Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Word of Mouth and the Future of Serenity

A quick thought on the advertising and reviews for Serenity. I don't think that the movie was all that strong in character for someone who is coming into it cold. If you are hoping that big box office is likely to help resurrect the show, then you have to be really careful not to over-hype this. Box office is only half of the equation, the other half is going to be the rate at which box office drops after the first week. I would recommend that fans don't flood the theatres the first week (that goes particularly to multiple viewings the first weekend) and instead save their Serenity binges for the second week. A huge drop off after the first week will be taken as their not being a significant market beyond the series's fanbase.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Go On, Pilfer the Nest, I Dare Ya'

At last, an environmentally friendly use for landmines. Talk about your protected habitat. There are a couple of good lines:
Grant Munro, director of Falklands Conservation, says the boost to wildlife is a bit anecdotal since "it has really not been looked into, for obvious reasons."

"There is a risk that only 95 percent would be removed," said Falkland Islands Gov. Howard Pearce. "You would bring a sense of complacency to the community and increase rather than reduce the chance of injury."

Besides, he noted, "The environmentalists like them."

Now when was that last time you heard that said?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Your Reactions May Vary

Actually, that is going to be a given, because there are two very distinct audiences for Serenity, those already familiar with the characters, and those who are not. For those familiar, you are going to love this film.

For those of you who are brand new to this 'verse, don't blink during the first fifteen minutes of the film. There is a lot going on in giving the audience a crash course in the personalities of the characters (the panning shot following the captain through the ship was very well executed).

The best parts of the movie: Joss Whedon's writing is right where his fans expect it to be. There is a great deal of humor in the character relationships, even in the tensest moments. The Operative (played by CHIWETEL EJIOFOR) was pitch perfect as the soul-less face of the Alliance. No emotion, no self, only the role granted him in the greater machine. No sneering, no cackling, yet this guy is just flat out scary.

Down side: While Joss Whedon uses every bit of space the big screen gives him, I think the medium restricted him too much on time. There was too much that needed to be done, and I would have prefered to have had more character time than special effects budget.

For fans of Firely, this is a must see. For a fan of science fiction, you won't be disappointed. For me, it was good to see some old friends again.

Doc in the Box offers his assessment.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

We've Been Punk'd, Right?

You know its coming, the announcement that the wholeDemi/Ashton relationship has been one big joke from the beginning. The statement that this has been one big prank targetting the credulity of mass media in the soap opera lives of celebrities is immminent.



Friday, September 23, 2005

Please, God, Don't Let This Suck

And I am very confident that it will not:


Joss Whedon, the Oscar® - and Emmy - nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE, ANGEL and FIREFLY, now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity. The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family –squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal.

I have been looking forward to his for a while now.

I enjoyed the series Firefly when it was on Fox, but I haven't seen it for a while. Just realized that I am at the moment of wrtiting this missing the repeat on the SciFi Channel, damnit. Anyway, I have been invited to attend an advanced screening of the film this coming Monday. [Brief pause for blogger to do happy dance and for you to be happy that there shall be no visuals of blogger doing happy dance] I'll be coming in with a mid-way perspective on this, a proud fan of the property and of heroic science fiction in general, but not completely loaded down with expectations.

Road Maps and Bold Predictions

I have been working a pair of predictions as to how the Republicans become as politically irrelevant by 2010 as the Democrats are today. As with any work, I reserve the right to amend as necessary.

From my roadmap:
2. Meanwhile, social conservatives continue to push their legislate and regulate agenda upon the rest of the country. Any gains in Congress in 2006 will only hasten the course to the right.

When I wrote that, I only had the religious right agenda in mind. I'm going to add George Bush's "Compassionate Conservative" fiscal agenda to that.

