Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Life in America, B.C.

I was born in prehistoric times, well back in the B.C. . . . Before Cable.

Until I was almost 11, television in Baton Rouge, La., was a matter of two channels, 2 and 9. When we used to have a big outside antenna, it was double the pleasure -- then, we also could get 4 and 6 out of New Orleans.
You had your NBC, and then you had your CBS, for the most part. WBRZ (2) and WAFB (9) duked it out to see who'd carry the best of the comparatively anemic ABC lineup in the capital city.

That's the way television was, Sept. 16, 1971. Two channels, no VCRs, no cable, no educational TV (which was what people who had it called public TV back then). No Internet, because we had no home computers.

AND IT WAS OK, if that was all you knew.

Whatever did we do with ourselves, relatively all alone with our thoughts in a relatively un-media-saturated world?

Well, for one thing, we all had a lot more in common -- parents and kids, young and old, rich and poor, hippie and square. Let me rephrase that. We all had a lot more of a common frame of reference.

You couldn't avoid it. Whether you liked it or not, you couldn't help but have somewhat broad horizons and wide exposure to lots of everything when the wide world of television got crammed into Channel 2 and Channel 9.

2 AND 9. 9 or 2. No 33 yet. And certainly no 27 or 44. The whole wide world on 9 and 2.

I know all the cultural references of my parents' generation, despite the yawning "generation gap" that otherwise divided us. I know Fibber McGee and Molly, and I know to never, ever open their closet door.

But only the Shadow knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.

And maybe that's because I couldn't "infinite choice" myself out of communion with all those unlike myself. Maybe I owe it all to 2 or 9. And 9 and 2.

But not 33.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

So much for the proletariat

In the worker's paradise, don't get between rich Chinese developers and their ability to commit capitalism. Is this what Karl Marx had in mind?

CHANNEL 4 television in the United Kingdom reports on the sordid underbelly of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. And sordid might be a wholly inadequate word for the abuses ordinary Chinese citizens are suffering so the ironically named "people's republic" can con gullible Westerners into thinking a repressive dictatorship isn't.

Communism: It only works if people are perfect. In which case, why would you need Marxism?

HAT TIP: Mark Shea.

Monday, October 29, 2007

I'll leave this old world with a satisfied mind

God rest the soul of Porter Wagoner: Country Music Legend. They don't make 'em like that no more.

Porter Wagoner was known for a string of country hits in the '60s, perennial appearances at the Grand Ole Opry in his trademark rhinestone suits, and for launching the career of Dolly Parton.

Like many older performers, his star had faded in recent years. But his death from lung cancer Sunday, at 80, came
only after a remarkable late-career revival that won him a new generation of fans.

The Missouri-born Wagoner signed with RCA Records in 1955 and joined the Opry in 1957, "the greatest place in the world to have a career in country music," he said in 1997. His showmanship, suits and pompadoured hair made him famous.

He had his own syndicated TV show, "The Porter Wagoner Show," for 21 years, beginning in 1960. It was one of the first syndicated shows to come out of Nashville and set a pattern for many others.

"Some shows are mechanical, but ours was not polished and slick," he said in 1982.

Among his hits, many of which he wrote or co-wrote, were "Carroll County Accident," "A
Satisfied Mind," "Company's Comin'," "Skid Row Joe," "Misery Loves Company" and "Green Green Grass of Home."


In May, after years without a recording contract, he signed with ANTI- records, an eclectic Los Angeles label best known for alt-rock acts like Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Neko Case.

Wagoner's final album, "Wagonmaster," was released in June and earned him some of the best reviews of his career. Over the summer, he was the opening act for the influential rock duo White Stripes at a sold-out show at New York's Madison Square Garden.

"The young people I met backstage, some of them were 20 years old. They wanted to get my autograph and tell me they really liked me," Porter said with tears in his eyes the day after the New York show. "If only they knew how that made me feel _ like a new breath of fresh air."


Country singer and Opry member Dierks Bentley visited Wagoner in the hospice over the weekend and said Wagoner led them in prayer, thanking God for his friends, his family and the Grand Ole Opry.

"The loss of Porter is a great loss for the Grand Ole Opry and for country music, and personally it is a great loss of a friend I was really just getting to know," Bentley said. "I feel blessed for the time I had with him."

Pete Fisher, vice president and general manager of the Opry, said the Opry family of musicians and performers was deeply saddened by the news. "His passion for the Opry and all of country music was truly immeasurable," Fisher said.
"A SATISFIED MIND" was Porter's first No. 1 hit. I think the lyrics pretty much say it all:
How many times have you heard someone say
If I had his money I could do things my way
But little they know that is so hard to find
One rich man in ten with a satisfied mind

Once I was waiting in fortune and fame
Everything that I dreamed for to get a start in life's game
But suddenly it's happened I lost every dime
But I'm richer by far with a satisfied mind

Money can't buy back your youth when you're old
Or a friend when you're lonely or a love that's grown cold
The wealthiest person is a pauper at times
Compared to the man with a satisfied mind

When life has ended my time has run out
My friends and my loved ones I'll leave there's no doubt
But there's one thing for certain when it comes my time
I'll leave this old world with a satisfied mind

One quarterback sack LSU could live with

Does Les Miles really need any more of this from Ryan Perrilloux, Louisiana State's troublesome sophomore quarterback? WAFB television in Baton Rouge reports:
LSU Head Coach Les Miles said Monday quarterback Ryan Perrilloux and linebacker Derrick Odom will not practice today and the team is preparing as though they will not have them for Saturday's game. Both players are accused of getting into a brawl with bouncers at The Varsity, a popular restaurant and nightclub near the north gates of LSU. As of Monday afternoon, no criminal charges had been filed.

