Friday, September 23, 2005

Seasons change, etc.

With the NHL season upon us, and both the Flames and the Oilers bearing some very high expectations, I've started a new blog with my old friend Bob Sacamano called The Battle of Alberta. I'm not forsaking this blog, but I would expect updates to continue at the present rate of 2-3 times per week for the foreseeable future.

Anyway, the B of A site is already getting rave reviews, not to mention pulling more traffic than I've ever had here outside the odd Cosh link or Roadkillanche. A sample:
And putting the self-promotion aside for a moment, there's another very promising new sports blog up and running - go check out Sports Matters. It's the work of Andy Grabia (aka the Cosby Sweater guy) and four of his buddies, and they muse and argue about all things sport. Ignore the sexual tensions evident in their bickering -- it's a good-looking blog, and I like it a lot so far. :)

Late -

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Not the worst thing to wake up to

So Mrs. Aldini turned on the news this morning, and discovered that our family's net worth has increased by $1,600.00:
Every man, woman and child in Alberta will get $400 from the province's unbudgeted surplus, the Alberta government announced Tuesday.

My personal reaction to this is, of course, "Hot damn!" If I were to complain about it, it certainly wouldn't be from this angle:
"These cheques will mean some people can pay their heating bills but for other people it might mean a ski trip or a fancy dinner," said Liberal Leader Kevin Taft.

"If we added it all up, and used it together, we could provide hospitals for everybody in Edmonton and Calgary, we could provide free tuition for university and college students for years to come. We could do all kinds of wonderful things.

So, economics author Kevin Taft appears to believe that ski trips and fancy dinners are objectively a waste of money. Seriously: there is zero difference in principle between his statement and arguing that all ski hills and fancy restaurants should be shut down, and that the money that Albertans might spend there should be confiscated by government for the greater good.

If I were to complain about it, it would only be to argue that there may be better ways to return roughly (3 million X $400) $1.2 billion to Alberta taxpayers.
Clint Dunford, Tory member for Lethbridge West, said the plan is the simplest way "to give back to Albertans without having a huge bureaucracy."

Almost! But by that logic, they probably ought to have eliminated health care premiums instead, since then not only would ~$1B be returned to taxpayers this year, but they could also eliminate the bureaucracy that exists to assess and collect the premiums.

(Sidebar: for the uninitiated, the Alberta Health Care Premium is not an actual premium, which I would quite possibly support. It's a tax you pay that has no connection whatsoever to your consumption of health care, and like too many taxes & programs, the single-income family making $40k/year is hit hardest).

Anyway, I had a related discussion (rant?) about this in July with Jardine and Mapmaster. I said that I wasn't as hard on Ralph Klein and the Alberta Tories as I ought to be in principle, but that I could basically live with their way of doing things in the name of "staying under the radar", the radar in question being that of central Canada and the federal government.

That is, Alberta cannot be overly aggressive with lowering taxes and the like because if the difference between the standard of living here and in the Rest of Canada is too great, then the Rest of Canada will take it upon themselves to even things out. So fine: let's have the lowest provincial income tax, but not by an order of magnitude; let's pay our nurses and teachers the best, but not by 25%; let's have cigarettes and cases of beer be a buck cheaper, gasoline 5c/L lower, etc. etc. - but nothing so stark as to make the envious-minded in the RoC get any big bad ideas.

Riding this train of thought, eliminating health care premiums should be an obvious move for Klein; since most other provinces don't have them at all, no one can cry, "Unfair! Alberta's so rich, they don't even have to charge health care premiums!" Conversely, the absolute worst thing he could do in this regard is mail cash to everyone in the province.

I can only surmise that Klein et al have decided that Ottawa's radar gun has gone off, and there's no more hiding. If that's the case, then politically (and in principle), it certainly makes sense to force your local and national opponents to come out against giving your constituents some of their money back - i.e. to force people to say things like the Kevin Taft quote above. Yeah, we're basically a big government country, but there is still a large cohort in the centre of the political spectrum who seethe when they are forced to confront politicians who are clearly stating, "We can spend your money better than you can."

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Maybe Klein isn't going all-in -- Colby Cosh still has his poker face on.

UPDATE2: Yes, Cosh's update does go without saying. In fact, just to spite Mr. Taft, I am going to spend some of the money on a fancy dinner for my family. Hah! Then my restaraunt operator and waitress will put that extra money under their mattress forever, where it will benefit absolutely no one. No, wait. Is my waitress going to university? Hmmm.

