largely succeeded. Levees have contained all floods on the lower Mississippi - which routinely carries triple the amount of water in the river at St. Louis - since 1927. Then canals and pipelines were cut through the marsh below New Orleans to make shipping and energy production more efficient. New Orleans benefited from all this, but not as much as Midwest agriculture exporters or steel importers, which enjoyed cheaper freight, or the entire nation, which enjoyed the oil and gas pumped out of the gulf.

But only south Louisiana has suffered from the trade-offs. No floods meant that the river no longer replenished the land each year with silt, so south Louisiana parishes began to sink. And the canals cutting through the marsh accelerated erosion. The result: the equivalent of the island of Manhattan disappears every 10 months. That explains the physical vulnerability of south Louisiana today. It does not answer the most disturbing question: How has New Orleans come so close to collapse? For what we are witnessing bears no resemblance to what has happened in the past.

Before this, the flood on the Mississippi River in 1927 was doubtless the most terrible American disaster. In one obvious way, it eerily foreshadowed today's. For one thing, New Orleans officials loudly warned that a disaster was waiting to happen, and condemned Washington for ignoring them, just as last week's devastation was widely predicted.

The scope of the 1927 devastation also resembled today's. No one knows the death toll. The official government figures said 500, but one disaster expert said more than 1,000 in Mississippi alone. The homes of roughly one million people, nearly 1 percent of the entire population of the country, were flooded. The Red Cross fed 667,000 people for months, some for a year; 325,000 lived in tents, some sharing an eight-foot-wide levee crown with cattle, hogs and mules, with the river on one side and the flood on the other.

Even amid that horror, as in other natural disasters, people responded by bonding together. Goodness emerged. The fault lines of race and class melted away with the levees, and the commonality of the burden that victims shared created a sense of common humanity. But as days dragged into weeks, honor and money collided, white and black collided, regional and national power structures collided. The collisions cracked open the fault lines and caused America to stagger and shift as well.

As a result, Americans rethought the responsibility the federal government had toward individual citizens. The government had felt little such responsibility. In 1905, a yellow fever epidemic struck New Orleans. Scientists knew how to fight yellow fever, and the Army had completely eliminated the disease from Havana. Yet, before the Public Health Service would come to New Orleans to save the lives of Americans, the city had to raise $250,000, in advance, to cover the expenses. Americans accepted this.

But in 1927, even after the expansion of government during the Progressive Era and World War I, not a single federal dollar went to feed, clothe or shelter any of the 667,000 being fed by the Red Cross. (Indeed, the Army even demanded reimbursement from the Red Cross for use of its field kitchens and tents.) Americans did not accept this. Overwhelmingly they expressed a new belief that the government should help the flood victims and, by implication, other individuals in distress through no fault of their own. This represented an enormous shift in public attitudes.

The flood left other legacies almost as significant. It sent hundreds of thousands of blacks out of the flooded territory to Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles. Enormous positive publicity created the presidential candidacy and guaranteed the election of Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, who had been in charge of the rescue effort.

Yet his subsequent betrayal of the national African-American leadership and African-American refugees snapped the emotional bond black voters felt for the G.O.P., the party that freed the slaves, beginning the shift to the Democratic Party.

The flood also left a legacy directly relevant to today. It led to the passage of the 1928 Flood Control Act, which was the most expensive bill Congress had ever passed, exceeded only by the cost of the Civil War and World War I. That same bill set a precedent redefining the relationship between the federal and state governments, and for the first time gave the federal government full responsibility for flood control along the lower Mississippi and many tributaries.Today we face a disaster even greater than the one in 1927, and for all the similarities a single difference between now and not only 1927 but the other natural disasters is most striking.

That sense of common humanity, of a shared burden, did not dominate the immediate aftermath of Katrina. Why not?

It is understandable that when no market or restaurant is open to sell food and water, people break into them to survive. As things escalate, some people go the next step and become looters. Once order begins to break down it is difficult to redraw the line. But how to comprehend the hell, the breakdown of society, the snipers shooting at hospitals, shooting at helicopters trying to evacuate people?

Yet perhaps this explains it: This disaster was not a common burden.

Many people who stayed in New Orleans chose to. But many, and probably most, of those who remained either paid too little attention to the warnings or would have gotten out if they could.

Once the levee gave way things deteriorated instantly. Communications between rescue personnel, between government officials became almost impossible. Things soon became so bad a senior aide to the mayor broke into an Office Depot to commandeer communication and computer equipment to rebuild a command post when water knocked out the original one.

The population, without power, had no information from television or radio.

Troops are finally taking control of what may never again be called the Big Easy. Midwest farm exports still need cheap freight to compete in the world market, and the nation still needs the oil and gas from the gulf; moving that infrastructure and building new refineries would cost billions and take years. If - a major if - the existing plan to reverse the coastal erosion will work, then it and the cost of protecting the city against hurricanes may well pass even a cost-benefit test.

But past the question of rebuilding this city, my home, will this disaster leave an imprint like the 1927 flood? Will it cause the world to change the way it engages the environment? Will it cause Americans to think about the role of government and this newly seething underclass?

I don't know. On Thursday, I tried to call my house once again, to listen to the phone ring. I could not. The phone no longer works.

John M. Barry of the Center for Bioenvironmental Research at Tulane and Xavier Universities is the author of"Rising Tide," about the 1927 Mississippi flood, and"The Great Influenza."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company


*They moved, but their cans did not.
**It was very well-received. Or so it seemed.

