September 2005

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Everybody else is showing me theirs, so i’ll show you mine. From The Politics Test:

You are a

Social Liberal
(80% permissive)

and an…

Economic Conservative
(78% permissive)

You are best described as a:

Libertarian

Link: The Politics Test on OkCupid Free Online Dating

No surprises there. Right smack in the middle of libertarian land. it’s lonely up in that corner: Just me, Thomas Jefferson, and the Unabomber.

I only got really interested in photography a little less than a year ago. I’ve taken more pictures since then, almost 9000, than in the previous 40 years. I’m especially fascinated by street photography—just wandering the streets of the city taking pictures of people and streets and buildings and how they all fit together.

Apparently, this is a bad time for it. Ever since 9/11, a lot of authoritarian types are suspicious of people taking pictures. Take a picture of a bridge or tall building or federal building and they get all excited and start yelling and threatening.

Here are some depressing stories about anti-photography zealots.

I keep seeing ads like this:

This Fall A Woman Will Be President

Commander In Chief

It’s a TV series on ABC. That’s all I know about it. I don’t know who’s in it or who made it, and I don’t want to know.

I guess it’s about a woman president. How does that make it a series? Every time I see that ad I think “Okay, a woman president and…and…?”

I’m trying to picture what it could be about. I mean, if “The President is a Woman” is your only series concept, how many episodes can you get?

  • Week 1: (Pilot) Inauguration Day
  • Week 2: Sexual Discrimination
  • Week 3: Women in the Military
  • Week 4: Sacrificing a Female Staff Member To Prove She Doesn’t Discriminate Against Men
  • Week 5: Equal Pay
  • Week 6: (November sweeps weeks) Rape
  • Week 7: (November sweeps weeks) Abortion
  • Week 8: (November sweeps weeks) Lesbians
  • Week 9: (November sweeps weeks) Rape, Abortion, and Lesbians

That gets them to the winter hiatus. After that, they’re out of series-specific story ideas, so they’re just West Wing with a chick. I suppose they could stretch it with a few episodes about how hard it is to be a President and a mommy or something.

Heck, I don’t know anything about it. It could be brilliant. But can I just point out that Battlestar Galactica has had a woman president for almost two years now?

Update: I gave in and checked out the show a little more.

Geena Davis is playing Vice President Mackenzie Allen, who succeeds a dying President.

Sample dialog (via tv.com):

Vice President Allen: I’m going to go out there, and I’m going to take the oath of office. I’m going to run this government…. and if some Islamic nations can’t tolerate a female president, then I promise you…. it will be more their problem than mine!

and

Jim: Madame Vice President, I must insist that you strongly consider resigning…..

Vice President Allen: Jim, you’re not in a position to insist how I take my coffee!

Apparently, an episode has already aired. Little did I know.

Ever since the Supreme Court decided against private property owners in Kelo v. City of New London, local governments all over the United States have returned to the task of taking properties from their current owners and giving them to developers and corporations, under the supposed justification that the new owners will do something with the property that is better for the community.

Here in Chicago, one target of eminent domain abuse is the Sportif Importer Limited bike shop at 5225 W Lawrence Avenue.

Sportif Importer Ltd
Larger ImageSportif Importer Ltd

According to a recent Sun-Times article by Abdon M. Pallasch, the shop is a thriving business that has been operating in the Jefferson Park business district for 35 years.

That hasn’t stopped the city from trying to take the land. In order to keep up appearances with regard to the “just compensation” part of the Fifth Amendment, the city has offered owner Donald Zordani the grand sum of $480,000. A quick search on realtor.com finds 32 single-family homes in the same zip code that are listed for more than half a million dollars. You’d think a large lot in the business district would be worth more than a single-family home on a side street, wouldn’t you?

