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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?

A Few More Katrina Photo Resources

Here are a couple of places I found useful images:

"Mammalian biologists cite development as new evidence for late-stage testiculogenesis."

Josh Marshall had me choking on my coffee this morning with this post:

House-Senate Katrina probe dies as Dems refuse to participate in GOP-controlled probe.

Mammalian biologists cite development as new evidence for late-stage testiculogenesis.

-- Josh Marshall

(I don't usually like political rhetoric involving balls, but I think this is one of the best versions I've seen.)

"Fears abound as government warns data could be used for deportation"

From the Washington Post:

The Department of Homeland Security recently announced that information provided by illegal immigrants seeking federal aid could be used against them later in deportation proceedings.

"The administration's priority is to provide needed assistance: water, food, medical care, shelter," said Joanna Gonzalez, a DHS spokeswoman. "However, as we move forward with the response, we can't turn a blind eye to the law."

A Matter of Taste

I'm not sure if anyone else noticed this, but I thought the ad served up by Google AdSense that read,

Foreclosures for Sale
Find Louisiana Homes
50% Below Market Value!
Search Now for Free.

was in extremely poor taste, especially given the context of the subject matter on this blog, so I have blocked it. I've never tried blocking an ad before, so let me know if it shows up again.

(As of 4:19 PM it is not gone yet. I don't know how long the blocking takes to work.)

"luxuriant blue color Earth"

For those of you who read Chinese, here is an article on the Google Earth and the Katrina aftermath in Chinese from the Xinmin Weekly by Zhao Yanyan, and I'm in it. For those who don't read Chinese, here is a very strange translation created by Google's Language tools.

Gently clicks on the mouse, the luxuriant blue color Earth starts to revolve, ever such giant Earth, now actually is all controls in the palm.
Writes a draft / the Zhao colorful swallow king is attractive (reporter)

(Wouldn't it be nice if Google's Chinese translation tools worked as well as Google Earth?)

Deploying Google Earth Toward a New Relationship with History: The Case of Hiroshima

One of the effects of having spent weeks scrutinizing aerial and satellite photos for people wanting information about their homes, their families, their pets, is that I am now longer able to look at aerial photos of damage in the same way. It has become much more personalized. I experience it as a stripping away of a twentieth century attitude of abstract detachment, an attitude that the legacy of World War II and the Cold War encouraged.

A few days ago, Earthhopper (links: blog in Japanese; Flickr account) was testing out Google Earth's newly added images of Hiroshima and discovered an odd lack of clarity in the area of the Hiroshima memorial, the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome.

To correct this oversight, Earthhopper has used the same techniques that Shawn MacBride and the Google Earth Current Events community used to superimpose images of the New Orleans levee breaks upon satellite images, but this time on Hiroshima:

Hiroshima Atomic Bomb - Devastated Land - Google Earth Overlay


Image overlay of Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome, taken in 1945.
The atomic bomb hit the city on Aug 6, 1945 and killed more than 140,000 people on the day, 240,000+ listed as of now.

And the other one . . .


Image overlay of Hiroshima taken in 1947 by US military.
The atomic bomb hit the city on Aug 6, 1945 and killed more than 140,000 people on the day, 240,000+ listed as of now.

Each and every one of those several hundred thousand people had a name and a face and a life story. We have been encouraged to distance ourselves from this kind of information, encouraged to be overwhelmed by it. But is that just the way we are, or is it a political construct of the twentieth century? Can we get beyond it?

It seems to me that this technique has broad applications in historical photography and in helping us forge a new psychological relationship with history. Imagine these images covered with thousands of those little red Google pushpins with names, specific street addresses, with links to family photographs, personal correspondence:

And surely somewhere in the US archives are the "before" pictures taken for planning purposes.

We have the technology to remember all of those who can be documented and remember them as individuals, not just statistics. All through September, I have seen it. I have used it. Those who die in masses no longer need remain anonymous.

(See also a similar collaborative process using WW2 recognizance photos from bombing runs, also involving Google Earth and Flickr.

And futhur to the subject of the politics of war and memory, read Gavin Grant's brilliant story "Heads Down, Thumbs Up," in Sci Fiction.)

Urban Removal: "Our own experiences after the Loma Prieta quake is that outsiders are very much into destroying damaged buildings."

