September 30, 2005

Republicans Caught Between Business and Christian Extremists

Here in Mississippi, an interesting story is developing in which state Republicans find themselves torn between the Christian extremists who elected them and the business interests who paid for their campaigns. The story focuses on the state's gaming industry and what to do about the casinos in Biloxi which were severely damaged by Katrina.

According to Mississippi law, casinos may be built on water (along the Mississippi river or Gulf Coast) but not on land. Why? Because the Christians opposed gambling but were willing to agree to this compromise. In Biloxi, the result was the building of several casino hotels on the shore with floating casino barges attached. These floating barges were destroyed by Katrina, leading to the rational suggestion that they be rebuilt on land.

For obvious reasons, the casino developers would prefer to rebuild on land. Given that the state's economy has been in terrible shape since (and probably well before) the Civil War, casino dollars represent an important source of income. Similarly, the casinos bring jobs to the area. This means that a great many Mississippians generally support the existence of the casinos. Failure to do so would further jeopardize one of the worst state economies in the U.S.

On the other side of the debate, stand the Christian extremists. They are opposed to gambling for the same reason they oppose alcohol, nudity, rap music, homosexuality, and hundreds of other "evils" - their Christian beliefs. They don't want the casinos here at all and certainly not on land (I'm still not sure why this really makes a difference). Don't get me wrong - there are many valid reasons to oppose gambling, however, superstitious beliefs are not among them.

What are the Republican politicians to do? If they let down the Christians, their faith will be questioned and they risk losing their base of support. If they let down the casinos, they may go elsewhere and take away one of the few reliable sources of state income.

September 29, 2005

Americans United Criticizes Lack of Accountabilty in FEMA Funding of Religious Groups

PRESS RELEASE ** PRESS RELEASE ** PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release
September 27, 2005

Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Contact: Joe Conn, Rob Boston or Jeremy Leaming
202.466.3234 telephone
202.466.2587 fax
http://www.au.org/site/R?i=iHH43DjlH5D5HN84TLVdeQ..


AMERICANS UNITED CRITICIZES LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY IN FEMA FUNDING OF RELIGIOUS GROUPS

Hurricane Victims Should Not Be Subjected To Unwanted Proselytism By Government-Funded Church Groups, Says Watchdog Group


Americans United for Separation of Church and State today sharply criticized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for its plan to fund hurricane relief efforts by churches without adequate accountability and safeguards to protect the evacuees.

"After FEMA's ineptitude in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it's distressing to see the Bush administration making even more blunders," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Before millions of taxpayer dollars are turned over to churches, there must be strict accountability provisions and safeguards to protect the civil and religious liberty rights of those who need help."

The Washington Post reported today that FEMA plans to broadly reimburse houses of worship for their relief efforts. The move, the newspaper noted, "would mark the first time that the government has made large-scale payments to religious groups for helping to cope with a domestic natural disaster."

Many religious groups, Lynn noted, are taking part in relief efforts and deserve the thanks of the American people. But the new FEMA directive, he said, is too open-ended and could leave storm victims vulnerable to aggressive proselytism.

"Some religious organizations are openly using the hurricane relief efforts to win new converts," Lynn said. "If these groups can't separate their evangelism from their relief work, they should not be eligible for public funding. People displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita should not be subjected to unwanted, high-pressure religious coercion as the price of getting help from their own government."

Lynn noted the following examples:

According to Baptist Press news service, Southern Baptist aid workers distributed 11,000 evangelistic tracts and 1,200 Bibles in the hurricane-ravaged areas and saw "45 new professions of faith in Christ."

In a Sept. 20 report, Bobby Welch, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, urged church members to proselytize while providing aid. "When you go and you give the cup of cold water, you be sure you give a witness of Jesus Christ," Welch said. "Don't just smile and say, 'I go to church.' You give a witness of Jesus Christ to those people because the water, the beanie weenies and the food will run out, but whoever drinks of this water will never thirst again."

Welch noted that the denomination had launched an evangelism campaign at its 2005 annual meeting, adding, "Do you think that could be providential? Out of the sovereignty of God, that He'd take the largest denomination in the world and all of a sudden begin to focus them on being prepared for a great opportunity to win and witness and baptize like never before? I think so."

