Saturday, September 03, 2005


No - I'm not going to shoot you. I've just got some neighborly notes to share.

You're doing it all wrong! Apparel and electronics are valuable goods, but they're far too difficult to carry around. Here's a tip: ATM machines.

They're everywhere, and they're loaded with cash. Let's not forget - wet cash is still cash. Every bar has one. Every mall has several. Every street corner. Every gas station. Every bank. Every convenience mart. There are thousands of ATMs all over that city and they're just bursting with big bills. If you're going to steal shit so you've got something to start over with, why not start with American green? It's lightweight and more accepted than Visa.

Here's the idea. You're going to need some help with this - but not too much because then you'll have to share the spoils. Now, if it's a free-standing unit, you'll want to drag it somewhere out of the way so camera crews don't catch you. The looting already looks bad enough without scenes of people cracking into ATM machines. That might be over the line for some folks, who've only dreamt of busting into one of those bad boys just to wrestle back some of those ridiculous transaction fees. By design, these money dispensers aren't easy to breach, so getting inside is going to take some elbow grease. Secure a heavy metal instrument of some kind from the many debris piles at your disposal and give it hell. Experiment with different pokes and swings in different places. Feel around the edges for weak seams. Knock on the casing to see where it is hollow, then drop a heavy chunk of concrete on it. *

Sound like a plan?

Okay then - put down that armful of fall fashions from Saks Fifth Avenue and go get yourself some bills. You'll find it a whole lot easier to trade money for goods than goods for money. Fa shizzle.

* Please note that I do not personally endorse looting of any kind as it is against the law. I would never suggest people break the law just to feed their dying children. Huh? Sarcastic? No, not all.

Friday, September 02, 2005


The other day I rambled on about the plight of those stranded in New Orleans and stopped just short of universally justifying the pillaging that’s going on down there. The context of the situation continues to play a huge role in the behavior we’ve been witnessing day after heartbreaking day. For more on the power of context, I recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point. He discusses how small changes in environment can have an enormous influence on attitudes and behavior. Then try to imagine the impact MASSIVE changes in environment might have.

Watching the television reports, I’ve noticed a lot of blame being passed around like a bowl of beets at the Thanksgiving table. Everyone’s willing to dish it out, but nobody wants that shit on their plate. There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned tragedy to bring out the “not my fault” in people. Remember 9/11? Same story there – everybody rushed to blame somebody else. The government. The “authorities.” The border patrol. The president. Airline security. The Koran. International policy. The CIA. The list goes on and on. How has the absolution of all wrongdoing become so central to our existence as sentient beings? What’s so hard about admitting we made a mistake? I just can’t imagine it – but then, I’ve never made one. And neither have you, right? *wink*

Leggo my ego!

While well-intended folks are busy pointing fingers, frustration swells like the salty Gulf. Does it really matter who’s to blame when babies are dying on a bed of asphalt, children are being raped, and the people sent in to rescue them are being shot at?

Here’s an article I found at discussing George Bush’s handling of poverty as a major cause for the turmoil down south. Poverty is no one administration’s fault – but certainly a scourge worth addressing. The push against Bush is a stretch, but some of the more salient facts cannot be ignored. (

For example, one of New Orleans’ dirty little secrets is that nearly a third of the population lived at or below the poverty level. Yes, that IS a lot. The national average is 12.7%. Some politicians, including members of the National Black Caucus, have defaulted to the race card. It was only a matter of time, I suppose, as it would be impossible to ignore the fact that nearly all of the people stranded – at least visibly – are African American. I must admit, it forced me to wonder: Where are all the poor WHITE people? Were they shuttled out of the city in a massive evacuation operation? Doubtful. Were poor white people somehow better able to leave town…or were they simply more willing? Is there more to the cultural welfare dependency argument than we would like to believe, or is simply asking the question inherently racist? I have a hard time stomaching the notion that these people have been abandoned BECAUSE they are black. Yet that’s what’s been suggested by a number of high-profile public figures and servants.

