Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The General

Auburn Silver Screen

I had the opportunity last Saturday to see The General, Buster Keaton's 1927 silent masterpiece.

Wow. It is a testament to Keaton that the movie is still hysterically funny 78 years later. (And I daresay it is better than the recent comedies I've suffered through.)

It is an additional treat to see it to live organ accompaniment provided by Blaine Gale, resident accompanist at the Organ Loft. To see it at the Capitol Theatre, to live accompaniment... well, it's as close as a kid born in the late 1970s can get to 1927, and see how his grandparents experienced the movies.

And it doesn't have to stop, yet.

The Organ Loft has just begun its fall silent film series. Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush is coming soon...

Reading Assignment

Victor Davis Hanson: "Ivory Cower."

Read. Discuss. Then tar and feather a university president.

You'll understand after you read it.

And if that's not enough campus political correctness, there's always this.

Monday, September 26, 2005


One of those kinds of days today.

Hurricane Rita: After Landfall

What seemed to be a debilitating storm has turned into little more than a major inconvenience.

Damage reports are still coming in, but all in all, the feared disaster failed to materialize. Casualties have been low; damage is chiefly flooding from rain and some storm-surge flooding and wind damage along the coast, along with some scattered tornado touchdowns. The biggest problem wil be restoring power lines.

From the Beaumont Enterprise:


By: JACQUELINE LANE, The Enterprise 09/25/2005

It could take as long as a month before Southeast Texans who fled from Hurricane Rita and her 120 mph-plus winds can return to an area that was left Saturday without electricity and water in a tattered landscape of downed trees, power lines and building debris.

As of 9 p.m., there had been no reports of storm-related deaths in the area, but Rita's wrath on trees and buildings was another matter. Along with thousands of Entergy workers, 2,500 National Guard, 2,000 soldiers from 1St Cavalry in Fort Hood and troopers and firefighters from Fort Worth were expected to swarm the region and begin the cleanup process.

"There is a humongous undertaking to try to get our infrastructure rebuilt and to maintain law and order here," said Jeff McNeely, Beaumont Fire and Rescue district chief.

Rita came ashore northeast of Sabine Pass as a Category 3 hurricane at 2:30 a.m. Saturday, bringing with it heavy rains and high winds that battered Southwest Louisiana with even greater intensity than Southeast Texas.

Less than 24 hours after hitting land, Rita was a tropical depression that dropped flooding rains as it moved north of Shreveport, La.

But Rita will be known as much more than a rainmaker by Southeast Texas communities stretching from the coast all the way to the Piney Woods.

Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange, Vidor and towns well into the northern parts of East Texas all suffered severe damage, with few homes and businesses escaping unharmed.

Ford Park, where hundreds took refuge after Hurricane Katrina, will house the workers as well as residents who didn't leave for the storm, McNeely said. Other shelters, facilities or schools could be opened as well, officials said.

With local emergency crews given far more than they could handle, an army of outside resources was being called upon to assist in the aftermath.

Police, firefighters and other emergency crews combed the cities Saturday in search of those who needed assistance and to crack down on looting. Looting reports were numerous throughout the region.

Four Beaumont houses burned to the ground during the storm, and rescue crews were busy responding to calls from the sick, injured or simply just distressed from Rita's spectacular blast of rain-spraying fury, McNeely said.

Some people had become trapped in their homes after trees fell on them, and there were reports of gas line ruptures.

Gov. Rick Perry took a late afternoon aerial survey of the devastation Saturday. Despite the eye of the storm coming ashore at Sabine Pass, Perry called it a "glancing blow."

"My biggest concern right now is getting folks back with electricity, getting them power, getting back to the essentials of life," Perry said.

Perry described the devastation he saw from above, including roofs being torn off, churches with structural damage and trees over houses. Port Arthur had received a lot of flood water he said, particularly to older structures.

"But the fact of the matter is there is none of that just driven to the foundations type of devastation that we saw out of Mississippi," he said. "Thank God for that."

Many Southeast Texans, however, felt less than thankful.

While checking out hurricane damage in Bridge City on Saturday, Orange County sheriff Mike White took rapid-fire cell phone calls from evacuated friends who wanted to know if their homes were still standing.

To one caller he said, "stay in Marshall, Texas."

White said it could be two weeks before Orange County residents could return to their homes and a month to return power to everyone.

Vidor was as hard hit as any place in Orange County.

Across from the fire station, the First Pentecostal Church's white steeple lay in the parking lot. A little way down Main Street, the top half of the First United Methodist Church's stained glass window was missing. The Vidor Church of Christ, which faces Interstate 10, had half its roof torn off by Rita's fury.

In Mid County, gas stations, like Leslie's Chevron on Twin City Highway, the Texaco on Nederland Avenue and Exxon on Magnolia Avenue had awning collapses.

That type of damage to metal structures was a common site in Port Neches and Nederland. The end of Jake's Fireworks had collapsed, and two sides of the Central Church on the Rock were gone.

Also gone by Saturday afternoon were many clear paths north out of Beaumont, as the Piney Woods of East Texas lay splintered across roadways and roof tops. It was a clear reminder for Jasper and Newton County residents that hurricanes are more than a coastal concern.

Rita uprooted and snapped trees in both counties, blocking roads and making it difficult to fully determine the scope of the obviously severe damage.

Roudy Odom of Newton said clearing roads has been left largely to "rednecks with chainsaws" so far.

Amid the rubble, however, there were signs of hope.

When asked about the lucrative Southeast Texas oil industry, Perry said that during his 45-minute tour with Jefferson County Judge Carl Griffith, neither could see anything that would appear to be structurally impeding the industry from getting back to production relatively soon.

And despite the flooding, Port Arthur avoided the grave predictions of a 20-to-25 foot storm surge that could have swamped the town.

Donald Williams rode out the storm at his brother's home six blocks from the seawall on Port Arthur's West Side.

He said water had risen there, but the pumps have been turned on, and the water was receding.

"Ain't nothing damaged inside," Williams said.

But sometimes Rita's damage was more than superficial.

This hurricane had a way of cutting all of Southeast Texas to the heart.

Captain Dean Troup, a member of the Kountze volunteer fire department, just returned from a five-month tour as a paramedic in Iraq. As he drove around the storm ravaged city, he tried to call his 13-year-old daughter on his cell phone.

"I'm OK," Troup said to his daughter. "I made it. Kountze didn't."

Enterprise reporters Christine Rappleye, Beth Gallaspy, Pete Churton, Jamie Reed and Dee Dixon contributed to this report.
All in all - better than I would have dared hope. Now - to clean up, and back to figuring out what to do with New Orleans.

News and Blog Links:
Beaumont Enterprise
Houston Chronicle and their special weblog, Stormwatchers
Galveston Daily News
Wall Street Journal - Storm Tracker
Drudge Report
Weather Underground
Blogs of War - Hurricane Rita page
Lawrence Simon
Michelle Malkin

Seen At The Corner

"There are currently four fronts in the war against terrorism: Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, and the media."
Michael Ledeen at The Corner

Friday, September 23, 2005

Hurricane Rita: News Desk (*Updated*)

From the National Hurricane Center

Hurricane Rita has shifted east, now looking to make landfall to the east of Houston, near Port Arthur and the Texas-Louisiana border. The strom is weakening, but is still a Category 4 hurricane at the time of this post.

UPDATE 1:45 PM MDT: Hurricane Rita has now been downgraded to a Category 3 storm. The hurricane is expected to make landfall near Port Arthur, Texas, as a Category 3 storm.

In New Orleans, the plug in the breach of the 17th Street Industrial Canal has been overtopped, and the Ninth Ward of New Orleans is flooding. More rain is expected.

That seems to be the major concern right now - rain. While there will still be significant coastal damage, the forecasts are suggesting that the hurricane will stall after landfall, causing heavy rainfall and major flooding well inland of any storm surge effects. This could spell more trouble for New Orleans and Louisiana, and more than enough trouble for east Texas.