Evangelist Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse has been distributing gift bags to displaced children. The bag includes evangelistic tracts and a stuffed lamb that plays "Jesus Loves Me." Graham urged churches participating in the relief efforts to include evangelism. "[I]n everything you do," he said, "I encourage you to remember that your primary purpose is to share the redeeming love of the Lord Jesus Christ."

TV preacher Pat Robertson's "700 Club" reported that church-based evangelism even extends to government relief workers. According to a Sept. 6 report, Zion Bethany Church is providing housing for emergency workers, and the workers find a tract on their pillows each night. Tonja Miles, a faith-based charity CEO working with the church, told an interviewer, "[Emergency workers are] going out, and they're seeing devastation, so we wanted to start something that when they can come in, it's comfortable. We have a great meal; we have the word of God just all over the place."

Lynn said FEMA must not underwrite hard-sell evangelism efforts. He noted that the Bush administration has always claimed that faith-based groups that get government dollars for social services will not be allowed to proselytize. The FEMA directive, in contrast, contains no limitations whatsoever on evangelism with public money.

"The federal government cannot start dropping blank checks in the collection plates of churches," Lynn said. "FEMA has an obligation to exercise appropriate safeguards and accountability. Hurricane victims deserve no less, and taxpayers should demand it."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

September 27, 2005

Fire Engines and Ethics

While driving home from work on Friday, I looked in my rear-view mirror to see 4 fire engines with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Traffic was heavy - it has been so since Katrina brought an influx of 10,000 to 20,000 evacuees and emergency personnel to this area. Fortunately, there was enough room for us to move to the shoulder of the road to let the trucks by. At least there would have been room if my fellow drivers had chosen to move over. Sitting on the shoulder of the road, I realized that many of the drivers were making no attempt to let the fire engines by.

In asking myself why I had pulled to the shoulder, two reasons occurred to me. First, I knew it was the law. Drivers are expected to let emergency vehicles by when they have their lights and sirens on. This is a legal issue in that lack of compliance carries penalties. This was probably in the back of my mind somewhere as I pulled over. In fact, the primary reason I pulled over had nothing to do with the law. I pulled over because it was the right thing to do in an ethical/moral sense. In putting myself in the shoes of the people who were in trouble and had prompted the emergency response, I knew that rapid aid might make the difference between life and death or at least between minor and major suffering. If I was in their situation, I would want a fast response. Thus, I behaved in the way I would want others to behave if my life was on the line - I got the hell out of the way to let the fire trucks by.

As I reflect on the probability that the overwhelming majority of my fellow drivers during this incident profess their Christianity (based on population statistics for this area), I am somewhat confused. As the atheist, I am supposed to be the one without morals. These other drivers, most of whom would identify as Christians, ignored the legal and moral/ethical implications of the situation. How can it be that the atheist demonstrated a higher level of morality?

Empathy refers to one's ability to put oneself in the shoes of others, to view the world from their eyes, to imagine experiencing their plight. My ability (and willingness) to empathize with others is a primary reason I engage in ethical behavior. Is is possible that empathy is a better motivator for ethical behavior than one's fear of imaginary supernatural beings?

September 25, 2005

Christian Coalition Fading Fast

The State | 09/18/2005 | Christian Coalition fading fast

This article appeared in South Carolina's The State. For those of you who (like me) remember the Christian Coalition at its peak, this is good news.

Unfortunately, my joy at hearing of the coalition's demise is tempered by a number of factors. First, other equally destructive organizations have emerged to take the place of the coalition (e.g., Focus on the Family). Second, it makes sense that a grass roots organization would fade when leaders it elected essentially control all three branches of government. The coalition was always an opposition movement of sorts, so it is difficult to maintain momentum when one controls the halls of power. Third, I don't see any evidence that the American people are becoming less religious over that past 10 years. In fact, the "election" and then re-election of W suggest that the opposite may be happening.

September 23, 2005

Newdow Offers Rationale for Pledge Case

Michael Newdow, plaintiff in the Pledge of Allegiance case, explains why he is contesting the pledge. -- Beliefnet.com

As I read his reasoning, I am appalled that anyone could accuse him of being un-American. His actions not only demonstrate his fondness for America, but they represent the exercise of the very freedoms for which so many have died. I am not particularly optimistic that he will ultimately prevail, but I sure hope so.

