September 07, 2005

DEREK LOWE sees a major step toward nanotechnology.

JOSEPH BRITT: Don't forget about Darfur. It is, in fact, worse than a hurricane.

MY FOCUS ON KATRINA and Katrina Relief has led me to drop the ball on linking to various blog carnivals. Here's a make-up post for at least most of them:

The Virginia Blog Carnival; The Carnival of the Vanities; The Carnival of Liberty; Grand Rounds; The Carnival of the Capitalists; The Carnival of the Liberated; Blawg Review; The History Carnival; The Carnival of Revolutions; Haveil Havalim; The Carnival of the Recipes; The Carnival of the NBA and, last but not least, the Carnival of the Podcasts.

Sorry it's just a bunch of links and no witty banter, but I'm pretty tired and a bit ill, so this is the best I can do this week. I'll try to do better next time.

THE BEST ARGUMENT YET for seeing heads roll at FEMA:

Not long after some 1,000 firefighters sat down for eight hours of training, the whispering began: "What are we doing here?"

As New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin pleaded on national television for firefighters - his own are exhausted after working around the clock for a week - a battalion of highly trained men and women sat idle Sunday in a muggy Sheraton Hotel conference room in Atlanta. . . .

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."

This does sound like a bureaucracy that doesn't understand the urgency of the situation.

UPDATE: Of course, there seems to be a lot of dumb decisionmaking at all levels:

The Fox News Channel's Major Garrett was just on my show extending the story he had just reported on Brit Hume's show: The Red Cross is confirming to Garrett that it had prepositioned water, food, blankets and hygiene products for delivery to the Superdome and the Convention Center in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, but were blocked from delivering those supplies by orders of the Louisiana state government, which did not want to attract people to the Superdome and/or Convention Center.

That's consistent with this report. Apparently, they wanted people hungry, thirsty, and anxious to leave.

Video of the Red Cross story here, from Ian Schwartz.

FRANK RUMMEL is blogging from the ongoing Cambridge conference on Scientifically Engineered Negligible Senescence.

SOME KATRINA LESSONS: We're going to see a plethora of commissions and inquiries (most about as useful and non-partisan as the 9/11 Commission), but here are a few lessons that seem solid enough to go with now:

1. Don't build your city below sea level: If you do, sooner or later it will flood. Better levees, pumps, etc. will put that day off, but not prevent it.

2. Order evacuations early: You hate to have false alarms, but as Brendan Loy noted earlier, even 48 hours in advance is really too late if you want to get everyone out.

3. Have -- and use -- a plan for evacuating people who can't get out on their own: New Orleans apparently had a plan, but didn't use it. All those flooded buses could have gotten people out. Except that there would have had to have been somewhere to take them, so:

4. Have an emergency relocation plan: Cities should have designated places, far enough away to be safe, but close enough to be accessible, to evacuate people to. Of course, this takes coordination, so:

5. Make critical infrastructure survivable: I think that one of the key failures was the collapse of the New Orleans Police Department's radio system. Here's the story on why:

Tusa said the police department’s citywide 800 MHz radio system functioned well during and immediately after the hurricane hit New Orleans, but since then natural gas service to the prime downtown transmitter site was disrupted and the generator was out. Transmitter sites for the police radio system “are also underwater with the rising water and [are] now disabled,” Tusa said.

Owners of the sites that housed police radio transmitters would not allow installation of liquefied petroleum gas tanks as a backup to piped gas, meaning generators did not have any fuel when the main lines were cut, Tusa said.

Radio repair technicians attempting to enter the city were turned away by the state police, even though they had letters from the city police authorizing their access, Tusa said.

This is absurd, and I'm pretty sure it's the major factor leading to the disintegration of the New Orleans Police Department. That sort of gear should be survivable -- and there should also be a backup plan for how to get messages back and forth if the radios go out anyway: Messengers, broadcasts on commercial radio, etc.

(There should be a separate post-disaster communications plan for survivors, too -- so that they can locate relatives and let people know they're alive).

Other crucial infrastructure should be hardened as much as possible, too. There's only so much you should do, but disaster survivability should be considered at every stage of design, procurement, and construction.

6. Stock supplies and prepare facilities: The Superdome didn't have adequate food, water, and toilet facilities, even though everybody knew it was going to be a shelter of last resort. The Convention Center was worse. All public buildings that might be used for refugees should be ready. We used to stock fallout shelters that way; we could do it again.

7. Be realistic: Here's what the Los Angeles Fire Department tells people about an earthquake aftermath:

To those of us who live and work in the Greater Los Angeles area, earthquakes and other natural emergencies are a reality. In order to deal with this situation, emergency preparedness must become a way of life. In the event of a major earthquake or disaster, freeways and surface streets may be impassable and public services could be interrupted or taxed beyond their limits. Therefore, everyone must know how to provide for their own needs for an extended period of time, whether at work, home, or on the road.

That's just how it is. People need to be encouraged to do this. Whenever I say this, I get responses along the lines of "poor people can't afford to stockpile food." But here's a family survival kit for $50 and it's pretty good. Most poor people in America can afford food (that's why so many poor people are fat). They do have other problems that make preparation less likely, though (if you're the kind of person who thinks ahead and prepares for emergencies, you're much less likely to be poor to begin with) and local authorities have to be ready -- see the stockpile advice above.

