Faults and other problems.

I’ve been curious about Haiti since reading, some years back, Graham Greene’s “The Comedians,” and Madison Smartt Bell’s “All Souls’ Rising.” I’ve known people who traveled there on missionary work and came back with the sort of haunted look that comes when one has acclimated to seeing children walking around with cleft palates and physical evidence of malnutrition a short plane ride from the richest nation on earth. There was a group who went there from a small Christian college not far from Fort Wayne, who stumbled across a voodoo ceremony in progress. The reporter’s account of the innocent Christian youth beholding, with their very own eyes, what they considered to be a summoning of demons, was a bracing read.

The last scene in “Silence of the Lambs,” where Dr. Lecter calls Clah-reece during her FBI graduation party? And he walks off down the strange tropical road, silently stalking his nemesis from the asylum? That was Haiti, and even though it was never identified, one look at the place told you that if a psychopath on the lam could find a place to eat a man in relative peace and quiet, this was the place. At least in the western hemisphere.

Which is not to say Haiti’s problems are entirely self-created. The French and the slavers and the Duvaliers all have blood on their hands. And when a place is as poor as Haiti, an earthquake of that magnitude will have a multiplier effect it wouldn’t have in, say, Los Angeles. Or even San Francisco.

My curiosity about the country didn’t extend to plate tectonics. I didn’t even know Haiti was on a fault. Shows what I know. (Nothing.)

Sorry for the late start today. High-level negotiations this morning resulted in me evidently agreeing to eat a horse between now and spring, i.e., a big project. How do you eat a horse? One bite at a time. Expect distractions. Less time for web-surfing, and so on. Which is fine, because it’s giving me ADD, and I don’t need to see any more photos like this, evidence of when Brad Pitt morphed from the Sexiest Man Alive to the guy who twists his beard into beardy dreads. Ew. Brad and his common-law spouse issued a statement about recent events:

“We are devastated by the news from Haiti. We will work closely with our good friend Wyclef Jean to support the humanitarian efforts on the island and help those who have been injured and left without homes and shelter.”

Beautiful. Not to take anything away from the couple, who at least attempt to walk the walk, but that sentence is a sterling example of contemporary press-agentry, ain’a? The second-most overused word on the planet (“devastated”), followed by a name-drop with oak-leaf clusters (“our good friend Wyclef Jean”), a gratuitous adverb (“closely”), a squishy verb (“support”) and a redundancy (“homes and shelter”). Someday I want to see a celebrity statement that reads: “Why does God punish Haiti so? We can’t know the answer, but in the meantime, I’m going to sign checks until I get writer’s cramp.”

Someone is always devastated by something. It’s the awesome of transitive concern-verbs. Another reason to love the Google: You can look up the phrase “is devastated by” and see how it’s being used:

Woman linked to Jon Gosselin says she’s devastated by the lies, says People magazine’s headline. (Lie! Lie! In the copy, she’s merely “sickened.”)

Ryan Seacrest is devastated by the news Simon Cowell is leaving “American Idol.

The Octomom’s doctor is devastated by charges he’s unfit to practice medicine.

Paris Hilton, devastated. Barry Gibb, devastated. It’s the nervous breakdown of our age. A secret reader of my grandmother’s Photoplay magazines, I always wondered about that mysterious phrase. Also, “collapsed from exhaustion.” My nana never told me what I later learned: It’s a euphemism for “too drunk to work.”

Not much bloggage today, but this:

Sarah Palin: Gettin’ paid, yo.

Time to start eatin’ that horse!

Posted at 11:32 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' |

47 responses to “Faults and other problems.”

  1. Scout said on January 13, 2010 at 11:47 am

    This, THIS is exactly why I come here every day:

    >Some­day I want to see a celebrity state­ment that reads: “Why does God pun­ish Haiti so? We can’t know the answer, but in the mean­time, I’m going to sign checks until I get writer’s cramp.” <

    Well said.

