The human cost of Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina is going to have an impact on the North American economy. The impact won’t stop at the 49th parallel. Canadians are already feeling the pain at the gas pumps, where prices have risen by 20 cents per litre (approximately 75 cents per US gallon) overnight.

And it goes without saying that there has been a direct assault on people’s property. I have spent a while sifting through photos at There are photos of smashed houses, washed out highways and bridges, boats carried ashore, a van lifted up onto a fence, streets littered with debris, and downed trees.

But those weren’t the photos that grabbed me. Here is a selection of photos that tell the story of the direct human impact of hurricane Katrina; the cost to ordinary men, women and children — families like mine and yours.

The Todd family takes shelter in their laundry room
Meridian, Louisiana (AFP/Getty Images/Marianne Todd)

(no names available)
New Orleans, Louisiana (AFP/File/James Nielsen)

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi (AP Photo/Ben Sklar)

Bay St. Louis Emergency Management Agency volunteer crews rescue the Taylor family from the roof of their suburban, which became trapped on US 90 due to flooding.

Yolanda Williams and Patrick and Lonnie Antee
are rescued from their home
New Orleans, Louisiana (Reuters/Rick Wilking)

Alex Curtis, 12
Biloxi, Mississippi (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Evelyn Turner cries alongside the body of her common-law husband, Xavier Bowie, after he died in New Orleans, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005. Bowie and Turner had decided to ride out Hurricane Katrina when they could not find a way to leave the city. Bowie, who had lung cancer, died when he ran out of oxygen Tuesday afternoon.

Pregnant in public

This post was inspired by a pregnant woman I passed as I walked through a local shopping mall earlier today.

She was at least seven months pregnant, and wearing a crop top. It’s the bare midriff fashion, writ large.

third trimesterWas I offended? Certainly not! I think pregnancy is beautiful … even sexy, though the comment may shock some of you.
I have never understood women who fret about their appearance during pregnancy and confuse it with getting fat. Definitely not the same thing.
Not so long ago, pregnancy was somehow shameful. I suppose that everything connected with reproduction was supposed to be private. So it wasn’t good form to be pregnant in public. Instead, upper class women were confined for the duration of their pregnancies:

Historically the question of what women should do during pregnancy was a highly class-based one. Upper- and middle-class European and North American women of previous centuries were kept in confinement and forced leisure. To be visibly pregnant was constituted as a bit of a social shame, and women were discouraged from appearing in public with the evidence of reproduction swelling their bellies (plus, it was kinda tough to fit into those corsets after a few months, although many women tried and subsequently did quite a bit of damage to themselves and the baby). However, being immobilized and enshrined in the house was a luxury not available to the majority of the female population. Most worked at some sort of manual labour right up until their delivery.

two belliesEven just a few years ago, women were much more discreet about their swollen bellies. Maternity clothes were baggy (and unflattering), but they have evolved, too.

This summer I have noticed a radical change in the fashion: maternity clothes can be form-fitting or sheer. And today, the woman in the crop top, proudly exposing her belly for all of us to celebrate with her.

Pregnant in public. How delightful!

Update on Canada / USA softwood lumber dispute

I have continued to dig for information on this issue, because I do like to get both points of view on any conflict. 49erdweet said he couldn’t find anything explaining the American perspective, and I thought we should try to rectify that. In the interests of fair play, here’s what I know now.

The USA is relying on a 2004 ruling by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC). This is a less authoritative body than the Extraordinary Challenge Committee that inspired my previous post. But it supported the American position, so at least the US Government can honestly say that there is one ruling in the USA’s favour.

The decision of the Extraordinary Challenge Committee was on a technical matter that didn’t touch on the 2004 ITC ruling. So the ITC ruling hasn’t been struck down by a higher court.

Further developments are reported in today’s Globe and Mail:

The World Trade Organization has ruled that the United States complied with international law when it imposed billions of dollars of duties on Canadian lumber — a decision that the United States calls vindication and Canada says is a setback.

The WTO panel ruled yesterday that the United States adhered to international law when it issued a revised finding in late 2004 that Canadian softwood lumber imports threatened its mills, said a U.S. trade official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The confidential ruling, confirmed by Canadian officials, further complicates an already tangled web of legal decisions in the long-running trade feud.

Canada has trumpeted a seemingly contradictory North American free trade panel ruling earlier this month as the end of the dispute.

That panel found the U.S. duties, which now total more than $4-billion, illegal under U.S. law, prompting Ottawa to call for their immediate removal.

At a meeting of New England governors and Eastern Canadian premiers yesterday, Frank McKenna, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, pointed out that one NAFTA panel after another has ruled in Canada’s favour. …

Toronto trade lawyer Lawrence Herman said the WTO and NAFTA rulings aren’t so much contradictory as “mutually exclusive.” NAFTA panels determine whether a country is complying with its own laws, while WTO panels check adherence to international trade laws, he said.

If I understand the last paragraph correctly, the USA is in violation of its domestic laws, but is relying on international law to justify the decision to maintain the duties.