Some local sites and weblogs to watch:
Houston Chronicle and their special weblog, Stormwatchers
Galveston Daily News
Wall Street Journal - Storm Tracker
Drudge Report
Weather Underground
Blogs of War - Hurricane Rita page
Lawrence Simon
Michelle Malkin

All The Virtues

"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire."
Sir Winston Churchill

The Friday Furo Questus

A Wasatch Front Regular Feature

Hurricane Rita
Hurricane Rita should make landfall this afternoon. Keep those who live there and those evacuating in your thoughts and prayers - they are going to need all the help they can get.

For news, try this post for a good summary of news sites; and here is my take on its effect on oil and gas prices.

Questus Furore: All The Virtues I Dislike
Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson is at it again.

The good mayor, in between firing communications directors, scaring off secretaries, and using city funds to build statues without authorization, has sent another email encouraging everyone to attend a big anti-war rally this weekend. He also attempts to justify his stand, although I'm not sure he accomplishes what he set out to do:
Those who referred to my participation in the rally as "unpatriotic," "rude," or "inhospitable", or those who disparaged the thousands of good people who participated in the rally as "nutcakes," fail to distinguish between a theocracy and a democracy.
Theocracy? Um, could someone in the City-County Building go check the Mayor's office? I think there may be a carbon monoxide leak.

And while I can understand him taking issue with some of the comments, I think greeting the President to your city by organizing a protest against him is not exactly the model of hospitality.

And as usual, the flak the mayor took the last time is everyone's fault but his own:

Although none of the media reported it...
Ah yes. The original political impulse; when you start taking flak from the public, blame the press. It gets better:

Although none of the media reported it, the large crowd at the rally cheered loudly when I called upon them to express our support for our troops and for veterans who have sacrificed so much for our remarkable freedoms. It is clear to those who attended the rally that our troops have been unnecessarily put in harm's way by a President who failed to tell us the truth about why he was taking our country to war and a Congress that abrogated its constitutional responsibility by handing to the President its war-making powers. We now know that intelligence was manipulated to reach the result desired by President Bush and his advisors - and that the factual assertions made by President Bush in justifying a war in Iraq were false. We want the truth - about why we are in Iraq, about how we are going to get our young men and women out of Iraq, and how the US is going to be better off, rather than be less safe and secure, because of President Bush's war.

My remarks at the Pioneer Park rally addressed more than the tragic war in Iraq. I spoke about the total absence of fiscal responsibility by President Bush and the Republican Congress, who have frittered away the Clinton surplus of billions of dollars and built up enormous, historic deficits - all while members of President Bush's ultra-wealthy class were given huge tax cuts, and Vice-President Cheney's friends at Halliburton have ripped us off for billions of dollars...

...I spoke about my love for our city - and of how furious I am at the President's disdain for our cities and those who live in them.

...I spoke about President Bush's demonstrated contempt for working people, reflected in his opposition to an increase in the minimum wage, which is lower in buying power today than the minimum wage in 1955. I also talked about the outsourcing of good jobs to other nations due to Bush's trade policies, creating an even greater chasm between the very wealthy (i.e. George Bush and Dick Cheney's classmates) and the middle class and poor in our country. As I said in my presentation, "Those of us who believe that government ought to be of the people, by the people, and for the people - and not just run by and for the benefit of Halliburton and the rest of the very wealthy - we've got a message here today: 'We're not going to take it any more!'"
So, we now know that the Mayor apparently belongs to MoveOn.org.

And, a tad more:

So, according to a United States Senator, a newspaper editorial board, and a number of vocal critics of my participation in the rally, only support of the status quo or complacency is "patriotic." Their view is that I should have had the decency to just keep quiet.
That would have been nice.

That's not going to happen.
Yeah, I figured as much.

As Elie Weisel said, "There are times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." As the Salt Lake Tribune said in this connection, we not only have the right to raise our voices; it is our duty.
Spare me the martyr pose, Mr. Mayor; you took flak from your constituents exercising their First Amendment rights. You weren't persecuted. You wanted to take this stand, now deal with it.

This email, to my mind, reveals a man of questionable character. His eagerness to embrace wild-eyed rhetoric as fact (count the Halliburton references in the email, for Heaven's sake) does not suggest a willingness to seriously debate the war in Iraq or anything else. Rather, he is dreaming of a world with no George W. Bush and is hysterically angry that he does not live in it. (And they have the gall to call themselves the "reality-based community." Yeah, if reality was on acid.)

Mayor Anderson is an unserious man in a serious time.

With the nation reeling from the pummeling of the Gulf Coast and watching the impended landfall of an equally horrible Hurricane Rita, one could question the timing of these protests. Any reason they couldn't postpone?

Well there is one big reason. As Mayor Anderson's email demonstrates (me, I, my, me...), it's all about them. They march for themselves.

Let's look at some of these weekend "nation-wide" rally organizers, shall we? From Instapundit:

SPINNING THE PROTESTS: I recommend that readers google the names of people mentioned in the press accounts of this weekend's antiwar protests. I looked up Brian Becker, who's mentioned in this Washington Post story by Petula Dvorak. To be fair, Dvorak at least mentions the ANSWER connection, but a quick Google search of Becker's name finds that he's been praising the "Iraqi resistance" and denigrating U.S. troops since the beginning. It would appear that he's not so much "antiwar" as just on the other side.

It would be nice if Dvorak's article, and others, made that clearer, instead of offering the sanitized treatment of ANSWER that it does. The Post, however, has a history of whitewashing these folks.

For those who have forgotten, here's some background on A.N.S.W.E.R. and its related groups by David Corn. Here's some more, and here's Michael Lerner's piece on antisemitism in the antiwar movement, written after he was banned from an antiwar rally at A.N.S.W.E.R.'s behest.

If there were an authentic antiwar movement in this country, it wouldn't have to rely on the services of fringe groups like A.N.S.W.E.R. to provide organization and cadre.
But with them you have the appearance of a movement, and so the media and politicians come a-running.

I do not intend to start a debate over protesting; while I firmly believe the instrument has been blunted by overuse in the last few years, it is your right.

It is also your responsibility to exercise it properly.

And I do not wish to contend with those who oppose the Iraq war or even the War on Terror. I think you're wrong, and you probably think that I'm wrong. There's nothing either of us can say that will change the other's mind.

But beware the company you keep. Be aware of those whose protests you are attending, and what they say and believe. I'm not talking about the guys in tin foil hats; you can't help some of the hangers-on that show up. I'm talking about the people and organizations organizing and funding these protests. By attending their events, you are supporting them and their causes, which may not match your own. Do you really want to?

Recommended Reading
VDH: "Amnesia."

Editors of National Review: "Paying for Katrina."

Rich Lowry: "Female Chauvinist Pigs."

Patrolling the Front
Bryan (e.gage) has been pretty active, including this piece on pork. All I have to say Bryan, is that Congressional pork is an old game that knows no party loyalty. But you might like this.

Jamo (J.M.) found an interesting movie trailer.

Nathan is advocating ultimate golf.

Spencer (The Unknowable) is doing a little tech blogging.

And I (Tyler) finally have a little model-railroad blogging going. (I know what you're going to say. Quiet. If it doesn't sound interesting, don't click the link.)

Thought of the Week
"You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you."
Eric Hoffer

Churchill Quote of the Week
"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire."
Sir Winston Churchill

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hurricane Rita: Impact on the Oil Patch (Updating)

From the Wall Street Journal

Wall Street Journal Storm Tracker

From WSJ's Storm Tracker:
"Rita has forced 11 refineries to shut down and two more to deeply cut runs, further stretching already tight fuel supplies. Facilities including Exxon Mobil's massive 557,000 barrel a day Baytown refinery, the country's largest, and BP's 437,000 barrel a day Texas City refinery, the country's third-largest, are shutting down as Rita takes aim at Houston, capital of the U.S. energy industry."
It is also reporting from the Minerals Management Service that 91.9% of Gulf oil production is shut down.

Meanwhile, the refineries are preparing. From the Houston Chronicle:
Houston-area refineries say they're prepared
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Hurricane Katrina's visit to New Orleans was bad news for the nation's energy industry. If Hurricane Rita makes a similar visit to Houston it could be even worse.

There are 10 refineries in the Houston area representing as much as 13 percent of the nation's refining capacity. These facilities and countless chemical plants, located on the bays and bayous in Harris and Galveston counties, are at risk from storm surges like those that came with Katrina.

