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September 2005

Fire Planning and Mapping Tools

Firetools2_1For those wondering if there were good mapping tools for finding out about the California fires currently blazing, the California Fire Alliance and the US Geological Survey has come through for you:

Fire Planning and Mapping Tools

The main purpose of the Fire Planning and Mapping Tools Viewer is a user friendly web site in which a person can create a map of an area, print, and download data to the User's personal computer to use with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software.

Diane Duane, who sent me the link suggests Google Earth folks take a look. This certainly looks like something that could be usefully combined with existing satellite and aerial images.

You run the viewer and then click on Topanga and zoom in.  Maybe somebody more techie-savvy than I can find a way to correlate / interrelate this with Google Earth.

ALSO, Flickr user justinm has some frightening photos of what's going on in the Topanga area.

(See also rusworks' photos and edhiker's photos.)

Another possible way of integrating fire info would be the Google Maps hack John Brownlow has a Community Walk screenshot up on Flickr, of a spot in Toronto. He writes:

This is a terrifically clever little site which allows you to link Google maps to Flickr (or indeed any photo host that allows you to address images from external sites). The scripts currently crash Safari (although the latest version seems to have less problems). The developer tells me that much tighter integration with Flickr is just around the corner. I love this. Check out the StreetPhoto page.

WARNING: Community Walk crashes Safari.

Origami Tessellations

Playing with tags on Flickr, I discovered an account full of origami tessellations.

Apparently, this is a subgenre of origami I was previously unaware of.  If I was better at folding paper, I might be tempted to try this. (OK, I'll admit it: Even though I'm sure that I won't be very good at it, this is tempting enough that I suspect that I am going to try it even though mine may not come out exactly tessellated.)

And here's another nice Flickr origami photo set, this one with a very different aesthetic:



In this household, we are big giant squid  fans. I recall walking through the Smithsonian with my small son, looking for the giant squid, chanting GI ANT SQUID! GI ANT SQUID!

I was going to blog the amazing live giant squid pix this morning, but it took me while to get over the fact that the First Contact resulted in them accidentally pulling one of its legs off. In science fiction at least, pulling off a leg during first contact is very Bad Form.

Be that as it may, here's a nice batch of squid photos:


I hope that deep down in Squidland, they aren't plotting retribution for out diplomatic error. Meanwhile, can we dispatch these guys to look for the thylacine?

Weird Westchester County Conservative Political Intrigue

Ever since I registered to vote in Westchester, I've always thought it sort of quaint that in nearly every election, a Right to Life party candidate appears along side the candidates from other parties. Since candidates can appear on more than one party line, usually the RTL candidate is the same person as the Republican candidate, but not always. In this household, where the other voter is a registered Republican, that line comes in handy. If a candidate appears on the RTL line, that candidate is presumed to have other bad ideas as well.

So I tend to view the RTL endorsement as something that loses local Republican candidates votes.  Apparently, Republican candidate for District Attorney, Janet DiFiore, feels differently. From the New York Times: Candidate Says He Was Offered a Quid Pro Quo to Exit the Race

WHITE PLAINS, Sept. 26 - A third-party candidate in the race for Westchester district attorney said on Monday that he had been approached by a person with ties to the Republican candidate, Janet DiFiore, and asked to bow out of the race in exchange for a job in Mrs. DiFiore's office, should she win.

The candidate, Anthony J. DeCintio, Jr., said the offer to drop out of the race had come late last month during a phone conversation with a friend who was calling on behalf of Mrs. DiFiore's husband, Dennis Glazer. Mr. Glazer, a lawyer in New York City, had been concerned that Mr. DeCintio would cost his wife crucial votes in November.

Mr. DeCintio is running on the Right to Life ticket, which is expected to attract a small percentage of Westchester County voters who might otherwise support Mrs. DiFiore.

Mr. DeCintio, a malpractice lawyer who lives in Tuckahoe, said he declined what he believed to be an offer of a bribe and then reported the phone call to an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"I was stunned," he said. "This was on the last day that I could have withdrawn my name from the ballot, and they basically called me up and said it was a close election, and that I'd have a free hand in the district attorney's office if I backed out."

