Saturday, September 03, 2005

Devastating Reporting

Darrell Phillips does a spectacularly effective job laying out the constant stream of fiscal deceit and deception practiced by Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton in "A comprehensive timeline of the city's recent budget position". Using the Mayor's own words and actions, laying it all out step by step, he lets the facts and words speak for themselves. What they say is damning.

He even finds a few things I didn't know about, including an attempt by Herenton to call up the ghost of JFK.

I cannot praise Phillips' work enough. Go, read, now.

If only local television news could slow down the frantic pacing of their broadcasts to allow for this sort of contextual, historic reporting. I'd sure watch it.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Suspend the Gas Tax Now

Surprised at how quickly gasoline prices have risen, and reacting to consumer and citizen anger, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue has proposed to suspended Georgia's state gasoline tax until the end of September. The Georgia legislature must approve his executive order. A vote is set for Tuesday.

Tennessee could do the same thing. We currently have a 21 cent state gasoline tax. suspending it for one month, to the end of September as in Georgia's example, would "cost" the state $55 million. We had a budget surplus last year of between $200 and $400 million, depending on who you believe. (The truth is closer to $400 million. The Department of F&A numbers don't tell you that they used a revised, end of this year budget estimate to calculate the budget surplus, rather than the voted-on budget from last year.)

The Tennessee Department of Transportation had, in the last year of Governor Sundquist two years ago, nearly one billion dollars in the bank, waiting to be spent. Unfortunately, this year Governor Bredesen signed a "long range capitol plan" that spend a lot of that money. Why? So that no other government agency could raid the extra by having it already "earmarked" for specific projects.

Still, Governor Bredesen could, today, sign an executive order himself. Do you think the General Assembly would oppose it? And we could have immediate 20 cent relief on gas prices.

Should they do it? Yes. Relief is necessary. Can they do it? Yes. The money is there. They can find it and move it around easily.

Will they do it?
Some Followups

I asked early this week if New Orleans should be rebuilt. Seems Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert caused a stink by asking the same questions. You can read about it, from a Left-Democratic perspective here.

The Pesky Fly wonders if people thought the same thing about Chicago, after the Great Fire. Good point. What about San Francisco after the Great Earthquake? It's on an earthquake fault, after all. That might be a better point to make than Chicago. San Francisco's problem was a site located on a geographical danger zone. New Orleans' is being below sea level and in a hurricane alley.

Len over at Dark Bilious Vapors has a post looking at the question from a great, historical perspective. Remember kids: Studying the past helps us know the present and guides us into the future!

Mr. Roboto, at Thursday Night Fever, reminds us of the Law of Unintended Consequences. Congress, you may recall, passed draconian new bankruptcy laws earlier this year that are widely expected to cause a lot of difficulties for many Americans. In the wake of Katrina, Roboto asks, will this new law turn around and bite bankers in the ass? Huge new numbers of people will be trying to file, having been brutalised by the hurricane and the flood. When they find out how hard and unfriendly it now is, there's going to be some serious, serious anger developing. A lot of Congresscritters will find themselves seeking new jobs.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hurricane Katrina Relief Efforts

Tens of thousands of blogs across the country are uniting today in an effort to promote relief efforts for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The anchor post for this effort is here at Instapundit.

If you can, please donate something to either the Salvation Army (Keep trying, as their servers are being overwhelmed right now. Yay!) or the American Red Cross.

Locally in Memphis, you can donate to WPTY ABC/24's relief effort or to any of the ad hoc Tennessee Freecycle efforts.

There is also a government-coordinated response, via the Shelby County Emergency Management Agency. You can register as a volunteer through Volunteer Memphis.

If you know of any Memphis, West Tennessee or Mid-South private, civic, work- or church-based or other organisation's relief project, please feel free to list them in comments. Give a URL, or physical address, or a contact name and phone number, along with the group's name, so folks can get in touch with them. Spread the word so that people who want to do something will have lots of options for helping.

If you are a blogger, or have a website, please consider posting something like this to your own blog or site to help get the news and connections out there. This is precisely what we on the Internet excel at; let's use our expertise!

And if, like me, you have a pet and want to do something for the uncountable numbers of family pets that are in distress or have been abandoned or lost, you can go to Noah's Wish, a national animal relief group, to help their efforts. More on them here.

It's taking time, because of the breadth and scale of the disaster, to understand just what level of catastrophe has been wrought. Estimated death tolls now are beginning to creep into the thousands. Thousands. We'll never know for sure because so many will simply become "missing" and be lost to us forever. Don't let more fall away in the recovery effort.