One worst-case scenario modeled by Houston engineering firm Dodson & Associates predicts that a Category 5 storm coming ashore near Freeport could send a wind-driven surge of water up Galveston Bay and into the Ship Channel. Such a storm would swamp many of these facilities, according to the study. The city is home to the nation's largest refinery, Exxon Mobil's Baytown facility, which processes 557,000 barrels a day.

Hurricane Rita may not pack the same punch as the storm envisioned in the study, and Houston is not below sea level like most of New Orleans. But with four refineries still out because of damage from Katrina, any lost capacity could add to high gasoline prices.

But it's been more than 20 years since the Houston-area felt the full brunt of a hurricane.
"People think there was a national impact from Katrina," said Chris Johnson, president of Dodson & Assoc. "But if a storm that size hits here it will be a bigger deal."

When Katrina came ashore in Louisiana last month, flooding and downed power lines crippled many onshore oil and gas facilities, including more than 10 percent of the country's refining capacity.

The last time Houston was hit by a large storm was August 1983's Hurricane Alicia. The storm came ashore on Galveston Island as a Category 3 storm, knocking out more than one-third of the area's power.

Facilities such as Exxon's Baytown refinery and most units at what was then Arco Chemical's Channel View plant remained operating throughout, however.

Designed to handle surges
Refineries and chemical plants are designed to handle heavy winds, and facilities built along the coast take flooding into consideration as well. But no one can predict how well they'll handle a hurricane.

The power lines that feed refineries are susceptible to high winds. Two large power plants run by Texas Genco sit on the south shore of the Ship Channel. The power company said they have been designed to handle storm surges.

Royal Dutch Shell's 1,500-acre chemical plant and refinery complex in Deer Park sits between 10 feet and 25 feet above sea level, said spokesman David McKinney. During 2001's Tropical Storm Allison about

4 inches of water accumulated over many parts of the property, but since then the company has upgraded stormwater pumps and improved drainage.

In Texas City, home to BP's refinery (processing 437,000 barrels a day) and a Valero facility (210,000 barrels a day), 15-to-20-foot seawalls are designed to keep storm surges at bay.

"We've looked at some modeling that shows the industrial sector, including our site, to be in a reasonably good position," said Neil Geary, BP Texas City's communications manager.

Valero's plant is right on the water.

"If we had Katrina-like storm surges at the 20-foot level, we'd see some local refinery flooding," said Valero spokeswoman Mary Rose Brown. She said the company's St. Charles, La., refinery was hit hard by Katrina, but good planning allowed it to recover quickly.

In Freeport, managers at Dow Chemical's 5,000-acre production facility are watching Rita warily. The massive facility hasn't seen a major storm since Hurricane Carla in 1961, said spokesman Dave Winder, which brought significant flooding. There have been improvements made to the levy system since, which now reaches about 16 feet high and is expected to withstand a Category 3 storm.

Exxon officials did not provide details of the Baytown refinery's storm protection by Tuesday evening.

Since Monday, most local companies have taken precautions, such as removing scaffolding, tying down loose items that could become airborne in heavy winds and removing things that could clog storm drains.

Most refineries and chemical plants need to decide whether or not to shut down processes about 72 hours before a storm hits, which in this case would be today, says David Harpole, a spokesman for Lyondell Chemical, which operates a number of local refineries and chemical plants.

"Protecting workers and the community are top priorities, but companies work to protect their physical assets, too," said Chris Miller, a spokeswoman for chemical maker Rohm and Haas. "That could mean bringing them down in an orderly shutdown, working off raw materials onsite, not accepting additional materials and shipping products out ahead of the storm."

Higher ground
Houston has a number of advantages compared with New Orleans. No parts of Houston are below sea level, so a storm surge would recede relatively quickly. But if a storm brings heavy rains to the west part of the city, bayous and streets could fill further.

"I've seen Buffalo Bayou downtown flowing upstream due to storm surge," Johnson said. "Combine that with heavy rainfall to the west and you've got a serious problem."

"Serious problem." There's an understatement.

Gas is going up, folks. Regardless.

Just hope the infrastructure damage is relatively light, so as to reduce repair time. This is going to hurt. The hurricane seems to be tanding more easterly, but it won't lose much more strength. It's going to clobber whatever it hits.

Houston Chronicle's
energy section seems to be a pretty good resource to follow this aspect of the storm, and their hurricane section is essential. Technical information on this aspect of the storm's impact is available at the US Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service.

UPDATE 2:50 PM MDT: "Refineries Packing It In"

Refineries are packing it in
After temporary shutdowns, time needed to restart
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Much of the Texas Gulf Coast's oil and chemical industry will grind to a halt today as companies prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Rita.

Houston area oil refineries, such as BP's Texas City facility, the nation's third-largest, were shuttering operations completely on Wednesday.

Shell's 333,700 barrel-a-day Deer Park refinery started to shut down on Wednesday and expects to complete the process by this morning.

Exxon Mobil's refineries at Baytown and Beaumont were operating at normal capacity Wednesday, although nonessential personnel at the Baytown facility were allowed to leave, company officials said.

The Texas Gulf Coast is "the mother lode of refining," according to Energy Information Administration analyst David Hinton, with 17 refineries representing 23 percent of U.S. oil refining capacity.

Houston-area refineries alone account for 13 percent of the refining, while Corpus Christi is home to 3 percent and the Port Arthur/Beaumont area 7 percent.

Texas refineries may be able to weather storms a bit better than those in Louisiana because they are not below sea level. But some storm models predict a Category 5 hurricane coming ashore near Freeport could send a tidal surge as large as 30 feet up the narrow Houston Ship Channel. Such a wave could swamp the many refineries, chemical plants and other industries along the waterway.

Shutting them down
State officials are taking the threat to the Gulf's industries seriously. During a conference call Wednesday morning, officials with the state's Division of Emergency Management recommended every refinery and chemical plant shut down before tropical storm-speed winds hit.

The recommendation is somewhat redundant, however, as most plants were already considering that option.

Dow Chemical is closing its plants in Freeport, Deer Park, Clear Lake, Houston and La Porte, as well as the Union Carbide plants in Texas City and Seadrift. The 5,000-acre Freeport plant is one of the largest in the country, employing 7,500 workers.

Lyondell Chemical was expected to have its Matagorda polyethylene plant and Chocolate Bayou ethylene plant closed late Wednesday. All other facilities, including its 270,000-barrel refinery in Houston, were reducing their production rates on Wednesday and preparing to shut down as soon as today if necessary.

Shutting down a refinery or chemical plant is much more difficult than hitting a switch.

A refinery is a collection of dozens of interconnected processes, said Gilbert Froment, a chemical engineering professor at Texas A&M University. The process can take more than a day, depending on the kind of equipment.

"If you close a valve on one unit, it has repercussions on many other spots in a refinery," Froment said.

Any chemicals or materials left in a unit after it is shut down could become corrosive or even solidify and clog pipes and equipment, he said. That would make a restart extremely dangerous, if not impossible.

Several days at a minimum
How long those refineries will be shut down, of course, depends on Rita. At a minimum, they will be off line for several days.

Refiners need a day and a half to two days to bring a fully shut-down refinery back into normal production, noted Roger Diwan, Washington-based PFC Energy's managing director for the oil markets group. That means in the case of an undamaged refinery, it may not be until Monday or Tuesday before production restarts.

Seventeen facilities, from Freeport to Channelview to Alvin, had notified the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality by Wednesday that they would shut down some or all of their units because of the advancing storm.

Many planned to be shut down until Monday, according to reports filed with the state.

The facilities submitting reports to the agency by Wednesday estimated they would release 450,500 pounds of pollution as they went off line.

"This isn't typically what we would see, but I think that everybody is being cautious in the wake of Katrina," said David Bower, the TCEQ's assistant division director for field operations.

While pollution episodes resulting from an act of God or natural phenomena are exempt from fines or other enforcement actions, Bower said each case would be reviewed.

Damage assessments will begin the moment the storm passes, but one of the biggest post-Rita challenges will likely be getting employees back on the job, Lyondell spokesman David Harpole said.

