All content on this blog from Tim McGhee has moved to the Tim McGhee Substack, and soon, Lord willing, will be found only on that Substack.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Senate Guard: defending against fiscal attacks

"The Senate was up to its old tricks Monday evening. It prepared to pass, without debate and under a procedure requiring unanimous consent, a federal infusion of $9 billion into state Medicaid programs under the pretext of Katrina relief. The bill, drafted in secret under bipartisan auspices, was stopped cold when Republican Sen. John Ensign voiced his objection.

"The bill's Democratic sponsors railed in outrage against Ensign, a 47-year- old first-termer from Las Vegas, Nev., who usually keeps a low profile. But he was not acting alone. Ensign belongs to, and, indeed, originated, a small group of Republicans who intend to stand guard on the Senate floor against such raids on the Treasury as Monday night's failure. The group includes Sen. John McCain, who long has tried to wean Republicans from ever greater federal spending but attracted little support from GOP colleagues until recently." ...

"Another member of the Republican economy bloc, Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire," analyzed "the bill’s excessive spending. Also on the floor were two other bloc members: freshman Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and McCain. Although previously out of step with his party on tax cuts, McCain is aligned against tax increases as 'a cop-out' to avoid budget trimming.

"Among others in the bloc are the two South Carolina senators, Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint. Graham wants this group to join the House’s conservative Republican Study Committee in a “full frontal assault” on runaway spending. The culture of Washington is against them, but stopping one $9 billion outlay is a start."

Monday, September 26, 2005

The line-item veto: real Katrina relief

"At a time when the White House is being criticized by conservatives in its own party for taking too free-spending an approach toward hurricane relief, without suggesting any 'offsets' (or cuts to balance out the spending), a pair of Republican senators will give President Bush an opening by proposing a constitutional amendment to give him line-item veto power.

"Senators George Allen, R-Va., and Jim Talent, R-Mo., will make their announcement Tuesday at 11:45 a.m. EDT.

"In late November 2004, Bush asked for line-item veto power to enable him to reject particular spending items without having to veto an entire bill. Until now, there had been no movement on this on Capitol Hill. Bush has yet to cast a veto since coming to Washington. There was some speculation that he would veto the Highway Bill because the price tag came in above his declared limit, but he signed it anyway.

"In an interview that ran in the Wall Street Journal this morning, Bush budget director Josh Bolten again refused to identify any specific budget cuts to offset hurricane relief spending." ...

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Jimmy Wales, Defender of Wikipedia

Excerpts from a C-SPAN Q&A Interview:

"LAMB: As I was doing—well, using Wikipedia to do the research for this interview I kept thinking when will Google or Yahoo! put Jimmy Wales out of business. And then I—as I read further, you're in business with them in some way.

"WALES: Yes, in some way. I think we have—we're a non-profit organization that I founded. And we've gotten support from Yahoo! already and Google is very interested in supporting us. We're just still talking to them about what to do.

"And Yahoo! has donated some servers. And I think what's interesting about that is that if you—you know, it's almost a joke but it's completely true. If you think about well why—why do Yahoo! and Google want to do this and well, their business model depends on the Internet not sucking and we hope the Internet not suck. So it's that the Wikipedia for a lot of people hearkens back to what we all thought the Internet was for in the first place which is, you know, when most people first started the Internet they thought oh, this is fantastic, people can communicate from all over the world and build knowledge and share information."

"One of the interesting things about Wikipedia is that people assume—you naturally assume that—particularly on controversial topics that the big debates within the Wikipedia community would be somehow roughly the party of the left versus the party of the right.

"It turns out on those types of topics it's actually the party of the thoughtful and reasonable people and the party of the jerks. And those aren't left or right, they can come from all sides you've got jerks."

"LAMB: Why did you make this non-profit and not for-profit?

"WALES: Well, I'm—from very early on when we started it, it was—I conceived of it as, you know, 2001 it was still kind of the tail end of the dot-com era and I wanted to try something and I thought at the time that it could be for profit.

"But once we started building the community and I started giving it more thought it really made more sense—it's, you know, neutral, educational, it's a volunteer effort, people have among the motivations—and this is what really drives me is the idea of there's huge problems in the world of ignorance and ignorance causes war, terrorism, poverty. And so this charitable mission of saying lets give a freely licensed encyclopedia to everybody on the planet really captivates people. And that really makes more sense to do in a non-profit framework that the volunteers really wanted it that way. And so we just—I just said well, let's do that."