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  2. whitebeard said on January 13, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    This is my daily destination; it establishes that sanity still exists in this devastated universe. Heart doctor has cleared me for devastating colon surgery unless nuclear heart stress tests Tuesday and tomorrow show something major is amiss. Thinking positive, not writing my obituary in advance (yet). Pleasant note from weekend hospital visit: as the nurse’s aide is pushing my bed from emergency to a third floor regular room for “observation” she tells me she has read my weekly car columns for years and always enjoys my humorous asides (my 15 seconds of fame).
    I also agree that Haiti did not create its own misery; it took outsiders to do that and shoddy construction to make an earthquake even more destructive.

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  3. paddyo' said on January 13, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Devastating post, Nance . . . bon appetit with Flicka.

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  4. beb said on January 13, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Jared Diamond in his book “Collapse” about how civilizations succeed or fail used Haiti and neighbor the Dominican Republic as one of his examples. His conclusion was that the nation was unsalvagable. Totally deforested, crop lands washed away into the sea. There was absolutely nothing there that could be exploited to bring this country back from eternal poverty. This earthquake has taken away what little they had.

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  5. 4dbirds said on January 13, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    I hope everything goes well for you Whitebeard.

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  6. nancy said on January 13, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    A story I read in Vanity Fair around the time of the last Duvalier exit reached largely the same conclusion, Beb. The writer postulated their only hope was recolonization, essentially an enormous cash injection from a western nation, followed by an equally enormous human-capital injection to make sure the money didn’t all go into private pockets, and to teach the skills that might — with luck, in a century or so — take root and help the population regain its footing. Any volunteers? Didn’t think so.

    Whitebeard, I’m crossing every finger I have for you.

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  7. MarkH said on January 13, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Whitebeard —

    I’m sure you know you have EVERYONE here behind you in thoughts and prayers. Stay strong; looking forward to hearing from you when you get through all this.

    BTW, I’m an old line car guy from way back (even wrote racing stories for the Dispatch, as our web madam will attest). Where can I read your weekly stuff?

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  8. LAMary said on January 13, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Re: collapsing from exhaustion. In the Tatler, the UK magazine that spawned Spy in the US, celebrities were often described as “tired and emotional.” Meaning drunk. Princess Margaret was often tired and emotional.

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  9. Julie Robinson said on January 13, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    So am I, Whitebeard, and praying it goes as well as my Mom’s cataract surgery did this morning. Facebook tells me that a friend of a friend is mobilizing to go to Haiti. God bless all the helpers.

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  10. Rana said on January 13, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    *sending positive thoughts to whitebeard*

    Poor Haiti. It does always seem to get the short end of the stick.

    I’ve sent my measly donation to Mercy Corps in the hopes that it does some good; it always feels like such a paltry gesture, even though I know that even small contributions add up. (Which is why I usually designated it as “for where most needed” rather than to the disaster of the moment; some years ago I read an interview with a charity relief worker who explained that if you donate it to a particular cause, they must use it for that cause, even if they received sufficient donations to cover it and other needs were going unmet. This time, I doubt that they’ll have “too much” to solve Haiti’s problems, but I still do it.)

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  11. Dorothy said on January 13, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    My gynecologist in Pittsburgh went on regular missionary trips to Haiti and I’ve been wondering if he might have been there when the quake happened. He’s a great guy. Haiti can least afford such a tragedy as this. I hope the world responds kindly to their overwhelming needs.

    Whitebeard I’m thinking of you lots and hope that you have a very positive outcome with your surgery. I feel like I’ve been saying some version of that sentence over and over again these past few months. I know too many people facing difficult health situations.

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  12. Dexter said on January 13, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    6:00 P.M. , NYC, Columbus Circle, vigil for Haiti’s people, and donation center, tonight.
    Gov. Paterson announced this today on “Imus In The Morning”.
    As you know, Paterson trails Cuomo in the polls, but I-Man had him on the show to discuss the Reid blow-up. Paterson agreed with previous guest Carl Jeffers that if your record show continuous good things, you get a break, and illustrated by mentioning how Bush cast Trent Lott adrift and the Black community never spoke up because Lott had no record of supporting minorities.
    The best part of the Paterson interview was how the governor said he’d like to throw a fist at the whole bunch from “Saturday Night Live” for the way they portray the governor in regard to his blindness.