The incident happened early Friday morning. In a police report made public Monday afternoon, the investigating officer says he was called The Varsity at 2:12am Friday after the department "received several calls in reference to a large fight in the rear parking lot." The officer says, when he arrived on the scene, the head bouncer of The Varsity told him he and other bouncers were attempting to clear the club when a small group of black males refused to leave. According to the report, the bouncer told investigators that Perrilloux stated "they weren't going anywhere". The bouncer said that after asking the group to leave several times, the bouncers "began to shove the subjects out of the club's rear exit." Once outside, the bouncer says one of the males, who was not identified by name, threatened to get a gun "to shoot the bar and its workers."

According to the report, both Odom and Perrilloux told the investigating officer that they were in the club when bouncers approached them and shoved them and their pregnant girlfriends. The investigating officer says Perrilloux told him that no one in his group had any weapons and he felt they were "mistreated because of the color of their skin."
IT SEEMS AS IF Perrilloux not only has a way of attracting trouble, but he has a compulsion to chase it down, grab a hold of it and make it his own. This despite the coach already having him on a short leash after an arrest for allegedly using his brother's ID to try to get onto a casino boat.

And we won't mention the scrutiny Perrilloux got from feds looking into a counterfeiting ring.

Does Miles really need to deal with junk like that from a quarterback who apparently just doesn't learn from his legal travails?

Does Miles really want LSU to venture into the territory Miami already has pioneered -- building the Thug U. brand?

IF I'M MILES -- and I'm already adept at rolling the gridiron dice (legally, without the need for a fake I.D.) in pursuit of a national title -- I think I'd be inclined to roll 'em one more time. And bet the house that I could win it all and sleep soundly, too.

Without Perrilloux.

What went wrong? We shouldn't be
nearly so screwed up right now.

We Americans never put enough stock in The Fall.

You know . . .
Adam, Eve, serpent, apple, exile, mayhem, suffering, death.

WE NEVER PUT ENOUGH FAITH in mankind's ability to screw up, be dumb, grow obtuse, get distracted, misplace our priorities and not work and play well with others. Tomorrow is always another day; the New Jerusalem is always one scientific breakthrough and one measure of enlightenment away. And what's amazing is that, throughout our history, it's been some of the best and brightest American minds that haven't been able to discern the skunk hiding out in the Sweetness and Light aisle.

If you don't believe me, I'll sell you a round-trip ticket from New York to Los Angeles on the guided-missile flight of your choice -- coast to coast in 30 minutes or less. I've heard the landings can be a bit rough, though.

Personally, I prefer the
transcontinental high-speed tubes, myself.

WHAT MADNESS am I speaking, you may be asking. It's not really madness, per se, it's just that I have been reading descriptions of what it's like in 2007.

Trouble is, these descriptions were written in 1956 and early 1957 by national and Omaha luminaries, soothsaying compiled by the management of what would become the city's third television station and sealed in the cornerstone of the new KETV studios then going up at 27th and Douglas. And this fall, on the 50th anniversary of Channel 7's taking the airwaves, current management popped the top on the cornerstone and brought the rosy forecasts face to face with the cold, hard facts of life.

In the real 2007.

I WONDER how the spiffy 1957-model portable television fared the 50 years it sat in its Lucite box in the concrete box in the studio wall.

Probably better than most of the predictions, being that vacuum tubes and resistors, capacitors and transformers don't have to worry about The Fall. Or forgetting about the true scope of its reality, or that paradise will remain lost until kingdom come. Here's a sampling of what we were supposed to be like now:
Mari Sandoz. author

With the vast increase in population, particularly semi-urban, the problem of long-range travel had to be solved, made swift and made safe. By the dawn of 2007 this has been well-started, with the fatalities held down to not over one for every ten million passengers carried in the transcontinental high speed tubes. Already passengers from either coast can reach Omaha in less than an hour. Soon the inter-continental tubes will
be carrying passengers to Europe and to the blossoming regions of the new Asia with the same dispatch.

Morris E. Jacobs, Bozell & Jacobs advertising

Guided missile passenger flights will be carrying passengers from New York to Los Angeles in 30 minutes. Omaha's Airport Commission will be studying financing for a missile landing field near the city so that Omahans may journey to either coast by missile.

Atom-powered public transportation.


Central heating plants will control all public sidewalks in the city. Snow will automatically be melted, and pedestrians will walk within a "box" of heated air.


Life expectancy will be increased to 90 years -- as science finds cures for cancer and most forms of heart disease. Complete cure for cancer.

Education will be free and compulsary [sic] through college, and nearly half of America's young people will continue with graduate studies.

The Rev. Carl M. Reinert, S.J.,
president, The Creighton University

Speaking as a clergyman may I dare to predict that after passing through a decade or so of ultra materialistic living we Americans will once again set our sights on things of higher worth and will come to appreciate the greater worth of spiritual values and, though we may find it necessary to defend our position at the cost of many lives, there will stand among us as monuments to our sacred beliefs ancient and new edifices of worship, proclaiming to all who may threaten our borders that it is still God in whom we trust and His Son in whom we find our promise of salvation.

At the turn of the century we will yet be America the beautiful, America the land of progress, America the stronghold of culture -- the United States of America, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.


From Entertainmentwise:
Britney Spears is set to outrage the Catholic Church Madonna-style with a raunchy new photo shoot.

The pop wreck has posed for a series of confession-themed pics - like the one below - for new album, Blackout.

Clad in saucy fishnets, Brit is shown posing provocatively in a confessional box as a handsome priest looks on.

An insider reveals to British tabloid The Daily Mirror that in another "very naughty" shot the singer sits on the priests lap.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

OK, Omaha TV news aficionados. . . .

This is the city, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The local ABC affiliate, WBRZ, makes one of its cute, young television reporters into a cute, young anchorette, even though none of the locals can decipher her upper-Midwestern accent.

She handles the duties at five with her partner, "freaky Robert Collins." The "freaky" part dates to his previous job as an underground FM deejay. It is 1978. People dress badly.

My name's Favog. I'm in high school.

* * *

TEN YEARS LATER, I moved to Omaha with my Omaha wife, who still can't decipher my mother's South Louisiana accent. On the TV news was a familiar face, a face still seen nearly every day on an Omaha television station.

Who is it? Surely, this isn't a difficult question.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Dat's Loosiana for you!!

