~ Archive for Too weird for fiction ~

Red scare

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The “Polit Bureau” of the Communist Party*
of a billion-person nuclear government took aim at Washington last
month, claiming the UN-organized Volcker committee was a product
of “the
US and its allies
,” pausing to note “the pressure of vicious attacks by
the rightwing circles in the United States against the United
Nations
”   The Apocamon are knocking at the door…

* Not China; rather the “Communist Party of India (Marxist)”, the largest of around ten similarly-named parties in the country.

New Orleans, before and after : Days 0 through 5

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What a fantastic, nightmarish photoessay.  200 photos, before and after, all over town.  Beautifully shot by one Alvaro. As Ian notes, he could use a caption editor, but his love of the city comes through… it breaks my heart.

when I wasn’t taking pictures, we donated a truckload of food to the
police department, gave away over 10 gallons of water to civilians when
we decided to leave, and we sat on the curb outside of our apartment
with a radio on so that the whole block could listen to the news. I’m
not trained as a lifesaver, but I do like taking pictures.

The city seems to have been fine well into Day 2; a quick evacuation should
have been possible as late as day 3, once everyone realized there was real
trouble underfoot, and was promised by day 5.  I’m not sure when
the last buses left, but it was more like day 8…

Katrina Chaos

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FEMA was unprepared.  The engineers in New Orleans, despite insisting at some point this wasn’t as bad as their worst fears, were unprepared.  Even Fats Domino was unprepared.  The governors of
Louisiana and Mississippi were unprepared even to fight for order, and
have already thrown up their hands and claimed salvage impossible,
repair “in the hands of a higher power.” 

But this wasn’t unexpected
It has been talked about and thought about, for decades, by people at
every level from city district planners to various branches of the
federal government and the military.  Louisiana isn’t the only
region of the US that talks about “The Big One
and when it will come, but they have one of the better reasons to
expect it to happen soon; everyone knew the chances a disaster were
only increasing year by year.  We have advanced hurricane tracking
systems that allowed us to start worrying about Katrina long
before landfall.   But what was the response?  Is there
some way to see how forces, experts, and materials were mobilized in
the run up to the past week?

I know more about catastrophes in Texas than in Louisiana, so a few
comments from across the border:  the extensive flooding in
Southeast Texas a few summers back was no wake-up call, either; and
improvement plans made then have yet to be implemented in Houston (to
pick a nearby and wealthier city).  Anything readily survived can
be readily forgotten.

Why are good contingency plans so scarce?  Why are people so
shy about demanding them?  In Houston, I remember, people had
known for ten years before the last flood that measures promised after
the preceding flood hadn’t been implemented… but there was only
occasional grumbling. 

And most importantly, why are there so few community-based disaster
groups who know what to do and how in such situations?  This
disaster proved again that waiting for national or global organizations
to come and help often takes too long.  The health  and
looting problems have worsened rapidly (currently, active Marines have
been called in and the governor’s orders include “shoot looters on
sight”).  People let in the area feel stranded, don’t know what to
do, and are in many regions making the situation worse. 

This was a MINOR natural disaster, for all the destruction it caused —  it was trackable, predictable, and came in a familiar form.
Yet hundreds of communities proved themselves incapable of coping with
it.   Just imagine the results of a real cataclysm.

Eggshell memory

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Fragile and elusive, we depend on memory for so much of our understanding of ourselves, our loved ones, and the world.

Every week I encounter some truly flabbergasting quirk in memory amonth my dearest friends, family members, and loved ones. There is a very narrow selection of people who I deeply trust to preserve accurate memories over years and decades; off the top of my head, I can count five of them. If you dig into people I have only known sporadically, or who I know largely *because* of their excellent memories, you can perhaps make it to ten.

Of course memory is a double-edged sword. When I find that someone’s memory differs significantly from mine, even if there is a third party involved who agrees with one or the other of us, I could always be the one misremembering. Quite a frustrating dilemma. Only if you have at least two external sources who agree with you, can you feel confident that you are remembering correctly some disputed event.

Quite interesting to me, is the detachment of memory accuracy from mental acuity and brilliance. The people I trust to have perfect memories span the range of traditional ‘smarts’, and those whose memories change so often I’m certain they are unreliable, include two of the most brilliant people I have ever met.

In any case, I felt only deep understanding upon reading this story about Vietnam vets and their changing memories of spitting during their homecomings. It also reminded me a bit of a story I was editing not long ago…

Don’t Quit Your Day Job… Work Nights!

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For those of you still slaving over
your outfits every evening, pacing your circuits and patiently tending
your tinted streetlamps, there is hope: move to Britain and join the
millions who benefit from that pregnant lovechild of legalized sex-work and eBay : adultwork.co .   Then you can attract customers from the comfort of your own home, without raising a finger.

I thought finding Sam Sloan’s site again was weird; this is far weirder.  Link care of WIRED News, as you might expect.

Ismail “Sam” Sloan : epitomizing clever, virile, mad, shameless Man?

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There’s no good way to describe Mr. Sloan.  And I think I’ve tried to write about him before; I know James has. Here’s another shot:

He’s successfully
argued his own case before the United States Supreme Court, been barred from entering the Phillippines, had his
girlfriend deported from the UAE, fathered eight children by six women, been married five? times, including once less than a week after meeting his soon-to-be wife, escaped from jail in Afghanistan, led a social revolution at the University of Berkeley, and produced one of the world most idiosyncratic blog-like websites, long before blogs were a twinkling in Sir Timothy‘s eye..

There’s a lot of stray anger and frustration and libido scattered about his site;
you may not enjoy browsing it yourself.  But to get an overview of
it, you might skim his quiz series.

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