I found a hint at that some of the libertarian right are growing tired of the fiscal irresponsibility happening under a supposedly small-government Republican Party. I, for one, am beginning to wonder if a divided government would be preferable to what we have going. This might be exploitable by the Democrats in the upcoming 2006 election cycle, especially by someone trying to posture as a moderate **cough-Hillary-cough-cough**.

The sad part is if this tactics works in ultimately slowing the rate of growth, it will knock a major pillar out from under the traditional Republican platform. The loss of this positive position would make the temptation of a purely negative campaign all the more attractive. From there, carry on with the plan.

The Only Constant is Change

There are some people who say that the recent upswing in hurricanes is a symptom of global warming, while others say that this is a predictable aspect of temperature cycles in the Atlantic. Here's my problem with arguments that say that x is causing deviation y from the normal: Just what exactly is normal? The problem is that defining normal is a conditional thing in a world filled with cycles. The normal that we know from the past five years may be all well and good for oil prices, but that is nothing when it comes to climate patterns.

Another hiccup: even if we do know the proper time scale for determining normal, do we have enough information to accurately describe the normal?

Our only recent measuring of the world, combined with the conceit that a human lifetime is significant, has left us in a poor position to complain about change. Another millenium or so should give us a sliver of perspective.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Shh! Type Quieter

Just what I need in my life, another reason to be paranoid. Now what you are typing can be revealed merely by the sound of typing. Do you keep that window open? Do you trust the person in the next cubicle? Beware.

Not that I have anything to worry about. And if there was, I'm sure someone is coming up with muffled keyboard designs by now. If any of you get something like that marketed, I am certainly not too proud to accept gratuites. The E-mail is in the profile.

Budget, Now!

I'll grant that it is not entirely reasonable to start planning on the costs of repairs prior to the storm hitting. Still, having some idea where the money can possibly come from would be wise.

Sounds like another good reason to be following up on Porkbusters.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Emergency Airliner Landing

Good news, a Jet Blue airliner has just completed a safe Emergency Landing at LAX after its nose gear became stuck in a 90 degree turned position. A couple of quick thoughts.

1) Good on the designers of that gear that it was able to withstand the shearing force of a touchdown while in full drag contact with the runway.

2) Someone is going to get their ass handed to them when the investigation goes through every piece of paper generated in the production of that gear gets sifted. Figure on at least a dozen pieces of paper for each step from pulling the metal out of the ground to installing the finished part onto the plane. You would have to think that someone at Jet Blue is already organizing the data pull.

3) Jet Blue advertises live TV at each seat. Was that service still active as the plane circled to burn off fuel? If yes, could you imagine how surreal that would have been? I'm sure someone is going to be starting a study as to whether such access to information during an emergency situation is a good thing or not.

Is Solar System Warming the Hazard?

New information from NASA from its Mars probes has shown a much more active environment than previously expected. One point would have been the basis of a Greenpeace press conference if it happened on earth:
And for three Mars summers in a row, deposits of frozen carbon dioxide near Mars' south pole have shrunk from the previous year's size, suggesting a climate change in progress.

One of the competing theories for the increase of Earth's temperatures is that the sun is putting out more energy. That theory would indicate effects felt throughout the solar system. So that leaves me a question for astronomers: have there been other changes on the other planets that would or would not be indicative of increased solar radiation? Comparisons of storm activity on Jupiter might be a good place to start.

H/T Instapundit

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Symbolic Reset

Jeff Goldstein offers a post on the differences between intentional and unintentional symbols. It all started with two different stories, the Flight 93 Memorial and the British Burger King affront to Islam. From a purely intellectual angle, I enjoy when two different stories come together and spark an inquiry into a deeper level about the creation and meaning of symbols.

I offered in the comments about how the red crescent that describes the memorial grounds might have happened incidentally from a ground-up design that results in an unintended symbol forming within an artificial perspective. I can allow that the architect might never have considered his design explicitly from the elevated view implied by a model. From the ground, being within a crescent implies an enfolding and a demarcation of an area. That the ground so encircled is important should really go without saying but is the essence of a memorial.