"When they evacuate, people disperse in so many directions," he said. "We're trying to put in place a process to have people check in, let us know where they are and what kind of assistance the company can provide and when we can get them back."

Preparing for recovery
Valero has started preparing for its post-Rita recovery by amassing supplies at its San Antonio headquarters to send to Gulf refineries when the storm passes.

Extra refinery parts and equipment, food, water and first-aid supplies will head into the affected areas, spokesman Fred Newhouse said.

The company will also provide chain saws and generators for employees who may need them to get their own homes in order.

This plan worked well for Valero in helping get its St. Charles, La., refinery back up and running after Katrina, but Newhouse said the company is already applying lessons it learned from that recent experience.

"For example, we've made sure to send our refinery managers emergency cash for workers before the storm this time instead of after, since it's possible people may not be able to get money from their banks," Newhouse said.

Oil News

From the Wall Street Journal

Wall Street Journal Storm Tracker

Oil shale is beoming workable. From the Rocky Mountain News:
Date: Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Section: Business

Page: 1B

Illustration: Photo, Illustration

Source: By Gargi Chakrabarty, Rocky Mountain News

Memo: chakrabartyg@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-892-2976
Banner p.1A - OIL SHALE HEATS UP / 23 years after boom went bust, eight companies seek Colorado leases.

Edition: Final

Eight U.S. companies have filed applications with the federal government to lease land in Colorado for oil-shale development, a sign that oil producers again are ready to gamble some 23 years after the last boom went bust.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the arm of the Interior Department that manages federal lands, has received 10 drilling applications, including three from Shell and one each from Exxon Mobil and Chevron. The companies want to develop technologies to extract oil from shale on 160-acre federal tracts in Rio Blanco County in northwestern Colorado.

The government said it will tread carefully, since it doesn't want to repeat the oil shale boom-and-bust cycles of the 1970s and 1980s that almost devastated the Western Slope's economy.

But with crude oil above $66 a barrel at the close of trading Tuesday, oil shale is a promising alternative to crude. The Green River shale deposits in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming are estimated to contain 1.5 trillion to 1.8 trillion barrels of oil, and while not all of it can be recovered, half that amount is nearly triple the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia.

Many residents of western Colorado still remember "Black Sunday," or May 2, 1982, when oil giant Exxon (now Exxon Mobil) announced the closure of its $5 billion Colony shale project in Garfield County and laid off 2,200 workers.

A team of BLM and state officials will review the applications, with a final decision by February 2006.

"We had an oil shale program in 1973-74. There was a spurt of development then, but the economic viability of the technology was not adequately established, and communities in the Western Slope were affected in a negative way," said Heather Feeney, BLM spokeswoman in Washington, D.C. "We are trying to learn lessons from that. This time, we are taking a phased approach."

Feeney said the team would evaluate the lease applications to determine if the companies would be able to advance shale technologies and reduce impact on the environment and local communities.

A successful company - with a viable technology - also would have the option of leasing an additional 4,960 acres in the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, the recently passed Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires the BLM to begin leasing tracts for commercial shale production by August 2007, after it completes an environmental impact study in the previous six months.

Environmental activists have denounced the government's move as too rash, given that a viable technology has yet to be established and the Western Slope already has witnessed the perils of shale hype. Even U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., has expressed concern about the pace of shale development in his state.

"The lessons we learned in Colorado in the 1980s and other booms is . . . it is a difficult challenge to be able to develop oil from oil shale," Salazar said when the energy bill passed in August.

A year after Black Sunday, property foreclosures in Grand Junction and Mesa County were more than four times their 1980 numbers, and bankruptcies had doubled.

"That project was initially driven by high global price expectations based on projected oil shortages in the early 1980s and beyond," said Exxon Mobil spokesman Len D'Eramo from Houston. "When global oil prices dropped, and oil price expectations dropped even further, the Colony oil shale technology was no longer economically viable.

"The current BLM program favors a phased approach to developing oil shale extraction technologies."

Exxon Mobil, Shell and Chevron are among six companies that will develop an in-situ technology to extract shale oil, Feeney said. Two other companies - Natural Soda Inc. and Kennecott Exploration Co. - will use a traditional process in which shale is mined, crushed and then heated in giant ovens called retorts to extract the oil.

Shell is a pioneer of the in-situ process, in which it drills holes and inserts heaters in target underground zones to slowly heat the shale layers.

Once the shale is sufficiently heated, a chemical reaction starts and releases the lighter hydrocarbons, which rise. The heavier hydrocarbons remain within the formation. The lighter hydrocarbons, almost a gasolinelike product, are subsequently pumped from the ground through conventional means.

The advantage to in-situ is that it eliminates the problem of waste disposal and enables higher recovery of oil, Terry O'Connor, Shell's vice president of external and regulatory affairs, has said.

For at least the past five years, at Shell's 20,000-acre Cathedral Bluffs property in Rio Blanco County, the company has been testing its patented method of burying heaters encased in pipe hundreds of feet underground, then liquefying the oil trapped in porous rock so it can be pumped to the surface.

O'Connor said earlier this year Shell hoped to have a commercially viable operation in the area by 2010.


Seeking alternatives

* Eight companies have submitted applications to the BLM to mine for oil shale on federal land in Colorado:

Natural Soda

EGL Resources

Exxon Mobil Corp.

Kennecott Exploration Co.

Independent Energy Partners

Phoenix Wyoming

Chevron Shale Oil Co.

Shell Frontier Oil and Gas (three applications submitted)

Caption: Low-quality oil shale is handled recently by a Shell official at the Mahogany research project in Rio Blanco County near Rifle. DENNIS SCHROEDER / ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS
CAPTION: Mining for shale oil. See graphic archive.

Interesting, no? Imagine the west...

The West is already changing.

Hurricane Rita: Houston Bound

In 48 hours, Hurricane Rita has blossomed from a tropical storm to a category-5 hurricane. Landfall is expected by Saturday morning, somewhere in the general vicinity of Houston. Evacuations have begun all up and down the upper Texas Gulf coast, included Galveston and low-lying areas in Houston. If the storm proceeds at the same pace and track as predicted this morning, it could remain a hurricane all the way inland to Dallas.

From the Galveston Daily News

As far as immediate local impacts go - expect your gas prices to go up, today if they haven't already. 20% of America's refineries are shut down due to the combined impacts and threats of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and both storms have traveled or are travelling through major concentrations of offshore oil platforms. And Utah Task Force One, an urban search-and-rescue team consisting of Utah firefighters, rescue experts, and support personnel, has been mobilized and is staging into Texas this morning.

I'll be posting some oil news and more hurricane news soon.

Some local sites and weblogs to watch:
Houston Chronicle and their special weblog, Stormwatchers
Galveston Daily News
Wall Street Journal - Storm Tracker
Drudge Report
Weather Underground
Blogs of War - Hurricane Rita page
Lawrence Simon
Michelle Malkin

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Global Warming On Mars

No, really:
...for three Mars summers in a row, deposits of frozen carbon dioxide near Mars' south pole have shrunk from the previous year's size, suggesting a climate change in progress.
It's all the fault of Bush and Big Oil, I tell ya.

Seriously, I think scientists need to consider this in our own climate models. They have long complained of man's influence - but what about the Sun's? At the very least, they need to show that somehow they account for the unusual solar weather we have been having for the last several years.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Avast There!

It be National Talk Like A Pirate Day, it be!

Strike yer colors, and raise the Jolly Roger!

Find yerself a comely wench, woo her with yer piratey prowess, and search for booty! (Unless she be the booty...)


Friday, September 16, 2005

The Friday Furo Questus


Questus Furore
I have to confess something - I'm a bit of a geology geek. Not that I actually have taken a class or anything; I'm just interested. Volcanoes and earthquakes fascinate (and scare) me. So this article on a potentially budding volcano in Oregon and this one on some interesting seismicity in the Juan de Fuca Strait caught my eye.

Along with the king-sized reminder Hurricane Katrina provided, it got me to thinking: how ready am I for a disaster? And the answer is, not very.

I have no 72-hour kit in my home. No bottled water anywhere. Nothing in my car except an afghan and some wrenches. And right now, my gas gauge is resting on empty. (But I was going to fill it after work...)