Dangit! I wish I had taken more economics classes. Anyway Taft, we're also going to get a new kitchen table and chairs. If you'd prefer, I can use the cheque to pay my heating bills for the next year or so, and use the money I would have used for the gas bill to buy furniture. Would that make you happy? If not, I beg you to explain how, in economic principles, there isn't a lick of difference between the two options. But you won't, because said principles, when applied broadly, are more useful for me advancing my goals than you yours.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Here's what I'm talking about...

Me, yesterday:
...any sports pundit who attempts to argue that Barry Bonds is somehow bad for baseball is verifiably insane. He is simply the most compelling on-field figure in the sport.

Now here's Dan Wetzel at Yahoo! Sports, today, providing a stellar example of what's wrong with so much sportswriting nowadays:
For three days they have clapped and called and cared for BALCO Barry Bonds, the wine and sushi crowds of the San Francisco Giants' SBC Park pretty much eliminating the hope that this could be a new era of baseball fan, where lying, cheating and "flaxseeds" could be significant enough that you'd boo even your own guy.

Read the whole thing, and in case you can't believe your eyes: Yes, he is saying that every fan that does not boo a player implicated in steroid use is either an "imbecile" or should be "ashamed". Fans not meeting Wetzel's standards include Giants fans and Yankees fans. So far, that is. Cardinals fans, be forewarned:
With Mark McGwire set to make a rare public appearance during the Busch Stadium finale in October, St. Louis Cardinals fans will have the chance to show whether all of that "St. Louis is America's best baseball town" is real or just a marketing concept.

He doesn't make it entirely clear how icy McGwire's reception needs to be to satisfy him. Boos from every direction would apparently be great; I'm not sure if polite applause crosses the line.

Wetzel's shite should be read by all aspiring sportswriters as a reminder that over-the-top moralizing is a poor substitute for crisp and original thought, let alone "watching and commenting on sports". For the love of Pete, he thinks the reason that Raffy Palmeiro got a worse fan reception than Bonds and Giambi did (and McGwire will) is that Baltimore's fans are purer:
In Baltimore, the fans were so smart and so strong. They saw a fraud and they called him out, home whites be damned.

At least one town gets it.

ohcomeon. This is all damning stuff: poor style, no actual ideas, etc. But the proof Wetzel is in the wrong line of work is in this sentence:
[Giants fans] waved rubber chickens and only booed when San Diego Padres pitchers looked at this chemical robot built to hit balls into San Francisco Bay and smartly pitched around him.

My emphasis, Wetzel's horseshit. If you want to demonize the use of steroids without any reservations, I think you're an ass, but go ahead. But reflected in Wetzel's excerpt here is a lack of appreciation for the difficulty of hitting a baseball into San Francisco Bay that ought to disqualify would-be baseball pundits.

Damn, I love the Sports Guy's Mailbag

Today's highlight (I've seen the movie at least a dozen times):
For "best slow clap," I feel somewhat betrayed by the fact that a self-confessed "Can't Buy Me Love" fan would neglect to mention Big John's inspired slow clap following Ronnie Miller's passionate lunchtime speech to Quint. I imagine I feel somewhat like Kenneth did after he caught Ronnie in the net on Halloween. I'm going to the arcade now to play a motorbike racing game.
-- Mike, Chicago

This one was pretty good too, the topic being "meeting a big star, and congratulating them on a very old and/or embarrassing role":
When I was in LA, I was at a bar watching the early morning Sunday games (West Coast people drinking beers at 9 a.m. waiting for football. Really good) and Leo DiCaprio was there. We went over to him and told him he was "Phenomenal in Growing Pains." The look of death was priceless. Even better by the next line. I said to my buddy "I can't believe we're meeting Kirk Cameron!"
-- Crash, New York

That's got to be made up.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Two things

Radley Balko, in the course of introducing his guestbloggers, pointed to the "Two Things" meme.
"...For every subject, there are really only two things you really need to know. Everything else is the application of those two things, or just not important."

I was unaware of the meme per se, but familiar with the concept. Not long after I started in the buildings industry, I was informed of the Two Things you really need to know to be a plumber:
  1. Shit flows downhill
  2. Payday is every second Friday
A couple of years later, this came up in a discussion with another plumber, who had just spent his week emptying cleanouts at a pig slaughterhouse (a task, I'm told, which makes unplugging a residential toilet seem like watering the begonias in comparison). Anyway, he advised me of a third thing, or 2A if you prefer:
  • Don't chew your fingernails.
Indeed.

And speaking of horses' asses...

