Thursday, September 29, 2005

Fashion Fascists

Thinking of painting that spare bedroom? Well you might want to first run your color scheme by the self appointed Gestapo of Interior Design, Jill Gaulding and Erin Buzuvis to make sure you don't run afoul of any politically correct standards.

The pink visitors' locker room at the University of Iowa's stadium is making some people see red.

Several professors and students joined the call Tuesday for the athletic department to do away with the pink showers, carpeting and lockers, a decades-long Hawkeye football tradition.

Critics say the use of pink demeans women, perpetuates offensive stereotypes about women and homosexuality, and puts the university in the uncomfortable position of tacitly supporting those messages.

"I want the locker room gone," law school professor Jill Gaulding told a university committee studying the athletic department's compliance with NCAA standards, including gender equity.

For decades, visiting football teams playing at Kinnick Stadium have dressed and showered in the pink locker room. The tradition was started by former Iowa coach Hayden Fry, a psychology major who said pink had a calming and passive effect on people.

I'll admit, it's a silly little story, but it does prove a point: There is no aspect of your life that these people do not want to control. The entire world must be changed to suit their sensibilities and their sensibilities alone. These are the same people who complain all the time about religious folks trying to "impose their beliefs on the rest of us." That's fine. Just look in the mirror the next time you utter that phrase. It applies equally well, sister.

Tomorrow Never Knows

For those wondering, yes, I'm still gonna go on about that Time piece on "hurricanes and global warming." I think, if you read the article closely, you can see a harbinger of the future path of the debate. The article abruptly changes focus near the end to tell us all the following:

Some scientists are studying not just climate change but the even more alarming phenomenon of abrupt climate change. Complex systems like the atmosphere are known to move from one steady state to another with only very brief transitions in between. (Think of water, which when put over a flame becomes hotter and hotter until suddenly it turns into steam.) Ice cores taken from Greenland in the 1990s by geoscientist Richard Alley of Pennsylvania State University show that the last ice age came to an end not in the slow creep of geological time but in the quick pop of real time, with the entire planet abruptly warming in just three years.

"There are thresholds one crosses, and change runs a lot faster," Alley says. "Most of the time, climate responds as if it's being controlled by a dial, but occasionally it acts as if it's controlled by a switch." Adds Laurence Smith, an associate professor of geography at UCLA who has been studying fast climate change in the Arctic: "We face the possibility of abrupt changes that are economically and socially frightening."

Movie fans will recognize this immediately as the Day After Tomorrow scenario, a big hit with the "Coast-to-Coast AM" crowd. Those with some background in game theory will also recognize something else. There seems to be a shift away from the view of climate change as an incremental process and towards a view of climate change as a movement towards an unknowable catastophic tipping point; in game theory parlance what is known as "The Tragedy of the Commons." (TOTC)

The classic version of this multi-iterated game postulates a village common upon which the villagers can choose to either add a cow or not. The villager that adds a cow to the common will recieve a benefit, while those that do not will gain nothing. However, there is a catch. The common can only support so many cows, after which the ecosystem collapses and ALL the cows die and every villager loses big time. Another aspect to the game is that tipping point is unknown and unknowable to the villagers. In the classic two-player version of the TOTC there are two payout structures, one pre-tipping point, the other post-tipping point. Because of the two payout structure of the game, in most instances it is more worthwhile to keep adding cows, thus the poor dumb villagers push there luck further and further until the ultimate collapse happens and they all die of starvation. Serves them right.

Now, there are many problems that arise when you try to view real life situations as a version of TOTC. The most basic problem, with regards to this discussion, is the very artificial rule that requires the tipping point to be unknowable. This has to remain, or the psychological impulse that drives people to the ultimate collapse will be absent. However, it is difficult to find a real world example of this type of situation. There have been attempts to view, for example, fishing areas as examples of TOTC, but these do not work so well. In all of those cases fishermen can see a diminishing return and catch that will clue them in when an area is being overfished. Thus the impulse to add another boat to the fishing fleet can be tempered by the fact that you wont break even if yeilds fall too greatly. In any event, whatever is being played out it is not TOTC.