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  13. moe99 said on January 13, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    Actually, Haiti was turning itself around economically and politically before the earthquake:


    And Whitebeard, all good thoughts going your way.

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  14. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 13, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Grace & peace to you, Whitebeard, with all the emphasis I can muster.

    The biggest blot on the record of the United States Marine Corps can simply be summed up in one word, “Haiti.” For both stark perspective and a modicum of hope for that battered nation, I suggest Tracy Kidder’s “Mountains Beyond Mountains.” Our local independent bookseller assures me of an ongoing supply because I keep buying it for all our new board members, just for perspective — and a good friend of mine from church, a doctor, just got back from eight days there, and he’s purely sick about what’s going to have to be done, just to get Haiti back up to miserable. Our clinic is rubble in Calebasse, but the local family that runs it is relatively healthy . . . not so our translator, who is still unaccounted for.

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  15. whitebeard said on January 13, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    For MarkH and anyone else, this link http://www.courant.com/business/hc-autoanswers,0,7022836.columnist should get my latest columns; my eecond weekly column is an aggregation of local car shows and auto industry news that never gets archived. The short form is http://www.courant.com/business and I am at the bottom of the web page, usually, if the computer system does not misbehave.
    If you Google my name as “Duncan Haimerl” you get About 5,570 results in (0.27 seconds) and a good collection of a lot of my columns and some interesting etc.
    Thanks again for all the support here, it warms my heart and makes it strong, even though I am your basic cranky old curmudgeon.

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  16. MarkH said on January 13, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    Thanks, Whitebeard. Always nice to put a face and a name with an NN.C moniker.

    Again, all the best.

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  17. Jolene said on January 13, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Thanks for the Iglesias link, Moe. The PBS NewsHour had a piece on these recent positive developments just this past Monday. Video and transcript here.

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  18. Jolene said on January 13, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    You car guys might be interested in Jon Stewart’s interview w/ Paul Ingrassia on The Daily Showlast night. Ingrassia was talking about his new book, Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry’s Road from Glory to Disaster. It was a pretty good interview.

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  19. paddyo' said on January 13, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    Jeff TMMO — your mention of the Marines and Haiti is prophetic, after a fashion. The Marine Corps Times, which covers the Corps but is actually owned by the Army Times, which in turn is a Gannett subsidiary, has this story online ( http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2010/01/marine_haiti_011310w/ ), which is headlined, straight-facedly:

    “Leathernecks ready to help after Haiti quake.”

    The story’s kicker graf has this to say about the awful early-20th-century occupation that led to today’s worse state of affairs:

    “A Marine presence in Haiti would not be a first . . . Marines were first deployed to Haiti in 1915 to protect U.S. interests and remained there until 1934. They returned, in 1994, as part of Operation Uphold Democracy, an effort to restore the elected government in the wake of a military coup. Ten years later, after another coup unseated then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Marines removed Aristide from his home and escorted him to a U.S. plane on which he left Haiti.”

    Semper fi? Sounds more like semper FIE . . . to the poor Haitians, anyway.

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  20. Jolene said on January 13, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    And here is an interview w/ Edwidge Danticat, the Haitian-American novelist. My goodness, she is lovely.

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  21. beb said on January 13, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Nancy, Diamond conclusion was far grimer than that. I believe he was saying that Haiti can’t support human life anymore, let alone the number current there.

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  22. nancy said on January 13, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Pat Robertson, sensitive guy.

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  23. brian stouder said on January 13, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Pat Robert­son, sen­si­tive guy.

    You know, I’m not even going to click that link. I went to lunch with Pam, and when Rock 104 started playing AC/DC’s Highway to Hell (never did like AC/DC much, but my son does, for some reason!) I punched the button and caught Uncle Rush in mid rant about how worthless Haiti is – and how no aid should be given because it won’t do any longterm good, and so on and so forth, yadda yadda yadda…..and while beginning to gnash my teeth I punched the button again and went back to the straight-forward Highway to Hell.