Barry Bonds' batting line from last night:
4PA, 2BB, 1H, 1K, .500BA, .750OBP

And most importantly:
Giants win

Barry Bonds is widely, if not unanimously, regarded as simply not a very good guy. He gets criticized for his attitude; his relationship with teammates, fans, and the media; his training and pharmaceutical regimen; his body armour; etc. etc. ad nauseam. I'm sure most of the criticism is deserved.

But any sports pundit who attempts to argue that Barry Bonds is somehow bad for baseball is verifiably insane. He is simply the most compelling on-field figure in the sport.

Has Tart Cider been alerted?!?

Zed has some hot gossip:
Big buzz in the Parliamentary press gallery today over former Liberal cabinet minister and Deputy PM Sheila Copps. She's joining Quebecor as a columnist, and will be filing twice a week for both the Sun papers (en anglais) and Le Journal de Montréal (in French).

The appropriate reaction to this news is "Together At Last!", shurely (although I'm not complaining about Zed's "Where's a wooden stake when you need one?"). Bonus buzz:
I'm hearing that other Sun stalwarts in the Ottawa bureau are not thrilled at the prospect of bumping into Copps at the coffee machine.

Heh. Actually, I would expect she and Earl McCrae to get along just fine.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Morals & Ted Byfield

Chris Selley has criticized Ted Byfield for referring to an "illegitimate" child ("I say, you there -- boy! What year is this?"), and is being taken to task in the comments for everything from being excessively PC to apologizing for the downfall of civil society. I threw in my two cents, and figured that would be the end of it: mainly because "what Ted Byfield thinks" ranks pretty low amongst my concerns in life.

However, partly because I have some personal experience with this topic, I feel the need to make two points about what I believe is a twisted, fuzzy, and un-Christian view of morality put forth by Byfield and those who would defend his comments.

Firstly, and Selley makes this point in down in the comments, if you're looking to accuse an adult of immoral acts, you're hitting the wrong target:
My only complaint is that Byfield calls Trudeau's daughter "illegitimate". It's pejorative, archaic and unfair, since it's no fault of hers, and it's used simply to make her father look bad (which, in a Catholic context, he deserves).

Colby Cosh replies that "it is still conceptually convenient for us to have an adjective for 'born out of wedlock'..." -- how so? Why? Do we really have a need for a concept, or rather a convenient word, that differentiates a child born to unwed parents from one whose parents divorce when she's six months old, or from one whose parents are married for life? Even if we do, why a pejorative one? A hundred years ago, the bastard/illegitimate tag was most certainly a slur on the child, not merely the parents, and was one that stuck her in a lower class of child. Am I really a PC thug to wish that nonsense away?

There is also a second point here that is just as important, and that is the broad unfairness of stigmatizing, as a whole, parents who have children out of wedlock. I will happily stipulate Christian morality for the purposes of explaining this point.

*****
There is only one immoral act underlying all unmarried parenthood, and that is that the parents had pre-marital (or non-marital, or extra-marital) sex. Putting a further stigma on all women who become pregnant as a result is a strange and unwise thing to do, since you can't make any assumptions about their intent or their precautions.

Once a woman does become pregnant outside of marriage, then certainly the ideal outcome is a prompt marriage where both mother and father plan to lovingly care for their baby-to-be. But often this doesn't happen, and again, it is strange and unwise to further stigmatize those for whom it doesn't.

Perhaps the father becomes physically abusive - surely no one would advise the mother that the moral thing to do is to get married nevertheless. Perhaps the father loudly and clearly proclaims that he has no interest in being a parent, or moves to another country. How could this possibly reflect on the morality of the mother?

The next most moral option has got to be the mother giving birth to the child and caring for her as best she can, seeing as how the remaining alternative is abortion. (Yes, I have skipped over adoption here, but I can't take seriously anyone who believes that it is uniformly more moral, or immoral, for an unwed mother to give her baby up for adoption than to raise her herself).

(In fact, you can plausibly argue that unwed mothers should be assumed to be more moral than women who have had non-marital sex but never become pregnant: the former have proved themselves uninterested in abortion, whereas for the latter, it is mere theory).
*****

In sum, the only assumption of immorality you can safely make about all mothers (or parents) of illegitimate children is that they had sex outside the bounds of holy matrimony. If you are inclined to look down your nose at all such women, go ahead, I suppose.