Surrounding Vacant Lots
Larger ImageSurrounding Vacant Lots

The city’s official explanation is that the little local business district is “blighted,” allowing the city to condemn the property so it can be used for something else. It almost looks blighted too, judging by the vacant lots surrounding the store. Of course, the reason they’re vacant is because the developer is holding them empty until he can tear down the bike shop. Then he’s going to build a seven-story condominium.

Here’s a view across the east lot from the rear:

Copernicus Center
Larger ImageCopernicus Center

The red brick building on the right is the Copernicus Center in the historic Gateway Theater, which is the largest theater on Chicago’s northwest side. Among other things, they hold the “Taste of Polonia” festival every year. Vice President Dick Chaney was at the festival a few years ago, and the elder President Bush visited in 1992.

The tall building visible over the top of the Sportif building is the office complex at Veteran’s square, built just a few years ago. And only about 200 feet west of Sportif is this brand new CVS Pharmacy:

CVS Pharmacy
Larger ImageCVS Pharmacy

I’m not saying there isn’t any blight of any kind. For example, just west of the Copernicus Center is this strip of stores, one or two of which are clearly not in use:

On the other hand, at that same intersection—about a minute’s walk from Sportif—is Hoyne Savings, which has been there forever.

Hoyne Savings
Larger ImageHoyne Savings

And just south of that is this vibrant stretch of stores:

On the north side is this mix of old and new construction:

Mixed Construction
Larger ImageMixed Construction

Further down that road is the cluster of businesses around the Jefferson Park CTA station for buses and trains. Glance down a side street and you’ll see a pleasant residential district. I’m just not seeing the blight.

Nearby Residential Street
Larger ImageNearby Residential Street

Understand, I have nothing against new construction, and unlike some of the local activists, I’m not too concerned if the seven-story condo planned for Sportif’s location doesn’t “fit in” to the neighborhood. I’ve seen some of the buildings going up and I’ll admit I don’t like them much.

Ugly New Building
Larger ImageUgly New Building

I think this building is pretty ugly, and if I had a say in the matter, it would never have gone up. The thing is, I don’t have a say, because it’s not my damned property.

To tell the truth, if Sportif Importer is bulldozed and a seven-story condo is built there, I won’t miss it a bit. I don’t think I’ve ever been inside until I stopped in to ask if I could take pictures inside and the guy behind the counter (who must have been Zordani himself) told me I couldn’t. That’s why I have no pictures of the inside, because I respected his right to control his property.

Too bad everybody doesn’t have that respect.

[More pictures of the threatened property here.]

I haven’t been posting anything because I’ve been having a rough week. My car’s oil light lit up on Saturday just as I pulled up at a friend’s house. There was plenty of oil according to the dipstick, so I decided to leave the car there until Monday then have it towed to the shop. The tow charge plus the repairs plus a new set of tires before winter added up to $800 that I hadn’t been planning to spend.

Next, I’ve been upgrading my computer. I made a change which I thought would be simple, but between an IDE disk controller that was too old for my new disk drive and some bad RAM from Crucial, I spent most of the last two days untangling computer problems.

Then on Monday night my wife’s computer developed a problem of its own. After a little time running, the computer would crash and not reboot, saying it couldn’t access the disk drive. If I let it “rest” a while, it would all come back and run for maybe an hour before crashing again. I suspect the disk controller is flaky and acting up when it gets hot.

My wife’s computer is a laptop, so I can’t do much to fix it myself. We had to spend several hours power cycling her computer and copying off the important stuff to a portable USB hard drive. Then I packed it up and shipped it off to a computer repair place that supposedly fixes Toshiba laptops with a quick turnaround. It got there this morning, so we’ll see. That’s $140 just for shipping and diagnosis. Fixing it will cost more.

All this made me realize that a lot more of our lives are on the computers than ever before and (as usual) our backup strategy hasn’t kept up. For several years, we’ve been using Iron Mountain’s Connected Data Protector on-line service for backups. Every night, our most important 10 Gigabytes of data—personal and corporate financial data, email, various projects—are backed up to some remote site. The Connected Data Protector service is less expensive than its competition, but it’s not cheap. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent service that I highly recommend if you can afford it.

