Friday, September 30, 2005

Movie Review: Flightplan

Flightplan is one of those hard to review movies. I can't say much without giving anything away but I'll try. Jodie Foster plays Kyle Pratt, an aeronautical engineer who's husband died in Berlin. She's flying the body back to New York with her daughter Julia. A little bit into the flight Kyle wakes up from a nap to find Julia missing, but how could a 6 year-old go missing on a plane in mid-flight?

So that's the setup, I won't give anything else away. It sounds a lot like Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes, updated from a train to a plane, and it is. They even use a similar plot device. The pacing is good as it keeps progressing from looking in one place after another, believing her, thinking she's crazy, etc.

Foster's performance as a frantic mom is strong. Peter Sarsgaard is also good an air marshall. This film could have done a lot with a small, enclosed, claustrophobic environment. Instead they chose to set it on a new model spacious jumbo jet. The director, Robert Schwentke, hasn't done much else and there's little visual pinache. David Fincher did a much more interesting job in Foster's last film Panic Room. I was annoyed by a stupid shot of the plane which was sideways for no good reason. I've seen this done recently and blocked out what film it was (maybe Ocean's Twelve).

I had a fine time during the film being ahead of Kyle sometimes, behind her at others, believing her sometimes and not on others. In the end, the plot stretches feasibility and I'm sure in a few days I'll forget about it.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Largest Buried Treasure Found

I thought Robinson Crusoe was just an 18th Century novel. It turns out it was based on the true story of Alexander Selkirk. He was a Scotish Sailing Master on the English ship Cinque Ports and had concerns about its seaworthiness and opted to be put ashore on an uninhabited island. The Cinque Ports subsequently sank but he was marooned for over 4 years before being rescued in 1709. His story inspired the book and in 1966 the island (of the coast of Chile) was renamed Robinson Crusoe Island.

Unrelated to Selkirk, in 1715 Spanish navigator Juan Esteban Ubilla y Echeverria hid on the island Incan treasure stolen during the Spanish conquest of Peru. Before he could return to it, it was found by British pirate Cornelius Webb and reburied on another area of the island. It has never been found. Legend has it the booty, weighs 800 tonnes and includes two papal rings and a storied jewel known as the "Rose of the Winds".

Arturito is a robot, named after R2D2 and invented by Chilean salvage company Wagner Technologies. It uses sonar to scan up to 50m underground. In June it found a massive arms cache and in August it found the remains of missing businessman Francisco Yuraszeck. Continuing its streak, this month it seems it found the Robinson Crusoe Island Treasure on Cerro Tres Puntas (Three Peaks Hill). Excavation begins in October which will prove the claim. The treasure could be worth over $10 billion.

And now the lawyers. The site is in a Chilean national monument. One law states that any material of historical value, including ancient treasure, found on government property is archaeological by default and therefore must be returned to the state to allow for historical research on the artifacts found. Another law states that in any discovery where the rightful owners cannot be determined, the finds should be divided equally between the finder and the property owner. Chile's government wants it all, Wagner Technologies wants half (saying it will donate it to 3 Chilean charities) and island Mayor Mark Gonzalez wants the 600 inhabitants to get half the value.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tom Delay, Indicted, Steps Down as Leader

Tom Delay (R-TX) was indicted on one charge of illegal campaign contributions from Sept 2002. As a result of the indictment, following House rules, Delay as stepped down as Majority Leader. Yay!

They alledge that Delay's PAC accepted $155,000 from several companies (including Sears), put the money in an account and then wrote a check for $190,000 to the RNC for House candidates. As the NY Times puts it: "State law prohibits use of corporate contributions to advocate the election or defeat of state candidates, and prosecutors accuse the DeLay organization of engaging in a complex scheme to circumvent the law."

Think Progress adds a quote from Karl Rove from April: "Tom DeLay is going to continue to be a strong and effective majority leader. ...We strongly support Tom DeLay. He's a good man, a close ally of this administration." And SFGate adds more

O'Reilly falsely claimed he retracts his false claims

You'd think this was an article, but it's not, it's from Media Matters.

The Red Cross

Rhinocrisy has a post about the Red Cross which isn't all that favorable. 91% of the budget is for blood, and they don't do direct medical care or fight fires. They give out money proportionately to what was lost and some might say that's fine, others might say those that can afford it get another helping hand and the poor get shafted. The comments are worth reading, particularly the one by McCormick which give a balanced view.

The end result is probably, just be sure you know what your donating to. Shortly after Katrina I saw some stat that said 75% of donations went to the Red Cross. Sure they were listed first on the FEMA page, but it's not Google, try reading something other than the top entry.

White House Flip-Flops on Energy Conservation and Lies About It

Think Progress has the clips. In 2001 the President believed we didn't need to conserve. On Sep 26 2005, he outlined "important steps that we can take to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy." Now that wouldn't be so bad, some might say finally he got it right. But Scott McClellan went further saying: "This has been a high priority for the President from day one." which is just a blatant lie. Maybe press conferences should be under oath (the oath of office doesn't seem to apply) so we could fire or jail them for this crap.

The DailyKos goes further and points out that Bush is now flying around for various photo ops and perhaps he could start by conserving jet fuel.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Project Censored

Censored 2006 from Seven Stories Press features the 25 most important news stories not covered by the corporate media in 2004-05. It's a scary list and well worth following the link to see the details.