Which brings up the question: why don't we have a common adjective for "person who has/had sex out of wedlock"? Wouldn't that be especially conceptually convenient, to have a pejorative word that applied to all such people, regardless of the circumstances (or frequency!)? After all, there are a lot more people who fit that description than there are children whose parents weren't married. Surely, any pain resulting from the common use of such a word would be no worse than the broad stigma associated with the act, which is between microscopic and nil. Kathy Shaidle seems to be suggesting "bimbos" in Selley's comments: should we roll with that one?

Again, you (or Ted Byfield) are welcome to criticize Pierre Trudeau's Catholic-ness, or Deborah Coyne's morals. But when Byfield lists off the much younger women PET shagged, then adds "mother of his 15-year-old illegitimate daughter", he clearly believes that this statement on its own is further evidence of Trudeau's immorality. It isn't, and to believe it is betrays a weird and indefensible moral compass. It may be conservative, but it isn't right.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Moe Williams is now my sworn enemy

Well, that was painful while it lasted. I'm out of this season's NFL Suicide pool, thanks to the inability of the Vikings, particularly Culpepper, to hold on to the GDFH football. My hindsight is focusing up: I still remember that I liked the Vikings (and particularly Culpepper) last season, and that all but one of their first few losses could have easily gone the other way. What looms large, regrettably only now, is that they were 8-8.

My only consolation is that I'm not alone. There's a big $$ pool in my industry here, with 100 entrants, which includes weekly picks and a suicide pick. 43 guys were eliminated from the suicide pool yesterday, which probably could have been more, considering what happened to the 5 biggest favourites yesterday:
  • PANTHERS (-7) over Saints -- Panthers lose
  • STEELERS (-7) over Titans -- Steelers win
  • VIKINGS (-6) vs. Bucs -- Vikings lose
  • Rams (-5.5) vs. NINERS -- Rams lose
  • REDSKINS (-5.5) vs. Bears -- Skins win (but don't cover)
The most fascinating/hilarious aspect of yesterday's games, however, was the Mikes. Allow me to have The Sports Guy explain [note - link will rot in a couple weeks]:
The Danny DeVito Award for "Easiest way to realize that something is going to be disappointing before you actually see it."

Ever watch a movie trailer and it looks pretty good, and then you hear the narrator say, "From director Danny DeVito ... " and you immediately change your mind? Same goes for NFL coaches. The four Mikes (Martz, Tice, Holmgren and Sherman) will always be outmatched by a good coach. Any team with Dom Capers or Norv Turner at the helm will underachieve. Herm Edwards' teams will always screw up at the end of games. Mike Shanahan's teams will always be 7-6 with three games remaining in the season (and everyone saying, "Those guys should be 10-3!"). Joe Gibbs was away from the game so long that it's sad to watch. Writers will keep making excuses for Steve Mariucci and Marvin Lewis even as their teams keep underachieving. Marty Schottenheimer will always tighten up in the playoffs. And Danny DeVito will always direct crappy movies.

If you include Mike Shanahan along with "the four Mikes" Simmons lists in the brackets, we have five Mikes of, shall we say, questionable coaching acumen. (There's a 6th, but since the 49ers' Mike Nolan is in his first year, he gets a pass). Yesterday, three Mikes were favoured by more than a field goal, and Sherman and Holmgren were both 3-point underdogs.

All five Mikes lost. None of the five covered the spread. In fact, none of the five even came within a touchdown of covering - the closest was the Rams, who were favoured by 5.5 and lost by 3, an 8.5 point difference (the worst being the Broncos, coming up a mere 28 points short of covering).

Let it be known that I will never again discount the Mike factor when making a NFL wager. And it Danny DeVito's defense, I quite liked Matilda.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

NFL Survivor Pool 2005

Last year, I barely made it through Week 1, and bombed out in Week 2, when the Bears won by 10 (14?) in Green Bay.

Back on the horse! This week's Shoe-In, Lock of the Week Loser is Tampa Bay (+6.5 @ Vikings). I'm not actually that high on the Vikings this year, but I always like them at home.

(Of course, I also seem to remember them losing an opening week home game to Carolina 3 or 4 seasons ago -- Carolina proceeded to lose their last 15 games of the year.)

And no matter what happens, the football weekend will be a net positive. If the Stamps can pick up one game in the standings on the Esks over the next six, then the rubber match on the final weekend of the season will be for 2nd place (unless the GoRiders win out - heh).
  • The Stamps have remaining games with Hamilton (x2), Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and the GoRiders before the finale.
  • The Capital Region Indiginous Persons play the GoRiders twice, undefeated B.C. twice, Hamilton, and Toronto before the finale.
Did I mention the finale is in Calgary? Yes, I want this to happen.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Surrender

I think this will be the last thing I post about Katrina. For starters, I no longer trust any of the information out there. Furthermore, reports have catalogued such a variety of failures that there is something there to confirm just about everyone's bias, so I seriously doubt any observers will actually look at the world differently now (i.e. learn any lessons).