Truth is, here on the Wasatch Front we live in an earthquake zone. Geologists expect a 7.0 magnitude earthquake to occur on the Wasatch Fault in our lifetimes.

The authorities will do their best to help. They want to help. But they cannot help everybody at once, and they have certain vital tasks, like clearing roads, that take a higher priority than going house to house.

For at least 72 hours, you will be on your own. Are you ready?

Recommended Reading
Remember Ahnuld? How's he doing? (I'd be especially interested in Jamo's and e.gage's opinions on this.)

Donald Luskin compares Hurricane Katrina and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It is an interesting comparison.

Jack Dunphy examines New Orleans' police force.

Hear about the recent power outage in L.A.? Well, this piece reflects a side of that you may not have considered.

And, of course Victor Davis Hanson: "Four Years Later."
"Where does the United States stand in its so-called global war against terror, four years after the September 11 attack? The news is both encouraging and depressing all at once."

Patrolling the Front
Jamo's been busy. Roberts, FEMA, and other ponderings.

And I blogged hurricane stuff 'till I got sick of it.

e.gage has been busy, but nothing new on his blog.

Everybody else? Nothing. So they don't get linked.

Thought of the Week
"As soon as man began considering himself the source of the highest meaning in the world and the measure of everything, the world began to lose its human dimension, and man began to lose control of it."
-- Vaclav Havel

Churchill Quote of the Week
Lady Astor: "Winston, if I were your wife I'd put poison in your coffee."
Churchill: "Nancy, if I were your husband I'd drink it."

For the rest of the story, go to
the Pacific Slope.

"I'd Drink It!"

One of the great British political rivalries was that between Churchill and Lady Astor in the 1930s.

Both were members of the Conservative Party, but that was all they had in common. In 1938, the issue was what to do with Hitler's Germany. Churchill labeled the Munich accords a disaster; but
Lady Astor along with most of the party disagreed, believing that war should be avoided at almost any cost.

And their disputes became personal.

Lady Astor: "Winston, if I were your wife I'd put poison in your coffee."
Winston: "Nancy, if I were your husband I'd drink it."

From the
Churchill Centre:
This exchange is sometimes attributed to Winston's good friend F.E. Smith, but in Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan's The Glitter and the Gold she writes that the exchange occurred at Blenheim when her son was host. See also the American edition of Martin Gilbert's In Search of Churchill (not in the British edition). In Nancy: The Life of Lady Astor, Christopher Sykes confirms Consuelo Balsan's account. "It sounds like an invention but is well authenticated. [Churchill] and the Astors were staying with Churchill's cousin, the Duke of Marlborough, at Blenheim Palace. Nancy and Churchill argued ferociously throughout the weekend."

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

European Anti-Americanism Isn't New

Jonah Goldberg, writing in National Review Online:
Here's a gloomy thought for you: America is going to be lonely for a very long time. After reading the October issue of The American Enterprise, "Red America, Blue Europe," that's the only conclusion one can draw.

There is a grand myth that the world, particularly Europe, loved America before George W. Bush came into office. The reality is that it only dislikes us a bit more than it used to.
Clinton wasn't popular with most of them either. They hated Bush before they even knew him.
In the 1980s, anti-Americanism was also a big problem, but fortunately the elites of Europe generally understood — with some lamentable exceptions — it was better to have America as a friend than the Soviet Union as a ruler.

But now that the Cold War is over, European elites have been liberated from the need to play well with the United States. Elections in Germany and France have largely been won in recent years by running against America. The U.S. is the only superpower and European elites don't think anyone but them should be superpowers. The Chinese have a similar attitude, of course, and pretty much every foreign policy article and expert I can find says we're going to be playing Cold War-style games with China for the next 50 years.

In other words, we are facing at minimum two enormous problems that will far, far outlast the Bush presidency, and, unlike in the past, it's not entirely clear we can rely on our friends to stand with us. This is a broad generalization, which means that it's open to contradiction by a great many facts while still, I think, remaining true. We do have some real friends, most notably Britain, Japan and Australia.
I'm not sure how much they like us either. Especially Britain.

But check this out:
A third of Germans under 30 think America ordered the 9/11 attacks. The "theory" that the Pentagon attack was self-inflicted stagecraft is in wide circulation in France, and the subject of a best-selling book.
How does one explain this? Blind hatred? Ignorance?

The rest of the article is worth reading. Mr.
Goldberg recounts that assuming we can improve ties, the benefit will be meager - most of Europe's militaries are in worse shape than at any time in the last fifty years. Aside from Britain and possibly France, none could provide significant military aid in the event of a crisis. The American-held shield of NATO has allowed them to divert defense funds into ever-bolder social engineering.

It causes me to wonder, though. Americans aren't quite as stupid as their leaders and others would believe. We're aware we aren't too popular right now. So if push came to shove, would we help out Europe again? That depends on a lot of unknowns of course; much could change. But if a Cauldron or Red Storm Rising scenario were to occur now, would Americans care to help?

Ten years ago, I'd say yes, unquestionably. I'd still say yes now - but I'm not as sure as I once was.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

"Ernest Hemingway once wrote, 'The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.' I agree with the second part."

-- Morgan Freeman as William Somerset, "Seven"

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Four Years Later

Cox & Forkum

Woke up this morning to "Wake Me When September Ends." Supposed to be an anti-war song, according to the press; I didn't see it, but I'm hard-pressed to see deep meaning first thing in the morning. It surprised me though. Wake me? I thought we already had our wakeup call.

I woke up a little differently four years ago. About 6:50 AM, my clock radio came on, bringing me the sounds of my favorite morning show guys on 107.5 FM. But there wasn't any music; they were reporting a light plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center.

Huh. That doesn't sound good. (At that point, I'm thinking a Cessna had crashed.) I tell my parents - that's the first they heard. They turn on the TV, and I get in the shower.

I'm finishing up when I hear a curse from their room.

Then Dad sticks his head into the bathroom. An airliner had hit the second tower. Dead-on. And it was a big plane. I towel off, and go to the TV, in time to see the replay of a 757 fly into the middle of the South Tower.

By the time I finish shaving, chaos. Reports of hijacked planes all over the eastern United States. Then, the Pentagon gets hit.

And what did I do? Being the good little first-year MBA student I was, I went to class. I still don't know why. The towers collapsed as I drove in.

Class went as usual. Gotta stay on schedule, you know. The Internet was useless - swamped by millions all trying to learn the latest.

I came immediately home, to find Mom watching the news. That's about all she did all week. Would have been all I did, too, if I had thought about it more. That afternoon was a blur, a long set of images of fire, smoke and ash; of lost dreams and murdered loved ones. Two thousand miles away, it shocked us to the core.

That night, I got a call from a good friend. He wanted me to play a game. With all that going on. I didn't go. He's still a friend; but I regard him differently than I used to. Didn't it affect him? (He wasn't alone; many of my friends and classmates had much the same attitude. Most still do.)

I went to sleep with uncertainty. How many dead? How many trapped, awaiting rescue. My radio relayed the words of Rudy Giuliani: "How many have we lost? I don't know, I don't care to speculate. It will be more than any of us can bear."

America's vacation from history was over. The new period of isolationism, where the world left us alone safe behind our oceans, ended. The relative peace we had enjoyed was gone. The world was a dark and hostile place. It always had been; we had only allowed ourselves to forget that.

Cox & Forkum

In retrospect, the succeeding months went by quickly; but living through them took forever.

A nation and a city grieved. America watched New York find and bury her Finest and Bravest; watched her pick through the still-burning wreckage for survivors, then bodies. Rumsfeld turned into a gruff no-nonsense charger, readying America for war even as the dead were carried from the Pentagon. And the idea of average bravery, a long dismissed notion, was brought back brilliantly as the story of Flight 93 was learned and told; how the hostages would rather die than we turned into weapons against their fellow Americans.

October brought war, as the attacks were linked to Al Qaeda and their refuge in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Protests were quiet, but immediate. Fliers appeared to teach-ins against the war against Afghanistan. By the end of September. (Note to the Green Party - I will never vote for any of you clowns again. Note to Ms. Hirschi of the Utah Green Party - ma'am, you've gotta be kidding me. No way should you ever be allowed near any position of responsibility.) They were ignored.

