Friday, September 30, 2005

Lady in red

Her mother's from Charleville, Co. Cork and her husband has just been sworn in as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. I can't get over the fact that the Irish media hasn't picked up on this yet. (Full disclosure - I know this woman's extended family and have stayed in the house she and John Roberts have an one eighth interest in down in Knocklong, Co. Limerick. I didn't know all that when I wrote this.). I didn't see one reference to the Jane Sullivan's Irish connection in the Irish Independent, Irish Examiner, or the Irish Times.

I can't help wondering if this is a sign of waning interest in Irish-America or simply embarrassment at the Bush connection.

Was John O'Shea right?

This was from a couple of days ago, but I didn't get around to mentioning it. It seems that despite the Irish government's pledge to send this and that to America to help in the post-Katrina clean-up that those resources were never requested by the US authorities.

A few weeks ago O'Shea annoyed his American directors when he denounced the government's decision to send money and other resources to help with the post-Katrina recovery. O'Shea was angry because he had been seeking some of these other resources for years to help in Africa, but the government here was disinclined. Was O'Shea right after all? Well, maybe, but I suspect the Irish government was fully aware that it's offer would not be taken up. Being seen to be helpful was all that mattered.

In fairness to O'Shea he was never as upset about the money as he was the offer of troops and supplies. O'Shea has never given me the feeling that he's a knee-jerk anti-American. This tirade sounded bad, but really it's more negative towards the Irish government (& the Irish Army too) than it is towards the US.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Great weekend ahead

Sidney Zion says that New York Democrats don't care about Tom DeLay's trouble or Bush or anything other than one pressing question: Will the Yankees top the Sox? Boston is hosting the Yankees and as long as one of them loses, I'll be happy. There's still the unhappy prospect that both teams may qualify for the playoffs, which means Cleveland MUST get hot again.

Truthfully, all I really want is good, exciting games. Should be great.

Oh yeah, as for the fighting Mets, well, next year is only six months away.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

More on the media and Katrina

This article from the Los Angeles Times provides more details of the rumors that were circulated by the press. For the most part I've focused on the impact the media's coverage had on the response of those who were trying to deal with Katrina's wide-spread destruction. However, it's also true that the most lurid stories were circulated world-wide, undermining the image and the prestige of the United States.

Supposedly, Tony Blair denounced the BBC because it was "'full of hatred of America' and 'gloating'" over the Katrina disaster. What's interesting is that he supposedly denounced the BBC to Rupert Murdoch. I watched a lot of Katrina coverage and I can tell you that I didn't detect any greater "hatred of America" on the BBC than on Murdoch's SKY News. In fact, my impression at the time was that the situation sounded worse on SKY than it did on the BBC. And, Murdoch's FOX News was one of the prime rumor-mongers upon which anti-Americans the world over feasted.

I wish I had the time to go back and review the coverage - television, radio and newspapers - that we got here from both British and Irish sources.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


From Monday's Wall Street Journal:
No state turns out better demagogues than Louisiana--the state that Huey Long ruled with an near-fascistic fist and that inspired the new Sean Penn version of "All the King's Men" that hits movie theaters this November. While the Bush administration and Congress aren't in danger of being fried as witches, they better figure out that they and the taxpayers are about to be fleeced like sheep as they ship south $62 billion in emergency aid with few controls or safeguards.

More will be coming. Last week, Louisiana's two senators didn't even blink when they asked the feds for an ultimate total of $250 billion in assistance just for their state. "We recognize that it's a very high number," Sen. Mary Landrieu admitted. "But this is an unprecedented national tragedy and needs an unprecedented national response."

Even if the total ends up far short of that figure, the opportunity for fraud and waste will be unprecedented. "We're getting a lot of calls" on emergency aid abuses, reports Gen. Richard Skinner, the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general. Last week, police officers found a treasure trove of food, drinks, chainsaws and roof tarps in the home of Cedric Floyd, chief administrative officer for the Jefferson Parish suburb of Kenner. Mr. Floyd is one of several city workers who will likely be charged with pilfering.
As the Washington Post noted yesterday, the $250bn sought by Senators Landrieu and Vitter would "cost more than the Louisiana Purchase under the Jefferson administration on an inflation-adjusted basis." And, Jefferson got a lot more for his money than the government's going to get today.

Water, water everywhere . . .

It's not a total surprise to me, but I'm sure it is to many of the people who live in this area. Nearly all of northeast Wicklow (Bray to Wicklow Town) will be without water for at least 24 hours from 7pm tonight. This is to facilitate "maintenance work being carried out by Dublin City Council at the Vartry Water Treatment Works". So, our local area is going to be without water due to work being carried out by Dublin City Council. There is a crude question that could easily follow this sort of information, but I'll just settle for "What on Earth?".

A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from my local (Green Party - yes, I know, me & the Green Party) town councilor informing me that the water was going to be turned off. Then there were more e-mails with new dates for the work. Eventually I called the town offices and I was told that there would be a lot of publicity when the time came to switch off the water. Well, now that the day is here I have to say that the only mention I found was on the local radio station. And, I only tuned in today because the most recent e-mail had told me today was definitely the day.

I know I'm not the only one who doesn't listen to the local station - the music goes right through my brain. I don't remember seeing anything about this in last week's Wicklow Times, but maybe I missed it. Regardless, it's well past time that the local authorities got their act together.

There is no reason why people in this area are not notified of major events - like no water for a day - by text message. Everyone has a mobile phone. In fact, I'd nearly bet that there are as many homes with mobile phones as there are homes with televisions. The local authorities should have an opt-in list of mobile numbers that they text when there is a significant local event. This would surely reach more people than ads on a local station that is, after all, just another top 40 music station.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Ya gotta love America

Thanks to a tip from Eddie, I found this genuine treat (link fixed), A Citizen's Guide to Roundabouts. It's a six page brochure explaining roundabouts to Americans. Despite the fact that in Ireland roundabouts are more common than puddles, I think the roundabout was the subject of one, maybe two, lines in the driving instructions book published by the government.

The brochure makes all the roundabouts looks so easy and safe. It doesn't seem like there are too many of the extra small, mini-roundabouts we have here. Or the mega-roundabouts either. You know, those three lane roundabouts where you have to go from the inside lane to the exit in one quick maneuver.

Inside the Dome

One lesson I thought I'd learned from September 11 is that what the press reports is often way off when the story is big. The press struggles to get a grip on the truth and rumors dominate the coverage.

I tried to bear this in mind during those emotional days immediately after Katrina hit New Orleans. Still, it was hard not to get caught up in what we were being told. One post-Katrina rumor was that the violence was rife inside the Superdome and the Convention Center. It turns out, it wasn't anywhere near as bad as we were led to believe according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
As the fog of warlike conditions in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath has cleared, the vast majority of reported atrocities committed by evacuees have turned out to be false, or at least unsupported by any evidence, according to key military, law enforcement, medical and civilian officials in positions to know.

"I think 99 percent of it is bulls---," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Lachney, who played a key role in security and humanitarian work inside the Dome. "Don't get me wrong, bad things happened, but I didn't see any killing and raping and cutting of throats or anything. ... Ninety-nine percent of the people in the Dome were very well-behaved."
And, there was no surge in the number of murders in all of New Orleans. The four confirmed murders is consistent with a normal week in New Orleans.

So, what of the media's role in the foul-ups in post-Katrina New Orleans? Will there be any reckoning, any acknowledgement that the media's desire to sell papers and attract viewers led them to report every exaggeration, every rumor?

It's easy for the major media to wash their hands of responsibility, but in this case what if the media reports caused bus drivers to opt not to go to New Orleans to help get those people out of the Dome and Convention Center? It's pretty clear that the media's reporting created a climate of fear that diverted resources that could have been used to relieve those in the shelters and rescue those trapped throughout the city.

Will there be a mass media mea culpa? Will pigs fly?

Oh yeah, I should add that the Mayor and others in his office should have waited for confirmation before talking about people being raped and killed inside the Superdome.

Americans see the light (or not)

The Albany Times-Union reports that New York State is adopting the roundabout in lieu of traffic lights to manage traffic at intersections. I suppose the plan has some merits, but I'm sure there are a lot of Irish drivers who'll be saying, "Maybe not a great idea". Roundabouts seem to breed like rabbits.