1. Bush Administration Moves to Eliminate Open Government
2. Media Coverage Fails on Iraq: Fallujah and the Civilian Deathtoll
3. Another Year of Distorted Election Coverage
4. Surveillance Society Quietly Moves In
5. U.S. Uses Tsunami to Military Advantage in Southeast Asia
6. The Real Oil for Food Scam
7. Journalists Face Unprecedented Dangers to Life and Livelihood
8. Iraqi Farmers Threatened By Bremer's Mandates
9. Iran's New Oil Trade System Challenges U.S. Currency
10. Mountaintop Removal Threatens Ecosystem and Economy
11. Universal Mental Screening Program Usurps Parental Rights
12. Military in Iraq Contracts Human Rights Violators
13. Rich Countries Fail to Live up to Global Pledges
14. Corporations Win Big on Tort Reform, Justice Suffers
15. Conservative Plan to Override Academic Freedom in the Classroom
16. U.S. Plans for Hemispheric Integration Include Canada
17. U.S. Uses South American Military Bases to Expand Control of the Region
18. Little Known Stock Fraud Could Weaken U.S. Economy
19. Child Wards of the State Used in AIDS Experiments
20. American Indians Sue for Resources; Compensation Provided to Others
21. New Immigration Plan Favors Business Over People
22. Nanotechnology Offers Exciting Possibilities But Health Effects Need Scrutiny
23. Plight of Palestinian Child Detainees Highlights Global Problem
24. Ethiopian Indigenous Victims of Corporate and Government Resource Aspirations
25. Homeland Security Was Designed to Fail

Monday, September 26, 2005

Buy Dockers Get a Free Tivo

No really it's true until Wednesday.

Congress and Bush Waste $464 Million

I knew before that the Transportation Bill included $464 million for some bridges in Alaska that even the residents don't want. Really, how isn't wasting taxpayers money like this illegal? Now to add insult to injury people suggest that the money could be better spent on Katrina (and Rita) reconstruction and Don Young (R-AK) says "They can kiss my ear!". This would be funny if it weren't so unbelievable.

Quotes on George Bush

On Real Time with Bill Maher on Sept 9th, Kurt Vonnegut said this about George Bush:

I'm not only from the richest country in the world but the dumbest country in the world. Our president, a tragic figure perhaps, but he doesn't know diddly-squat about economics or history or science or even how to speak well.

Bill Maher ended the show saying:

"Mr. President, this job can't be fun for you any more. There's no more money to spend--you used up all of that. You can't start another war because you also used up the army. And now, darn the luck, the rest of your term has become the Bush family nightmare: helping poor people. Listen to your Mom. The cupboard's bare, the credit cards maxed out and no one's speaking to you. Mission accomplished.

"Now it's time to do what you've always done best: lose interest and walk away. Like you did with your military service and the oil company and the baseball team. It's time. Time to move on and try the next fantasy job. How about cowboy or space man? Now I know what you're saying: there's so many other things that you as President could involve yourself in. Please don't. I know, I know. There's a lot left to do. There's a war with Venezuela and eliminating the sales tax on yachts. Turning the space program over to the church. And Social Security to Fannie Mae. Giving embryos the vote.

"But, Sir, none of that is going to happen now. Why? Because you govern like Billy Joel drives. You've performed so poorly I'm surprised that you haven't given yourself a medal. You're a catastrophe that walks like a man. Herbert Hoover was a shitty president, but even he never conceded an entire metropolis to rising water and snakes.

"On your watch, we've lost almost all of our allies, the surplus, four airliners, two trade centers, a piece of the Pentagon and the City of New Orleans. Maybe you're just not lucky. I'm not saying you don't love this country. I'm just wondering how much worse it could be if you were on the other side. "So, yes, God does speak to you. What he is saying is: 'Take a hint.'"

Guilty verdict for head of Spanish Al-Qaeda cell

A Spanish court today handed Syrian Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, alias Abu Dahdah, a 27-year jail sentence for 'conspiracy' in the organisation of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US as verdicts fell in Europe's biggest Al-Qaeda trial to date. And our media is so US centric it isn't even reported in the US press.

Wow, what an idea, trials for Al-Qaeda suspects. In the 4 years since 9/11 we've had one and it would still be going on if he hadn't pleaded guilty on April 22nd. Instead we just put people in prison in Cuba or send them to another country to be tortured.

I'm Back

While on vacation this blog averaged 10 visitors a day, without even posting. Glad you all had fun on the speculations. I recognize Andy's and Ed's Top 10 Lists, but am not sure about one of the anonymous posters. Here's mine.

Top 10 Surprising Things About My Vacation

10. Didn't Blog at all
9. Had only one rainy day
8. Only saw one sunset
7. Didn't get a sunburn (did get tan)
6. Did get three massages
5. Saw a lot of the Roberts Confirmation Hearing
4. Watched all of Firefly again
3. Fell asleep early most nights
2. Spent over a week with 2 (sometimes 3) small children
1. Thought Absolut Raspberri was only ok

Thursday, September 08, 2005

2 Week Hiatus

I'm going on vacation and probably won't have net access for the next 2 weeks. Be back end of September.