I propose that I can create a different pitch for this design that would completely flip the sides of the complaint over the design:

In the land encompassed within this memorial, on the day of September 11, 2001, forty innocent lives on board Flight 93 came to an end. The deaths that occurred that day are not the reason for this memorial. The reason for this memorial is that it happened here.

Look about the land; it is empty as it was on that day. Grass and flowers and hills.

Look about the land; and imagine how much city could fill this space. Businesses and people and families.

Here, we commemorate those who chose to sacrifice their own lives to deny an enemy a weapon to strike at other innocents. We do not place a memorial here by our choice, we honor the choice already made.

No changes to the physical layout or structures or landscaping of the memorial. If the memorial had been described this way, that the memorial encompasses the area of destructiveness of the crash, then who do you think would be complaining that the area has been contained within a symbol of the Islamic faith?

Monday, September 19, 2005

A Little Slow Getting on the Bandwagon, er, Pirate Ship

In recognition of Talk Like a Pirate Day, I direct your attention to The Pirate Name Generator.

For instance, I, Ted, am to be renamed Cap'n Edmund Bloodgut. Cap'n will suffice until 12 midnight PDT, at which time I shall return to being high lord and potentate of all I survey.

This Move Seems Familiar

It seemed like good news on sunday: N. Korea Agrees to Stop Building Nukes. Many conservative commentators wanted to start talking this up as another Bush foreign relations victory. While right on, Bush probably won't get any points for sounding cautious:
President Bush called it a positive step, but he expressed some skepticism about whether North Korea will live up to its promises.

"They have said — in principle — that they will abandon their weapons programs," Bush said. "And what we have said is, 'Great. That's a wonderful step forward.' But now we've got to verify whether that happens."

"The question is, over time will all parties adhere to the agreement," Bush said.

Score one for the presidential prognosticator. North Korea has whipped out a deal killer:
But the North's statement Tuesday indicated it was again raising the reactor demand as a prerequisite for disarming.

"We will return to the NPT and sign the safeguards agreement with the IAEA and comply with it immediately upon the U.S. provision of LWRs, a basis of confidence-building to us," the North's Foreign Ministry said in the statement, carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

"The U.S. should not even dream of the issue of (North Korea's) dismantlement of its nuclear deterrent before providing LWRs," the North said.

The countermove to this stategem is to hurt North Korea in some way, probably through China's leverage. Then again, recall that I am among the non-privy to details, especially just what the cost that China will exact in order to use said leverage. The game plays on.

Beware the Easy Answer

First impressions are usually correct. First reactions are almost always wrong, particularly on the political level.

Toss some blame around, and people are looking for some easy problems to solve. I get very worried when someone points at a downside of old principles and say that the principle must be discarded. "Damn the consequences, I have to do something now!"

First is the Mississippi Attorney General seeking to invalidate flood exclusion clauses in home owners insurance policies. Sure, it makes it look like the AG is looking out for the injured little guy, but what happens later? Suddenly, the AG has precedent to step in and say that a mutually agreed upon contract is unfair and that the terms to which the parties are bound must be changed. The beauty of contracts is that it allows a person to make an agreement with the ability to predict what that agreement's costs and benefits are going to be. How likely are you to enter into a contract where you can wake up one day and find yourself with huge new obligations? Contracts reduce risk for both sides. Good job AG Jim Hood, for injecting yet more arbitrary risk back into the economy.

Second is the pressure for the Federal Government to send in troops faster. Posse Commitatus, however, is a powerful check against that power. Therefore, it's gotta to go. President decides that there is a state of emergency, send in the army. Of course, once the army is there, who's going to argue with them? Do you trust President Bush not to use that power capriciously? I'll be fair and say that half of you do and half of you don't, and leave you hanging on my answer. Next question: do you trust President Bush's successor? Don't know who he or she will be? Neither do I, and I don't trust people I don't know (especially without a contract).