According to The Advocate in Baton Rouge, the local school system -- that of dilapidated facilities fame -- is spending the big bucks on a public-relations campaign.

I'll give 'em one for freakin' free. (See above.)

Unbelievable. Here's the story in this morning's paper:
East Baton Rouge Parish residents may see something these days that they might not expect from the parish school system: advertising.

It started in August with print ads in several local publications. In January, the school system will have ads on billboards and radio, all part of a new public awareness campaign.

“We just kind of want to get the public re-acquainted with the school system,” said Chris Trahan, director of communications.

The campaign began in May and June with a public opinion poll. Trahan is already planning future marketing campaigns, focusing on increasing community and parental involvement.

Under the logo “Better Schools. Better Futures,” the ads highlight facts about the school system that people may not know, such as:

The system had 24 national merit finalists in 2006.

Forty-seven percent of the system’s teachers hold advanced degrees.
The system led the state in the number of Nationally Board Certified teachers.
The school system is also increasing its marketing of its specialized programs.

Today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Mall at Cortana, the school system is holding its annual EBR Mania expo for students who want to apply to its 14 magnet schools.

For the first time, gifted-and-talented programs — 14 schools now offer this service, up from nine last year — also will be on hand to showcase their wares.

Also, starting next week, Superintendent Charlotte Placide is holding three community forums to determine what kind of school construction residents want over the next decade. The forums are scheduled at Scotlandville High School at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Woodlawn High School at 6 p.m. Thursday and Capitol Middle School on Nov. 5 at 6 p.m.

School system leaders know they have a tough task re-engaging a community that in many cases bypasses the school system for private schools or suburban public schools.

At its peak in 1976, the parish school system had almost 69,000 students: 60 percent white and 40 percent black. By 1983, in the wake of a controversial busing order, the school had lost 13,000 students, and its racial breakdown was half white, half black.

Out-migration, by both black families and white families, continues, though overall enrollment has stabilized. As of Oct. 1, the school system had 46,341 students, almost 23,000 fewer than 30 years ago. The racial breakdown is now 83 percent black, 11 percent white and 6 percent Asian, Hispanic and other ethnicities.


School Board member Jill Dyason, who has two children in public schools, said many residents in her southeast Baton Rouge district don’t even consider public schools. With the end of the desegregation case this past summer, they should reconsider, she said.

“We are in a different place. The instability is not there like it was,” Dyason said. “We now can listen to you, the parents, about your needs. We can try and address it, and we don’t have our hands tied.”


Dyason said if people will just step through the door of a public school, even if they have no children in those schools, they can quickly separate fact from fiction.

“I hope that this will encourage people to take a real look for themselves, and not be misguided by the negative perceptions,” she said.

MS. DYASON -- a junior-high classmate of mine -- had better hope that when people step through the door of a Baton Rouge public school, the ceiling doesn't fall in on them.

I feel another ad coming on . . . gratis, of course.

Friday, October 26, 2007

It goes to 11. That's one more, isn't it?

I can't believe I'm doing this on The Big Show, a.k.a., the Revolution 21 podcast. I did it before, but that was at WBRH in Baton Rouge. I was in high school and didn't know better.

And I didn't care.

THE LAST TIME I went this far out on the avant-garde limb probably was 1978, because the B-52's "Dance This Mess Around" doesn't count.
Not that that's weird or anything.

This might be the end of the podcast . . . or not. But sometimes you just get a wild hair, and there you go.

If this dooms everything, at least I'll have gone out with a bang. Or a thwang, as the case may be.

And I'll be a vicarious guitar hero.

So, what is it folks? Like? Not like?

Am I done dealin'? Too weird for consumption? More, you say?


Louisiana, help thou mine unbelief

My friend Rod Dreher has written an op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal about Louisiana's latest flirtation with reform. There is sweetness and light and new hope down on the bayou; the wunderkind Bobby Jindal will be governor, having won in a primary-election landslide.

Well, you know what I think about this. If you don't, it's here.

At any rate, Rod is "proud and hopeful" that the folks back home apparently did The Right Thing. I
am, too. Kind of.

Reading Rod's piece, I delight in how well he channels the deepest emotions of all us Louisiana expatriates. And I want to believe. I want to believe in hope, because my home state . . . it do get into your blood and you can't get it out:

You notice something, though, when Louisianians meet in exile. Everybody misses home and will take any opportunity to talk about it. Our friends--Yankees, mostly--get the biggest kick out of our honest-to-God tales of Bayou State life (political and otherwise). My wife, a native Texan, confessed that when we first started dating, she thought my stories about my homeland revealed me to be a pathological liar--until I took her there to see for herself. She visited my Uncle Murphy's grave and saw the headstone he'd won playing bourré (a Cajun card game) with an undertaker. He had it inscribed with the epitaph: "This ain't bad, once you get used to it."

Louisiana makes a lot more sense if you read the beloved picaresque "A Confederacy of Dunces" as an exercise in literary naturalism. There's simply no place like Louisiana. You will not find more generous and life-loving people anywhere, and Lord knows, you won't eat or drink better. It's hard to get over that. But you do, mostly. Last Sunday, I ran into a couple I know at a Krispy Kreme shop here in Dallas. We got to talking about the Jindal victory, and the wife, a non-native who had fallen in love with Louisiana as a Tulane student, said warmly that she'd love to move back. The husband gave her a look that telegraphed, "Yes, we all would, dear, but come on."

Despite all the sentimental longing for LSU Tigers tailgating and the scent of Zatarain's crawfish boil on your fingers, moving home rarely crosses the minds of us expatriates. Louisiana is a great place to be from, but the sense of fatalism that pervades life there casts doubt on whether it will some day be great place to be. In Louisiana, to be educated is to love the state and hate the state--and, for many, to leave it.


I want to believe, despite my memories of voting for the reformer Buddy Roemer in 1987. Despite my
memories -- following the news in subsequent years from my new home in Nebraska -- of how Roemer got chewed up and spit out by the unholy trinity of Dat's How We Do Things in Loosiana, Dat's Loosiana for You and, the grafters' favorite, How You Gonna Hep Me Out Here? (wink wink).