In truth, it should be called "the Lightning War." Despite dire warnings of defeat and quagmire, the Taliban was defeated in a heartbeat as the fury of the American counterstrike fell.

Then something changed. I still don't know what it was; but the unity of the nation after 9/11 quickly faded, if it ever really existed. it wasn't just Iraq; it started before then.

Conspiracy theories grew, spreading distorted lies. As the U.S. moved to settle a long overdue score with Saddam Hussein, elements which had virulently opposed George W. Bush since 2000 unleashed their full share of venom, and their illogic caught on.

Bereft of ideas, the Democratic party scrambled to sound coherent. One of their leading candidates embraced one of the "Bush-did-it" conspiracy theories - and most shockingly of all was not derided as a fool for doing so. Ultimately, their 2004 campaign of solely anti-Bush rhetoric failed - but just barely.

So where do we stand, four years later? One can't help but feel we have somehow lost our way.

No new attacks have befallen us, due to the efforts of a brave relative few and what I can only explain as the protection of God, although I'm not sure we are deserving.

And how little we remember. Most of us want to move on, to go back to sleep. To once again retreat into the fantasy of a Fortress America that has no walls and few gates, but to their mind is still somehow inpregnable. A fortress that is not needed in a world of people who have more to fear from us than we do from them.

How little we remember.

Cox & Forkum

Friday, September 09, 2005

Parrot Jabber

"When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber."
-- Sir Winston Churchill

Hurricane Katrina - Blame Game (Con.)

Chris Regan & Bryan Preston, writing in National Review Online:
Ghost Plan for a Ghost Town

Ghastly oversight in New Orleans.
By Chris Regan & Bryan Preston

Until it became known as the city of looters threatening jihad against Red Cross rescue workers, New Orleans, Louisiana was known as a city of ghosts. A walk through its French Quarter made clear why. Stately homes dating back to the city's founding look out on streets that have seen war, flood, storm, and pestilence over the centuries. Those floods used to literally raise the dead: The water table is so shallow in the Mississippi delta that even a slight rain would make buried coffins float. City residents eventually tired of seeing Uncle Etienne, dead ten years, riding the rapids down Canal Street after the latest spring shower, so they started placing all of their dead in above-ground mausoleums. But the ghosts, it was said, still stalked the streets, haunting the city whose spongy ground and seasonal storms had disturbed their eternal rest.

After hurricane Katrina, thousands of new ghosts will take up the march. Their lives, history will record, were taken not so much by yet another natural disaster, but by a human-made disaster of epic scale. If you go looking for these ghosts, any New Orleans bus lot will be a good place to start.

The Lesson of Georges

The story of buses has become the seminal tale of dereliction in New Orleans. Though the city owned hundreds of buses, it failed to use them to move its most vulnerable citizens — vulnerable either because of poverty or physical infirmity — out of the bowl-shaped city to safe higher ground. Initially it seemed as if the city that knew the levees protecting it would one day break just didn't have a plan to move so many people to safety. But it turns out that emergency-preparedness officials in New Orleans did have a plan, and they did think to use buses to evacuate the city before a major hurricane. They just decided not to fully implement it as Plan A. The plan was developed as a hurricane Georges lesson learned. This appeared in an article that appeared in November 2004 in the Natural Hazards Observer:
Residents who did not have personal transportation were unable to evacuate even if they wanted to. Approximately 120,000 residents (51,000 housing units x 2.4 persons/unit) do not have cars. A proposal made after the evacuation for Hurricane Georges to use public transit buses to assist in their evacuation out of the city was not implemented for Ivan. If Ivan had struck New Orleans directly it is estimated that 40-60,000 residents of the area would have perished.

So the question after dodging the Georges bullet seemed to be, "Do we figure out a way to use buses or do we allow 50,000 people to die for the crime of not having a car?" They chose Plan B.

Hurricanes come in cycles of frequency and activity. Meteorologists don't really know why, other than that it might have something to do with solar activity and shifting deep sea currents (but responsible scientists do know the hurricane cycle has nothing to do with humans burning fossil fuels). We are currently at the cusp of an intensification of hurricanes. We can expect more of them, and we can expect more of them to be strong.

As the hurricane cycle kept building in the last decade or so, there were increasing calls to create a real evacuation plan. Many of those who pleaded for the use of buses will come forward soon, but for everyone who does, there are others who do not have the strength to come forward. They can't hack their way out of their attics right now to tell us their side of it. And the journalists at the New Orleans Times-Picayune are no longer interested in speaking on their behalf. As their "Open Letter to the President" shows, they're now the spokesmen for other political interests. It didn't used to be that way until the inevitable happened. Now they have circled the wagons to protect the guilty and accuse the innocent.

Each hurricane season Louisiana officials decided to play a game of Russian roulette with those lives. They knew disaster would eventually strike, but gambled that it would happen on someone else's watch. They did take the action that nervous officials typically take: They formed a working group to reassure themselves and look busy to everyone else. According to that Natural Hazards Observer article from November 2004, here's what the hard-charging working group came up with:

Unwilling to merely accept this reality, emergency managers and representatives of nongovernmental disaster organizations, local universities, and faith based organizations have formed a working group to engage additional faith-based organizations in developing ride-sharing programs between congregation members with cars and those without. In the wake of Ivan’s near miss, this faith-based initiative has become a catalyst in the movement to make evacuation assistance for marginalized groups (those without means of evacuation) a top priority for all levels of government.

So a working group decided that the workable solution to the problem of thousands of stranded citizens was to ask churches to set up a giant car-pool system. The plan further called for a DVD to get the word out, which was still in production when Katrina struck. A cynic might say that such a plan was drafted so city officials could say they had a real evacuation plan, written down on official letterhead and signed and announced and all of the other things that make bureaucrats swoon, but was in point of fact yet another exercise in passing the buck to the next schmuck to occupy the conference-table chair. If it was a real plan, it doesn't seem a stretch to say that as hurricane Katrina bore down on the Big Easy, the real plan really failed.

More hurricane lessons from Georges and actions for Ivan, from the Natural Hazards Observer:

To aid in the evacuation, transportation officials instituted contraflow evacuation for the first time in the area’s history whereby both lanes of a 12-mile stretch of Interstate 10 were used to facilitate the significantly increased outbound flow of traffic toward the northwest and Baton Rouge. The distance of the contraflow was limited due to state police concerns about the need for staff to close the exits. And, although officials were initially pleased with the results, evacuees felt the short distance merely shifted the location of the major jams.

You read it right: "for the first time in the area's history."

So not only did officials keep putting bus-utilization plans on hold, they only began using an ineffectively implemented contraflow system last year. The contraflow plan was to turn both sides of the highways into outgoing lanes, but all that did was move traffic tie-ups from nearer the city to the points where the contraflow was ended. And they couldn't make the entire highways contraflow for miles and miles because some lanes were needed to get things into the city (rescuers, etc.). City officials barely even scratched the surface of what could have been possible in competently evacuating that city using an early-warning system, buses, and contraflow.

Third Time's a Disaster

The result was that in the worst-case scenario. The Natural Hazards Observer again:
Regional and national rescue resources would have to respond as rapidly as possible and would require augmentation by local private vessels (assuming some survived). And, even with this help, federal and state governments have estimated that it would take 10 days to rescue all those stranded within the city. No shelters within the city would be free of risk from rising water. Because of this threat, the American Red Cross will not open shelters in New Orleans during hurricanes greater than category 2; staffing them would put employees and volunteers at risk. For Ivan, only the Superdome was made available as a refuge of last resort for the medically challenged and the homeless.

It was to take ten days for rescue to get everyone out, not counting the dead. And city and state officials knew it would take ten days. For them to cry in the current crisis that 72 hours is unacceptable rings more than a little hollow.

Now we see belatedly that there never was a reasonable local evacuation plan or shelters with a hope of withstanding a real hurricane. And the communication process before the storm was as atrocious as the plan itself. It was no different for hurricane Ivan:

As Ivan charged through the Gulf of Mexico, more than a million people were urged to flee. Forecasters warned that a direct hit on the city could send torrents of Mississippi River backwash over the city's levees, creating a 20-foot-deep cesspool of human and industrial waste.

