Posts from September 2005

Twenty years ago this morning

photo: a building, collapsed, in Mexico City

México, D.F., 19 September 1985.

7:19 am, 19 September 1985

BBC (19 September 1985): Mexico suffers devastating earthquake:

A massive earthquake has hit Mexico not far from its capital, Mexico City, causing untold casualties and widespread damage.

Officials say at least 170 people have been killed and thousands injured, but it is feared the death toll may rise into the thousands.

The quake hit the west coast near the resort town of Acapulco early this morning, and was measured by the US Geological Survey at a magnitude of 7.8.

It lasted for 50 seconds, and devastated three states on the Pacific coast.

A part of a mountain just slid away, falling on the peasants who were just getting up to go to work, said Lieutenant Manuel Sanchez, from the fire department’s headquarters in the state of Jalisco.

Most of the damage, however, was caused 250 miles (400 km) away in Mexico City, which was declared a disaster zone.

Telephone links were cut, and a communications tower burst into flames, leaving television broadcasts monitored in neighbouring Guatemala the only source of information.

Television reports said hundreds of people are trapped in rubble, and more than a third of all buildings have been damaged.

Clouds of dust hung over the city centre, and broken glass and chunks of cement littered the streets.

There was a strong smell of gas and the city government issued a radio appeal for people not to light matches.

Manuel Magaña Contreras, Excelsior (September 20, 1998): The greatest catastrophe ever suffered by Mexico City:

Of all the scenes of terror in which tears mixed with cries for help, sorrow, etc., what survives is the coldness of the numbers.

Officially, the records which were put at the disposal of the authorities listed 4,541 casualties. Nevertheless, non-official versions put the number of people killed at more than 30,000.

Assistance to the injured required the staffing of 131 first-aid stations, and even so a greater number of such installations would have been necessary. Figures finally provided by the Federal District authorities certified that 14,286 injured were attended to. It was necessary to transfer 4,900 people from damaged hospital buildings to other health institutions. It is said that 38,605 additional patients were looked after. Among them, 22,296 for injuries other than physical, 10,188 for minor injuries, and 5,748 for major injuries, with 2,637 requiring hospitalization.

It’s funny the things that you remember. Aryxael remembers riding in the family’s LeBaron on the way to school, when his mother said That’s weird, I feel like the car is being yanked away from me. Cuervo del D.F. remembers that he was playing at wrestling on the bed with his brother, and when his mother screamed they first thought she was yelling at them again to stop fighting.

Of course, you also remember the fear:

Tampoco había luz en su casa y la angustia de mi mamá ya era para saber como estaba mi papá. El trabajaba de velador en la catedral metropolitana (zócalo) y a la hora del temblor era exactamente la hora en la que se dispon�a a regresar a casa. Mis tíos tenía un radio de pilas y lo encendieron, muchas estaciones no estaban al aire, pero fue cuando escucharon la narración hecha por Jacobo Zabludowski (reportero mexicano). Al escuchar que el centro de la ciudad estaba casi en ruinas mi mamá nos dejó con mis tíos para ella regresara a casa y saber si ya había llegado mi papá.

Una vida cualqiuera en Chilangotitlán 2005-09-19: Un día como hoy pero hace 20 años (parte I)

The lights weren’t on in their house either, and now my mother was anguished to know how my father was. He worked as a vigil-keeper at the Metropolitan Cathedral (Zócalo [a square in central Mexico City]) and the hour of the quake was exactly the hour he planned to leave for home. My aunt and uncle had a battery radio and they fired it up; many stations weren’t on the air, but then we heard the narration made by Jacobo Zabludowski (a Mexican reporter). When she heard that the city center was almost in ruins, my mother left us with my aunt and uncle to go back to the house and find out if my father had made it back.

— Una vida cualqiuera en Chilangotitlán 2005-09-19: A day like today but 20 years ago (part I)

There are millions of stories like this one. And tens of thousands that did not end with a safe return. Partly because we are all very small and vulnerable to the tremendous power of nature. But partly also because of the callousness and criminal incompetance of the PRI government:

In 1985 a terrible earthquake hit Mexico. As analyzed by vulcanologists it was of a type that would maximize the damage to the kinds of buildings that abound in Central Mexico City, and it created havoc there. Whole city blocks disappeared, the apartment towers of Tlaltelolco were either damaged or destroyed, but the worst damage was done in “Porifirian” Mexico City where sprawling three and four story buildings not only housed thousands of families in cheap apartments, but also assembly and textile factories that employed thousands of workers. Fortunately the earthquake struck before the morning shift went in, but still thousands of people (perhaps as many as 20,000) were killed. The government response was weak and ineffectual. The President appeared, too well turned out in an expensive leather jacket, to tour the affected areas. U.S. and world help was refused because of what outsiders considered misplaced pride, with a resulting shortage of the very kind of heavy earthmoving equipment that alone could disinter the victims, And when it did arrive, the zones were cordoned off by the army, which allowed, or so it was said, the machinery to be used to save heavy equipment and business records rather than the people or their remains. The earthquake was important because it laid bare the lack of imagination and energy in government circles, and its tendency to defend itself first in any time of crisis, rather than concern itself with the living conditions of Mexicans.