That's the problem with the world, its being run by people. Have a good monday.

Friday, September 16, 2005

We Missed You, Cindy


The screed Cindy Sheehan has at Michael Moore's site ends on a very odd point:
George Bush needs to stop talking, admit the mistakes of his all around failed administration, pull our troops out of occupied New Orleans and Iraq, and excuse his self from power. The only way America will become more secure is if we have a new administration that cares about Americans even if they don't fall into the top two percent of the wealthiest.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the biggest slam on President Bush that he didn't get the occupation of New Orleans going quickly enough? Just wondering.

I Think They Call it Synergy

New Orleans is in trouble. Now, what is the first thing you think of when you hear the name New Orleans? Mardi Gras, of course. And what is the most infamous aspect of Mardi Gras? Think: Girls Gone Wild.

So, bringing together those two great ideas, a genius called J. Ross has created Boobs for Bourbon Street!. The basis of this site is anonymously donated photos of flashing and the request of a donation to see the photos. The only way to make this more perfect is to rig the photo donors's computers to spew beads each time their photos get down loaded.

H/T Andrew Sullivan.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Not Good

It is a simple deal, really. We let biologists experiment on animals, and they agree to keep track of the little biters. I'll let slide that infected mice and plague bacillae are physically small health risks for now.

Fortunately, it isn't the rodents themselves that spread the plague. Bearing that in mind, anyone care to join me for a pre-emptive flee dip?

Teaching an Old Material New Tricks

With my background in materials science, I tend to gush like a fanboy over new methods in alloys and composites. That includes annual contests in such strange concepts such as concrete canoes.

I have to say that I hadn't considered working on natural materials in this way. Then I found (via Core77) an article out a wood product that is extremely flexible for stylistic applications. A blurb on how they do it:
The patented production technique involves steaming and then compressing hardwood along its length. This process concertinas the cell walls at microscopic level and rather like a bendy straw, allows the cell walls to straighten out again on the outside of a bend without getting into tension.

Click over to the gallery pages and take a look at some of the applications. Way cool.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

How to Mangle a Story

Compare and contrast the impressions left by this article regarding a process for creating bio-diesel fuel, with this follow-up. So what was more important, providing information regarding new sources of energy or making an attention grabbing headline and follow-through controversy?

H/T Dave Barry

Can You Ask the Nominee About This One?

Just in time for the Supreme Court nomination processes, a US District Court Judge rules public school recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional on grounds of separation of church and state.

The snap analysis is that this puts the issue of judicial activism square in the spotlight of the confirmation process. At this point, it is a sure thing that this decision is going to be headed for the High Court, and that many people are going to want to know how the present and future nominees are going to decide on such a case.

This is where the anti-acitivists had better be careful. If they wish to stick by the "Ginsburg Rule" where it is improper for a nominee to pre-judge cases from the witness table, then they must stick by that principle when it comes to the inevitable pledge case. They'll get nailed with Roe v. Wade questions if they open that door. (If you're wondering: no relation so far as I know)

But We Can't Do Anything Without the Figurehead!

     If there were ever a job that could be done by telecommuting, wouldn’t the Presidency of the United States be it? The sum total of responsibilities is to tell other people what to do. I tend to have nothing but disdain for governmental workers, but I still give them enough credit that they could achieve a reasonable facsimile of high gear with a mere phone call as opposed to being hauled into the Presence. So I don’t think that FEMA would have worked any better if President Bush had been in Washington as opposed to Crawford. The demand that he should have cut his vacation short and have been in Washington seems more like a desire to have a talisman that says that government is working because government is at work.

     So, once again, we have proof that George W. Bush is a heartless, evil bastard because he is not using the magic wand of federal power properly. Lord knows everything was wonderful in the world when we were under the benevolent protectorship of William the White.

     Thus endeth the screed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Science Works, Got a Problem With That?