Weird weird weird. 

The War on Weather

MilitarydisasterBack on September 6th, the new War on Weather was a Tom Tomorrow political cartoon. [If that link doesn't work, try this one.]  But the Bush administration is running a little low on ideas, so they are turning to some unusual sources. For example, the other day Bush's speech writers cribbed from a Naomi Klein Op-Ed piece for Bush's weekly radio address. If you read the Klein piece, the policies described in this passage from Bush's speech sound like they are paraphrased from Klein:

. . . the vision of a revitalized New Orleans should come from the people of New Orleans, and the vision of a new Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama should come from the people of those states. We will do everything we can to guide the recovery effort, and help them realize their vision so that communities along the Gulf Coast are better and stronger than before the storm.

Surely, he doesn't mean what she meant about letting the people rebuild New Orleans, but it sure sounds good, doesn't it?

But when White House strategists dipped into the Tom Tomorrow brain trust, the failed to notice that the War on Weather was supposed to be a joke.

But not only that, this borrowing of ideas from the left (serious or not) seems to be getting the President in hot water with conservatives. It seems that what he is proposing violates the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 which prohibits the military from acting as a police force within the United States borders. Congress made an exception to the Act to allow for the use of the military in the "war on drugs" (see why they called it that?). And since 9/11, the White House has been angling for a loosening of the acts restrictions (and that's why they called efforts to prevent terrorism "the war on terror").  This is from yesterday's CNN article:

Gene Healy, a senior editor at the conservative Cato Institute, said Bush risks undermining "a fundamental principle of American law" by tinkering with the Posse Comitatus Act.

Healy said the act does not hinder the military's ability to respond to a crisis.

"What it does is set a high bar for the use of federal troops in a policing role," he wrote in a commentary on the group's Web site. "That reflects America's traditional distrust of using standing armies to enforce order at home, a distrust that's well-justified."

Healy said soldiers are not trained as police officers, and putting them in a civilian law enforcement role "can result in serious collateral damage to American life and liberty."

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, told The Associated Press he would not favor expanding the federal government's disaster response role.

"I don't want the federal government to take over disaster response, believe me," DeLay told the AP. "Why? Bureaucracy. Bureaucracy. Bureaucracy."

I have a hard time understanding what it is that the Republican party still stands for if it is quite this easy for the Bush administration to discuss circumventing governors entirely and sending in the marines in the event of an "emergency." How elastic a definition can "emergency" have? When did states rights pass so thoroughly from the agenda?


High Country Conservative remarks:

I wonder whatever become of the concept of Federalism, once a major component of the Republican agenda. It seems that more and more agencies and government actions are being put under federal control. This, of course, give much more power to Washington, and vastly decreases the rights of the states.

Is this a conscious abandonment of the principle of federalism? Or is this whole line of thought just desperate ass-covering by an administration in freefall, indicative only of the ferocity of attempts to deflect blame to the locals?

(Anyone notice the extent to which the act was violated during the response to Katrina? Wasn't the whole rhetoric about sending in the military primarily concerned with restoring law and order? Certainly, having the military go in to replace the Fish & Wildlife Service, who had been defacto first responders in some areas rescuing people from their roofs, was an improvement. But to what extent were military forces acting as rescue workers, and to what extent as policemen? To hear the conservative bloggers tell it, policing the place was their main reason for being there. But I was paying more attention to what Blackwater was up to than the regular military, so I'm not sure what the real story is on the Posse Comitatus Act and New Orleans.)

Don_quichotte_1Or is it some kind of power fantasy? The whole notion of domestic militarization on this scale is hard to take seriously as policy. The 9/11 timelines, as concern Donald Rumsfeld, do not suggest that he would have reacted a lot faster than the slow-poke in charge of Homeland Security if faced with the Katrina disaster. Nor do Rumsfeld's failures to meet US goals (capturing Bin Laden? flowering democracies) in Afghanistan and Iraq make for a promising disaster management resume. But it is an idea with tremendous virility!

