Friday, September 30, 2005

Anti-ID petition (an archaeology site) is asking professional scientists to sign a petition against teaching ID in schools; they want to collect as many signatures as they can in four days. In the first hours of the petition's availability they collected more signatures than the Discovery Institute collected in four years on a petition opposing Darwinism. (via Pharyngula)

Carnivals to keep you happy

The Education Wonks have posted Carnival of Education week 34.

Wolverine Tom has posted Skeptics' Circle #18.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Giant squid

An ex-student excitedly IMed me yesterday morning to tell me about the recently reported giant squid sighting; it's been all over the news, but PZ Myers has a link to the original research article, complete with pictures.

The find is very cool (the tentacle that broke off was 5.5 meters long!), but I'm a bit depressed because now I can't use my favorite line while discussing giant squid in lab:
"Nobody's ever seen a giant squid alive. Or, more properly, nobody's ever seen a giant squid alive ... and lived to tell the tale."
It was always good for a few groans.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Abuse of Iraqi prisoners - soldiers say it was widespread

An article in this weekend's New York Times (based on a Human Rights Watch report) contains more allegations of widespread abuse of prisoners in Iraq:
Three former members of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division say soldiers in their battalion in Iraq routinely beat and abused prisoners in 2003 and 2004 to help gather intelligence on the insurgency and to amuse themselves.

"In separate statements to the human rights organization, Captain Fishback and two sergeants described systematic abuses of Iraqi prisoners, including beatings, exposure to extremes of hot and cold, stacking in human pyramids and sleep deprivation at Camp Mercury, a forward operating base near Falluja. ...

"The abuses reportedly took place between September 2003 and April 2004, before and during the investigations into the notorious misconduct at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. Senior Pentagon officials initially sought to characterize the scandal there as the work of a rogue group of military police soldiers on the prison's night shift. Since then, the Army has opened more than 400 inquiries into detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan, and punished 230 enlisted soldiers and officers.
The abuses reported by these soldiers are similar to what we've heard before:
"In one incident, the Human Rights Watch report states, an off-duty cook broke a detainee's leg with a metal baseball bat. Detainees were also stacked, fully clothed, in human pyramids and forced to hold five-gallon water jugs with arms outstretched or do jumping jacks until they passed out, the report says. 'We would give them blows to the head, chest, legs and stomach, and pull them down, kick dirt on them,' one sergeant told Human Rights Watch researchers during one of four interviews in July and August. 'This happened every day.'"
This certainly isn't the first time abuse has been alleged in US prisons in Iraq or other places, but it's interesting to note that these soldiers appear to have been influenced by prior abuse reports:
"Even after the Abu Ghraib scandal became public, one of the sergeants said, the abuses continued. 'We still did it, but we were careful,' he told the human rights group."

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

These are not for tests and quizzes!

There have been some recent slashdot posts (linking to a news article) on in-class response systems ("clickers", rapid-response systems, etc.) It's exciting to see the technology getting the press it deserves, but the links show that manufacturers are still pushing educators to use these devices for administering tests and quizzes.

I have trouble imagining worse uses of the system.

In-class response systems are designed so that instructors can get immediate feedback from a classroom; each student has a transmitter, and when the instructor asks a multiple-choice question the students transmit their answers to a receiver in the room. I've described the basics of in-class response systems here, and have posts talking about the positives and negatives of the systems (and have an archive page of all my in-class response system posts).

In-class response systems are great for assessing student opinions, encouraging student self-evaluation, and helping the instructor get data on student comprehension. That's what I use them for, and I absolutely love them (and so do the students; in the last year I've often gotten >90% positive feedback on my student evaluations of the system).

However, when it comes to using the systems for tests and quizzes, the devices fail miserably. Consider how the systems work: the transmitters are essentially remote controls with numbered buttons on the front, and each student pushes the button corresponding with their answer choice. In the systems I've used, every student is answering the same question at the same time; all students have to do is glance at their neighbor and they can immediately see what button their neighbor is pushing. Or, if the students wanted to be a bit more malicious, one student could just hold their transmitter up high enough for other students in the area to see the button, and voila, they can cheat virtually undetectably. Also, since everyone's answering the same multiple-choice question at the same time (you can't do multiple exam forms), there's ample opportunity for other cheating methods to come into play (e.g., neighbors talking, hand signals, M&M's on the table, cell phone text messaging).