Film Review: "The God Who Wasn't There"

I finally got around to seeing The God Who Wasn't There, and I thought I'd post my impressions in case others hadn't heard of it or were trying to decide whether it was worthwhile.

In case you haven't heard of this film, here is a reasonably accurate synopsis from Netflix:

"Borrowing the lively approach of documentaries such as Fahrenheit 9/11 and Super Size Me, ex-Christian fundamentalist Brian Flemming's expose shines an unflinching spotlight on Christianity and the existence of Christ. Flemming interviews religious experts and Christians of varying backgrounds, ultimately asserting that Jesus Christ is more than likely a fictional character based on legend and that Christian doctrine is rife with contradiction."

I was really looking forward to this one even though I was surprised to discover that the film's running time was only a little over an hour. My initial impressions were not particularly positive, as the first 10-15 minutes of the film were little more than a collage of obscure movie clips relating the Jesus myth. I was reminded more of Schoolhouse Rocks than Fahrenheit 9/11. The poor production quality, awful music, and odd narration made me feel like I was watching a bad student film.

To say that things improved from this point would be an understatement. Once it got going, I was pleasantly surprised by the turnaround. The interviews with Richard Carrier, Sam Harris, and others were outstanding. It was almost as if the director thought that viewers would be bored by these interviews and felt a need to add bad music, B-movie clips, and even cartoons to entertain. This was a bad decision, as the interviews were the highlight of the film and really made it worthwhile.

Where the director deserves the most praise is his structuring of the argument presented in the second half of the film - Jesus was likely a fictional character and there are many compelling historical reasons to doubt the veracity of the Christian bible. The data presented here are not widely known and difficult to refute.

The bonus features on the DVD include extended interviews with most of the scholars interviewed in the film. The interviews with Harris and Carrier were reason enough to buy or rent the DVD. The director asks the very questions I would like to ask and received outstanding answers. I become more impressed with these guys with every interview I see.

In summary, this is a film that should be seen by all atheists and agnostics. Despite its flaws, it is likely that you will enjoy it. Of course, I think it would be great if most Christians would see this film too. More than any film I have seen in the past few years, this is one I am dying to loan out to anyone who I can get to watch it.

September 22, 2005

"Blame Congress, not Mr. Newdow"

Times Argus: Vermont News & Information

Here is a great letter to the editor printed in a Vermont newspaper. It reminds us that we are not alone - others are willing to stand up for reason too. It also does an outstanding job of educating the public about the history of the pledge. I would bet that a majority of the American people believe that the god part was there from the beginning.

We could learn from this example and look for opportunities in our own communities to inform the public through similar letters in our local newspapers. Of course, this can be somewhat risky depending on where you live, but I find myself increasingly willing to take those risks.

September 21, 2005

Religion is the Issue, Not Abortion

Religion, holy ones strangling U.S. rights

This is a great article in which the author argues that the central political conflict in America is about religion rather than abortion. My favorite sentence from the article? "The Bible does not trump the Constitution." How true!

I post this simply because it is so nice to be reminded that there are rational people out there who are capable of critical thinking and who reject theocracy. The more of these voices, the harder it will be for the theocrats to accomplish their ultimate goal.

September 20, 2005

Sam Harris on Faith

"The men who committed the atrocities of September 11 were certainly not 'cowards,' as they were repeatedly described in the Western media, nor were they lunatics in any ordinary sense. They were men of faith - perfect faith, as it turns out - and this, it must finally be acknowledged, is a terrible thing to be."

Sam Harris

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September 18, 2005

Deconstructing Christian Extremism

What exactly is "Christian extremism?" The first step to understanding this dangerous phenomenon so that it can be effectively opposed involves some form of definition.

The starting point in our definition of Christian extremism requires a definition of Christian fundamentalism. Although Christian extremism subsumes fundamentalism, it is probably not accurate to characterize all fundamentalists as extremists. Although there is considerable controversy over exactly how to define fundamentalism, I have seen the following components listed in multiple respected sources:

1. Biblical Inerrancy
2. Evangelism
3. Premillenialism (expectation of second coming, rapture, etc.)
4. Separatism/Sense of Persecution
5. Biblical Literalism (at least with regard to creation)

I propose that Christian extremism includes these 5 components of fundamentalism but adds additional components. I offer the following as potential aspects of the definition. Consider this a work in progress.