Roundabouts are taking over the roadways in Dublin. More and more small intersections are getting roundabouts to replace stop signs. Some of the intersections where roundabouts have been installed are so tight that I think the road engineers are using a large coin for the outline of the roundabout. Anything larger than a bicycle has trouble negotiating the bends in these little roundabouts.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Lovely Rita

When I was a kid all hurricanes had female names (changed to be politically correct, I'm sure). I'm not sure why this was, but I remember someone telling me it was because the storms were too unpredictable. Nobody knew what a hurricane was going to do.

Anyway, Rita sure seems confused. She can't seem to decide whether she wants to go to Bloomingdale's (Galveston) or Macy's (Port Arthur) or even some point further east. Regardless, she's gonna cry her eyes out once she gets ashore and finds nothing there that she likes.
25 inches of rain! If you were enterprising you could fill a big tank with Rita rain and sell it in bottles.

"Wealthiest country in the world"

Last night BBC Newsnight's Gavin Esler had a very good report on poverty in America. What he had to say on poverty and race was covered by me and the commenters here and here and elsewhere below. It was actually when he started discussing health care that it struck me that he seems not to realize that there are economic trade-offs that every society makes with regards to economic dynamism and government provided services.

Esler used the phrase "the wealthiest country in the world" a few times when discussing the cost of health care in America. And, from his perspective - citizen of a country with a fully funded, available to all, public health system - it is amazing that so many people in the US find health care too expensive. He mentioned, but glossed over, the fact that most people who don't have health insurance in America are actually employed.

He never asked why is health insurance so expensive that so many people cannot or will not buy it. He implied that this is a failure of government not stepping in to provide health care for these people.

This is what I find annoying about the BBC and RTE. They talk about America being "the wealthiest country in the world" (is it? I guess it is.) without ever asking why is America "the wealthiest country in the world". They never seem to consider whether the economic dynamism comes from the same roots as the failure to provide health care. These are the choices that people have to make.

In Europe, the state provides all sorts of benefits that - free health care, paid maternity leave, substantial welfare, etc. - that the neither the state nor the federal government in the US provides. In Europe you have a stagnant economy with a generous safety net and in the US you have the opposite.

I can't see why in his report Esler couldn't have simply made that point, but I actually think he's unaware of the economic realities.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

You Heard it Here First

The Washington Post today had an editorial complaining that while Congress and the White House are "fortresses with mini armies and high-tech equipment galore," the rest of the area remains highly vulnerable to terrorist attack. Four years after Sept. 11 and four years after the unsolved anthrax bioterrorism attacks, not much has changed in terms of D.C. residents' safety -- in spite of a whole lot of money having been spent. Um, well, yes. I think I read about that somewhere, in an Irish blog....

Meanwhile, Katrina has had an enormous impact on the local psyche. I recall a friend telling me of a near-riot over duct-tape in a local hardware store a couple of years ago when Tom Ridge told everyone that they should be prepared to "shelter in place," but that seemed to affect mostly the more high-strung among us. (I ignored the duct-tape advice myself -- the thought of being taped into a closet with my three small children, eating tuna fish out of a can and trying to listen to the radio, was enough to convince me to take my chances. Not to mention that I could never figure out how we were going to have enough oxygen, anyway.) But this time around several people I've talked to have suddenly volunteered that they've put together survival kits for their familes, just in case.....

Katrina relief efforts are everywhere. In our neighborhood, kids participated in "Operation Backpack," which gathered backpacks full of school supplies for Katrina's kids. My daughter's elementary school has adopted a school in Mississippi, raising several thousand dollars to send to them. There are Katrina benefit lemonade stands dotting the bike trails, Katrina cookies sold on several corners, and you can drop off donations at every restaurant and store you walk into. We went to see a play last Saturday night, and the actors stood outside afterward, collecting money for the Red Cross. (I'm a little concerned about the organization of all this money, but that's a subject for another post.)

The other day I overheard my daughter and her friend playing with a dollhouse in her room. "The hurricane's coming," they cried, and when I went in to see what was up, they'd moved all the dollhouse furniture to the third floor and the dolls were perched on the roof.

Yikes. And along came Rita.

Learning from Katrina

People seem to be evacuating in great numbers. I wonder if this will cause problems too. One million people are apparently evacuating or going to evacuate from the Houston area. For those on this side of the Atlantic who may not know, Houston is a big city. Bigger than Dublin (around 2m inside the city limits alone) and about 4 times as big as New Orleans. Evacuating the city is no small feat. Traffic is "bumper to bumper" for 100 miles heading inland.

One other lesson learned. People are arming themselves.

If this storm weakens substantially before making landfall then all of this will look silly and excessive. And, how many people – particularly those in hospitals or nursing homes – will have needlessly died or suffered in the panic to get out. I don't envy those who have to make these decisions.

God hates Mardi Gras

That's all I can figure. First New Orleans, now Galveston.
Each year, more than half a million people gather in the streets of Galveston Island to participate in the largest Mardi Gras celebration in Texas. For 12 days and 11 nights the island is electrified by the sounds of live music, spectacular parades, elaborate masked balls, and flamboyant costumes.
You just knew all that debauchery was leading to no good.

Corpus Christi, TX

The other day my daughter asked me about Corpus Christi, Texas. The name of the city had made an impact on her and she wanted to know more about it. Living in a city called "Body of Christ" struck her as a little odd. Of course I knew there was a city on the Gulf Coast of Texas called Corpus Christi, but I'd never given much thought to the name. Only when she asked me about it did I think, "Yeah, that is strange".

So, I decided to see what I could find about Corpus Christi and where it got its name. I knew it had to be Spanish Catholics who founded the town, but didn't know much else.

The Catholic Diocese of Corpus Christi provides this short history.
In 1747 José de Escandón commissioned an expedition to map the area south of the Presidio of La Bahía. Don Joaquín Orobio Y Basterra with 25 men and one priest reached the mouth of the Nueces River and named the bay he found San Miguel Arcángel. In 1766 the mission and Presidio of La Bahía was moved for the fourth time to its present location in Goliad. It was from here, responding to rumors that the "English" had landed somewhere south and east along the coast, Don Diego Ortiz Parrilla lead an expedition to the Gulf. Although he found no "English" he did re-map the area and re-named the bay Corpus Christi.
Still doesn't tell me why the name "Corpus Christi". However, if I'm reading this right it seems that the name was actually given to the bay in the 16th century.
The first European to explore this area was Captain Alonso Alvarez de Pineda, who was commissioned by the Spanish Governor of Jamaica in 1519 to explore the coast with four ships and 270 men in hopes of finding a water passage to the Orient. De Pineda mapped the entire coast of the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Vera Cruz (in present-day Mexico) including what was then known as "La Isla Blanca" (the White Island), which later became known as Padre Island. Legend claims he also discovered a small bay on June 24, 1519 which he named for the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi, which was celebrated on that day.
Not all that relevant, but a little fact to file away as Rita bears down on the region this weekend.

New Orleans housing

I'd like to imagine that S. Frederick Starr is correct that many of New Orleans's homes can be saved. If not, I hope that some of the knowledge and skills of those 19th century architects and engineers who built much of New Orleans can be employed again.
In the 19th century, local craftsmen devised structural techniques that allowed houses to stand securely on the city's pudding-like alluvial soil, and to survive in the region's notoriously humid climate, with its insects, termites and mold. In place of the heavy, water-absorbing brick-between-post construction that had been used earlier, or the brick masonry common on higher ground in the city, they began using light balloon frames, self-reinforcing structures of two-by-four joists that could be raised above ground on brick or stone piers. For these frames they used local cypress wood, which resists both water and rot, and for secondary woods they favored local cedar, which is nearly as weatherproof as cypress, and dense virgin pine.

The builders also used circulating air to ward off mold. Ten- to twelve-foot ceilings in even the smallest homes, as well as large windows, channel the slightest breeze throughout the house. And by raising the structures above the ground, builders assured that air would circulate beneath them as well, discouraging termites and rodents.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

European Car Free Day

Good for Dublin City Council. Local government has very limited powers in Ireland, but it's nice to see that Dublin's government is exercising what little power it has and snubbing the Minister and ignoring European Car Free Day.