But cheating isn't the only problem these devices have. Not surprisingly, there are numerous technical problems that can occur: I've had cases where a student's answer choice isn't received by the receiver, transmitters break in the middle of a lecture, and transmitter batteries die. I've also had students forget to bring their transmitters to class (they are just one more thing to remember, after all). In my classroom, where the transmitters are used primarily for discussion and self-evaluation, none of these problems matter. A student's transmitter breaks during lecture? No problem; it's only participation points, and we can work on getting it fixed for next time. On the other hand, if a student's transmitter breaks during an exam, the student is going to be extremely stressed out, and may not even realize that the transmitter is broken until well into the exam.

The learning curve for using the transmitters is admittedly short (push the button, look for your ID number on the screen), but some students do have trouble using them for the first few days (not turning them on, not being able to verify that their answer was received, etc.). If the first time students use the devices is on a test or quiz day, problems will abound.

As a final note, I've also seen marketing material saying that these devices can be used to take attendance. This is an awful idea. All students have to do is collaborate so that one student brings everyone else's transmitter to class, and suddenly everyone is there. Compound this easy deception with the array of technical problems that can (and do) occur, and you have a cumbersome, failure-prone attendance system.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Orac does it well

Just yesterday I found an article in the LA Times discussing an HIV-positive woman who didn't believe that HIV caused AIDS, and thus refused to test (or treat) her daughter for HIV; her daughter recently died of AIDS-related pneumonia. I thought, "Hmm, I'd like to post on that, but it's right up Orac's alley and I bet his post would be far better than any post I could write on the topic." Well, it is.

[As a side note, somebody just found this page of my blog by doing a search for "orac's cranberries". Do I even want to know?]

Prisoners left to die

Reuters AlertNet has an article (also on Human Rights Watch) describing how prisoners in one New Orleans jail were abandoned in their cells when the hurricane hit:
"As Hurricane Katrina began pounding New Orleans, the sheriff's department abandoned hundreds of inmates imprisoned in the city's jail, Human Rights Watch said today. Inmates in Templeman III, one of several buildings in the Orleans Parish Prison compound, reported that as of Monday, August 29, there were no correctional officers in the building, which held more than 600 inmates. These inmates, including some who were locked in ground-floor cells, were not evacuated until Thursday, September 1, four days after flood waters in the jail had reached chest-level."
While some of the inmates were able to break out of their cells and help other inmates, many appear to have remained locked in their cells.
"According to inmates interviewed by Human Rights Watch, they had no food or water from the inmate's last meal over the weekend of August 27-28 until they were evacuated on Thursday, September 1. By Monday, August 29, the generators had died, leaving them without lights and sealed in without air circulation. The toilets backed up, creating an unbearable stench."
Not that it matters (leaving any human locked in a cell in rising flood waters without food and water is cruel and criminal), but "[m]any [of the prisoners] had not even been brought before a judge and charged, much less been convicted."

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Making non-dairy milks at home - an illustrated guide

My SO and I have enjoyed drinking soy and rice milks for a few years now, but we never considered making them for ourselves until after my SO read a review of soy milk makers. The review showed that, as we'd suspected, making soy milk (and other non-dairy milks) is very simple in theory: just boil water with ground soybeans, and then filter out the ground soybeans. In practice this can be difficult to do by hand, so there are soy milk makers to help with the task:

0 - Disassembled soymilk maker
SoyaPower - our soy milk maker. The filter basket (in front) holds nuts or grains and fits around the grinding blades. The grinding part of the unit gets put into the water-filled base; the looped-metal base on the grinding part is the heating element.