I want to believe in the power of one man -- this Brown- and Oxford-educated son of immigrants who came home instead of doing the sensible thing -- to right in a term or two what the natives
took 300 years to f*** up this badly.

Dammit to hell, I want to believe. I want to believe. But then I remember this:

And I remember this:

I HAD LEFT LOUISIANA by the time David Duke beat out the incumbent Roemer in the 1991 gubernatorial primary. The onetime Klan leader and Nazi foot soldier damn near became governor of Louisiana, losing to the crook Edwin Edwards but nevertheless winning a majority of the white vote.

Did I mention that, before running for governor, he served in the state House, representing Metairie, a mostly-white suburb of New Orleans?

When Duke made the governor's runoff, I threatened to never set foot in the state again if the little Nazi won. And I was dead serious. I was prepared to boycott everything about Louisiana, cutting off my pittance to the LSU Alumni Association and even giving up my beloved Community Coffee.

I told my parents this . . . my parents, the ardent Duke supporters. And on Election Day, they cast their votes.

For David Duke. I guess that tells you everything you need to know.

HOPE REQUIRES that I believe that the citizenry of my home state wants reform. Wants change. Wants better than what they have now.

I am to believe this of the self-same Louisiana citizenry that tolerates sending their children -- or somebody's children -- to unsafe, crumbling public schools . . . the same Louisiana citizenry that has embraced the likes of David Duke as a mainstream candidate for high office . . . the same Louisiana citizenry that is OK with maintaining a Third World enclave in the richest country in the world.

Compared to that leap of faith, it's kid stuff to believe Jesus Christ makes Himself present flesh and blood, soul and divinity in a wafer of unleavened bread and a chalice of wine. As a Catholic, I most certainly believe the transubstantiation thing.

As a native Louisianian, when it comes to the reality of true reform back home . . . not so much.

This I do know: You can't turn a supertanker heading full-steam for Hades on a dime. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of time. And if it's the SS Louisiana, a lot of dumb luck, too.

Oh, Louisiana,
I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

Deadheads diddled while California burned

Gee, Louisiana Democrats aren't the only idiots out there running state governments. Imagine that.

Hasta la vista, Ah-nold.

And, as usual, the feds -- specifically the Pentagon -- aren't looking so good themselves. But that's not really news, is it?

MSNBC has the story:

As wildfires were charging across Southern California, nearly two dozen water-dropping helicopters and two massive cargo planes sat idly by, grounded by government rules and bureaucracy.

How much the aircraft would have helped will never be known, but their inability to provide quick assistance raises troubling questions about California’s preparations for a fire season that was widely expected to be among the worst on record.

It took as long as a day for Navy, Marine and California National Guard helicopters to get clearance early this week, in part because state rules require all firefighting choppers to be accompanied by state forestry “fire spotters” who coordinate water or retardant drops. By the time those spotters arrived, the powerful Santa Ana winds stoking the fires had made it too dangerous to fly.

The National Guard’s C-130 cargo planes, among the most powerful aerial firefighting weapons, never were slated to help. The reason: They’ve yet to be outfitted with tanks needed to carry thousands of gallons of fire retardant, though that was promised four years ago.

“The weight of bureaucracy kept these planes from flying, not the heavy winds,” Republican U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher told The Associated Press. “When you look at what’s happened, it’s disgusting, inexcusable foot-dragging that’s put tens of thousands of people in danger.”

Rohrabacher and other members of California’s congressional delegation are demanding answers about aircraft deployment. And some fire chiefs have grumbled that a quick deployment of aircraft could have helped corral many of the wildfires that quickly flared out of control and have so far burned 500,000 acres from Malibu to the Mexican border.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other state officials have defended the state’s response, saying the intense winds prevented a more timely air attack.

“Anyone that is complaining about the planes just wants to complain,” Schwarzenegger replied angrily to a question Wednesday. “The fact is that we could have all the planes in the world here — we have 90 aircraft here and six that we got especially from the federal government — and they can’t fly because of the wind.”

Indeed, winds reaching 100 mph helped drive the flames and made it exceedingly dangerous to fly. Still, four state helicopters and two from the Navy were able to take off Monday while nearly two dozen others stayed grounded.

Thomas Eversole, executive director of the American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association, a Virginia-based nonprofit that serves as a liaison between helicopter contractors and federal agencies, said valuable time was lost.

“The basis for the initial attack helicopters is to get there when the fire is still small enough that you can contain it,” Eversole said. “If you don’t get there in time, you quickly run the risk of these fires’ getting out of control.”

I IMAGINE burned-out Californians will encounter similar competence and efficiency from the government -- and their insurance companies -- when it comes to getting roofs over their heads in the coming days, weeks, months and years.

God help them all.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Jena's gift to the world: Lynch-mob chic

Just think, the high-school kids who started the hottest fashion accessory for White Power Nation only got a suspension after they hung those first nooses from Jena (La.) High School's "white tree."

But their sick handiwork has struck a sick chord among whack jobs and redneck idiots across the land. The latest noose sighting is just across the state from Jena, as reported by The Shreveport Times, is at the LSU Health Sciences Center:
A worker found a noose hanging at LSUHSC-Shreveport on Wednesday morning, the same day the new LSU System president made his first visit to the campus. The rope was in a break room and had a noose on both ends, hospital administrators said.

Only certain workers can enter the room, a prepared statement says. Chancellor and Dean John C. McDonald would not say who can enter.

System President John Lombardi, who took the helm in July, likened hanging the noose to a hate crime. He said the act is "reprehensible and will not be tolerated." A federal investigation is ongoing, McDonald says in a release. LSUHSC administration refused comment on any other specific questions. The Western District of the U.S. attorney's office did not return a
Times phone call for comment.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING as personal -- or private -- sin. Sin is a cancer; it metastasizes.

Sin is a big rock thrown into a tranquil pond; there are ripples.