Slidell in the Irish press

This paper's (Daily Ireland) web site doesn't date the articles and I can't remember how long ago I found this, but it's at least two weeks ago. Regardless, it's another good illustration of the power of Hurricane Katrina and it talks about Slidell, LA, which commenter Eddie feels has been ignored by the press.
"I consider myself real lucky," Croll told Daily Ireland. "It's like a bomb hit some of the houses. The only thing left is some of the pilings." Pointing to a house lying half submerged in a canal across the street, he said: "This house here was about two miles down the road on the left-hand side, on the other side of the Bayou.
It's almost impossible to imagine there's another massive storm heading towards the coast. There'll be nothing left from Brownsville to Pensacola.



New Orleans follow-up

More from the Washington Post today on the 'levees' and what caused the failures. Despite all the talk about the levees only being strong enough to withstand a category 3 hurricane (Katrina was category 4) the storm should not have caused a failure in the levee system. The flood-walls/levees should have held:
scientists and engineers at Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center have concluded that Katrina's surges did not come close to overtopping those barriers. That would make faulty design, inadequate construction or some combination of the two the likely cause of the breaching of the floodwalls along the 17th Street and London Avenue canals -- and the flooding of most of New Orleans.
All the bleating about under-funding is growing less and less credible.

Read this and this if you want to get some idea of the power of Katrina as it came ashore.

If you want to watch the sequel – Katrina II or Rita – check-in regularly with Brendan Loy.

Note to self

Never again try to fix anything to do with the washing machine at 10:40pm.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Black families

One aspect of the Superdome/Convention Center demographics that has received a lot less comment than the skin color is the gender of the people sheltering at those two locations. There were almost no men, other than the very old, among the throngs of people waiting for help at those shelters. There were women and children everywhere, but as Mary Mitchell asked in Sunday's Chicago Sun-Times, "Where were the babies' daddies"?

The destruction of the black family was a feature of American slavery for more than two centuries. It was inevitable that it would take a long time to undo all that damage to the structure of black family life. However, over the past four to five decades there has been regression, not progress, and the bonds of family life among black people have been weakening again.

Mitchell again
In July, veteran syndicated columnist William Raspberry pointed out that because of the decline of marriage and the absence of fathers, "for the first time since slavery, it is no longer possible to say with assurance that things are getting better."

"It isn't the incompetence of mothers that is at issue, but the absence of half of the adult support needed for families to be most effective," Raspberry said.

According to the latest U.S. Census, black women are a lot less likely to get married today than they were 50 years ago. In fact, the percentage of "never married" black women has doubled over that time period -- from 20.7 percent to 42.4 percent.
Daniel Moynihan identified this problem in 1964.
There are still, for example, important differences in family patterns surviving from the age of the great European migration to the United States, and these variations account for notable differences in the progress and assimilation of various ethnic and religious groups. A number of immigrant groups were characterized by unusually strong family bonds; these groups have characteristically progressed more rapidly than others.

But there is one truly great discontinuity in family structure in the United States at the present time: that between the white world in general and that of the Negro American.
Things have gotten worse since the 1960s. If we're going to make sweeping generalizations based on what we saw in New Orleans, I'd like it to be 'black families need strengthening'.

English premiership doldrums

I used to watch a lot of English soccer. However, I lost interest over the last 4-5 years for many reasons, including NASN. I even used to go to England once or twice a season to see my favorite team, Wimbledon FC RIP (another reason I lost interest).

According to the English press top flight soccer is in trouble right now. Attendance is down and some people claim the league has become "boring".

I've heard all this before. Players are overpaid, tickets are too expensive, there's too little competitive balance and the games are too low-scoring. Listening to Johnny Giles and Eamonn Dunphy on Newstalk last night was like déjà vu.

It will be interesting to see how the Premiership deals with this situation. If it were American, they'd change the rules to increase scoring and enhance the competitive balance. This sort of thing drives the purist crazy (I'm talking about me here), but does seem to help to increase interest among those for whom the sport is not akin to a religious experience.

Giles approvingly noted that the NASL used to award extra points in the standings based on the number of goals scored. I thought Dunphy was going to expire just at the thought of such a change. I doubt the English soccer league will do anything quite so radical.

A Connecticut Yankee in the FAI's court

Conor Murphy of Connecticut is the first American born & raised soccer player to be selected for an Irish international soccer team. Murphy played on Ireland's Under 17 team that competed in the Nordic Cup in Iceland recently.

There's probably less significance to this than it sounds, but still it's kind of interesting. There'll come a time in the not too distant future when young Irish-American soccer players will realize that winning a spot on Ireland's international soccer team is less difficult than getting selected for the American national team.

Monday, September 19, 2005

A win for Ireland

Bad news for Germany, bad news for Europe and probably bad news for the world economy, but yesterday's indecisive German election is probably good news for Ireland.

David McWilliams explains:
Ireland thrives when Germany is weak and falters when Germany is strong.

The reason for this is that we have for years been the jockey riding two horses - the European nag and the American jennet. We are financially and politically tied to the EU and Germany via our currency and EU membership, but are culturally tied to the Anglo/Americans via our business culture, trade flows, investment decisions and language.

When both horses are going together all is well for the jockey, but when the horses move apart the jockey's position gets very uncomfortable. Over the past ten years Europe and America have drifted apart economically and politically and a pattern has emerged that makes Ireland unique in Europe. We are the only EU nation that does better when the EU is weak rather than strong.

So we should applaud German fragility and fear German strength.
McWilliams explains how we have gained so many benefits from Germany's troubles - low interest rates, a weak currency and cheap labor from the east. What's not to love?

McWilliams finishes with this hope (from yesterday's paper before the election had begun)
A hung, indecisive Bundestag would be good news for us. To paraphrase the old nationalist slogan: Germany's difficulty, Ireland's opportunity.

Corruption in Louisiana

When I was on the radio last week I made a throwaway remark about Louisiana being a badly managed, corrupt state. I realized later that most of the listeners probably had no idea what I was talking about. Well, thanks to a post at Captain's Quarters, I found this little gem.

On Saturday the Los Angeles Times revealed that officials in Louisiana's Department of Homeland Security had been indicted before Katrina hit. They are charged with misappropriating money given to the state by FEMA. As much as $60m is unaccounted for.

It won't shock me at all to learn that the floodwalls failed due to the use of inferior materials and that someone pocketed the savings.

Middle class & black

One recurring theme of the coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath on this side of the Atlantic has been the presumption that (a) a disproportionate number of the victims are black and (b) that black equals poor. Now it is entirely possible that a disproportionate number of the victims are black and poor, but it's also possible that this is not true. At some point, when the final toll is known, it may be feasible to make educated guesses as to the wealth and skin color of those who have died based on their addresses.

Today's NY Times describes one of the hardest hit areas of New Orleans as middle-class and "a quiet, predominantly African-American community". Black? Yes. Poor? Not necessarily.

Here's another article from the Times-Picayune describing the fears of Dr. Critty Hymes about her neighborhood. I don't know the geography of the city well enough to know if this is the same are as the Times dealt with. I also don't know if the she's worried that it is white neighborhoods or poor ones that are getting more attention than her own. What I do know is that is that if there is one segment of the American population that needs more attention it is middle class black people.

For those poor black people living in hopeless ghettos, they need to know what is possible. They need role models who are doctors, accountants and business owners. They need an education system that prepares their children for the tough road ahead, not one that molly-coddles, 'understands' and accepts less because the they're black and poor. They need less of the "white do-gooderism" that John McWhorter blames for many of the problems black people face today.

White people too need to see more of middle class black people. They need to know more about those black people who succeed. They need to know that progress is possible. It would also be good for the America's image abroad if it was clear that not all black experience is like what we saw around the Superdome three weeks ago.