My SO got this handy little contraption as a birthday present (they typically cost ~$100), and we've been happily making non-dairy milks ever since. One of the nice features of owning a soy milk maker is that you don't have to use it just to make soy milk: you can make milk out of just about any nut, grain, legume, or drupe you can fit into the grinding basket. My SO's mom took a liking to hazelnut-rice milk, and we've also made soy-barley and almond-rice milk. Additionally, you can sweeten (and otherwise flavor) the milks as much as you like. If you want to have a traditional northern-style Chinese breakfast with hot, unsweetened soy milk, you can; if you want to have sweetened almond-rice milk, you can do that too. Making the milk is also very fast - assuming you use pre-soaked nuts or grains, the unit only takes about 15 minutes to make a single batch. Since we've been making gallons of non-dairy milks recently, this seems like an appropriate end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

It's important to remember that these non-dairy milks are drinks in-and-of themselves; they're not just a substitute drink for the dairy-intolerant. The only reason I call these drinks non-dairy milks is that there is no other good common name I know of for them (since they can be based on any or all of nuts, grains, drupes, and legumes, calling them "nut milks" doesn't work). Neither my SO nor I have any problem drinking cow's milk, but we still love these drinks.

One of our favorite creations to date is soy-barley milk, which is the recipe that follows.

1 - Dry soybeans and barley
1. Place 1/2 cup dry soybeans and 2 tablespoons pearl barley into a bowl (16 oz. cottage cheese or sour cream containers are the perfect size), and cover with water.

2 - Soaked soybeans and barley
2. Soak the seeds for eight hours at room temperature (or put them into the fridge if you want to soak for longer). The picture shows soybeans and barley after soaking.

3 - Soybeans and barley in the filter basket
3. Once the seeds are soaked, drain off the excess liquid and place them into the filter basket.

4 - Soybeans and barley loaded
4. Attach the filter basket to the bottom of the grinding unit and ensure that it is locked on. [Note: If you have trouble attaching the filter basket because the seeds are large (e.g., almonds, hazelnuts) you can remove them from the basket and add them via a small slot on top after you've attached the basket.]

5 - Soymilk maker
5. Fill the pitcher portion of the soy milk maker with water to the line on the side (~6 cups), and place the grinding unit into the pitcher portion. Start the unit.

6 - Completed soy-barley milk
6. When the unit is finished (~15 minutes; it beeps) check to see how much foam is on the soy milk; if there is a lot of foam, run the unit through another heating cycle (we often have to do this for soy-based milks, but rarely for non-soy milks).

7 - Soymilk maker after
7. Remove the main unit from the pitcher and rest it on the stand that comes with the unit.

8 - Ground soybeans and barley (okara)
8. Using a paper towel (or other heat- and drip-protective device) remove the filter basket from the soy milk maker and empty out the ground nuts and grains. We save the grindings to make other tasty treats (ground soybeans (okara) make good vegetarian burgers, and ground nuts make good sweetened gruels).

9 - completed soy-barley milk
9. Pour the soy-barley milk into a jug and sweeten as desired. We typically add 1/8 cup (2 tablespoons) white sugar, 1/8 cup dark brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt.

10. Clean the unit. Do this immediately after using the unit, as the residue dries quickly. The included brush and "magic cleaning solution" are well worth using (the latter being especially useful to soak the filter basket in; we save the "magic cleaning solution" between batches).

11. Enjoy your soy-barley milk. We typically serve it chilled, but it's also good hot.

The most frustrating and time-consuming part of the process is the cleaning; the filter basket gets lots of little pieces of ground material lodged in its holes, the motor housing (which can't be immersed in water) gets covered in foam, and the grinder and heating element always have residue left on them. The cleaning takes about five minutes with the two of us working; it seems like a soy milk maker could be designed that would be much easier to clean (e.g., by making it dishwasher-safe). To help minimize the cleaning, we make two batches of non-dairy milk in a row, which allows us to only do a cursory cleaning after the first batch.

We've had good luck with nut, grain, legume, and drupe combinations other than soy-barley (more recipes to come later), but so far have found that both pure rice milk and rice-oat milk had an odd gluey texture that wasn't appealing.

The SoyaPower machine we purchased is available here, and is manufactured by Salinex.

[Updated September 26 to clarify a few points and fix some thinkos.]