Lucy Kemnitzer writes in the comment section:

Our own experiences after the Loma Prieta quake is that outsiders are very much into destroying damaged buildings. FEMA had a program where they'd bulldoze your house for free for a limited time. Getting buildings properly assessed would take much longer, and a lot of buildings were bulldozed that shouldn't have been, including our beuatiful sandstone and brick nineteenth-century courthouse, which was supposed to be about to fall down of its own accord but resisted the wrecking ball for several tries. In this case, the feds are going to be even pushier about it, and it will take outright rebellion to keep serviceable old houses.

As for mold -- mold is killable and cleanable. It's a health hazard while it's growing and sporulating, but it's not a structural threat to the houses. The houses will need super cleaning anyway: that water that they've been under is dirty.

Cellular Automata Caterpillar

My son found this caterpillar in our yard Friday. I don't know what species it is. (Anyone know?) I took its picture because of the cellular automata-style patterns on its back. I sent it to the folks at Wolfram, who I'm sure could tell me what pattern that is.

(Regarding the ichor it's sitting in, we didn't know if it was injured or whether this was some other kind of secretion.)

Google Earth Reveals Roman Ruins

From Nature (a magazine to which I just sold a piece, by the way): Enthusiast uses Google to reveal Roman ruins: Google Earth programme leads to remains of ancient villa.

Using satellite images from Google Maps and Google Earth, an Italian computer programmer has stumbled upon the remains of an ancient villa. Luca Mori was studying maps of the region around his town of Sorbolo, near Parma, when he noticed a prominent, oval, shaded form more than 500 metres long. It was the meander of an ancient river, visible because former watercourses absorb different amounts of moisture from the air than their surroundings do.

His eye was caught by unusual 'rectangular shadows' nearby. Curious, he analysed the image further, and concluded that the lines must represent a buried structure of human origin. Eventually, he traced out what looked like the inner courtyards of a villa.

Mori, who describes the finding on his blog, Quellí Della Bassa, contacted archaeologists, including experts at the National Archaeological Museum of Parma. They confirmed the find. At first it was thought to be a Bronze Age village, but an inspection of the site turned up ceramic pieces that indicated it was a Roman villa.

(Come on, guys. Where's the Mac version?)

Volunteer Cook Needed

I'm sure some of you out there have been wondering what you could do to help with disaster relief. Are you a good cook? Here's your chance!

The Fire Department in Abita Springs, Louisiana, on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, needs a volunteer cook to cook for the Firemen:

A cook that would be willing to volunteer services
to cook in the station, Abita Springs Fire Dept. They
would need to be able to prepare 30-80 meals 3 times a
day. The station kitchen will be used and housing can
be provided. It would great but not required if they
would be responsible for meal planning and stock

To volunteer, respond by email to They also need frozen and fresh food of all kinds. All email should contain "Katrina" within the subject line.

They have a number of other material needs, since the Emergency
management system has let the department down. Email for the current list.

For more in the current situation in Abita Springs, see this aritcle in The Slidell Sentry-News. See also The Pensacola News Journal.

UPDATE 9/18: Good news! They've gotten everything they need for now:

I just got off the phone with the fire chief of Abita,LA. He said all immediate needs have been met and further assistance will not be required.


The Red Cross Is No Substitute for Competent Government

One of the early media photos of a NOLA dead body was of a woman weeping over the body of her husband who had been suffering from lung cancer. When his prescription oxygen supply ran out, he suffocated and died.

Yesterday the Harvard School of Public Health released a survey of evacuees in shelters in the Houston area conducted in cooperation with The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation. The survey had the following health-related findings:

  • 52% report having no health insurance coverage at the time of the hurricane. Of those with coverage, 34% say it is through Medicaid and 16% through Medicare. Before the hurricane 66% of people evacuated to Houston shelters used hospital or clinics as their main source of care and of those, a majority (54%) used Charity Hospital of New Orleans, substantially more than the second most common care site (University Hospital of New Orleans, at 8%).
  • 33% report experiencing health problems or injuries as a result of the hurricane and 78% of them are currently receiving care for their ailments.
  • 41% report chronic health conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and asthma.
  • 43% say they are supposed to be taking prescription medications, and of those, 29% percent report having problems getting the prescription drugs they need.
  • Of the 61% who did not evacuate before the storm, 38% said they were either physically unable to leave or had to care for someone who was physically unable to leave.
  • 39% report that they did not get help from any government agency or voluntary agency during the flood and evacuation.