However, that doesn't keep folks from trying to maintain that this or that situation in the real world is really a TOTC scenario in the making. And such it will be with global warming. The people who want to impose drastic changes to our economic system and way of life in the name of global warming have come across a problem or two in pushing the incremental global warming model. One of the most pressing comes from the likes of Bjorn Lomborg, who compltely accepts global warming AND the human causation of the same, but who argues against the changes to our economic system and way of life. Instead, Lomborg argues that we should be supporting our economic system as being the best possible model to maintain the wealth needed to combat any problems arising from a warmer climate. This kind of argument drives the global warming crowd batty. Based on the piles of derision heaped upon Lomborg one would have thought he was a global warming dissenter, but he isn't. He just differs from them on what he thinks the proper political solution is to the problem. If you come across any of the anti-Lomborg material don't make the mistake of thinking it has anything to do with science, because it doesn't.

If the global warming crowd can get folks to accept that this is really a TOTC situation and NOT incremental change they can avoid all of these types of difficulties. For starters, they wouldn't be required to prove that a TOTC model correct. The tipping point is unknowable by definition. If anyone asks them how they know we are nearing the tipping point and what that point is exactly, they can throw up their hands and say, "But that is impossible! You are asking the impossible of me!" And thus endeth the debate.

Which brings up another, more sinister aspect, of making of global warming a TOTC. If you get enough people to go along with the idea it truly is a path to dictatorial power. The psychological implications of the game are profoundly anti-democratic. In order to keep the tipping point from being crossed you would have to give power to someone (going back to the village common) who will keep people from adding cows, or in this society tell us who may or may not have an automobile or who might engage in any activity that is deemed potentially harmful. And by the logic of the game that would be correct. It would spit in the face of the Constitution, but it isn't as if that hasn't happened before.

Before I give off I want to direct folks to this link from the blog DADvocate. He comes up with the following analysis on the history of hurricane intensity. It is very well done. His findings are summarized below:

Year Avg. WS Min Avg WS Max
1851-1860 92.53 111.32
1861-1870 85.27 103.33
1871-1880 93.55 111.75
1881-1890 92.32 110.23
1891-1900 96.19 115.48
1901-1910 87.11 106.11
1911-1920 93.38 113.10
1921-1930 96.38 115.77
1931-1940 101.11 118.95
1941-1950 95.75 114.38
1951-1960 96.24 116.76
1961-1970 102.36 120.36
1971-1980 90.00 109.17
1981-1990 89.13 109.33
1991-2000 99.86 117.14
2001-2004 93.44 112.78

If you can find "dramatic increases in intensity" in there you really must be good with the old divining rod.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Blaming The Tiny Dwarf

There is a classic Saturday Night Live sketch wherein Steve Martin plays the Medieval Barber, who is doing his best "barbering" for a variety of peasant ailments. When someone questions the wisdom of one of his "cures," Martin looks at them shakes his head and says "Who's the barber here?" At another point Martin's character pats himself on the back for the vast strides his profession had taken from years past. To a woman concerned about her daughter's illness he states, "In the past we would have thought that your daughters condition meant she was possessed by demons. [laughs] But, now we know her condition is caused by a tiny dwarf living in her stomach."

This sketch was brought to mind after I read this scandalously misleading article in Time about hurricans and global warming. There is so much wrong with the article that a full scale fisking is beyond me. (I simply do not have THAT much time.) But read the thing yourself with a few of these points in mind.

A) How well does the theory presented stand-up to the generally accepted methods of scientific discovery? One example, do they have good sample sizes for the data they are looking at? Is basing your claims on 10 years of hurricane data acceptable? How about 20? How about 50?

Another example: Are they making claims that are either I) testable, or II) falsifiable? Making claims that Katrina and Rita prove storms are "more intense" than storms from previous decades because they were at sea large Category 5 storms, although they struck land at Category 3 intensity, is a spurious claim. We have no idea what the intensity levels were at sea for the thousands of Atlantic hurricanes from 1850-1960. Therefore, there is nothing to compare these storms to except the last 20-30 years worth of data. (And even in the Time article a meterologist insists that satellite data until 1989(!) is suspect. I'm not sure I buy that, but if even this is an open question, how much "confidence" should one place in these definitive statements?) No one can either prove or disprove the intensity levels ascribed to pre-1960 hurricanes while they were still at sea. Therefore a claim that storms are more intense now is neither testable nor falsifiable, barring access to a time machine of course.

B) Are they cherrypicking data? You have to ask yourself this especially if you are not up on all of the data involved. For example, from the Time article:

On the whole, they found, the number of Category 1, 2 and 3 storms has fallen slightly, while the number of Categories 4 and 5 storms--the most powerful ones--has climbed dramatically. In the 1970s, there were an average of 10 Category 4 and 5 hurricanes a year worldwide. Since 1990, the annual number has nearly doubled, to 18.