Crappy Maps

Anyone else notice how bad the maps of the Katrina area are on TV? I'm looking at one now on CNN showing Baton Rouge. It has green land and blue water and a blinking red dot labeled Baton Rouge, LA. Nothing else. They don't show where New Orleans is for reference. They don't color the areas affected by the storm (what kind of damage did Baton Rouge have?). There's no scale. In fact I haven't seen a scale on any map and was amazed at today's Boston Globe which showed the same flooded area around New Orleans I've seen for days, but superimposed on a Boston map and showed it stretching out to Framingham (that's about 25 miles west from the water). It did have a scale on it but the online version doesn't! We can do amazing things with digital images and flashy graphics, I just people would make them useful as well.

Hurricane Katrina - First Hand Experiences

Here are first hand experiences of Katrina. it's worth reading the whole thing. It answers some questions I had about why more people didn't walk out of the city or cross the Mississippi River. Absolutely appalling.

You know when you're stuck at an airport and you know the info they give you is a lie? This was the same thing only far worse. Why does this happen? Jack Nicholson doesn't apply in these situations, we can handle the truth.

Aftermath Photos

Great photos from Radar Online.

Will the Dems Ever Learn?

I have to aggre with Arianna Huffington that the Democrats are blowing it again. By sitting around and letting Bush implode (which he seems to be doing nicely) without offering any significant difference they're not going to win anyone over. Anyone can easily say "oh yeah, where were you?"

Project Censored

Project Censored presents the 10 biggest stories the mainstream media ignored over the past year.

Katrina Update

Jamie has another good horror update with volunteer firefighters assigned to community-relations, sexual harrassment classes, and to stand next to Bush on his visit. Bush wants to know what didn't go right? And volunteers setting up an information radio station in the Astrodome is blocked.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Karl Rove: Illegal Voter Registration?

Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a complaint to Texas state Director of Elections, Ann McGeehan, urging an investigation into whether Karl Rove, Deputy Chief of Staff to President Bush, violated Texas state law by illegally registering as a voter in Kerr County, Texas.

Seems like a technicality, but I don't care.

Top FEMA Deputies Make Brown Look Qualified

Think Progress has a post, who's title says it all: Top FEMA Deputies Make Brown Look Qualified

Movie Review: The 40 Year Old Virgin

There isn't much that needs to be said about The 40 Year Old Virgin except it's very funny and you should go see it.

Steve Carell plays Andy, who watches Survior with his elderly neighbors and rides his bike to work at an electronics store. His coworkers think he's a little odd, one suspects he might be a serial killer. But it's just that he never managed to get lucky, he respects women so much he avoids them. His new friends find out about this and vow to help him get some. What follows is a constant stream of laugh out loud bits. It doesn't really hold back but it doesn't go as far as a Farrelly Brothers film. The waxing scene you've already seen on TV will make you cringe. A urine joke will have half the audience ask "can that really happen?". But what sets this film apart is that it's not just a stupid comedy. The relationship that builds between Andy and Trish (Catherine Keener) is worthy of any good chick flick. The film manages to get you rooting for all the characters to connect with someone. It's probably the best comedy of the year.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Barbara Bush Thinks Katrina Helped the Poor

Wow, here's what not say after a national disaster. While touring Houston today she found so many evacuees (better not call them refugees) were grateful at the hospitality and wanted to stay in Texas (I guess vs going back to a disaster zone) she says: "And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this [she chuckles slightly] is working very well for them."

Compassionate Conservative my ass.

Cheney's Still on Vacation!

So it's easy to complain about the President's slow response to Katrina, or that Secretary of State Condi Rice was buying several thousand dollars' worth of shoes and seeing Spamalot! in NY on Wed. But really it seems now that aid is getting there and everyone is working. I saw the Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao on TV today saying the president had a a cabinet meeting and made it very clear that every department was to be concentrating on Katrina recovery. Even stone cold Donald Rumsfeld has been to the area.

So where the fuck is Cheney? As far as I know he's still on vacation in Wyoming and we know he isn't going to Canada this week. There's not so much as a press release from his office since Aug 18th. He couldn't take the time to even offer a few words of condolences. He really is Darth Vader.

There Should Be Only One

If you go to the FEMA website you'll see they usefully point to several other sites to help Katrina victims locate relatives. If you watch CNN they say they have one, if you watch MSNBC they have one. The Red Cross has one. Why are there many of these? Just to make it harder to find people (you have to check each one)?

Why doesn't FEMA host the one and only of these so that it's most effective?

Can FEMA Do Anything Right?

This is a list of stories on FEMA's mistakes. I can understand wanting to coordinate things, but that also involves accepting help from others and coordinating it, not just turning it away.

The Theology of Battlestar Galactica's Cylons

Here's an interesting interview with Ron Moore, producer of the new Battlestar Galactica series on religious themes in the show. 12 different models of Cylon each potentially with a slightly different take on monotheism.

Will Katrina Change Gambling Laws?

I wonder if gamling laws will change. People want to gamble, it's a huge industry and it generates huge revenues for areas and government. But we have some social issues with it so we often have laws that try to hide it. As a result Casinos in the Gulf Coast of MI weren't allowed on land and had to be on boats. Calling these things boats is wrong too, they were permanently docked at the shore and could not travel by water. What happened? They were more susceptible to hurricanes, something not uncommon on the coast.