Earlier this week, I had my adventure trying to solve a prescription problem for someone long distance, which I chronicled in my post, Walmart Wonderland: A Strange Tale. While the situation  I was trying to help with was potentially life-threatening, I remember thinking how glad I was that it didn't involve either psychiatric meds or withdrawal. This morning, Navy Blue emailed me a link to the story of a discussion board's attempt to help someone out of a situation involving both.

About the post, she writes:

I am frustrated. AND I am concerned.  This is an entry on the teeny little tale of me, a couple a people, and our friend Dan. He needed medication and had to have it sent from halfway across the country.

I still have the Red Cross link on my pages, and I still feel people should donate and that it is better to have the Red Cross trying to help than not, but as disturbing anecdotes involving Red Cross folk pile up in my inbox, it seems to me that for someone out there there is a book in this: a case study on how the Red Cross is just no substitute for competent government. (And neither is FEMA, for that matter.)  Here are notable passages from Navy's account:

Now it was Saturday, the 9th. Two of his medications will run out tomorrow.  One is a moodstabilizer and an anticonvulsant.  When one quits an anticonvulsant 'cold turkey', you are at risk for seizures.  The other one is a strong anti-depressant- known for heavy withdrawal symptoms. Combine this with such a traumatic experience and the physical and psychological stressors that come with it and Dan was in a very bad situation.

He emailed FEMA and The Red Cross, asking for information on what he can do.
A Red Cross truck came and delivered water and meals.

The Walgreens, a couple towns over, opened.  He drove through the dirty roads to  the store, stopping to wait three hour for gas. Then he brought his medication bottles, which were current and clearly had refills on them, to the pharmacy. They wouldn't be refilled unless the pharmacist could get in touch with his pharmacy or doctor.
. . .
On the 15th, 6 days after he had contacted them, Dan finally heard from FEMA, by email and the Red Cross, via a representative.

“Fema said that in a few days I will be assigned to a case handler who will check into the situation and drive out to interview me for an assessment of my needs. ”
“Red Cross said they only get involved in drugs when it is a matter of life or death.  I tried explaining; the guy, who had a double digit IQ, stood there with a sort of glazed look in his eyes.  Nothing I said penetrated the fog. ”

He received the last package [FedExed by a member of the online discussion group] and has taken four doses, and the discontinuation symptoms are generally improving.

While in Walgreens, Dan ran into an acquaintance of his, who's psychiatrist is still in the area.  He will tell the psychiatrist of Dan's situation and likely enable Dan to get new scripts for his medications.  In the meantime, he will be ok with what he was able to receive.

By the time FEMA sends him a case worker for an interview, he will have probably already gotten his refills.   If he hadn't had another resource, which happened, in this case, to be online friends, he could be severely ill.  In a worst case- Dan could be dead: seizures; acute dehydration- he was getting weak and likely wouldn't have gotten food and water very easily in the next few days; physical illness [ he was extremely sick and lost 11 pounds in about three days, no doubt lowering his immune system when he is already weak and prey to several infections]...

(The other Red Cross anecdote I received was from someone whom I had tried to help assess possibilities of rescuing a trapped relative in the early days of the flooding crisis. After exhausting all governmental avenues to place a request to have some people in a specific spot in NOLA rescued, the family tried calling the Red Cross. The person they reached didn't want to help with the rescue but did want a donation. The desperate family tried to exchange a donation for the person taking the rescue request and passing it along to someone who might help. The representative eventually allowed as how no rescue request would be passed along even if a donation was made.  At that moment, as nearly as my correspondent was able to assess, there was NO organization anywhere in the country willing to receive rescue requests. The request was ultimately conveyed via helpful journalists to the Coast Guard.)

People are suffering and dying because the emergency prescription infrastructure just doesn't work well enough. The Red Cross can help, but the nature of that help is far from ideal. We should not rest assured that all we have to do is donate money and that the hurricane survivors' needs will be taken care of, because it just ain't so.


  • Reed Hundt has a bunch more excellent questions that need to be asked of the government we have, competent or not.
  • Boy, our President sure knows how to roll up his sleeves, doesn't he? I'm very impressed with his sleeve-rolling competency. He's been practicing a lot lately, hasn't he?


