May 19, 2011

Flooding Louisiana to Save It

As I watch the video of the first gates of the Morganza spillway opening and releasing a foaming rush of water from the Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya and look at the maps of the areas that will be flooded, I ponder the choices that our decades-long public works experiment is forcing on us. I ask along with one of the folks in Gibson, Louisiana, forced out by the rising waters,  "what gives them the right to flood us?"

Protecting the numerous residents of Baton and Rouge and New Orleans -- even if it means risking the less populous areas of Louisiana -- is probably the right choice. Still, I can't help but think that the way the US Army Corps of Engineers is handling the Mississippi flooding reflects on the inequalities of American society. Flooding the Atchafalaya river valley protects.... who, besides the residents of big cities? How about B. F. Goodrich, E. I. du Pont, Union Carbide, Reynolds Metals, Shell, Mobil, Texaco, Exxon, Monsanto, Uniroyal, Georgia-Pacific, Hydrocarbon Industries, Vulcan Materials, Nalco Chemical, Freeport Chemical, Dow Chemical, Allied Chemical, Stauffer Chemical, Hooker Chemicals, Rubicon Chemicals, American Petrofina, as described in Fighting the Mississippi River, an article written in 1987, long before the current crisis in Louisiana, by Pulitzer prize-winning author John McPhee. McPhee's article was later expanded into a book titled The Control of Nature.

So along the banks of the Mississippi in the big cities, we have businesses and residents with the means to build and maintain riverfront properties. In the areas the Corps projects will be inundated we have poor people, their homes, their farms, fishing grounds, and their livelihoods. Aren't they more vulnerable to being wiped out, compared to the businesses along the banks of the Mississippi? Do we as a nation really believe it's better to save the assets of companies than the homes of families?

Water policy in the US has long favored the powerful and wealthy. In his book Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, author Marc Reisner outlines the history of water rights in California and surrounding states. Reisner makes a pretty good case that some, in places like the Owens River Valley, had their water taken from them by means at best unscrupulous. In Louisiana, maintaining the river as the conduit of commerce to the Gulf of Mexico has taken precedence over homes and communities away from the big cities. In the short term, political and financial forces ensure that this tradeoff will favor the wealthy, but in the long term, what happens to the folks who will have nothing to go back to if the floodwaters carry everything away?

Apr 14, 2011

Dogen Zenji

I just found out about Shambala's forthcoming new translation of Dogen's Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen's Shobo Genzo, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi. This looks to be an edition worthy of the name treasure, edited in consultation with numerous respected American Zen teachers, among them the late Robert Aitken, Chozen Jan Bays, John Daido Loori, Mel Weitsman, and the late Philip Whalen.

Mar 3, 2011

Redundant and Useless: The Transportation Security Administration Misses One

The Transportation Security Administration is facing criticism after three box cutters were discovered aboard a JetBlue flight at New York's JFK airport on Saturday.

Eusebio D. Peraltalajara, 45, a Jersey City factory worker, passed through security with three box-cutters in his carry-on luggage. The box cutters fell out when he was putting his bag in an overhead compartment. The flight was evacuated and the passengers re-screened.  Peraltalajara was not charged with a crime.

Several  TSA agents are facing discipline and extra training as a result of the incident.

TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis said, "There have been a number of additional security layers that have been implemented on aircraft that would prevent someone from causing harm with boxcutters, " adding, "They include the possible presence of armed federal air marshals, hardened cockpit doors, flight crews trained in self-defense and a more vigilant traveling public who have demonstrated a willingness to intervene."

As a result of the incident, the Dominican Republic-bound flight was delayed three hours.

More from the NY Post article TSA staff jet blew it.

Related reading: The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation

Feb 25, 2011

Wisconsin Governor Walker's Union Busting

Most of the major media outlets are still reporting the situation in Wisconsin as being about a budget crisis. There is, in fact, no real crisis, just a false one generated by Gov. Scott Walker's rhetoric. Using this shock doctrine tactic, Gov. Walker is trying to achieve a political end by claiming that drastic steps are necessary.

While the Wisconsin SB11 is purportedly about saving the state from deep deficits, the justification goes, in part, along the lines of how public sector employees are overpaid and have unusually good benefits. If this were true, then why aren't the Wall Street financiers and corporate CEO's ditching their private sector gigs and lining up to go to work for the states? The pay differential is a big lie, but one that is believed by enough supporters of the Tea Party conservatives to be a substantial talking point. As noted in The Economist, this argument is absurd when given a little thought. How many folks would say they or someone they know goes to work for the government to rake in the big bucks?