Two fun links

Bush Yoga - a snarky website with yoga poses (e.g., Proud Warrior I, Warrior III) demonstrated by an action figure of G.W. Bush.

Anime Birthday Calendar - a huge listing of anime-related birthdays, broken into categories by title, voice actor, creator, and date.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Installing Tracks on Debian

Yesterday I mentioned that I was considering trying out some new task-management software, and in particular was thinking about But She's a Girl's Getting Things Done system, Tracks. Today I decided to see if I could install it on my Debian Linux system.

One thing I love about Debian is the apt-get package management system; today made me realize just how much I admire it. There is no Debian package for Tracks, and no package for RubyGems, one of the programs essential for running Tracks. This meant that the installation took quite a bit of fiddling (even with the Debian Tracks walkthrough).

Tracks needs a number of different components to work properly:
  • Ruby - available as a package in Debian
  • RubyGems - a package management system for Ruby (not available as a Debian package)
  • Rails - installed via RubyGems (not via the Debian Rails package, at least according to here)
  • A web server (e.g. Apache 1.3) - available as a package in Debian
  • A database (e.g. MySql 4.1) - available as a package in Debian
  • The Tracks program - available here (not available as a Debian package)
I'm currently running Debian Testing (etch), and prior to today had already installed and configured Apache 1.33 (see for some Apache configuration advice). Here's the steps I went through to get Tracks working (cleaned up to remove wasted effort):

1) Downloaded Tracks and uncompressed it to a directory in my home directory ("unzip").

2) Installed MySql 4.1 via the mysql-server-4.1 package ("apt-get install mysql-server-4.1"). To configure MySql I first added root passwords
shell> mysql -u root
mysql> SET PASSWORD FOR 'root'@'localhost' = PASSWORD('newpwd');
mysql> SET PASSWORD FOR 'root'@'%' = PASSWORD('newpwd');
and then created a new user and a database for Tracks to use (the user was created for security reasons; see here for a full post on the topic).
mysql> grant CREATE,INSERT,DELETE,UPDATE,SELECT on tracks.* to tracksuser@localhost identified by 'password';
After the user and database were created, I populated the database with pre-existing data provided by the Tracks install (running the following commands from the tracks/db folder):
mysql -u tracksuser -p tracks < tracks_1.0.3_mysql.sql
mysql -u tracksuser -p tracks < tracks_1.0.3_content.sql
[note: I first tried to install the mysql-server package (which installs MySql 4.0), but ran into bug 321578, and after that kept getting a "Can't connect to local MySQL server through socket '/var/run/mysqld/mysqld.sock' (2)" error that prevented the server from starting, which I couldn't work around. Installing MySql 4.1 overcame this problem. The MySql reference manual was very helpful for all of the MySql configuration.]

3) I installed the Ruby package ("apt-get install ruby"), and then downloaded RubyGems 0.8.11 from here. After uncompressing the file ("tar -xvvfz rubygems-0.8.11.tgz") I installed it using the command "ruby setup.rb" from inside the RubyGems directory.

4) Once RubyGems was installed, I used that to install bluecloth, rails, and Ruby's mysql ("gems install bluecloth", "gems install rails --include-dependencies", and "gems install mysql"). The rails and mysql installs failed initially, but I found this post which provided a good walkthrough for the installation of rails. In short, I had to install many Debian packages, including libopenssl-ruby, liberb-ruby, libdbd-mysql-ruby, libmysqlclient14-dev, libzlib-ruby, rdoc, irb, ri1.8, and ruby1.8-dev. I also installed the Debian package for rails, but then uninstalled it ("apt-get remove rails"). After all these other packages were installed I was finally able to install bluecloth, rails, and Ruby's mysql. I also updated RubyGems by running the command "gem update --system".