This would all be fine and dandy if the 1970's were a representative decade. It very clearly isn't. Since 1870 (!) no decade, except the 1980's, had fewer hurricanes in general or fewer large hurricanes in particular than the 1970's. (See this NOAA data, for example.) But even aside for that picking one decade (say the 1970's) and saying "this is normal, any deviation from this is abnormal" is ludicrous. Look at ALL the data and you won't wind up making false comparisons. However, they don't want you to look at all of the data because it doesn't support their findings. For example this is the data for the entire Atlantic Basin from 1950 to 2000:

Decade-Tropical Storms-Hurricanes-Hurricanes As % of Storms-# Large Storms (Cat 3+)

1950's - 104 - 60 - 57.7% - 13
1960's - 95 - 50 - 52.6% - 14
1970's - 95 - 38 - 40.0% - 5
1980's - 93 - 37 - 39.8% - 7
1990's - 111 - 50 - 45.0% - 13

The choice of the 1970's, in this case, seems simply dishonest, doesn't it?

C) Are the claims internally consistent? The claim is but forward that we are witnessing sudden dramatic change of an unprecedented nature. However, at the same time any conflicting data is explained away as being within the parameters of "normal" climitalogical conditions. Well, which one is it? How can you have "huge unprecedented changes" that result in "normal climitalogical conditions"? I'm not saying that it cannot work that way, I am saying there is no reason to assume it works that way. Show me WHY warmer water will not help tropical depressions and lows become category 1 or 2 hurricanes but will help category 2 or 3 hurricanes become 4 or 5's. Don't just say, "Oh we have fewer hurricanes now because that is natural."

D) This brings me to the point of postulating unknown forces to back up your theory. A good rule of thumb is never subscribe to any theory that relies on such a rhetorical device. From the Time article:

So that ought to mean a lot more hurricanes, right? Actually, no--which is one of the reasons it's so hard to pin these trends down. The past 10 stormy years in the North Atlantic were preceded by many very quiet ones--all occurring at the same time that global temperatures were marching upward. Worldwide, there's a sort of equilibrium. When the number of storms in the North Atlantic increases, there is usually a corresponding fall in the number of storms in, say, the North Pacific. Over the course of a year, the variations tend to cancel one another out.

Notice how all of this is contigent upon the existence of something we might call the "Hurricane Equilibrium." The trouble is we don't know if it exists. (Not to mention the sticky problem of correlation v. causation implied in the scenario.) So, in order not to have to deal with conflicting information (i.e. the relative paucity of actual hurricanes while conditions are ripe for starting them) we are supposed to believe that this unknowable "Equilibrium" exists AND that instead of the "Equilibrium" being affected by by the "sudden unprecedented change" of global warming it is in fact functioning normally and regulating the number of hurricanes. I hear that and I can only think they are blaming the dwarf instead of the demon.

Hysteria Redux

Why am I not surprised about this?

Some Reports of N.O. Violence Exaggerated

I'll add right away that I find this headline to be itself a vast understatement.

On Sept. 1, with desperate Hurricane Katrina evacuees crammed into the convention center, Police Chief Eddie Compass reported: "We have individuals who are getting raped; we have individuals who are getting beaten."

Five days later, he told Oprah Winfrey that babies were being raped. On the same show, Mayor Ray Nagin warned: "They have people standing out there, have been in that frickin' Superdome for five days watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people."

The ugliest reports - children with slit throats, women dragged off and raped, corpses piling up in the basement - soon became a searing image of post-Katrina New Orleans.

The stories were told by residents trapped inside the Superdome and convention center and were repeated by public officials. Many news organizations, including The Associated Press, carried the witness accounts and official pronouncements, and in some cases later repeated the claims as fact, without attribution.

But now, a month after the chaos subsided, police are re-examining the reports and finding that many of them have little or no basis in fact.

Many? How about most. How about nearly all.

They have no official reports of rape and no eyewitnesses to sexual assault. The state Department of Health and Hospitals counted 10 dead at the Superdome and four at the convention center. Only two of those are believed to have been murdered.

One of those victims - found at the Superdome - appears to have been killed elsewhere before being brought to the stadium, said Bob Johannessen, the agency spokesman.