8. Put somebody in charge: Politicians and bureaucrats thrive on diffusion of responsibility, because it helps them escape blame (as they're trying to do in the fingerpointing orgy that's going on now). Somebody needs to be clearly in charge. Right now it's mostly state governors, but this needs to be made inescapably plain, regardless of where it is. I don't agree with Mickey Kaus that we should ignore federalism and just put the President, or the FEMA Director, in charge and empower them to override state and local officials, but even that would be better than leaving no one in charge.

There's much more to be done on this topic, but it awaits clearer information on who dropped what balls when. However, it's worth noting that structural problems are always soluble when the people involved are willing to cooperate, and that no structure works well when it's staffed by idiots or people who don't take the problem seriously. Which raises another point:

9. Make people care: Actually, Katrina may have done this. Most people -- and politicians are worse, if anything -- have short time horizons. Disasters are things that just don't happen, until they do. Planning for them is ignored, or even looked down on, often by the very same people who are making after-the-fact criticisms that there wasn't enough planning. People usually get better after a big disaster, for a while. Beyond that, voters and pundits need to treat the subject with the importance it deserves instead of -- as is more typical -- treating it as the silly obsession of a few paranoid types.

I'm sure there's a lot more to be learned, but this is a start. If you think I've missed something important, send me an email.

UPDATE: Aaron Taylor emails: "I'd add: Err on the side of overwhelming law enforcement presence."

Yes, and show zero tolerance for truly lawless activity. The "broken windows" theory applies in spades, I think, when windows are already broken . . . .

And reader Deena Bevis emails:

Clear chains of command are definitely essential, but so is oversight/accountability. New Orleans didn't have any of that until it failed. We need a system that tells us if someone in that chain of command is failing to complete their responsibilities, and we need to know that BEFORE something happens.

Basically: States and the feds should grade each other on disaster preparedness, and those reports ought to be public.

I'm afraid log-rolling and backscratching might interfere, but it's a thought.

ANOTHER UPDATE: A reader emails:

I read your post on lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina. I am a nuclear engineer working at a Midwest nuclear plant. We are required to have emergency plans. They are relatively detailed and many aspects are regulated. This includes communications, getting information to the public, recommendations to take shelter or evacuate, and coordination with federal, state, and local authorities. We are required to perform drills and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission grades us annually on one of them.

I'm not sure how well all of these steps would scale up to a large geographical area or the legality of grading states and localities on how well they execute their emergency plans. But people are acting as if this is an entirely new concept and it isn't. Why do we need another worthless commission to tell us what we already know and some of us already do.

Jim Hogue writes:

Maybe it's time to put that little Civil Defense logo (or something similar) back on AM/FM radios so people will know exactly where to tune in the event of an emergency?

And speaking of "In the event of an emergency" I haven't heard anything about the Emergency Alert System in relation to Katrina. Was it on? Did it work? Did it provide any useful information? I would think that a system that's been tested weekly since the 50's would have been pretty reliable.

Beats me. Emily Bennett has another communications question:

I find myself wondering if passenger cars equipped with OnStar could be used for communications in an emergency situation. OnStar constantly advertises its ability to get emergency personnel to its subscribers, and it seems to me that an ambitious FEMA or Homeland Security employee might begin talks with the OnStar folks to see if OnStar equipped vehicles could help manage evacuation traffic flows, provide communications to rescue personnel, and assist some of Bill Whittle's sheepdogs.

Probably not enough bandwidth and switching ability, but I could be wrong.

Reader Jay Johnson emails:

Having made it through the F4 tornado that blew through Jackson, TN in 2003 relatively unscathed, brought the importance of having an emergency kit such as that to light for the missus and me. We did go to our friendly, neigborhood "Everything's a Buck" store, and stocked up on things like cheap canned meals (beef stew, soup), dry foods, matches, water, batteries, cheap flashlights, copies of important papers, a change of clothes, a sealed container with purely emergency cash, some rudimentary tools (hammer, phillips and flat screwdriver, adjustable wrench, and a couple of pocket knives), and cheap first aid kits. It doesn't cost much, and an ounce of prevention is worth the extra peace of mind that comes from it.

Of course, nothing can completely prepare you for such an event, but everyone should do something to prepare for their short term survival in this spot.

Indeed. Reader Jeanne Jackson makes a point that seems trivial but isn't, in light of experience:

One important item you missed is providing evacuation plans for citizens with pets. One reason many people remained behind in New Orleans was that the emergency shelters barred pets, as did the buses, etc. for transporting evacuees. For many pet owners, especially childless and/or older people, pets are surrogate children. It is cruel, heartless, and unnecessary to insist, as a condition of rescue, that one's beloved dog or cat be abandoned to its fate. Were I to be told I must abandon my dogs in order to get out of a life-threatening situation, I, too, might choose to remain behind and take my chances.

I think you should leave the dog behind. But lots of people feel differently, and evacuation plans should recognize that.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Harvey Schneider has some excellent advice for individuals:

One of the things my family has done is designated a contact person in the event of a catastrophe. My entire family (Mother, 2 Brothers, 2 Sisters in law, sister, brother in law, 4 nephews and 2 nieces) lives in Orange County California. We have designated a family friend in Phoenix Arizona as the person for everybody to contact as soon as possible and to leave any messages regarding health or other vital matters. Also, in the event that the entire area is unlivable, we have agreed to meet at our friends house in Phoenix and make further plans from there.

Good point. Meanwhile, Jim McMahon writes:

I would add another player to your list of lessons learned - listen to the insurance companies.