Just imagine the grand War on Weather. Donald astride his horse, in full military splendor, tilting at hurricanes.

UPDATE 9/28: After perusing posts using the word "Federalism" on Technorati, I am amused to report that the wingnut spin-of-the-day is that Democrats and Liberals are to blame for Bush's proposed attack on states' rights because we made him feel bad by suggesting that he take blame.

MEANWHILE, Karl Rove, busy creating his own more palatable reality, warns against "complacency."

UPDATE 9/30: Jeb Bush, writing in the Washington Post,  comes out against federalizing (i. e.  militarizing) disaster response. Perhaps that is the end of that.

NOAA's First Rita Photos Out, Plus GoogleEarth Overlay from Carnegie Mellon

NoaaritaGlobal ConnectionThe NOAA's first post-Rita photos are up:

NOAA today posted online more than 1,100 aerial images of the U.S. Gulf Coast areas in the path of Hurricane Rita. The regions photographed on Sunday covered the coastal regions of Louisiana and Texas. The aerial photography missions were conducted by the NOAA Remote Sensing Division the day after the center of Rita made landfall at approximately 3:30 a.m. EDT on the extreme southwest coast of Louisiana between Sabine Pass, Texas, and Johnson's Bayou in Louisiana.

And Carnegie Mellon has processed them as a GoogleEarth Overlay. (For more info on how to use it, see Brent's Computer Tutorials.)

Note that the photos cover only the coastal areas of the area hardest hit.

Now, can GoogleMaps please acquire some better satellite photos of the rural coastal areas as a basis of comparison? Surely, Digital Globe has some on hand? And something more recent than the late 90s? VirtualEarth seems to have some USGS black and white images of the coastal areas that are a bit better.

(Thanks, Anne Wright of the NASA Ames Research Center.)

PS: Just so you know, so far, this is a harder problem than doing house-by-house phtographic damage assessment on NOLA. If you are trying to do this and getting frustrated, ask for help and we'll see what we can do. But this is not a solved problem yet.


  1. Brent has just finihed his how-to guide on using GoogleEarth to assess damage from Rita.
  2. Anne Wright of the Global Connection Project NASA Ames Research Center says:

Updated NOAA Rita overlays for Google Earth are now available from Images courtesy of NOAA.

This revision includes approx 2,100 NOAA images from 9/25 - 9/26, and includes links to full resolution 4k x 4k overlays, as well as subsampled overlays which may load more quickly.  The new data covers more inland areas around Port Arthur and Orange.

UPDATE 9/30: VirtualEarth now has a Rita site up.

Rita Satellite & Aerial Surveys?

Cameron_la_1[UPDATE: See NOAA's First Rita Photos Out, Plus GoogleEarth Overlay from Carnegie Mellon.]

Anyone know when and whether there will be coherent aerial and satellite images of areas hit by Rita? People have been asking me how they can check on houses damaged by Rita, but it seems we don't have a ready source of pictures yet. I've been checking NOAA, Digital Globe, VirtualEarth, etc. and haven't seen anything yet. Digital Globe's site has a message that suggests there are going to be photos, though they don't say when or what areas they'll cover.

DigitalGlobe is working hard to prepare for the landfall of Hurricane Rita, and will make every effort to maximize the collection of QuickBird Satellite Imagery over the impacted areas.

(Image of Cameron, LA from AP via CNN.)


The Flensing of the Aid Packages


First, read this story from The New York Times:
Many Contracts for Storm Work Raise Questions

More than 80 percent of the $1.5 billion in contracts signed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency alone were awarded without bidding or with limited competition, government records show, provoking concerns among auditors and government officials about the potential for favoritism or abuse.

Already, questions have been raised about the political connections of two major contractors - the Shaw Group and Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton - that have been represented by the lobbyist Joe M. Allbaugh, President Bush's former campaign manager and a former leader of FEMA.

OK. Pleanty of potential for corporate profiteering. But you knew that already, right?

