Monday, September 26, 2005

Marching in Washington Against the War

While I've been to a number of rallies in DC over the years, this is the first anti-war rally I've been to. During the Viet Nam era, I was an admitted hawk. But the thing that made me want to go to DC this time was the government response to Katrina. It was deadly, embarassing, and made the Bush administration look really bad.

I took a chartered bus from Pittsburgh (we sent something like 15 busses), and we arrived in downtown DC around 11:30. The march was due to start around 12:30.

Drowning the People Billboard

Drowning the People Billboard

Various Signs Including:  Bush's War Refutes Intelligent Design

Various Signs Including: Bush's War Refutes Intelligent Design

I wandered around to some of the pre-march rally, looking for buttons, for people whom I thought might be there. I found the rally somewhat disappointing as there was a fair amount of anti-Israeli rhetoric by some of the speakers. There's plenty of blame to go around for the mess in the Middle East. However, even though I felt those kind of speeches sent the wrong message, I was certainly in complete agreement with the speakers about the mess the Bush administration has made of things!

My favorite button/sign of the day was: Make Levees, Not War.

Dead Men's Boots

Dead Men's Boots

Axis of Evil:  Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld

Axis of Evil: Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld (that's a poster of Casey Sheehan inthe background)

Cheney the Puppetmaster

Cheney the Puppetmaster

Shot of the Crowd at the Pre-March Rally

Shot of the Crowd at the Pre-March Rally

Washington Monument

Washington Monument

Getting the march started seemed to take a while. Often, these things start late.
Around 1:15, I went to see if there was any way to get in place for the march. The intersection where the march was due to start from was jammed with people not really moving anywhere. I got pushed around by the crowd a little (which shows you how densely packed everyone was - I am not a little person and I don't get pushed around that easily). After a bit of this I started to feel a little claustrophic, so I followed along with a line of people trying to cross the street and wound up back near the mall.

Rally Near the Washington Monument

Rally Near the Washington Monument

So, I decided to visit the National Book Festival. The National Book Festival was one of the few good ideas to come out of the Bush administration, and, wouldn't you know it, it was probably Laura Bush's idea. I mostly wandered down the mall, got a free book bag, visited some of the exhibits, took photos of the massive line Neil Gaiman had (probably at least 400 people), listened to George R. R. Martin talk, and finally returned for the March. By then, you could just join the marchers without being completely crowded; the densely-packed part of the march was long gone.


There were a few hundred counter-demonstrators. They were loud, obnoxious, but exercising their right to free expression. We booed and kept on walking. One of the counter-demonstrators had a sign that read something like "Fighting for America's Freedom in Iraq." Well, no. The last war that Americans fought in that had anything to do with America's freedom was probably World War II and that was sixty years ago. Maybe Korea, but that was over more than fifty years ago. But the recent spate of wars has had nothing to do with America's freedom and everything to do with America's control.

It was late afternoon. I was exhausted and starved and tried to find some lunch. Eventually, I lucked into finding Red Sage, my favorite Tex-Mex place in DC. And I lucked into finding a seat in the bar area so I didn't have to wait over a half hour for a table. I had a civilized lunch and went back out to finish the march.

Iraq Veterans Against the War

Iraq Veterans Against the War

One Last Look at the March

One Last Look at the March

I'm not sure how many people were at the march; I'd estimate over 100,000, possibly up to 150,000. Certainly over 100,000 more than the "pro-Iraq war" rally got!

I know marches are merely symbolic acts. We have a government that's shown time and time again it doesn't give a damn about American's dissent. It doesn't mean we shouldn't dissent.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Whad'Ya Know?

Yup, if you listened to Michael Feldman's Whad'Ya Know, broadcast over NPR from Cleveland this morning, that was me at the end of the first hour. I'd always hoped to get to play trivia on Michael's show, and came pretty close during his last trip to Cleveland seven years ago.

So I was excited to play...

More excited to win...

But, the biggest thrill for me was completely accidental. I got to insult former FEMA director Michael Brown while trying to get my phone-player teammate Tom to agree with me on the answer for a particular question. Even better - a packed house laughed at this.

First, a little background.

I've been a longtime trivia fan. I've flunked the Jeopardy test twice so far, but I did make it to the University of Pittsburgh College Bowl team in 1979. College Bowl hasn't been televised in years, it still existed as a series of regional tournaments. The Pitt team placed second in our region. I have way too many versions of Trivial Pursuit and other trivia games in my house.

In about 1996, I started listening to Michael Feldman's Whad'Ya Know on NPR. It's an amusing radio show that's part short-interviews, part humor and part trivia. While the show is usually broadcast live from Madison, Wisconsin, Michael takes the it on the road probably a dozen times a year. In 1998, he brought the show to Cleveland. Jim and I went. I really wanted to participate in the quiz part of the show. I even got Michael's attention just before he started the quiz. Unfortunately, it was before he was ready to invite someone from the audience to participate in the quiz. So, when he started talking to me, I just talked about the old Cleveland-Pittsburgh rivalry.