Based on his speech the other night, I doubt President Bush would want to see the end of the middle class black neighborhoods in New Orleans. Although I have doubts that the rebuilding of New Orleans & the Gulf Coast is the responsibility of the Federal Government, I think the President's vision of black entrepreneurs leading the rebirth of the city is a good one. Those black entrepreneurs will need to live somewhere, including, hopefully Critty Hymes's neighborhood. I hope when it happens we all get to see it.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Evacuating Dublin

Maura's two posts below have me wondering what would happen if Dublin had to be evacuated. I remember after September 11 there was a lot of near panic about the possibility of a terrorist attack on Sellafield. The government's response to this panic was to send iodine tablets to every adult in the state.

I really doubt there's any plan to evacuate Dublin nor can I imagine any event that might warrant an evacuation. I suppose if the south coast of England and Wales were once hit by a Tsunami, it's possible here too.

Bono the statesman

The NY Times Magazine has a long article on Bono this week. Headline: "The Statesman". Not a whole lot that's new here, but some of the details are interesting. Bono's practical sense is admirable, particularly when you consider how unusual that is in the 'entertainment industry'.

Friday, September 16, 2005

National Emergency Preparedness Month

Yesterday morning I listened to Richard A. White, General Manager and CEO of the D.C. Metro system, discuss the city's evacuation plans on WTOP radio. "This being D.C.," we were assured, evacuation plans "have long been in place." (One would hope, I thought.) The reporter announced that "Metro would play a big role," and Mr. White chimed in, "It's just a question of all the agencies communicating with each other."

Um, well, yes. This being D.C. (as they keep saying), we've had a few chances to see the kinks in communication through real-life drills. Unfortunately, last spring when a plane flew into restricted air space over the city and the Capitol was evacuated, and Laura Bush and Dick Cheney whisked away to a bunker (the president was bike riding in the country), city officials were not notified until after the all-clear was sounded. Fighter jets were scrambled, the Capitol building emptied, motorcades raced from the White House, Treasury Department workers were moved across the street, and people in the Supreme Court fled to the basement, but no one thought to call Mayor Anthony Williams or the D.C. Chief of Police. First things first, of course, so by all means get those fighter jets out there, but let's not keep White House red-alerts to ourselves in the future, ok? When people are running for their lives down Constitution Avenue, the rest of us get a little understandably curious.

Anyway, obviously, communication is key. For starters, I'm hoping that someone has reassigned the FEMA officials who sent 180 hospital evacuees to Charleston, W.Va, rather than Charleston, S.C., where they were being awaited by a triage center (the second time the agency mixed up the two cities). More seriously, given that it's National Emergency Preparedness Month and citizens are being urged right and left to have their acts together before an emergency, let's hope that the local officials are doing the same. Mr. White was not exactly reassuring on this point. When asked by the reporter if D.C. would do a better job in an evacuation than New Orleans had done, this is what he came up with: "That I can't say."

Swell. If you didn't know it already, folks, yer on yer own. That may fall squarely in the great American tradition of self-reliance, but why, then, are we spending all this money on the Department of Homeland Security? Let's keep our fingers crossed that no natural disasters come our way, and that any terrorist activities are foiled ahead of time or are at least far from catastrophic. Chances are that D.C. will never have to evacuate. But someone needs to tell the authorities that, as my father always likes to say (over and over), "Chance favors the prepared mind."

Speaking of sin

Tom is preparing for a conversation with his young son about 'sin'.
P[son]: If God can do anything, why wouldn’t He stop it from raining when I have soccer practice.

T: Primus, that’s because God hates soccer, and when he sees children playing soccer it fills Him with sadness.

P: Do you mean, it’s a sin to play soccer?

T: I believe so. They call it “Eurotrashism“.

P: So I’m making a sin by playing soccer?

T: Primus, do you receive Communion at Mass?

(Primus shakes his head no)

T: That’s right, you don’t. That’s because you haven’t reached the age of reason. That means you’re not fully responsible for your actions, and it would be very difficult for you to commit a sin.

. . .

P: Well, what else should we do to make God happy?

T: Well, we should always try to do His will, not our own will. I think when it gets a bit cooler outside we should also play catch with a football. Remember how I told you the saints in heaven play football when they’re not playing baseball, and how you play hockey in Purgatory?

New Orleans speech

There are two things I took out of President Bush's speech last night. One is that he is personally going to lead the national effort to get the Gulf Coast back on its feet again. The other is that no cost is too great to ensure that his reputation is restored.

The President also talked about increasing the role and power of the federal government in times of disaster. "It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces -- the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice".

Maybe this is warranted. It seems many Americans are not that worried about the demarcation between state and federal authority. Fine.

So, why no acknowledgement that the federal government is overstretched? Just as it is clear that a "challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority" it is equally clear that federal government is too distracted by things that do not require federal authority.

If states are going to relinquish authority in times of crisis, such as major hurricanes, then surely they should take back full authority in other areas of policy such as education or health.

The Church & Fair Trade

Well, just when you think the Irish Catholic Church doesn't have the backbone to talk about sin they come out with a whole new list of sins, including buying brand name coffee.

I can see it now. Father Boyle from the pulpit on Sunday, "Mrs. Murphy I saw you buying Nescafé last week. The shame you've brought on our parish". It would be amusing, anyway.

Whenever the Bishops get involved in this sort of argument they make me cringe. When an enthusiast explains "Fair Trade" it sounds great, but I can't see how it can make any real impact on the world's poor. Even the case cited by the Bishops of a company helping Fair Trade – Bewleys selling Fair Trade coffee – is just a marketing ploy. Bewleys is (a) tweaking the consumer's conscience to get him to pay more for a cup of coffee and/or (b) sacrificing a little in profit for the good press.

When you buy Fair Trade coffee you are rewarding inefficient production and distribution for the sake of feeling good about yourself. You are also denying the sale to those third world farmers who are more efficient and earning a living by selling to the big corporations. The simple problem for the third world coffee producers is that the supply is outstripping the demand and Fair Trade cannot do anything about that.

The Church would be better off trying to help grow the world coffee market, thus increasing demand. Maybe the Bishops could publish a pastoral letter asking Catholics to double their coffee consumption. Or they could encourage innovation among producers. Either of those options is better than than endorsing the inadequate, feel-good efforts of Fair Trade.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

"My job is to recriminate"

Great article by Michael Kinsley on the clarity of all the post-Katrina hindsight. Kinsley takes all the Monday Morning quarterbacks to task.
Of course, my job isn't to predict and prepare for disasters. My job is to recriminate when they occur. It's not easy. These days the recriminations business is overrun with amateurs, who are squatting on all the high ground. The fetid aroma of hindsight is everywhere.
The whole thing is great.

It's easy to talk about the possibility of the levees failing, but it's another to have warned that the floodwalls were structurally flawed before Katrina blew in. I haven't seen one report where someone had identified that weakness in the flood control system. It's easy to be a doom merchant if you don't know any specifics.

For the record, it will be horrific if the roof of the Lincoln Tunnel collapses during rush hour or if the Eiffel Tower falls during the height of the tourist season or if the Hogan Stand suddenly gives way during the All Ireland Final.

There. I've warned you people.

Spurning a White House visit for trip to Leitrim

Dympna Judge Jessich was supposed to be at the White House on Friday to receive the Medal of Valor awarded posthumously to her twin brother Fr. Mychal Judge. Dympna had gone to Keshcarrigan, Co. Leitrim, her family's ancestral home instead. She was the guest of honor at the opening of the Father Mychal Judge Memorial Peace Park in the town.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Bad decisions

One thing that has bothered me about all the hurricane coverage is the complete lack of focus on the bad decisions that many people made before the storm hit. I know there are issues regarding people with no cars in New Orleans, but the Mayor did send buses throughout the city on Sunday before the storm collecting people to bring them to the Superdome. As bad as it was there, people did survive it.

How many people were like Debbie Este?
Before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Sunday, August 28, Debbie said she hadn't paid much attention to the warnings and didn't want to evacuate without the family's pets. "I never once dreamed ... I just thought it would be a little wind and rain and then it would just blow over."
Este's mother, who lived with her, died waiting to be rescued. Again, I say that the National Hurricane Center has to evaluate their rating system and whether they tend to over-hype their storm warnings.

Taking the NHC's failings into account, I would still like to know why journalists are so reluctant to say that many people are dead thanks to their own bad decisions.