    By way of saying, I do wonder (a little) what Pat said – in much the same way one might morbidly wonder what kind of scenes from hell the rescue workers and others are confronting right now. (I think I’d rather avert my gaze from both)

    Soon it will be time to jump back on the highway and head over to my friends at the Red Cross, I guess

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  24. mark said on January 13, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    Nancy, I’m starting to think you lack self-confidence. You wrote a really nice piece today. Really nice. Plenty there to enjoy, think about and drop a comment.

    But on the way off the page, you tossed out a bit of sour fruit from one of the lowest hanging branches. Sure, a lot of the crowd here follows SP on a daily basis and the nugget you provided was sure to be popular with the endlessly fascinated. But you wrote a great piece that wasn’t enhanced, in my opinion, by a parting nod to the peanut gallery. Or another in the form of Pat Robertson.

    Why shift the conversation from something interesting you wrote to something stupid Pat Robertson said?

    You don’t charge admission so I should be slow to complain. But I think you really are at your best when you aim the highest.

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  25. Jean S said on January 13, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    as this is Nancy’s sandbox, I figure she can write whatever the hell she wants.

    and while Pat R, Rush et al. were fulminating, I gave money to Doctors Without Borders. They’ve lost staff, they’ve lost medical facilities, they’re operating in the open air….

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  26. Rana said on January 13, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Today was the day I’d scheduled to go hunting for primary sources on US imperialism at the start of the 20th century. Let’s just say that the political cartoons were particularly distasteful given this week’s disaster.

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  27. Sue said on January 13, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    I don’t know, mark, I don’t really see that snarking about Brad and Angelina (in the middle of the piece, not tossed off at the end or in a comment) is any more high road than snarking about Sarah Palin or Pat Robertson. Two are pompous, one is clueless and the fourth is going to be mighty surprised when he dies. All deserve to be laughed at, no matter their political or religious leanings.

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  28. nancy said on January 13, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Actually, Robertson’s remarks interest me, because it’s been something of an unspoken subtext to a lot of aid that goes to Haiti — that the country is somehow cursed because of its voodoo underground. (Which, I should add, is much less than advertised. But it’s there.) Voodoo — or, in the more sensitive spelling, voudu — is an old pantheistic religion that unfortunately got linked to a lot of pop-culture mumbo-jumbo that cleaved nicely with southern evangelicals’ belief in the devil. So you have to figure there are many people out there who believe Haiti is somehow cursed by its demonic ways, but are generally too polite to say so in public. Robertson is that rare bird who isn’t.

    The fact Haiti is, in fact, a largely Catholic nation probably bugs him just as much. But he isn’t dumb enough to say so.

    As for Sarah P., I’m just amused by her tumble, no, headfirst dive into the money pit. Usually speeches to groups like, what is it? The National Liquor Peddlers, or whatever it is, come later in a politician’s career, when s/he’s safely off the public stage and the money-grubbing isn’t quite so frowned upon. True, Palin still has college tuition to pay. Still.

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  29. mark said on January 13, 2010 at 4:06 pm


    I thought the Brangelina reference was absolutely necessary to a really thoughtful bit of social commentary, not snark at all. And the quote that was deconstructed was from their publicist. Yes, they illustrated the point being made, but they weren’t the point being made.

    I don’t expect Nancy to set a beautiful table and whip up a gourmet meal every day, but when she does, there’s no need to throw out a bowl of cocktail weenies as well. Save them for a day when she doesn’t feel like cooking.

    Edit: Sorry, looks like I was talking about you while you were standing in the room.

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  30. Dorothy said on January 13, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Gee mark, it’s not like this is the first time nancy/we have called attention to something outrageous or totally stupid. Why is today any different than any other day?

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  31. Sue said on January 13, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    “evi­dence of when Brad Pitt mor­phed from the Sex­i­est Man Alive to the guy who twists his beard into beardy dreads. Ew. Brad and his common-law spouse issued a state­ment about recent events”….
    SNARK! So, so disrespectful to poor Brad and Angelina.