"WALES: Well, most of these rules have really a dual purpose to have the purpose the epistemological or intellectual purpose of saying this is what an encyclopedia should be like. There's also a social purpose which is somehow this rule helps us to get our work done collaboratively.

"No original research, the original formulation of this came about when we realized that we were getting contributions from physics crackpots, of whom there are a great many on the Internet. So people have their own personal theory of magnetism that they made up and they want to write about it in Wikipedia. Well, this is obviously inappropriate because we're—as an encyclopedia we're not peer review to academic journal. We're not qualified to assess new research.

"And that started in physics and it's kind of obvious there but it's also true in history. Somebody has a new theory of history they need to run it by academics. They need to get it published in a real place. We're not qualified to evaluate that. We are qualified to look at the sources and say well, yes, this was published in the journal of history, we can talk about it. But new research can't be done.

"So from the point of view it's the right thing for an encyclopedia to do. But then also socially it's much easier to tell someone, you know, instead of saying you're a lunatic and your theory of magnetism is nonsense, that's hard for people to hear and then they just mad and cause trouble. But if you can say, you know, thank you for your wonderful submission; unfortunately we can't do original research, please go get it published somewhere, then you can treat people with respect even if you think they're a little dodgy."

"I was talking about the benevolent dictator model and I don't want to leave the impression that that's our model because what I was going to say is I don't feel it's appropriate for any one person to be the dictator of all human knowledge.

"And so we're moving from that model which was necessary when we had a small group of people to a model—I make the comparison of the British monarchy. That my power should decrease over time and become more symbolic. And it's more my job is to defend the community not rule over the community."

Full Interview Transcript, Watch, Background

Census Goes Local

Demographic API

Developed by:
SRC - Press Release
AnalyGIS - Product Description:

"AnalyGIS has teamed up with SRC to develop a proof-of-concept application combining the Google Maps API with SRC's robust Allocate™ demographic engine. With this API, a single mouse click on a Google Map will return two different Census 2000 Demographic reports for 1, 3, and 5 miles around any location and simultaneously add radius rings to the map.

"Because both Google Maps and Census 2000 demographic information are free, this powerful, yet incredibly simple application can bring a whole new level of instant location-based analysis to individuals and organizations across the United States."

First noted on theunofficialgoogleweblog

Venezuela: the irony of evangelical broadcasting

"Robertson's explosive comments managed to inflame Venezuelan public opinion and led to strong statements from incensed officials. Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, with a long and conflictual history of dealing with evangelicals, remarked that Venezuela was weighing court action against Robertson. 'There is a legal measure in the United States that condemns and punishes statements of this nature,' Rangel observed, referring to broadcasting regulations dealing with calls for the assassination of another nation's leader.

"On the other hand, according to David Zelenak, Director of the Resource Department at the evangelical New Tribes Mission which operates in Venezuela, Chavez was initially somewhat partial to Protestants and evangelical groups like his own. Zelenak says that before Chavez came to power in 1999, Christian radio and TV were outlawed, a policy reversed by Chavez. Robertson in fact broadcasts his 700 Club to Venezuela over TV station Televen.

"Ironically then, 'Robertson's program would never have been there if it wasn't for Chavez.'" ...

The Custody of Freedom

"With the recent order limiting contact between 13-year-old cancer patient Katie Wernecke and her parents, state officials hope they can persuade Katie to stop resisting the treatment that could save her life.

"Katie's custody will be determined at a permanency hearing scheduled for November, at which time Juvenile Judge Carl Lewis, or another judge, could decide to terminate the Wernecke's parental rights, said Child Protective Services spokesman Aaron Reed.

"'At that point, we'll have to make a decision as to what the child's plan is either for reunification with her parents or termination of parental rights or continued custody,' Reed said.

"Katie's father, Edward Wernecke, said she is making her own decisions about treatment and that he is worried he would lose custody of his daughter and never see her again." ...

Wikipedia Goes Local

"The goal of PlaceOpedia is to connect geographically-relevant Wikipedia articles to their locations by plotting them on Google Maps. Adding a connection is easy—just enter the Wikipedia article, find the appropriate spot on the map, enter your personal details if you wish to be credited, and hit submit.