The media has no problem noting the poor judgment of those who die while driving drunk or taking drugs. So, why is ignoring an evacuation order not treated in a similar manner? Surely everyone has to take responsibility to look after themselves as best they can?

We still don't know how many died nor do we know what options each of the dead had or didn't have with regards to evacuating. For those who were left to die in a nursing home, personal responsibility clearly doesn't come into it. But, how many of the 650 known dead lost their lives because they opted to ride this one out.

I doubt we'll ever know, but I do think some focus on personal responsibility is needed. So far, we've heard a lot about what the government didn't do, but most of what the government failed to do was in reaction to the initial failing by individuals to get out of harm's way.

"A Blinding Flash of the Obvious"

Last Friday, Colin Powell said, "It "should have been a blinding flash of the obvious... that when you order a mandatory evacuation, you can't expect everybody to evacuate on their own." It certainly does seem obvious, and I've wondered why there weren't buses at the ready to take people out, or any other options besides having people to go to the Superdome. Can this oversight be blamed on New Orleans, as well-known for its dysfunction as its charm? Or should the Department of Homeland Security or FEMA have been at the ready?

At the moment, I'm not really interested in assigning blame -- but I am wondering whether this situation could happen again, in other places. I know that when they've raised the Terror Alert here and I've thought about having to evacuate our home, a half a mile from the D.C. border and about six miles from the White House, I think solely and squarely of how fast can I get the kids into the minivan and get the hell out of Dodge. (Or whether it would even be worth it.) After New Orleans, I've started to wonder a little more about D.C.'s evacuation plans -- and whether anyone in charge here has had one of those blinding flashes of the obvious -- that there are plenty of folks here sans cars as well. Thirty-seven percent of the population, as a matter of fact.

Last July 4, my family and I took part in a test of Washington, D.C.'s emergency evacuation plan. Developed in response to Sept. 11, the plan calls for police to direct hundreds of thousands of people to seven evacuation routes, where green and red traffic signals will run longer. "Operation Fast Forward" was put into effect at 9:50 p.m, 15 minutes after the fireworks display ended on the Mall, and although the Washington Post reported the next day that the evacuation met with "an initial snag" on Constitution Ave., it was considered fairly successful. We ourselves zipped home in about 15 minutes flat, something of a Suburban World Record. It was just a test, of course, and a limited one at that, so the fact that it was totally focused on motor vehicle evacuation isn't particularly telling.

But I've searched the web site for the D.C. Emergency Management Agency, and I can't come up with any helpful tips for those who might have to hoof it out of here. Nothing over at the Department of Homeland Security, either, though I did find a cheery suggestion to "cultivate a network of family and friends who can help you get out of the city." I also found something that mentioned Amtrak, but I don't think that would be overly helpful to indigent citizens, not to mention that I've read that Amtrak ceased service to New Orleans the day before the evacuation orders were given.

Sunday, in an article that stated a major terrorist act would throw D.C. into chaos, the Washington Post reported that the Transportation Department is working on a "walk-out" plan with staging areas for people without transportation to get assistance. But in the case of a terrorist attack, the paper said officials are concerned about publicizing the neighborhood meeting places for fear they could be secondary targets. Um, great.

So, four years after I stood outside my apartment building and watched the Pentagon burning, and $2 billion in federal, state and local monies later, it doesn't look as though D.C. is a whole lot better off than New Orleans should an evacuation be warranted. That this is unacceptable is, to borrow a phrase, blindingly obvious.

Laptop woes

Remember when I mentioned I was having trouble with the time on my system and I thought I needed a new CMOS batter? Well, I was wrong. Don't know what the trouble was, but it's not hardware. I spent 20 minutes on the phone to Dell's technical staff. Great service, I have to admit. I thought they'd charge me seeing as the machine is 3+ years old.

I guess the problem was in Windows. It seems to have gone away after I tried something I read about getting rid of all electrical charge inside a laptop when it was off. Maybe that did it or maybe not, but for now all's well.

Irish Eagle news

Big changes here. Maura will be contributing posts starting today. I suspect that if she really likes it she'll leave me for dust and set out on her own.

Remember, the Marquess of Queensberry rules are in effect.

No levees failed?

That's what I'm taking from this Times-Picayune article. What failed were concrete floodwalls. The investigation into what caused the floodwall failures has only just begun, but "two Louisiana State University scientists who have examined the breaches suggest that a structural flaw in the floodwalls might be to blame".

How much of what we "knew" on September 1 is still true today?

Update 2:05pm: I forgot to finish this thought. The reason I think this is significant is because during the days that followed the storm we heard a lot about the levees; the lack of maintenance money; that they were only capable of handling a category 3 storm; and so on. Yet, if what we have is actually a structural flaw, then it doesn't matter at all what they were designed to do because if they're flawed then they're prone to failure.

A big win helps ease the pain of homelessness

Slugger has already mentioned this article, but I just thought I'd mention it too. Stephen Rea doesn't know what's left of his home in New Orleans, but he knows that watching Northern Ireland beat England last Wednesday helped chase those post-Katrina blues away. He watched the game in a Las Vegas bar with one other Northern Ireland fan amid a sea of England supporters.

{I was annoyed that the bar wouldn't accept his New Orleans season pass for pub soccer and he had to pay to get in.}

The New Orleans Times-Picayune gives some idea as to what wins by the Saints and LSU Tigers meant for the region this week. Sports can really lift people.

No. 1 seed

A little early I know (the draw's not until Dec. 9), but I thought I'd just toss this out there. A column from the Newark Star-Ledger (Sep 6) making the case that the United States should get a number one seeding at next summer's World Cup.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Des helps Bertie

Our well-known, easily recognizable sports reporter is approaching Croke Park where he is hailed by a ticketless fan desperate to see the Hurling final. Des tells the fan that he can't do anything for him. Des feels bad. Then, like a bolt of lightning, who should Des next run in to, none other than Bertie himself. And, he's got a ticket, but no one to give it to.

So, Des remembers the poor soul outside the gate with no ticket and he gets Bertie's ticket for him. Des, of course, tells the country about this great bit of good fortune for Cork man DD Mulcahy. At the same time, we're all learning – again – what a great guy Bertie is. Just when the polls were looking really bad for Bertie, we get that little reminder that he's 'just like one of us'.

I'm sure all of this is just a coincidence, but I'd love to imagine that Mr. Mulcahy was a participant in a little play set up by the Taoiseach. "The most skilful, the most devious, the most cunning of them all".

Blaming Bush

The more I read about what was and wasn't done before and after the hurricane the more it seems odd to me that the President's taking such a big political hit. If you compare September 11 with Katrina, it's clear to me that the Administration was to blame for a lot more of what went wrong that day than they were to blame for what went wrong before and after Katrina hit.

To my mind, some disorganization and red tape snafus in the Katrina relief effort are as nothing compared with the following that led to September 11 attacks:
  • failure to tighten up immigration procedures both at embassies and at ports & airports
  • failure to streamline & improve intelligence operations
  • failure to dismantle the excessive barriers between intelligence gatherers and the FBI
  • continuing love-fest with the Saudi government
There are other things I could mention. And, sure, these are all hold-overs from the Clinton era, but Bush campaigned in 2000 against the Clinton Administration's record. He could have come to office and made sweeping changes.

Monday, September 12, 2005

If this isn't too frivolous . . .

When the whole hurricane effort is out of the news I'm going to miss listening to the RTE & BBC news-readers pronounce Baton Rouge. Their pronunciation gives the city a bit of flair that I never associated with it before.

Of course, I rarely even considered the city before Katrina other than as the answer to the question, "Where does LSU play its home games?". No that one. This one. "What is the capital of Louisiana"?

Irish in New Orleans

Mahons and Eddie (comments below – can't find links) provided some notes on the Irish in the New Orleans area. Yesterday's Sunday Business Post had a short article on the history of the Irish in New Orleans. Doesn't mention one son of Irish emigrants who've I always associated with New Orleans.

September 11

I didn't post anything about Sep 11 yesterday, but I couldn't take my mind off it either. Once the radio interview obsession faded and I got down to business painting the kitchen, I kept replaying everything I experienced on September 11.