The plan was that if we ever lost a disk drive we could just re-install Windows and all the important software from scratch. It would only take a day or so. Then we download the critical data from Connected and we’re back in business.

I realized now, however, that our computer usage has grown and changed a lot in the past year. My new digital photography hobby is chewing up a lot of disk space, and I don’t want to lose those pictures. I have a lot more downloaded software than ever before. I could burn some of this stuff to optical media, but doing that on a regular basis would be tedious. We had to change our backup and disaster recovery strategy.

So I went out and bought a terabyte of disk storage.

One thousand gigabytes. One million megabytes.

Half of it was a pair of SATA drives which I set up as a 250GB RAID 1 (mirror) pair in my desktop computer to replace the 80GB IDE drive I had been using as a software/media library for stuff like downloaded programs, CD disk images, and all our pictures and music. Both drives have identical copies of the data. If either drive breaks, the other one still runs. If no problems develop with the RAID drives, I’ll probably RAID the system disk as well. That should cover me for hardware failures.

The other half terabyte was a pair of push-button backup drives that connect to the USB ports and are sized to backup everything on both of our computers. I think pushing the button will be a lot less tedious than burning DVDs.

That covers us for hardware, software, and user error problems. In case of disaster—hurricanes seem to be in vogue these days—we’ll still have all our most critical data stored off site, courtesy of Iron Mountain corporation.

Including disks, tools, and software, that’s about $1200 I wasn’t planning to spend.

Meanwhile, last night my wife’s brand-new Casio Exilim digital camera broke in a non-warranty kind of way. We’ll probably have to replace it. Crap.

Just in case some random multimillionaire is reading this and is moved by my heart-rending story—and is tired of donating to whining hurricane victims—the PayPal button is on the right.

Public defense blogger David Feige notes that the police did manage to catch one looter:

20050916-MerleneMaten.jpg

That’s Merlene Maten, who’s 73 years old.

My immediate thought was that the police must have picked her up because she was easier to catch than all the younger looters. Apparently, that’s what everyone else thinks, too:

Family and eyewitnesses insisted Maten was an innocent woman who had gone to her car to get some sausage to eat only to be mistakenly arrested by tired, frustrated white officers who couldn’t catch younger looters at a nearby store.

The fine for a minor theft in Lousiana is $500, yet for reasons known only to him—he hasn’t returned any calls from the media—the judge set her bail at $50,000.

Despite intervention from the nation’s largest senior lobby, volunteer lawyers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and even a private attorney, the family fought a futile battle for 16 days to get her freed.

Oh, did I mention that Merlene Maten is a deaconess at her church? Did I mention that she’s diabetic? Did I mention that her 80-year old husband was left stuck at a hotel until familys member could pick him up. Did I mention that the Deli owner doesn’t want to file charges?

Mind you, these are the undisputed facts. I’m not even getting into the question of whether she was actually looting. Her friends have a few things to say about that in the AP wire story here.

Update: Oops, I originally wrote that this happened in New Orleans, but it actually happend in the suburb of Kenner. I’ve edited this article to remove references to New Orleans.

“I’m turning in my resignation today…I think it’s in the best interest of the agency and the best interest of the president to do that and get the media focused on the good things that are going on, instead of me.”

That’s Mike Brown resigning as the Director of FEMA. Man, I’ll bet he’d like the media to focus on something else…

(Hat Tip: Hit & Run.)

Reason magazine has an open comment thread for 9/11 thoughts. Here’s mine:

I remember watching the towers burn in real time as it was happening, and I remember wrestling with the fact that it was too late. No matter how rich and powerful and capable we are, we could never bring back all the people who were murdered by the crashing planes, by the roaring fireballs, and by the smoke filling the towers.

