2007 01 04
Yes, it’s exactly like Katrina.

Posted by in: Katrina, Media criticism

I was in Fairfield, CT (median income: $113,429) over the holiday and picked up the latest issue of Westport Magazine. The cover article began with this:

Last August, weeks before the start of the school year, stories forecasting the approaching college-application season made it sound like the academic equivalent of Hurricane Katrina…As if Fairfield County high school seniors and their parents didn’t have enough stress without the media piling on more reading, more statistics, more pressure!…That so many high school seniors in hyper-competitive Fairfield County would turn out to be competitive high achievers should surprise no one. What has surprised even veterans of the college admissions war is how underexaggerated the news reports have been.

To be fair, there is nothing wrong with wanting very much to go to Harvard or Yale, and being disappointed that your chances are lower these days, even if you’re super privileged. And there’s nothing wrong with noting that high expectations can take a significant toll on students from relatively privileged backgrounds. But if you’re talking about kids from fucking Fairfield, CT and their academic plight, you better do everything in your power not to compare these “hardships” to Katrina.

Howls of outrage (15)

2005 11 05
At least Cheney still gets paid

Posted by in: Katrina, Political issues


A pattern is emerging as the cleanup of Mississippi’s Gulf Coast morphs into its multibillion-dollar reconstruction: Come payday, untold numbers of Hispanic immigrant laborers are being stiffed.

Sometimes, the boss simply vanishes. Other workers wait on promises that soon, someone in a complex hierarchy of contractors will provide the funds to pay them.

After Katrina hit, Armando Ojeda paid $1,200 to be smuggled across the desert border from Mexico, a walk that took several nights. Talk of $10 an hour � more in a day than he made each week at a computer factory back home � led him to pay another $1,200 to be crammed in van with a dozen other immigrants and driven 1,600 miles, from a safe house in Arizona to Mississippi.

The passengers were not fed � Ojeda recalls his mouth watering when he smelled tacos the driver ate � and were discharged near the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport…

The job was supposed to pay $7 an hour. But six weeks later, Ojeda still hasn’t been paid the $600-plus he said he is owed for eight days of dawn-to-dusk labor.

Karen Tovar, the subcontractor on the job, acknowledged she hasn’t been able to pay dozens of workers a total of about $130,000. She insisted she was not at fault, blaming the way payments can be stalled along a long chain of subcontractors often led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

At one point, Tovar had 83 workers cleaning the Navy base under a broader, $12 million contract held by KBR, a firm owned by Vice President Dick Cheney’s former company, Halliburton.

After several weeks without pay, many workers grew frustrated and left.

An Army Corps spokesman said he wasn’t aware of any problems with payments. A KBR spokeswoman wouldn’t provide details about the base cleanup, referring inquiries to the Navy, which referred questions about subcontractors back to KBR.

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2005 11 05
No one was home

Posted by in: Katrina

I’ve never understood the point of customized cell phone ringtones, but I have to admit that this sounds pretty catchy.

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2005 09 16
Politics and science, again

Posted by in: Katrina, Political issues

So, since our minds are on predicted catastrophes, let’s think about the coming avian flu pandemic. (The link is to a “boogeda-boogeda” news report, but is consistent with everything else I’ve read about it.) This is a disease that kills 55% of the people it infects, that may in the next few years be able to spread as easily as regular flu, and for which we don’t have a vaccine yet. Check out the article for the disturbing stats and the total pablum crap response of government officials. Someone says concern over the coming pandemic “keeps President Bush awake at night”. My ass it does.

Here is a case, like Katrina, where we know what’s going to happen — even though it is hard to believe that it really could happen. The only uncertainty is the timing.

But, get this. There is a medicine that fights it, of which the U.S. has 2 million doses. To treat our, um, 295 million residents. One company makes the medicine and it can’t make it fast enough. So why haven’t we taken the formula for this medicine and turned major factories on to the project of making millions of doses of it? Is it because we don’t really believe the scientists who say this is going to happen?

Update: Positive step! The U.S. has contracted with two drug companies to make more medicine. And, it says one of them is making a vaccine? I didn’t think there was one yet.

Howls of outrage (3)

2005 09 09
Did I mention his penmanship?

Brown, fatally incompetent Bush-appointed head of FEMA, padded his resume to make it sound like a college internship was actual relevant disaster-management experience. Time magazine calls him on it. And they call his supervisor from that job, who says:

Former Edmond city manager Bill Dashner recalled for Time that Brown had worked for him as an administrative assistant while attending Central State University.

“Mike used to handle a lot of details. Every now and again I’d ask him to write me a speech. He was very loyal. He was always on time. He always had on a suit and a starched white shirt,” Dashner told Time.

Howls of outrage (2)

2005 09 08
In my mind, this is always the caption

Spencer found this delight, purportedly from Ireland’s Sky News. Ah, cheap thrills. He also points out that there’s a growing collection of Katrina stuff on Snopes, the essential urban legends reference page.

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2005 09 04
Powerline on criticism of the Bush administration over its response to Hurricane Katrina

Wingnutty goodness!

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2005 09 02

Posted by in: Katrina, Political issues

Yeah. Yup. Yes’m. Cleis saves me a bunch of bothersome work.