That’s got to be the first time that the USA showed such enthusiasm for international law. Meantime, the duties cost Canada approximately $80 million per month.

Rock ‘n’ Roll royalty

I live in a city of barely a million people. It’s enough to make us the fourth largest city in Canada, but even so …

when the Rolling Stones come to town it’s a big, flippin’ deal.

And I didn’t go! Tickets were what, $230 each? But the concert created a big stir in this small city, even among people like me who weren’t willing to shell out that much money.

I took this photo several hours before the concert. The structure was built just for the Stones. I bet you couldn’t get one of those seats, built right over the stage, for $230.

These folks are packing a street overlooking the concert. You had to be in just the right spot to see the screen, but we were hearing the live licks just fine.

I managed to get myself into a position where I could see the screen, and got this washed out but recognizable photo of Keith Richards.

This bottle blonde must have been up near the stage. When she realized the camera was on her, she started fondling her breasts, putting on a show for the boys.

Ho hum. Just another day at the office when you’re a rock ‘n’ roll god.

Here’s my best photo of Mick Jagger. The surroundings are well lit (compare it with the photo of the blonde) because of the pyrotechnics going on out of sight of the camera. The Stones were playing “Sympathy for the Devil” at the time, and twice they lit up the whole city with a vast column of fire.

Do you suppose they have any idea that this is a direct reference to the Bible?

The Israelites were led across the desert by a theophany: And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light. (Ex. 13:21) And here are the Stones, singing “Sympathy for the devil”; and there’s the blasphemous column of fire, right on cue.

If you want to be a Satan-worshiping rock ‘n’ roll act, you’ve got to do your theological homework.

The Rolling Stones do Ottawa, Aug. 28, 2005.

How to attract lots of visitors to your blog

Every blogger wants to attract visitors. The question is, how badly do you want to out-hit your fellow bloggers? Are you willing to pander to people’s baser instincts?

You already know a couple of ways to get hits from search engines:

  • use words like “sex”, “tits” and “camel toe”.

    I discovered the last one by accident; I had no idea it was a reference to something rude. Very rude. I could provide a link, but far be it from me to corrupt the morals of my saintly readers. Only the pure in heart peruse Simply Put.

    Come to think of it, I did a post on Orgasm Day once, and it brings an occasional visitor to the site. Maybe the prurient of heart read me, too.

  • sneak in superfluous references to celebrities.

    I have never done this just to attract visitors, but I get occasional visitors looking for Yoko Ono (or John Lennon), Lord Tennyson, Jesus and Mary Magdalene, or Muskrat Love.

    “Muskrat Love” gets more hits than the other three posts put together. Like the Beatles before them, the Captain and Tennille are bigger than Jesus.

    Of course, if you deliberately exploit the celebrity angle to attract visitors, you won’t want to use faded flowers from the 60s and 70s. You’ll want to post on the intruder who snuck into Jennifer Aniston’s Malibu home, or ask your readers who’s hotter, Ricky Martin or Leonardo DiCaprio.

But here’s where we get to the good stuff, the stuff you didn’t already know. I inadvertently discovered a third way to get hits from search engines. On a lark, I published two posts on bear maulings. Those two posts, published nearly three months ago, still provide about a third of the search engine hits I receive.

So if you want to attract lots of visitors to your blog, here’s my advice:  go for guts and gore. Some bloggers have a regular “photo Friday” feature, but nobody cares about that stuff! Institute “macabre Monday” instead!

Another case in point: one time my blog came up in response to the search string, “castrated testicles photographs”. How macabre is that?! Who would search for such a thing?! (It’s a rhetorical question; I definitely do not want to know.) I couldn’t remember posting on such a bizarre and unseemly topic, but sure enough: all three words are present in this post.

So I wasn’t joking in the title of this post. Publish nude photos of murdered celebrities, and your server will crash with the volume of traffic to your blog.

Other interesting tidbits gleaned from my “extreme tracking” data:

This makes me feel good, part one:
I recently had a search for “what are swans and wear do they live”. This string took the searcher to Several swans a-swimmin’. And that makes me feel good, because it was presumably a child doing a summer project. And the post probably taught them a thing or two, in addition providing photos of pretty birds.

This makes me feel good, part two:
Every couple of weeks, someone searches for “what to say to someone who is grieving” or a similar string. The search takes them to this post, where they will find wise counsel (I hope) derived from a personal experience.

Another happy accident
Here’s another good tip:  introduce the occasional misspelling of a key word. Like the tip about guts and gore, I discovered this trick by accident. In my post on the antisemitic First Nation leader, David Ahenakew, I misspelled his name Akenakew twice out of twenty-seven occurrences. This brought me several hits from people who, like me, had difficulty with his name.

Likewise — and more embarrassingly — I once misspelled the name of my home town, Peterburough. (It should be “Peterborough”.) I can’t remember which post it was. But the misspelling brought me at least one visitor.

Why not deliberately introduce an occasional misspelling? People will think you’re an ignoramous, but it’s a small price to pay for potential fame and fortune.

I thought the Captain and Tennille were downright awful, but Lord Tennyson eats their dust!