That must be what it’s like to make a mistake with some fast-moving machinery and see half your hand fall to the floor: There’s the pain, and there’s the realization that it’s irreversible and you can’t undo it no matter how hard you try.

I did manage to find a little good news, though. Ramzi Yusef’s boastful quest to bring the towers down had failed again. The towers may have been burning, and thousands may have been dead, but the towers still stood. That glimmer of hope lasted about 45 minutes, until I saw a huge dust cloud envelop one of the towers from top to bottom, and I figured out what had to have caused it.

I thought I’d try to get away from Katrina blogging for a while, so I visited the MADD web site to see what those paternalistic weanies are up to. I turns out they’re trying to cash in on the hurricane:

Contribute to MADD‘s Katrina Fund and provide aid to MADD volunteers and staff whose lives have been changed forever by Hurricane Katrina—100% of proceeds will be sent directly to affected areas, and will be administered locally.

For one shocking moment, I was worried they had figured out some way to blame Katrina on drunk drivers, but I guess even they can’t pull that one off.

Hmm. Maybe I should visit the web site for the Office of National Drug Control Policy to see if they’ve found a way to blame the hurricane on medical marijuana yet…

According to an AP wire story by Ted Bridis, former horse-show manager and current FEMA director Mike Brown… Wait a minute! What was that?

The FEMA web site gives Mike Brown’s history as follows:

Prior to joining FEMA, Mr. Brown practiced law in Colorado and Oklahoma, where he served as a bar examiner on ethics and professional responsibility for the Oklahoma Supreme Court and as a hearing examiner for the Colorado Supreme Court. He had been appointed as a special prosecutor in police disciplinary matters. While attending law school he was appointed by the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee of the Oklahoma Legislature as the Finance Committee Staff Director, where he oversaw state fiscal issues. His background in state and local government also includes serving as an assistant city manager with emergency services oversight and as a city councilman.

Now, I had rather assumed that the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency had some background in, well, emergency management. Not to disrespect any of the fine legal bloggers I read every day, but when the levee breaks, my first thought is not that I’ve got to call a lawyer for help. Brown’s only emergency experience seems to be his oversight of emergency services for a city they don’t bother to name.

This is disappointing. But it gets worse. The Boston Herald is reporting that Brown’s official history is missing an item:

Before joining the Bush administration in 2001, Brown spent 11 years as the commissioner of judges and stewards for the International Arabian Horse Association, a breeders’ and horse-show organization based in Colorado.

“We do disciplinary actions, certification of (show trial) judges. We hold classes to train people to become judges and stewards. And we keep records,” explained a spokeswoman for the IAHA commissioner’s office. “This was his full-time job . . . for 11 years,” she added.

Brown was forced out of the position after a spate of lawsuits over alleged supervision failures.

“He was asked to resign,” Bill Pennington, president of the IAHA at the time, confirmed last night.

Soon after, Brown was invited to join the administration by his old Oklahoma college roommate Joseph Allbaugh, the previous head of FEMA until he quit in 2003 to work for the president’s re-election campaign.

Yeah. Fired from running horse shows.

Anyway…

According to an AP wire story by Ted Bridis, former horse-show manager and current FEMA director Mike Brown didn’t request additional personnel until several hours after Katrina made landfall:

WASHINGTON – The government’s disaster chief waited until hours after Hurricane Katrina had already struck the Gulf Coast before asking his boss to dispatch 1,000 Homeland Security employees to the region—and gave them two days to arrive, according to internal documents.

Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, sought the approval from Homeland Security Secretary Mike Chertoff roughly five hours after Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29. Brown said that among duties of these employees was to “convey a positive image” about the government’s response for victims.

I’m thinking that whole “positive image” thing isn’t working out for them.

Of course, what’s the point of taking your time to send help when other people are more on the ball? Gotta do something about that:

The same day Brown wrote Chertoff, Brown also urged local fire and rescue departments outside Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi not to send trucks or emergency workers into disaster areas without an explicit request for help from state or local governments. Brown said it was vital to coordinate fire and rescue efforts.