Plus, I think that last one is roughly the point I was after in the very long angry post from yesterday. Deliberately not belonging to the reality-based community, thinking you can spin your way out of your responsibility to know, encouraging ignorance, kills people.

(We knew it kills brown foreigners and American soldiers. But it kills American civilians too, who are worth more than other people. Although… these ones seem to be brown, and are probably looters, and stayed behind of their own choosing, so maybe they’re not worth more after all? Who’s with me? Look at this shiny spinning disk, while I have your attention.)

Things look a little better in New Orleans today, thank god. People still trapped, dying, the city still underwater, major oil spill and industrial chemical tower on fire… but still… better.

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2005 09 02

Posted by in: Katrina

Juxtaposed against the rest of the storm coverage, which has people still stranded outdoors among floodwaters with corpses and feces and no food or water, consider this NYT article. Who are the “let them eat cake” upper-class asses? The authors or the interviewees? Or both?

Like many others who have fled Hurricane Katrina and sought refuge here, these women find themselves in a foreign environment, devoid of the luxuries they once enjoyed. Gone are the cocktail parties in Uptown New Orleans, the long afternoon sails…

Things like ice, rarely given a thought before the family invasion, are now in short order. For the time being, Ms. Tassin and her guests have limited themselves to one cube for each glass of water. “It’s going to be a long haul,” she said. “Everyone is sacrificing in lots of ways.” …

As such, evacuees like Mrs. Bowling are trying to put the pieces of their former lives back together. And on the top of the list is education for her three children. While the children once enjoyed the best private schools New Orleans had to offer, Mrs. Bowling said she was now scrambling to get them enrolled in Baton Rouge. “I’ve tried to pull my strings here,” she said, adding nothing had come through yet.

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2005 09 01
Katrina and science

Posted by in: Katrina, Political issues

I’ve just been reading hurricane news until my eyes start going flashy, for the last several days. (we have no tv, luckily, so it’s all computer screen for me.) It is 9/11 horrible, tsunami horrible. It feels the same — that what I’m seeing is impossible, but that I have a responsibility to witness, as if it hurts the people there if I stop reading.

But it is worse than those other disasters. Because people have known it was coming and yet the government didn’t take the preventive steps it could, and clearly made no serious plans for the aftermath.

We knew that the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans, either by hurricane or burst levee, was likely to happen in our lifetimes. We’ve known this for decades, and in the last 5 or 10 years there have been louder and more urgent voices raised about it. Scientists said there would likely be tens of thousands of casualties, roads gone, water and power nonfunctioning, etc. Planners knew in advance that many people would have no car to drive them out of the city. Yet, we are seeing the result of woefully, criminally inadequate planning.

No effort to evacuate the tens of thousands of carless residents beforehand. Hopeless chain of command in the aftermath, no central plan, no backup communications methods for authorities. People saved from the flood, deposited at “safe sites”, are now dying of dehydration because no-one has gotten military planes, or the fleet of little boats, or high-draft trucks, to bring in fucking bottled water.

The first thing that should happen when you become mayor of New Orleans, or governor of Louisiana, or director of FEMA, is that someone sits you down and says: there’s a 1/275* chance that New Orleans will catastrophically flood this year. Here’s our evolving plan for when it happens. But clearly that didn’t happen. Why? Scientists said, we can mitigate this by shoring up the barrier wetlands and reinforcing the levees; the federal money for these projects got pulled. Why?

Partly it has to do with the money needed and political cowardice, partly with racism and callous disregard for the poor. But I think it also comes from cultivated ignorance — from a mistrust and ignorance of science. I think they didn’t believe it would happen.

The science said it was inevitable, but the gut said it was impossible.

Tens of thousands of casualties in a major US city? Hundreds of thousands of displaced persons? A major chunk of US export capability and oil processing, shut down? The city uninhabitable for months? Read some of those articles above, from a sampling at Making Light, and maybe your gut will say the same: they are wrong, it can’t be true. But the scientists had no doubt, just some uncertainty about the timing. (Ditto for San Francisco, Tokyo, pandemic flu, etc.)

Mistrust and misunderstanding of science is a problem that’s getting worse, because it’s part of the agenda of a powerful group of people to promote mistrust of science and cripple science education in the US. This will kill people, by the hundreds of thousands or the millions, here and around the world. As understanding of and respect for science decreases in the US, policy makers and voters alike will rely more and more on their gut. But the science will be right, and the gut will be wrong.

* This number is from the “1/6 chance in 50 years” mentioned here, plus a simplifying assumption that the chances were evenly distributed across years, plus calculations by my staff mathematician.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2005 08 29
Hurricane Katrina

Posted by in: Katrina

If any of you are in New Orleans or within a few hundred miles of the US Gulf Coast, I am thinking of you.

Teresa at Making Light has an excellent continuously-updated roundup of things worth reading on this. (Bonus for those who live in NYC: a link to a hurricane zone map of NYC, showing which areas face destruction in a big storm.)

This page has the best images I’ve been able to find, to illustrate how much of New Orleans is below sea level, and to get a good cross-section of the “soup-bowl”.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)