"They're providing an API for their Creative Commons-licensed dataset in XML, RSS or KML (for Google Earth) outputs, in hopes that their syndicated data can be remixed by others as well as used as a general geographic lookup table for Wikipedia." ...

Prayers, Preparations Precede DC Palau Festival

"The message of Christ is coming to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., next month in the form of an unconfined, open area festival with evangelist Luis Palau.

"Expecting a crowd of hundreds of thousands of youth, young adults and families, the DC Festival with Luis Palau, scheduled for Oct. 8-9, has partnered with some 875 local churches in a pan-denominational effort to share the gospel.

"Without gates or fixed seating, the two-day festival will be 14 city blocks of the hottest Christian music, entertainment, sports and the good news preached by a Christian communicator and author who has spoken face-to-face to over 20 million people in 70 countries." ...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

U.S. Patent Reform Bill

"Open source software businesses and projects—like all software companies—have been living with a sword over their heads: the sword of patents. A year ago, the Open Source Risk Management (OSRM) firm reported the existence of 283 patents that the Linux source code may potentially infringe upon. (This is not to say Linux does infringe on all 283.)

"While OSRM found that a third of those patents were held by Linux-friendly corporations like Cisco, HP, IBM, Intel, Novell, Oracle, Red Hat, and Sony, there were also at least 27 patents held by Microsoft, which has proven its willingness to patent other companies' work and pursue license fees in the recent squabble over the iPod interface.

"Defending a patent claim costs about $2 million per side, per claim." ...

Monday, September 19, 2005

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Link Editor: Putting Journalism in Context

"As recognition of the site grows, Wikipedia is increasingly referenced for breaking news, not just general background information, even more than its own news offshoot, WikiNews. Articles are often posted immediately, as an event unfolds, as opposed to a traditional encyclopedia whose articles are purely retrospect.

"For instance, in April, Wikipedia had the same percentage of people browsing for info on Pope Benedict as did The difference with Wikipedia is as time passes, more people contribute to an entry that was once breaking news, adding new information and deleting or clarifying that which was disproved, producing well-rounded encyclopedic entries."

"When writing a story, journalists could link to a Wikipedia entry or other reference to provide background information for the reader." ...

"Adding such background links may be beneficial in holding younger readers attention. Think about a twelve year-old who is asked to do a report on a current events article and finds one concerning the Israeli/Palestinian conflict published in a major national paper. It may be the student's first encounter with the issue and thus, at first glance, the article will not make much sense to the student.

"But if their were links to background information integrated in the article, the young reader will not only be able to understand the gist of the story, but also may develop an interest in it and begin to follow it daily in the newspaper. This idea is also relevant for anyone who picks up the paper in the middle of a developing story. Online newspapers of the future may thus act as virtual information super-links aside from their role as purveyors of quality journalism.

"Keeping this in mind, the future newsroom may have an additional employee: a 'link editor' (if the position ever takes hold I'll try to come up with a more original job title). The bearer of this responsibility would be charged with reading drafts of articles before they are published, adding any relevant links to names, places, events, etc., in the text.

"The journalist, as many of you may realize, does not have time to complete such a task. The link editor would work from a database and if ever they crossed an obscure reference, would search for background, link it with the article and place it in the database for future reference. It could work in reverse as well: journalists could consult the link editor for quick background on a story idea.

"Of course, similar functions have already been technologically automated such as a service that links words to a dictionary site, which is useful for improving ones vocabulary. But such a position in a newsroom could result in more informed, fulfilled and happier readers, indeed the type of reader that returns to read your newspaper the following day."

This is one of the best articles/entries I've seen yet describing what I once did at CWA, and what I try to do here on The Mountaintop Report.

When I was at CWA, I was basically "the Web guy." More officially known as the Communication Operations Assistant at first, and later the Internet Communications Coordinator.