6. Exclusivity (conviction that those who do not share their religious viewpoint
are not "real" Christians)
7. Anti-Intellectualism
8. Social Conservatism and Anti-Liberalism
9. Intolerance
10. Theocratic Strivings
11. Militant Opposition to Modernism

What did I miss? Do you believe that there are other components which should be considered part of this definition? If so, I would be grateful for your input.

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September 16, 2005

ABC Host Apologizes to Atheists

WorldNetDaily: ABC host apologizes to atheists

More good news. As one of the many who e-mailed, wrote letters, and/or called in response to Mr. Weir's insensitive comment about atheists, it is nice to see that we were taken seriously in our quest for a public apology. I must admit that I am very surprised that we received the apology. I take this to be an excellent sign, indicating that atheists can be motivated to action and that such action can be effective. For all who joined the effort by contacting ABC News, thank you! I particularly admire how American Atheists handled this situation.

Court Rules "Under God" Inappropriate in School

Some good news for a change! The following is a press release from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State:

PRESS RELEASE ** PRESS RELEASE ** PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release
September 14, 2005

Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Contact: Joe Conn, Rob Boston or Jeremy Leaming
202.466.3234 telephone
202.466.2587 fax

FEDERAL COURT RULING ON 'UNDER GOD' IN PLEDGE SHOWS RESPECT FOR RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY, SAYS AMERICANS UNITED

Public Schools Should Not Require Students To Affirm Belief In God In Order To Express Patriotism, Says Church-State Watchdog Group

A federal district court decision against use of "under God" in public school recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance shows respect for religious diversity, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled today in Sacramento, Calif., that public school sponsorship of the Pledge violates students' right to be "free from a coercive requirement to affirm God."

"The court's decision was correct as a matter of Establishment Clause jurisprudence," said Americans United Legal Director Ayesha Khan. "The Constitution forbids government to intervene in religious matters.

"America is a very diverse nation," Khan continued. "We have some 2,000 different denominations and faith groups, as well as many Americans who choose no religious path at all. It is wrong for public schools to ask students to affirm a religious belief in order to express their patriotism."

Khan noted that some religious traditions use different names for the deity, while other faiths believe in more than one god. Others regard governmental appropriation of God as theologically unacceptable.

"America faces many challenges today," Khan concluded. "We can best meet those challenges if we are united as a people. Americans should never be made to feel excluded from our national life because they have the 'wrong' views about religion."

Today's decision came in a lawsuit brought by Michael Newdow on behalf of three California parents and their children. (Newdow v. Congress of the United States of America)

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

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September 15, 2005

A Christian Hate Crime

Police investigating an apparent hate crime (phillyBurbs.com)

I wanted to post this story right before Katrina hit, but I ran out of time. I continue to be fascinated by it, so I figured I better get it up here. The "Get Jesus" on the garage door is great. Christian vandals. I wonder if they hate him more for the pot or for not being a Christian?

September 14, 2005

Firms With White House Ties Get Katrina Contracts

CNN.com - Firms with White House ties get Katrina contracts - Sep 10, 2005

If this isn't illegal, it certainly should be. Doesn't the appearance of wrongdoing count for anything? Clinton made some errors in judgment, but this president seems determined to leave his mark by destroying any credibility of his office. Since he claims to receive guidance from Jesus, what does this say about Jesus?

September 13, 2005

Katrina Log, Part 5 (the last retrospective post)

(The following was written on 9/5)

Part 4 can be found here.

I am hoping that this will be my final entry in this Katrina log. I am planning to return to work tomorrow.

I got word that a friend of mine who had to evacuate New Orleans is safely in Arkansas. He learned that the first floor of his home is completely underwater and has no idea when (or if) he will be able to return. Fortunately, he has family on the west coast he can stay with for a few months.