"we are identifying some breaches in levees we did not see initially"

PlaqueminesbreachesScary stuff from a military briefing yesterday: Defense Department Briefing on Hurricane Katrina Repairs, Presenter: Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Gen. Carl Strock. (A PDF of the slides from the briefing is available here)

One of the questions that we are dealing with now is the status of the levees.  It's a very important question for two reasons. Number one, we want to make sure that if there are weakened portions of the levee or there are breaches that we haven't identified yet, we know about those.  Because as the decisions are made to move back in to these parishes, we need to understand the level of vulnerability that our citizens have moving back in.  So we've got a very intense effort going out to assess the condition of the levee systems and put in repairs where it makes sense.

The other thing, of course, is we're looking down range a little bit and we realized when we get through our response and the initial stages of recovery, we've really got to understand exactly what occurred here.  So part of our project condition survey is to capture the conditions as the water recedes so we can do the analysis later on to ensure we have the right engineering and we're doing the right steps to protect the people in the future.

So that's it.  It's a sort of a forensic aspect of the effort now, principally for operational and safety purposes, but also so we can go back and understand what happened.  And that's an ongoing effort.

As we do that, we are identifying some breaches in levees we did not see initially.  Our attention was really drawn to 17th Street and London Avenue canal in the inner harbor.  But now we're finding some levee breaches in places like the National Wildlife Refuge up here.  So there are other sections of the levee which breached.  We also have levee breaches down in Plaquemines County.  If I could go to that one real quick.

This is Plaquemines County, which is -- which is south and east of New Orleans.  They have breaches down there which we're working as well.  Plaquemines has been kind of out of the news, but clearly, it's an important area, it needs to be brought back up.  One of the reasons for that is a lot of the support for the oil fields moves up and down this corridor here, so we need to bring -- bring that area back up as quickly as we can.

"How could it be that people were not monitoring the walls?"

Schempp1_3Physicist Ellery Schempp, a friend of sf writer Jim Morrow's and a fascinating character in his own right, sent in the following interesting analysis of the levee failures:

First of all, we recognize that the flooding in New Orleans was predicted in an article in Scientific American in October, 2001.   There have been many disputes between environmental groups and the Army Corps of Engineers as to how to manage the lower Mississippi.  It surely is not a black and white matter.

There is dispute as to when the first levee broke--some say it was ca. 10 AM on Monday on the 17th St canal.   Others say it was later that evening.  In either case, all the catastrophe and suffering occurred after the levees broke, which resulted in flooding the city.  Before that moment, the remaining residents were not in severe danger.  All the horrors occurred because of the flooding.  All the future expenses are due to the flooding.

It is truly amazing that no one seems to know when the first levee wall broke.  How could it be that people were not monitoring the walls?  Relatively simple and inexpensive measures could have been implemented in the months before.  The levees did not fail because the water was so high that it overran them; it wasn't the direct effects of a category 5 hurricane that destroyed New Orleans.  In fact, 99% of the miles of levees held perfectly well--there were two breaches, one about 50 ft wide on the 17th Street Canal and the other about 200 ft long on the Lake Pontchartrain levee.  Maybe there was a third one--no account seems to know.  How could people not know?

I emphasize that this was not a case of an overflowing bathtub.  Cement walls failed, not due to a category 5 hurricane, but because there was no system in place to monitor and support the levees.

This  is well explained in the graphics of the recent History Channel description.  No earthen levee or cement wall failed { via snap}; in every case the failure took place over hours.

What should have been done:
1. All the major levees should have been outfitted with electronic sensors to monitor them.  There are a host of simple means from simple water sensors on the dry side (shielded from rain), to breakable wires to monitor continuity, to tiltmeters--dozens of technologies geologists use to monitor volcanoes and earthquake zones.  These could all have been connected to redundant monitoring centers provided with multiple battery and diesel generator backup.  In the event of an incipient failure, alarms would be sent pinpointing the area.

2. The important levees could have been constantly patrolled on the parallel roads so any signs of trouble would be seen quickly.   Trucks filled with sandbags and crews ready to work would be stationed at intervals.  Mobile cranes, too.   

3. How did the levees fail?  The most probable scenario is this.  Levees are at risk of water infiltrating under the barrier, percolating through and undermining the footing.  This is well known, so engineers prevent this by carefully sealing the water side with mixtures of clay and grout to prevent any water infiltration.  However, the dry side is usually not so protected. 