It’s an argument, I believe, born of emotion. Looking at it rationally, I’d say local authorities definitely dropped the ball here. How can you tell a population so poor and so large it must leave an area in so short a window of time…without at the very least providing it with SOME means to do so? Not even the writers of the X-Files could have dreamt up a scheme to transport a crowd that size overnight. How do you tell all these people they have to leave town without providing access to transportation of some kind? Were they supposed to just start walking? How did they, or anyone else for that matter, know it was going to go down like this? If Nostradamus didn’t predict it, how the hell were a bunch of armchair weathermen down in the bayou supposed to?

There are a lot of factors at play in this disaster, the most influential of all, perhaps, being the fact that no one EXPECTED this to happen. On the family tree of psychological awareness, Expectations are the mother of Disappointment, and the wicked stepmother to Ruin. More on expectation to come…

This brings me to a final point on responsibility, which I hope to make without pointing fingers. Pointing fingers, after all, is rude. After the storm surge exceeded everyone’s expectations. After the levees broke and pumps failed. After the bridges snapped and the roads were blocked. After the power and plumbing failed. After everything that could have possibly gone wrong went wrong, there were still people left in the city. Whose responsibility is it to get those people out?

My first thought was that, ultimately, we as individuals have to be responsible for ourselves. What do refugees in other countries do when faced with catastrophes of this magnitude? Genocide. Famine. Tsunami. They walk. They move. It’s not pretty, but they get on the road and they seek higher ground. They seek shelter. They seek food. Why didn’t that happen here? Or did it?

Thousands of people sought refuge in the Louisiana Superdome and the Convention Center EXPECTING they would be clothed, fed, nursed, and protected. By who? The government? Which government? The local government? The state government? The federal government? But government isn’t an actionable entity in itself. It’s not an omniscient caregiver capable of kissing our wounds to make them feel better. Government is run by people – people who left town because there was a hurricane coming. Some might argue that there simply wasn’t anyone left to help.

That being said, there are a lot of things that could have been done after the fact that weren’t. Those still stranded down there need a lot of things – but at the very LEAST, what they need is information. Information. Information. Expectations are managed through communication. There’s been zero communication down there. How can we blame these people for being angry? They don’t see the news every night like we do. They can’t comprehend the challenges. They don’t realize the extent of the destruction. All they know is they’re hungry, homeless, and running out of time. At what point do you say “fuck this” and start walking?

Anger always precedes acceptance. If these people were just a click away from up-to-the minute updates and information like you and I are, maybe they’d be more accepting of the situation. Maybe then they’d be able to get past the fury that drains them. It takes a lot of energy being angry. What is the function of government? Is it to provide safety for people? Is it to attend to the welfare of each and every citizen? Is it to provide medical care? Is it to provide food? There’s a lot of room for debate here – I’m just asking the questions.

My solution? It’s tongue-in-cheek, but you would expect no more (or less) from me. Get Donald Trump in charge and run this evacuation like an episode of the Apprentice. We need some highly motivated people with can-do attitudes and out-of-the-bowl ideas in charge so something gets done. How long would it take to type up some informational leaflets and airdrop them over those crowds? A few hours?

Think about how far a little information would go. Tell them what we already know and take for granted. Give them instructions – something constructive to do. They need direction. Right now there’s a mob with no direction, no information, and dwindling hope. Of course they’re going to be angry. Expectations have not been properly managed, and it’s resulted in utter mayhem.

They need to know what the plan is. They need to know what the timeline is. They need to know that women, children, sick, and elderly are going first. They need to know where they are going and what will be waiting for them there. They need to know that New Orleans will be off limits for at least 2 months and possibly 2 years. They need information like this to quell the anxiety that’s got them bursting at the seams.

They’ve been sending out an S.O.S. for almost a week now. Will someone please let them know that someone got their message in a bottle?

Thursday, September 01, 2005


So...just how fast is your internet connection? Maybe not as fast as you think.

Maybe faster.

Click on the header to find out. Don't be a baby - do it!

Might be time for broadband...

(Thanks, Peter)


The devastation created by Hurricane Katrina has sent gasoline prices soaring yet again. There seems to be no end in sight. I saw this sign at the gas station near my building this morning. All of a sudden my idea for a car that runs on urine is starting to look pretty damn good...