5) I then configured Apache by adding the following to my httpd.conf file:
<VirtualHost *:80>
ServerName rails
DocumentRoot /path/tracks-1.03/public/
ErrorLog /path/tracks-1.03/log/server.log

<Directory /path/tracks-1.03/public/>
Options ExecCGI FollowSymLinks
AllowOverride all
Allow from all
Order allow,deny

6) To start Tracks I ran "ruby script/server --environment=production" from the tracks directory (no need to be root for this). This puts a lot of output directly into the terminal window (good for debugging, bad for everyday use) and doesn't background the process. So far my solution to this is to run it in the background while outputting to a log file ("ruby script/server --environment=production &> tracksdirectorypath/log/output.log &"). I'm still trying to find a way to start the program automatically whenever the computer starts; I should probably write an init.d script (as mentioned here).

7) I then went to, created my login, and was able to use the program. Unfortunately, I spent a while thinking I had something misconfigured because I was trying to create my root login account via the page, which kept reporting a "Login unsuccessful" message. The manual nicely corrected me (once I bothered to re-read that portion of it).

Considering that I probably spent more than four hours trying to get the install working, I haven't had much time to play with the program. One very nice feature is that I can access my Tracks install from over the network, meaning that I'll be able to host it on my Debian box here at home but still use it from my Windows box at work (or any computer that I'm on).

I'm already impressed with the elegance and clean design of the program; it's very easy to use, and I think it might really help me keep track of things.

[Final note: Keep in mind that I'm a novice at Debian, so take all this advice with a grain of salt.]

Friday, September 23, 2005

Department chair - the first week

My first week of being department chair is over. Less than a day after being elected, I was already hip-deep in the latest scheduling crisis, and had spent more than four hours meeting with people on the topic.

Most of the tasks I've been asked to do have been relatively minor (e.g., starting to coordinate adjunct evaluations, getting faculty tenure-review committees setup, finding a time when everyone can make meetings, asking people to revise course outlines). However, budget requests for major equipment purchases are due next week, so by early next week all the deparment faculty have to submit equipment requests to me, and then I have to prioritize them for the department. Our budgetary system here is a bit odd - departments themselves don't have set budgets for equipment and supplies; instead, the entire division has a set budget that departments request money from each year. Next week it's my job to make sure my department gets its fair share of the pie.

So, I'm starting to get a lot of separate tasks thrown my way. All of these tasks have different due dates and people involved, and thus I'm wondering if I should try to find a better way to organize my to-do lists (which currently reside primarily on paper, combined with an Outlook calendar that I use to keep track of meeting times). I've been interested in But She's a Girl's Getting Things Done system, but don't know if the time spent entering everything into a program would be worth the benefits.

About the only major thing that has changed on a personal level (other than the loss of time to chair-related duties; anyone notice the posting frequency decrease?) is that when people outside the department ask, "So, what's been going on?" I actually have something to say in response.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Oh what the heck

Both PZ Myers and Orac have done this meme now, so I might as well jump on the bandwagon (plus, as Orac noted, it's a convenient excuse for a post after a long day).

Academic Blog Survey


The following survey is for bloggers who are actual or aspiring academics (thus including students). It takes the form of a go-meme to provide bloggers a strong incentive to join in: the 'Link List' means that you will receive links from all those who pick up the survey 'downstream' from you. The aim is to create open-source data about academic blogs that is publicly available for further analysis. Analysts can find the data by searching for the tracking identifier-code: "acb109m3m3". Further details, and eventual updates with results, can be found on the original posting:


Simply copy and paste this post to your own blog, replacing my survey answers with your own, as appropriate, and adding your blog to the Link List.

Important (1) Your post must include the four sections: Overview, Instructions, Link List, and Survey. (2) Remember to link to every blog in the Link List. (3) For tracking purposes, your post must include the following code: acb109m3m3

Link List (or 'extended hat-tip'):
1. Philosophy, et cetera
2. Pharyngula
3. Respectful Insolence
4. Rhosgobel
5. Add a link to your blog here


Age - 25-35
Gender - Male
Location - Southern California
Religion - None
Began blogging - January 2004
Academic field - Biology
Academic position [tenured?] - Instructor [no; one more year to go ...]

Approximate blog stats

Rate of posting - Daily
Average no. hits - 125/day
Average no. comments - less than 1/day
Blog content - a mix of personal and professional life, political / current events, cooking, Linux, teaching, and biology.