NOW go read Josh Marshall on how choice cuts of the proceeds will end up feeding the hungry political machine.

Continue reading "The Flensing of the Aid Packages" »

"many calls and pleas were made by the elderly woman, a deputy came to her house and promised they would be evacuated only to be left behind"

I should say before I begin, that I have a hard time understanding how this could happen. The story I'm about to relate seems to me more appropriate to old Pompeii than 21st century New Orleans. And before we let certain politicians get too cozy in their new-found ability to actually respond to emergencies, we should realize that not all of the New Orleans bodies have yet been recovered.

Earlier this afternoon, I was informed by a man with whom I had corresponded about the depth and time of the flooding that his relatives' bodies had been discovered Friday by the husband of one of the parish officials who took it upon himself to go see whether these people were still in their houses. I feel a personal responsibility to those to whom I've tried to offer direct help, so I find this news hard to take.

2625rosettadrchalmettedr2I looked into the story a bit, and it is extremely sad, and their deaths were truly unnecessary. The dead are Dorothy Hingle, age 83, and her son Russell Embry, a quadriplegic, bedridden man, age 54. (The image to the left is a NOAA aerial photo of their house at 2625 Rosetta Drive; the black arrow is approximately in the back yard.)

Here is an account from a missing persons report written by a relative:

He is a quadriplegic and lives with his mother. They were supposed to be evacuated to a medical facility. Someone last talked to his mother Dorothy Hingle Monday morning and they were still at home. Please contact Margaret at [email address] with any information.

Here is another, dated August 31st:

Subject: Dorothy Hingle age 83, Russell Embry, 55 quadriplegic    

Abandoned at time of rescue. Has been on the list of evacuees for several years. They were told they would be rescued by offical rescue operations. All procedures were followed, many calls and pleas were made by the elderly woman, a deputy came to her house and promised they would be evacuated only to be left behind.

What a tragic thing to allow two helpless individuals to experience. Only by the grace of God will they survive. Shame on all responsible for neither evacuating nor having the respect to inform them that other means of rescue would be necessary.

HingleSo finally, Friday, September 23rd, the family is informed that the bodies have been discovered at home. Dorothy Hingle was found with her arms around her son in their home on Rosetta Street in Chalmette.

How could this happen? It was so unecessary. These people didn't have to die. Why did they die? The family deserves to know what went wrong. Why weren't they evacuated? Why did it take weeks for anyone to go to the house and check despite the family's continual pleas?

I just don't understand.

Can people still react to this, or are we already too desensitized by wanting that chapter of our history to be over? And can't we of the twenty-first century get past the desenisitization of so much death?

UPDATE 9/30: See also, Michael Bérubé's post Disability and Disasters.

Foster & Shell Drive in Lake Charles, LA

Foster & Shell Drive in Lake Charles, LA, before and after Rita. The before image is from Google Maps (presumably a Digital Globe image). The after photo is from the LA Times.


. . . and after:


This doesn't look so bad, but the LA Times caption reads,

Police officers navigate through fallen trees and street signs along Shell Beach Drive in Lake Charles, La., where Hurricane Rita caused a storm surge of about 20 feet.

I'm just amazed at what people will put up on the web

Xeni Jardin directs our attention to the amateur music videos available through Google Video.

So I watched a little of the Awesomely bad teen home-music-video, and then I typed in something I thought was pretty innocuous, "frog," wondering if other people have as much footage of their little boys catching frogs as I do. And I found this gem among the top hits: Frog Heart Beating.

It really is a video clip of the beating heart in a partially dissected frog. I suppose it's very educational, but sometimes I'm just amazed at what people will put up on the web.

(I really like frogs and, while I understand that dissecting them serves an educational purpose, I would prefer that frogs remain undissected.)

Port Arthur Area This Morning

Poking around on this morning, I happened across the impressive animation of the total precipitation accumulation for Rita so far. judging from the rapidly changing graphic, it looks like some places are getting rain at a rate of five and six and even eight inches an hour (over the course of the 20 min window I watched) as the hurricane moves in. Here's a screenshot:


And here's a rather disconcerting press photo of the Port Arthur evacuation from last night:


MEANWHILE, here's a guy I'm really glad never showed up in my comments sections.