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


By now we’ve all seen the pictures. Rooftops that appear to be floating on a bed of chocolate soup. Emergency rescue teams hammering though shingles to reach people trapped in attics. Hundreds of homeless wading through the canals of downtown New Orleans with pilfered goods. How can we even begin to imagine, from the dry comfort of our modest homes, what these people are going through?

Hurricane Katrina turned out to be even worse than expected. It is now officially the single worst natural disaster to ever hit the United States. Worse than any other storm, earthquake, drought, or wildfire outbreak. There’s no electricity. There’s no plumbing. There’s no way in or out of town in some areas. As was feared, it has proven a disaster of Biblical proportions. The entire region has been rendered inhabitable. And the water is still RISING. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people with absolutely nothing left and nowhere to go. How does a group of people this large sustain itself? They have nothing. What do they eat? When your slate is wiped clean, how do you just begin again? They need help – lots of it, and fast. At what point do we stop sending prayers and start sending money?

Survivors are finding they are not alone. There are alligators, snakes, bugs, and rats – all trying to survive in the aftermath. What had been a teeming metropolis on the gulf, attractive tourist destination, and historic hot spot has become a murky modern-day Atlantis.

So where are these people going to go for now? They can’t stay in the Superdome. Many are being shipped to Houston in buses. According to one AP report, someone even had the stroke of genius to suggest bringing in cruise ships – those massive, man-made islands of floating decadence. Only now they’ll be used to house American refugees. Think about how strange THAT sounds to say: American refugees. At least there the homeless will have a place to sleep. At least there they can be safe from infection and wildlife. At least there relief missions can dispense food and water. At least there people can be accounted for. But for how long? And then what?

Meanwhile, in the streets, there is widespread looting. And they’re not just taking the essentials. They’re stealing shit they’ll never be able to use. Plasma televisions they can’t watch. Computers they can’t surf the web on. Compact Discs they can’t listen to. One of my co-workers today suggested, and not in jest, that looters be shot on sight.

“Looting?” she responded to a television report, “I don’t care how they want to soften it – it’s stealing. They ought to just shoot these people.”

I asked her to imagine for one moment standing in the middle of a city underwater. There’s no tomorrow or next week when you’re wading hip deep in sewage, surrounded by wildlife, with nothing to eat, no place to go, and no information. These people aren’t thinking about what they’re doing. They’re in survival mode. They’re not thinking about what they’re taking. It’s complete anarchy down there – and in a state of anarchy, you grab anything that has any value at all – the standard currency of chaos. A stolen DVD player is worth something to someone somewhere…better to have that than nothing at all.

I agreed with her that stealing is not right. But there’s a big difference between the opportunistic window smashers who take to the streets during protests and demonstrations, and the thousands of displaced souls paddling through the canals of the Crescent City. The difference is in context. In one situation you have people stealing to steal. In the other you have people foraging to live. I imagine some of the looters are simply up to no good – profiteers perhaps, hoping to score valuable consumer goods and electronics for resale on the black market. But let’s not ignore the life-threatening context of the situation. Faced with the same horrific conditions, you and I might resort to the very same behavior.

Whose cars are these? And why are they still here? Submerged evidence that no one expected the levees would break, the pumps would fail, and the geographical bowl to fill with swamp.

One official in Louisiana articulated an important point. The people who are in New Orleans right now aren’t there because they WANT to be there. They’re there because they’re stuck there. Trapped. Take a good look at the people who couldn’t get out. The poor. The unemployed. The people who had it rough to begin with. Many didn’t have the resources to just pick up and go. They didn’t have any disposable cash. They didn’t have cars. They were forced to hope for the best, and the lucky ones lived through the nightmare of Katrina – only to find it is a recurring one, fraught with dangers we can only imagine. Wait until the waters recede and the breadth of the graveyard is revealed. It is now estimated thousands may have died – many drowning in their own attics. A suffocating fate as surreal as it is horrifying.