The biggest argument that has not been made, at least not at all persuasively, is that a lack of resources contributed to the tragedy (exception that proves the rule: the lack of a trillion-dollar 50-foot high levee system). I hope citizens keep this in mind in the months ahead. I fully expect that the incompetence of individuals within government, and various rules and procedures, will end up bearing most of the blame, rather than the institution itself. I think that's wrong, but again, I have no illusions that I'll change anyone's mind.

Taking the cake for bizarre non-sequiturs, though, has got to be the op-ed in today's WSJ by Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.). It was cited approvingly by Rich Lowry at The Corner and by Instapundit; I'm utterly confused.

In short, he goes through a handful of anecdotes about how bureaucracy failed thus far, and how private interests filled the void. Great, but then he drops this:
That's why we need, in the future, a single, strong leader with the power to override the normal process restrictions and get things done. That individual must be identified from the very beginning.

Wha? Does anyone reading this have the foggiest idea what he's proposing? That's not a rhetorical question - what is he talking about? There's that guy, George whatsisname, whose job relates to being a single strong leader. Is Jindal suggesting he doesn't have enough power right now? Even if he's arguing that "federalism doesn't work" without using those words: is he really suggesting that the reason the disaster response failed in various ways is that the authorities didn't have enough authority? In the immortal words of John McEnroe, "You cannot be serious!" Furthermore, if the "normal process restrictions" need to be overridden in a crisis, why do they exist at all? We're talking about FEMA, the military, National Guard, and the police here: do they really labour under reams of regulations designed for non-crisis times?

Here's the second half of the paragraph excerpted above:
But below that person, other individuals up and down the line need to know they can make obvious and sensible calls in an emergency.

I weep for the future when a guy who, by many accounts, is one of the brightest young people in politics somehow thinks that the two halves of that paragraph complement each other. Mr. Jindal, if you really want things to work better next time, use that paragraph as your guiding principle. Just delete everything before the word "individuals", and the words "up and down the line", and you've got yourself a good start. At least we won't hear about things like the Salvation Army being barred from evacuating their own care centre.

Attempt at parody falls short

Onion Headline: Officials Uncertain Whether To Save Or Shoot Victims

California paramedics:
Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, "Get off the fucking freeway". A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water.

Their account is absolutely horrifying. And anyone who thinks that governments' failures in the wake of Katrina are attributable to the incompetency of select individuals, or their bloody party affiliation, is a straight-up moron. Perry de Havilland:
We have heard accounts by authorities of crazed looters inexplicably shooting at contractors who were just trying to repair essential infrastructure. You know what? Maybe that is what happened and maybe not. I find myself thinking the official version of a great deal of what went on is far from the truth.

What? Nooo!!! Worldview...crumbling...

UPDATE: See Perry's addendum in the comments:
Oh I agree that final judgement should be reserved until we know for sure if this story is true. Moreover it may be 'true' in crude terms but a misrepresentation of why these things happened. That is why I wrote "Unless this account proves to be a hoax or a gross misrepresentation of what happened..."

It is always important to retain a critical eye.

But that said, to turn things around, please do not just assume it is not true just because it is displeasing to think public 'servants' would behave that way.

Either way I would like this story to get aired so that either it is debunked (which frankly I would prefer as I hate to think that is really what happened) or it is confirmed and some serious repercussions occur as a result.

If the people who wrote it are in fact socialists, I must say there is a certain sweet irony to it, seeing as the laudable actions and spontaneous order about which they wrote are pure non-coerced 'civil society' at work and the malevolent hand of the state is very mechanism they advocate as the solution to the world's woes.

UPDATE2: Some corroboration. (ÞFlit)

If a sparrow falls

The sentence structure is awkward as hell, but Rand Simberg's illustration here sums up my general problem with the national parties of the "right" on this continent (ÞSteyn):
...to the degree that this has been a PR disaster for the administration, it (unlike all of the other things, like Global Warming, and Racism in Amerikkka, and lousy movies out of Hollywood, and French disdain for us, and the hurricane itself) really is Bush's fault.

Why? Because he's not only done nothing to discourage the notion that the federal government should see every sparrow that falls, and immediately call in an air strike of a soft net upon which it can plummet, nurses at the ready, and grief counselors for the potentially bereaved sparrow family, even before it hits the ground, he's actively encouraged it...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Majors

Golf -- different people favour the Masters, the U.S. Open, and the British Open; as the best-slash-truest test of game, and also as the most entertaining. I say fair enough.