A little background here is helpful (ironically enough). As I see it, there is a spectrum of development possibilities out there, specifically as it relates to publishing. On one end, you have the very inefficient, "let's have separate plain HTML files" or "let's use a WYSIWYG editor like FrontPage." For small sites, some can make this work, but it takes a lot of effort to maintain any kind of consistency, branding, navigation and structure on the site.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have your high end sites like your cable news counterparts, news wires and the like that use databases to automate the transition from editing to publishing. But as editorsweblog pointed out, you don't get the hypertext effect from journalists that have neither the time nor mental constructs to use such Web tools to effectively help them put their writings into context for people.

In terms of the Web publishing spectrum, there is a happy middle ground that uses a serving technique called Server Side Includes (SSI). With this, one is able to carve up page code into unique and reusable parts. Not only does this maintain consistency of appearance, navigation and structure, but it's also fast. A friend of mine has a very successful service that is heavily built on this technique.

When I was at CWA, after rebuilding their Web site from scratch, I eventually set things up to where instead of writings going directly from approval to the Web, I would have the approved text sent to me. There my goal was more to apply good usability principles of writing for the Web to the texts we would publish, and part of that included adding links to various institutions we named, articles we had written, and the like.

At the time, 1998-2002, more than Wikipedia, this was modeled after the CNET of Halsey Minor, which was "user-driven" enough to link as appropriate, competition or not.

Since leaving CWA, and later starting this blog, I have tried to do the exact same thing here. I highlight articles and excerpts that strike me as worth reading, and when I mostly quote the text here, including this entry, I take the text a step further and for the most part add exactly those kind of links to the text.

There's a lot more I could say and have said on these things, but this is enough for now.

Congress won't sacrifice pork in federal spending for Katrina

Sen. Tom Coburn "is arguing that massive federal spending in the wake of Hurricane Katrina must entail some sacrifice. By that he meant the pork so dear to his colleagues. That has evoked an icy response, not only from Congress but from the White House as well." ...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Telecommuting Interest Soars

"With gas prices in the Washington region among the highest in the nation, increasing numbers of beleaguered commuters are looking to trade two-hour treks on congested freeways for speedy telecommutes via the information superhighway, teleworking advocates say."

"Teleworking advocates—including the federal government—say they hope widespread consternation about rising fuel prices will prove to be the tipping point needed to bring about a telecommuting revolution. And they have been scrambling to convert the public to their cause."

"For years, transportation experts in Washington have dreamed of a boom in telecommuting as a way to ease traffic congestion and reduce the environmental impacts of car emissions. Every worker who begins telecommuting could reduce government transportation spending by $3,000, according to a study by George Washington University's Center for Economic Research.

"But widespread telecommuting has not materialized. Although a newly released study by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments shows the number of teleworkers has increased—from 11.3 percent of commuters in 2001 to 12.8 percent in 2004&30151;experts believe a much higher proportion of workers could telecommute."

"Ronald F. Kirby, transportation planning director of the council of governments, said the main obstacle to teleworking is that some bosses worry about supervising workers 100 miles away. 'There is a strong level of resistance by middle managers,' he said, even though studies have shown employees are more productive when teleworking." ...

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Rudy refuses to point finger

"Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who guided New York through the dark days after Sept. 11, said there is no place for second-guessing during an emergency, and he is not interested in criticizing the way government officials handled Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

"Giuliani said before a speech Tuesday that it is too soon to draw any conclusions about whether the agencies that responded took too long or who was responsible. When the situation stabilizes, he said, the nation can examine the rescue efforts.

"'I don't know that I'd want, at this point, to be a critic,' he said, according to The Virginian-Pilot newspaper. Later, he added, 'I didn't think it was particularly helpful when I was going through this that people were second-guessing me while it was still going on.'" ...

Wikipedia Traffic Booms to New York Times Levels

"Hitwise, via Reuters, reports that Wikipedia's traffic has grown 154 percent during the past year. It now threatens to surpass traffic to the NYTimes site—one of the few successful news brands online—and other major news sites. What are we to take away from this?

"First, Wikipedia is not an online brand, but a publishing phenomenon where users provide the content. It's become a trusted (or at least well-known) source of information and is also an expression of several of the Internet's primary characteristics (and, arguably, virtues)—decentralization, openness, collaboration.

"The fact that Wikipedia may soon overtake the NY Times also speaks to something we've been saying for awhile—news has become a commodity online. For the most part, news is just information—columnists are an exception and why the NY Times believes it can charge for that content. I don't particularly care whether that information comes from CNN, Yahoo! News, Google News, Topix or USA Today." ...

