Friday, September 09, 2005

Cisco says that they aren't cooperating with Chinese censorship per se. Their brochure targeted directly at the Chinese police simply explains how they might best use features that are made available to all their customers.

Google News China omits sources which run afoul of government censors. But they've considered the matter carefully:

"We also considered the amount of information that would be omitted," Google said in its blog. "In this case it is less than two percent of Chinese news sources. On balance we believe that having a service with links that work and omits a fractional number is better than having a service that is not available at all. It was a difficult tradeoff for us to make, but the one we felt ultimately serves the best interests of our users located in China."

That is to say, they aren't censoring much. Just the parts that the Chinese secret police can't manage to squelch on their own. Hey, no big deal.

Yahoo just got a reporter imprisoned for ten years, fingering him as a Western journalist's source for a relatively inoccuous memo. But they had to cooperate with the Chinese authorities, telling Reuters:

"Just like any other global company, Yahoo! must ensure that its local country sites must operate within the laws, regulations and customs of the country in which they are based."

They might have located their servers outside the country, not subject to Chinese jurisdiction, but that would have been inconvenient.

I'm sure they'd be willing, under other circumstances, in a proper, measured way, to take some kind of a concrete stand against tyranny.

After Katrina hit New Orleans, hundreds if not thousands of trained disaster first responders showed up, ready and waiting to deploy their much needed services in the devastated city. A week and a half later, they were still waiting, as FEMA head and horse-show washout Michael Brown explained:

Michael D. Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency ... said Wednesday that scores of police and volunteer firefighters from around the nation, as well as trucks loaded with donated water, were even now being prevented from entering New Orleans while troops conduct house-to-house searches.

"They can't just yet," Brown said during a briefing in Baton Rouge. "There is going to come this natural time when we will release this floodgate of cops and firefighters who want to help. It's the same for anyone who wants to volunteer ---- we have over 50,000 offers of donations from the private sector. It has to be coordinated in such a way that it helps."

With troops already swarming the streets, and "forced evacuations" already underway at that point, one wonders what the proper moment will be. Not, it seems, until there is no one left in the city who needs their services. There is literally nothing left to wait for.

The hurricane hit a week ago last Monday. Lack of fresh water will kill a healthy person in three days.

It took longer than that to even get the troops in. Last Saturday, five days after the storm hit, General Steven Blum of the National Guard was telling the press why they'd only gotten troops in within the preceding 36 hours:

Some people asked why didn't we go in sooner. Had we gone in with less force it may have been challenged, innocents may have been caught in a fight between the Guard military police and those who did not want to be processed or apprehended, and we would put innocents' lives at risk. As soon as we could mass the appropriate force, which we flew in from all over the states at the rate of 1,400 a day, they were immediately moved off the tail gates of C-130 aircraft flown by the Air National Guard, moved right to the scene, briefed, rehearsed, and then they went in and took this convention center down.

They had to be briefed and rehearsed, you see. Because order was more important than the lives of the people who had been dying in the streets. It's the attitude toward the welfare of its citizens that I've come to expect from the government --- of Communist China. Here, it's a novelty.

By the way, if you'd like to see more of this briefing with appropriate illustrations, Rivka's provided them here.

Airlifts could, and should, have been ready to go days earlier. Navy chopper pilots who started doing rooftop rescues on their own were ordered to desist and reprimanded.

The troops started going in four days after the storm hit. Lack of fresh water will kill a healthy person in three days.

What's more astounding than all of this is the attitude towards it on a lot of right-wing web sites, who are defending it the way they've been defending the administration of Iraq for years --- with absolute fealty and a blind eye to the most salient facts. One wonders if anyone they trust will stage an intervention --- but a lot of the people they trust think just like they do.

So, we have a government treating its citizens like dangerous refuse which it is more important to control than to succor, letting them die in large numbers while it "organizes" what ought to be no-brainer efforts, and then stuffing the survivors into armed, guarded camps.

What's the attitude, you might ask, of the New Orleans well-off to this treatment of their poorer fellow citizens? Good riddance, it appears:

"The new city must be something very different, Mr. Reiss says, with better services and fewer poor people. "Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically," he says. "I'm not just speaking for myself here. The way we've been living is not going to happen again, or we're out."

We live in a society where fundamentalist Christians have increasing influence. I'm sure a lot of these people like that. In their way. It helps keep the rabble down.