Maybe we'll realize that if something is accepted by a large group of people, maybe we shouldn't have social pressures to hide them. Our Constitution protects the rights of speech and expression, this means the expression of minority views because the majority views don't need protection. Minority views shouldn't have to hide and shouldn't be hidden by laws. Sure you can reasonably regulate things for various reasons like public safety, protecting children, preserving the environment, etc. But I hope the time of hiding casinos on permanently docked boats is long past and I hope this translates to other things.

Can You Hear Me Now?

On 9/11 cell towers were lost with the towers and many cell phones didn't work. I remember discussions about portable towers that could be quickly deployed, perhaps on blimps. This would make a lot of sense as cell phones proved to be the only technology that prevented one of the planes from reaching it's target and would have aided in rescue efforts.

One of the problems in the Katrina areas are that phones don't work, neither cell phones or land lines. Without power, cell towers don't work and cell phones can't be recharged. I assume most land lines were affected by wind or water. This hampers relief efforts and prevents families from contacting each other. Reporters are using satellite phones and people ask them constantly to borrow them.

So what happened to those blimps with cell towers? No one made them. In the US since we don't have a standard cell phone system like in every other country, each provider would need their own. But with cell phone companies competing fiercely for customers, wouldn't this be a good relatively cheap differentiator? Wouldn't you be more likely to use a cell phone from the company that advertises, "works when you really need it" and was shown prominently at disaster sites? They could also provide phones to victims. The other problem is charging a cell phone when power's been down. Add on devices that work from regular standard batteries would also be a nice addition.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Good Article on Katrina's Effects

Andrew Sullivan has a good article in the London Times called When the levees broke, the waters rose and Bush's credibility sank with New Orleans. It's a good recap of everything that happened and it ends with some political possibilities. The Democrats have been silent, letting Bush implode but I think that's a mistake. And he proposes that Giuliani could now make a good run for President.

Broussard Attacks FEMA

On Meet the Press today the president of Jefferson Parish in New Orleans, Aaron Broussard, attacked FEMA and broke down. I saw the broadcasat. Think Progress has a good summary. MSNBC has video clips. Here's the most damning:
Three quick examples. We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn't need them. This was a week ago. FEMA, we had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. When we got there with our trucks, FEMA says don't give you the fuel. Yesterday - yesterday - FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice. Our sheriff, Harry Lee, goes back in, he reconnects the line. He posts armed guards and said no one is getting near these lines.

If this is all true, I want know who issued the orders and I want them to explain them to me and a court.

Bush Visit was a Sham and Slowed Down Aid

Some really disgusting things are coming out about Bush's visit to the Katrina sites. Remember this is the President who claims he's not driven by polls. Doesn't this remind you of Wag the Dog?

Dutch viewer Frank Tiggelaar writes: "There was a striking discrepancy between the CNN International report on the Bush visit to the New Orleans disaster zone, yesterday, and reports of the same event by German TV. ZDF News reported that the president's visit was a completely staged event. Their crew witnessed how the open air food distribution point Bush visited in front of the cameras was torn down immediately after the president and the herd of "news people" had left and that others which were allegedly being set up were abandoned at the same time. The people in the area were once again left to fend for themselves."

The AP reports that Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA) said: "And for the entire time Bush was in the state, a ban on helicopter flights further stalled the delivery of food and supplies."

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), issued the following statement:
Yesterday, I was hoping President Bush would come away from his tour of the regional devastation triggered by Hurricane Katrina with a new understanding for the magnitude of the suffering and for the abject failures of the current Federal Emergency Management Agency. 24 hours later, the President has yet to answer my call for a cabinet-level official to lead our efforts. Meanwhile, FEMA, now a shell of what it once was, continues to be overwhelmed by the task at hand.

I understand that the U.S. Forest Service had water-tanker aircraft available to help douse the fires raging on our riverfront, but FEMA has yet to accept the aid. When Amtrak offered trains to evacuate significant numbers of victims - far more efficiently than buses - FEMA again dragged its feet. Offers of medicine, communications equipment and other desperately needed items continue to flow in, only to be ignored by the agency.

But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast - black and white, rich and poor, young and old - deserve far better from their national government.

Mr. President, I'm imploring you once again to get a cabinet-level official stood up as soon as possible to get this entire operation moving forward regionwide with all the resources - military and otherwise - necessary to relieve the unmitigated suffering and economic damage that is unfolding."

And last, here's a good Washington Post article where the subtitle says it all: White House Shifts Blame to Local Officials.

Clueless Leaders

I will just copy this from the Washington Monthly:

CLUELESS....Could the people in charge of managing the catastrophe in New Orleans possibly be more clueless?

George W. Bush, President of the United States, six days after repeated warnings from experts about the scope of damage expected from Hurricane Katrina: "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."

Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, following widespread eyewitness reports of refugees living like animals at the Convention Center: "I have not heard a report of thousands of people in the Convention Center who don't have food and water."

Mike Brown, Director of FEMA, referring to people who were stuck in New Orleans largely because they were too poor to afford the means to leave: "...those who are stranded, who chose not to evacuate, who chose not to leave the city..."

Patrick Rhode, deputy director of FEMA, commenting on his agency's performance after four days of steadily increasing urban warfare, deeply flawed coordination, and continuing inability to evacuate refugees: "Probably one of the most efficient and effective responses in the country's history."

Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House of Representatives, providing needed reassurance to the newly homeless: "It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that's seven feet under sea level....It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed."