Senators Call on Congress to Make Sacrifices

"U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) issued the following joint statement today calling on Congress to 'lead by example' by cutting back on pork-barrel and other unnecessary spending to help fund the Hurricane Katrina relief effort."

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Unsettled Precedents

"With the passing of Judge William Rehnquist all the Supreme Court jurists who decided Roe v. Wade are now deceased, but the controversy that ruling started continues to this day (Justice Rehnquist dissented in the case).

"Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) is so focused on the Roe decision that it appears the pro-choice Senator has to invent words to further confuse the issue.

"The Washington Post reports that Senator Specter asked Judge Roberts if Roe v. Wade set a 'super-precedent' since the decision has been followed by 38 Supreme Court rulings meant to refine or clarify its guidelines. Judge Roberts wisely did not answer the question but the question itself shows how even Senator Specter, a former district attorney, can be misled on what, if anything, the Roe decision settled.

"That the Supreme Court needed 38 subsequent rulings to 'clarify' its holding does not establish Roe as a 'super-precedent,' but just the opposite." ...

Monday, September 5, 2005

Displacement of Historic Proportions

"The largest displacement of Americans since the Civil War reverberated across the country from its starting point in New Orleans yesterday, as more than half a million people uprooted by Hurricane Katrina sought shelter, sustenance and the semblance of new lives.

"Storm refugees overwhelmed the state of Louisiana and poured into cities from coast to coast, crowding sports arenas, convention centers, schools, churches and the homes of friends, relatives and even strangers. Red Cross officials reported that every shelter in a seven-state region was already full—76,000 people in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. Hundreds of miles from New Orleans, hotels were jammed or quickly filling.

"Rich and poor alike, they found themselves starting over. The former began buying new houses and leasing new office space. The latter waited in lines for a bar of soap or a peanut butter sandwich.

"Katrina has scattered more than twice as many people as the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and unmoored more people in a few days than fled the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Estimating from census data, about 150,000 of the displaced lived below the poverty line even before they lost everything. Far more than 50,000 of them are past retirement age." ...

Hollywood Uncertain After Summer Bummer

"Americans' love affair with movies is far from over. Yet like many relationships, it seems to be suffering from a case of familiarity breeds contempt. Summer 2005 was the worst since 1997 for movie attendance, which dropped sharply and rattled the complacency of studios.

"For the 18 weeks from early May through Labor Day, domestic movie grosses are expected to total $3.6 billion, down 9 percent from summer revenues of $3.96 billion last year, according to box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. Attendance figures are even bleaker. Factoring in higher admission prices, the number of movie tickets sold should come in around 562.5 million, down 12 percent from summer 2004." ...

"Summer 2005 did produce its share of big hits, led by 'Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith' at almost $380 million. Films at or near the $200 million mark included 'War of the Worlds,' 'Batman Begins,' 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,' 'Wedding Crashers' and 'Madagascar.'

"There also were a few independent hits, such as the ensemble drama 'Crash' and the surprise documentary smash 'March of the Penguins.'"

"'In an ideal world, people would say "OK, we have to think more creatively, we have to think outside the box and come up with new and different things,"' said Steven Friedlander, head of distribution for Warner Independent Pictures, which released 'March of the Penguins.'

"'But I'm afraid what's going to happen is, we're all going to sit in a room and say "We need more penguin movies."'"

Sunday, September 4, 2005

Aerial Survey of Hurricane Katrina

NOAA has posted 1800 aerial images of the U.S. Gulf Coast areas that were decimated by Hurricane Katrina.

"NOAA will be flying more missions in the days ahead that will yield hundreds of additional aerial digital images."

"The aerial photograph missions were conducted by the NOAA Remote Sensing Division the day after Katrina made landfall at approximately 7:10 a.m. EDT on Aug. 29, 2005, in Plaquemines Parish, La." ...

Storm Exposed Disarray at the Top

"The killer hurricane and flood that devastated the Gulf Coast last week exposed fatal weaknesses in a federal disaster response system retooled after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to handle just such a cataclysmic event.

"Despite four years and tens of billions of dollars spent preparing for the worst, the federal government was not ready when it came at daybreak on Monday, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former senior officials and outside experts."