Other Questions

1) Do you blog under your real name? Why / why not?
- No, I write anonymously. I've posted a detailed list of my reasons here, but two of my primary reasons are that I'm untenured and don't want postings here to influence tenure decisions (and other professional decisions), and I don't want students basing their impressions of me on my writings here.

2) Do colleagues or others in your department know that you blog? If so, has anyone reacted positively or negatively?
- None that I know of.

3) Are you on the job market?
- No, thank goodness.

4) Do you mention your blog on your CV or other job application material?
- No. That would rather conflict with #1, wouldn't it?

5) Has your blog been mentioned at all in interviews, tenure reviews, etc.? If so, provide details.
- No. Unlike Orac and PZ Myers, I am privy to most conversations that occur during the tenure review process, so I'm nearly certain that it has not been brought up.

6) Why do you blog?
- Because I enjoy it. It allows me to create an easily referenced record of things I find interesting, allows me to share information I find relevant with others, encourages me to interact with (and read) other academic bloggers, and acts as a mini-diary for important events in my life. It's also a handy way to keep friends and family up to date. I sometimes have illusions that by writing about certain topics I might be able to educate people and provide useful resources for others, but my hit counter keeps those illusions nicely in check.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Department chair Radagast

I got the call this afternoon: I am now the department chair. As a welcome-to-the-chairmanship present I got shoved right into the middle of the latest departmental crisis, and spent most of this afternoon trying to figure out what the heck was going on.

The position will last for a year, at which point there will be another election for the next two-year term. It comes with relatively little power (I will primarily "advise" the dean on personnel decisions), a lot of duties (evaluating adjuncts and serving on all departmental hiring committees being chief among them), and not much else. We'll see what I think in a year.

I'm still in disbelief that I'm chair; I never thought that I'd be chair of a large community college's biology department fewer than five years after starting teaching at the community college level. Five years ago I probably would have predicted that I'd still be teaching as an adjunct, hunting for that elusive full-time job.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

A spider at the door

Spider by our front door

This lovely spider was just starting to weave her web by our front door when we left to get some groceries; by the time we'd returned she was proudly sitting in the center of her masterpiece. She's about one and a quarter inches long (including legs), the circular portion of her web is a bit more than a foot and a half wide, and the topmost anchor points of her web span seven feet.

Maybe she'll catch the people who keep leaving advertising fliers on our door ...


Meryl eating antibiotic ice cream
Meryl eating antibiotic ice cream

Shortly after Tomoyo died a few weeks ago, we noticed that Meryl was starting to have a bit of trouble breathing. We immediately started feeding her antibiotic-laced ice cream (which she happily ate; a good sign) and other high-calorie food, and after about a week on the antibiotics it looked like she was on the mend. Then, on Wednesday afternoon (as I was preparing for my big talk) my SO found Meryl dead in her cage. She had seemed fine on Tuesday evening, and we had even been pondering taking her off of the antibiotics.

Meryl on a towel
Meryl, in a picture taken back in June.

As with Rem, Athos, Genie, and Tomoyo, Meryl was a great mouse: calm, curious, and always willing to explore, especially if it meant getting a sunflower seed or peanut.

Meryl was the last surviving female mouse from Rem's litter. We'd had the girls' cages sitting prominently on a shelf in our living room, and though we both knew that we should clean out the cages and put them away, neither of us wanted to. But we finally did it this afternoon; the room feels empty now.

[On a more personal note, I hate writing these posts. May Vash and D'Artagnan live forever.]

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Two fun links

An image showing the entire cast of Full Metal Alchemist, with everyone conveniently labeled. A handy reference if you ever watch the show (though it is vaguely spoilery of a few minor points if you haven't seen the entire show).

Pavement drawings that appear to be 3-D, by Julian Beever. My favorite is probably the coke bottle, but be sure to look at the two views of the Make Poverty History globe to see how the drawings are made.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Police blocked bridge out of New Orleans

The report that follows is slightly old news now, but it's so egregious that it's worth retelling.

Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky were attending an EMS conference in New Orleans before hurricane Katrina hit, and they were trapped in the city afterwards. They wrote a detailed account of their ordeal and published it in The Socialist Worker; their story has been confirmed and published about in other sources (e.g., The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Times), and is worth reading in full.