Here’s a lovely column from the Guardian regarding a bias of sorts against science in the media. Give the man (woman?) a byline, please, I need a name to laud. The author offers a characterization of this bias
It is my hypothesis that in their choice of stories, and the way they cover them, the media create a parody of science, for their own means. They then attack this parody as if they were critiquing science. This week we take the gloves off and do some serious typing.

Postmodernism, wherein the whole notion of being "true" or "correct" in an answer is considered risible, is the faith of the humanities (journalism included) portion of just about any school of higher learning. Any claim to being correct is seen as merely a means to exercise power over those who claim another truth. Thus it follows that science is a tool of oppressing the have-nots and must therefore be destroyed.

There’s a huge problem with that project: the pursuit of scientific knowledge and the technology that derives from it is creating power. By focusing only on mocking the pursuit of science, the media is denying the knowledge to those who do not make it their living. By limiting the spread of knowledge, the postmodern attack on science in the name of social justice defeats itself.

Those who carry the mantle of dissent claim to be “Speaking Truth to Power”. I’d recommend that they start speaking truth, scientifically tested and thoroughly reasoned truth, to the powerless. They’re the ones who need it.

H/T Instapundit.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Two Thoughts on the So-So LA Blackout of 2005

(Owing to the lack of duration and absence of anything really bad happening, this event does not rate a Great)

First, this was a kick-ass opportunity to practice the first reactions of the first responders. No amount of pre-planned exercises can simulate that moment of "What the hell?" that a real event starts off with. Hopefully the LA Times will keep the pressure on in the next few months or so for a study to assess the efficiency of responses.

Second, if I were the guy who cut the cable, I'd be down there in the hole, doing my damnedest to fix it. Then, once the break was repaired, I'd be pulling the hole in behind me just out of embarasment.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

A Show of Hands, Please

A number of firms with ties to the present administration have been awarded contracts by the White House to carry out reconstruction efforts.

Is anyone surprised by this? Anyone? Buehler?

Scream Bush cronyism all you want, this is just an indication of governmental cronyism, period. There are only so many people one can maintain in one's professional circle. When people cycle out of government service, they are going to end up somewhere, and typically they go someplace that values their connections. If one company realizes an advantage by doing this, then the market goes up on connected individuals across the industry and soon the whole industry is connected to the administration. Given the inbred nature of our government class, all of the companies in question can be connected to pretty much any White House administration you could make.

So wake me up when we get real news, like Joe's Construction getting the bid and how no one in the government knows anyone who works for now or has ever worked for Joe. Then I'll be impressed.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Five Days with Katrina

A ground eye view of New Orleans before during and after Hurricane Katrina from a resident. The pictures are amazing, but the captions give the all-important context.

H/T Arrgghhh!

My Hurricane Katrina Summation

I've been pointing out a lot of failures that occurred on the local and state level. I in no way letting the fed gov entirely off the hook. I do not intend to indict Republicans or Democrats. I think that the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has been an indictment of government from top to bottom. The only positive (and that in an entirely relative sense) is that the primary area of clusterfuck has been limited to the New Orleans area. From the lack of general reportage of bad news from Biloxi and Mobile and their outlying areas is that their local and state responses have not been as incompetent as that in Louisiana, despite however the fed gov might be "helping" in those areas. If those areas had counted as much on the fed gov as NO/LA had, then the horror would have been spread across a much greater area.

Sounds like the best argument for self-empowered localities under a federal system that I have ever come across.

Pry'em From My Bloated, Water-logged Fingers

One of the failures that occurred in the path of Hurricane Katrina was the failure of individuals to plan for survival. That's a hard one, and I know that I'd probably face those problems myself when the Big One hits, and it is in its very nature self-punishing. The fact that people have suffered for their lack of foresight does not relieve my resposibility to give what aid I can, the punishment already felt it enough.