"Joe M. Allbaugh, the former Bush campaign manager who served as his first FEMA head," was "critical of FEMA's natural disaster focus and lectured senior managers about the need to adjust to the post-9/11 fear of terrorism. So did his friend Michael D. Brown, a lawyer with no previous disaster management experience whom Allbaugh brought in as his deputy and who now has the top FEMA post. 'Allbaugh's quote was "You don't get it,"' recalled the senior FEMA official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. 'If you brought up natural disasters, you were accused of being a pre-9/11 thinker.'"

"Jack Harrald, director of the Institute for Crisis, Disaster, and Risk Management at George Washington University, said FEMA's natural disaster focus was nearly liquidated. 'We ended up spending a lot of money on infrastructure protection and not the resiliency of the actual infrastructure,' Harrald said. 'The people who came in from the military and terrorist world thought we had the natural disaster thing fixed.'"

"On the Friday before Katrina hit, when it was already a Category 2 hurricane rapidly gathering force in the Gulf, a veteran FEMA employee arrived at the newly activated Washington headquarters for the storm. Inside, there was surprisingly little action. 'It was like nobody's turning the key to start the engine,' the official recalled.

"Brown, the agency's director, told reporters Saturday in Louisiana that he did not have a sense of what was coming last weekend."

"But other officials said they warned well before Monday about what could happen. For years, said another senior FEMA official, he had sat at meetings where plans were discussed to send evacuees to the Superdome. 'We used to stare at each other and say, "This is the plan? Are you really using the Superdome?" People used to say, what if there is water around it? They didn't have an alternative,' he recalled."

"Federal authorities say there is blame enough to go around. In a news conference yesterday, Chertoff cautioned against 'finger-pointing' and said no one had been equipped to handle what amounted to two simultaneous disasters—the hurricane and subsequent levee break.

"Other federal and state officials pointed to Louisiana's failure to measure up to national disaster response standards, noting that the federal plan advises state and local emergency managers not to expect federal aid for 72 to 96 hours, and base their own preparedness efforts on the need to be self-sufficient for at least that period. 'Fundamentally the first breakdown occurred at the local level,' said one state official who works with FEMA. 'Did the city have the situational awareness of what was going on within its borders? The answer was no.'" ...

Saturday, September 3, 2005

Kanye West Uncensored

"Rapper Kanye West surprised viewers of an NBC benefit concert for Hurricane Katrina victims on Friday by accusing President George W. Bush of racism.

"'George Bush doesn't care about black people,' West said from New York during the show aired live on the East Coast on NBC, MSNBC, CNBC and Pax, just before cameras cut away to comedian Chris Tucker.

"West, who is black, suggested moments earlier that delays in providing relief to survivors of the hurricane that hit the U.S. Gulf Coast on Monday and flooded New Orleans were deliberate. He said America was set up 'to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off as slow as possible.'" ...

Hurricane Survivor: 'I'll never leave Australia again'

"It was supposed to be a dream holiday, but Australian Karen Marks ended up stranded in a New Orleans nightmare."

"And late Friday, she still had no idea when she and her aunt would be able to get out of town, or even out of the massive building where thousands of people have spent the past days in fear of more rapes and killings."

"She and her aunt, Pam White, had saved for one year for the US trip that also was to take them to Hawaii. They flew in on Saturday, unaware that the massive storm was also headed for New Orleans. By the time they got to the city known as 'The Big Easy,' it was too late to get out." ...

Friday, September 2, 2005

The Collapse of Relief

I don't normally write my own comments directly in this blog. I usually prefer to simply quote the more poignant writings of others. But tonight I have a few observations of my own to make.

Observation #1: A question that began to bubble to the surface today with markedly greater frequency was on whom can we lay the blame for the delay in the lack of supplies, the response as a whole.

Very disheartening is that the very people who should be out in front providing hope and solutions and being the conduit of vital communications are either part of the problem complaining (using language as disgraceful as his complaint), or absent altogether. We've seen and heard from the governor of Mississippi multiple times before, during and after. The only official of note in Louisiana to say anything constructive has been their senior senator. Where's even the junior senator from Louisiana?

The words of our leaders can either build us up, or leave us to fall apart. Fortunately, today, there was a small taste of the former, but from Louisiana this week there has been much of the latter.