The two authors were in a group of approximately 200 people who were informed by New Orleans police that there were buses waiting on the other side of the "greater New Orleans Bridge". Here's one portion of their story:
"As we approached the bridge, armed sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions.

"As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and the commander's assurances. The sheriffs informed us that there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move.

"We questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the six-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans, and there would be no Superdomes in their city. These were code words for: if you are poor and Black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River, and you are not getting out of New Orleans.

"Our small group retreated back down Highway 90 to seek shelter from the rain under an overpass. We debated our options and, in the end, decided to build an encampment in the middle of the Ponchartrain Expressway--on the center divide, between the O'Keefe and Tchoupitoulas exits. We reasoned that we would be visible to everyone, we would have some security being on an elevated freeway, and we could wait and watch for the arrival of the yet-to-be-seen buses.

"All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the same trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned away--some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the city on foot.
The Washington Times article includes an interview with the chief of the City of Gretna Police Department (Arthur Lawson), who confirms that his officers did indeed shut down the bridge. His reason?
"If we had opened the bridge, our city would have looked like New Orleans does now: looted, burned and pillaged."
(via a DU thread and Covington)

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Two quick updates to resolve a few topics I've left open:

I am the only person on the ballot. Now we get to see if I lose in an unopposed election; it has happened before (department members can vote "no").

The dean did end up canceling one of my lab sections. The dean made the announcement in lecture about a week and a half ago; immediately after the announcement I stopped lecture and had all the students in the affected lab section come up to see what we could do to help them. It turns out that (thanks to the dean's help) all but one of the students were able to transfer into another section of lab. The effect on my teaching load will depend partially on whether or not I'm elected to be department chair, but most likely I'll have to teach more next semester to make up for the lost lab.

More carnivals than I know what to do with ...

Go forth and enjoy:

The Seventeenth Skeptics' Circle by decorabilia.

The Carnival of Education: First Day of School Edition by Ms. Frizzle.

The History Carnival XVI by Orac.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Big talk over

I just gave my big talk tonight, and I'm relieved that it's over. It wasn't a huge talk (~50 people attended for a 1-hour lecture), but it was the first talk I've given where I was invited by a non-academic group to speak about my teaching. I talked about the field class I taught over the summer, and it seemed that the talk was well-received.

I was already rather stressed out before the talk when the host casually mentioned that both the president of the college and of the foundation were planning to attend. Not only did they both come, but while the president and I were talking after my presentation, someone behind the president broke in and shook my hand; I strongly suspect that that person was the chancellor of our district, but he didn't introduce himself, so I'm not sure. Yikes!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Tacoma: Glass Museum and a bridge

After visiting Mt. Saint Helens on our recent trip to Canada, my SO and I stopped for a few days in Seattle. Tacoma is just a short drive south of Seattle, so we spent a day in Tacoma visiting the Museum of Glass and Point Defiance Park.

While the Museum of Glass was not very large, it did have artists blowing glass in itsHot Shop, an auditorium with a glass-blowing facility in the bottom. The visiting artist was blowing clear glass jars, and then writing on them with thin strands of colored glass:

Writing on glass
Using a torch to melt a thin strand of colored glass onto a recently blown glass bottle.

The exhibits in the museum were neat (though had too many dogs for my taste), but what really excited me were these blown-glass sculptures of jellyfish I found in the gift shop:

Best jelly sculpture ever
That's all glass; there isn't actually a jellyfish in there.

If those had been a bit cheaper, I'd have one on my desk right now.

After going through the museum, we wandered around outside and found a lot more glass-based art, the highlight of which was this huge sculpture:

Ice sculpture
Giant sculpture.

The picture above was taken with my back to the sun. However, the sculpture looked far cooler when viewed with the sun behind it, as the translucent glass shone in dozens of hues of blue:

Ice sculpture
Ice in the sun.

