Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Katrina response

(Hat tip: Jason Van Steenwyk)

(Here's a link to the committee's final report).

Some items from the PM article:

MYTH: "The aftermath of Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history."– Aaron Broussard, president, Jefferson Parish, La., Meet the Press, NBC, Sept. 4, 2005

REALITY: Bumbling by top disaster-management officials fueled a perception of general inaction, one that was compounded by impassioned news anchors. In fact, the response to Hurricane Katrina was by far the largest–and fastest-rescue effort in U.S. history, with nearly 100,000 emergency personnel arriving on the scene within three days of the storm's landfall.
MYTH: "This is a once-in-a-lifetime event."– New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, press conference, Aug. 28, 2005

REALITY: Though many accounts portray Katrina as a storm of unprecedented magnitude, it was in fact a large, but otherwise typical, hurricane. On the 1-to-5 Saffir-Simpson scale, Katrina was a midlevel Category 3 hurricane at landfall. Its barometric pressure was 902 millibars (mb), the sixth lowest ever recorded, but higher than Wilma (882mb) and Rita (897mb), the storms that followed it. Katrina's peak sustained wind speed at landfall 55 miles south of New Orleans was 125 mph; winds in the city barely reached hurricane strength.

Read the whole thing.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Neighborhood Bully

Well, the neighborhood bully, he's just one man,
His enemies say he's on their land.
They got him outnumbered about a million to one,
He got no place to escape to, no place to run.
He's the neighborhood bully.

The neighborhood bully just lives to survive,
He's criticized and condemned for being alive.
He's not supposed to fight back, he's supposed to have thick skin,
He's supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in.
He's the neighborhood bully.

The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land,
He's wandered the earth an exiled man.
Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn,
He's always on trial for just being born.
He's the neighborhood bully.

Well, he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized,
Old women condemned him, said he should apologize.
Then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad.
The bombs were meant for him.
He was supposed to feel bad.
He's the neighborhood bully.

Well, the chances are against it and the odds are slim
That he'll live by the rules that the world makes for him,
'Cause there's a noose at his neck and a gun at his back
And a license to kill him is given out to every maniac.
He's the neighborhood bully.

He got no allies to really speak of.
What he gets he must pay for, he don't get it out of love.
He buys obsolete weapons and he won't be denied
But no one sends flesh and blood to fight by his side.
He's the neighborhood bully.

Well, he's surrounded by pacifists who all want peace,
They pray for it nightly that the bloodshed must cease.
Now, they wouldn't hurt a fly.
To hurt one they would weep.
They lay and they wait for this bully to fall asleep.
He's the neighborhood bully.

Every empire that's enslaved him is gone,
Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon.
He's made a garden of paradise in the desert sand,
In bed with nobody, under no one's command.
He's the neighborhood bully.

Now his holiest books have been trampled upon,
No contract he signed was worth what it was written on.
He took the crumbs of the world and he turned it into wealth,
Took sickness and disease and he turned it into health.
He's the neighborhood bully.

What's anybody indebted to him for?
Nothin', they say.
He just likes to cause war.
Pride and prejudice and superstition indeed,
They wait for this bully like a dog waits to feed.
He's the neighborhood bully.

What has he done to wear so many scars?
Does he change the course of rivers?
Does he pollute the moon and stars?
Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill,
Running out the clock, time standing still,
Neighborhood bully.

Monday, July 17, 2006

As long as I'm writing books...

...Here's one in progress!

Some time ago, I decided to put together a commentary on the Wiccan Rede. Not only would I discuss the well-known, "An it harm none, do what ye will", but also the 26-couplet poem handed down by Adriana Porter to her grand daughter. I'm going to be posting some of my thoughts about the Rede here, and I'll start by posting the verse itself.

The Rede of the Wiccae

Bide the Wiccan laws ye must
In perfect love and perfect trust

Live ye shall, and let to live,
Fairly Take and Fairly Give.

Cast the circle thrice about,
To keep unwelcome spirits out.

To bind the spell every time,
Let the spell be spake in rhyme.

Soft of eye and light of touch,
Speak thou little, listen much.

Deasil go by the waxing moon,
Singing out the Witches' Rune.

Widdershins go by the waning moon,
Chanting out the Baneful tune.

When the Lady's moon is new,
kiss the hand to her times two.

When the Moon rides at Her peak,
Then your Heart's Desire seek.

Heed the north wind's mighty gale,
Lock the door and trim the sail.

When the wind comes from the South,
Love will kiss you on the mouth.

When the wind blows from the West,
departed souls may have no rest.

When the wind blows from the East,
Expect the new and set the feast.

Nine woods in the cauldron go,
Burn them fast and burn them slow.

Elder be the Lady's Tree,
Burn it not or cursed ye'll be!