And if the sin is ugly enough, and if a community puts up with it enough -- enables it enough -- it can have "legs." It can run amok. Just like those nooses hung from the "white tree" in a Louisiana backwater called Jena.

UPDATE: Here, from the USA TODAY editorial page Oct. 5, is one of the best things I've read on the whole Jena mess.

Mr. D.A., the crook's here. Gumbo party!

Well, it's probably a good thing that President Bush really couldn't care less about what goes on in New Orleans.

If he did, with stories like this in the news -- and you really, really can't make this stuff up -- he'd probably go all Vladimir Putin on their ass and bomb this American Chechnya back to the Stone Age.

To totally switch gears, however, can you think of a better place in New Orleans for an alleged armed robber to flee to than District Attorney Eddie Jordan's house? After all, the guy can't convict anybody -- even the worst felon would be perfectly safe under the D.A.'s wing.

The Times-Picayune -- amid much hilarity in the newsroom, no doubt --
reports on the latest absurdity in the Naked City:

A man New Orleans police believe committed an armed robbery -- and afterward fled to the home of District Attorney Eddie Jordan -- is also a suspect in the home invasion and shooting of a police officer and his wife a day later, several police sources confirmed Wednesday.

The bizarre confluence of events began the evening of Oct. 11, according to those sources and police documents obtained by The Times-Picayune.

The 20-year-old man stopped by Jordan's house minutes after he allegedly fled after an armed robbery outside a nearby Shell gas station. He arrived at Jordan's house on foot, having run away after the robbery victim rammed his sport utility vehicle into the car carrying the suspect, police documents said.

Investigators later also connected the suspect, Elton Phillips, to an eastern New Orleans robbery and shooting by two gunmen, who critically wounded a police officer and shot the officer's wife in the foot after breaking into their home late at night.

On Wednesday, Jordan said he didn't know Phillips, and didn't know Phillips had allegedly committed armed robbery shortly before arriving at his home. The district attorney said his longtime girlfriend Cherylynn Robinson knows Phillips, and she in fact had spent Oct. 11 -- her birthday -- with him and his relatives in Baton Rouge. He said Robinson is not related to Phillips.

After Jordan saw a news report naming Phillips as a robbery suspect, he said, he immediately called New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley.

"I called Warren Riley and said I wanted to speak to the police," Jordan said. "I called him immediately after I discovered he had been wanted for an armed robbery," he said, referring to Phillips.

But investigators had difficulty interviewing Jordan, according to documents. Those reports indicate investigators repeatedly called Jordan's cell phone over the course of three days, but he failed to answer and his voice mail was full. At one point, investigators went to Jordan's home and rang the doorbell for 10 minutes, but no one came to the door.

An investigator finally confirmed Jordan had gotten the interview request by sending it through an intermediary, Ralph Brandt, head of Jordan's trials division, according to a police document. The investigator had told Brandt that Jordan's lack of cooperation could result in bad publicity, the document said.

The officers "didn't express concern about any substantial delay," Jordan said. "The question was, 'How do we find this guy?'¤"

Jordan said he could not be reached simply because it was a busy week, not because he sought to avoid investigators.

"I don't know if you've been reading the papers lately, but I got some things going on," he said. "I got one or two things going on. I'm getting it from all sides."

Jordan, who is black, has taken heavy criticism this week after a federal judge ruled that the assets of his office could be seized to pay off a $3.7 million judgment against his office for racial discrimination in the firing of white employees.

'Peak oil' . . . was last year?

From CNN:

The world has reached the point of maximum oil output and production levels will halve by 2030 -- a situation that will eventually lead to war and disaster, a report claims.

The German-based Energy Watch Group released a report Tuesday saying the world's oil production peaked in 2006 and from now on will drop by around 3 percent a year. It says that by as early as 2030, the global availability of oil will be half of what it was at its peak.

"It's a very serious result," said Hans-Josef Fell, a German lawmaker from the environmentalist Green Party who commissioned the report. "I fear the world will come into a big economic crisis in the coming years."

The report warns that coal, uranium, and other key fossil fuels are also in declining supply. It predicts the fall in fossil fuel production will bring with it the threat of war, humanitarian disaster, and general social unrest.

But Leo Drollas, who leads oil and gas market analysis and forecasting at the Center for Global Energy Studies in London, said there are plenty of supplies and no looming crisis. He said the report sounds like "scaremongering."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Giant Suck . . . or, Get a Horse

A while ago, I was gazing out the kitchen window at the lawn guys a couple of houses down. They were doing what probably was the fall's last mowing, along with some seasonal aerating. I'll bet they used up a gallon and a half of gasoline, easy.

It occurred to me that this ritual of American suburbia in five or 10 years will seem as foreign to us as quilting bees, canning season or making tallow candles to beat back the darkness from your unelectrified cabin.

YOU SEE, the jig is almost up for America Uber Alles and the easy life of the middle-class. The oil is running out, and the phenomenon called "peak oil" is just around the corner, maybe no further off than three years hence.

After that, global oil production will start to slide several percent per year, all in a world of exploding demand for cheap energy. Needless to say, the effect on an entire economy -- an entire way of life predicated on lots of cars running on lots of gas -- will be devastating and will change forever the way we live.

That's not me saying this. It's
this, "this" being an analysis in the British magazine Money Week:

The American middle class consumer though indebted still travels to the fry pits and big box retail stores lining the eight lane highways. And they are still spending money with that good old up tempo American resilience to jolts from the outside world. In spite of the fact that they can no longer use their homes as ATM machines by progressively re-mortgaging when property prices were going up.

Sub-prime crisis or not, the Fed will rescue the system and the American way of life will go on as always, with a few temporary tweaks and household budgetary adjustments... won’t it? After all, didn’t George Bush Snr. forcefully declare at the Earth Summit in 1992 that “the American way of life is not negotiable.” And the centrepiece of that way of life is suburbia and has been for 60 years.