"It was a chaotic time for the city. Now that we've had a chance to reflect back on that situation, we're able to say right now that things were not the way they appeared," said police Capt. Marlon Defillo.

Well I, for one, am not sure it was a matter of how it "appeared" as much as how it was "portrayed" by the media. The media created this myth of barbarism out of whole cloth. I say it that boldly because they were there. No one on earth was in a better position to get this right and they got it exactly wrong. And they got it wrong on purpose. Rape and murder sells, evidently. Brian Williams fleeing for his life from "hell on earth" New Orleans, sells.

Now, I'm not saying that reporters didn't get bad information, but it is their job to fact check all the time. You don't get to skip it if it would interfere with really good copy.

A week after the floodwaters poured into the city, The Times-Picayune of New Orleans quoted an Arkansas National Guardsman as saying that soldiers had discovered 30 to 40 bodies inside a freezer in the convention center's food area. Guardsman Mikel Brooks told the newspaper that some of the dead appeared to have met violent ends, including "a 7-year-old with her throat cut."

When the convention center was swept, however, no such pile of bodies was found.

Lt. Col. John Edwards, the staff judge advocate for the 39th Infantry Brigade of the Arkansas National Guard, said Tuesday that Brooks told the Times-Picayune reporter only that he had heard rumors of bodies in the freezer, not that he had actually seen them.

"We have never found anybody who has any first-hand knowledge of dozens of bodies in the refrigerator," Edwards said.

Frankly, the whole thing smacks of racism. The media all to readily accepted as fact that poor African Americans would descend into a violent, brutish, Hobbesian state at the drop of a hat. Lots of Americans bought that story too, hook, line and sinker. It helps the bottom line better than hearing that,

"For the amount of the people in the situation, it was a very stable environment."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

From The Shake Your Head Files

Via The Dayton Daily News: Unbowed by handicap, legless player sidelined by ref (Free Reg. Req.)

Bobby Martin was born without legs, but the only thing that kept him from playing high school football last Friday night — as he had the three previous weekends — was a Cincinnati game official who told both the coaches and athletic directors that the Colonel White senior wasn't wearing proper equipment.

"He said Bobby couldn't play because he didn't have shoes on," Colonel White assistant Kerry Ivy said. "He told me the rule says a player must wear shoes, thigh pads and knee pads. I told him, 'He needs feet before he can wear shoes. He needs legs before he can wear those other pads. What are you thinking? Then he said Bobby needed a medical waiver. I told him he'd already played three games, but he said those were the rules."

The decision in the game at Mount Healthy left Martin in tears.

"It's the first time in my life I ever felt like that," Martin said Monday as he readied for practice after school. "Everybody was looking at me, talking about what I didn't have. I felt like a clown. I hated it. I just wanted to know why it was different this game than all the rest."

Dennis Daly, the officials' crew chief who announced the decision, wouldn't discuss the matter Monday night: "I have no comment. Talk to the Ohio High School Athletic Association."

Colonel White Athletics Director Carolyn Woodley and Jonas Smith, Dayton Public Schools AD, did Monday.

"Sometimes common sense has to prevail," Woodley said. "The doctors have said it's OK for Bobby to play, so have his parents, and he has the necessary grades. That's all he needs. Officials at the first three games had no problems. The way he was denied Friday, I thought it might be some kind of violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act."

Hank Zaborniak, an assistant OHSAA commissioner, talked to all parties involved Monday: "It's unfortunate this happened. The officials should have let him play."

It is hard to imagine how anyone could, like the ref involved here, have such sushi for brains. I also do not think the question about whether this was a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act is an idle one. The act has been so broadly interpreted in the past (often too braodly IMO) that I fail to see how this couldn't fall under it.

But what really gets me is the mindset of the ref. I just don't have it in me to be cruel to a kid and then shrug my shoulders and say "Those are the rules." It is sad that anyone does have that in them.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Blogging With The Data You've Got

While looking over who has been dropping by TIM lately I came across this discussion about my post on Hurricane Myths.

In an attempt to refute my work the following was stated:

Misleading Because he limits his analysis to Hurricans that hit the United States," and not the sum total of ALL Atlantic hurricanes, many of which never strike the US.

