The Nose is amazed, and he doesn't say that lightly.

No, he's not surprised that Jehovah dished out a whuppin' to New Orleans the likes of which was last seen by either Sodom or Gomorrah, can't remember which. (It's been a while since the Nose cracked the Good Book.) Schnozzo spent three bleary weeks in the "Easy" a few years back, and just about everyone in town seemed at least dimly aware that the city was on The Big List of Places to be Annihilated Soon. Why do you think they drank so much?

Nor was it a surprise that it took apocalyptic disaster 2,500 miles away for Portland's Washington-Monroe High School to finally get its lawn mowed. Or that hundreds of Portlanders-residents of a city where people step over the homeless on their way to buy fair-trade coffee-were moved to help the Gulf's suffering masses. Distance has a way of making festering pockets of neglect look, well, more festering.

Here's what surprised the Nose: the visible competence of the American media. The national press (not to mention such local all-stars as the New Orleans Times-Picayune) has done such a good job chronicling the hurricane buffoonery of George W. Bush's crew, it makes you wonder where these guys were in, say, March 2003, when we went hunting for mirage weapons of mass destruction.

It's been great to see the fire in the eyes of even the most blow-dried TV reporters. Awesome to read the well-reported chronicles of meltdown and incompetence. And almost funny to witness the contortions of the many right-wing bootlickers who owe their so-called journalistic careers to their ability to shine this president's wingtips.

So here's the question: What took so long?

Why did it take the destruction of a city for the Fourth Estate to discover that the head of the Federal Emergency Management Association was a hack who lied on his résumé-and failed at his previous job with the International Arabian Horse Association?

Why did it take a hurricane for the press to point out that the "conservative Republican" currently signing the checks at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has the fiscal discipline of a teenage girl at Forever 21? (Debit cards for everyone! Bush must figure that if it worked for Jenna and Barbara, it will work for America.)

And why did we have to see Mardi Gras ruined to figure out that W's rambling reminiscences about how shit-faced he used to get in New Orleans are not a sign of Everyman charm, but are a sign that he has the empathy of a gnat?

The Nose isn't trying to be small. He thinks it's great that everyone from NPR to Fox News played a role in exposing Team Rove's talent gap. He just thinks it's a shame that this outfit of tinhorn shitheels and shameless self-dealers had the media so cowed and confused for the past five years. (And that the Nose himself may, ahem, have been led astray a few times, too.)

Now, maybe all that's over, and the watchdog will be on guard as Halliburton lines up for rebuilding contracts and Lars, Bill, Rush and company get Pravda back up and running.

Then again, that would be the biggest shock yet.