80% of New Orleans is now underwater – as much as 20 feet in places. This is not a rural area we’re talking about – this is a massive city home to nearly half a million people. Our very own tsunami, minus the global outpouring of support. Many believe its time to recall resources from our War on Terror so we can declare a War on Water.

Now is a good time to go through my closet and find the clothes I haven’t worn in a long time. Hundreds of thousands of people could use them.


Here's some more credit news you can use. As you may have heard, all Americans are now entitled to one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus each year. This is a great way for you to find out if your list of obligations is naughty or nice.

All of your creditors will be listed there, along with details about every one of your outstanding debts. House, car, student loans, credit card bills, etc. If you've got lines of credit open you forgot about, they're on there. If you've missed payments, they're on there. Limits. Payments. Dates. Everything. And not all of it is correct, I should warn you.

It's YOUR credit history - shouldn't YOU have a copy?

It's FREE.


We’ve all heard that free speech in America is not absolute. For example, you just can’t scream “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater. Not unless it’s actually burning, that is. Then feel free to go as nuts as you please. This shocking news story illustrates why there are limitations on what you can say.

Any other week, this story would likely have been all over the headlines. But Katrina, understandably, has dominated our media – so a lot of people won’t hear that nearly 700 Iraqis died in a stampede today. Yes, a stampede. Not your ordinary, everyday stampede of frightened livestock. Not a stampede of horses or camels…or even a stampede for fun – like the ones they throw in Spain every year for the criminally stupid.

This was a stampede of people.

Massive crowds had gathered to attend a religious ceremony at the Kadhimiya mosque in an old district of Baghdad when someone shouted that there was a suicide bomber in their midst. Panic ensued, and hundreds of people began scrambling in every direction, funneling to safety over a nearby bridge. Many threw themselves off the bridge. Many others were crushed underfoot by the frenzied mob. A majority of the victims were said to be women, children, and elderly.

The death toll has been listed at 700, but is climbing and expected to reach 1,000. Can you even imagine a thousand dead bodies, crushed and trampled by a wave of terrified church-goers? Just when you think they’re making some progress over there, some idiot screams “Suicide Bomber!” near a crowded mosque and 700 people are instantly no longer. Restoring the peace over there has proven nearly as futile as opening a ketchup packet with greasy fingers.

I personally find it extremely ironic that so much death can result from the very freedoms we struggle to support: Freedom of assembly. Freedom of worship. Freedom of speech. In this case, a deadly combination.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take some scissors to this ketchup packet.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


"The Bush Administration says U.S. troops will be in Iraq four more years. Apparently Bush misunderstood crowds who were chanting "Four more years" during the last campaign."

- Jim Barach

Here's a handy counter that records our progress in the hunt for Weapons of Mass Destruction.


Funny how little things can drive people nuts.

For example, I have the particularly unrefined habit of leaving my coffee spoon in my coffee mug. When I make coffee at home, it's usually instant. I really don't have the patience for anything else - even waiting 2 minutes for the microwave to boil my water seems like a small eternity some mornings.

Once the water is scalding hot, I'll add the crystals with a teaspoon, dump in a little sugar, add a little milk, stir it all up, then drink it down. But for some reason, I don't take the spoon out of the mug. I actually sip it slowly with a shiny stem of silverware inches from my eyeball. For no apparent reason other than habit.

Geri informed me recently that this unseemly practice gives her the heebie-jeebies, and she asked if it were within my capability to remove the stirring utensil from my ceramic caffeine transport before bringing the handled helper to my lips. No problem, I said. And I haven't left a spoon in my coffee since.

It is with this recent example of voluntary behavior modification in mind that I formally make the following request of the thousands upon thousands of people around whom I will be spending the remainder of my life. It's a very simple thing, really, that has the potential to spare me countless bouts of spontaneous nausea over the course of my life.

Would you please - PLEASE - try to find a way to turn the page without licking your fingers? That's all I ask. I know it's possible because I've been doing it my entire life. I thank you in advance, as does your immune system.

Monday, August 29, 2005


Here's a link to help you cope with all of that workplace frustration you keep bottled up inside.


