Friday, September 02, 2005

The Interdictor walked right out of an early Neal Stephenson novel, into a data center in a building in the Central Business District of New Orleans, which, for the past week, he's been running as a military camp, while setting up a webcam and reporting on the devolution of the city around him into chaos. Earlier in the week, I was one of the people wondering if there wasn't some kind of psychotic aspect to the "Mad Max beyond Superdome" tone of his reportage, but it seems he was just a day or so ahead of the major media in reporting the chaos --- and, in particular, the predatory armed bands which have since been widely reported to be hindering rescue operations and preying on the weak. For that reason, I'm less critical than a lot of lefty bloggers about the diversion of the city police from rescue work to anti-looting. If it were just looting we were talking about, that would be wholly inappropriate. But if rescue workers are being fired on, that must be dealt with.

And that will be the last kind thing I have to say about government management of this situation. I got some momentary amusement from watching Ted Koppel fillet the politically connected estate lawyer that Dubya installed as the head of FEMA, but it did nothing for the sick feeling in my gut.

They couldn't figure out how many beds fit in the Astrodome?!?! That's grade school math.

I trust no one needs me for a list of ways to contribute. But there is one which deserves a little more publicity. Given the lack of shelter capacity, has set up a web site for people with spare space to volunteer for putting up refugees. As I write, they're advertising more than 20,000 beds volunteered, about the same as the advertised capacity of the Astrodome --- but more than double the number of people that actually fit.

More: They privatized disaster relief. And the company they hired has responded so far by taking the press release off their web site.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Quote of the day:

"I don't want to alarm anyone that New Orleans is filling up like a bowl," Michael Brown, FEMA's director, said. "That isn't happening."

According to all other sources, that is what happening, and if it doesn't stop, then the water level in the city will rise until it becomes the southernmost lakebed of Lake Pontchartrain. But I'm sure he doesn't want to alarm people. One out of two ain't bad, right?

It looks like the Republicans have finally figured out what they mean when they say they've got ethical standards that won't let them get caught countenancing criminal activity in government.

Most of my readers will know by now about the Republican governor of Kentucky granting amnesty to essentially everyone in his own administration who was being investigated in a corruption probe. What's getting less attention is the case of Bunnatine Greenhouse, the Pentagon auditor who blew the whistle on sweetheart Iraq-war deals with Halliburton and has finally been canned because of it.

Odd that the Republicans in Ohio don't know how to handle things.

via King of Zembla.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Portrait of a disaster in progress:

Tuesday, 8:05 a.m.

"The water continues to rise," according to Walter Maestri, director of emergency management for Jefferson Parish.

Maestri told WWL-Radio that parish officials have given engineers the next "three to four hours" to determine the cause of rising water.

Maestri did not specify where water continued to rise.

Asked if it is possible that he and parish consultants will not be able to figure out the cause of the continued flooding, Maestri replied, "Absolutely."

The trend in the '90s, under Clinton, was towards removal of the burdensome regulations on the financial industry which were a legacy of the Great Depression, thus allowing the industry to be more efficient. And things are presumably even more efficient than that in the rarefied air of the hedge fund sector, in which rich people hand their money over to managers who handle it with little or no regulation at all.

In that arena, investors have complete freedom to make their own choices, without any nanny state regulators to interfere. After all, they're investing their own funds, and of course they'll do so with care. What are the odds that they'd give that money to managers whose fund would go bad, or disappear, or fall off the face of the earth?

People frequently complain that Fox News is unbalanced. Like the freeper who complained this weekend that:

Coverage on Fox of [the "anti-protests" against Camp Casey] has been no different than would have been spun by Dan Rather or Peter Jennings (RIP). It seems that now that Fox has reached the top, it has become complacent in the MSM hierarchy, and is jettisoning the strategy that got it there. ...

Skipping over his specific complaints (like the description of the pro-Bush "protestors" as pro-Bush), we come to this stirring call to action:

Now this is important! We as Conservatives have come to depend on FoxNews as a source to provide balanced reporting. This is simply no longer the case! We need to stop indiscriminately watching Fox, and recommending Fox, and we need to let Fox's sponsors know that they are losing their audience. The same unbalanced market conditions that enabled the rise of FoxNews are resurfacing!

Yes, these folks will find liberal bias in anything, no matter how slanted towards their position already. Which means that you can't defend, say, an article on "Intelligent Design" by saying that the moonbats are still complaining it should have been nicer to them. They'll always say that. It's their job.

Monday, August 29, 2005

A complete post, hopefully not the last, from the livejournal of someone trying to ride out the storm in New Orleans:

building next door collapsed. this may go soon wall missing big cracks. fun trip love you

No car, and by the time she tried to make arrangements to leave, everything was closed.

And now... There are things technology can help with. There are things that it can't. And the storm has just started to go through...

Update: Most recent comments on the post indicate that she got out. Whew. But one of the critical levees keeping water out of the sub-sea-level city has failed; things could still get a whole lot worse.


Sunday, August 28, 2005

Some readers may wonder, from time to time, what the author of this blog is like in real life. I see, via BoingBoing, that someone has published a series of illustrative vignettes...
A word on Hurricane Katrina: uh-oh.