One thing that never gets discussed as being the part of a well stocked emergency kit is your security supply, namely a gun. Now the police are going about denying people that measure of self-reliance. These people are on their own, they need to protect themselves now more than ever. Get some priorities FEMA, LDHS, and NOPD.

H/T Samizdata.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Feed the People? Nah...

From all of the noise surrounding the Superdome and New Orleans Civic Center, you'd think the title was George Bush's line. In truth, it was the state of Louisiana that had other priorities.

I might, just might, understand the decision if there had been means available to accomplish that evacuation. Something like school and municiple busses returning from pre-storm evacuations would have been perfect. Seeing as how nothing beyond wait-for-the-feds was being pursued, however, that plan borders on criminal disregard.

Something needs to be done with the people who made those simultaneous decisions. Murder trials feel like a good idea.

Update: Funny because it shouldn't be true.


Viva Mexico!

When do you think was the last time that the Mexican Army entered Texas and had people happy to see them? Every little bit helps, and everything goes better with molé.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I've Had It

I'm sorry, this post is going to devolve into a real screed at the beginning of the next paragraph. Expect grammatical and rhetorical breakdown very soon.

I've defended Andrew Sullivan in the past, but his post here has pushed me over the edge. Yes, the people on the scenes were heroes as well as villains. But to say that the federal government failed and that the federal government is blaming them is hackery of the first order. So let me break it down.

If, god forbid, there was a major earthquake in Southern California right now, I would feel a moral responsibility to save what people I could, if only so that I could look myself in the mirror for the rest of my life. I pray that I would have the courage to go into an unstable house to pull out injured people. As one person, there is only a small amount that I can do, but I would still have to do that. If I found an occupied room completely blocked with debris heavier than I could move, then it would be my responsibility to find those who can do what I could. That the situation has progressed beyond my ability to fix does not absolve me of the responsibility to do what I could. Because I can not save them all does not mean that I don't have to save who I could.

Where do I look for the tools to save the people in the blocked room? The Feds? The State? Hardly. Those people could be dead a day after the earthquake. That leaves only the city with the ability to have the tools at hand that fast. It falls upon the city to make it possible for individuals to save yet more people. There would be no way for the city to save them all, but that does not mean they don't have to save the scores they can.

The state is farther away, but when it comes it will have more resources. When the state comes with what it has, it will do what it can to make it possible for individuals to save more people. While the state may not have the resources to save them all, it still has the responsibility to save the hundreds they can.

When the most distant federal level arrives, it will do what it can to make it possible for individuals to save the rest. By then, no one should be saying that nothing has been done, only that not enough had been done.

The preparation before the event is just as important. I have the responsibility to see myself prepared for what I need to do upon the event. The city must be prepared to do what it needs to do upon the event. So the state, and so the federal.

One deep breath later. Where was the planning at the city and state level? Why were there 500 + busses unused for getting people out of the city? There still would have been the immobile trapped in the city by the flood, but I would much rather be concerned about 35,000 to 40,000 people than 50,000 people trapped and drowning in the city. There was a plan to evacuate people to the Superdome, but no plan to have food or water stockpiled there? So now it is the fed gov's fuck up for not getting goods there and for the lawlessness that happened because there were no police there? The city did not perform to the level of its insufficient capabilities, and those who died because the city failed to do what it could are just as dead.

Once the fed gov gets to the scene, they should expect to face the lions share of the work, but there should have been people who were out of danger equal to the city's and state's ability to do so. Inability to do everything does not mean permission to do nothing.

So, Andrew, I agree, the blame the locals you see is just wrong, and that the locals were failed by their governments. The groundlevel locals you saw were failed by their city and state governments. The city and state failed to provide the means of getting people out of the way or to send what little they could, or even to have a plan of doing that. Once we can recognize that happened, then we can say that the fed gov failed to aid the excess fast enough. Too bad we will never be able to separate the dead who were failed by their city government, those who were failed by the state, and then those who died from fed failures. Put it that way, I don't want to think about who's to blame anymore.