— The Sociodemographic Effects of the Crisis in Mexico

The one thin ray of light through the darkness was the spontaneous courage, humanity, and solidarity shown by ordinary Mexicans, while their government ignored and betrayed them. When the government was unable or unwilling to rescue the wounded and dying, the people did it for themselves:

One of the lessons we mustn’t squander is the example shown by neighbours when it came to saving people trapped under the wreckage. In the Tlatelolco Unit, especially in the ‘Nuevo León’ building, many people young and old came to help trapped people and they were called ‘the moles’ [because they dug through the rubble, often with their bare hands, to rescue the people buried under it]. From the Merced zone, a very short person by the name of Sariñana, a native of the state of Morelos, became famous and was nicknamed ‘the flea’, saving many people who would otherwise have suffered a prolonged death, had they not be saved by ‘the flea’.

Manuel Magaña Contreras, Excelsior (September 20, 1998): The greatest catastrophe ever suffered by Mexico City

Only after a second quake [a huge aftershock the following day] hit and the staggering loss of life could no longer be denied did the government react in a more serious fashion. But, as in 1968, the PRI authorities showed more concern with restoring order than with saving lives. It placed the ruins off-limits to the public, claiming they were unsafe. And, instead of digging, many troops devoted their energy to blocking the neighbors, relatives and thousands of students who turned out to assist in rescue efforts. The official rescue attempt was lackluster, and the authorities, seeing the buried bodies as potential sources of disease rather than potential survivors, sent in heavy equipment to clear the rubble.

Again it was the university students who stood up to the government, clashing with troops who sought to prevent them from digging in the ruins and lying down in front of bulldozers sent to clear the rubble. At the site of a collapsed hospital, students managed to stop the bulldozers long enough for rescuers to tunnel through to a maternity ward and rescue eight babies.

— The Nation 2004-04-01: Democracy Is in the Streets

Courage, love, and humanity don’t need the permission of the law.

For more …

International Ignore the Constitution Day

So, it turns out that today is the 218th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution. In honor of this formal declaration of intent to impose a centralized government over the people of the Americas, some gang of jerks in Washington have decided to declare today Constitution Day, and to celebrate the occasion with the following charming Spontaneous Demonstration:

Americans around the world will unite on Friday, September 16, 2005, in the simultaneous recitation of the Preamble to the United States Constitution. General Tommy Franks will lead the Preamble which has previously been led by President George Bush Sr., U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, Chief Justice of Alabama Roy Moore, and Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell. The celebration will begin at 11 AM Pacific/12 PM Mountain/1 PM Central/2 PM Eastern time.

Hawaii television and radio stations are urged to do a simultaneous broadcast and to reflect and discuss the significance of the Preamble. Newspapers are also urged to promote Constitution Day and to print the Preamble on September 16, 2005, and on September 17, 2005.

President George W. Bush signed a bill on December 8th, 2004 (public law 108-447) which designated every September 17th as Constitution Day.

— Hawaii Reporter 2005-09-15: Celebrating Constitution Day — September 17, 2005

Incidentally, thanks to Senator Robert Byrd, students and teachers in government-run schools will be forced to participate in this joyous nation-wide celebration of the federal government.

Therefore, the Ministry of Culture of this secessionist republic of one calls upon all sovereign individuals to celebrate International Ignore the Constitution Day on September 17th.

The Constitution, in its origins, was an act of naked usurpation: the imposition of a government on millions of sovereign individuals and all of their descendents. Many of those who were asked did not consent to it, and the vast majority of the population of the Americas at the time (who were by turns unpropertied, Black, Indian, and/or female) never were asked whether they wanted it or not. Certainly you have not, 218 years on, and neither do I. If I got together with a group of my buddies at the coffee-shop, wrote We are your Grand High Poo-bahs, and you must do as we say on a napkin, signed it at the bottom, and then (just to be sure you understood) scrawled This is a Constitution for the United States across the top, you would consider me a lunatic if I went around insisting that the napkin I was holding obligated you to do as I say. Yet in what relevant respect are the obligations imposed on us by the U. S. Constitution any different? Did a self-selected gang of ambitious delegates somehow gain the prerogative to impose a novel, centralized, invasive government on other people against their will–the same prerogative you would think I was crazy for asserting? If so, how did they get it? If they had some kind of right, under natural law, to impose a new order of government when they saw fit, then why don’t I have the authority to do the same, for myself, whenever I decide I don’t like what they set up? (Is it because they wore powdered wigs?) If neither they nor I have the right, under natural law, to impose a new order of government, then why do their written commands have any authority than the orders of a mafioso (which may be quite consistently enforced, but which few would consider themselves morally bound to obey)? If they did have the right to do so but only with the consent of the governed, then what obligation has the Constitution ever had over those who voted against ratification, or those who never were asked for their consent? (Which, today, means everybody.)