When the Wheel begins to turn,
Soon the Beltaine fire'll burn.

When the Wheel hath turned a Yule,
Light a log the Horned God rules.

Heed ye flower, bush and tree,
And by the Lady blessed be.

Where the rippling waters go,
Cast a stone and truth you'll know.

When ye have an honest need,
Hearken not to others' greed.

With a fool no season spend,
nor be counted as his friend

Merry meet and merry part,
bright the cheeks and warm the heart

Mind the threefold law ye should,
three times bad and three times good

When misfortune is enow,
wear the star upon thy brow

True in love ye must ever be,
lest thy love be false to thee

Eight words the Wicca Rede fulfill,
An ye harm none, do what ye will.

There are variations that crop up here and there, and people have added extra verses. The folk process will not be denied. But the original can be found if you're stubborn enough. I've used one of the variant forms here, and will, at some point, comment on the change and why I used it.

A sense of "proportion"

The latest talking point about Israel's part in the current war is that it's "disproportionate". The problem here is, when we start talking about "proportionality", we have to keep in mind that "proportionality" is not to be examined in a vacuum. It necessarily exists "in proportion to" something.

In terms of the jus ad bellum, or justification for going to war, proportionality means having a reasonable relationship between the goals and objectives to be achieved and the bellicose means being used to achieve them. A country may not go to war to avenge an insult, for example: in simple terms, jus ad bellum reflects the wisdom behind "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words..." To create a just cause for warlike self-defense a serious infraction must occur. Even the obscurantist Saudi regime has characterized Hezbollah's invasion as an "uncalculated adventure;" no respectable legal opinion can fail to see it as a casus belli. Israel's recourse to force is a response to this unjustified act of violence, and its aim of inflicting maximum damage to those who invade its territory and bomb its citizens creates an obvious link between means and objectives. So much for jus ad bellum.

With respect to the jus in bello, or justice in war, proportionality means that the amount and type of force used must be such that unjust consequences do not exceed the legitimate objectives. Compliance with this principle requires an affirmative answer to the question: "If I take this military action, will more good than harm result from it?" To this equation, one must not forget – as the critics tend to – the many lives that will be protected by acting vigorously and decisively against the aggressor. Our response to Taliban-launched mayhem in America, massive military responses against an unrelenting and fanatical aggressor in Afghanistan, was proportionate. So is Israel's. The Jewish state's counterattack, focused on targets such as Hezbollah TV and radio studios, and the infrastructure (airports, bridges, highways) used by Hezbollah to wage war, has been absolutely classical.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

"Extra Credit" reading on gerrymandering

At least that's what I'm being called at Radio Open Source.

In fact, this post simply points back to Orson Scott Card. (Always worth a replay.)

I've written a book!

Buy the book!

The Official Manual for Spice Cadets is now up for sale.

Written for the 64th World Science Fiction Convention, this is a collection of great recipes from the author and from a multitude of his friends and acquaintances. This book also captures the zany spirit of science fiction fandom and is a fun read, even if you never use any of the recipies it contains.

If you can't make it to the Worldcon, you can buy a piece of it today.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Environmentalist follies

One of the problems with the environmental movement is that well-intended environmental programs can wind up doing more harm to the environment than good.

In places, I've noted that recycling programs can wind up using more resources than are recycled, causing a net loss in resources. Now, here's an example where a "green" fuel winds up putting more stress on the environment than our regular old "brown" fuel.

It turns out that, despite all the claims that ethanol is good for the environment, ethanol may be a net polluter in many ways. Ethanol does reduce carbon monoxide emissions because it is an "oxygenate," which means it adds oxygen to the fuel, converting the CO into CO2, carbon dioxide. (Seeing how CO is not greenhouse gas, our ethanol policies result in making more CO2; what would Al Gore say?) But on the question of hydrocarbons, ethanol appears to make things worse.
The ethanol subsidies may harm the ground as well as the air. Subsidizing ethanol in myriad ways creates incentives for farmers to plant far more corn than can be consumed by humans and cattle. This encourages farmers to rely solely on one crop   corn, because the government is propping up its demand and supporting its price.

Farmers have long known that rotating crops   planting something different in a given field from year to year   is crucial to maintaining the health of soils. Planting corn year after year exacerbates erosion and depletes soil nutrients. David Pimentel, the Cornell scientist, maintains that corn is particularly destructive to soil health when it is planted exclusively.
While some scientists find that making ethanol uses more energy than it yields, scientist Marcelo Dias de Oliveira, disagrees. But looking at the full "ecological footprint," taking into account cropland used, water consumed, and other secondary factors to the ethanol process, Oliveira found that ethanol is a net drag on the planet. "The use of ethanol as a substitute for gasoline proved to be neither a sustainable nor an environmentally friendly option," he wrote "considering ecological footprint values, and both net energy and CO2 offset considerations seemed relatively unimportant compared to the ecological footprint."