9/23 Industrial Canal Breach and Possible Others.



Caption reads Water flows through a breach in the repaired Inner Harbor Canal toward the Ninth Ward District Friday in New Orleans.

Anyone got a longitude and latitude on this? (KC approximation: Lat 29.978333240947077, Lon -90.02085221140939.) Anyone want to send me the image on a Google Earth satellite image? Or do some complicated thing like place it on the Katrina image and that on a pre-hurricane season satellite picture?

I think the breach is in the general area of the Florida Avenue Bridge and Surkote Road, as shown below. Can anyone confirm? Here's a closer shot from a screengrab from CNN streaming video:


Leveen clearly broken. The CNN reporter also mentioned another broken levee in the Chantilly (he pronounced it something like Chintilly?) Gentilly area. There are other reports of multiple breaches, but none I can find that name locations.  Here's another view of the same breach.


Above is the Google Maps satellite image of the area before the hurricanes. Below is the Digital Globe August 31st, 10AM image showing one the Industrial Canal breaches. (The bigger one is further south.) I can't tell if the new breach is in the same spot as in the 8/31 image, butit looks to me like it's not.


The New York Times provides the best explanation I've seen so far of multiple breaches, but so far all the images I've seen are of the same one. (We don't have TV reception, so I'm not watching TV.)

One break in the levee was in the lower Ninth Ward, on the east side of the canal. The storm sent e water rising so quickly that it had reached windows of houses up to three blocks east of the levee by late morning. Dozens of blocks in New Orleans's Ninth Ward were under water.

Later today, another break was found in the Upper Ninth Ward, on the west side of the levee.

Here's another shot of that breach found on the LA Times site:


ScreensnapzI'm not sure if this next photo (found on the CNN site at 6AM 9/24) is a breach or just overtopping, but it is clearly not the same spot.

UPDATE 9/24, 7:46PM: I see the Washington Post has another view of the same breach, described in the caption as a 30-yard breach on the east side of the Lower Ninth Ward:


Continue reading "9/23 Industrial Canal Breach and Possible Others." »

Hillary Comes Out Against Roberts!

I wrote to my senators a wile back asking them to oppose John Roberts' nomination to the supreme cout.  I just got email from Hillary Clinton:

Because you have shared with me your concerns regarding the nomination of Judge John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the United States, I am sending to you in its entirety my statement announcing my decision to vote against his confirmation.  I hope that you will read the statement with the same care and thoughtfulness that I gave to this decision.  My statement follows.

Her statement appears below. Sen. Schumer had already opposed the nomination in the judiciary committee.

Continue reading "Hillary Comes Out Against Roberts!" »

The Department of Hassling Airline Passengers

Rita hasn't even arrived yet, and vast gaping holes already appear in the Homeland Security Infrastructure for Texas. From the NYT:

Heeding days of dire warnings about Hurricane Rita, as many as 2.5 million people jammed evacuation routes on Thursday, creating colossal 100-mile-long traffic jams that left many people stranded and out of gas as the huge storm bore down on the Texas coast.

Acknowledging that "being on the highway is a deathtrap," Mayor Bill White asked for military help in rushing scarce fuel to stranded drivers.

Mr. White and the top official in Harris County, Judge Robert Eckels, admitted that their plans had not anticipated the volume of traffic. They maintained that they had not urged such a widespread evacuation, although only a day earlier they invoked the specter of Hurricane Katrina, and told residents that the "time for waiting was over."

Officials also made matters worse for themselves by announcing at one point that they would use inbound lanes on one highway to ease the outbound crush, only to abort the plan later, saying it was impractical.

Nobody can tell me they "no one anticipated" that you can't evacuate a large urban area this way. In Westchester County, where I live, exactly this kind of scenario is the primary argument for shutting down the Indian Point Nuclear Power plant: that in the event of an evacuation, the roads would get clogged.