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  32. nancy said on January 13, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    The excellent Big Picture blog from the Boston Globe, with photos from Haiti. Heartbreaking and breathtaking.

    Something to think about: Why are still photos so much more affecting than video?

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  33. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 13, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Rana — look for Smedley Butler’s “War is a Racket,” which i believe is available for free, and complete, at a number of sites.

    Gen. Butler holds two Congressional Medals of Honor, but he kind of regretted the one he received for his Haitian service. His adventures with industrialists in the 1930s is enough to make Howard Zinn look like a colleague of William F. Buckley.

    Generally, i just don’t click links that go to Gawker. Even where they have cause for indignation and command of detail, their arc is usually from the sublime — their opening line, “Galactically vile” was a fair description, and even a bit elegant — to the needlessly trashy — see the close they descended to in the Robertson piece, or don’t, since it barely qualifies as trying.

    If you’re ever slow to change channels on ABC Family at the 11 pm end of some Harry Potter or Narnia epic, you get to see and hear the most strongly worded disclaimer on TV, which i assume is an artifact of buying the Family Channel from Brother Pat, and the deal they made with the . . . preacher, to let him keep a thirty minute or so foothold (for how long, i wonder?) on the channel for them to buy it.

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  34. brian stouder said on January 13, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    Why are still pho­tos so much more affect­ing than video?

    Because when watching a video, not only the observer can avert his gaze, the camera movement and the actions in the scene invite you to look this way and that.

    But a still photo captures one specific moment, and one subject, and if your gaze falls upon a photo you’re trapped; the presumption is that the photographer and/or the photo editor wanted you to see something, and you involuntarily look for it.

    Aside from that, and as Rachel Maddow reminded us last night, John McCain, who I genuinely admire, is the guy who “made” Sarah Palin; John McCain – the son of an American war hero, and a genuinely courageous American hero in his own right; John McCain – the guy who was a Maverick when the term was an epithet; John McCain, who – as much as anyone – knows the consequences of bone-heads in charge of the United States government, and who ran for the presidency on the slogan “America First” – says he doesn’t know nor care whether Palin was vetted properly.

    At the very least, Ms Palin should tithe to McCain every single week

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  35. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 13, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    “Palin should tithe to McCain every single week” — c’mon, Brian, I agree with you that McCain’s an amazing fellow, but he isn’t God, y’know.

    Or was that irony? Oh, sorry. 😉

    (Let’s call it a finder’s fee, and bump it up to 20%, which would be more than fair and less than many agents.)

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  36. jeff borden said on January 13, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Those photos are amazing. The sights are not unlike the photos of Hiroshima after the A-bomb.

    If there is any karma at all in the world, Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson will be reincarnated as impoverished Haitians dealing with the aftermath of a massive earthquake with no food, water, medicine or shelter.


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  37. Rana said on January 13, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    I think the other thing that makes photographs more affecting is that usually video has some sort of voice-over narrating what you’re seeing and telling you what to think. With the photograph, unless there’s an aggressively interpretive caption, you’re seeing the subject more on your own terms, at your own pace. You can look at the parts that interest you (at least within the space framed by the photographer) unlike in video, where you are aware of things off-focus that aren’t being shown.

    Also, the job of a good photographer is to compose the image such that the subject of the photograph commands more attention than the other things going on. Video has a lot more noise to signal, in other words.

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  38. Deborah said on January 13, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    Still photos are composed, both in-camera by the photographer and later by cropping (and nowadays Photoshop enhancement). They capture all the emotion in one fell swoop. Moving images can be amazingly compelling too, but they are more complex and take more time to get just so, editing and so on needs to take place. On TV that level of editing for perfection is usually not done to the extent that it should, it has to go on the air pronto. Thus the difference between superbly shot film in movies and less so on TV. IMHO.

    Nancy, for heaven’s sake, write whatever you want, whenever you want (you certainly don’t need me to tell you that), I’m just so grateful that you take the time to do this and that I am able visit this site daily (often multiple times during the day), I do enjoy it so much.