It sounds like W is returning to Mississippi today. I guess he thinks that making another appearance will somehow make amends for the unacceptably slow federal response. The finger-pointing is getting interesting, with the feds blaming state and local governments who are in turn blaming the feds. From the little information I was able to gather immediately before, during, and shortly after the storm, it seems fairly clear that the primary failure was that of the feds. State governors requested federal aid before the storm hit. If the state and local officials should receive a portion of the blame (which they should), it is for their failure to get information to the people about what was happening.

Returning to the issue of uninformative news coverage of the Katrina aftermath, why is it that reporters never repeat their original question when it goes unanswered? The critical question has been and continues to be why an adequate federal response took so long. In the many hours of CNN I have watched, I have not seen a federal official give a direct response to this question. I have also not seen a reporter repeat the question when it is not answered the first time. It doesn’t seem like we are any closer to understanding what went wrong, and this means that we shouldn’t expect an improved response to the next disaster.

I have also not forgotten my previous rants about how this incident should place the spotlight on poverty in America. Democrats should be all over this, as it is painfully obvious that the policies of the Republican leadership exacerbate poverty. While this is certainly not a new insight, the impact of Katrina could serve to highlight the growing numbers of Americans living in poverty. I want to see the Democrats propose a viable plan for ending poverty in America. This should be the party’s rallying platform, and Republican opposition should be shown for what it is – selfishness.

I’m not sure if it is coming through in what I have written these past few days, but the events of Katrina have affected me deeply. I am still trying to understand the meaning of my changing feelings, and I don’t have many answers yet. If I had to sum up the collective impact of what I have experienced so far, I would say that my perspective on the theism/atheism conflict has shifted to the periphery. I am realizing that many of the devastating consequences of Republicanism are far more important than their desire to “church up” America. Their ongoing imperialistic consumerism, destruction of the environment, and neglect of poverty and the plight of the working poor in America all seem like greater evils than their efforts to legislate morality. While I have no immediate plans to change the purpose or focus of this blog, I find these issues on my mind a great deal lately.

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September 11, 2005

Father and Son in New Orleans


A friend just sent this to me. I think this picture does a great job of summing up W's attitude toward the disaster victims. How can he possibly care about the poor when his policies have contributed to the increasing disparity between rich and poor?

Katrina Log, Part 4

(The following was written on 9/4)

Part 3 can be found here.

It sounds like I’ll be able to return to work on Tuesday. Good thing because the boredom is killing me – I never realized how dependent I was on internet access (especially when the gas shortage doesn’t permit any travel). I heard on the radio a few minutes ago that people had to wait for 6 hours in gas lines yesterday. Needless to say, I’m not going to drive until I have to return to work. I was going to try to get to the one grocery store in town that has reopened today, but I’ll wait until Tuesday since it is along the route I take to work. No point using any gas until I have to.

I spent most of yesterday clearing debris and will do the same today. I’m starting to tire of CNN because I’m getting increasingly disgusted with how their anchors and interviewers are so clearly skewing the information they obtain by the manner in which they ask their questions. Didn’t the news used to be objective? Wasn’t there a time back in the 70s or early 80s where news stations focused on reporting facts and were content for viewers to draw their own conclusions? Maybe my memory is inaccurate, but it seems much worse now. Even though I happen to agree with the story they are pushing (i.e., that the federal government severely botched the response to Katrina), I wish they would stick to the facts and not mix it with commentary. Commentary is fine if clearly identified as such and separated from the actual news. Sadly, it is quite clear that Fox News is not the only one with an agenda and a willingness to mold the facts to fit into such an agenda.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts of my Katrina account how the local radio stations have turned into a listener call-in to ask questions and provide information (e.g., regularly broadcasting which gas stations are open and actually have gas). This morning (Sunday), the airwaves are filled with lists of which churches are open and having services today. They appear to be giving this information higher priority than where to find food, water, ice, and gas. The DJs have been strongly encouraging people to attend church today to “thank god for what we still have.” They believe that those who just lost their homes, haven’t showered in 5 days, don’t know where they’ll get their next meal, and do not know if their family members are alive or dead have a great deal for which to be thankful. After all, they are still alive – spared by god. This has nothing to do with luck, and nature is simply irrelevant here.