It spawned suburban sprawl and the ‘drive-in utopia’ and enabled millions of people to live a long car drive from their work. The ultimate American story has been and is played out in the suburbs to the delight of the Simpsons scriptwriters and makers of dark movies such as David Lynch.

So is American suburbia screwed? Does it represent, in the words of James Howard Kunstler, admittedly a car hating, new Urbanite iconoclast, “the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world’’?

Will much of American suburbia become the “new slums” peopled by the “new and impoverished proletariat”, while others scramble to escape? Are we soon going to be talking about America’s “former middle class”? To quote Sam Goldwyn, it’s a “definite maybe.”

How come? At its root, there’s a simple unvarnished fact. And it’s not about over-stretched borrowers. It’s a crude and brutal fact that the ‘cheap oil fiesta’ is over. And what exactly is the problem? It’s this. Americans remain oblivious to the red light on the fuel gauge, and the long and short of it is that the whole suburban phenomenon was and is built around the car, and the central dogma that oil will remain abundant and cheap for ever and anon. Upon that is predicated the system that has sustained the daily lives of the vast bulk of Americans - the ‘American dream’ - since the late 1940s.


Instead, we tend to go with those who see the free market price oil price more likely to hit $100 per barrel than $30 and in any case to stay at $70 and above given geopolitics and demand pressures. We are seeing the growth of bi-lateral or multi-lateral neo-mercantilist oil supply deals between the likes of Russia and China, Angola and Nigeria and China, India and Russia, and Venezuela with various consumers. This is leading to shortfalls of supplies available for the rest of the world via the NYMEX and other bourses.

So if the world is indeed heading down the arc of oil depletion, and if geopolitics and neo-mercantilism bring significant insecurities into US oil supplies, the American suburban lifestyle built round the car will start to destabilise and wobble with deep and wide ramifications.

Just ponder this... the average Caesar salad travels 1,500 miles to the supermarket shelf. And those 12,000 mile supply chains of cheap, if increasingly ‘tainted’, Chinese goods will begin to look uneconomic with a $100 per barrel oil price. Indeed at anything much over $70. Moreover, US agriculture, currently being reshaped by the oil-intensive ethanol-from-crops movement, has been consolidated in a very small fraction of the population, and relies on pumping oil-based products – fertilisers and pesticides - into the soil to yield food crops.

Maybe, to misquote and modify Randy Newman: “if he were alive today, Thomas Jefferson would be rotating in his grave.” Assuming that in some degree or other, the era of American suburbia is ending, at a speed yet to be determined, America will be forced to recalibrate itself to some degree. This could yield a lot of opportunities amidst the turmoil. For example, in general terms, ‘the local’ supplier will bulk larger vs ‘the distant’. There will a ‘made here’ and ‘still made here’ placards reflecting more home grown businesses, and not just restaurants and beauty parlours but textile and auto-parts manufacturers among others. More small towns will be developed and built.

OF WHAT I'VE BEEN READING lately, the above is the rosy view from a Brit who has more faith in American ingenuity than I do. A more prevalent view among those warning that "peak oil" is nigh, is that the economic upheaval brought by the increasing scarcity -- and costliness -- of the lifeblood of Leviathan America may bring about a situation where it's every man for himself, that "state of nature" described by English philosopher Thomas Hobbes in his masterwork, Leviathan.

And, according to Hobbes, life in the state of nature is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

Count Georgetown political theorist Patrick Deneen among the pessimists:

I think there is a growing possibility of severe social and personal pain and dislocation, of societal upheaval and even political chaos. These are not conditions that we have ever experienced and seem implausible, even incredible. But, the bleak scenario we may face is not because human beings - and Americans especially - can't live this better way of life, but because we have organized our lives in ways that make any such easy transition implausible if not impossible.

There are obvious ways in which this is so: take, for instance, the example of banking. The modern capitalist system is built on the health of a banking system. The health of a banking system rests most deeply upon a foundation of economic growth: no one would lend out money at modest interest if they believed first, that there was great risk of default, and second, if the money returned in the future (even with interest) was worth less than money in the present. Our banking system hums along in the backdrop of economic growth; in a backdrop of economic contraction, the banking system would become dysfunctional. Some bankers might succeed by making good bets on individuals, but the systemic backstop that the future will be brighter than the present would disappear (this is the same principle by which we do better betting on the market than necessarily on individual stocks; we can afford to have some losers in our portfolios in the backdrop of a rising market. Just as a rising market makes everyone look like financial geniuses, so too a growing economy makes our high-finance Hampton banker boys look brilliant).

Beyond such specific examples, however, there is a deeper cause for concern which is tied most fundamentally to the very plausibility of the modern liberal system. Modern liberal society is premised on growth - constant, unrelenting growth. Liberal democracies have always and everywhere come under severe stress, and very often have disintegrated under conditions of prolonged economic contraction. Much of modern history records not the stability and "normality" or naturalness of liberal democracy, but its profound fragility. America has come to believe that liberal democracy is its birthright, even that it is the natural condition of mankind. There is much evidence to contradict this belief: liberal democracy has in most cases been a difficult political arrangement to maintain, perhaps above all because it requires belief in its fundamental justness from the populace. In the absence of the prospects of limitless growth, the populace of many liberal democracies have rejected the justness of liberal democracy, and their societies have unravelled, at times descending into conflict, civil war and chaos.

Why should this be so? In a nutshell, liberal democracy contains an internal contradiction: liberalism is a political theory of basic economic inequality; democracy is premised upon the belief in political equality. Democracy exerts an egalitarian pressure upon liberalism, to which liberalism must offer some compensation. The earliest theorists of liberalism understood well that they were commending a theory of economic inequality: in the justly famous Chapter 5 of the Second Treatise on Government, John Locke argued that liberal society allowed and even encouraged increasing economic differentiation between the "industrious and rational" and the "quarrelsome and contentious." Advanced liberal societies permitted the exacerbation of the position between these two sorts of humans: the rights of liberal society required defense of the State, above all, to prevent the assault on wealthy "estates" (or property) by the larger "quarrelsome and contentious" classes. Locke foresaw the potential of proto-Marxist temptations among the poor to deprive the wealthy of property. In the end, the promise of State protection of property was not sufficient: liberal society cannot last if there is a persistent desire on the part of the lower classes to encroach on rights of property. A repressive (Western) liberalism has generally not proven successful.