This is beyond belief. What's with these people?

Rehnquist's First Amendment Record

According to this Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Rehnquist's First Amendment Record was Dismal. He starts with "Rehnquist voted to support the First Amendment claim only 20% of the time" and it gets worse from there.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

More good links

Jamie has another horror show update.

Rehnquist Died

Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist passed away tonight. Bush will make another appointment. My guess is he'll appoint Scalia as Chief Justice and someone else as an Associate Justice. Since Rehnquist was the third most conservative justice it won't change the balance, but we'll see who we get. Will it be Gonzalis? With Michael Brown's qualifications in the news, will the country be more demanding of a qualified appointment?

Oil Industry Update

A friend sent me copies of newsletter updates from the oil industry. One from PFC and one from the Petroleum Transportation and Storage Association (PTSA) which amazingly doesn't seem to have a website. One was from Wed, the other Thursday, I've summarized them below. Note that b/d stands for barrels per day and is sometimes prefaced with k for thousand or m for million. The industry thinks in terms of crude supply, refining, and distribution.

The US uses 20 mb/d. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) is 727 mb and the Federal Government is trying to expand it to 1 billion barrels. Estimates are 1.4 mb/d will be lost in September, which will greatly affect the east coast. Power is the number one problem, without it refineries and pipelines don't work.

As of Thursday 1.3 mb/d/day of crude production is shutdown, this is about 95% of the region's normal output. Crude production in the Gulf expected to bounce back quickly. It was 100 kb/d higher Wed than Tue. Expect almost all production will be back on line in 2-3 weeks. The production loss for the month of September is estimated at 450 kb/d.Apparently companies have high inventories of crude so the SPR release "is of little help." Also, much of the SPR is stored in the area and would be accessible if there was power

As of Wed 2.2 mb/d of refining production are shutdown. LA has 1,900 kb/d down out of 2,760 kb/d capacity. MI has 323 kb/d down out of 354 kb/d capacity. AL has all of their 110 kb/d capcity working. These shutdowns represent 10% of total US refining capacity. It's expected that 750 kb/d will remain down for several weeks or maybe months due to severe water damage at the refineries.

The Capline pipeline distributes 1 mb/d from LA to the Mid-Continent, it's down. The Colonial pipeline goes from Houston to NY and as of Thu was at 60% Plantation is more than 3,100 miles of pipeline from refineries in LA and MI to the Southeast, it was down due to power. The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) is where 1mb/d of crude is imported into the US. It was not damaged but is at reduced capacity due to power. Full operation requires full power which might take several weeks. Partial operations are being restored with the use of portable generators.

Various laws were relaxed through Sept 15th. This coincides with when normal changes from summer to winter ocur. The EPA relaxed some polution controls, mostly normalizing them for all 50 states so refineries don't have to make different batches. At first not all the states cooperated but I think they followed through. The IRS needed to make some changes too since tax breaks for various pollution levels needed to be relaxed as well. This was expected to happen on Fri. The DOT relaxed rules that restricted how many hours drivers could drive.

Michael Brown's Qualifications

The Boston Herald has an article today on Michael Brown's Qualifications. The highlights.

Michael Brown joined FEMA in 2001 as Deputy Director, in 2003 he became head of it when Joseph Allbaugh left to work in the Bush reelection campaign (which he had done before). Before that, Brown was the Commissioner of Judges and Stewards for the International Arabian Horse Association, "the official breed registry for the Arabian horse industry". He held this post for 11 years before he was asked to resign because of lawsuits over alleged supervision failures. Seriously, I'm not joking. Before that he was a lawyer.

So how did he get into FEMA (as Deputy Director no less)? He and Allbaugh were college roommates.

Of course Wikipedia has more

The big disconnect on New Orleans

CNN yesterday had a good story on the difference between what the authorities in NOLA say and what they see on the streets. Now imagine if they did this with WMDs or other things in Iraq, or the administration's changes of science reports (like global warming).

Mystery Unfolds Over Hunt for WMD in Iraq

The Washington Post writes Mystery Unfolds Over Hunt for WMD in Iraq which is a really good summary of everything we know about the administrations claims and actions of WMDs in Iraq.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Accurately Quoting Bush?

Goto this blog post: Daily Kos: The Clueless-In-Chief. It's a transcript of Bush meeting some victims today as shown on CNN. Read it, it's awful, he comes across as an idiot. Now click on link to the video and watch it (there's a short ad before it). When you watch it for real it didn't seem that bad to me. She's hysterical and he's trying to calm her down and they walk away together for a quite aways.

So does the transcript accurately convey the whole (truth of the) conversation or not? I'm really not sure.

Bush Arrives on the Coast and Looks Uninterested

I saw Bush's obviously staged briefing when he arrived in Mobile Alabama this morning (about 11:25am ET). He looked remarkably uninterested (arms crossed, no eye contact, uninterested nodding, starring off into the distance) while hearing the reports. He only said two things at this point. When the Director of FEMA said 500 cell phone towers were down, he asked if any were put back up yet (yes). When the Gov of Alabama said some oil pipelines were working up to 40-50% of capacity Bush interrupted and said: "It's more than that right now. I got positive news on the Colonial Pipeline. It should be over 80% this weekend which will help". Now two things bother me with this. One, he knows the details of the oil situation, does he care about anything else? And two, he seems to confuse "right now" with "this weekend".