I didn't address this issue in my original post because I believed the answer to that question was self-evident, but maybe for many it isn't. If one wants to compare data on hurricanes into the 19th century it makes sense to limit the discussion to only landfalling hurricanes. Why? For many reasons:

A) Without benefit of satellite imagery many non-land falling hurricanes in the 19th century would have been unknown. Failing to take this into account would seriously skew results in favor of saying there were many more post 1950 hurricanes. A similar thing happens when you hear of a "record number of tornadoes" striking the U.S. Well, with the tremendous increase in the number dopplar radar sites finding storms that might have never been seen by human eyes (e.g. remote rural areas, or in the dead of night), that should come as no surprise. It certainly doesn't indicate that the number of tornadoes are increasing.

B) Logically, there is no reason to think that the incidence of U.S. landfall should change statistically speaking from the 19th century to today. In other words, if there are more hurricanes across the Atlantic basin as a whole, there should be a corresponding increase in the number of U.S. land-falling storms. Why one would wish to believe otherwise escapes me.

My First Hate Mail!! Now I'm Rolling!!

I recieved the following missive last week from a well informed reader of The Moderate Voice:

Shut up, asshole.

mguyot at

I'm just beaming because I couldn't have had a stronger confirmation that I was absolutely correct unless God himself were to come down, throw an arm around me, and say, "Rich, you're doing a bang up job! How about them Cardinals?"

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Asking Questions Later....Or Not.

Over at The Moderate Voice they are making a big deal about a memo that says, in part, the following:

The federal official with the power to mobilize a massive federal response to Hurricane Katrina was Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, not the former FEMA chief who was relieved of his duties and resigned earlier this week, federal documents reviewed by Knight Ridder show.

Even before the storm struck the Gulf Coast, Chertoff could have ordered federal agencies into action without any request from state or local officials. Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown had only limited authority to do so until about 36 hours after the storm hit, when Chertoff designated him as the "principal federal official" in charge of the storm.

TMV then goes on to speculate about what this means about Chertoff and Bush and whether they were negligent, dumb, out-to-lunch, etc.

Hey, let's back up a second. Maybe I missed something, but wasn't the whole bitch-fest about Brown that he didn't do something he was (so we were told repeatedly) supposed to be doing? If so, then how can Brown have been supposed to be doing something which he had no authority to do?

This is the problem with hysteria. People kept screaming that this was the worst disaster in American history. It isn't, at least in terms of loss of life. The final terrible numbers are not in, but it seems they will be WAY below the 8,000 - 12,000 lost in the Galveston hurricane of 1900. Now, it may be the most expensive, but calling it that doesn't raise apprehension levels high enough I suppose. Because people got themselves so worked up about headlines that read "10,000 Dead" they felt they were justified in turning their minds off and taking it out on whoever they felt deserved it. The facts of the matter be damned.

It's too early to say anything definitively, but it might just be that Michael Brown was treated unfairly by the media and by most bloggers. A lot of them will excuse themselves by saying "Well, Brown shouldn't have had that job in the first place." That may be true, but it has nothing to do with evaluating his performance or excusing an hysterical witch-hunt.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A Cross Posted Comment

I actually wrote the following in the comment section for this Doug Petch post. It sums up a lot of how I'm viewing things today, so I thought I'd share it more generally. (Aren't you lucky!)

That has been my big problem with the coverage of katrina by 90% of the blogs left and right. They are all basing their view on emotional reactions to the scenes from New Orleans. There has been no effort to attempt to analyze the relief effort in a general sense; no attempt to compare these efforts with previous disaster relief operations; no attempt at contextualization....shit to hear tell every single one of these bloggers were experts on Disaster Relief who didn't need to be brought up to speed on ANYTHING. Its amazing.

Instead of looking at actual data relevant to disaster relief we here complaining about:

A) Bush ending his vacation 12 hours too late! (The "Proof I've Watched Farenheit 9/11 Too Often" award.)

B) Brown ends his memos too cheerily! (Which has to take the "Nit That Has Been Picked To Death" award.)

C) Bush is blamless, but Blanco & Nagin are criminally negligent assholes. (The "How Convienient" Award - Republican Division)

D) Blanco & Nagin are blameless. It's all Bush's fault. (The "How Convienient" Award - Democratic Division)

E) Anything that criticizes someones choice of wording over and above ANYTHING substantive. (The "I Don't Know What I'm Talking About, But I Have To Complain About SOMETHING" award.)