This is a true story I know you’re going to love. LaChania Govan is a 25-year-old mother of two who was having problems with her cable service. So she called Comcast to complain – not just once, but over and over again. As is policy, she was put on hold, disconnected, or transferred to the Spanish language line – over and over again. (No, LaChania no habla espanol)

Sound familiar? Who among us hasn’t had this experience with a utility company at some point? Funny how customer SERVICE isn’t a strong suit of “service” providers. But I digress.

Despite her frustrating experience with Comcast’s customer service line, LaChania remained determined to get the service she deserved. As problems with her digital recording system continued, she made dozens of calls to Comcast. Yeah – DOZENS. For the mathematically disinclined, that’s at least 24 (and likely many, many more) She made so many calls, in fact, that when her August bill arrived in the mail, the name on the address panel had been changed to read: “Bitch Dog.”

Upon receiving her bill, LaChania immediately called Comcast to cancel service. When the operator asked for her name, she responded, “You really don't want me to go there.” After all, she was only known as “Bitch Dog” in their system.

Comcast has since admitted it is aware of the incident, and said that the bogus name change was authentic. The vice president of communications had this to say: “If this is not that customer’s name, it shouldn't be on that bill.” What an enlightening position to take! Only people who go by the name of “Bitch Dog” should receive statements with the words “Bitch Dog” on the address panel. How politically correct.

Comcast has since said it should be able to track who made the change…so somebody is in BIG trouble. Gotta love the brass, though, eh? Just to be fair, I think it’s safe to assume LaChania was not the most pleasant person to speak with after that 18th call or so. I imagine she probably had some abusive things to say to the person on the other end of the line (which she denies, I should add). I know *I* would have some pretty mean-spirited things to say if my cable went out and I couldn’t get a hold of somebody. That certainly doesn’t excuse the behavior of whoever keyed the words “Bitch Dog” into the billing system – but I can understand why they did it. I just hope the creative employee had the foresight to change more than just one name. If you’re going to get fired for being a jerk off, you may as well go all out.

Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. According to Martin Cohen, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Illinois, there was another case like it involving a Peoples Energy (Gas) customer. In that case, Jeffery Barnes of Maywood received four pieces of mail that included the words “scrotum bag” in the line with his name. Unfortunately, I have no hard estimate on how many phone calls you have to make to graduate from Bitch Dog to Scrotum Bag. That's an experiment you'll have to conduct on your own time.


I woke up this morning and found out they’re having a little rain down in N’awlins. Where have I been? Wrapped up in my own world, as usual. Too busy enjoying the beautiful weather up here in Chicago to pay attention to the horror of Hurricane Katrina. Experts are saying this storm could be a nightmare disaster of Biblical proportions, with parts of the city under 30 feet of water. Can you even imagine that? Think about how deep just 4 feet of water would be in your living room. You'd be swimming up to your armpits in filth and your furniture would be floating like ice cubes in murky brown tea. Now imagine 30 feet. Just think of the mildew afterward. Stanley Steemer better get the fleet mobilized.

What makes this storm particularly dangerous is that the city of New Orleans sits on a coastal wetland. It’s basically a city in a swamp. There’s really not a whole lot of room left for more water. So meteorologists have been warning for years that a Category 5 hurricane (the strongest) could level the Big Easy and leave a million people homeless. As of this morning, Katrina was a Category 4 packing winds of 145MPH.

New Orleans has a bunch of levees and pumps designed to keep the city dry. But these measures are futile against a raging force like this one. In fact, as the pumps fail and waters rise, there is fear of widespread contamination, including toxic chemicals, human waste, and floating coffins. It almost sounds like a horror movie – but it’s a very real possibility. Some estimates predict 60%-80% of the city’s houses could be destroyed by wind. And I can’t help but wonder…is God cleaning house? Anyone who’s experienced the madness of Mardi Gras sober (as I have) knows just how filthy it was. Urinating. Vomiting. Fighting. Sex acts. Some would say that city needed a good shower.

And now we all wait to see what will be left, if anything, of the Big Breezy and its historic Drench Quarter.

Wait until this poor bastard comes back and realizes he left his lights on.