At the end Bush said a few words including these: "The good news is and it's hard for some to see it now, but out of this chaos is gonna come a fantastic gulf coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles [sic] of Trent Lott's house, his [sic] had lost his entire house, there's gonna be a fantastic house and I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch. Out of New Orleans is gonna come that great city again, that's what gonna happen." Is anyone else disturbed that he listed Trent Lott's house before New Orleans?

I watched on CNN and Daryn Kagan said after this speech. "I gotta say that was rather an odd thing to be watching. The president finally making it to the gulf coast after five days and then spending a big chunk of time, when he could be out seeing the devastation, getting a briefing that frankly he could have gotten back at the White House, if not then, then on board on Air Force One. A lot of that seemed like a political opportunity for the cameras and for the Republican governors of Mississippi and Alabama." Political Analyst William Schneider said: "Well it did and I'm not sure that's what most Americans [mumble] most people in the area wanted to hear as if the president were being filled in being told what was going on, there was a lot of thanking a lot of congratulations. Look these are frantic desperate people who have lost everything, who are in a very desperate situation. What they want is someone to come there and say the government is in control, we have control of this situation, there's a leader in charge here and we're going to make it work. Eventually he did get to his point and his point was that his priorities were the right priorities, number one saving lives, number two restoring order. But what people want there is leadership, they don't want someone being briefed, they want leadership.

Thoughts on Katrina Coverage

All the comments of reporters needed to remind themselves these scenes aren't in a third world country but are in the United States seem wrong and exposes and underlying bias.

The Congressional Black Caucus is suggesting that many of the victims we see are poor and black and perhaps that's why response has been slow. I think this is yet another example of people confusing correlation and causation

They're also angry at the use of the word refugee since these people are Americans. To some extent they're right, a refugee is "a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster" and they've only gone from Louisiana to Texas but some may call that a different country.

CNN is using Google Earth for its broadcast. it's remarkably useful and effective. But isn't it weird for TV to be showing someone using the Internet? And they seem to be spending a lot of air time trying to locate a fire, couldn't this be done off camera and then reported when they know.

Condi Rice had a press conference. She said her family is from the affect areas in Alabama and she's very concerned and asked the president how she could help more than just in her capacity as Sec. of State. Which really doesn't mesh with her shoe shopping yesterday.

A reporter asked her about reports of foreign aid (specifically from Russia) being refused. She said no request has been refused. Another reporter said that FEMA has said that none have been accepted either. She confirmed this and said an executive secretary was assigned to match up offers with needs. I guess it's too much to expect the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from our leaders.

Weakening FEMA from Last Year

This is a great article from a year ago on how FEMA was fairing and the effect of Bush on the agency. it's really worth reading the whole thing, here are some highlights.

Bush administration policy changes and budget cuts, they say, are sapping FEMA's longterm ability to cushion the blow of hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, tornados, wildfires and other natural disasters.

Among emergency specialists, "mitigation"--the measures taken in advance to minimize the damage caused by natural disasters--is a crucial part of the strategy to save lives and cut recovery costs. But since 2001, key federal disaster mitigation programs, developed over many years, have been slashed and tossed aside. FEMA's Project Impact, a model mitigation program created by the Clinton administration, has been canceled outright. Federal funding of post-disaster mitigation efforts designed to protect people and property from the next disaster has been cut in half, and now, communities across the country must compete for pre-disaster mitigation dollars.

In June, Pleasant Mann, a 16-year FEMA veteran who heads the agency's government employee union, wrote members of Congress to warn of the agency's decay. "Over the past 3.5 years, FEMA has gone from being a model agency to being one where funds are being misspent, employee morale has fallen, and our nation's emergency management capability is being eroded," he wrote. "Our professional staff are being systematically replaced by politically connected novices and contractors."

At FEMA, President Bush appointed a close aide, Joe Allbaugh, to be the agency's new director. Allbaugh had served as then-Gov. Bush's chief of staff in Texas and as manager of his 2000 presidential campaign. Along with Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, Allbaugh was known as one part of Bush's "iron triangle" of professional handlers.
Some FEMA veterans complained that Allbaugh had little experience in managing disasters, and the new administration's early initiatives did little to settle their concerns. The White House quickly launched a government-wide effort to privatize public services, including key elements of disaster management. Bush's first budget director, Mitch Daniels, spelled out the philosophy in remarks at an April 2001 conference: "The general idea--that the business of government is not to provide services, but to make sure that they are provided--seems self-evident to me," he said.

And when it comes to handling disasters, the FEMA employee stresses, cheaper is not necessarily better, and the new outsourcing requirements sometimes slow the agency's operations.

The administration also made a failed attempt to cut the federal percentage of large-scale natural disaster preparedness expenditures. Since the 1990s, the federal government has paid 75 percent of such costs, with states and municipalities funding the other 25 percent. The White House's attempt to reduce the federal contribution to 50 percent was defeated in Congress.

Michael Brown, a college friend of Allbaugh's who had served as FEMA's general counsel, was recruited to head the agency, which would now be part of the DHS's Emergency and Response Directorate. When the reorganization took effect on March 1, 2003, Brown assured skeptics that under the new arrangement, the country would be served by "FEMA on steroids"--a faster, more effective disaster agency.