Residents with cars took to the highways. Others wondered what to do.

In this case, city officials first said they would provide no shelter, then agreed that the state-owned Louisiana Superdome would open to those with special medical needs. Only Wednesday afternoon, with Ivan just hours away, did the city open the 20-story-high domed stadium to the public. Mayor Ray Nagin's spokeswoman, Tanzie Jones, insisted that there was no reluctance at City Hall to open the Superdome, but said the evacuation was the top priority.

"Our main focus is to get the people out of the city," she said.

Callers to talk radio complained about the late decision to open up the dome, but the mayor said he would do nothing different.

"We did the compassionate thing by opening the shelter," Nagin said. "We wanted to make sure we didn't have a repeat performance of what happened before. We didn't want to see people cooped up in the Superdome for days."

When another dangerous hurricane, Georges, appeared headed for the city in 1998, the Superdome was opened as a shelter and an estimated 14,000 people poured in. But there were problems, including theft and vandalism.

Katrina was a three-peat major hurricane failure in planning. City and state officialdom didn't do enough after Georges warned them, kept hoping against hope when Ivan spared them, and have now reaped the mighty whirlwind of Katrina. When compassion is defined as delay and the subject is hurricanes, you are asking for a serious catastrophe. President Bush's call during the height of Katrina interrupted that compassionate liberalism. The goal of the locals was to avoid a mandatory evacuation that would cause trouble by having too many people in the shelter of last resort with too little security and no food or water. The goal was to fool more people to stay home or leave so that the city didn't look bad or descend into violent chaos if it took a direct hit. The mayor knew the danger of mass chaos with too many stuck in the Dome and planned for none of it.

Now we know that had Katrina held its strength and course at Cat 5+ it would have probably ripped most of the roof right off the Superdome. And the roof in that design is what holds the walls up. That was the other part of the scam. Nobody really knows if the Dome could take over 130MPH sustained, though they claimed a 200MPH design.

So the Louisiana state governor and emergency-preparedness officials allowed them to get by all these years with a sham plan that doesn't appear to even meet state standards. And guess what? Oh yeah, the state didn't even measure up to the federal requirements either:

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."

This is why every city must have sharp leadership, and a disciplined, non-corrupt police force that won't melt away into the population when under attack, like Saddam's army. And every state must have a governor who, when under pressure to perform, will not freeze and cry before consulting with lawyers and advisers before freezing up again in a passive-aggressive way that shifts blame to those trying to help. That's what we're all supposed to get in exchange for the big salaries, fancy dinners, 24-hour security, and other perks that go with the powerful political jobs. We give our politicians quite a lot. Is it too much to ask them to prepare for disasters in ways that won't get us all killed?

New Orleans is a major port of entry and exit for commerce. It's sinking into a bowl and is threatened by a gulf, a lake, and a river. It needed leadership, but what New Orleans had was an old political machine, a corrupt police force, and no real disaster leadership. Since the state knew of the problems with that police force though, the Louisiana National Guard could have had a dedicated special force with a plan to secure the city after the big one. A whole team of fast boats and such could have been training for years and deployed immediately to not just rescue but to keep order. That's the governor's job to think up something creative like that, not the feds. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. And here come the ghosts.

When you're clearly vulnerable to a nuke-sized catastrophe every summer, and you fake your emergency preparation like you've got it all under control, and then you still pretend that you have things under control even after it's perfectly obvious that everything has spun out of control, then you shouldn't blame others for being angry at the negligence. Who would want to have that many dead on their watch? You have to assume they had done everything humanly possible to save lives. But Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin did not even come close. Neither did others before them. Local leaders kept pulling the disaster trigger, but got empty chambers. Blanco and Nagin were just the unlucky pair who got the bullet.

It seems as though emergency planners in New Orleans gave up serious disaster preparedness a long time ago, even as the hurricane cycle swung toward intensity. They counted on luck and instantaneous "rescue welfare." Only the recent hurricane cycle woke them up. Slightly. They were still half asleep, under a strong spell of complacency any New Orleans voodoo witch would have been proud of casting. Anyone left out of the evacuation plan was given a massive overdose of false hope. It was playing Russian roulette with 50,000 people, first fearing, then knowing this time that the fatal bullet had moved into the chamber offshore, just praying that it didn't actually go off when the trigger was pulled at the shoreline and hoping to blame the world's universal scapegoat, George Bush, for racist genocide if it did.

The levees were designed to protect against hurricanes only in the lowest three of five categories of intensity, Strock said. Katrina was Category Four when it hit the U.S. Gulf Coast on Monday.

"We figured we had a 200- or 300-year level of protection. That means that an event that we were protecting from might be exceeded every 200 or 300 years," Strock told reporters. "So we had an assurance that 99.5 percent, this would be OK. We, unfortunately, have had that 0.5 percent activity here."

"The intensity of this storm simply exceeded the design capacity of this levee."

Plans, working groups, more plans, an in-progress DVD, a near-miss, a relieved sigh, a folding of the hands, and then back to sleep. The city and state had directives to plan the planning session to start the process of making a plan, but little in the way of any real plan to deal with a real disaster. So the buses sat in their lots. The winds and the floods came, the unlucky local officials kicked in Plan B, and the city of New Orleans drowned with its least fortunate trapped inside. The evacuation plan was a plan, but it was really just a ghost plan with ghost buses and ghost drivers, with ghost emergency supplies kept in ghost "shelters" under control of a ghost police force with a ghost emergency communications system overseen by a ghastly governor.

It was a plan for a ghost town. That plan worked.

And here come the ghosts.

We'd better learn from them. The countless dead will expect nothing less.

Chris Regan and Bryan Preston are freelance journalists. You can see Louisiana's plan here and New Orleans's here.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Hurricane Katrina - Blame Game

While the usual suspects try to blame Bush for everything that went wrong (I guess Halliburton must have moved up the schedule on weather control), what is becoming evident is that New Orleans was not ready - and her leaders especially were not ready.

When the smoke clears, and we're able to take a breath, we can step back and take a nice cold, clear look. But since blame is being flung in all directions, I'm going share a few of my impressions.
First of all, the scale of this disaster needs to be factored in. Katrina was a big Category 4 storm; big both in terms of strength and in terms of physical size. This was going to be a tough storm to respond to, regardless of where it ultimately struck. That's not to say there aren't lessons to be learned, but it would be well to keep that in mind. This was a massive, and quick disaster.

Also keep in mind: New Orleans' levees failed 18-24 hours after the hurricane hit. So one could look at this as two seperate major disasters, occuring at the same time. We may want to reconsider our disaster planning to take this into account.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is taking a lot of blame right now. There's a couple of things I would like to know: did the later failure of New Orleans' levees affect the response in any way? In other words - did FEMA get caught moving the wrong way, moving material and men to Mississippi and Alabama only to learn they would be needed in New Orleans? And where (and what) did FEMA pre-position to respond?

Yes, pre-position. That's why FEMA wasn't in the Superdome right away. See, FEMA is a response organization, and not even a first-response organization. FEMA coordinates the federal response, providing assets and manpower to assist (and, if necessary, relieve) local first responders (city and state personnel, plus local volunteers). If those assets are placed inside the hurricane strike zone, they'll need to rescue themselves before they can help anyone else. See John at
Argghhh!!! for a succinct explanation of this. (Interestingly enough, his biggest problem with the federal response is a lack of information and visible leadership. He has some great info on the military response.) John also makes this exellent point: "...I would caveat that no government is perfect, is ever gonna be, and we'll fix a lot that went wrong here...and in 30 years, if it hasn't gone wrong on this scale again, we'll have trended back, because we'll want o spend the money on other things...which doesn't mean we don't try, it just means I'm a pessimist."

The state government of Louisiana and its response needs some close scrutiny. The fact that Mississippi has held together relatively well while southern Lousiana has not suggests that some major mistakes were made, and compounded upon by later mistakes.