Probably, water started to slosh over from waves.  As it did, it ran down the dry-side walls and began to undermine the easily-penetrated dry-side foundations, possibly somewhat weakened by the heavy rains.  Eventually, one section began to tilt slightly, allowing more water over, more erosion, and from then the result was foregone.  The first breach probably was over only one or two 8-foot sections.  But as everyone knows, as soon as water starts flowing fast through a breach, sections on either side go quickly.  So a small breach became 200 feet wide.

4. Had the sensor monitoring system been in place and had the patrols been in place, this could have been prevented.  Sensors and patrols would have noticed the water coming over and immediately two-feet of sandbags placed on top of the levee, preventing further undermining.  The levees would have been saved, and there would have been no massive flooding.

5. Assume that even with monitoring for an incipient situation and timely response, a cement wall breaks {snap?  there were no warning signs?}.  How to stop the rush of water?  Well, you have barges prepared for this--they move into place and block the flow enough.  Takes some engineering to make it work, but certainly doable.  Street-based crews provide back up.

6. In a worst case scenario, the levees would have failed despite these early warning and corrective activities.  In that case, the monitoring and patrols would have been able to raise the alarm.  In a well-organized emergency management system, immediately loudspeaker trucks and buses would fan out throughout the city.  "The levees have broken,  The levees have broken.  You must leave now.  A flood is coming.  You must leave now." 

At the time the levees broke, there was a 12-18 hour window to get into the city and evacuate people.  In New Orleans, when the levees broke, everybody was clueless,  there was no early warning, and there was no effort whatever to repair a small break before it became unstoppable.  There was no effort to evacuate the residents with warnings of the NEW danger, after the hurricane had passed. 

It is clear that a mere $50 million in monitoring technology and levee patrolling and response teams would have saved $400,000 million in future costs.

There is no excuse for the lack of a constant monitoring system; there is no excuse for not patrolling the levee walls; there is no excuse for not having a response plan to prevent a minor break from expanding to flood the entire city.  Incompetence and stupidity are high on the list.  I mean, why wasn't a simple monitoring system for failure in place?

(One minor point: The people swarming around this web site were able to verifiy three breaches in three different locations by matching media images to satellite images; and as far as I know we were the first "media" source to do so. Pretty sad, yes? I entirely agree with Schempp's general point about the shocking lack of information about the breaches.)

Schempp's CV concludes:

In a 1999 interview, Ellery said:  “I have had the good fortune to have worked 400 miles from the North Pole and then 800 miles from the South Pole thanks to Prof. Robert Nichols at Tufts; I enjoyed these unique places immensely and they were transforming in my life; I had the good fortune to have the Supreme Court agree with my understanding of the First Amendment, with lots of help from the ACLU and my parents.  I had the good fortune to do a PhD in physics at Brown, with support from Prof. Philip Bray and many professors.  I am happy to be acknowledged, and I guess I made some contributions, but I think many others are to be recognized.”

He is also the author of the widely circulated satirical essay, Warning: Gravity is “Only a Theory.” Of his gravity essay, he remarks, " Amazingly, I found a lot of responses that took me seriously.  I therefore had to write an annotated version that explains the science and jokes. "

Advances in Katrina Map Technology

Mapwise, a lot seems to be happening.

First of all, the New Improved! Clickable Depth Map (aka the C&C Technologies New Orleans Flood Map) now has an address field! Hooray! (Now you don't have to go into Goggle Maps first in order to pin-point and address before using the depth map.)

Secondly Microsoft's VirtualEarth has joined the effort. Today I got t his message from a Program Manager:

After the Hurricane, a number of us began a project to show before and after imagery in an effort to help victims discover if their homes are under water. Instead of relying on low res satellite imagery, we worked with a company who specializes in low altitude oblique imagery which gives a MUCH more useful view of the area. Anyway, we just got the results of this effort online yesterday at msnbc. I hope you find it helpful.

I tried the site in both Safari and Firefox (G5 Mac; OSX Tiger). On neither broswer did their aerial photos display properly, although the bugs were different. But the project only launched yesterday, and I could see what they were trying to do, which looks very promising.It might work for you today. Or it might work for you next week when they get a few kinks out of it.  Very promising.