Yes, I'm just blowing off steam here. If I didn't, I'd burst. For more on the story, some of it more reasonable, see the Nielsen Haydens; as Christians of a more traditional sort, their own reflections on what constitutes a proper Christian response to the tragedy might be of interest...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

In the wake of the reported looting and disorder following hurricane Katrina, some folks in India are wondering why Americans can't work together in a natural disaster the way their people do. Well, from one widely circulated account of the aftermath, here's part of the answer --- some of them tried, and the cops didn't like it:

Our little encampment began to blossom. Someone stole a water delivery truck and brought it up to us. Let's hear it for looting! A mile or so down the freeway, an army truck lost a couple of pallets of C-rations on a tight turn. We ferried the food back to our camp in shopping carts. Now secure with the two necessities, food and water; cooperation, community, and creativity flowered. We organized a clean up and hung garbage bags from the rebar poles. We made beds from wood pallets and cardboard. We designated a storm drain as the bathroom and the kids built an elaborate enclosure for privacy out of plastic, broken umbrellas, and other scraps. We even organized a food recycling system where individuals could swap out parts of C-rations (applesauce for babies and candies for kids!). ...

Flush with the necessities, we offered food and water to passing families and individuals. Many decided to stay and join us. Our encampment grew to 80 or 90 people.

From a woman with a battery powered radio we learned that the media was talking about us. Up in full view on the freeway, every relief and news organizations saw us on their way into the City. Officials were being asked what they were going to do about all those families living up on the freeway? The officials responded they were going to take care of us. Some of us got a sinking feeling. "Taking care of us" had an ominous tone to it.

Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking City) was correct. Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, "Get off the fucking freeway". A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water.

Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we congregated or congealed into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of "victims" they saw "mob" or "riot". We felt safety in numbers. Our "we must stay together" was impossible because the agencies would force us into small atomized groups.

In the pandemonium of having our camp raided and destroyed, we scattered once again. Reduced to a small group of 8 people, in the dark, we sought refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were hiding from possible criminal elements but equally and definitely, we were hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and shoot-to-kill policies.

This isn't the first we've heard of police going overboard; they're also hassling the press. I'm slower than some to see a grand conspiracy in that --- the Naudet brothers were hassled while filming their "accidental documentary" of 9/11, and there was obviously no grand conspiracy in that. But what there was was what we see here as well --- overstressed law enforcement lashing out at anything not under their direct control. It's not a happy thing. Or a healthy one. Even under more normal circumstances than these...

More: Then again, in this case, it's more than just the cops...

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Quotes for our times:

Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."
--- Richard Feynman
Some bloggers have expressed annoyance at people who are riding political hobbyhorses around Katrina. Like those suggesting that the hurricane makes a case for improving government basic emergency services. People like Jonah Goldberg. Damn those knee-jerk liberals.

They awarded the contract to Halliburton before they let in the Red Cross.

The guys in power now are the ideological heirs of Henry Kissinger, who wanted to stay in Vietnam not because we were doing ourselves (or anyone else) any good there, but because leaving would make us look like "a pitiful, helpless giant". Now, the world sees a country letting its own citizens die on camera, after days in heat without food or water that could have easily been airdropped, unable or unwilling to assist. How do we look now, cocksuckers?

They set up feeding stands at the airport for Dubya's visit, and got a lot of construction equipment out to the levee breaches, then rolled it all away when the cameras left. If Karl Rove hadn't done that in real life, The Onion would not dare make it up. He has more imagination, and less shame.

Dubya himself is on record as saying that the initial response was inadequate. Am I being too partisan if I repeat his words, guys?

The Feds aren't letting in assistance which has already been offered by many, domestic and foreign. A common excuse from the Feds is that the local government has not requested the assistance. But they did. Before the storm even hit.

Hanlon's razor says that you shouldn't attribute to malice what is adequately explained by mere incompetence. And what we have here goes well beyond "mere" incompetence. Your head of FEMA got fired amid scandal from his last job --- as head of the International Arabian Horse Association. But the same guy still managed to preposition an extensive hurricane response for a couple of hurricanes last year --- in Florida, where the people on the storm track had a significantly higher chance of voting Republican. No storm god produced the chaos this time. The beings responsible are tangible and mundane, and they live in Washington, D.C.

Fox News reporters on the scene reported that troops at the Convention Center were preventing people from leaving the horrible scene there, and that people trying to simply walk out of the city were being turned back by armed troops on the highways. As offers of assistance were refused and the Red Cross itself was being kept out.

So, what's up with that? Some local officials are blaming fear of the refugees --- a fear evident in the much-blogged Army Times article which refers to stranded New Orleans residents as "the insurgency" and anticipates "combat operations" against them. But it's not just at the Federal level --- they're also saying the Louisiana state government, and Governor Blanco in particular, don't want a horde of black refugees streaming into white neighborhoods. I can believe it.

Happy, guys? I just criticized a Democrat.

Why talk about politics when people are dying? Because political choices made in the past are what's killing them.

More: Read the transcript of today's Meet The Press. After the President of Jefferson Parish breaks down in tears talking about one of his officials whose mother drowned on Friday, the Republican governor of Mississippi praises the Coast Guard for their rapid response to the needs of his people. "Over here, we had the Coast Guard in Monday night". But I shouldn't be talking about that. This isn't the time to play politics.