Sunday, April 30, 2006

DiRT Photos

Wednesday was pretty rough. I made a critical error and jumped on the A Train, 'the quickest way to Harlem.' That I hadn't wanted to go to Harlem made no difference to the train itself, and I showed up at the Red Cross rather later than I intended. Team Captain Amanda had everything in hand, though, so she, Driver Bob and I (a new volunteer was supposed to show up, but was unfindable) jumped in the mystery machine and hit the road.

We immediately had a call in Queens, and were at the intersection for the 59th Street Bridge when the dispatcher asked us to respond to a 2 Alarm fire in Manhattan instead. We'd see that intersection a few more times.

We had brought no warm water, and it was cold, especially for people who'd been burned out of their building. We opted not to make lemonade, and just handed out unrefrigerated water, blankets and parts of jogging suits. A crowd had gathered in front of the building -- with ambulances and firemen all over, it was pretty exciting. But, after they had gone, a good part of the crowd remained. Because they'd been burned out of their homes and were waiting for us to house them.

The fire went pretty much as normal, but it took a while to register everyone. One interesting tidbit about this building was that it was apparently full of firebugs -- residents in three different apartments had started fires before. This one was a pretty cut and dried cooking accidents -- the fire marshalls found a frying pan in the center of the fire. The father of some of the children was an occasional resident and had recently come out of the hospital; he had bad eyesight and was slow moving. I don't know what was wrong with him, but I do know that some of the other newly homeless were open with their resentment.

So, OK, 10:30 rolls around and I get pretty excited. We're all done, pretty much, and it's too late to respond to another emergency. I'm thinking I'll be home by midnight. But, that 'pretty much' turned out to be pretty far from absolute.

A number of people had been hospitalized nearby, but we expected some of them to be discharged. So Amanda, Bob and a Red Cross mental health worker named Dorothy went over to the hospital to wait for them. Staff member Brian had come up to hand out cash cards (clothes, shoes, food) and had set up shop in the MTA bus we had obtained to transport people to a hotel near La Guardia. The 'fire family' was on the bus, so the other residents seeking shelter waited on the cold on the sidewalk in order to minimize conflict. Good of them. Still, they got grumpier and hungrier as time wore on.

One resident was on the bus explaining to his wife over the phone that they no longer had an apartment. When she arrived, she was pretty upset about her dog. It had leapt out of a window to escape the smoke, and died. She didn't want the super to take care of the body, Animal Control knocks off at 8:00 and the police weren't eager to transport a dog corpse to the 24-hour animal hospital for expedited cremation. She was a heart patient -- and an extremely agitated heart patient -- and the firemen had destroyed the cabinet containing her pills in fighting the fire. The dog, she said, was her only family in this country. I would have counted the husband, but she was pretty upset. And the mental health worker was waiting in the hospital with Amanda and Bob, all three with their radios off.

I mentioned Bob was the driver. So, for the two hours or so he was a few blocks away, I couldn't get to the water, comfort kits (toothbrushes and so forth), snacks, heater meals and so forth in the van. Eventually Brian took me to his SUV for materiél, so we got them something to eat. And I cooked my first heater meal. It's like a frozen entree, but not frozen. You drop it in a bag with a heater pad, add the included water, and set it to rest, film side against heater pad. Ten minutes later, you've got a meal. Miraculous. Of course, over the course of the ten minutes, you have a dangerous and painful thing to hold, as some of the disaster victims found out.

Some time after midnight, Brian took over the dog issue and Amanda, Bob and I took the residents out to the hotel. I rode in the bus. These photos are from my time in the bus pre-takoff.

The kid (Chris, holding Nick) has my helmet and flashlight in the first photo. When it was his turn to photograph me, he chose to underscore exactly how large I appear to children.

After dropping the people off and helping them register for and find their rooms, we realized that we'd forgotten to put a notice up! Then Amanda got a phone call from the officer on the scene that residents were still arriving! We went back to the fire building, picked up this one young woman, and brought her back to Queens. She wanted to know why we would choose to volunteer for this. I told her, 'we like sadness,' which probably isn't the official line. Three AM by the time I knocked off. Oof.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Gaddi Vasquez leaving Peace Corps director position for United Nations ambassadorship

And I was just confronting him Thursday about volunteer morale and domestic Crisis Corps deployments. This is a little like having your girlfriend leave you because she turned gay*. I'm trying not to take it personally. This email from a friend:
What did you do to make him leave PC?
It's not my fault!

* -- for those of you who know my girlfriend and I recently broke up, I think she'd want me to clarify that this is not what happened.