Update: Video of a Fox News report that gives the most concise descriptions of what the State of Louisiana's responsibilities precisely were in allowing federal aid into the disaster area.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Not only is it the way to Carnegie Hall, but it also seems to be the way to New Orleans. From the Washington Post report on Wal-Mart's response to Hurricane Katrina.
"I want us to respond in a way appropriate to our size and the impact we can have," he said, according to an executive who attended the meeting. At the time, Wal-Mart had pledged $2 million to the relief efforts. "Should it be $10 million?" Scott asked.

Over the next few days, Wal-Mart's response to Katrina -- an unrivaled $20 million in cash donations, 1,500 truckloads of free merchandise, food for 100,000 meals and the promise of a job for every one of its displaced workers -- has turned the chain into an unexpected lifeline for much of the Southeast and earned it near-universal praise at a time when the company is struggling to burnish its image.

Many people would be pleased at the display of good corporate citizenship. In addition to that, I take heart at the fact that Wal-Mart is capable of doing that at speeds quicker than the public sector disaster agencies.
But the chain's huge scale is suddenly an advantage in providing disaster relief. The same sophisticated supply chain that has turned the company into a widely feared competitor is now viewed as exactly what the waterlogged Gulf Coast needs.
During a tearful interview on "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Aaron F. Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish in the New Orleans suburbs, told host Tim Russert that if "the American government would have responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn't be in this crisis."

Why was Wal-Mart able to respond so quickly? They could because they have been deleviering goods through this well developed routing scheme for years. It has been grown around the conditions on the ground. Granted those years of practice have been under optimum conditions. Compared to the government's need to create a local distribution system from scratch, Wal-Mart's system was present with "forward deployed" supplies already in place when the storm hit.

A couple more points where Wal-Mart has the advantage over FEMA. One, the distribution system is already in place nation wide, while FEMA's is currently in the Gulf Coast. If another hurricane were to hit Florida or an earthquake were to hit California, those systems are still available. Two, not only is the physical transportation system well practiced, so is the managerial system well practiced. The people who make up the Wal-Mart chain of command have been working with one another for years, while the multi-jurisdictional agencies may meet once or twice a year, if that.

So Wal-Mart has pre-established system and a pre-established team while the government has neither. Score two for the free-martket.

(H/T Radley Balko)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Good News From a Terrible Event?

According to the Chernobyl Forum, death rates due to released radiation may be far lower than feared.
VIENNA, Austria - Fewer than 60 deaths have been directly attributed to radiation released by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident, and the final toll could be thousands less than originally believed, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said Monday.

While this is good news, I have always been deeply sceptical about this type of statistical forecasting. Methodology is king in this type of work, and the definitions used are too sensitive to political manipulation.

Speaking of political manipulation:
Greenpeace condemned the findings, accusing the IAEA of "whitewashing" the impacts of the accident.

"Denying the real implications is not only insulting the thousands of victims — who are told to be sick because of stress and irrational fear — but it also leads to dangerous recommendations, to relocate people in contaminated areas," said Jan Vande Putte, Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner.

Of course, Mr. Vande Putte is off base saying what the "real implications" are without offering any counter-evidence. Color me unconvinced either way.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Can His Ass

From John Cole:

A judge in Shelby County, Tennessee has recused himself from all cases in which minors go to judges for rulings on their ability to have abortions without parental consent.

With respect to displays of the Ten Commandments in judicial buildings, when a person acts in a role of State power, they are in effect the State. In this case, the judge actor for the state is refusing to fulfilled his role as adjudicator of the law in response to religious mandate. Especially in matter such as this, the judge is giving a de facto judgment against the petitioner on religious grounds. That can not be tolerated, and if the judge can not separate his beliefs as a private citizen from his role as judge, then he is unfit for his position.