You will have to excuse me. I've got to go take an aspirin.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Political Opportunism

If we are to believe everything we read in the LA Times we would have to believe that the Democratic Party has long held that FEMA should be the "first responder" when disaster strikes. What a bold departure from established ways of thinking! How prescient those Democrats are! Unfortunately, this long held belief seems to have taken holdonly last Wednesday. Looking at the Democratic Party Platform of 2004 FEMA is never mentioned. Hurricanes are never mentioned. Natural disasters in general are never mentioned. When emergency situations are mentioned at all they are in the context of terrorist attack.

Domestic readiness. We need to improve domestic readiness so people on the frontlines have the training and equipment to respond to any attack with all the speed, skill, and strength required.

Our first responders are the first ones up the stairs in the event of the emergency, and it is wrong that today they are last in line when it comes to this administration's budgets. Under the Bush Administration, police departments in small cities have lost more than 15 percent of their full-time paid police and employees. And today, two-thirds of our nation's fire departments are not fully staffed. We can do more for the heroes of 9/11 and we can do more for our fellow citizens. And we will. We will provide direct assistance to our police officers and firefighters on the frontlines.

So, first responders for emergencies caused by terrorist attack (including nuclear, chemical and biological attack scenarios) is assumed to be local officials. This makes sense. After all you never know when or where terrorists might strike. A hurricane you can see coming days beforehand. So the federal government can be the organization to handle first response to natural disasters, right?

Wrong. First of all, not all natural disasters give you warning of their striking. Relying on a federal agency to provide first response services after an earthquake, for example, would be unworkable. The government would have to pre-position disaster teams in earthquake prone regions year in and year out and hope they were not rendered ineffectual (or killed) by the earthquake themselves when it finally did strike. Plus, if you consider that nearly 2/3 or 3/4 of the United States runs some risk of earthquake activity, such an undertaking just becomes too massive to contemplate.

O.K. Maybe, the feds could just handle hurricanes? Well, I suppose so. It might be possible to set up a special "Hurricane Relief Unit" that could be sent to regions to supplement or take over first response duties from local authorities. But, as far as I can see no one in the Democratic party has ever advocated such a thing before last Tuesday. Implying that the Democrats had "a plan" to keep this loss of life from occuring is simply a lie, and political opportunism of the crassest nature.

Katrina Report Cards

Over at The Moderate Voice I've been advocating getting all of the facts before pronouncing any edicts about disaster relief efforts....and enduring a round of name calling for my efforts. (*sigh* And on my birthday no less. How uncouth!)

Real Clear Politics hasn't felt the need to hold back on their evaluations, and I think its wrong. I don't believe they, or anyone else, have enough information to make informed overarching verdicts on federal, state or local officials. For example, what could you say about FEMA efforts in Mississippi or Alabama? I could say almost nothing about them because they haven't been covered by the press. For the same reason I couldn't tell you how state or local officials did either. Now we have all seen New Orleans, but again I don't feel like I have a depth of knowledge to make an informed opinion on how the city or state performed. I can say that FEMA's response in New Orleans (and in New Orleans alone) seemed lacking.

But here is the point: Everyone can see that FEMA's response was lacking in terms of the need of the people requiring assistance. What I do not know, and what no one has (or can?) tell me is if FEMA's response was short of its own capabilities. Unfortunately, there do not seem to be many who think that is an important question.

QandO has a great post looking at the RCP report card as well. I disagree with them, but it is good reading.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The News From Houston

The human aftermath of Katrina has stirred one of my favorite blogs back into life. The Eclectic Refrigerator has a number of great posts about how things are looking in Houston.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Why Hindsight Is Short-Sighted

Everyone who claims to have a "knowledegable opinion" about hurrican Katrina and its aftermath should head on over to Columbia University's Center For Hazards & Risks Research. In particular they should read the reports and maps presented in their Hotspots page, which, coincidentally, were featured in September's issue of The Atlantic. What becomes clear from looking over this research is that New Orleans is hardly unique. There are dozens and dozens of areas across the United States that also have Moderate or High mortality risks from natural disasters associated with living there. These areas include places like New York, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, Boston, Memphis, St. Louis and San Francisco. For every single one of these places (as well as many others) it is simply a matter of time until something horrific happens to them. In every single one of these places as well, throwing a nearly unlimited supply of money at them would go some way towards alleviating the mortality risks involved. Unfortunately, our resources are not unlimited. At the federal level, giving money to one locale by necessity means keeping resources from another locale. State and local governments are often unable or unwilling to devote the resources themselves. Other uses for the money always clamor for attention. Like it or not, in November of an election year it might seem a hell of a lot more important to your average politician to get a big raise for state employees than it does to allocate that money for levee repairs which might not be called into action for another 50 years or more.