Stuart Bowen is still plugging away

Another great story from the Iraq Occupation is that of Stuart Bowen. Politically connected Bush appointee sent to 'oversee' the moneyfest, he dropped the quotes and went about his job unironically. I can barely believe this guy exists. I want to take some care not to mythologize him, and I'm sure he has his flaws, but you go, man.
Administration officials provided a November 2005 draft of the SIGIR [Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Mr. Bowen's office] management report to The Times, with numerous paragraphs circled by Pentagon officials to indicate they believed the assertions were inaccurate. For example, one section quoted "some reports" that said the now-disbanded Coalition Provisional Authority filled jobs with "a disproportionate number of ideologically motivated but inexperienced young people."
This guy's awesome.

Bunnatine Greenhouse and Sojouner Truth

So, you know that I consider Bunnatine Greenhouse one of the great heroes of the Iraq Occupation. She's the woman who was canned by the Army Corps of Engineers for daring to stand up to Halliburton.

Mildred Mallard, owner of ABC Boutique in Battle Creek presented Greenhouse with a collectible statue of Sojourner Truth.

"We are so proud that you shared your story with us. You remind of us so much of Sojourner," Mallard said. "She said speak the truth and we want you to continue to speak your truth."

I find that a pretty interesting comparison. Sojourner Truth is to enslaved women as Bunnatine Greenhouse is to Americans forced to grant huge amounts of money to access capitalists as part of a war of Choice in which they are murdered.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Another Category Five Storm in Australia

To give you kind of a sense of how unusual this is
On Christmas Eve in 1974, Darwin was devastated by Cyclone Tracy, which killed 71 people and left thousands homeless. The city has a population of about 100,000. The Northern Territory, home to Ayers Rock and Kakadu National Park, accounts for one- sixth of Australia's land mass and only 1 percent of the nation's population.

Now, I had the opportunity to speak briefly with the head of the Crisis Corps, the part of the Peace Corps that deploys returned Peace Corps volunteers to humanitarian disasters, last week. We discussed the terrible and haphazard response to Katrina last year, when the Crisis Corps, which normally deploys 100 volunteers around the world in the course of a year after a six-monthish-long process, had to deploy 241 volunteers with a few days notice.

She said it happened just like it looked. The director Gaddi Vasquez turned to her and said, "Let's deploy some Crisis Corps volunteers to Katrina." He saw a way to enhance his agency's reputation in light of FEMA's failure. And, FEMA didn't turn out to be the easiest agency to work with, asking for dozens of volunteers with a few days turn around. So, RPCVs seeking to help in the disaster got shuffled around for a few days and ended up handing out flyers saying how great the government was on streetcorners.

Which is fine. Lack of preparation for a disaster creates more disaster. What disturbed me was her response when I asked her what was going to happen this year. The Crisis Corps is not going to deploy.

I don't believe the Crisis Corps should deploy. Domestic natural disasters are clearly outside of its mandate, and we do have agencies who are supposed to cover this. But, that's almost certainly what she thought last year at this time. FEMA's no better off, and the Pacific Storms suggest we may have another humdinger of a season. The Peace Corp's political situation hasn't changed. I really do think that we may deploy. The pressures and mechanisms are the same. The young woman asserted that the failure of the levies was the big problem, and that'll not have the same impact this year, but I, of course, served in Lake Charles, where there was levee-free devastation.

Lessons learned? 0.

Reporting flooding through the cops

I'm a little nonplussed by this instruction in the National Weather Service's flood warning:
Now, aren't the police unusually busy during flood times? We don't hit looting right away, but the previous paragraph
Suggests that they have stuff to do. We're already reading the report on the internet! Shouldn't we be able to report flooding directly? Having to report through the police just invites delay and error.

Where is the American Driver's famous price insensitivity?

Hasn't Senator Paycheck Q. Petroleum been saying for years that increasing the price of gasoline would not put people in public transit? Sure, our transit systems blow and neither our residential nor our commercial areas are amenable to them (this is in the mythical 'rest of the country' that supposedly lies outside the outer boroughs.) But, our President clearly saw through the claptrap and bravely jacked up the price of gas.
Higher public transit use has resulted. I think this is a vision we can all get behind.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Once again, I've stayed off the list of the world's 100 least sexy men

Baby steps...

Jack Meyer slips away from Harvard

So, one of the many great enablers of George W. Bush's career is Harvard Management, the business that invests half of Harvard's endowment, some of it in dubious schemes hatched by politically connected alumni.
Maybe this is why Harvard can avoid ROTC.
In more crack reporting from the New York Sun, I learned that not only is Jack Meyer -- Harvard Management -- moving to another firm, but he's taking 30 of his coworkers with him, essentially gutting the place. Mr. Meyer has been CEO for CEO, since roughly the formation of the Harken Anadarko Partnership, formed to keep Harvard's stakeholders in the 'darko' about this huge money losing investment.
So, in with the firings of Andrew Card and Donald Rumsfeld (pending,) other Bush allies are scurrying under dark rocks.
Let's not lose track of them.