And when you do get rescue workers from outside, you wouldn’t want their heroic efforts to overshadow your big important government agency:

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

Many of the firefighters, assembled from Utah and throughout the United States by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thought they were going to be deployed as emergency workers.

Instead, they have learned they are going to be community-relations officers for FEMA, shuffled throughout the Gulf Coast region to disseminate fliers and a phone number: 1-800-621-FEMA.

So far, I’ve been willing to give FEMA the benefit of the doubt. The rescue effort is a gigantic operation, and I’m not surprised that it took a while. However, I’m beginning to have my doubts. Via Brendan Loy’s excellant hurricane coverage, comes a link to a quote by FEMA Director Mike Brown:

“Saturday and Sunday, we thought it was a typical hurricane situation — not to say it wasn’t going to be bad, but that the water would drain away fairly quickly…Then the levees broke and (we had) this lawlessness. That almost stopped our efforts….Katrina was much larger than we expected.”

Well, Brendan Loy’s got a copy of a bulletin from the National Weather Service:

URGENT – WEATHER MESSAGE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NEW ORLEANS LA 413 PM CDT SUN AUG 28 2005

…EXTREMELY DANGEROUS HURRICANE KATRINA CONTINUES TO APPROACH THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER DELTA… …DEVASTATING DAMAGE EXPECTED…

MOST OF THE AREA WILL BE UNINHABITABLE FOR WEEKS…PERHAPS LONGER. AT LEAST ONE HALF OF WELL CONSTRUCTED HOMES WILL HAVE ROOF AND WALL FAILURE. ALL GABLED ROOFS WILL FAIL…LEAVING THOSE HOMES SEVERELY DAMAGED OR DESTROYED.

THE MAJORITY OF INDUSTRIAL BUILDINGS WILL BECOME NON FUNCTIONAL. PARTIAL TO COMPLETE WALL AND ROOF FAILURE IS EXPECTED. ALL WOOD FRAMED LOW RISING APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL BE DESTROYED. CONCRETE BLOCK LOW RISE APARTMENTS WILL SUSTAIN MAJOR DAMAGE…INCLUDING SOME WALL AND ROOF FAILURE.

HIGH RISE OFFICE AND APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL SWAY DANGEROUSLY…A FEW TO THE POINT OF TOTAL COLLAPSE. ALL WINDOWS WILL BLOW OUT.

AIRBORNE DEBRIS WILL BE WIDESPREAD…AND MAY INCLUDE HEAVY ITEMS SUCH AS HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES AND EVEN LIGHT VEHICLES. SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES AND LIGHT TRUCKS WILL BE MOVED. THE BLOWN DEBRIS WILL CREATE ADDITIONAL DESTRUCTION. PERSONS…PETS…AND LIVESTOCK EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL FACE CERTAIN DEATH IF STRUCK.

POWER OUTAGES WILL LAST FOR WEEKS…AS MOST POWER POLES WILL BE DOWN AND TRANSFORMERS DESTROYED. WATER SHORTAGES WILL MAKE HUMAN SUFFERING INCREDIBLE BY MODERN STANDARDS.

THE VAST MAJORITY OF NATIVE TREES WILL BE SNAPPED OR UPROOTED. ONLY THE HEARTIEST WILL REMAIN STANDING…BUT BE TOTALLY DEFOLIATED. FEW CROPS WILL REMAIN. LIVESTOCK LEFT EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL BE KILLED.

The National Weather Service is not known for their lurid writing, so you’ve got to wonder what parts of “devastating damage” or “uninhabitable for weeks” or “human suffering incredible by modern standards” did Director Brown have trouble understanding?

Also, a few hours after that bulletin, Katrina was re-assessed as a slightly smaller hurricane. It made landfall a little further east than expected, so the effect on New Orleans wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Believe it or not, what really happened is that Katrina wasn’t quite as bad as originally expected.