They assess and manage risk for a living. Since insurance rates are based on risk of loss, the easiest scorecard available to judge how well any particular area is prepared is the cost of commercial and homeowners insurance.

For disaster mitigation purposes, I would suggest an expanded system similar to car crash test ratings, where the disaster risk of a community or neighborhood is scored based on the lessons you list, including:

The inherent environmental risk of the area (flood plains, forest fire fuel, earthquake susceptibility)
Preparedness of the local & state gov - budgets, experienced people, drills, publicity
Individual preparedness based on site inspections, nature & number of voluntary associations, etc.
The costs of maintaining and replacing infrastructure.

These ratings can then be used as promotional tools by highly rated areas, and as cattle prods during elections. I would expect that most of the components of these ratings are already compiled and ready to use, needing only the imprimatur of the Fed.

Then FEMA's job becomes one of ongoing improvement of ratings in high-risk areas. They can grant tax breaks for real estate developments and local policies that improve the risks, and restrict the use of highway funds to prevent the construction of the Foghorn Leghorn Memorial Bike Path, Library and Fan Cub until the essential infrastructures are at their target ratings.

I'm sure some wags & wastrels will have issues with this, but show me another low-government way to honestly rate how well the lessons have been learned.

Well, insurance companies do have money riding on the outcome, which encourages honesty.

Christopher Johnson has more thoughts:

I would only add that churches ought to be urged to stockpile both food and other emergency supplies for people who don't have or can't immediately access their own. Many churches are very strong buildings, they're in just about every neighborhood and people aren't afraid of them. I know that if I needed immediate help to get me through the next few days after losing everything I owned, I would much more likely to try a church for help than to take my chances with a government bureaucracy.

Good suggestion.

MORE: Reader Jeff Cook emails:

5. "Make critical infrastructure survivable: I think that one of the key failures was the collapse of the New Orleans Police Department's radio system."

No, sorry. The collapse was in incident command.

It is axiomatic (lesson #1) that the first thing to fail in ANY emergency is communication. The NOPD incident command training should have taught them this. There is no way to assure that radio communications will continue after winds and power outages. This is the kind of thinking that has Blanco and Nagin in their bunkers giving orders and then wondering why they weren't carried out instantly. No one was listening. My experience has been that even seasoned dispatchers, who may or may not have power and transmitting ability themselves, have a hard time keeping channels clear in an emergency. I've seen communication break down during DRILLS.

This is why you need AT LEAST 72 hours notice for evacuation and why the NOPD should have default posting positions and "runners' assigned in the event of communications failure. There is no fail-safe communications system and there never will be. If they harden this technology for floods and hurricanes, will they survive an EMP? a nuclear device? Well, dammit why not??!! Who throws the switch from natural gas to lpg? How long does lpg in the tank last? Who refuels them? Are the refuelers available during a hurricane? Is it in our response plan to throw the switch? Is the switch thrower a police employee or a private contractor? Do they know their responsibility? Is the switch thrower even still employed? Answers to these questions can never be known for any extended period, especially when elected officials try to be the incident commanders. What can be known is that communications fail. Always.

Plan, plan, plan, practice, review, plan, plan, plan, ad nauseum.

They also appear to have forgotten lesson #2. "It is always easier to scale back than to scale up once the emergency has begun."

I've heard the words "incident command" and "unified command" exactly once each in the mainstream media since the blame-laying began. That tells me that all the really knowledgeable people are too busy to comment right now, and haven't been interviewed yet.

Finally bear in mind that emergency response and incident command is very, very, very difficult even in the best circumstances, which never exist.

Very interesting.

IS IT THE vindication of Tom Ridge?

I'LL BE ON MICHAEL GRAHAM'S SHOW shortly, talking about Katrina. Click on the link to listen live.


CLARIFICATION: In the Aug. 29, 2005, issue, the “Inadmissible” item “Warning: This Case May Contain Conflicts” (Page 3) stated that George Mason law professor Ronald Rotunda “may have his own conflict of interest” in commenting on John Roberts Jr.’s involvement in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. That was not meant to suggest that Rotunda violated any specific legal ethics rule.

Likewise, I believe the Legal Times may be controlled by baby-eating space aliens. This is not, however, meant to suggest that the Legal Times is controlled by any specific baby-eating space aliens.


SOMETIMES I HAVE a strong urge to resign in disgust from the Amalgamated Federation of Pollsters, Pundits, Politicians and Pompous Pontificators. This is one of those times.

No sooner had Hurricane Katrina roared through Louisiana and adjacent states than every blockhead with a microphone or a word processor felt compelled to spout off about What It All Means — and, more important, Who Is to Blame. . . .

Ordinary people are sitting at home, transfixed by the spectacle unfolding on their television screens. Their hearts are breaking as they watch the horrifying spectacle of an entire city drowned. Many have already contributed what they can to the American Red Cross, to the Salvation Army, to the other armies of compassion, and only wish they could do more.

What must they think of the talking heads who treat this as if it were another bit of minor grist for the political mills? As if this were another story about some politician's war record or a nominee's nanny issues. The callowness now on display goes a long way toward explaining why politicians and the media are held in public esteem somewhere above child molesters and below bankers.

Sounds like he's channeling Foamy the Squirrel. But hey, when you're right, you're right, even when you're a talking cartoon squirrel.

UPDATE: Judging from the latest Gallup Poll Max and Foamy may be onto something.