I can remember the morning clearly, even though the first attack didn't happen until 1:45pm. Funny, isn't it? I can remember the most mundane details of that day from before anything had happened.

By 4pm on Sep 11 I was making my way home and feeling like I was not where I should have been. Not that I would have done a damn thing that was in any way productive.

Again this year I watched any programs I found that dealt with what happened 4 years ago. I suppose as time goes by the day will fade, although I think hearing the date will always be a reminder. A date that lives in infamy.

I recommend Mahons's comment below.


John O'Shea seems to have really shot himself in the foot with his outburst about the government's plan to send €1m to the US for hurricane relief. As I said last week, I can understand why he might object, but perhaps he could have left off the billionaires business. Made him sound bitter about the sympathy being directed to those who were enduring the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

As a result of O'Shea's comments two American board members have resigned from GOAL. Niall O'Dowd of the Irish Voice was one of the board members who resigned and in this week's paper he notes that O'Shea has "long held a very successful dinner in New York to raise funds". Can't be good for GOAL. From my perspective, it's too bad really. O'Shea has never been a shrill anti-American, unlike one or two others who head Irish overseas aid agencies.

Ryle Dwyer says that O'Shea should know the history of what the US did for Ireland during the famine before he sounds off. I thought the history lesson he provides is interesting, but (a) what happened 150 years ago is not really relevant today and (b) President Polk's reaction actually supports O'Shea's perspective.
A bill to allocate $500,000 for Irish famine relief was introduced in Congress. The Senate passed it, but it ran into difficulty in the House of Representatives due to the hostility of President James K Polk, who felt the government had no right to give the people's money away for charity. "My solemn conviction is that Congress possesses no power to use any public money for any such purpose," the president wrote in his diary.
Dwyer's story supports the view that private charity and not taxpayer's money should be sent to the US.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Now that that's over

Whew. Don't think I made too many dumb mistakes. Was annoyed on way home that I had not said this and not rebutted that. Basically, I don't think I spoke much at all. I was reluctant to interrupt people, although that's part of the game. I never thought of myself as too polite before.

I didn't get to meet Tom McGurk, as he was on the phone, but the other two panelists, Sian Ferguson and Paul MacDonnell, were very nice. I was nearly half an hour early and Sian was there already. The novices.

To be honest, I can't say how I (or either of the other two) did because I was just so obsessed with not saying anything stupid. I hope I succeeded on that one.

Plan, plan, plan

I have more to say on this, but I'm in a rush this morning. Just thought I'd alert you to David Brooks's column in today's NY Times. The last sentence sounds familiar. "But liberals who think this disaster is going to set off a progressive revival need to explain how a comprehensive governmental failure is going to restore America's faith in big government".

Friday, September 09, 2005

Radio Ga Ga

This Sunday from 11-12 I'll be on The Wide Angle on Newstalk106 discussing America 4 years after September 11. There will be three other panelists on with me. My main priority is to NOT make a fool of myself.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

When did the levees break?

I know I'm not the only one who is under the impression that the levees broke well after the storm had passed. It seems that this may not actually be true. If you read this web diary of the storm from the New Orleans Times-Picayune it seems pretty clear that the levees had failed before 9am on the Monday, that is just as the eye was passing New Orleans.

So, why the lack of panic? Why did everyone seem so at ease on Monday evening? I watched NBC Nightly News that night and the sense was that New Orleans had "dodged a bullet".

It may be because the city authorities initially thought the levees had been "topped" and not breached. Although, they had confirmed a breach by 2pm on the day of the storm.

I've seen two interviews with Michael Chertoff in which he said (maybe only implied, can't quite recall now) that he only learned about the breaches the following morning. How did this happen? How did so many people in the government (& in the media based in New Orleans) not know what was happening in the city?

The Times-Picayune reported that the two US Senators for Louisiana had issued press releases by 3pm, both of which give the impression that nothing all that serious has happened. Hmmm.

You know, all the executive branches of government were busy on the day of the storm. Reading this account you realize that the federal, state & local governments were all doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. They were trying to manage a very bad situation.

However, here you have a couple members of Congress who have nothing better to do than issue self-serving press releases. I wonder if this fed the media's complacent response on the evening that nothing much happened here. And, the nonchalant media reaction may have had the effect of taking away the urgency that the state and federal authorities needed to focus on New Orleans.

Congress never investigates its own role in a foul-up. Maybe their part in this fiasco is only minor, but I don't see why it should be too much to ask them to shut up until a crisis has passed.

Oh yeah, the Times-Picayune also reported spotting looters at 2pm that day. I hardly think that those people were desperate for food and water at that stage.

La Marseillaise

I had planned to drop this due to last night's outcome, but the French National Anthem is the best anthem in the world. I haven't got the foggiest as to what they're singing, but when I hear it sung before a big game or whatever it just feels exciting.

Funding the levees

Now I'm getting up on my soapbox. I'd better get down before I fall. But first . . .
In Katrina's wake, Louisiana politicians and other critics have complained about paltry funding for the Army Corps in general and Louisiana projects in particular. But over the five years of President Bush's administration, Louisiana has received far more money for Corps civil works projects than any other state, about $1.9 billion; California was a distant second with less than $1.4 billion, even though its population is more than seven times larger.

Much of that Louisiana money was spent to try to keep low-lying New Orleans dry. But hundreds of millions of dollars have gone to unrelated water projects demanded by the state's congressional delegation and approved by the Corps, often after economic analyses that turned out to be inaccurate. Despite a series of independent investigations criticizing Army Corps construction projects as wasteful pork-barrel spending, Louisiana's representatives have kept bringing home the bacon.
Okay, so Louisiana got a load of money from the Feds. Did they spend it wisely? Well, if it was spent on "wasteful pork-barrel" projects, then clearly not.

This is another problem I have with government. It's so big that citizens cannot really keep it all under watch. Even the press is overwhelmed. There's no way local New Orleans newspapers and other media can keep watch on all aspects of government work in the New Orleans area.

It seems to me that if the government was focused almost exclusively on combating crime, defending against attacks by foreign enemies and doing its utmost to prevent natural catastrophes we would have a lot less government by stealth, where pet projects divert resources away from the primary task.

Fundamental questions about government's role and performance need to be asked.

Oh yeah, this is mostly for the British & Irish folks, who are fed a steady diet of "It's Bush's fault" by the media with little by way of a counter argument. From the same article in today's Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
But overall, the Bush administration's funding requests for the key New Orleans flood-control projects for the past five years were slightly higher than the Clinton administration's for its past five years.

Common sense vs government

Another thing about government: something happens to people, perfectly normal people, when they work for the government. It seems like common sense is gradually driven out of them. They do things that, to the layman, seem almost inexplicable.

Here's an example. 1,000 firemen who headed towards New Orleans after the Mayor asked for help have been waylaid by FEMA. From the Salt Lake Tribune
The firefighters, several of whom are from Utah, were told to bring backpacks, sleeping bags, first-aid kits and Meals Ready to Eat. They were told to prepare for "austere conditions." Many of them came with awkward fire gear and expected to wade in floodwaters, sift through rubble and save lives.

"They've got people here who are search-and-rescue certified, paramedics, haz-mat certified," said a Texas firefighter. "We're sitting in here having a sexual-harassment class while there are still [victims] in Louisiana who haven't been contacted yet."
Again, my mouth is hanging open in disbelief.

End of small government?

The other night Jeremy Paxman asked the panel if the response to Hurricane Katrina meant the era of big (see below) small government is over. It took me a few seconds to push my tongue back and close my mouth. What? Government's bureaucratically bogged down response to a major disaster is an endorsement for its greater involvement in the lives of its citizens?

Protecting the citizens is government's primary function. That means protecting the citizens from foreign enemies, home-grown criminals and, as far as possible, nature. It seems to me that the question should be, "Have we imposed so many other burdens on government that it can no longer fulfill its primary function"?

Bill Gates runs a fairly successful software company. How would he do if he were put in charge of a furniture manufacturing company? Maybe he wouldn't be so successful. Maybe he's only be good managing in the software industry. It's possible and I think many people would agree that it's possible.