American government shows contempt for the rule of law

I don’t usually indulge myself in anti-American rants. First, I have good relations with several Americans on this blog. Second, I think Canadians and Americans share many common values; we’re not as different as Canadians sometimes suppose. Third, I think Canada benefits in many ways from its close relations with the USA.

I disagree with the decision to invade Iraq, but so do lots of Americans. (Probably more than 50% now.) More generally, I don’t have a very high opinion of “Dubya”; and again I’m in company with a lot of Americans on that point.

But the USA has really pissed Canadians off this week. The issue is free trade: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

It isn’t even the sort of issue I usually care about. I am not a big business type. On the contrary, I’m all about social justice, and I tend to be pretty suspicious of multi-national conglomerates. So NAFTA is someone else’s baby, not mine.

But as near as I can figure, the US government has literally stolen $5 billion from the Canadian economy over the past three years. The highest tribunal overseeing NAFTA has said as much.

I don’t expect the US government to meekly apologize and return the money — I’m not such a hopeless idealist as that. But I would like the US government to obey the rule of law and stop imposing the tariffs. Instead, the US government intends to continue stealing our money.

Here are the facts, at least according to the Canadian media. From today’s Globe and Mail:

U.S. Customs has collected roughly $5-billion in duties since May 2002, when American trade officials concluded Canadian softwood imports were unfairly subsidized.

NAFTA panels have three times concluded that the U.S. failed to prove that Canadian softwood poses a material threat of injury to U.S. producers.

Under trade rules, if Washington can’t prove Canadian timber injures or threatens to injure U.S. producers, it is obliged to scrap the duties on Canadian lumber imports.

Canada’s latest victory was on Aug. 10, when a NAFTA panel ruled that the U.S. had once again failed to adequately demonstrate injury to U.S. producers. The decision should have put an end to the dispute, but the United States said it had no intention of lifting the duties or returning the money.

In response, the federal government cancelled softwood negotiations scheduled for earlier this month with the U.S.

The men and women who negotiated the original free trade agreement are spitting mad over this. One of them described the conduct of the Americans as “an egregious, shocking, dishonourable breach of their obligations.” Another said, “It’s the tactic of the schoolyard bully.” John Ibbitson, in Saturday’s Globe and Mail, writes:

That the very architects of free trade between Canada and the United States should be speaking in such terms is, frankly, shocking.

Even more shocking is that, to a man and woman, they believe Canada should impose retaliatory tariffs, or other restrictive measures. …

There is a palpable sense of personal injury in their comments, which may come from the political irony that lies behind the American rebuke.

In 1987, the free-trade negotiations between Canada and the United States almost collapsed because the Americans refused to accept a binding dispute resolution mechanism, while Canada insisted on one. At almost literally the last possible moment, the Americans accepted the Canadian demand, on the condition that an Extraordinary Challenge Committee, as they called it, be able to review the decisions of all lower panels.

Although the Canadian negotiating team was very reluctant to accept yet another layer of appeal for trade disputes, they finally acquiesced.

It was to that Extraordinary Challenge Committee that the Americans appealed last year, when all other rulings on softwood imports went against them. It was that same committee that ruled last week in Canada’s favour. That the Americans would repudiate the verdict of the very tribunal that they insisted must be part of the FTA infuriates those who negotiated the pact.

The USA’s new ambassador to Canada has further infuriated Canadians by taking a completely patronizing tone with us. From another article in Saturday’s Globe and Mail:

It is positively grating to hear the new U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, patronizingly advise Canadian officials to tone down their rhetoric in response to that flouting of American treaty obligations. “The one thing that is for sure is that the more we escalate this and the more we have emotional press conferences about it, the less chance we’ve got to resolve it,” he said in an interview this week, adding that negotiators from the two nations should simply get back to the bargaining table.

And what should they talk about? The fact that, for more than three years, the United States has slapped countervailing and anti-dumping duties on Canada’s softwood exports, collecting almost $5-billion? The fact that Canada has won repeated skirmishes over softwood at both the World Trade Organization and at NAFTA dispute panels, all to no avail? …

That bad situation has been made even worse by the U.S. Byrd amendment, which effectively allows U.S. lumber firms to benefit doubly from their allegations of damage. Under that 2000 change to the U.S. Tariff Act of 1930, anti-dumping and countervailing duties are put in the kitty — and actually distributed to U.S. complainants, instead of the U.S. Treasury, when litigation is completed. So U.S. firms get to watch as their Canadian competitors are hit with duties — which makes them less competitive — with the added prospect of divvying up those huge duties among themselves.

It is a powerful incentive to keep complaining.

So I’m ranting, even though I usually don’t bash Americans, and even though I usually don’t give NAFTA a second thought. Am I wrong about this, or has the US government just demonstrated its contempt for the rule of law?

I am reminded of the Robert Frost line, “Good fences make good neighbors.” The free trade agreement was the dismantling of a wall. And we’ve benefited from it in many ways, I have no doubt. But maybe I’d like this neighborhood better if the wall were still solidly in place.

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