And then there's this:

Geraldo Rivera arrives in a Fox News truck. An elderly woman with blond hair grips his elbow. She's wearing thick dark glasses and a pink shirt. He carries her small white dog in his arms. He's wearing thigh-high waders unzipped to below his knees. We shake hands. "Her relative called one of our stations," Geraldo tells me, explaining how that call went to another station, and then another, and finally to him.

The woman had been stranded in her home for six days. Geraldo picked up the woman and her dog and brought them here. The woman looks frail on his arm, though not as bad perhaps as a lady collapsed on a chair nearby, unable to move. Or a woman in a wheelchair being lifted from the truck, carrying her prosthetic leg on her lap.

"That's the second time he brought her here," one of the doctors tells me, nodding toward Geraldo.


"They did two takes. Geraldo made that poor woman walk from the Fox News van to the heliport twice. Both times carrying her dog."

"Are you serious?" I ask. He says he is.


ADRIAN MOORE WRITES on why we're so short of refineries.


"MR. BUSH: Tear down this levee!"


Three states have already passed new laws in response to the Kelo decision.

The statutes in Alabama and Texas sharply curtail eminent-domain condemnations for private development. "We don't like anybody messing with our dogs, our guns, our hunting rights or trying to take property from us," said state Sen. Jack Biddle, a sponsor of the Alabama law. Delaware's new statute permits condemnation but sets new procedural requirements for local governments.

Larry Morandi, an analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures, predicts a rush of new laws next winter, when 44 state legislatures will be back in session.

"Most if not all state legislatures will be dealing with eminent-domain laws next year," Morandi said. "The outcry has been so sharp that many states already have task forces or study committees at work on this issue this summer. Most of the proposed legislation is designed to restrict the kind of governmental action that the court upheld in Kelo ."

I'm glad to hear it.


TELLING THEM WHAT THEY WANT TO HEAR? Austin Bay notices something interesting.


Hurricane Katrina wiped out communications systems throughout the Gulf states, and much of the impacted region remains cut off from voice and data service. But some connectivity is coming back from unexpected sources, thanks in part to tech industry volunteers who've teamed up with the Federal Communications Commission.

On Friday, the FCC held a conference call with wireless internet service providers and infrastructure experts to coordinate volunteer efforts for storm-ravaged areas. FCC staff asked organizers to help gather data from those offering to donate resources -- from satellites to power generators to spare parts -- to help reconnect the effected areas.

Very interesting.

UNSCAM UPDATE: Claudia Rosett has more on the latest oil-for-food developments. Excerpt:

The problem here is that whatever the truth about the secretary-general’s family ties to U.N. business, he was responsible for a great deal more than simply that particular U.N. contract. Even after the many scandals broken so far, a full account of the U.N.’s management of Oil-for-Food — starting with Annan’s starring role as head of the organization — would be an eye-popping thriller, and probably the healthiest thing to hit the U.N. since its founding. Oil-for-Food was not a bookkeeping exercise. It involved oversight of Saddam Hussein, an oil-rich war-mongering tyrant who gamed every angle of one of the most corruption-prone relief programs ever devised. Out of more than $110 billion in oil sales and relief purchases supervised by the U.N., Saddam by some estimates grafted out anywhere from $10 to $17 billion. While the U.N. praised the program, Saddam used his ill-gotten money not only for palaces, but to rebuild despite U.N. sanctions his networks of secret bank accounts, illicit political payoffs and arms traffic — and squirreled away billions that congressional investigators say may be funding terrorism today.

She seems to expect a whitewash, though.

MICKEY KAUS: "The U.S. should take Fidel Castro up on his post-Katrina offer to send over 1,586 doctors from Cuba. It could be a PR victory--how many do you think will go back?"

I HAVEN'T PAID MUCH ATTENTION to the Air America scandals, but Michelle Malkin and Brian Maloney have been working hard on the story. It looks like their effort has paid off.

UPDATE: A follow-up here: "In this case, smoking guns seem to abound."

September 06, 2005

THE FASHION DEATH PENALTY: "Perhaps a simple, 'you know, David Bernstein had that look twenty years ago,' will do."

I should think so.

HERE'S the U.S. Navy's Katrina rescue photo gallery.

Lots of interesting pictures.

Meanwhile, here's a Katrina relief report card from RealClearPolitics.

And Chuck Simmins reports that total donations for Katrina relief have reached $465,769,985. And they're still growing.

BRENDAN LOY remains unimpressed with Michael Brown.

BRUCE KESLER: "The mass media has begun its self-congratulations for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina. The party may be premature."

UPDATE: No congratulations here. Or here. (WARNING: Talking squirrel at second link. SECOND WARNING: Squirrel makes more sense than Keith Olbermann or Anderson Cooper. And don't get me started on Geraldo.)


MORE: Or here! And don't forget here: "I blame the media. In this country nearly everybody has a TV set. 80% of poor people have TV sets. The private media are the principle means of the public dissemination of information. They didn’t get the word out."

I guess now we know why it's mostly self-congratulation . . . .


Never mind FUTURE scholars:

See Paul Cantor's fine book Gilligan Unbound which makes your exact point about mid-20th century Americanism.

I haven't read it, but it's self-evidently brilliant!

J.D. JOHANNES emails:

Back in Iraq.

You know, the war, the news story that doesn't involve flooding, FEMA and blaming Bush for people who refused to comply with an evacuation order.