So, why do we believe we can find people who can manage an organization responsible for defense, education, agriculture, parklands, etc.? Even at the state level this seems pretty much impossible, never mind at the Federal level. Isn't it time to ponder whether the era of big government is over?

UPDATE: 7:15 Sep 9 Thanks to a tip, I realize I mistakenly wrote "big" where I meant "small" in the first sentence above. Duh! That means the whole point I was trying to make was destroyed by my own mistake.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Americans blame . . .

If you read all of that poll data you'll see the only people Americans are really looking to blame for anything are the gas (petrol) companies. 79% of Americans think the gas companies are taking advantage of the hurricane to jack up the price of filling up the Chevrolet. You can always count on the American public.

Okay, I was having a bit of fun when I wrote that last paragraph, but there's a serious side here too. The American public is not looking to find fault with anyone because (a) the situation is still grave and (b) most people probably believe everyone's doing their best, even if they're not doing a great job. The gas companies, however, are perceived to be cashing in on what is a national crisis, which explains why more people find fault with them than anyone directly involved in the relief effort.

Who's responsible?

A new Gallop poll indicates that the American public is not fully tuned into the "It's Bush's fault" mantra.

Who do you think is MOST responsible for the problems in New Orleans after the hurricane?
 George W.



No one
to blame


2005 Sep 5-613%





Good God! Just 13%. I would almost guarantee that a poll here would find that a greater percentage blame Bush for the hurricane, never mind the relief effort failures.

(New) Folsom Prison Blues

I sort of missed this one thanks to Katrina. Police in California have arrested 4 committed Islamists who planned on attacking the United States government, the Israeli government and local synagogues in the Los Angeles area.
The potential for carnage was great, said Randy Parsons, the acting assistant director in charge of the FBI in Los Angeles.

"Had these individuals gone undetected, their plan had the potential to inflict significant casualties within the city and county of Los Angeles."

Investigators found evidence at the homes of Washington and Patterson that showed intended targets included the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles, the El-Al Airlines offices at LAX, Los Angeles area military installations, synagogues and locations where events were planned for the upcoming Jewish high holy days.
And, these men were Americans. Not agents from abroad, but three American citizens and one green card holder. This all started at the New Folsom Prison in California, according to Daniel Pipes.
American prisons are comparable to the banlieues in France, the principal recruiting grounds for a criminal form of Islam. As Frank Gaffney observes, "The alleged New Folsom State plot had better rouse us out of our stupor." Will it? Senate hearings in 2003 on prison jihadism yielded distressingly few results.
This arrest sounds like a warning that a category 5 hurricane is heading towards the US, but it could hit any city any time. I hope the government does a better job tracking this one.

{Found through Warren Bell's post at the Corner.}

Helping America

John O'Shea is not happy that the Irish government is sending troops (along with €1m) to the US to help with hurricane relief efforts. He has a point, which is essentially that the US doesn't really need Ireland's help. Despite everything that has gone wrong with the relief effort, I think it's pretty obvious that the US will cope far better than the many African countries that O'Shea has spent his life trying to help.

I saw news clips of British planes heading to the US with meals ready to eat (MRE's), which makes sense to me. There are hundreds of thousands of displaced people in the US and it's possible that the supply of MRE's to hand would be insufficient. I read that Germany is sending pumps, which look like they could be of some use in New Orleans. And, it's possible that the water treatment equipment Ireland is sending could be truly needed, I don't know.

However, from what we've seen over the past ten days, the help the US really needed from the EU was mediation. Some of those Norwegians who helped broker the Oslo Accords might have been able to bring their skills to bear and get the various levels of government in America to work together.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Magic marker strategy

Here's a plan for dealing with people who don't want to evacuate.
Mr. Judkins is one of the officials in charge of evacuating the Hampton Roads region around Newport News, Va. These coastal communities, unlike New Orleans, are not below sea level, but they're much better prepared for a hurricane. Officials have plans to run school buses and borrow other buses to evacuate those without cars, and they keep registries of the people who need special help.

Instead of relying on a "Good Samaritan" policy - the fantasy in New Orleans that everyone would take care of the neighbors - the Virginia rescue workers go door to door. If people resist the plea to leave, Mr. Judkins told The Daily Press in Newport News, rescue workers give them Magic Markers and ask them to write their Social Security numbers on their body parts so they can be identified.

"It's cold, but it's effective," Mr. Judkins explained.
I thought the whole article was good.

{Found through NRO}

Benefits of Iraq war

Guardsman Jason believes that the National Guard's response to Hurricane Katrina has been great and, in fact, better thanks to having been used in Iraq.
I would argue that despite the absence of part of the LAARNG in Iraq, the overall quality of the response, and the rapidity with which it was able to be delivered, is perhaps BETTER as a result of the war in Iraq. And our nation benefits indirectly from the leadership and logistics lessons learned by our National Guard officers and NCOs as a result of their widespread deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kudos to the LAARNG for not going in prematurely. This is one operation where you absolutely needed overwhelming force, and to go in like a bolt of lightning. Good work, brothers and sisters.
We were all too "emotional", as Condoleezza Rice said. The past day or so I've been wondering if the eventual evaluation of the relief effort might show that it was far better than the current accepted wisdom. Jason obviously thinks so.

Chernobyl - not so bad after all

It seems that the effects of the Chernobyl disaster have not been as bad as had been feared. This morning's NY Times reports that a new study indicates that
contrary to previous forecasts, there had been no observed rise in the incidence of leukemia, a blood cancer widely associated with radiation exposure - except for a small increase among workers who were in the contaminated plant. Nor has there been the expected detectable decrease in fertility or increase in birth defects.
This has serious implications for people like Adi Roche. The report recommends cutting back on all the benefits that have flooded into the region because these have become "a major barrier to the region's recovery".
[S]even million people in what are now Russia, Ukraine and Belarus still receive some kind of Chernobyl benefits, from monthly stipends to university entrance preference to therapeutic annual vacations.
Surely it makes little sense to continue with the Chernobyl Children's Project in the face of this request to wind it up. Yet, I can imagine that this will be very difficult to accept if you've spent the past 15 years working on these projects.

Monday, September 05, 2005

One thing that could have been done

I've been thinking about this a lot the past day or two. Someone should have gone into New Orleans to wait with the people in the Superdome (or the Convention Center, whatever). I don't think the Mayor was in the Superdome and I know the Governor wasn't. It would have been better to have a political leader's spouse as they weren't needed to lead the relief effort. Ideally, Laura Bush should have gone in to live with those people as they were living, vowing not to leave until the last citizens of New Orleans were on their way.

I know this is fantasy and after the fact, but imagine how the situation would have been transformed if Laura Bush was living in the same awful conditions. It would have put paid to all this talk of race and government not caring. Mrs. Bush's presence would have not been simply a political stunt, although Bush's ratings would be in the 80s if Laura Bush had been in the Superdome. It would have sent a signal to everyone in New Orleans that all of America cared and that help would be there as fast as possible. It may well have defused much of the anger that is not helping the relief at all.


I was watching Meet the Press yesterday and the former Mayor of New Orleans, Marc Morial, objected to the use of the word "refugee" for those needing help in New Orleans (& elsewhere, presumably). Other black leaders have also raised the same objection.

Watson and others also took issue with the word "refugee" being used to describe hurricane victims.

"'Refugee' calls up to mind people that come from different lands and have to be taken care of. These are American citizens," Watson said.

Added Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.: "They are not refugees. I hate that word."
For what it's worth I heard Rush Limbaugh object to the use of the word refugee on Thursday or Friday of last week. At least we have some agreement on the issue, which is probably not the most crucial at this time.

I've used the word without thinking that there was any "color" connotations. Although most of the refugees we've seen in recent years have been either African or Asian (post-Tsunami), I remember the word being used fairly often during the wars in former Yugoslavia during the 1990s.

I (and many others) have been misusing the word. The definition requires some political dimension for a person to be a refugee. According to a refugee is, "one who flees in search of refuge, as in times of war, political oppression, or religious persecution". Merriam-Webster Online says, "one that flees; especially : a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution".

Again, it's not the most pressing issue.

Sunday, September 04, 2005


Whatever about black political leaders raising the issue of race with regards to the relief effort, I'm outraged when I hear it or read it here. All that sanctimony that just shouts, "we're better than those people". Well, I don't think so.