But it's green energy, so it's immoral to use anything else.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Allies of the Palestinians

This post on David Frum's Diary at NRO is aimed at the Palestinians. It's not very optimistic about the results of pursuing war against Israel.

Dear Palestinian Arab brethren:

The war with Israel is over.

You have lost. Surrender and negotiate to secure a future for your children.
Only Syria continues to feed your fantasies that someday it will join you in liberating Palestine, even though a huge chunk of its territory, the entire Golan Heights, was taken by Israel in 1967 and annexed. The Syrians, my friends, will gladly fight down to the last Palestinian Arab.

And an interesting point about what newspapers will find fit to print:

Tom Gross points out the curious fact that although Ibrahim worked for 24 years as a correspondent for the New York Times (he has since graduated to better things as managing director of a Dubai-based investment company and a fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York), the paper declined to publish his open letter. It appeared instead in the New York Sun.

There follow comments from the blog, Iraq the Model, and a final note about the war on terror:

These notes may or may not be representative. But they do underscore a point that the Iraq the Model website argues - and that we must keep in mind as we absorb the past week's brutal violence in Iraq: Iraq is the key to the Middle East - and Baghdad is the key to Iraq. The battles being waged there are battles for the future peace and safety of the world.

Material for conspiracy theorists

Here's a link to the Popular Mechanics article addressing several myths about the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In the end, we were able to debunk each of these assertions with hard evidence and a healthy dose of common sense. We learned that a few theories are based on something as innocent as a reporting error on that chaotic day. Others are the byproducts of cynical imaginations that aim to inject suspicion and animosity into public debate. Only by confronting such poisonous claims with irrefutable facts can we understand what really happened on a day that is forever seared into world history.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Carnival of the Recipes

It's up!

(And here's last week's.)

Ken Lay

Dan Walters has some comments on the late Ken Lay.

The purveyors of revisionist political history are back at work this week, inspired by the death of Enron Corp. founder -- and convicted felon -- Kenneth Lay to revive the myth that were it not for Enron and Lay, California wouldn't have experienced its 2001 energy crisis.

Well, at least these purveyors actually believe Lay is dead. But they continue to pile on him in death as they did in life.

Attorney General Bill Lockyer had the good manners to remain silent about Lay's death from heart disease three months before he was to be sentenced for lying to mask the failing company's condition. It was Lockyer who in 2001 told an interviewer that "I would love to personally escort Lay to an 8-by-10 cell that he could share with a tattooed dude who says, 'Hi, my name is Spike, honey.' "

As for his role in deregulation, yes he did advocate it.

Did Lay's Enron play a role in the crisis that continues to cost California consumers tens of billions of dollars? Of course, but it was just one of many factors, and not even the most important one.

Lay was an advocate of electric utility deregulation, but so were many others. Properly constructed, deregulated energy markets have worked elsewhere and could work in California, but the state's politicians fumbled.

Indeed, at the time of the energy crises, there was a fellow from the Reason Public Policy Institute who was explaining the system to people, and I was sure he had to be making it up. Only politicians could design something as stupid as what we were dealing with.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Unintended consequences?

Now that same-sex marriage is the law in Massachusetts, the Boston Globe, among other employers, are reconsidering benefits for "domestic partners".

A memo sent to the Globe’s Boston Newspaper Guild members, and obtained by the Herald, states that Massachusetts gay Guild employees can extend their benefits to their partners only if they marry.
An employee who currently covers a same-sex domestic partner as a dependent will have to marry his or her partner by Jan. 1 for the employee benefits coverage to continue at the employee rates
the memo states.

I wonder. Will there be lots of people going ahead and marrying to keep their benefits, or will we see a storm of protest because they're being forced into it?

(Hat tip: John Ray).

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

An inconvenient truth...

...about An Inconvenient Truth

Robert J. Samuelson doesn't think we'll solve global warming until and unless we do one major thing: first look at it as an engineering problem.

The real truth is that we don't know enough to relieve global warming, and – barring major technological breakthroughs – we can't do much about it. This was obvious nine years ago; it's still obvious. Let me explain.

We're not going to stop using energy – we're not inclined to cut our own throats. Nor are we willing or able to tell the rest of the world to forego the benefits of technology which we enjoy.

The practical conclusion is that if global warming is a potential calamity, the only salvation is new technology....Only an aggressive research and development program might find ways of breaking our dependence on fossil fuels or dealing with it. Perhaps some system could purge the atmosphere of surplus greenhouse gases?
The trouble with the global warming debate is that it has become a moral crusade when it's really an engineering problem. The inconvenient truth is that if we don't solve the engineering problem, we're helpless.