Please, if you can, donate or contribute in some way, no matter how small. It's needed.
Just a Hunch

It's just a hunch, but I think President Bush is going to declare Federal martial law within a day or so. There is no other way to begin to restore order in New Orleans than martial law backed by Federal troops with "shoot to kill" orders. It will be a PR disaster for the administration, which is why I think they've been avoiding it today, but a necessary first step.

Watch for the usual race demagogues to jump all over it, and the PC liberal dupes. It will turn ugly quickly. The press will lap it up. Conflict is their cream. Every Al Sharpton wannabe will leap at this opportunity.

News coverage inside the city will, of course, stop as a consequence of martial law, except for the expected idiots who will go in anyway. The MSM will be all over this, with the eagerness you'd expect of wolves smelling blood. We've been largely spared pictures of the dead from the flood waters, I've seen some shots of dead around the Superdome though, but that will change once folks begin to get shot by Federal troops in action. Then we'll see lots of pictures of the killed. There will be comparisons to military action in Iraq. It will be vicious and divisive in ways the War on Terror hasn't gotten to. The "Vietnam redux" theme that has been bubbling all through coverage of the War, that is the lens through which the Left sees this War, will be trotted out anew. Comparisons will be made to police overeaction and brutality in the Sixties; scenes of Federal troops herding citizens at gunpoint will be ubiquitous.

I fear I am right on this.
Inside the Disaster

The Interdictor is a New Orleans blog posting from inside the city, near the Superdome. They have the unfiltered and depressing news of what's going on. It's also sometimes uplifting.

But mostly worse than what television is showing you. Lots worse.

Money quote:
He turned the corner onto Canal Street and it looked like a flea market. People breaking into every store, going to the neutral gound (median) and trading and selling everything.

They broke into Winn Dixie Monday Night. Do they steal food? No. Cigarettes and liquor. Store was a mess. All the meats were going to waste so the districts went over there to salvage food for officers. Many cops have been eating MREs.

The Iberville Housing Projects got pissed off because the police started to "shop" after they kicked out looters. Then they started shooting at cops. When the cops left, the looters looted everything. There's probably not a grocery left in this city.

Over 30 officers have quit over the last 3 days. Out of 160 officers in his district maybe 55 or 60 are working. He hasn't seen several since Sunday. HQ is closed, evacuated. No phones to contact them.
The more this goes on, the more it looks like a John Carpenter movie: Escape From New York.
Late Night Realisation

Hurricane Katrina was a Cat3 hurricane and rising for several days, pointed at New Orleans. At the end, it was clearly a Cat5 storm. Lots of preparation and warning time, if not well utilised since no one really expected it to be this bad. The Mayor of New Orleans issued a belated evacuation order before the strike. Again, lots of warning and lead time.

It's been three days now, almost four, since the landfall and flood. The Federal government's response has been chaotic, hesitant, confused. Lots of troops promised, but few on the scene. Pretty much the New Orleans police (mostly heroic), the Louisiana State Troopers and some National Guard are it right now, carrying a load far beyond their strength.

Ever since 9/11, we've been told repeatedly that America is prepared for the next attack. And yet, even given lots of warning beforehand and plenty of warning scenario rehearsals beforehand, and plans, plans, plans, it's clear we are not. Not at all.

Granted, this catastrophe is far, far larger and worse than anything the terrorists can throw at us -- even dirty bombs and anthrax attacks. Larger and worse than all but a few believed was likely to happen. So why am I not reassured?

I didn't used to worry about it before, but now I'm not so sure. And heaven help us if an attack comes in the next few weeks or months. September 11 is, after all, just two weeks from this Sunday. I'm not up to full-scale worry yet, but....

[Digression: My prediction is to watch closely. You'll begin to see rumors / conspiracy theories that the whole Katrina thing is a plot / excuse by BushRove, Inc. to restart the draft. I'd bet money on this.

DIGRESSION UPDATE: Well, that took less time than I ever dreamed. And from CNN no less.]
I'm A Nerd

Outcast Genius
73% Nerd, 60% Geek, 65% Dork
For The Record:

A Nerd is someone who is passionate about learning/being smart/academia.
A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one.
A Dork is someone who has difficulty with common social expectations/interactions.

You scored better than half in all three, earning you the title of: Outcast Genius.