But tennis -- I simply cannot understand how anyone, at least in the last 15 years, could argue that any tournament other than the U.S. Open is #1, by any criteria. Wimbledon is a serving contest, the Australian is in January, and the French is played on a weird surface (have you ever done anything on clay?).

The 10 best tennis matches I've ever seen (or parts thereof) have all been part of the U.S. Open. My favorite is the '95 Final between Sampras and Agassi, but the latest addition to the list is tonight's match between Agassi and James Blake.

3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6).

It was one of those sports moments where you're not watching at first; you start clicking to it more and more frequently; and suddenly, you're captivated, and it turns out to be an enduring moment in the sport. It's happened to me maybe a dozen times; after thinking about it for awhile, it may turn out to be another post.

How stupid?


  • A must read for anyone interested in the whole disaster discussion is this Reason piece by Jesse Walker. Fantastic, and unexpectedly, uplifting.

  • Non-Katrina point: this is why I'm glad I have confidence in the Flames coach. Check out this quote from Angels superfan and blogger Rev. Halo (ÞWelch):
If you are Mike Scioscia's daughter, stay out on prom night and tell dad you were at church - tonight's game proves he is stupid enough to believe you.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Aw, come on...

I realize Larry King's program is "talk", not "news", but jeez.

I may miss it tonight, I think I'll be doing my hair:

... Posted by Picasa

I'm guessing four double paralyzers

OK, so the guys at Powerline don't get 100,000 hits a day because they're stingy with their praise for President Bush, but how many drinks did Hinderaker have at Happy Hour on Friday to get the balls to post something like this?
The City of New Orleans and its residents owe the President a profound debt of gratitude.

If possible, I think the post is even more obnoxious as a whole.

Everyone's seen this story...

...but here's the funniest take:
I'm positive that Sean Penn's heart was filled with care bears and his only desire was to help - why else would you bring your personal photographer - but since he's an idiot actor with no experience in the physical world, he was of course completely overwhelmed within seconds. It would be like if you stepped into a batting cage and I threw 10,000 balls at you all at once. And also some poisoned throwing stars and a hungry tiger. I actually did more to help than he did just by sitting here and watching the 24 marathon on A&E. At least I didn't waste a bunch of gas and food and water

"I hope that lesson is not lost on anyone.."

It's nearly impossible, and bloody infuriating, to keep a handle on the myriad government failures pertaining to Katrina. The Agitator has been trying (sample: "The federal official in charge of the bungled New Orleans rescue was fired from his last private-sector job overseeing horse shows.").

He also points to this quote at Catallarchy:
Rarely has it been so clear how much we, the ordinary people of this country, are better than our rulers. I hope that lesson is not lost on anyone, of any political persuasion. We are better than them and there is no good reason anymore – if ever there was – to keep on putting up with their lies.

Which gets me back to where I was on Friday, I suppose. I had a bit of a debate with Sacamano at this post (& in the comments) regarding whether we, as citizens, are still free to organize to help out our neighbours, distinct from whatever efforts the government is undertaking. Over the weekend, more news came out that would certainly seem to bolster my position (basically, that government management is actively excluding independent collective action). There was the news that the Red Cross was barred from New Orleans. Even more stark, this:
"We've tried desperately to rescue 250 people trapped in a Salvation Army facility. They've been trapped in there since the flood came in. Many are on dialysis machines," said Maj. George Hood, national communications secretary for the relief organization.

"Yesterday we rented big fan boats to pull them out and the National Guard would not let us enter the city," he said. The reason: a new plan to evacuate the embattled city grid by grid - and the Salvation Army's facility didn't fall in the right grid that day, Hood said in a telephone interview from Jackson, Miss.

"No, it doesn't make sense," he said.

Not so much, no. This old Reason piece by Glenn Garvin has been linked here and there: it's a debriefing of the Hurricane Andrew recovery, but also serves as a handy program to follow along with (ahead of) what's going on now:
Unbelievably, they began broadcasting appeals for everyone to stay away from the hurricane zone; disorganization, rather than hunger or thirst or illness or misery, became Public Enemy No. 1. Better that the battered residents of Florida City swelter in 95-degree heat without ice than suffer the indignity of disorganized ice.