And indeed, some in-need areas have been inexplicably left out of the program. "In a sense, Louisiana is the flood plain of the nation," noted a 2002 FEMA report. "Louisiana waterways drain two-thirds of the continental United States. Precipitation in New York, the Dakotas, even Idaho and the Province of Alberta, finds its way to Louisiana's coastline." As a result, flooding is a constant threat, and the state has an estimated 18,000 buildings that have been repeatedly damaged by flood waters--the highest number of any state. And yet, this summer FEMA denied Louisiana communities' pre-disaster mitigation funding requests.

In case Congress hasn't gotten the message, former FEMA director James Lee Witt recently restated it in strong terms. "I am extremely concerned that the ability of our nation to prepare for and respond to disasters has been sharply eroded," he testified at a March 24, 2004, hearing on Capitol Hill. "I hear from emergency managers, local and state leaders, and first responders nearly every day that the FEMA they knew and worked well with has now disappeared. In fact one state emergency manager told me, 'It is like a stake has been driven into the heart of emergency management.'"

Repairing a Levee

The Washington Post has a very good article on the efforts to repair the levee. Here are some highlights.

By Tuesday evening, 80 percent of the below-sea-level city was submerged, with some sections flooded to a depth of 20 feet.

A helicopter drop [of sandbags] probably would not have helped anyway. "You've got a great big spillway," said William Marcuson, director emeritus of the Corps' Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory in Vicksburg, Miss. "At some point the lake will subside, but until it stabilizes, you might as well leave the breaches there."

Bob Anderson, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers in Memphis said: Equilibrium came early Wednesday. New Orleans's harried residents noticed that the floodwater had stopped rising, and as the day wore on, the level began to fall. This, was caused by two factors.

First, many of the city's pumps, particularly in higher-ground areas, never stopped operating and were continuously flushing water into the Mississippi River south of the lake and into undamaged canals.

Second, the lake had subsided so much that the water inside the city was able to flow back the way it had come. The 17th Street and London Avenue breaches became drains. By yesterday afternoon, 53 percent of the city was dry.

Anderson said the Corps planned to leave the 250-foot-wide London Avenue break alone so water would continue to flow out, and that "notches" are being cut in the levee protecting eastern New Orleans -- makeshift gutters so water will spill out.

But if the city relied only on gravity, months would elapse and there would still be two feet of water on the ground. Engineers needed to get pumps working in the areas of heavy flooding, and to do that, they needed to close the 17th Street breach.

For three days, Corps officials had lamented the difficulty of gaining access to the canal, but yesterday afternoon a set of steel sheet pilings were placed at the mouth of the canal to isolate the canal from the lake. This allowed them to start driving piles at the actual breach yesterday evening and hopefully finish by tomorrow. Then the pumping can beging.

Live Feeds from New Orleans

The ScannerBuff Network has a list of live audio and video feeds out of New Orleans, including police scanners and the like.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

FEMA Director: We Did Not Know New Orleans Convention Center Was A Hurricane Shelter

Here's what the FEMA director said to Paula Zahn tonight on CNN:

Michael Brown, director of FEMA: People who were unable or chose not to evacuate are suddenly appearing. And so this catastrophic disaster continues to grow. I will tell you this, though, every person in that convention center, we just learned about that today and so I have directed that we have all the available resources to get to that convention center to make sure that they have the food and water, the medical care that they need.

Paula Zahn: Sir, you're not telling me -

Brown: To care of those bodies that are there -

Zahn: you're not telling me that you just learned that the folks at the convention center didn't have food and water until today, are you? You had no idea that they were completely cut off?

Brown: Paula, the federal government did not even know about the convention center people until today.

Someone's getting fired.

jwz - the ongoing horror show

Jamie has a nice set of links here.

Do Words Matter Anymore?

Do words matter anymore? I heard one news anchor say the Mississippi coast looked like a nuclear bomb was dropped and I thought, well things weren't vaporized and the sand isn't fused into glass. I heard someone else say "the phone was literally ringing off the hook" and thought they really meant figuratively.

Bush said this morning, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breech of the levees." Which is just a blatent lie, many anticipated it, that's one of the reasons they evacuated. There were plenty of stories over the weekend that this could be the big one that will destroy New Orleans. Think Progress points out many warnings over the last 4 years.

I guess if you don't anticipate it, and slash funding for prevention you forget that part where you didn't listent to others and gambled. Because of these cuts, in 2004, the Corps essentially stopped major work on the now-breached levee system that had protected New Orleans from flooding. It was the first such stoppage in 37 years, the Times-Picayune reported. Then there's the whole thing of whether FEMA is less effective now that they are part of the Department of Homeland Security.

I thought it was pretty well established that storms get energy from warmer waters. Apparently Harlan L. Watson, the US envoy for negotiations on climate change, denied any link between global warming and the strength of storms. ''Our scientists are telling us right now that there's not a linkage," he said in Geneva.

How is it that these idiots represent and lead us?

Satellite Photos of Katrina Damage

Here are very high res photos of the damage done by Katrina. And this one shows the Grand Casinos Biloxi and the destroyed I90 bridge.