Outcast geniuses usually are bright enough to understand what society wants of them, and they just don't care! They are highly intelligent and passionate about the things they know are *truly* important in the world. Typically, this does not include sports, cars or make-up, but it can on occassion (and if it does then they know more than all of their friends combined in that subject).

Outcast geniuses can be very lonely, due to their being outcast from most normal groups and too smart for the room among many other types of dorks and geeks, but they can also be the types to eventually rule the world, ala Bill Gates, the prototypical Outcast Genius.



My test tracked 3 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 76% on nerdiness
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 92% on geekosity
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 98% on dork points
Link: The Nerd? Geek? or Dork? Test written by donathos on OkCupid Free Online Dating

Wow. My relative geek and dork values are pretty astronomical. I'm proud.

The wonders of science: The folks at the Center for Earthquake Research and Information at the University of Memphis were watching the microseismic groundshakes that Hurricane Katrina was creating as she approached land and then made landfall. You can see their graphs here. Very eerie, especially the way they cut off suddenly after some very violent shakes.

Hat tip: Len of Dark Bilious Vapors.
The Horror of Not Being Able to Help

If your threshold for heartbreak is low, don't read the New Orleans Times-Picayune blog. They have switched over today to just posting a seemingly endless string of reports -- well, pleas actually -- from people who are stranded away from the offical rescue teams and begging for rescue. Many of them are on the verge of death after three days.

I wanted to post some samples, but they are scrolling off so fast I had already lost them. There are stories of families trapped in apartments and homes, of the elderly and disabled left behind, of hospitals full past capacity. A Vietnamese Christian church had 300 people trapped inside, in standing water, and had literally pleaded with every agency they could reach, and some media outlets, for any kind of rescue. They had one day's worth of food and clean water, and some people were already near death.

There were also many reports of armed, organised gangs systematically breaking into homes, apartment buildings, and businesses to strip them. Car are being hijacked by them, or by other desperate people. It's horrifying to realise.

But worst of all is knowing how many people are going to die soon simply because no one can reach them.
Official Memphis Response

"We're in it for the long haul."

Regular readers know that I think little of Memphis' mayor, Dr. Willie Herenton, but he's nailed it on the head with his statement -- at this afternoon's press conference -- pointing out how the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe will affect Memphis for years to come. The Southern landscape was literally reshaped by Katrina and we are only now grasping the magnitude of the changes. A year from now, we'll be surprised by the differences in Memphis due to Katrina. I'm glad our Mayor understands this today.

On the other hand, what the hell was Convention and Visitor's Bureau President Kevin Kane doing giving official answers to how Memphis' government will handle the refugees? The tourism czar? If that's not a pure glimpse into how this city runs and who runs it, I can't imagine anything clearer. Jeez....

And on the gripping hand, it's heartening to see Memphis and Shelby County government organise and respond so quickly. The quality of the response is not yet known, but that city leaders are already working on the refugee problem is welcome news. We only saw the true horror of the devastation beginning on Tuesday, so to have machinery in motion by Thursday is great to see.

Herenton, I think it was, mentioned that the Memphis City Schools would be donating the four recently closed schools as aid centers for the crisis. And we were worried about them sitting empty.

All to the good. I'm actually kinda proud of my city right now.
No Shortage, OK?

I was just poking around the referral logs and see that a few folks are showing up here because they are searching some variation of "gas shortage Memphis."

As far as I know, and this comes from the AAA, via AM600 radio, there are no citywide shortages of gasoline. OK? None. What is happening is that panic buying is causing gas stations with low stocks to sell out faster than usual. Remember, these people run JIT (just-in-time) inventories on gasoline, meaning they only keep enough in their in-ground tanks to handle a regular few days' worth of business. If lots of people suddenly show up topping off their tanks, then naturally the extra sales will cause them to run out.

Don't panic. Gasoline prices are rising -- I wouldn't be surprised now to see $3.70 to $4.00 gas by mid-next week -- which will depress usage. Slightly lower demand will help. Blow off unneeded trips. Plan where you are going and only go where you need to. Stock up on things you can, to cut down on trips. Let nature take its course and things will balance out.

Last I heard, the refineries down in Louisiana weren't badly damaged and will be back within a month. I'm sure the government will be making that happen, too.

Chill. This isn't a replay of the oil and gas crisis of the Seventies, it's a temporary inconvenience.
Pyramid Refugee Center?

Just came across a rumor that the Pyramid will finally find a use: as a refugee center for roughly 5000 people displaced by Katrina. Can anyone verify this? Is it already on the news? Haven't seen it yet.