Heaven forfend. At any rate, I'll try to make my central plea again:

Over the weeks and months ahead, we the people will be receiving various assurances that our own local, provincial/state, and federal jurisdictions are prepared to deal with disaster. There will be plans, committees, etc. to assure us that things will go as smoothly as humanly possible when the shit (or where I live, the snow) hits the fan.

It is simply not enough for us to say "Whatever", make that blah-blah motion with our hands, and go about preparing ourselves and our own families for the big one.

We need to insist that our leaders concede that they cannot be prepared for everything, and that even the best plan cannot be comprehensive. We need to insist that our leaders concede that government is but one element of the reaction, relief, and recovery required in a disaster, and correspondingly, that the citizens of our civil society will need to help each other. Above all, we need to insist that our leaders concede that government is not the solution to every problem, and that they start acknowledging that this is reality, and not a mere consequence of finite government resources.

Civil society is not some bothersome thing that gets in the way of effective government management. I'll close with Julian Sanchez:
..for pretty much everyone short of the anarchists, preventing the collapse of civilization into a huge Hobbesian clusterfuck makes the list — whether yours is short or long — of things governments are supposed to do...

Indeed. But past arresting the bad guys and other specific collapse-prevention activities, it's time to start giving we the people a lot more credit for our capacity for good.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Teachable moments indeed

Good advice/analysis from Evan Kirchhoff on Friday night. The last of the following excerpts might be controversial; I find it intuitively obvious, and probably a good topic for a future post. Anyway, One:
Your mileage may vary, but the phrase "place my life in their hands" is not the first thing I associate with "San Francisco city councillor". It probably can't be stated too often that you need more food and water in your house than you likely have right now.

Two:
I believe, to the same degree that I did last week, that it's mostly a good thing that the President can't immediately and unilaterally pour large numbers of machine-gun-toting troops into the center of my city. I would think that people who attribute actual malice to the federal government, as opposed to just stock levels of institutional semi-competence, would be a whole lot less willing than I am to argue for such powers.

and Three:
I also hope this disaster has underlined the importance of private vehicle ownership; even a bicycle seems like it would be infinitely better than nothing. I support public transportation as a subsidy to people who can't drive for economic or physical reasons, and as a necessary method of getting an extra million daily office workers into the cores of the old, dense cities I prefer to live in for aesthetic reasons. But the notion that a middle-class person riding a bus or train embodies some additional civic virtue -- that we should, as this city's government keeps suggesting, actually close some downtown streets and impose London-style tolls and eliminate parkades to reduce the number of cars in the city, making tens of thousands of additional people into de facto wards of the state -- embodies an appalling contempt for individual lives.

To channel the Instapundit: "Balance is required, but let's hope this point is noted in the weeks and months ahead."

Friday, September 02, 2005

"It will take a miracle"

Bruce Gottfred has noted a grim assessment of the mid- and long-term outlook for New Orleans. Oh, boy:
...to anticipate what the city must go through now, after damming up its broken levees and pumping the floodwaters back into Lake Pontchartrain, is heartbreaking.

If you don't find it heartbreaking, I suppose one thing you could do is use the occasion, for the 450th time, to remind people that you have no sympathy for the poor. Hey, we all have our cherished concepts that we like to beat like a cheap drum at possibly insensitive times - see below. But the forceful lack of compassion demonstrated here is, to me, astonishing:
The National Guard didn't react quickly enough? Gee, I dunno, I guess most of us figured that normal people could control their impulses adequately, could do simple things like stay calm, line up and so forth, until help arrived. Maybe they'd, oh, I dunno, help each other as best they could.

What the fuck does she think normal people were doing? I've watched a fair bit of coverage, and I've seen pictures of a few hundred people looting, and tens of thousands hiding from the sun on sidewalks and highways.

Shaidle seems to believe that people getting off the bus at the Astrodome, after living through several days of violent disorder amongst human waste, should be saying something like, "I feel guilty that I didn't leave before the storm, I apologize to y'all for putting you through this trouble, thank you." Oh, and that these people are who she'd see in 10-second clips on CNN.

If Kathy Shaidle doesn't like being accused of racism, my suggestion is to be a lot more careful about the behaviour and attitudes she's attributing without cause to the "normal people" being evacuated from New Orleans. It's also baffling that she would go on a rant like this, at a time like this, when anyone with an ounce of human relations sense could tell you that, like yelling at a waitress, it reflects more on the ranter than the subject. Just keepin' it real, I guess.