UPDATE: My correspondent suggests the following to get around browser incompatibility issues:

Here is an idea since images aren’t displaying for you in the browser properly. At the end of the day, Eagle Eye images are standard JPG images. You can view them in any picture viewer, not just the online viewer we built at MSNBC. If you right click (or whatever the Mac equiv is) on an image that didn’t display, you can see the full URL for the image. You can just enter that URL in your browser to display it. Like this:

The image he links to I find quite affecting. The boats look like toys forgotten by careless children, an odd collision in the semantics of scale.


FURTHER UPATE: The folks at Microsoft have volunteer to take care of my current address query  load, so current inquries have been passed along to them. I've been working on a bit of a case of eye strain, so it comes at a good time.

1877: The Solo Saloon

My parents are just back from their vacation in Houston. My dad just sent me this marvelous jpeg along with the note below:


Dear Kathryn and Karen,

   Attached is a .jpeg file made from a half-page advertisement in the 1877 Houston City Directory advertising the Solo Saloon, a drinking establishment owen by my great-grandfather (and your great-great-grandfather) Charles Kinzbach.

   We found this last week in the archives of the Clayton Library in Houston.


Future Shock & Third Grade Math

DonpostmutantI'm a bit unsure what I shold have said this morning when my son's new third grade teacher told me, in the context of a discussion of the math cirriculum, that in the third grade "we don't teach memorization; we teach concepts." Perhaps she was a little too candid.

Good thing that here in the Future we can all work out multiplication problems from first principles whenever we need to multiply, isn't it?

94.5 FM on the Air in New Orleans

Algiers_antennaFrom Gizmodo: Joel Johnson writes about an improvised radio station set up by volunteers now on the air in New Orleans:

Some volunteers came down with a low-power FM station, a hundred feet of coax, and a makeshift antenna. What they didn’t have was a tower. I was going to strap a pole onto the chimney of the house we’re staying in, but another volunteer named Jackie said she was pretty handy with a Skill saw and would be happy to rig something together.

About 8 hours later, we lofted this home-built antenna tower onto the top of the roof and begin broadcasting 94.5 FM, a station the radio operators are calling ‘The Battle for Algiers’ (which has a political connotation that I have not had the time to grok).

After the sun set, I walked a little ways down the street (but not too far, because of the curfew), listening to scratchy, mono sounds of John Coltrane beaming our from an community radio tower built from the salvaged lumber of destroyed homes. With the helicopters overhead, it felt like a lull in an 1960’s American war in our own streets that never happened.

Picture by Bradley Stuart, Creative Commons, non-commerical.

(Thanks to Xeni, who told me it was coming, and to Matt Harris who told me it had happened!)

Walmart Wonderland: A Strange Tale

I've been debating for a day or so whether to post this, because I don't want to advertise myself as someone who can solve this kind of problem. But I think this tale needs to be told. So here is it, as I wrote it up in email yesterday:

In addition to queries from people wanting help with NOLA disaster maps, I get a few from people asking for help of other kinds. The missing persons queries I really can't do anything with. But I got one that, after a little bit of discussion to clarify the issues, had something I might be able to help with.

The woman I'm trying to help is displaced from Jefferson Parish. She has type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. She was given a one week supply of each of her three medications. It was paid for by the Red Cross, and filled at the Walmart in Baton Rouge. She was running out of medication. She said the diabetes medication was crucial to the maintenance of her blood sugar levels, and without it she was at risk for going into a diabetic coma. Also at the time of our first email exchange, the only aid she had received was the one week prescription.

She had applied unsuccessfully for food stamps (since resolved). She also said, "I went online and applied to FEMA and received an application for an SBA loan."

In the meantime, she had relocated to a rural community, Baywood, LA. The nearest Walmart is in Zachary, LA. She went there to refill her prescription, but was told that the Red Cross picking up the tab was a one-time thing.

So, I thought about this a bit, and called up Melanie Miller, the Assistant Minister at the First Congregational Church in Chappaqua, NY. We kicked around some ideas of how to help, and our first thought was for Melanie to get in contact with a Congregational Church in Louisiana. She tried calling the one closest to Baywood. But for understandable reasons, their phone line was perpetually busy.

So we had another thought. Why couldn't Melanie just call the pharmacy department of the Zachary Walmart and give them the church's credit card number and have the church pick up the tab? Sounds easy, right? An elegant solution.