INSTANT UPDATE Just heard on the early evening news that the Mid-South Coliseum will be turned into a "special needs" refugee center for 2000 people, who are expected to begin arriving tonight. It's not viewed as a long-term solution, but an emergency response. Memphis' stature as a regional medical center will stand us in good stead.
Just a Thought

New Orleans tourist trade is shattered for months, maybe years, to come. Their restaurant business is also hammered.

Some enterprising entrepreneurs here in Memphis, and forward-looking trade association types, ought to look into recruiting the "world-class" (Some Memphians seem to worship that word....) chefs and cooks from that city into our local restaurant scene. Find them slots in existing restaurants, open new spaces, whatever. Just get them here and get the word out.

I'm not being facetious or callous. This is an incredible opportunity for Memphis. Imagine the elite level of dining we could bring here. The national and world attention. And all the Cajun cuisine....

INSTANT UPDATE Apparently I'm not the only one musing on opportunities. Chris wonders about the "Memphis Saints."
Six Questions With Rosalind Kurita

Randy Neal, aka South Knox Bubba, guest blogging at the Facing South website, asks six questions of Rosalind Kurita, the Democratic candidate for Bill Frist's Senate seat not named Ford. You can read the interview here. Not a lot of meat there, but its a good view into her position and thinking.

While I would never vote for a Democrat, I find myself delighted at this sentence talking about blogs, which have helped her cash-starved campaign enormously:
Bloggers are like modern-day pamphleteers.
Anyone who uses the word "pamphleteers" in context and correctly, who is that historically literate, and who understands why they relate to blogs, gets a strong measure of respect from me.

Not that I'd vote for her, but I'm seriously impressed.
Sure Enough

I was doing errands this morning and sure enough, gas prices are topping three dollars already. As I noted in my gas whiners post below, our nation's production and distribution network is working at near capacity. Any disruption -- like Katrina -- is enough to cause shortages and other problems. Add media sensationalisation and you get lines and hoarding and other fear-related problems. Even the tiniest sidewalk crack can trip the most experienced runners if they are moving at full speed.

The problems in Louisiana aren't long-term or disastrous. They'll be fixed in very short order. But the bottlenecks, the hold-ups and the backups, and the distribution shortages are sufficient to cause a temporary spike in prices. A big, bad spike.

The President at least is doing the right thing in opening up the Strategic Oil Reserves and suspending EPA regulations on reformulation. That means that (temporarily) government rules on what kind of gas can be sold where and when will be ignored so that gas from different parts of the country can be shipped to the East, where the disruption from Katrina is being felt, and that the oil from the Reserves can be used as needed, and not only in specific formulations. In other words, the artificial walls will be knocked down for the emergency.

Have a happy Labor Day weekend! Drive carefully.

INSTANT UPDATE I posted something over at Michael Silence's blog where he wonders if four dollar gas is coming. I'll repost it here, since it ties in with this post:

It's way more complex than that. The problem mostly isn't the price of crude oil, but in the refinement and distribution chain that turns it into gas and gets it to the pumps.

America has a fixed infrastructure to refine oil. It's operating at something like 97% of capacity. There haven't been new refineries built to process crude oil since the mid-1970s, and yet demand for refined oil has grown tremendously since then.

The pipelines, etc., to carry gasoline and oil around the county and to market are operating at something like 93% of capacity.

There are also extensive and highly specific government regulations about the kinds of gasoline that can be sold. They specify certain additives, grades of refinement, content, etc., to combat air pollution. They also dictate when and where these various formulations can be sold. In other words, gasoline for sale in, say, Oklahoma cannot be sold (by law!) in Chicago or Nashville. That's why we had the Midwest oil shortage several years ago, even though other parts of the country had plenty of gas.

Any, *any*, disruption of this maxed-out flow spells disaster. Like we're seeing now. Until the Louisiana docks, drilling rigs, refineries and pipelines are repaired and back online, we'll continue to see this problem. And folks reacting fearfully only make it worse. Calm down.

High crude oil prices are actually a good thing, believe it or not. It makes marginal oil fields more attractive and increases the incentive to find and exploit those fields. It also makes places like Alberta, with its oil shale fields, more attractive to refiners, investors and oilmen. They are predicting a massive oil boom up there in the coming decades, in fields with as much as (if not maybe more) production potential than Saudi Arabia. That will help us, but China is also competing hard for oil these days as they industrialise and modernise their nation.