I sincerely hope we'll see no phony schadenfreude from folks on the left about this. To anyone tempted: not that it should matter, but New Orleans voted for Kerry...

Every so often, someone suggests on the net that our Iraq adventure is starting to turn out like Vietnam. They cite the persistent guerilla warfare, the propped-up local government with violent internal opposition, the evanescence of the battle lines, and so forth. But this kind of defeatist thinking obscures the many, many ways in which the two conflicts are different. As Larry Johnson points out:

... today the United States military cannot keep a six mile stretch of highway open that runs from downtown Baghdad to the International Airport. U.S. diplomatic personnel and many key Iraqi Government officials live inside a security ghetto known euphemistically as the Green Zone. Even during the bleakest days of the war in South Vietnam, U.S. diplomats and soldiers could travel freely around Saigon without fear of being killed in bomb blast or kidnapped. We don't have that luxury in Baghdad.

See? Not the same at all.

via Billmon.

Last week, the New York Times published a page 1 article by Kenneth Chang on the creationists' latest antiscientific propaganda campaign, the "Intelligent Design" movement. The article was criticized all over the web for letting the creationists ramble on at length before offering any refutation, and generally putting their hackwork and propaganda on a equal footing with over a century's worth of scientific investigation.

It's been asked whether the Times would give the same treatment to other false controversies --- whether a holocaust denier, say, would get similarly reverential treatment. And here in my very own comment section, is the answer, posted by someone who identifies himself as, well, Kenneth Chang, which I'll reproduce here with emphasis added on a few key points:

The reason we're writing about I.D. is because they have already managed to get onto the national stage and influence education policy around the country, and if you're writing about it, you have to explain what it is. Similarly, if there were a holocaust denier who was, say, running for mayor, then yes, we would write an article describing his (or her) views followed by the appropriate denunciations and perhaps a clarifying passage indicating there is no historical dispute that the Holocaust occurred. It would have a similar back-and-forth structure, and no one would come away with the impression that the Times approved of holocaust denying simply because that view was presented first. Rather, I would expect that most people would appreciate that these views had been exposed and they could easily judge for themselves how offensive they were.

Note the subtle shifting of the goalposts here. The Times has not been accused of approving of "intelligent design"; it has been accused of presenting the debate as legitimate when, in fact, it is not. If you're writing about I.D., you have to explain what it is, but you don't have to devote half your article to a respectful rehash of their idiotic non-arguments. (Though I'm not sure Chang's article actually did say in plain English what "Intelligent Design" really, objectively is: charlatans trying to get religious teaching into the classroom by dressing it up as science, while ignoring all standards for scientific evidence and review. For the most part, it treats them as if they were real scientists with an unorthodox theory. And if you think it's inconceivable for the Times to use language that strong in cases where it demonstrably fits, I invite you to review the Times's coverage of David Duke's run for governor of Louisiana -- like the Nov. 10th, 1991 page 1 piece headlined "Duke: the ex-Nazi who would be governor").

But, never mind that. Let's just think about that holocaust denial article for a minute, written in the same "back and forth" style as Chang's "intelligent design" piece, and see how we'd all like it. Starting at the top, Chang's article begins by explaining, at length, the argument of "leading design theorist" Michael Behe that the complex of proteins involved in blood clots could not have evolved. Which drove P.Z. Myers to ask

When Behe says, "if any one of the more than 20 proteins involved in blood clotting is missing or deficient ... clots will not form properly", why not point out right there, in that paragraph, that [Prof. Russell] Doolittle says that "scientists had predicted that more primitive animals such as fish would be missing certain blood-clotting proteins", and that Behe was shown to be wrong?

Instead, the fourth through seventh paragraphs of the Times article --- all on the front page, in my library's printed edition --- have Behe's argument, and Doolittle's refutation doesn't start till the fifteenth, for which the reader must turn to page 10. People who read only the grafs on page 1, of whom there are many, could easily be left with the impression that science had no specific refutation of Behe.

A similar treatment of a Holocaust denier would give a respectful restatement of his views, then go on for several more paragraphs to say, in general terms, that Jews find these sorts of views objectionable, before finally explaining, starting in the fifteenth graf, that we have pictures of mass graves and death camps, or that the once vibrant Jewish communities of Germany and Poland had essentially vanished after the war. It would put the denier on page 1 (along with a few statements of general distaste for his position), and leave a presentation of the evidence against him, for "balance", along with plenty more "evidence" in favor, for the inside pages.

Who could have a problem with that? After all, a similarly "balanced" treatment of Iraq WMD skeptics in the IAEA and foreign governments before our invasion, or of the people within our own military raising doubts about the administration's "cakewalk" postwar scenarios, would have been a marked improvement over what we actually got.

Looking over that last paragraph, I can imagine someone from the Times asking whether I want them to be more balanced or less. So to put my position in slightly plainer English: In each case here, the Times made a judgment about which views to present, and at what length. In each case, the friends of the present administration got more credit and respect than they deserved, and in each case, their opponents got less. That's the same bias both times, even if the result in one case was a piece which, measured crudely by word count, might appear superficially "balanced". The Times's coverage of the Duke campaign was largely free of this phony "balance", and better journalism for it.