The notion that there was something unique about New Orleans that required unique action to protect New Orleans and New Orleans alone from natural disasters is simply false. The Colubia University study makes it clear, New Orleans is not uniquely vulnerable in a way other places in the United States are not. New Orleans is just one of many risky places whose luck ran out.

Now it is also clear that FEMA is not capable of handling a disaster area as large as this one without 3 or 4 days of lead-in time. However, it also hasn't been shown that FEMA is either designed or funded to be able to handle such a disaster any more quickly. No one can point to another disaster and say "Here is a disaster of the same size and degree of severity as Katrina that FEMA handled speedily in the past." Until push comes to shove I'm not sure how anyone can know in advance the performance limitations of an agency such as FEMA. Maybe someone can look at some operation in the past and see how the FEMA system might have been straining to reach its goals, but I haven't heard word one on such an investigation.

I guess what I'm asking people to do is get enough information to put these events into their proper context and don't let emotion get the better of you. That is the only way we can ensure that things will go more smoothly when the next disaster strikes.

Its only a matter of time. Why waste any more of it?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

A Question For Blog Readers

From the early days of this blog (alright, alright...last autumn) I've considered The Moderate Voice to be one of my main "goto" blogs. Joe Gandleman always had a knack for having a point of view that wasn't wishy-washy or unchallenging, and yet was still approachable from wherever you were coming from. And, from a more personal perspective Joe was the first blogger of note to ever drop me a line telling me he likes what I was doing here at the Iconic Midwest.

I don't know if it is because of all the new writers they have over at TMV, or if I'm going through some sort of ideological drift myself, but I'm having an increasingly difficult time seeing what distinguishes TMV from a site like The Daily Kos. Now the DK is what the DK is, and I don't have a problem with it...hell, I blog roll it (just as I do NOT blog roll Little Green Footballs)...but one thing the DK is not is accessable for everyone politically. So the change I see in TMV is really a change in philosophy. If TMV wants to becomes yet another "It's us against THEM!" sort of site they are more than welcome to...but I would consider it a crying shame. We really don't need anymore "US against THEM sites" where "Them" are fellow Americans. We've got plenty.

My question for you blog readers out there is: Am I crazy to think I see this change in TMV? Does anyone else feel the same way?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The End Of The Rehnquist Court

The Chief Justice has finally succumbed to the cancer he had been fighting for so long. We should all take a moment to say a silent word of thanks for his many years of public service.

That's what we should do...that ain't what's gonna happen.

If Bush stays true to form I think we can expect the elevation of Scalia to Chief Justice, which will cause one hell of a bitch-storm from the left. It's weird. There has been so little movement in the makeup of the court for so long and now change is coming fast and furious. The political climate is so ugly in general these days that I can see nothing positive coming out of Washington for a few months.

Oh! for some real substantive political discourse in this country. The more I read the political blogs, from the right and the left, the more I am put in mind of the old Monty Python argument sketch. At one point an exasperated Michael Palin says "I don't want to argue about that!" as John Cleese insists on arguing about something completely uninteresting. In any event...I digress.

I would have to say that the Rehnquist era of the Supreme Court will probably be remembered as a lackluster affair. The Court didn't move with a purpose so much as drift along with the breeze. Of course the elevation of Rehnquist was supposed to be the end of the world, or so the left in the 1980's would have had us believe. Who would have thought that what would follow would have been so tame. Maybe we could all remember that as we gear up for the hyperbole of the Roberts hearings and the new Chief Justice confirmation battle.

Wouldn't that be better than engaging in the same old boring argument?

Yes. it is.

(No. It isn't.)

Friday, September 02, 2005

A Public Service

If you have ever been tempted to take anything Paul Krugman says seriously QandO has a good example of why you really shouldn't.

It is too bad the Times insists on wasting space for his ill considered drivel.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

More Hurricane Common Sense

Kathy over at Big Cat Chronicles had the same idea I had to actually look at the hurricane data to see if there is anything unusual going on in the Atlantic. She comes to the same conclusion as I do, but does so with some snazzy tables and graphs.

Note: She IS using the same data set as I am. I tabulated decades going from, for example, 1910-1919 and calling that the 1910's, while hers run from 1911-1920.