So Melanie called. And she was told, not very nicely, that we didn't have enough information to get the prescriptions refilled and that their usual policy was that they didn't take credit cards over the phone. So we get more information, and Melanie calls again and is told that the only one who can authorize phone credit card charges is Pat, the Manager, and that he won't be in until after 11 AM. She Melanie calls and calls. Pat is 45 minutes late to work. When he finally arrives, Melanie gets him on the phone and he declines to allow the First Congregational Church of Chappaqua to buy this woman her medication because he won't take a credit card number over the phone.

It seems to me that anyone managing a pharmacy would be fully aware of the risks of taking someone of the medications the woman was prescribed without a doctor's supervision. So I don't really understand what Pat the Manager is thinking. Now, I don't want to rag on Walmart, because their distribution system may be the backbone of the recovery. And I don't even want particularly to rag on the Zachary, LA Walmart. But PLEASE, people, WAKE UP. This is a national emergency.

My next thought was to give a call to the Westchester office of one of our elected officials to see if she can help, which I did, leaving a request from a constituent for assistance. Hillary lives just around the corner from the First Congregational Church, at 15 Old House Lane.

When Melanie got upset with Pat the Walmart Manager, he told her that there was a  possibility that our woman might be eligible for some form of free aid, but that she would need to call or come in to determine whether she was eligible. I suspect that if she contacts him to inquire, she will be told that the one week prescription from the Red Cross that she has already gone through is all that's available.

We're still working out it. Meanwhile, the woman is looking for a more cooperative pharmacy to which to transfer her prescriptions. I think she ran out of her diabetes medication a day or so ago.

UPDATE: Senator Clinton's office in on the case.

A FURTHER UPDATE AND EPILOGUE: First of all, our woman got her meds, so she isn't going to die. We had Senator Clinton's Westchester office all set to call Pat the Manager, but before the call took place, our woman transfered her prescriptions to a much-more-cooperative CVS, where she received her essential medication for free. Also, in the comments, Madeleine of the Red Cross explains that the Red Cross prescription help is not supposed to work the way the Zachary Walmart employees said. So if you have this kind of prescription problem, get in touch with the Red Cross for help solving it.

The Airport Takeover: Another Case of Routing Around FEMA

Blurb200_1From NPR: A Doctor's Message from Katrina's Front Lines. Quoted is Hemant Vankawala, 34, is a doctor with one of the nine Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) medical groups set up at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport:

In hindsight, it seems silly that a bunch of civilian yahoos came in and took over the airport and had it up and running -- exceeding its normal operating load of passengers -- with an untrained skeleton crew and generator partial power. But we did what we had to do, and I think we did it well.

(A lot of the article, especially as concerns triage, is tough reading.)

Are these the first Katrina-related charges of Negligent Homicide?

CNN's front page this morning:


It seems to me that there should be a lot more people charged with negligent homicide, including government officials at all levels (up to and including that fellow who, after two weeks of dithering, has just publicly acknowledged that he's responsible.)

MEANWHILE, Josh Marshall writes about something I've been wondering. Just what was Dick Cheney doing while the rest of the administration waited for someone to tell them that the unfolding Katrina disaster wasn't all done with CGI? The answer is really interesting.

NASA's Missing Thousand?

Did NASA ever locate the 1,000 people missing from the Michoud Assembly Facility east of New Orleans? Anyone know what the story is?

(Um. And why didn't they evacuate in the first place? Anyone know?) Karen explains in the comments that there were only 56 people actually at Michoud; that they missing employees are or were people not yet accounted for who may or may not have evacuated. That makes more sense.

Where Hurricane Victims Can Seek Aid from Various Denominations

I'm not usually a fan of leaving essential services to be provided by "faith-based" organizations, but with FEMA in disarray, a source of national shame, and with many of the obvious organizations overwhelmed with requests for help, churches may be a good place to try. Melanie Miller, Assistant Minister of the local Congregationalist Church here, has compiled links on where Hurricane Victims can seek aid from various denominations. Most of the actual information on these pages is on how you can donate money or goods. For those requiring aid, look for conact information on the sites and email them. Melanie writes:

To find out what relief efforts your denomination is offering click on
the appropriate link below:

United Church of Christ 
United Methodist Church
Evangelican Lutheran Church of America
The Episcopal Church
The American Baptist Church
Roman Catholic Church: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

To this list, Mark Bernstein adds the American Friends Service Commitee (i. e. the Quakers). I suppose I should say that what promted this post is that I was trying to solve a problem for someone, and it seemed like the church infrastructre was the best tool than came to hand.