Yes, sure, the local officials calling the shots aren't rocket scientists. But which regions have local officials who are? But Homeland Security is supposed to have been providing all kinds of support to raise their collective IQ on matters like this.

Can we please rename the the Department of Homeland Security the Department of Hassling Airline Passengers, downsizing it to its core competency, and fire Michael Chertoff and retroactively Fire Tom Ridge?

UPDATE: Here's a really grim evacuation story, also from the NYT.

A FURTHER NOTE: A reader in Fort Worth, TX writes, In Texas, we call the  photo ops "all Hat (Meaning Cowboy Hat) and No Cattle."

Relatives in Houston

Grandma_bond_houseMy closest relatives in the Houston area, my aunt and my grandmother, decline to evacuate. My grandmother was born in Galveston on Christmas Day in 1910, ten years after the big Galveston hurricane, and now lives in Splendora, north of Houston. I suppose can be expected to familiar with the effects of hurricanes. (Photo via Google Earth from my parents.)

My aunt lives in Houston itself.

UPDATE, 9/23: My sister, who just called to tell me that New Orleans was in trouble from the Rita storm surge, tells me the following sad story.

My grandmother had an older sister who is buried in Galveston, an indirect casualty of the Galveston hurricane and the one following in 1915 (a Category 4). The family, originally from Kuopio, Finland, came to Galveston to aid in post-hurricane reconstruction. My great grandfather was (I think) a stone mason. My grandmother's sister, Lila Miettinen born in about 1913 in Galveston, TX, and died in about 1915  in Galveston, TX at age 2, is said to have drank kerosene and died. (as the mother of a two-year-old I find this story hard to take.)

G17713ff938A hurricane hit Galveston August 16-17th, 1915 and wiped out their house, a modest house in the neighborhood where workmen lived. When the family was living in emergency housing Lila got into the kerosene. She died in John Sealy Hospital six weeks later.

She was buried in Galveston, but the grave is 30 ft. down because the height of the land was later raised in preparation for future hurricanes or perhaps for a road.

Also, went I was lazily looking for my own blog post on Galveston, I Googled "Galveston Cramer" and discovered to my dismay that a "Miss Bessie Cramer" is listed among the dead for the 1900 hurricane. The odds we are related? My guess is about 50-50.

SO, yes. I guess if my grandmother survided a Category 4 hurricane hitting Galveston in 1915, she can be presumed to know a bit about them.

(Photo of workers homes detroyed in the 1915 hurricane from the Galveston and Texas History Center at the Rosenberg Library.)


BushstorySo. Is it God or Global Warming, our very own ecosuicide? Me, I think it's the later. How 'bout you, President Bush?

(Image from Salon.)

UPDATE 9/23: Via BoingBoing, a GoogleMaps plot of Hurricane Rita, "(Original Map Code by Ken Robinson. Enhancements, Dynamic Forecast Plots, other Modifications by Mike Cornelius Extra Graphics Tom Pratchios, Some ideas from, Maps from Google Maps)."

Here's how it is really interesting: first, shift to the satellite view, and then zoom in on the area of the map where Rita shifted from a Category 4 to a Category 5 and back again. You can see that the shift corresponds to the level of the sea floor.


(For more of my posts on digital catography, see my archives: GoogleMaps, GoogleEarth, and VirtualEarth, and my album Katrina Floods New Orleans, 2005.)

UPDATE 9/28: For further discussion of the Bush administration and global warming, see the 9/28 NYT lead editoria,l Time to Connect the Dots.

Did I say I'm going to the Wolfram Technology Conference?

Wtc_1I know that lots of other mommies foist their children on their husbands and go to conferences all by themselves, but I haven't done anything like that since my children were born, and Peter turns eight next month. So, yippeee, I'm going to the Wolfram Technology Conference and I won't have to interrupt a conversation even once to say, Get down from there! or Don't eat that! (Or at least, I don't think I will.)