The guys saw on the news how the Dems were blaming Bush and it really ticked them off.

As usual, I think that eagerness to make Bush look bad has led some people to overplay their hand.

OUCH: "We never go after Maureen Dowd anymore, because there isn't any sport in it. Poor Paul Krugman is rapidly getting into the same category."

Jacob Sullum, on the other hand, is still blasting away at the barrelfish: "Paul Krugman offers the least plausible explanation I've seen so far for the federal government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina."

Likewise Radley Balko: " A government-planned Brasilia-like New New Orleans would be an atrocity. The Paul Krugmans -- or the Jonathan Alters -- simply can't win this debate."

UPDATE: Tim Blair is still reading Dowd:

Maureen Dowd believes that a “cultural shift” is “turning 2005 into 1968”. Oh, how she must wish that it were so; in 1968, Dowd was 16.

Ouch. Er, but remind me again: How long was it after 1968 before a Democrat was elected President?

EUGENE VOLOKH: Does God dislike poor people?

YES, I'M BLOGGING ABOUT SOME OTHER STUFF, but don't think that gets you off the hook if you haven't donated to Katrina relief! Go here and give somebody some money. And if you've contributed, but haven't logged your contribution over at N.Z. Bear's place, and I'll bet that's most of you, well, go do it. (Bumped up on page). [LATER: Bumped up again.]

UPDATE: So far, this has raised about $865,000 $900,000 $970,000 $1 million $1.1 million $1.2 million (about $185,000 $200,000 $260,000 $282,000 $319,000 $360,000 from InstaPundit readers) based on people's self reports. Let's see if we can get it into the seven-figure range before the blogburst ends at midnight. [LATER: Made it! But don't let that stop you!]

There are two kinds of people out there: Those who haven't donated yet and those who have donated, but haven't logged your contribution over at TTLB. If you haven't donated, how about it? There's a list of charities here, or if you just want to give where I gave without having to choose among the many choices you can go to the Salvation Army and donate there. (Just noticed that this is almost 1/8 what Amazon has raised, which is a pretty impressive achievement for the blogosphere).

If you haven't logged your contribution yet -- and I'm guessing that's a lot of you -- well, go do it.


How widespread is the corruption at the United Nations? The multibillion-dollar Iraq Oil-for-Food scandal was just the beginning.

Now the issue is becoming the scale of corruption in the U.N.'s normal operations — and which individuals and corporations are reaping the benefits of a network of bribery and conspiracy that investigators have just begun to uncover. So far, those identities are still a mystery — but perhaps not for much longer.

Last Friday, federal prosecutors in Manhattan indicted the head of the U.N.'s own budget oversight committee, a Russian named Vladimir Kuznetsov, on charges of laundering hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bribes paid by companies seeking contracts with the United Nations.

Kuznetsov, who has pleaded innocent, allegedly took a cut so openly that he had part of it deposited into the United Nations' own staff credit union in New York.

Kuznetsov's arrest is the latest twist in the scandal involving the U.N. procurement department, which was the longtime post of Alexander Yakovlev (search), another Russian U.N. official recently fingered by U.S. federal investigators.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Much more (including video) here.


According to Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders), Information supplied by Yahoo! helped Chinese journalist Shi Tao get 10 years in prison

The text of the verdict in the case of journalist Shi Tao – sentenced in April to 10 years in prison for “divulging state secrets abroad” – shows that Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. provided China’s state security authorities with details that helped to identify and convict him. It reveals that the company provided the Chinese investigating organs with detailed information that apparently enabled them to link Shi’s personal e-mail account (on the Chinese Yahoo! service at and the specific message containing information treated as a “state secret” to the IP address of his computer. More details from RSF here.

Shi Tao was jailed because he e-mailed sensitive political information to be posted on dissident websites hosted outside China. His case is a cautionary tale to bloggers around the world: If you are publicizing information and views that your government doesn’t want exposed - even if you believe you have the right to do so under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - companies like Yahoo! will not shield you from your government.

I don't like this.


Bob Denver, whose portrayal of goofy first mate Gilligan on the 1960s television show ''Gilligan's Island,'' made him an iconic figure to generations of TV viewers, has died, his agent confirmed Tuesday. He was 70. . . .

TV critics hooted at ''Gilligan's Island'' as gag-ridden corn. Audiences adored its far-out comedy. Writer-creator Sherwood Schwartz insisted that the show had social meaning along with the laughs: ''I knew that by assembling seven different people and forcing them to live together, the show would have great philosophical implications.''

Future scholars will regard the show as a profound critique, and celebration, of mid-20th Century America.

AS PEOPLE PONDER THE ROBERTS NOMINATION, it's worth noting that despite a fairly strong and consistent ideological core and a long term on the Court, Rehnquist's Chief Justiceship didn't, in the end, produce especially dramatic change.

Brannon Denning and I have an article on the Raich opinion and federalism (part of a symposium on the decision) that discusses that point.

UPDATE: Related thoughts on Rehnquist from Bill Stuntz.


HERE'S ANOTHER BLOG FUNDRAISING EFFORT FOR KATRINA: This one seems to center mostly around lefty blogs, but that doesn't matter. The money's all the same color, and it's all needed. If you haven't donated via my appeals, and would prefer to give through a lefty initiative, go there! (More background here, but for some reason people keep sending me the link above.)

HARDENING SYSTEMS AGAINST DISASTER: My TechCentralStation column is up.