Observation #2: There are people who still need help—desperate help. And there are people all across the country prepared, ready to go, and waiting for a green light to bring relief.

This shouldn't be hard. People need help. People are ready to help them. And the two aren't meeting because...? Because FEMA won't give them the green light. In an unusual and welcome reversal of roles, even foreign nations are ready to offer aid.

The only real explanation that makes any sense to me, is we have a colossal failure in communication. There are no land lines, no cell towers, no power, no cable, no nothing.

This predicament seems to include the emergency management officials as well. How is it that FEMA Director Michael Brown didn't know until Thursday that people had been directed to the Superdome earlier in the week ... and were still there?!

But if there's no power or outside communication from officials to the general public as we have, and the media aren't talking to them, but just getting fighting survivors' stories to the public, maybe it makes sense in a dysfunctional sort of way, how they didn't know.

Observation #3: There has been a community of people in this country for a long time hidden, and sometimes ridiculed as outdated. And emergency officials of late have long neglected to even partially employ this valuable resource: the ham radio operators. It's been a cliche by which they've lived, but this week it's truth stings with renewed freshness: ham radio works when nothing else does.

But even through four major hurricanes in one year on one state, emergency officials convinced themselves they really didn't need the backup communications pipeline of amateur radio. As we've seen this week, that kind of communcation—that works with nothing but a radio, operator and batteries—would be quite useful. It seems officials don't even know it exists.

Observation #4: FEMA and those local officials who have decided to participate in coordinating the relief efforts are doing their best. I believe them. Is it adequate? No. How could it be? This is the largest series of disasters (hurricane, levee break, etc.) ever to hit at once. As much as help is arriving, there are and will still be those who have not been helped for a while. And some of those squeaky wheels are getting plenty of squeak (media coverage), but not the grease (help) they need.

The American government was created to be of the people, by the people, and for the people. But in recent years, Americans have allowed their government to be of the government, by the government, and for the government. Americans in turn have divorced themselves from the government, held the government up on an unattainable pedastal, and turned against the government when it can't live up to the impossible.

New Orleans' "leader" is simply acting out this mentality. After all, it's not his job to lead, it's the government's. Why shouldn't the government help? And who is the government—besides an opportunity for political pot shots?

Even before Katrina, there has been a disturbing trend of news stories of late that cite magnificent examples of local leadership and communities rallying around needs in ... their communities. From the Minutemen of the 1700s and the 2000s to communities welcoming home their men from Iraq, that's how it worked for 200 years. That's how it should work.

Yet, increasingly the question people and reporters are asking is, "Why should communities have to do this when the government could do it?" If you follow the results of that logic out to its comprehensive conclusion, you end up with economic collapse. Everyone wants everyone else to fix them. It's a lazy way to fake taking responsibility.

There once was a time when people asked why should the government have to do things when the people can do it? Earlier than that, people used to ask, how dare the government do things that people can do for themselves?

This week, some cannot help themselves. This week, the American people are helping. This week, the government is helping.

Venezuela Suspends Issuing of Missionary Permits Following Robertson Comments

"The Venezuelan government has temporarily suspended the issuing of missionary permits and visa after a prominent American evangelist suggested the assassination of its President, Hugo Chavez.

"The chief of Justice Ministry's religious affairs unit in Venezuela, Carlos Gonzalez, said last Friday that the change in policy would stay in effect until the federal government could have tighter regulation of church activities in the country." ...

"'The government of Venezuela, which was already investigating mission organizations in their country, has put a hold on all visas for missionary activity and is intensifying their investigation,' Sanford, Fla.-based New Tribes Mission reported on Sunday. 'NTM has several missionaries who have visas awaiting renewal.'

"New Tribes Mission missionary, Merrill Dyck, commented, 'We are putting out large articles in the two major newspapers here in Venezuela this week stating very clearly that we do not share [Pat Robertson's'] views, and in fact find them totally reprehensible and offensive.'"

"Mission agencies such as New Tribes Mission are asking believers to 'pray that the authorities involved in reviewing missionary activity in Venezuela will see that Robertson’s comments do not reflect the opinions of the missionary community, and that the Gospel will be unhindered.'"