Friday, September 02, 2005


Radar View of Hurricane Katrina (Reuters)

Molly Ivins' column yesterday (seen below) damns the powers-that-be for the disaster in New Orleans, and is currently the Chicago Tribune's most e-mailed article.... which means that perhaps there is hope for 'Merica after all.


Molly Ivins, Creators Syndicate
Published September 1, 2005

AUSTIN, Texas -- Like many of you who love New Orleans, I find myself taking short mental walks there today, turning a familiar corner, glimpsing a favorite scene, square or vista. And worrying about the beloved friends and the city, and how they are now.

To use a fine Southern word, it's tacky to start playing the blame game before the dead are even counted. It is not too soon, however, to make a point that needs to be hammered home again and again, and that is that government policies have real consequences in people's lives.

This is not "just politics" or blaming for political advantage. This is about the real consequences of what governments do and do not do about their responsibilities. And about who winds up paying the price for those policies.

This is a column for everyone in the path of Hurricane Katrina who ever said, "I'm sorry, I'm just not interested in politics," or, "There's nothing I can do about it," or, "Eh, they're all crooks anyway."

Nothing to do with me, nothing to do with my life, nothing I can do about any of it. Look around you this morning. I suppose the National Rifle Association would argue, "Government policies don't kill people, hurricanes kill people." Actually, hurricanes plus government policies kill people.

One of the main reasons New Orleans is so vulnerable to hurricanes is the gradual disappearance of the wetlands on the Gulf Coast that once stood as a natural buffer between the city and storms coming in from the water. The disappearance of those wetlands does not have the name of a political party or a particular administration attached to it. No one wants to play, "The Democrats did it," or, "It's all Reagan's fault." Many environmentalists will tell you more than a century's interference with the natural flow of the Mississippi is the root cause of the problem, cutting off the movement of alluvial soil to the river's delta.

But in addition to long-range consequences of long-term policies like letting the Corps of Engineers try to build a better river than God, there are real short-term consequences, as well. It is a fact that the Clinton administration set some tough policies on wetlands, and it is a fact that the Bush administration repealed those policies--ordering federal agencies to stop protecting as many as 20 million acres of wetlands.

Last year, four environmental groups cooperated on a joint report showing the Bush administration's policies had allowed developers to drain thousands of acres of wetlands.

Does this mean we should blame President Bush for the fact that New Orleans is underwater? No, but it means we can blame Bush when a Category 3 or Category 2 hurricane puts New Orleans under. At this point, it is a matter of making a bad situation worse, of failing to observe the First Rule of Holes (when you're in one, stop digging).

Had a storm the size of Katrina just had the grace to hold off for a while, it's quite likely no one would even remember what the Bush administration did two months ago. The national press corps has the attention span of a gnat, and trying to get anyone in Washington to remember longer than a year ago is like asking them what happened in Iznik, Turkey, in A.D. 325.

Just plain political bad luck that, in June, Bush took his little ax and chopped $71.2 million from the budget of the New Orleans Corps of Engineers, a 44 percent reduction. As was reported in New Orleans CityBusiness at the time, that meant "major hurricane and flood projects will not be awarded to local engineering firms. Also, a study to determine ways to protect the region from a Category 5 hurricane has been shelved for now."

The commander of the corps' New Orleans district also immediately instituted a hiring freeze and canceled the annual corps picnic.

Our friends at the Center for American Progress note the Office of Technology Assessment used to produce forward-thinking plans such as "Floods: A National Policy Concern" and "A Framework for Flood Hazards Management." Unfortunately, the office was targeted by Newt Gingrich and the Republican right, and gutted years ago.

In fact, there is now a governmentwide movement away from basing policy on science, expertise and professionalism, and in favor of choices based on ideology. If you're wondering what the ideological position on flood management might be, look at the pictures of New Orleans--it seems to consist of gutting the programs that do anything.

Unfortunately, the war in Iraq is directly related to the devastation left by the hurricane. About 35 percent of Louisiana's National Guard is now serving in Iraq, where four out of every 10 soldiers are guardsmen. Recruiting for the Guard is also down significantly because people are afraid of being sent to Iraq if they join, leaving the Guard even more short-handed.

The Louisiana National Guard also notes that dozens of its high-water vehicles, Humvees, refuelers and generators have also been sent abroad. (I hate to be picky, but why do they need high-water vehicles in Iraq?)

This, in turn, goes back to the original policy decision to go into Iraq without enough soldiers and the subsequent failure to admit that mistake and to rectify it by instituting a draft.

The levees of New Orleans, two of which are now broken and flooding the city, were also victims of Iraq war spending. Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, said on June 8, 2004, "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq."

This, friends, is why we need to pay attention to government policies, not political personalities, and to know whereon we vote. It is about our lives.


Molly Ivins is a syndicated columnist based in Washington. E-mail: "

Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune

(AP photo by Bill Haber)

This giant color, half-page photo (and caption) appeared above-the-fold on the cover of the Chicago Tribune's newish At Play section yesterday. It accompanied a story about the great food those high school kids are sucking down at the games these days.

"The food's the real action at high school football games. At Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, tailgating is in, with Danielle Nasciopinto, 16, munching on a grilled dog."

The photographer of course is a man -- Bill Hogan -- yet the section's editor appears to be a woman (Linda Bergstrom).

In case you're wondering, the age of consent in Illinois is 17.