DISASTER KITS: My earlier post on radios produced more emails with suggestions. Here's one, from reader John Jones:

One of the first things I would grab in an emergency is the water filter that I normally use for camping. A filter like this is small, and can easily produce enough potable water for a family for weeks. The only problem I would foresee in a major flood is the presence in the water of chemicals such as pesticides and oil that the filter cannot remove. Still, for filtering rain water or questionable water from a city water supply, a basic water filter could literally be a life saver. I prefer this one.

Yeah. Stored water's best, of course -- and you don't have to be rich to store water, all you need are old milk jugs and a few drops of bleach. You can also store bleach, and use it (in higher concentrations) to purify water, though it won't get rid of chemicals.

I don't think there's much of anything that would clean out the toxic sludge in New Orleans. This list of survival goods may be over the top, though.

UPDATE: Reader Stanley Tillinghast, MD emails:

The MSR Miniworks is a good filter but doesn't kill viruses. This system includes a small bottle of bleach that is added to the water that chlorinates it, killing viruses.

That would be better for emergencies. I'm pretty sure that nothing would make that New Orleans floodwater safe to drink, though.

Meanwhile, reader Sarah Marie Parker-Allen sends this link to emergency water storage advice from the University of Wisconsin. Plastic 2-liter soft drink bottles are better than milk jugs, it says.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Robert Davis emails:

I'm mystified by all the instructions for cleaning milk jugs, filling them with water, spiking them with bleach . . .

For about $7 you can pick up three 2.5-gallon bottles of water next time you're at the supermarket -- enough to last one person a week in an emergency.

It's sterile and you don't have to worry about the top popping off. Your time would need to be worth practically nothing to have the do-it-yourself version make economic sense.

True, but whenever I post on disaster prep I get emails saying "that's all fine for rich guys, but poor people live hand-to-mouth, yada yada yada." I'm not sure that this is true in a relevant way -- poor people in America are disproportionately likely to be fat, suggesting that access to food, at least, isn't an issue. But the other point is that if you put things off until the last minute, store shelves will be empty while taps still work. And most people have bleach around.

Several readers also note that there are other emergency sources of water. Brad Mueller writes:

All fine and good, but most households also have a water heater which holds 40 gallons of potable water and the toilet tank holds about 3 gallons of drinkable water. A small amount of preparation could have prevented a lot of suffering. I'm left wondering if there isn't a segment of our population that, for whatever reason, steadfastly refuses to helped.

Well, yes, there is. Note that you should turn off the supply valve to protect the water heater from backflow of dirty water through the lines -- or leakage -- if lines are damaged. (Er, and turn off the heat!) Jugged water is also more portable than water in heater or toilet tanks -- but it's good to remind people that it's there.

It's aimed at earthquakes, primarily, but here's a page on disaster preparedness from the Los Angeles Fire Department. And here's a much longer PDF booklet from the LAFD, too, with instructions on water heaters, etc. Excerpt:

To those of us who live and work in the Greater Los Angeles area, earthquakes and other natural emergencies are a reality. In order to deal with this situation, emergency preparedness must become a way of life. In the event of a major earthquake or disaster, freeways and surface streets may be impassable and public services could be interrupted or taxed beyond their limits. Therefore, everyone must know how to provide for their own needs for an extended period of time, whether at work, home, or on the road.

That's reality. Take note. (Thanks to reader Susan Kitchens for the links).

JOHN LEO writes that the press is looking the other way.

VIRGINIA POSTREL reports that refugee relief in Dallas is going well.

CONDI RICE on foreign governments and Katrina response.

September 05, 2005

JOHN TIERNEY WRITES on the Magic Marker strategy for disaster relief.

I'LL BE GUESTBLOGGING ALL WEEK at Michael Silence's Knoxville News-Sentinel blog, while he's on vacation.

I COMPLETELY AGREE WITH BRAD DELONG'S TAKE on New Orleans' hurricane plan. Read the whole thing, but here's the clincher:

They were going to make a DVD. A DVD saying, "you all are on your own." They didn't even care enough to make the DVD before the hurricane season began.

No. New Orleans did not have a functioning government as of the summer of 2005. This is a catastrophic failure of local governance--much worse than FEMA's failures.

You would think that somebody--somewhere--would have called Washington and said, "You know, New Orleans doesn't have its act together enough to have a hurricane evacuation plan." And that somebody, somewhere--in Washington or in Baton Rouge--would have cared.

I'm not sure, but I assume this was the hurricane plan that James Lee Witt was involved with.

But lest you think the problem is solely New Orleans, there's this take by Mark Steyn:

"One of the things that's changed so much since Sept. 11," agreed Vice President Dick Cheney, "is the extent to which people do trust the government -- big shift -- and value it, and have high expectations for what we can do."

Hard to see why he'd say that. Sept. 11 was an appalling comprehensive failure of just about every relevant federal agency. The only government that worked that day was local and state: The great defining image, redeeming American honor at a moment of national humiliation, is those brave New York firemen pounding up the stairs of the World Trade Center. What consolations can be drawn from the lopsided tango between slapdash bureaucrats and subhuman predators in New Orleans?

To be fair, next door, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi has been the Giuliani of the hour, and there are many tales of great courage, like the teams from the Children's Hospital of Alabama who've been helicoptering in to New Orleans to rescue newborn babies.