A couple of the area churches are going to provide meals today, and I applaud them for doing so. I’m even willing to forgive their making the receipt of such meals contingent upon attendance at their religious services. This community is in dire need, and it is wonderful that these churches are helping out. I’m even willing to overlook how only 2-3 churches out of at least 100 in this area are providing meals. The FEMA presence continues to be inadequate in this area, and so every little bit helps.

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New GOD or NOT Carnival Coming Soon

The Evangelical Atheist and others have developed a new carnival in the grand tradition of Carnival of the Godless. This one requires submissions from both theists and atheists. To host future carnivals, submit posts, or just learn more, visit the GOD or NOT page. Contributing to carnivals like this are a great way for new bloggers to boost their readership.

September 10, 2005

Katrina Log, Part 3

(The following was written on 9/3)

Part 2 can be found here.

Still no internet access. I was told that my service would be restored yesterday, but it is still down. When I called this morning, I was told that this whole area is down with no ETA for service to resume. Thus, I continue this Katrina log to be posted eventually.

It looks like conditions in New Orleans are finally starting to improve. At the same time, residents of the Mississippi coast are still not receiving sufficient aid. Relief efforts have been botched in a major way, and I sincerely hope that there will be accountability when everyone is safe. I am really not after punishment here (although it is clearly warranted); I am after sweeping procedural and budgetary changes to insure that our response to the next disaster is much more rapid.

Here in the Hattiesburg area, there continues to be meager progress. Major roads have been cleared. Restoration of electric power continues slowly, and much of the town remains without power or water. None of us have safe drinking water yet (those of us lucky enough to have power must boil water for at least 2 minutes before it can be considered safe to use). Telephone and cellular service remain spotty but are showing marginal improvement. Food, water, and ice continue to be scarce, and there is still no clear communication from local officials about where people are supposed to obtain these items. Information provided to local radio stations by private citizens is the only information we have, and it is not always reliable. Gas is slowly becoming easier to find, as more stations are starting to open. Lines are extremely long, rationing continues, and hours of operation are limited, but this is still a step in the right direction. Postal service started to return yesterday although we are told that mail is still going to be delayed by at least 1-2 days. The last garbage pick-up was a full week before Katrina hit.

Questions have been raised in the media about the role of race and class in the recovery efforts (at least in New Orleans). I think there these questions have considerable merit, and I hope that they will spark a national discussion once the immediate crisis is resolved. Of course, I know that this will not happen. Republican leaders are already moving to dismiss these claims and discredit their sources. When the immediate crisis is resolved, Americans will return to their lives and not give the situation a second thought. In fact, I suspect that many Americans are already getting tired of hearing about the Gulf Coast. Sure, there will be a spike in Red Cross donations. Maybe there will even be a pro forma investigation into the federal response to Katrina. But like 9/11, we will be encouraged to forget and move on as soon as possible.

I want to see a national discussion on poverty in America. I would like to see those of us who care about such things (many of whom are religious and many of whom are not) provide a voice on behalf of those who desperately need such a voice. We need to make it clear that whoever is elected to Congress in 2006 or the Presidency in 2008 have a plan for a "war on poverty" in America. This is more important that our futile anti-drug efforts. This is more urgent, less expensive, and tremendously easier to accomplish than this administration's "war on terror." Let those images of suffering Americans in the streets of New Orleans be our catalyst.

On to part 4.

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September 9, 2005

Bush Calls for "National Day of Prayer and Remembrance" on September 16

See the last paragraph of this statement, and it will be fairly clear that our President is again playing "the god card." If he reminds us of the strength of his faith, maybe we will forgive him for botching the federal disaster relief. Can't we just call it a day of remembrance and leave fictional beings out of it?

See a great response from American Atheists here.

Katrina Log, Part 2

(The following was written on 9/2)

Part 1 can be found here.

I flipped on CNN this morning feeling optimistic. Surely the images broadcast yesterday would have produced a national outcry, and I would see evidence of a major National Guard and FEMA presence in New Orleans and Mississippi. Or not. Conditions in New Orleans look like they are getting worse, and there still appears to be little trace of the aid the city was promised. I also note that the entire state of Mississippi is apparently no longer newsworthy. The Biloxi/Gulfport area is mentioned briefly between longer segments on New Orleans. If that is what it takes to finally spark some aid for New Orleans, so be it.