Many commentors on this topic combine this issue with the matter of the pharmacists who will not dispense birth control, primarily on the basis of pro-life principles being used to reach the decision. I do not agree with that conflation. The pharamacist, unless he is working in connection with a governmental program, is a private business. By not acting with the power of the state and solely as a private citizen, the pharmacist does not face limitations as to his choice of operating principle.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Then It Would Have Been Different

I checked in on the coverage of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath this morning. Part of the report included a video commentary from Bill Schneider regarding leadership during the crisis. His conclusion, too little leadership and what there is has been inept.

At the end of the clip, he asks, "What if this had been a terrorist attack?"

Things would have been different then. There is nothing in human kind's arsenal that could create this type of devastation. A nuke could create a burst of 100+ mph winds, but the sustained force is beyond human capacity.

Supposing that it had been an explosives laden boat detonated next to the levy, causing this massive flooding. In that case, the information dynamics and social expectations would have been radically different.

No one in New Orleans would have seen the attack coming, nor immediately afterward would they have expected a prepared response from outside. The hurricane gave plenty of warning and prepared for the expectation that all of the results should have been foreseen. If the event had been unexpected, such as the levee failing on a bright and sunny day, then cause, and hence responsibility, would be unknown. An implicit social contract exists between the government and the people. People obey laws with the expectation that the government will then provide the structure for life to carry on, be it utilities or disaster response.

While one could credit Giulianni's leadership on 9/11, the fact that it was clear that it was clearly an attack on the World Trade Center was the psychological cue the prevented widespread civil disruption despite the outter burroughs being cleared of police. It is only necessary that outisde aggression be a potential cause for a community to stay coherent. Take for example the 2003 Northeast blackout. The difference with respect to a previous blackout is that the later incident had the doubt of being an attack by outsiders.

New Orleans did not have the benefit of the doubt with Hurricane Katrina. No one can take revenge against nature, so it then becomes a matter of individuals making demands of government in return for having obeyed the law, or in some cases making a pretense of obeying. Given the expectations fostered by the welfare state, those expectations were unachievable given the infrastructure devastation.

Friday, September 02, 2005

My Hurricane Ramble

Some semi-random thoughts I've had while reading about the Hurricane Katrina aftermath.

I've started to lose hope about humanity's ability to really plan for the worst. It was said that the failure to anticipate a 9/11 style attack was a failure of imagination. The preparations for a hurricane hitting New Orleans seems to be much the same:
Army Corps personnel, in charge of maintaining the levees in New Orleans, started to secure the locks, floodgates and other equipment, said Greg Breerwood, deputy district engineer for project management at the Army Corps of Engineers.

"We knew if it was going to be a Category 5, some levees and some flood walls would be overtopped," he said. "We never did think they would actually be breached." The uncertainty of the storm's course affected Pentagon planning.

Complaints about the pace of aid getting into the city are missing a major aspect of the problem. It doesn't matter how much are waiting to get in, which is mind-boggling yet not enough, but the means of getting it in have been destroyed. Between debris and water, there are no roads. We know where the aid is and where it needs to go, but right now, you can't get there from here. If you compare the geography of the places, swamp and bayou vs. desert, it would be easier to get those supplies to Falluja than New Orleans. Distance isn't the issue, the problems are the obstacles.

It is beyond just a physical breakdown occurring in New Orleans. There is also a social breakdown occurring. I don't have much to say here, other than the bastards who are shooting at hospital evacuations should go to hell and the sooner the better.

Further rumination: Perhaps good old-fashioned denial had hampered the planning. When you have an evacuation plan, announced in advance of the city getting hit, that did not include mobilizing hundreds of school busses, it becomes clear that the screw-ups started at the very bottom of the line.

Give Him What He Deserves

A new invention for women who wish to take their defence into their own, umm, hands.

Warning to guys: be sure to ask your girlfriends if they are wearing one of these. Just another precaution in the practice of safe sex.

Ripped off wholly from Infamy or Praise