The editorial in today's Irish Examiner, is a great example of this.
Could the fact that the population of New Orleans is predominantly both black and poor explain why the city's anti-flood defences were ill-prepared?
You want to suggest that poor areas are more prone to suffer in natural disasters, I'm ready to listen. But, to suggest that the people of the United States are so bigoted that they'd deliberately allow their fellow citizens suffer and die because they're black is outrageous. I'm sure there'll be a lengthy inquiry into why those levees failed on Tuesday, but I'm just as sure that the issue of the skin color of the people of New Orleans will not feature. Poverty? Probably, but not race.

I know that the United States has struggled with racial issues. And, despite the progress in the 20th century, race is still a problem, but it's nothing like it was and I'm not sure it was ever as bad as is suggested in this question.

What's more, is that Irish people have their own prejudices. Okay, maybe the people aren't black, but I've heard more than one middle class Dubliner refer to "knackeragua" (or whatever) when talking about the tough, poor urban neighborhoods. To outsiders it may be difficult to distinguish between the people who live in these areas from the rest of the city's population, but one thing I've learned is that middle class Dubliners can as sure as if the others were a different skin color. They can tell by the look, the style or the walk when someone comes from one of those neighborhoods they never venture into.

If there were a disaster that wiped out the social infrastructure on the east coast of Ireland, I'm sure those who live in "knackeragua" would suffer most. It's unfortunate, but true.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

It's not because they're black

When I hear a black Congresswoman say that the relief effort is failing the people in New Orleans because they're black, I wince, but I'm sure she's wrong. The government - local/state/federal - has failed the people of New Orleans, but not because they're black.

I thought Secretary of State Rice said it best yesterday.
"That Americans would somehow, in a color—affected way, decide who to help and who not to help—I just don't believe it,"

. . . Rice said of any racial implications: "I think everybody's very emotional. It's hard to watch pictures of any American going through this. And yes, the African-American community has obviously been very heavily affected."
It is distressing and the government - at all levels - has, for whatever reason, failed. However, I'm sure the reason has nothing to do with race.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Levee fiefdoms

In for a penny, in for a pound, I suppose. I'm going to further erode my credentials as a strict states rights supporter.

In The Corner yesterday, there was an e-mail from Politics & Government teacher from a Louisiana college. He was talking about who owns and is in charge of the levees.
Rather [than] one agency that is in charge of flood prevention, there are scores. Building in redundancies would have required more boards, which would have lessened the political power of those on the existing boards. I seriously doubt that even now, after this catastrophe, that we in Louisiana will see this system change because the structure is mandated by the Louisiana Constitution. Any change requires not just statewide approval, but must also be approved by a majority of voter in Orleans Parish. Given how many local politicians whose fiefdoms would disappear, that will not happen, and so we will see this disaster occur again.
Let me say right now that if the Federal taxpayer is going to rebuild the city of New Orleans he also better become the sole owner of those levees. There can be no more fiefdoms and other sources of confusion.


Some of what I've read on the internet, including one or two comments below here, have me shaking my head. The local/state vs federal government issue is NOT important right now. What's important is that some government body take command and restore order and guarantee the safety of the people of the Gulf Coast region. That has got to be the Federal Government. Some of what I've read reminds me of the attitude of those who insisted laisser faire would resolve the Irish famine.

I believe in states rights and limited government, but this is a catastrophe. Who (beyond mother nature) caused this catastrophe can wait until the crisis has passed. Whether fit individuals in New Orleans (& elsewhere) are doing enough for themselves is also irrelevant now. All those people need to be evacuated now. This is not the time to be claiming the ideological moral high ground.

"Category 4"

Hurricane Katrina was described as a Category 4 hurricane by the National Hurricane Center. Yesterday I saw a home video of New Orleans during the storm made by a storm chaser. During the filming you could hear the guy say (from memory), "This is a category 4? I was in Hurricane Charley last year and that was a category 4, but compared with this that was really just like chasing a thunderstorm. This one is huge."

I wonder if the classification system itself is lacking and that this may have contributed to the lack of preparedness. If you read this page from the NHC you'll see no mention of the breadth of the storm. There has to be some explanation for the vast difference between Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Charley.

Chaos in New Orleans

I don't know the geography of the New Orleans area, but reading this blog gives a good idea that the problems are definitely wider spread than what we're seeing on t.v. The camera crews are pretty restricted.

I'm sort of surprised to read that people in the Algiers section have working phones.

We've all seen the signs hanging from some buildings asking for help. However, it seems some people in some buildings won't hang signs for fear of notifying the marauders that they're there.
My niece along with at least 15 others are trapped in their apartment building in New Orleans. They are mostly students at Loyola, Tulane, etc, who were not evacuated. There is at least one elderly couple in the building who may last much longer; my niece reported that they've stopped eating and they are very concerned. We have not heard from our niece since the hurricane, except as they were able to scavenge for food and water, they found a working cellphone, and that is how we know that for now, they are alive. They don't think that anyone knows that they are there. They cannot go out to get help, because there has been several incidents of shooting/looting in the area. My niece is not from the area, and has only been there for the last two weeks; she just started law school at Loyola. She reported to us that the building looks vacant, and they are afraid to hang signs out because of the looting.

Time to crack heads

I'm not sure if there's a word in this Washington Times editorial that I disagre with. Here's my favorite part:
The government must treat the battlefield of Katrina as it would any other field of engagement: Protect and provide for the innocent and eliminate the enemy, and do it now, before we lose New Orleans. Send the 40,000 troops Gov. Kathleen Blanco has requested. If looters fire on the troops, the troops should answer with suppressing fire. If the United States can project power anywhere in the world in a matter of hours, it can defend New Orleans and the coast of Mississippi.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


The more I see and read of the Gulf Coast the more I don't know what to think. It's almost the complete opposite (for me, anyway) of what happened on September 11. On September 11, it all started with fright and confusion that gradually gave way to a calm acceptance of what had happened and what had to be done.

In this case it just seems to get worse by the hour. What started out as a wet and windy storm has now exploded beyond anything I would have imagined. Civil order is only hanging on in New Orleans, there are refugees (refugees - in America!) walking out of the city, and there is still no communication at all with people in some areas.

I can't come up with a single acceptable explanation for anyone in the city of New Orleans to be without food, water and shelter by the end of today. Federal troops, national guardsmen, police from other jurisdictions all should be employed to restore order and provide supplies. This is the third day now. How long can it take? Commandeer trucks and planes if necessary, but get supplies and personnel there.


According to a report in today's Irish Examiner, parts of the post-primary education system are 'institutionally racist'. This is the the finding of a Trinity College Master's Degree Student. First of all, I'm not sure why a student's thesis is news. I don't remember any news coverage when I "published" my thesis in 1992 nor did any of my classmates' theses make headlines. But, whatever.

Let's look at Joe O'Brien's thesis. "The research was carried out among 18 teacher educators from five university education departments". So, what we have (and all we have) are the views of 18 college lecturers. No immigrants themselves seem to have been part of this. Here's what 9 of those lecturers identified as evidence of institutional racism:
  • A limited view of Irish identity in the curriculum.
  • A predominantly Christian influence in schools.
  • Inadequate English language provision to non-Irish students.
  • The compulsory study of Irish language.
  • A lack of support for the mother tongue of students.
Now, where in any of these is there any "racism"? Okay, possibly in the first item, but after that? The Christian influence? What? I see loads of Nigerians and Filipinos at Mass every Sunday. If anything, the Christian influence acts as a brake on racism.

Inadequate English language provision? Lack of support for the mother tongue of students? The compulsory study of Irish? Surely Latvians, Poles, Romanians, Spaniards and other "white" non-nationals face these same difficulties.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not really trying to get on Mr. O'Brien's case. I haven't actually seen his paper. My problem is with the Examiner. Shouldn't they be a little more cautious when tossing around words like "racist"? I don't think there's any doubt that Ireland is only really coming to grips with the influx of non-nationals. I'm sure the education system is struggling a bit. But, institutional racism? Gimme a break. A student, 18 lecturers and possibly an agenda is a pretty flimsy basis for such a charge.