You might say that, however dubious the notion of the consent of the governed may be, in connection with the authority of the Constitution, still, the Constitution was a wise act of statecraft and it would be wise for us to go along with it no matter how much the moralists might scowl. But is it? Hardly. The Constitution today is read, by the powers that be, to authorize the monster State that today senselessly lies and murders tens or hundreds of thousands of people around the world, pushes starvation Drug War policies and murderous patent monopolies (the latter under the mantle of Free Trade!) at home and throughout the Third World, that now continually threatens women’s basic human rights over their own bodies, and much more — and, by the way, steals trillions of your hard-earned dollars to do it all. The highest legal authorities have ruled (and thus, made it the effective policy of the State) that the Constitution authorizes federal policies such as military tribunals, the military draft, and Japanese internment. Either the Constitution does authorize these abominations and more (in which case it is the handbook for a monster State) or else it failed to prevent them (in which case it is utterly useless even for its stated purpose of securing the blessings of liberty). In either case, it ought morally to be treated like a dead letter.

You might say, O.K., fine. I realize that the current federal government isn’t much to cheer for. But isn’t Constitution Day all about celebrating how it was in its origins? But that move will certainly not get you any further. In its origins the Constitution was a pro-slavery document, which authorized (indeed, demanded) federal laws for the capture and re-enslavement of fugitive slaves; it protected Southern slavery also by authorizing the the use of the federal military against slave uprisings — supporting Southern slavery with Northern bayonets. The Northern whites compromised with the Southern slave power: support for an invasive central State in return for the protection that such a central State could offer for slavery. It was, as William Lloyd Garrison declared it, a covenant with Death and an agreement with Hell, and he knew how to celebrate its achievements:

The [4th of July 1851] rally began with a prayer and a hymn. Then Garrison launched into one of the most controversial performances of his career. To-day, we are called to celebrate the seventy-eighth anniversary of American Independence. In what spirit? he asked, with what purpose? to what end? The Declaration of Independence had declared that all men are created equal … It is not a declaration of equality of property, bodily strength or beauty, intellectually or moral development, industrial or inventive powers, but equality of RIGHTS–not of one race, but of all races.

Massachussets Historical Society, July 2005

We have proved recreant to our own faith, false to our own standard, treacherous to the trust committed to our hands; so that, instead of helping to extend the blessings of freedom, we have mightily served the cause of tyranny throughout the world. Garrison then spoke about the prospects for the success of the revolutionary spirit within the nation, prospects he regarded as dismal because of the insatiable greed, boundless rapacity, and profligate disregard of justice prevalent at the time. He concluded his speech by asserting, Such is our condition, such are our prospects, as a people, on the 4th of July, 1854! Setting aside his manuscript, he told the assembly that he should now proceed to perform an action which would be the testimony of his own soul to all present, of the estimation in which he held the pro-slavery laws and deeds of the nation

— from Thoreau: Lecture 43, 4 July, 1854

Producing a copy of the Fugitive Slave Law, he set fire to it, and it burst to ashes. Using an old and well-known phrase, he said, And let all the people say, Amen; and a unanimous cheer and shout of Amen burst from the vast audience. In like manner, Mr. Garrison burned the decision of Edward G. Loring in the case of Anthony Burns, and the late charge of Judge Benjamin R. Curtis to the United States Grand Jury in reference to the treasonable assault upon the Court House for the rescue of the fugitive–the multitude ratifying the fiery immolation with shouts of applause. Then holding up the U.S. Constitution, he branded it as the source and parent of all the other atrocities,–“a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell,”–and consumed it to ashes on the spot, exclaiming, So perish all compromises with tyranny! And let all the people say, Amen! A tremendous shout of Amen! went up to heaven in ratification of the deed, mingled with a few hisses and wrathful exclamations from some who were evidently in a rowdyish state of mind, but who were at once cowed by the popular feeling.