People will not gladly or easily accept sure knowledge of a future of decrease. The idea that we will gradually and easily slip into a "better future" in which the stock market continuously loses value; in which our houses grow less valuable year after year; in which our purchasing power, via our dollar, buys less every passing day; in which our children can expect to make less money, to have a "less successful" future than previous generations; in which we will have to adjust our expectations to accept work of a more manual nature, for less money, and with less leisure - that we will go gladly into that "better life" without a tumultuous political upheaval and a vicious fight over the valuable scraps that remain is implausible if not pure fantasy and dangerous wishful thinking.

OY. If only Deneen were an ill-informed crank making this stuff up out of whole cloth, which he isn't.

As a matter of fact, one of the leading experts on "peak oil" two years ago sounded alarm bells in Washington. But instead of sounding the alarm bells with the American public and industry, our leaders already had taken another tack in 2003 -- invade the country with the world's third-largest oil reserves.

And that may well be exactly why we're in the Iraq quagmire today. But more on that later.

British journalist David Strahan
interviewed Dr. Robert Hirsch, author of the 2005 paper Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, and Risk Management -- written at the behest of the Energy Department and commonly known as the Hirsch Report -- about his findings:

When global oil production peaks, the economy is likely to shrink in direct proportion to dwindling fuel supplies, says Dr Robert Hirsch of the think tank SAIC.

Speaking at the Association for the Study of Peak Oil conference in Houston, he also warned that as peak approaches, producer countries including OPEC and Russia are likely to husband their reserves for future generations and limit exports, potentially sharpening the decline in oil available to importing nations.

WHAT THAT MEANS is the topic of a fascinating audio interview with Hirsch conducted by Strahan, author of The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man. It's well worth your time.

And, of course, we get back to Iraq. You know, the country with the world's third-largest oil reserves -- greatly undertapped oil reserves, thanks to the sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime. Again, here's some of an article
by Strahan, the British journalist:

But despite the oil majors’ undoubted interest and influence, the decision to attack was not taken in the boardroom. Iraq was indeed all about oil, but in a sense that transcends the interests of individual corporations – however large.

The elephant in the drawing rooms of both the White House and No 10 was the fact that global oil production is likely to ‘peak’ and fall into terminal decline within about a decade - the inevitable result of 40 years of dwindling oil discoveries and ever-rising consumption. Oil production is already on the slide in 60 of the world’s 98 oil producing countries - including the US and Britain. Dr Michael Smith of the oil consultancy Energyfiles forecasts another 14 will join the descent during the next ten years. Aggregate oil production in the OECD has been falling since 1997, and all major forecasters – including noted optimists such as the International Energy Agency and Exxon Mobil - expect output for the entire world except OPEC to peak by the middle of the next decade. From then on everything depends on the cartel, but unfortunately there is growing evidence that its members have been exaggerating the size of their reserves for decades, and that their output could also falter soon.

As I report in The Last Oil Shock, the international oil consultancy PFC Energy briefed Dick Cheney in 2005 that on a more realistic assessment of OPEC’s reserves, its production could peak by 2015. That would tip global output into terminal decline, almost certainly bringing soaring oil prices, deep recession and worse. A report published by the US Department of Energy, also in 2005, concluded that without a crash programme of mitigation 20 years before the event, the economic and social impacts of the oil peak would be “unprecedented”. The evidence suggests that these fears were already weighing heavily with Cheney, Bush and Blair.

In a world of looming oil shortage, Iraq represented a unique opportunity. With 115 billion barrels Iraq had the world’s third biggest reserves, and after years of war and sanctions they were also the most underexploited. In the late 1990s Iraqi oil production averaged about 2 million barrels per day, but with the necessary investment its reserves could support three times that output. Not only were sanctions stopping Iraqi production from growing, but also actively damaging the country’s petroleum geology by denying the national oil company access to essential chemicals and equipment. In one of a series of reports to the Security Council, UN specialist inspectors warned in January 2000 that sanctions had already caused irreversible damage to Iraq’s reservoirs, and would continue to lead to “the permanent loss of huge reserves of oil”. But sanctions could not be lifted with Saddam still in place, so if Iraq’s oil was to help defer the onset of global decline, the monster so long supported by the West would have to go.

As I reveal in The Last Oil Shock, the CIA was also well aware of Iraq’s unique value, having secretly paid for new maps of its petroleum geology to be drawn as early as 1998. Cheney also knew, fretting publicly about global oil depletion at a speech in London the following year, where he noted that “the Middle East with two thirds of the world’s oil and lowest cost is still where the prize ultimately lies”. Blair too had reason to be anxious about oil: British North Sea output had peaked in 1999 - and has been falling ever since - while the petrol protests of 2000 had made the importance of maintaining the fuel supply excruciatingly obvious.

WHICH MIGHT BE WHY Vice-President Dick Cheney has a strikingly different take on the wisdom of invading all of Iraq and occupying it than Defense Secretary Dick Cheney did in the wake of the first Gulf War.

Of course, taking all of Iraq this time, then occupying it, hasn't worked out so well. Nor has the resulting chaos done much for exploiting those Iraqi oil reserves.

And we might only have three more years until the petroleum hits the fan.

Returning for a moment to the dire predictions of Hirsch, the oil-supply expert,
here's Deneen again. Just so that we're perfectly clear on what we might be facing much sooner than we think:

The impact of an ongoing negative growth economy in a society that is premised upon ongoing and permanent growth will be catastrophic. Everything we assume about the future would change. Few jobs, few bank loans, difficulty providing goods and services (including food), shrinking numbers of college educations, the evaporation of our national wealth, declining levels of research and innovation across the board, no retirement accounts, the decline of the middle class and devastation of the lower classes, etc.