3 Amazing Videos of Katrina Damage

Check out the WLBT the NBC affiliate in Gulfport, LA. There are 3 astounding videos (all WMAv9) of the devastation as recorded by their helicopter - nearly unedited footage. The first covers Long Beach, Biloxi, and Gulfport. At about 3 mins in you see casinos (which were barges) that were lifted up and dropped almost whole inland. At 8 mins in you see the Presidents Casino which was dumped on top of a Holiday Inn. at 12 min the Biloxi Hard Rock casino was utterly shredded. At 20 mins in you see a huge bridge of Interstate 90 that was destroyed. The second is of Pascagoula, Gautier, Ocean Springs, Biloxi, and Gulfport and repeats some of the footage of the first. The third a 2 min video from some idiots who rode out the storm in a hotel on the beach, you see the water stream into the hotel.

Chimpanzee Genome Mapped

Scientists have complete genetic maps of humans, mice, and rats, and now they one for chimpanzees, our closest relatives.

Their genome is 3 billion base pairs long. There are 40 million differences from humans. 35 million small variations (believed to be tiny random mutations) and 5 million larger differences. While that's a 4% difference from humans, it's believed 3/4 of the diffs are in junk DNA so we're only 1% different. In looking at the different genes, some have been postualated to be involved in brain development and some for language, which would match up nicely to the real differences between us. But the biggest diffs they've found are in how the genes are regulated.

I didn't realized this: "Chimpanzees have repeatedly toppled conceptions about the ways in which humans are purportedly unique. They fashion and use tools, including hammers, anvils, probes for fishing termites from the ground and seats to rest on, though unlike humans, they make all their tools by modifying found objects and never by putting complementary pieces together. Chimps also medicate themselves, swallowing rough leaves and chewing on bitter stems to treat a type of intestinal infection. And in perhaps their cheekiest aping of humanity, chimpanzees display remarkable political acumen. They form complex alliances and trade grooming services, sex and food. Like many denizens of the world's great cities, they lobby, demand bribes, repay favors and, when crossed, extract revenge."

Apparently the differences also match some mathematical corollaries of the theory of evolution. "I can't imagine Darwin hoping for a stronger confirmation of his ideas," said Robert H. Waterston, who led the Washington University team. As Opus would say: "PPHPHPT!"

Where are you Rudy?

Has anyone else noticed about the New Orleans disaster, how little those in charge have learned from Rudy Giuliani? Time Magazine in selecting him 2001 Person of the Year phrased it well, "he managed to sound realistic and optimistic at the same time" and "He knew the difference between information and inspiration and never substituted one where the other was needed."

After the attacks, Giuliani was everywhere. Leading efforts, making decisions, gather information, speaking to the public, etc. He managed to calm everyone down and provided hope and strength. When he spoke everyone in New York if not the whole country stopped what they were doing and listened because he provided real information and strength by example. He told you what they were doing and what you should do.

Did anyone have that reactioni to Bush's speech two days after the storm and after a month long vacation to recharge himself? "We are dealing with one of the worst natural disasters in our nation's history. And that's why I've called the Cabinet together. The people in the affected regions expect the federal government to work with the state government and local government with an effective response." What kind of a statement is this?

Most of the following is from this site On Tuesday Mayor Nagin, "Unhappy that the helicopters slated to drop 3,000-pound bags into the levee never showed up to stop the flow of water. Too many chiefs calling shots he says."

In New Orleans there's martial law and looting. We get reports that the police are overwhelmed. Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said the states have adequate National Guard units to handle the hurricane needs even though about 7,000 troops from LA and MS are in Iraq. "Governor Blanco on looting: We will do what it takes to bring law and order to our area. This is not a place for that behavior. I'm furious. It's intolerable."

Emergency Operations Director Walter Maestri had a number of things to say. "Evacuees from New Orleans and the east bank of Jefferson are flocking to the west bank, overwhelming the facilities...FEMA and national agencies not delivering the help nearly as fast as it is needed...We have no food or water for the evacuees. Says emergency workers have seized the food and water and drinks from Sam's Club, Wal-Mart and other groceries for evacuees, but he said that is all gone. Says water supply is gone. More water expected, but its not there right now. Says evacuees are getting upset and harried."

Oh and as near as I can tell, the Vice President hasn't been heard from since Aug 18th. Shouldn't someone be looking for him?

The news keeps reporting conflicting reports and a lack of communication in New Orleans. Someone needs to step up and provide leadership and confidence. They need to be optimistic that we'll succeed and show a path if not to the end, at least to tomorrow. They need to show that they are doing everything humanly possible to help physically and emotionally. Maybe Rudy is available for a consulting gig.

Scientists Create Mutant Healing Factor

The X-Man Wolverine can heal from most wounds, regenerating damaged tissue. Now scientists at the Wistar Institute at the University of Pennsylvannia have created mice that can regenerate amputated limbs or damaged vital organs.

"We have experimented with amputating or damaging several different organs, such as the heart, toes, tail and ears, and just watched them regrow," Professor Ellen Heber-Katz said. "It is quite remarkable. The only organ that did not grow back was the brain." We won't know if they have extended life spans for another several months. Apparently this ability is controlled by about a dozen genes and that humans have comparable ones.

So when mutant mice take over the earth, aim for the head.

New Orleans - One Pic Says it All

This picture says it all. The bottom is what the New Orleans area looked like on Aug 27, the top on the 30th. Notice how different the edges of Lake Pontchartrain are. Click on the picture for a larger version.