Business World Living on Cloud Cuckoo

There are some serious Amerikan Dreamzters working at the New York Sun, for example this crackpot Alicia Colon, who reminds me my birthday is African Malaria Day. Frankly? I would have guessed that. I remember Jessica's exhortation on Soap, "Oh, Chester, they've named a horrible disease after me." Check out the Colon link, if only for her photo, which seems to have stripped the attractiveness from Vin Diesel's racial ambiguity. She's pro-DDT and glosses over Bill Gates' (okeh, Bill and Melinda Gates') massive donations to the cause. You've got to love columnists who use the formulation "why on earth" without providing the obvious answers. The last paragraph is classic:
Frankly, I'd rather let the planet flame out than stand by and have millions of fellow human beings die unnecessarily from bug bites.
Now, since I know you so well I'll speak for you: "Alicia -- can I call you Alicia? -- you moron, if the planet 'flames out' billions of people will die. Is your point that death's okeh if it's not from insect bites? You're an idiot." Well, I'm proud of you reader, for your harsh but fair sentiment.

But, I'm still glad to be a Sun subscriber. Because once you get away from the editorial page, and to some extent the headline writers on the front page, it's a pretty solidly written newspaper. On April 17, Dan Dorfman's column discussed this guy, Burt Manning, who makes the rather obvious point that if the world's going down the shitter, the economy won't do well. Their threatdown has ten agenda, twice Stephen Colbert's tendency.

  • Terrorism
  • Pension Plans
  • Unsecured and mortgage debt
  • The, uh, possibility that 11 million illegal immigrants won't be able to pay their back taxes. You'll have to ask Burt. Not my issue.
  • Foreign treasury bond buyers wising up
  • Interest rates popping
  • Merger mania's attendant debt
  • The occupation of Iraq, estimated at $118 Billion and untold lives this year
  • Further Bush military adventurism
  • Massive impending mortgage foreclosures.
Sucky, right? But, these are the issues any honest perceiver of the economy stares in the face every day. All right, I'd never thought about immigrant back taxes. I can't even take it seriously as an issue. But, the other nine loom pretty large, and don't even consider climate changes' crop decimation and killer storms, nor the end of oil.

We really are on the cusp of a stark realization that our way of life is ending. It's nice to see the Sun give it some lip service.

On the other hand, I'm thinking of cancelling "The Observer." Do I really need a ten-dollar-bill-colored opinion rag? I think not.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Monday, April 17, 2006


I have a little theory that says the popularity in the 70s of role playing games -- in which you played someone whose personal characteristics were determined by dice (in the D&D type games, you rolled three six-sided die [and if 'six-sided die' seems redundant, you were clearly never a gamer] to give you Charisma, Wisdom and so forth of 3 to 18, biased toward 10 1/12) -- opened us up to tests like the Myers Briggs, and to generally seeing ourselves as a set of numerical parameters.
The internet feeds into this phenomenon by offering us personality tests. This is a roundabout way of saying I've taken another one. I know, it's a sickness. I'll try to eradicate this behavior.
So, my personal break out isn't so surprising. It's what I get on the Myers Briggs, and every other personality and behavior test. I'm smack dab in the middle. I have, essentially, no personality that you would notice.

Actually, according to that, I only have 98% of a personality altogether.

But, the thing that's got me anxious is the universal personality traits. I have pathologically low conscientiousness. Really, it's amazing to me that I still have the teeth I do and that I can still get credit cards.

Now, if you're a normal, conscientious person, you don't realize how limiting this is. But, my taxes are due in 22 hours, I plan to take a spinning class in less than five, and I'm writing this. It's always been astonishing how little I get done without being lazy. I think the next time I focus on improving a personal trait, this'll be it.
I'll get around to it. It'll get done. Don't worry.

Possibly the most important paper of our generation

You'll recall that I've been hammering on this point that we're undervaluing the acceleration of the globe's warming and the really dire consequences attendant thereupon.
Nature's finally gotten the picture. Not the concept, the journal.
World renowned nephologist Tim Garrett et al. lay out the point quite nicely. Give it a read.