Disaster and response

Bruce Ralston has posted a characteristically intelligent and bloodless look at two basic magnitudes of disasters, and the requirements, if possible, for response:
In the model I'm stipulating, first-order disasters, for the majority of those affected, are basically about the disruption of essential services: food, water, power. Examples would be the Canadian ice storm of 1999, or the major power outage of two years ago. These rarely seem to result, in Western countries, in extensive vandalism or the loss of social order.

Second-order disasters, as we're seeing in New Orleans, see the outright and rapid destruction of vast swathes of personal property and capital, with the resulting side effects of wage loss, personal mobility, etc: the main natural causes of these today are hurricanes, seismic/volcanic activity, or riverine flooding. If this kind of disaster affects the greater part of an urban area, it seems very difficult for even a fully Western society to keep order for long with local resources.

Interesting stuff, read it all. I think that his model should probably have three orders, though, simply because the other Gulfcoast areas affected clearly qualify as a 2nd-order disaster by his definition, and New Orleans is another problem altogether (at least when you're talking about loss of order). That may be attributable, at least partly, to all sorts of things, including the pre-existing order in New Orleans. However, it would also seem that "flood that doesn't recede all the way" is a special kind of disaster, with specific challenges that aren't scaleable from "smaller" disasters.

Wow

I honestly don't know what to make of this:
CNN's Barbara Starr, who is traveling with the three-star general, said Honore is "very determined to keep this looking like a humanitarian relief operation."

"A few moments ago, he stopped a truck full of National Guard troops ... and said, 'Point your weapons down, this is not Iraq,'" Starr reported.

From the exact same story:
One New Orleans police sergeant compared the situation to Somalia and said officers were outnumbered and outgunned by gangs in trucks.

"It's a war zone, and they're not treating it like one," he said, referring to the federal government.

Obviously, I hope it's the general who has it right.

Same as it ever was

Paste this bit from Jay Jardine on your fridge, since you're unlikely to hear it from anyone in authority as of, now-ish:
Count On The System To Fail

Always seemed a pretty good operational assumption to me -- now confirmed by the post-Katrina horrors.

I don't know how exactly that will improve my survival response when The Big One shakes the Lower Mainland to pieces one day, but this much is clear: no government, army or police force-- no matter how well funded or adequately stuffed with bureaubots these things are -- have any magical powers to bail your ass out when things really take a turn for the worse.

It's up to you -- same as it ever was.

I'd say this is half of the lesson of post-Katrina New Orleans. The other half is that citizens can not allow our governments to claim that this isn't true. The solution is not better and more expensive planning, ceding more responsibility to the powers-that-be to deal to protect us from every possible horror. We need to insist on more freedom, both as individuals and in voluntary associations, to protect ourselves and rescue our neighbours when the worst happens.

On a related note (and this may be a classic test for confirmation bias): Toronto Mayor David Miller mused a couple of weeks ago that law-abiding gun owners should be forced to store their firearms in a central depot. I wonder if Torontonians are more, or less, enthusiastic about this idea after watching TV the past few days?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Markets in everything?

From CNN.com:
Government officials insisted they were putting forth their best efforts and pleaded for patience, saying further help was on the way.

I swear that this is a desperate suggestion, not an attempt to make a political point, but:

The government's best efforts, to this point, are not getting New Orleans evacuated. What if W, or the governor, got on TV and and announced that anyone with available, ventilated transportation would be paid $500 for every person they evacuated from the city? Pick 3 checkpoints 20 or 40 miles outside the city, and let the charities or whoever take over from there.

I suspect there would be trucking companies cutting windows in their trailers with axes toute suite and hiring people to ride shotgun, in the original literal sense. I also suspect there would be fraud, abuse, and other horrible unintended consequences, including some people being shot indiscriminately. But weighed against the status quo, which appears to be thousands of people starving, dehydrating, and dying in the streets of New Orleans while patience is requested, I think the "lack of organization" inherent in such a plan doesn't look so bad. If there's going to be anarchy, let's have lives saved, instead of lost, as a consequence.

"a city that, for all relevant purposes, is now gone"

An hour ago I was planning on posting something about the recovery & reconstruction of New Orleans, and how the logistical challenges will probably be better compared with railroad and canal construction than (say) the Hurricane Andrew cleanup.

Then I turned on CNN for half an hour, and it's pretty clear that at the moment, those challenges are minor and/or irrelevant compared to the logistical challenge of what amounts to a massive refugee crisis on our own continent.

I'll be fascinated to see how New Orleans is drained and decontaminated, and also how America will absorb roughly a million people of wildly varying needs (and employability). But at the moment, I'm really just hoping those babies get some milk.

You can donate to the Canadian Red Cross here; my family certainly will be.