The first response to any disaster occurs at the city, county and state level. Deploymnt of local police, fire, and state police can occur almost immediately; and National Guardsmen (once mobilized) and other state resources can be deployed faster than federal troops can be transported in and deployed. That doesn't even factor in the legal ramifications of the federal response; whereas the governor has the authority to deploy and respond immediately. But some of the first National Guard deployments occurred not in New Orleans but in Baton Rouge.

The New Orleans city government needs some close examination, too. Why did the evacuation take so long to begin? That was the mayor's call. Why weren't city buses used to transport evacuees, or at least relocated so they could be used afterwards? Was the city's emergency plan even implemented? And why did the city's police department come apart?

New Orleans' police force is down to one-third its pre-storm strength (approx. 500 now, down from 1500). From a
Defense Department briefing:
Q: General, you mentioned a disintegration of the New Orleans Police Department. Do you know how many officers are still on duty?

GEN. BLUM: I would rather not say. I think you'd be better to refer that question to the mayor of New Orleans. I have my own estimate. I would say they are significantly degraded and they have less than one-third of their original capability.
That's right - most of the police force quit, right when their city needed them most. We can argue over their motives, but I think we can generally agree that they lack the level of professionalism displayed by New York City's police force during 9/11.

One more factor needs to be taken into account - how ready was New Orleans' population? Most of the city's population did get themselves out. And sadly, if the news is to be believed, the people in the shelters did little to help themselves. Again we can argue over the whys and wherefores - but were all of those people completely incompetent? Why couldn't they organize? (Did they, and we haven't heard about it?) It seems like those at the shelters just sat there and waited for someone else to come save them.

It is becoming increasingly clear that New Orleans and Lousiana had a plan, and chose to throw it away and wing it, instead. The plan might not have been perfect - no plan is - but when you have a category 5 hurricane bearing down on you is not a time to improvise. They waited too long to order an evacuation and did not use the resources they did have to help that evacuation. Then
there is this tidbit:
In the face of a catastrophic Hurricane Katrina, a mandatory evacuation was ordered Sunday for New Orleans by Mayor Ray Nagin.

The mayor called the order unprecedented and said anyone who could leave the city should. He exempted hotels from the evacuation order because airlines had already cancelled all flights.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco, standing beside the mayor at a news conference, said President Bush called and personally appealed for a mandatory evacuation for the low-lying city, which is prone to flooding.
Question: why would the President need to call you and urge an evacuation? Shouldn't they have been able to figure that out?

There is one most significant lesson to draw from this: in the event of a major disaster; the only help you will have for some time is what you yourself can provide. Be Prepared. Too long has our civil defense ignored individual preparation - that needs to change. Everyone needs to be prepared to survive 72 hours without outside aid, and have stores of food and water sufficient for at least a week. And that is an individual responsibility.

For another, more cohesive reponse to some of the criticism, I present
Jim Geraghty at National Review (quoted in its entirety):

September 07, 2005, 8:26 a.m.
We Failed You? Try Again.
Anne Rice blames America, not local officials.

"To my country I want to say this: During this crisis you failed us. You looked down on us; you dismissed our victims; you dismissed us. You want our Jazz Fest, you want our Mardi Gras, you want our cooking and our music. Then when you saw us in real trouble, when you saw a tiny minority preying on the weak among us, you called us "Sin City," and turned your backs.” — novelist and New Orleans resident Anne Rice

Let me get this straight.

Ms. Rice, you live in (what was) a very attractive city which lies below sea level. On one side you have a giant lake; on the other side you have the Gulf of Mexico. Running through the middle is the Mississippi River. All of which are above you.

Preventing those giant bodies of water from flooding and drowning you are levees. These levees are described as “century-old.” People have been warning about the devastating effects of a direct hit from a hurricane for decades.

I’ve heard a great deal of complaint in recent days that the federal government may not have allocated enough money to speed up the upgrades to those levees. This does, however, raise the question of why city and state residents were waiting around for the federal government to send enough money to upgrade this, instead of paying for it themselves. I mean, it was only your homes, businesses, and lives at stake. Perhaps these upgrades would have been expensive. If only this city had some sort of
events to attract tourists, from which to collect taxes.

Anyway, your state and local officials decided to spend your tax dollars on something else that they (and presumably you) found more important, and then they waited for the rest of the country to pay for these life-preserving necessities.

Your beloved city and region has a colorful political history, in which there is, oh, a wee bit of corruption. I’m from New Jersey, so I can’t throw stones at that glass house. But you guys have managed to pick leaders who give you the worst of both worlds — they’re scandal ridden and incompetent in a crisis. Look, Rudy Giuliani might have run around with Judith Nathan before his divorce, but he was a hell of a leader in our darkest hours. You know the National Review crowd isn’t a fan of Pataki, but the man was a rock after 9/11 compared to Governor Weepy I’ll-Evacuate-Eventually and Mayor It’s-Everybody’s-Fault-Except-Mine. Nobody’s throwing around the adjective “Churchillian” about any of your officials these days. We didn’t pick your local officials; you guys did.

Rice asks, “how many times did Gov. Kathleen Blanco have to say that the situation was desperate? How many times did Mayor Ray Nagin have to call for aid?”

What about those buses left unused, less than a mile from the Superdome? JunkYardBlog notes that it’s written in the Southeast Louisiana Evacuation Plan that buses are supposed to be used for evacuation of those who don’t have personal vehicles. As JYB observes, “there is something very peculiar about a city and a state that have a plan on the books for years that outlines what to do when a hurricane is about to strike, yet when a hurricane comes roaring in, the responsible officials just chuck the plan and try winging it. Delaying and then winging it in the face of a monstrous Cat 4/5 hurricane is never, ever a good idea, especially for New Orleans.” (See more here.) Ironically, Nagin told CNN, “I need buses, man,” when he had plenty sitting around unused before the storm hit. Now they’re flooded and useless.

But it’s not like state and local officials could have seen this coming. They have never had a hurricane bearing down on them before and… oh, wait, there was Hurricane Ivan just last year. And after that dodged bullet, Blanco and Nagin both acknowledged they needed a better evacuation plan.

I would note that we’ve seen some pretty intense disasters in other parts of the country, like planes crashing into skyscrapers and subsequently collapsing, earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards, and yet somehow, none of these disasters had the total breakdown of law and order, civil society, etc. Jonah Goldberg’s early joke about a Mad-Max style post-apocalyptic tribal anarchy may have been in poor taste, but it has turned out to be nightmarishly prescient.

We failed you? No, oh brilliant creator of Exit to Eden, you failed. You might not think of it this way, but: Your leaders failed to upgrade the levees. You elected a bunch of weepers and blame-shifters who lost their head in a crisis.

Over the past decades, your elected officials have let a criminal element incubate and grow until they ruled the streets, instead of the forces of law and order. In pop culture, a New Orleans thief is always a charming rogue with a devilish smile. In reality, they’re a bunch of thugs.

If the number of residents who are looting thugs were such a “tiny minority,” we wouldn’t have seen this widespread, relentless anarchy. Madam, a noticeable number of your neighbors saw this disaster as an opportunity to smash a window and run away with a television, an act that reveals much about the inadequacies of the local school system, since that thief won’t be enjoying that television with any electricity anytime soon.

I would also note that this is one hell of a police force your local officials hired and that you and your neighbors tolerated.
50 percent turned in their badges during the crisis and quit. Your police superintendent is conceding that some cops were looting. Just want to refresh your memory — four years ago, New York and Washington, planes falling out of the sky, thousands dead, no idea what the hell is coming next… and the cops, among others, showed up to work.

To save you guys now, I — and a lot of other Americans — will pitch in. We are witnessing the biggest mobilization of civilian and military rescue and relief crews in history. But I have a sneaking suspicion you’re going to want the rest of us to pay for the rebuilding of your city. (In the near future, we’re going to have to have a little chat about the wisdom of building below sea level, directly next to large bodies of water.) And if you’re going to come to the rest of us hat in hand, demanding the rest of us clean up after your poor judgment, I’d appreciate a little less “you failed us” and a little more “we’ve learned our lesson.”

Jim Geraghty is reporting from Ankara, Turkey, where the locals keep asking him how something like this could happen in America.