Tracking Map Released for Hurricane Season 2005

And, I'll point out that hurricane season has yet to start here, making it no more than two months early. I updated my CPR and First Aid today just to be ready for deployment, though.
Oh, and Happy Easter. I slipped in to Tenebrae late on Friday and had to duck out of service early this morning to get to the Red Cross, so I'm hoping that if salvation's scored on points, we get partial credit when we don't attend a whole service.
Oh, and I had a little personal success today. I beat Frederick Law Olmstead with a stick! Which is to say, I crossed Central Park on foot and ended up essentially where I wanted to be. Actually, exactly where I wanted to be. I'm not sure if I've ever ended up on the correct edge of the thing before, so this is a huge win.
It does seem like the property developers are struggling against Olmstead, building ever higher buildings to help the hapless navigate across the park (and fasten their souls to the soul crushing architecture.) But, on a leafy day, Central Park's designer is still holding his own.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

AIDS overstated in Africa!

from Slate...
The WP fronts research showing that while AIDS has devastated southern Africa, there have been far fewer infections across the continent as a whole than the U.N. has long estimated. The earlier numbers, says the Post, were "skewed in favor of young, sexually active women in the urban areas that had prenatal clinics." Analysts also blamed structural biases at the U.N., which has both tried to measure HIV rates and raise money for treatment. "They were not predisposed, let's put it that way, to weigh the counterevidence," said one specialist. "They were looking to generate big bucks."
Southern Africa is still screwed, but Oceania really may have the first state failure attributable to Ukimwi.

Technically, it shouldn’t have affected anything, but in reality, it did

Nice. This could be my new motto. BART installed a backup software system on a Wednesday night to resolve problems with the main system. The backup and main system together crashed a network switch, which brought the transit system to a halt. Commuters were stranded for two hours.
But, yeah. All that pointless garbage project managers do? This is why.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Zacarias and the WMD

I'm sorry, but a plane qualifying as a weapon of mass destruction? WMD was always a weasel word intended to create a false equivalence between chlorine gas and a nuclear bomb. Well, maybe not always. But, certainly since President Bush started using it. But, even the great non-speller-outer himself spells them out as nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical weapons. I just want to be clear that an airplane is none of those things.

Take your time. Compare an airplane to each of the weapon types on the list. I'll wait.

Now, I'm not a defender of Mr. Moussaoui. But, his trial always has had an air of showiness, the desperation of a government trying to illustrate that it is not entirely powerless in the face of terrorist attacks. I have to say, I haven't followed it closely enough to even know what it is he was supposed to have done wrong, although Al Qaeda seems to disavow him. But, this sham governance doesn't work well for us.

And a big shout out to Consumer's Union

For including 'Green Party' as a possible affiliation in their dropdown. I know we only got 0.08% of the vote in the last presidential election, but we're totally coming back.

Consumers Union asks you to help stop cell phone record sales

You'll recall that T-Mobile and Cingular sell your phone records. Apparently, someone feels there should be a law against this. Is it excessive regulation? What kind of privacy are you guaranteed? Anyway, I stick with Verizon because they're not an offendor, but I recognize the limits of personal choice -- if Verizon went over to the dark side, that would simply not be an option. And maybe requests for my phone records should go through me.

So, I'm a little torn. I think it's bad that cell phone companies sell people's phone records, but we currently have the option of switching to a phone company that doesn't. While actually selling the records is totally unjustifiable, so was voting for Bush, and we didn't make that illegal.

I think the main argument here is that the phone companies themselves don't tell you they do this. If it weren't for these activists, we wouldn't know that this was a differentiator between the services. And, we can't trust the companies to behave well in the future. So, I'm signing the petition.

Monday, April 03, 2006

TIck Tock

Remember that the hedge funds rely on constantly increasing home prices as well...

Tom Tomorrow follows up on my Slate piece

Interesting timing, is all I've got to say.

Somewhere Somebody

There was this song popular on the radio in Seattle in the 90s, which pops up in my head pretty frequently ... 'there must be a million girls in this big, big city; I know that one of them is just right for me.' I became convinced that it was performed by Seal, so it in turn became very difficult to find. I looked it up for the second time today -- it's by Andrew Kastner, Larry McNally and Max Gronenthal, and has been performed by Tease, Jack Mack and the Heart Attack, Aaron Neville and somebody named Jennifer Warnes. I think the Jack Mack version is the one I heard. Again and again. It seriously got a lot of play for a tune noone else seems to recognize.
So, we should never lose track of this track again. I ordered it on CD today, so it'll go right in the permanent collection.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Journalistic bias discussed in Slate

I commented in their 'fray', so I thought I'd share.

90 % Of US Soldiers in Iraq think they're retailiating for 9/11

This is amazing. How could this even happen? What reinforces this concept?
Thanks to Doonesbury for the tip.