In answer to a question whether "peak oil" will occur as a gradual plateau or a sudden and drastic decline, Hirsch points to the high likelihood of increased resource nationalism (a phenomenon we are already witnessing around the world). He notes that private oil companies no longer control petroleum resources; national companies do. As awareness of peak oil spreads, there will first be a further spike in oil prices and a growing inclination of resource-rich nations to hold their remaining oil in reserve for domestic production and in expectation of further rises in price. This response will, of course, only accelerate and deepen the crisis.

Hirsch foresees the likelihood of gas rationing as a reactive answer to our current inability to begin cutting back our consumption. Nature will exact her price, whether we are willing to pay for it significantly now or drastically in the near future. Our techno-optimists tell us that technology will come to the rescue. The nice thing about holding this position is that no one has to act responsibly or like an adult. It was once the case that adults acted with prudence, awaiting not the best case scenario but preparing for the possibility of a worse. Our liberals and conservatives alike tell us that technology will save us, but mark my words, when TSHTF they will be the first to blame someone else: the Saudis, the Iranians, the Russians, Hugo Chavez, you name it. Our impressive military will be called upon to secure our vital national interest, wherever it might happen to be buried. And at that point no one will be able to suggest that perhaps we have ourselves to blame, because we did nothing when intelligent but obtuse people knew what was coming at the end of our wild ride down Sunset Boulevard.

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS when a society lives beyond its means. This is the very real consequence of sin, of avarice on a societal scale.

We have gotten what we wished for. It didn't make us happy, nor did it sate our appetite for more, more, more. And now we're going to lose it. All.

A lot of fundamentalist types -- of both the Protestant and Catholic persuasions -- thought they had it figured. The wrath of God will come upon us, borne on the waves and winds of a monster hurricane. Or shake the world with the power of an earthquake.

Engulf the world in a nuclear fire?

INSTEAD, maybe God's just chastisement of His deeply crooked people will come in with the relative quiet of oil wells slowly going dry. One after another, world without end, amen. Maybe the judgment of the Almighty comes, as it always has, in giving rebellious and willful humanity all the rope it needs -- plus free will.

If and when our Western house of cards comes tumbling down upon us, don't blame God. We could have been less avaricious. We could have lived more simply. We, at any time, just could have cut it out.

We didn't have to be our own hangman. We didn't have to take the rope and make a civilizational noose out of it.

IT'S NOT God's fault. It's ours.

Did you really need that $35,000 SUV? Did you really need two of them? Does your family need to be a three- or four-car family?

Did you really need that 4,500 square-foot house in the exurbs? Did you need to live in the exurbs -- or even the suburbs -- at all? Did I?

Does everybody in the family need two cell phones, a BlackBerry, three iPods and a mega sound system in each car?

Do you need Evian, Aquafina or any other kind of bottled water (and the petroleum needed to make the throwaway plastic bottles it comes in) when the stuff out of the tap is the same two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen?

AND WHAT ABOUT the $250 -- a piece -- you just dropped on Hannah Montana tickets for your two preteen daughters, who really, really didn't need to go to a damn Hannah Montana concert? You'd raise holy hell if your county government imposed a $500-a-year tax on you to build and subsidize convenient, low-cost, energy-efficient mass transit.

Yes, you would.

Well, now the conductor is coming down the aisle, announcing the end of the line. Your fare card is spent. Please exit to the back.

HAT TIP: Crunchy Con

When TV was young and people were smart

OK, this is primitive television . . . a videotape of a Dec. 3, 1950, kinescope of Toast of the Town, which would be renamed The Ed Sullivan Show (after its host) in 1955.

This clip, years before television had the opportunity to become completely stupid -- though it always has had its moments -- features Stan Kenton and his orchestra, with a solo by an up-and-coming trumpeter in the band, name of Maynard Ferguson.

Them was the days.

Y'know, I'll respect MTV if it ever features anything -- like this clip, for example -- that stretches its audience beyond the concepts of getting loaded and getting laid.

But that's just me, an old fart who remembers MTV when it actually played, uh . . . music videos.

What's that? "What's a kinescope?" you ask? It's this.

OK, this is a great song

I've always loved Kyu Sakamoto's "Sukiyaki," a song that has absolutely nothing to do with the title, which originally was
"Ue o muite arukō" ("I Look Up When I Walk") for its original Japanese release in 1961. The American re-release was all over American Top-40 radio in 1963, when your Mighty Favog was a toddler Favog, and I guess it stuck.

Thing is, the happy melody belies a sad, sad song. Here are the lyrics:
I'll look up while I'm walking
Ue wo muite arukou

So the tears don't fall from my eyes
Namida ga koborenai youni

I think back to spring days
Omoidasu haru no hi

It's a lonely night
Hitoribocchi no yoru

I'll look up while I'm walking
Ue wo muite arukou

And count the scattered stars
Nijinda hoshi wo kazoete

I think back to summer days
Omoidasu natsu no hi

It's a lonely night
Hitoribocchi no yoru

Happiness is above the clouds
Shiawase wa kumo no ue ni

Happiness is above the sky
Shiawase wa sora no ue ni

I'll look up while I'm walking
Ue wo muite arukou

So the tears don't fall from my eyes
Namida ga koborenai youni

Even while I cry I walk on
Naki nagara aruku

It's a lonely night
Hitoribocchi no yoru

Sadness is in the light of the stars
Kanashimi wa hoshi no kage ni

Sadness is in the light of the moon
Kanashimi wa tsuki no kage ni

I'll look up while I'm walking
Ue wo muite arukou

So the tears don't fall from my eyes
Namida ga koborenai youni

Even while I cry I walk on
Naki nagara aruku

It's a lonely night
Hitoribocchi no yoru

It's a lonely night
Hitoribocchi no yoru
THIS VIDEO is from a Japanese TV show -- Shall We Meet at Seven? -- broadcast in June 1963. You have to love the quirky -- by American standards -- videography.

HAT TIP: A.J. Lindsey at the KAAY 1090 blog.