The comparison with Sept. 11 isn't exact, but it's fair to this extent: Katrina was the biggest disaster on American soil since that day provoked the total overhaul of the system and the devotion of billions of dollars and the finest minds in the nation to the prioritizing of homeland security. It was, thus, the first major test of the post-9/11 structures. Happy with the results? . . .

Oh, well, maybe the 9/11 commission can rename themselves the Katrina Kommission. Back in the real world, America's enemies will draw many useful lessons from the events of this last week. Will America?

Will we? Read the whole thing. You can argue about the details, and God knows people are. But it's clear that we're nowhere near ready for primetime on this stuff -- and unfortunately, it's primetime already.

UPDATE: While not minimizing Katrina, Daniel Drezner reminds us that the Bush Administration has other balls in the air that shouldn't be neglected.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Micah Sifry (whose permalinks are buggered for some reason) isn't happy with the Bush Administration, but doesn't trust the Democrats, either:

But here's the deeper problem. Democrats have to stand for something other than "not Bush"--and there are many reasons to doubt they can. The dirty little secret of Washington insider politics is that both parties benefit from the game. I hardly trust the Democrats to clean up the mess left by the Republicans, do you? . . .

Nita Lowey, was just in my local paper bragging about $2 million she got for revamping a highway overpass nearby in Ardsley. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, another Democrat, loved the highway bill, proudly citing the 30% increase in transportation funding that she secured for her state. Where was she when the Army Corps funding request was turned down? (Thanks to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner for noticing that bit of news.)

Why should we trust these Democrats to fix our broken government? They're part of the problem too.

Lots of things are broken. It's up to us to see them fixed. It would be easier, of course, if one of the things that was broken wasn't the political system. As I write in tomorrow's TechCentralStation column, "I wonder if our political classes possess the requisite maturity and self-discipline to take constructive action."

ANOTHER UPDATE: Mickey Kaus has more thoughts, continuing his anti-federalism theme. I don't think that structural issues are the most important here, though. You can have management failures under any sort of governmental structure. Kaus writes, correctly, that "Anyone who knew anything about New Orleans would know that they wouldn't get it together." But that's not a problem of federalism, really. And federalism compartmentalizes the problem -- Louisiana may have done badly, but Alabama and Mississippi seem to be doing better. A hierarchical, unitary system opens the possibility of blowing it everywhere at once. On average, the feds are arguably more competent than state and local governments, but the difference isn't all that drastic. Norm Mineta, after all, is a fed.

MORE: Reader Tom Brosz emails that James Lee Witt is disavowing any connection with the New Orleans hurricane plan, and notes that the IEM press release from last year has been updated to read: "James Lee Witt Associates was a member of the original team, but did not participate in the project."

SEARCH AND RESCUE IN NEW ORLEANS: Gateway Pundit has a roundup, with video.

WHAT THE NAVY IS DOING for Katrina relief. Short answer: A lot.

HERE'S A Katrina response timeline from Rick Moran.

NOT JUST BORING, BORING FROM WITHIN! "I used to hate seeing Frank Rich's byline on NYT op-ed columns, but no longer. Like Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman, Rich has become an active embarassment, an unwitting ally in the ongoing destruction of the Times as a respectable news organ."

I'm guessing that goes for Bob Herbert, too. . . .

UPDATE: Read this Fisking, if you're interested.

LIKE BOB HOPE IN WORLD WAR II, Sean Penn is able to take a devastated nation and make it laugh:

Movie star and political activist Penn, 45, was in the collapsing city to aid stranded victims of flooding sparked by Hurricane Katrina, but the small boat he was piloting to launch a rescue attempt sprang a leak.

The outspoken actor had planned to rescue children waylaid by the deadly waters, but apparently forgot to plug a hole in the bottom of the vessel, which began taking water within seconds of its launch. . . .

Asked what he had hoped to achieve in the waterlogged city, the actor replied: "Whatever I can do to help."

But with the boat loaded with members of the Oscar-winner's entourage, including his personal photographer, one bystander taunted: "How are you going to get any people in that thing?"

Thanks, Sean! (Via Kobayashi Maru). I'm pretty sure I know which one of Bill Whittle's tribes Penn belongs to. The personal photographer is the giveaway . . . .

UPDATE: Picture (presumably not by the personal photographer) here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Also with a personal photographer -- but at least she didn't leave the plug out.

JASON DEPARLE thinks that New Orleans is all about race. So -- in a not entirely different way that DeParle should find troubling -- does Steve Sailer.

But I think Bill Whittle is closer to the truth when he says it's not about race, but about tribes. His colors aren't black and white, or red and blue, but -- well, read the whole thing and see what you think.

UPDATE: Some people who have come late to the party seem to think I'm endorsing Sailer's analysis. Nope. I think that -- like DeParle's -- it takes a racial line that I'm uncomfortable with. Which was the point.

Meanwhile, here are some people who are members of Bill's tribe, whether they know it or not:

In the absence of information and outside assistance, groups of rich and poor banded together in the French Quarter, forming "tribes" and dividing up the labor.

As some went down to the river to do the wash, others remained behind to protect property. In a bar, a bartender put near-perfect stitches into the torn ear of a robbery victim.

While mold and contagion grew in the muck that engulfed most of the city, something else sprouted in this most decadent of American neighborhoods - humanity.

"Some people became animals," Vasilioas Tryphonas said Sunday morning as he sipped a hot beer in Johnny White's Sports Bar on Bourbon Street. "We became more civilized."

It happens that way, sometimes. (Via Kobayashi Maru).