The Essence of Leadership

"I don't want to see anybody do anymore ... press conferences. Put a moratorium on press conferences. Don't do another press conference until the resources are in this city.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, in a radio interview with WWL-AM radio

Mayor, I admire your Desire T-shirt you were wearing today when you greeted the president. However, venting your frustration by cutting off communication is not in the character of a true leader. Your people need you now, and you refuse to talk to them.

Live Blogging from New Orleans

The Interdictor (redirected)

Thursday, September 1, 2005

New Orleans Mayor Issues 'Desperate SOS'

"Storm victims were raped and beaten, fights and fires broke out, corpses lay out in the open, and rescue helicopters and law enforcement officers were shot at as flooded-out New Orleans descended into anarchy Thursday. 'This is a desperate SOS,' the mayor said."

"'We are out here like pure animals. We don't have help,' the Rev. Issac Clark, 68, said outside the New Orleans Convention Center, where corpses lay in the open and the and other evacuees complained that they were dropped off and given nothing—no food, no water, no medicine."

"A military heliocpter tried to land at the convention center several times to drop off food and water. But the rushing crowd forced the choppers to back off. Troopers then tossed the supplies to the crowd from 10 feet off the ground and flew away."

"In Washington, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the government is sending in 1,400 National Guardsmen a day to help stop looting and other lawlessness in New Orleans. Already, 2,800 National Guardsmen are in the city, he said."

"'Hospitals are trying to evacuate,' said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesan, spokesman at the city emergency operations center. 'At every one of them, there are reports that as the helicopters come in people are shooting at them. There are people just taking potshots at police and at helicopters, telling them, "You better come get my family."'

"Some Federal Emergency Management rescue operations were suspended in areas where gunfire has broken out, Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said in Washington. 'In areas where our employees have been determined to potentially be in danger, we have pulled back,' he said."

"People chanted, "Help, help!" as reporters and photographers walked through. The crowd got angry when journalists tried to photograph one of the bodies, and covered it over with a blanket. A woman, screaming, went on the front steps of the convention center and led the crowd in reciting the 23rd Psalm." ...

Airboats Urgently Needed In Louisiana, Mississippi

"The State of Louisiana's Department of Emergency Management has requested 300 airboats and swamp buggies to assist in high-water rescue from Hurricane Katrina. Search-and-rescue, law enforcement patrols and recovery are part of this mission.

"Those responding can expect 10 days of 18-hour shifts, initially under adverse conditions. Each boat and operator must be able to carry an ample supply of fuel, food, drinking water and personal hygiene items.

"Consideration should be given to navigational equipment including GPS, maps, two-way radio communication and lights for night operation. Any group traveling into the affected areas must be self-sufficient." ...

Would Roberts practice the restraint he preaches?

"Humility isn't a characteristic usually associated with powerful government officials. But it's a key trait for a judge to fulfill his proper constitutional role, according to Supreme Court nominee John Roberts.

"In his view, Congress makes the law, the executive branch executes the law, and it is the job of judges to provide judgment—nothing more." ...

Members of Congress Lose Homes

"An oak tree may be the only remains of the home where Sen. Trent Lott raised his family and joined other political leaders for a rocking chair view of the sea.

"Lott, R-Miss., learned from neighbors and relatives that the storm surge from Hurricane Katrina, rising as high as 30 feet, leveled his Pascagoula home along the Gulf coast of Mississippi near the Alabama border.

"Lott's press secretary, Susan Irby, said Lott and his wife were driving to Pascagoula Wednesday to search for personal effects that may have survived the storm. 'He's among the many who have losses and it has been a very emotional thing,' she said." ...

Ham radio operators provide vital link

"With cellphones, land lines and e-mail knocked out by the storm, amateur radio operators have become the only link to the outside for some people stranded by high water. Radio operators have become like shortwave carrier pigeons alerting rescuers to stranded victims and reassuring families about loved ones cut off from communication." ...

Ham radio operators reach out and help hurricane survivors

"With cellular and land line phone systems destroyed by the storm, a network of amateur radio enthusiasts are helping people trapped in the affected areas communicate with loved ones across the world." ...

Is Google's cafeteria a competitive weapon?

"If you're a Google fan, here's yet another reason to love this provider of really useful, reliable, and not to mention free computer tools—they feed their employees well!" ...

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