–from The Liberator, 7 July 1854 (boldface added)

You, too, can celebrate Ignore the Constitution Day! Today, completely ignore all claims to authority granted in the Constitution. Live your life as if the Constitution had no more claim on you than the decrees of Emperor Norton. Enjoy your rights under natural law; you have them whether or not the Constitution says one mumbling word for them. While you’re at it, treat the Constitution as completely irrelevant in political arguments too; instead of complaining that unbridled war powers for the President are unconstitutional, for example, complain that they are evil; instead of reciting that damn Davy Crocket bed-time story again and complaining that government-controlled disaster relief is unconstitutional, complain that government-controlled disaster relief is foolish and deadly. (If the Constitution clearly authorized unilateral war powers for the President, or abusive and incompetant government-controlled disaster relief, would that make it okay?) And, hell, while you’re at it, quit complaining that forced Constitution Day celebrations may be unconstitutional; complain instead that they force children to participate in cultish praise for the written record of a naked usurpation.

Just go ahead. Ignore the Constitution for a day. See what happens. Who’s it gonna hurt? And if your political reasoning becomes sharper, your discourse no longer bogs down in a bunch of pseudo-legal mummeries, and you have a pleasant day without having to ask anybody’s permission for it, then I suggest you continue the celebration, tomorrow, and every day thereafter.

Further reading

Other national holidays:

Mission Accomplished

Apropos of nothing in particular, here’s a few silly little numbers that have nothing in particular to recommend them, except for the fact that they are true:

chart of Federal Spending, the Republican years: a line, for federal spending, heading steadily upward
Year Federal Spending Federal Revenue Increase in Spending % Increase in Spending
1992 $1,381,614,000,000 $1,091,279,000,000 N/A N/A
1993 $1,409,487,000,000 $1,154,401,000,000 +$27,873,000,000 +2.02%
1994 $1,461,855,000,000 $1,258,627,000,000 +$52,368,000,000 +3.72%
1995 $1,515,821,000,000 $1,351,830,000,000 +$53,966,000,000 +3.69%
1996 $1,560,535,000,000 $1,453,062,000,000 +$44,714,000,000 +2.95%
1997 $1,601,227,000,000 $1,579,292,000,000 +$40,692,000,000 +2.61%
1998 $1,652,598,000,000 $1,721,798,000,000 +$51,371,000,000 +3.21%
1999 $1,701,913,000,000 $1,827,454,000,000 +$49,315,000,000 +2.98%
2000 $1,789,067,000,000 $2,025,218,000,000 +$87,154,000,000 +5.12%
2001 $1,863,033,000,000 $1,991,194,000,000 +$73,966,000,000 +4.13%
2002 $2,010,972,000,000 $1,853,173,000,000 +$147,939,000,000 +7.94%
2003 $2,159,917,000,000 $1,782,342,000,000 +$148,945,000,000 +7.41%
2004 $2,292,215,000,000 $1,880,071,000,000 +$132,298,000,000 +6.13%
2005 $2,479,404,000,000 $2,052,845,000,000 +$187,189,000,000 +8.17%
Increase since 1994: +$1,017,549,000,000 +69.61%

Source: OMB: Historical Tables, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2006

Meanwhile, from Washington, DC, here’s the latest from Victory Information Council (thanks, Catallarchy 2005-09-14):

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday that Republicans have done so well in cutting spending that he declared an ongoing victory, and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.

My answer to those that want to offset the spending is sure, bring me the offsets, I’ll be glad to do it. But nobody has been able to come up with any yet, the Texas Republican told reporters at his weekly briefing.

Asked if that meant the government was running at peak efficiency, Mr. DeLay said, Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority we’ve pared it down pretty good.

— Washington Times 2005-09-14: DeLay declares victory in war on budget fat

Well, glad that’s taken care of.

In other news, Congressional Republicans will hold a press conference on Tuesday to declare an ongoing victory in the war on drugs, the war on poverty, the war on Iraq, and the Second Coming of Jesus.

The Naturalistic Fallacy, Illustrated

You might wonder why I put in so much time over the past few months transcribing G. E. Moore’s ethical works for use on the web. Well, I did it because it was needed. Consder the following page, clipped from the most recent Dell catalogue:

ad copy: Dimension(tm) 2400 and Dimension 3000: The definition of value.

Someone at Dell clearly needs to be sent a copy of Moore’s Open Question Argument: what more explicit example of the Naturalistic Fallacy could you find?


Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem,
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem,
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem sempiternam.

Lux �terna luceat eis, Domine,
cum sanctis tuis in �ternum,
quia pius es.
Requiem �ternam dona eis, Domine;
et lux perpetua luceat eis,
cum Sanctus tuis in aeternum,
quia pius es.