There are real budget problems at the state and federal level -- financially many of them are showing deficits. It's appropriate for elected officials to take a hard look at the programs they have and the revenues they expect and make difficult choices. But revenues are falling for states and that has nothing to do with the pay of public sector employees or their union contracts. The real culprits behind the fiscal problems are the folks that broke the economy and looted the taxpayer for their bailout. Why do people like Gov. Scott Walker and his Koch brothers-financed supporters want to blame the unions and let the financiers off the hook?

The political purpose of Walker's posturing isn't to save the state's budget. His goal is to break the unions and impose his (and his wealthy backers') fiscal policies for the state, and the manufactured budget crisis is just part of a Koch-financed strategy to further widen the gap between the very wealthy and the rest of us.

Recommended reading for this issue is Naomi Klein's excellent book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

I been thinking about us, too, about our people living like pigs and good rich land layin' fallow. Or maybe one guy with a million acres and a hundred thousand farmers starvin'. And I been wonderin' if all our folks got together and yelled...

Jan 29, 2011

The 'Internet Kill Switch'?

Egyptian authorities disconnected the entire country from the Internet during the current revolution. This is a clear sign that the worldwide network is seen as an important enabling technology for organizing opposition to corrupt and oppressive governments. Some people are looking at proposals in the United States to create an Internet 'kill switch' in light of the events in Egypt, finding comparisons and suggesting dire consequences. But first, looking a how Egypt's access to the internet got shut off, it's not clear that any magic technology was at work -- just old fashioned authoritarian government action. That prospect, not a technical kill capability, is more foreboding.

Reports suggest that officials in Cairo simply contacted -- by telephone, perhaps -- each of Egypt's major ISPs and ordered them to cut off access. Each of them acquiesced meekly. The limited connectivity remaining is telling: Only Noor Data Networks is still connected. Egypt's stock market connects to the world over Noor. In addition, a majority of traffic to the middle east and Asia passes through Egypt, and that traffic is not blocked.

Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) has filed the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act (S. 3480) to give the president “emergency measures" for shutting off Internet access, without judicial review. Sen. Lieberman has shown his hand in response to Wikileaks, when he intimidated Amazon into dropping Wikileaks from their cloud servers. Paypal caved and cut off Wikileaks without even being directly asked by any US official.

Experience indicates that neither technological magic nor enabling legislation is needed when a government wants to crack down on dissent by closing off communications.

Jan 4, 2011

DADT and Dirty Politics

So, shortly after DADT was repealed, videos surface of some wackiness on the Navy aircraft carrier USS Enterprise while Capt. Owen Honors was the executive officer, and some people are shocked, just SHOCKED that this kind of thing went on. But news stories all note that senior Navy officers knew about the videos years ago, and put a stop to it at some point. As the New York Times notes, "it remains unclear why it took five years for the videos to surface".

Why leak the videos to The Virginian-Pilot, the source of the story, now? Why would the editor who decided to make it news now?

Dec 28, 2010


This is the time of year when people work on reviewing the previous year and thinking ahead to the next. I've been on the road, though, and haven't given it a lot of thought.

I'm happy with the amount of writing I did, both here, in my paper journal, and other outlets, but I'd like to do more and put more polish on the pieces I put out for public consumption.

I'd like to write more music, and especially more music with lyrics.

Towards the end of the year I decided that President Obama failed to live up not only to the pre-election expectations that generated so much buzz, but even failed to accomplish the minimal change of direction I'd believed he was capable of and likely to accomplish.

I didn't work at all this year. I managed to do a picture-a-day project through June but fizzled out for the rest of the year.

I read a great deal, and spent a lot of my reading time updating and expanding my knowledge and awareness of Islam. With the spike in Islamophobia generated by the teabaggers and conservative GOP politics, I felt it my duty as a citizen to be substantively informed. Even moreso, I felt it was an area of my religious autodidactism that needed attention. Not surprisingly, learning about what Muslims believe and practice shed considerable light on other traditions I already knew something about.

Really my primary goal for this coming year is to be 10% less lazy and inert, about my writing, my photography, and my music.