And I got booed. A little. But that was to be expected.

So Michael brought the show back to Cleveland today. Jim decided not to go (his uncle is in town), so I drove up to Cleveland early this morning. When this radio show travels, they decorate the theater stage with some large props relevant to the area. The stage had two large guitars on one side (from the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame), and bunch of space-related displays and a space suit (from the local NASA office) and a race car (I wasn't sure why, but there was probably a reason for that). I wound up with a seat in the middle of the audience. However, I timed myself much better this time, and Michael called on me to come out and participate in the quiz.

"Y'know, Michael, you and I have exchanged E-mail recently," I said.

Michael Feldman


"I'm the curator of Dead People Server, and you sent me a correction on your birthday."

He thought about that for a moment and grinned. "Right," then briefly explained my site to the audience. "And why do you want to play the quiz?"

"Because I've been dying to."

So he invited me to join him on the stage.

Onstage, we talked about my Web site, my unemployment and my novel. He then invited callers, as the quiz involves two people - someone from the audience, and a caller who answer questions as a team. If you want to participate as a caller, you need to answer a trivia question. Unfortunately, almost all the trivia questions that morning were related to Cleveland. In fact, I can't even tell you what the qualifying question was, or what its answer was. I only remember that, after several calls, a lawyer named Tom answered the question and became my partner. Luckily, it turned out he was from the Cleveland area, so at least we had a chance.

Michael asked, "What is the female to male ratio of the students at Case Western University: 4:4, 4:5 or 4:6?"

"Hmmm..." I responded. "I know it's still a pretty big engineering school, so it's probably either 4:5 or 4:6. Tom, do you have any idea?"


"4:5," I guessed.

"Oh, sorry, it's 4:6." So we missed the first question. In the Whad'Ya Know quiz, you have to answer three questions correctly to win, but if you miss two of them, you've lost.

Michael asked, "Does the ambassador to Germany need to speak German or have any diplomatic experience?"

The audience giggled, a sure sign that the answer was "No." That would have been my answer anyway, but it's good to have the audience back you up.

Tom said, "Yes, he does."

I responded, "I don't think so."

"Of course he does."

"Look, we just had a director of FEMA whose sole experience was that he ran horse shows, so I don't think an ambassador needs any experience."

The audience laughed. (Hey, I wish I could be consistently funny - I've always been something of a frustrated class clown. So having about 2,000 people laugh at a joke that I told so fast I didn't even think about it was a thrill for me.)

Tom didn't say anything, but I don't think he was convinced. However, one advantage of being the "live" player rather than the "phone-in" player is that you can give the final answer. "I'm sure the ambassador needs no experience."

"You're right!" said Michael, ringing his bell. (Ambassadorships, whether for Republican or Democratic administrations, tend to be major sources of politcal payback. It's simply wrong, no matter which administration does it. It turns out that the new ambassador to Germany is from the Cleveland area and doesn't speak German or have any diplomatic experience.)

Michael asked, "What percentage of Clevelanders have been photographed in the nude, 9%, 14% or 20%?" (I don't remember the actual percentages, but they were something like that.)

I said, "I have absolutely no idea."

Tom immediately jumped in with "9%."

I didn't disagree, and that turned out to be the right answer.

The last question turned out to have no Cleveland connections and was something of a major gift. "A study at Princeton proved that bar snacks like peanuts and pretzels make you want to drink more. True or false?"

"True, because they're salty and make you want to drink more," I said.

Tom agreed.

We won. I forget what Tom won, but I won a Great Lakes Brewery jacket, a soft-sided Great Lakes brewery cooler and five pounds of organic fertilizer. Two of the three gifts were very fitting as Jim and I tend to go the Great Lakes Brewery whenevery we're in Cleveland. And, in fact, I had plans to go there after the show, which I did. I ran into more people who'd been to the show there, and we chatted a little.

After lunch, I drove back to Pittsburgh and went to a Pirates game. The weather was perfect for baseball (it had been raining and dreary in Cleveland and for most of my drive) and the Pirates even won.

Here's a page with a link to the Real Audio version of the show. I'm on at about the 15 minute point of the Part B. I found the episode where I met Michael the first time. I'm on Part D, about 3 minutes into the segment (this show was taped in June 1998, and rerun in March 2002)

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on Whad'Ya Know?'s show from Cleveland. The paper apparently included a photo of me, but that didn't seem to show up in the online edition.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Government by Gumby

"My brain hurts!" (the Gumbies on Monty Python)

We've long suspected that the average IQ of the average member of the Bush government appointee is much lower than the national average. If there was any doubt about this, it was washed away by the government's response to hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

There were a number of painful, deadly boners committed by our government this week. The real "award winners" in this area are, of course, George Bush himself, his FEMA appointee (and former horse organization firee) Michael Brown and his Homeland Security Secrety (and former judge) Michael Chertoff.