THE DEA IS DEFENDING ALCOHOL PROHIBITION: More evidence that they're totally out of touch with reality.

MATOKO KUSANAGI thinks the Singularity is a lot nearer than Ray Kurzweil does.

A HURRICANE KATRINA "I'M O.K." REGISTRY: It's a good idea. (Via Virginia Postrel).

CASS SUNSTEIN ON JOHN ROBERTS: "He's conservative, but he's no fundamentalist."

JASON VAN STEENWYK has a number of interesting posts.

BUSH HAS NAMED JOHN ROBERTS to succeed William Rehnquist as Chief Justice.


THE NEW YORK TIMES NOTES that the blogosphere was way ahead of the authorities on Hurricane Katrina. Particularly Brendan Loy. Excerpt:

Mr. Loy's posting that Friday afternoon came three days before the hurricane struck and two days before the mayor of New Orleans, Ray C. Nagin, issued an evacuation order. Posts over the next several days, in aggregate, seem now like an eerie rewriting of the tale of Chicken Little, in which the sky does in fact fall.

In the cooperative and competitive world of blogs, Mr. Loy's has gotten some serious praise. Mickey Kaus, whose kausfiles blog is featured on, wrote on Friday that "Loy's blog for the past week is a pretty extraordinary document," adding that "it should maybe be in the Smithsonian, if you can put a blog in the Smithsonian."

Indeed. There's another Smithsonian-worthy record here, too.

UPDATE: Loy has a follow-up post that's worth reading in its entirety, but here's an excerpt:

It is true, as some have pointed out in comments, that Katrina was not "likely" to hit New Orleans as of Saturday morning, or even Sunday morning for that matter. New Orleans was the hurricane's most likely target -- it remained in the crosshairs of the official forecast track all weekend -- but in terms of statistical strike probabilities, even the most likely target at 24-48 hours out still has a less-than-50% chance of getting hit, thanks to the uncertainties inherent in hurricane forecasting. However, given the technology that we currently have, you simply could not have a greater threat to a specific location, 48 hours before landfall, than the threat that New Orleans faced on Saturday morning. It was, as I said, a "high-confidence forecast," and one with enormously catastrophic potential. Thus, if an evacuation was not appropriate then, then it follows that an evacuation must never be appropriate at 48 hours. And that can't be, because really, 48 hours is already too late; studies have long shown that it would take 72 hours to completely empty the city of New Orleans. So unless the city's hurricane strategy was to throw up its hands and say, "there's nothing we can do," a mandatory evacuation -- school buses and all -- was most certainly called for on Saturday morning. As I wrote on Saturday afternoon, "If you knew there was a 10 percent chance terrorists were going to set off a nuclear bomb in your city on Monday, would you stick around, or would you evacuate? That's essentially equivalent to what you're dealing with here. I sure as hell would leave."

Finally, one last point. As horrible as the catastrophe has been, please realize that it actually could have been far worse. What occurred was not the long-feared "worst-case scenario," which involved not a levee breach equalizing the water level in Lake Ponchartrain and "Lake New Orleans," but rather a storm surge over-topping the levees and causing the water level in "Lake New Orleans," hemmed in by the still-intact levees, to rise substantially higher than the water level in the lake. If the storm had wobbled a meteorologically insignificant 20 or 30 miles to the west, and/or had not weakened from a Category 5 to a Category 4 at the last minute, that scenario would have occurred, and instead of a slowly developing 10-20 foot flood, New Orleans would have suffered a rapidly developing 30-40 foot flood. (Jackson Square would have been underwater, whereas in the real-world scenario it remained high and dry.) The whole thing would have happened Monday morning, and at the same time as the city was rapidly and massively flooding, the devastating winds that demolished the Mississippi coastline would have been tearing New Orleans apart instead. All of those attics where people took shelter would have been either submerged or shattered to bits. The French Quarter would have been swamped, instead of mostly surviving the flood. Second-floor generators in hospitals might well have drowned. Bottom line, there would be a lot fewer refugees and a lot more corpses.

Yes. Read the whole thing.

MORE KATRINA RED TAPE: "Volunteer physicians are pouring in to care for the sick, but red tape is keeping hundreds of others from caring for Hurricane Katrina survivors while health problems rise."

UPDATE: More on this at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

After nearly a week spent waiting or driving from city to city chasing victims of Hurricane Katrina, the 31 doctors, nurses and paramedics arrived Sunday at Reunion Arena here expecting to find a shelter full of patients clamoring for care.

What they found instead were medical facilities already in place that were better than anything they could provide.

"They don't need us here," said Cari Spradlin, deputy commander the Georgia-3 Disaster Medical Assistance Team, activated after the storm hit.

Other volunteer physicians from across the country have poured into the South in week since Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, but many are finding roadblocks keeping them from caring for survivors.

If they're just not needed, that's good. When there's red tape keeping them from getting where they're needed (which is true elsewhere) that's bad. (Thanks to reader Joseph Britt for the link).

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Jeff Cook emails:

Some of the red tape is about credentialing. Trust me. Nuts come out of the woodwork pretending to be physicians in situations like this and whatever organization is responsible for health care is also in charge of making sure doctors and nurses are credentialed, even if they're not licensed in Louisiana. Hugely important.

Makes sense. But there should be a way to do this quickly in emergencies.

September 04, 2005

ARTHUR CHRENKOFF posts a comparison of the situations in Louisiana and Mississippi. Various lessons are offered.