    Whitebeard, thanks for the info about how to access your car writing, I’ve been perusing it and learning a lot.

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  39. MichaelG said on January 13, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    We are all behind you Whitebeard. Our hearts are with you.

    Video images flow by. Play them over and over and they still flow by. A still photo captures a single moment and allows the viewer to absorb all the nuances of that moment.

    Jeff (tmmo), it’s wonderful that you are operating a clinic in Cale­basse, Haiti! You have my admiration. Perhaps you could share a little insider’s experience and atmosphere with us?

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  40. Jolene said on January 13, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    Speaking of photos, there’s a good collection of photos showing various kinds of responses (e.g., personal reactions by Haitian-Americans, dispatching of search-and-rescue units from various countries) on the WaPo web site.

    Ever since last week’s ordeal, I have been feeling incredibly lucky and grateful. I don’t even know the names of all the expensive, sophisticated instruments the medical staff at Virginia Hospital Center used to take care of me. There was no one there to direct them on my behalf, but people w/ various kinds of expertise, some of whom had never worked together previously, were able to organize themselves to use their advanced skills on my behalf in very short order. Organization, expertise, instruments, experience built up over time and trial. So amazing. Such a contrast to what is available to the people of Haiti now.

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  41. Kirk said on January 13, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    By all means, Nance, we can never tire of your lobbing shells at disgusting religious hypocrites and pretentious celebrity buffoons. Fire away.

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  42. Dexter said on January 13, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    Wow was that Haitian diplomat that was on with Rachel Maddow mad. Rachel had to disavow herself from Robertson…

    Anyone see Dan Quayle being i-viewed by Cavuto on Fox today? Compared to Bush2 and Cheney, he seemed like a GENIUS! There was Cavuto asking complicated two-part questions and Quayle answering like he had just emerged from a think tank instead of the Arizona country club he practically lives in.
    How could this moron of the late 1980’s have morphed into a senior political interviewee and pull it off? Compared to Palin I believe he IS a genius. I was utterly stunned by his coolness and sharpness and …INTELLIGENCE!!
    The man towers above Bush, Cheney, Palin…and even stubborn old McCain, and I never could have imagined I would ever type these words. Amazed and dazed.

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  43. Jolene said on January 13, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    Adam Nagourney has a good profile of Harry Reid on the NYT web site now–to appear in this weekend’s magazine. Kind of makes you like the guy.

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  44. moe99 said on January 14, 2010 at 12:36 am


    David Frum has some trenchant thoughts on she who must not be named.

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  45. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on January 14, 2010 at 7:50 am

    Our church here in town sponsors a clinic in Calebasse, Michael. It appears to be gone, but the supply room that the mission team just refilled last week at a separate building is intact, thankfully, and we’d just sent cash down there to build an annex which we’re assuming will have to go to rebuild the clinic rooms. Two rooms, cinder block, concrete floor, metal roof, mostly the same kind of nothing you find all around, but in this case better than most buildings, but easy to shake to pieces. We’re taking up a special offering Sunday, but folks around here are also being encouraged to work this way if they like: http://secure.gbgm-umc.org/donations/umcor/donate.cfm?code=418325&id=3018760

    There’s a serious concern that the aftermath will push even harder the brain drain factor, since the irony is that the more solid, i.e. the more you’ve put into your house, the more likely it is it came down. Many of the poorest huts just needed a shove back into semi-erectness. Those who are in a position to be asking are already calling on the US to offer increased immigration as a way of relieving the strains on the country, but if the result is skimming off the most talented and skilled 10-20%, they’re fearful of that “aftershock.”

    Very few good options.

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  46. Dorothy said on January 14, 2010 at 9:19 am

    My eyes are swimming with tears after seeing those photos from the Boston Globe. Can someone possibly slap Pat Robertson into a plane bound for Haiti immediately so he can assist in the search and rescue missions? Or maybe bind some wounds? That man is despicable.

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  47. Jeff Borden said on January 14, 2010 at 11:33 am

    Maybe he could take Rush with him.

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