I see that President W arrived in Biloxi a few minutes ago. What’s the point? Maybe he needs to make sure that conditions are really as bad as he’s been seeing on TV. After all, the “liberal media” could be making up the whole thing. Still insufficient food, water, and medical aid for New Orleans. Still no electricity, water, and gas for much of Mississippi. How many more people are going to die because they are waiting for the aid that was promised even before Katrina hit?

I want so much to help the people in New Orleans and those in my town who still have no electricity or running water, but I feel completely helpless to do anything. I have little food remaining, no phone service, and have been told that gas rationing is very limited. I can no longer receive any local radio stations, so I have no idea what is happening nearby. If I venture out for food, I’ll end up using a lot of gas with no assurance of finding additional fuel. And so I wait.

On to part 3.

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September 8, 2005

Katrina Log, Part 1

(The following was written on 9/1)

For those of you who have been following hurricane Katrina on the news, I live in Hattiesburg which is about 60 miles north of Gulfport, MS. Experiencing the heart of the storm was unlike anything have ever imagined. However, the terror pales in comparison to the aftermath.

I spent the last 3 days and nights without electricity or running water in humid 90+ degree Mississippi heat. The scariest thing about this period of time was the complete lack of information. I could see with my own eyes that much of the town was destroyed. I knew I was fortunate to live inland because our damage was sure to be trivial compared to the coast. But no phones, no internet, no electricity, no gas, impassable roads, etc. combined to create a total information black-out. How long would we be without electricity? A neighbor said he had heard it might be as long as 6 weeks. How were we to get water? Should we attempt to make it out of the state, and if so, were the roads passable? Most local radio stations were out, and the few broadcasts I could pick up from Jackson said little about what was happening in my area.

It turns out that I was one of the lucky ones. Most of the trees around my house came down, destroying the fence around my yard but sparing my home from major structural damage. As I write this, we still have no gas, phone service is spotty at best, and more than 70% of the state is still without power. Downed trees cover the roads, stoplights are inoperable, and I hear that the few stores that finally opened today have lines of 100-200 people and virtually nothing left. Like most sane people, I am staying home to do my part in conserving gas and not contributing to an even larger problem. I will have no choice but to venture out when my food runs out, but I should be able to make it a couple more days.

My power came on last night, marking one of the happiest moments I can recall during the past few years. I screamed with delight like a schoolgirl and didn't even feel stupid afterward. Our water still isn't safe to drink, but at least I can boil it now. Best of all, I have air conditioning again!

When power was restored, I turned on the TV, desperate to find out what was going on. While the cable is still out, preventing me from getting any local news, I have been able to watch CNN on satellite. Seeing their coverage, I am enraged at the total inaction of our local, state, and federal governments. Until today when a couple of the local radio stations are broadcasting, no official information was reaching my fellow citizens about where to go, what to do, how to survive. The reason you keep seeing no sign of the National Guard, police, etc. in the CNN coverage of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is that they are not there. The commentator keeps asking about whether the aid is adequate, but the aid is nonexistent! I just heard that they have finally set up a staging area in Baton Rouge. The storm hit on Monday. It is Thursday, and no aid has reached the locations that need it most. I've heard that FEMA has been having meetings. Where the hell are they? People in Gulfport, Biloxi, and New Orleans have been homeless, without food or water, and in the 90+ degree sun since Monday. Where is the government aid? People are dying on the streets of New Orleans well after the storm is over.

When Haley Barbour (ultra-conservative governor of Mississippi) was interviewed on CNN today, he sounded defensive and was unwilling to acknowledge that Mississippi is not receiving sufficient aid from the federal government. I guess this aid must be invisible, because we certainly haven't seen any trace of it as of today. W says his government is going to do everything possible to help. I hope he plans to start the aid while at least some of the displaced citizens are still alive. W and Haley, my fellow Mississippians and Louisianans need food, water, and medical attention. They need it now. In a couple more days, it will be too late.

On to part 2.

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I'm Back

My internet access was finally restored. I have been keeping a Katrina diary that I will post along with the date each entry was written.

No major damage to my house except that the fence around my yard was destroyed, and I am still cleaning up debris. I was without power and water for only about 3 days. I feel extremely lucky given the devastation throughout town. It is going to take years for this area to recover.

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