We need to build more refineries ASAP. We need to let oil prices rise, to increase the demand for hybrid vehicles and more more gas-sippers. We need to build more non-oil dependent power stations, especially nuclear. The new modular pebble-bed designs address all the concerns of environmentalists and are cheaper to build!

See what I said? Way more comlex than simple "crude oil is $70."

BACK-TO-BACK INSTANT UPDATE I was just talking to my neighbor who has a relative in Atlanta. She said that he paid six dollars a gallon for gasoline there. Can anyone confirm this?

THURSDAY NIGHT UPDATE: Sure enough, it's true.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


There's been a lot happening to me lately that I -- obviously -- haven't blogged about. Twisted ankle, strange computer problems, A/C going out for a week. What can I say? I'm a man of constant sorrows.

Anyway, what had been a minor but persistent bug problem (roaches) has suddenly become a Biblical plague. The landlord had an exterminator out two weeks ago. He sprayed and within days the problem was twice as bad as before. Today, I boarded Bennie and set off 3 Raid fumigator bombs in the place (800 square feet, so you can imagine the overkill). I return tonight and it's still as bad, if not even worse, than yesterday! The exterminator is coming back this Friday, but I haven't a clue what he can do.

So, short of moving out (I have my reasons) what can y'all suggest to tackle this problem? I don't leave food out; I wash dishes right away. I'll have to move everything to get behind and clean, but that's fine. The roaches are all over the place though! Any home remedies? Any good professionals? Store-bought chemicals? Natural treatments?

I'm way open to suggestions.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

New Orleans No More?

Reading this post from the New Orlean's Times-Picayune website -- they finally had to evacuate their building, they published no paper edition today and may not publish for some time to come; to whom would they deliver it? -- it's like some science fiction movie where catastrophe depopulates a city and the survivors fight over the remains. Everyone's fighting for scraps, or to retain some fading semblance of the old order.

That was really brought home to me watching the NBC Nightly News. They showed ragged groups of stragglers streaming along an empty interstate trying to get out any way they could. Some were even camping underneath the overpasses, having nowhere else to go. It was eerie, to say the least.

I think many Memphians also see spooky echoes of Hurricane Elvis from two years ago. Memphis was knocked pretty hard, but not down. Few evacuated; most stuck it out at home. New Orleans is a city that has been knocked over, down and flat. It's even possible that it may never come back at all.

Which is what I'm wondering. At what point does the cost of rebuilding -- building new levees, draining the city, clearing the mess, razing ruins, building new infrastructure, designing the new city and then building it -- become too expensive? Is it possible that New Orleans will actually reach that once unimaginable threshold? Are we looking at the real-life Escape From LA?

Is there a possibility that New Orleans will be abandoned, left to moulder as Lake New Orleans (the larger successor to Lake Pontchartrain)? Will the north shore cities remain? How does a city disincorporate when it's so big and so enmeshed in the fabric of banking and regulation?

There's also the unbelievable situation of having something like two million homeless transients floating across the South -- people from three states who are, in effect, stateless. Many folks have crossed state lines and may end up stuck wherever they've ended up. How will government payments keep track of them? How will people claim checks mailed to homes that don't exist, in neighborhoods sitting under water, in cities the police won't let them into?

As terrible as Hurricane Andrew was in Florida, it missed doing to Miami what Katrina has done to New Orleans. I hope that Louisiana watched and studied the way Floridians recovered, because those lessons will help them in days to come. But when a state's most populous city ceases to exist, how do you recover from that?

Will they try to recover? That, to me, is the fascinating question. It won't be broached for a while yet, as they are still measuring the scope and depth of the catastrophe. But at some point, I think it has to be asked: Can we afford to rebuild this city?
No Surprise

A couple of months ago, a lot of backstage drama exploded at South Knox Bubba's blog. He outed himself after threats from a local alt-weekly publisher and businessman, then abruptly shut down his blog with a curt good-bye. He abandoned his own creation, the Rocky Top Brigade, but assisted the survivors when they wanted to keep it going in his absence.

A lot of folks -- liberals and "progressives" especially -- were horrified by his departure, but I suspected he wouldn't stay gone. He's been blogging too long. It gets into you after a while and doesn't let go. The feeling that people listen to what you say, and want to hear what you think, the realisation that you might be making a difference, is a heady one that is hard to give up. Once you get used to speaking your mind, it's hard to stop doing it.

Sure enough, he's back. He got a guest-blogging invite from Facing South and agreed to it. He's blogging as "R.Neal" now, but is clear about who he was.

Before the year is over, he'll be regularly blogging somewhere, in some fashion. Just watch.