Category 5: "NHC is being conservative, and calling Rita a strong Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph surface winds"

Oseiiod_1Dr. Jeff Masters' WunderBlog:

The 1:53 eye report from the hurricane hunters found a 920 mb pressure and flight level winds of 153 knots (176 mph). These numbers plus the satellite intensity estimates would ordinarily support upgrading Rita to a Category 5 hurricane, but NHC is being conservative, and calling Rita a strong Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph surface winds.

Continue reading "Category 5: "NHC is being conservative, and calling Rita a strong Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph surface winds"" »

Sonic Weapons?

When reading Xeni Jardin's new post, Xeni on NPR, CNN: Sonic Weapons in Iraq -- and now, US cities, I had this terrible feeling of de ja vu. Hadn't I just read something very like that, say yesterday, but it was fiction?

In the July/August issue of Analog, Gregory Benford had a story called "The Pain Gun" about a future Middleeast conflict after a nucler war or two in which nonlethal weapons were used in preference to other types so as not to inflame the political situation back in the direction of nuclear war. The story concerns the use of a weapon that causes extreme pain but does no physical damage. I read the story yesterday.

Back in August, Defense Tech had a write-up on "sonic blasters" (aka "Long Range Acoustic Devices"), which apparently the NYPD had ready during the Republican convention and a new "improved" model was being tested by the LAPD.

This device far exceeds anything I'm aware of. Others are childrens' toys compared with this thing. The developer tells us that there are other configurations they believe will allow it to take even more energy. They estimated we were using 15,000 watts, but with a different type of magnet they believe we they can easily exceed 100,000 watts without overheating.

Further, by rearranging the orientation of the magnetic speakers, they can increase or decrease the width of the lobe, as well as decrease the size, weight and power. The device we tested is "full range;" that is, it provided clear sound from about 50 Hz to about 20,000 Hz. But if we were going to use it just for human voice or a siren, or some other specific frequency range, they can also "tune it" to provide maximum effectiveness for a specific frequency range and reduce the size and power, while increasing the range.

Back in March of last year, the Associated Press reported the use of the devices as weapons in Iraq. Earlier in September, Xeni Jardin documented the deployment of sonic blasters to New Orleans. OK, so there's no electricity and you want to get the word out to those hard-of-hearing old folks stuck in the flooded zone.  Is that what the sonic blasters were brought in for? This is from Xeni's article:

American Technology is donating four devices -- three MRADs (medium-range acoustic devices) and one LRAD (long-range acoustic device). The four devices will be shipped out Friday to a Marine military police unit that is deploying to the Gulf States area for disaster-relief efforts.

"We are donating the use of one of our most powerful prototypes, LTPMS-2, for use in Mississippi as soon as possible, because the governor of that state said that the biggest problem they have right now is the fact that they have no communications infrastructure to get information or instructions out to people," he said. "They can very easily put this on a truck and send sound out for a minimum of at least a mile in either direction."

And Blackwater's just there to help get the word out, too, right? Here's more from Xeni:

Vehicle-mounted devices were used by Israeli authorities to scatter groups earlier this year, when Palestinians and Jewish supporters gathered to protest Israel's West Bank separation barrier. Dubbed "The Scream" by the Israeli Army, the device sends out streams of noise in intervals of about 10 seconds. The specific sonic frequencies chosen affect the inner ear, creating dizziness and nausea in human targets.

Is it my imagination, or isn't the use of sonic blasters as weapons to deliberately inflict pain on crowds "torture" as defined in article 1 of the UN Convention Against Torture?

For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

When sonic blasters are used as weapons, their use is in violation of the UN Convention Against Torture. I think the US is a signatory.

Continue reading "Sonic Weapons?" »

Who Helps People Help?

Here's a question I just got by email from someone in Louisiana, and I don't really know the answer. So I put it to you:

We have taken in a young Mother and 3 children that are from Westwego, LA. We put them up in our mobile home on the same propety as our home. My question is, who do we need to contact about help with the expenses such as the electric bill etc., as we do not have the funds to last much longer and I won't kick them out?

This sounds like the sort of thing the Red Cross helps with, but is it? Where should someone with limited means turn for help when providing shelter for hurricane victims?