The biggest problem is that we have a federal government completely lacking in any imagination at the top. Parts of the government, "privitized" or just gutted by the Republicans just aren't functioning very well. The Republicans have trained millions of Americans to throw tantrums whenever the phrase "raising taxes" is mentioned. Sorry, folks, if we hadn't been giving massive tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, and if we had a government that had a clue about the importance of maintaining infrastructure, the levee may not have broken in New Orleans. Even if it had, the National Guard might have been better prepared to handle the mess that followed.

George Bush said, on national TV this week that we could not have forseen the collapse of the levee. Michael Chertoff said that the "Katrina scenario did not exist." Michael Brown couldn't figure out that people were collecting at the Convention Center when we'd been watching them do that for two days on TV.

The notion that the government could not have forseen this calamity is patent bullshit. Scientists have been warning of this very thing for years - but we have a government that does not listen to scientists. Those of us who bother to read magazines like National Geographic read about this very possibility less than a year ago.

Their brains just hurt to much, they were too bogged down by their own lust for power that these "pro-life" Republicans have killed off hudreds if not thousands of American citizens in New Orleans. It'll be shown that most people in New Orleans did not die during the storm, but in the total collapse of the infrastructure following the storm. People died from drowning, asthma attacks, poor sanitation, heart conditions, murder, accidental killings from overwrought Nation Guard troops (there's a particularly tragic rumor about a man being shot to death by a National Guard when he tried to get their help to prevent a rape). It was a failure on local, state and federal levels, but, in theory, the federal government is supposed to be capable of assisting localities in major emergencies like this one.

Special notice, of course, must be given to the members of his government who viewed staying on vacation as being more important than dealing with a major regional crisis. So we should never forget that George Bush stayed in Texas (when he wasn't out going to political fundraisers) until two days after Katrina levelled the Gulf Coast, and that both Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice stayed out of Washington until at least Friday.

This is not the way the government of a civilized society should be reacting. I want a civilized, rational American government again. I wish "incompetence" was an impeachable offense, because we have more than enough evidence of that now!

Friday, September 02, 2005

Dead: New Orleans and the Myth of the Responsive Government

Well, there's no doubt about it now - if you are poor, and there's any kind of emergency, there's no such thing as a government safety net. New Orleans this week is getting shockingly little federal aid, despite all the FEMA folks claiming over the weekend that "supplies are being stationed just outside of the hurricane zone." Yeah, right. Would that be in Seattle, Washington or Portland, Maine?

The hurricane was over days ago; the flooding, while horrible, isn't as bad as it could have been, and yet people are still isolated and desperate. I don't excuse the looting for TVs and guns and liquor because the behavior of some of the individuals in New Orleans has been horrible. But why did Wal*MART leave things like guns in their stores when they knew looting was a strong possibility? And why not just distribute necessities like food and diapers and medicine and the like when it was clear the electricity was going to be out for a while?

But the "promises-promises" of the federal, state and local government(s) to the people of the South have been reprehensible. So you can understand that desperation of people who haven't had basic sanitary facilities in a few days, who see busses and boats go away without them on it. Some of the local preparedness has been less existant than I would have expected. I'm still floored that hospitals didn't have adequate generators, water or supplies for all this.

People have been dying all over town and the bodies have been left to rot.

So where is our federal government in all this?

Apparently, they've been too busy guarding the various Federal Buildings in New Orleans to help with relief efforts. And, lets not forget, our National Guard troops are thousands of miles away.

What about the state and local governments? Who knows? I've seen relief workers out in rural areas, checking for bodies and the like. I've seen very busy people in New Orleans, rescuing people by boat and helicopter over the last few days. But why didn't they ensure the SuperDome and Convention Center had emergency supplies BEFORE TELLING PEOPLE TO REFUGEE THERE???

When people say how wonderful it is to live in the South, I've, frankly, always been stunned. I like to visit the South - I've been to New Orleans and Florida at least four times apiece over the last 17 years. But, live there? Sorry, give me blizzards over hurricanes and tornadoes any day. I don't plan on buying any land around Lake George, the former New Orleans.

If you have a solid home and any cash at all, make a contribution to the Red Cross. We already did, but I want to do more. The "Liberal Blogsphere" is a way to funnel your cash to the Red Cross. As I've added to the Katrina Relief ad you'll see on every page of my Web site, I'm donating all the dpsinfo GoogleAd revenues to this fund on 10/1. Now, most months that would be about $50. But consider making an ad click or two during the next month at this site so I can send even more money.

People can help even with a government rapidly sinking to third world capabilities due to Bush and buddies. Yet another example of getting the government we deserve...

As uggabugga pointed out this morning (by capturing a great photo of Bush's latest photo op) Bush bored with the whole affair:

FEMA Director Bores Bush While New Orleans Burns...