After we left the Museum of Glass we visited Point Defiance Park, a large park that juts out into the Puget Sound. Point Defiance Park reminded us of Stanley Park in Vancouver; both parks were filled with lush forests and had multi-mile drives through them, complete with many stopping points for both sightseeing and hiking. One of our favorite stops was one where we could see the infamous Tacoma Narrows bridge:

Tacoma narrows bridge
Look, it's still standing!

To see all my pictures from Tacoma, look at my Tacoma set on flickr.

Big talk soon ...

I'm giving an invited lecture to a public group this week, so I've been (and will be) busy preparing for that. Unfortunately, this means that I don't have time to finish some of the recent posts I've been working on. So, I'll instead post a photo set from my Canada trip that I've had ready for a while now, and will return to normal posting once this talk is over.

For those looking for updates on recent happenings, the ballots for department chair are scheduled to come out tomorrow.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Stuffed bell peppers in tomato sauce

My SO has always liked stuffed bell peppers, and for years we just made the standard Joy of Cooking stuffed bell pepper recipe. However, my SO's immigrant grandmother used to make stuffed bell peppers in a sweetened tomato sauce, so we decided to try making them the old-fashioned way.

We first tried this in July, and then made it for my SO's mother two weekends ago. This was going to be last weekend's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post, but it didn't feel right to post a recipe while I was posting about Katrina, so now it's this week's recipe.

5-6 whole bell peppers (any color)
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound ground turkey
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed with a garlic press
2 tablespoons paprika
2 cups of cooked rice
2 28oz cans whole tomatoes in juice (salted)
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons sugar

0. If you don't already have cooked rice on hand, cook some rice.
1. Prepare the peppers for stuffing: cut off the top of the peppers, and then scoop out the seeds and ribs from inside the fruit. Rinsing the insides of the peppers with water can help remove any stray seeds.
2. Heat the oil in a pan over medium-high heat, and then add the turkey, onion, and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the turkey is browned.
3. Add the paprika towards the end of the turkey browning, and cook for a minute or two.
4. In a large bowl combine the turkey mixture with the rice, two chopped tomatoes (from the can of whole tomatoes), eggs, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper.
5. Spoon the mixture into the peppers.
6. Puree the remaining tomatoes (with juice) and add the sugar.
7. Pour the tomato puree into a large, heavy-bottomed (preferably nonstick) pot, set the peppers upright into the sauce, spoon some sauce on top of the peppers, and heat to a simmer. Don't worry if some of the peppers fall over.
8. Simmer until the filling is cooked and the peppers are soft, stirring the sauce occasionally. We simmer the pot covered for 30 minutes, uncovered for another 30 minutes, and then check the consistency of the sauce. Simmering the dish for additional time shouldn't hurt anything.

An alternate to using canned whole tomatoes is to use three 14 oz cans of tomato sauce for the sauce, and then chop two whole fresh tomatoes for the filling.

The first time we made this, we didn't stir the sauce and it burned on the bottom of the pot. However, we served only the sauce from the top portion of the pot, leaving the burned sauce on the bottom, and it was still delicious. Stirring the pot gently every once in a while and using a good, heavy-bottomed pot help prevent burning.

My SO's mother reported that her mother used to make the sauce much sweeter than we did, so feel free to pour in all the sugar you want.

This recipe's filling has been heavily modified from a recipe in Rombauer et al. (1997).

Rombauer, I. S., M. R. Becker, and E. Becker. 1997. Joy of Cooking. Scribner, NY.

What would you do if ...

... you noticed that someone was climbing into one of your neighbors' houses through a window?

I didn't know the people who lived in the house, but I figured that pulling off the window screen and then climbing in through the window was rather suspicious behavior, so I called the police. A few minutes later (as I was on the phone with the police), the suspicious character climbed back out through the window carrying a briefcase, reattached the screen, and drove off in a truck that he'd left idling in front.

While talking with the 911 operator, I quickly realized that my observation skills were not what I imagined they were. I got a grand total of two numbers off the license plate, described the vehicle with something less than stunning detail (essentially "a green truck"), and didn't get a make or model.

Even so, an officer arrived less than a minute after the truck drove away, and the officer reported that they'd stopped the suspect a few blocks away; I was very impressed. The officer spent a while trying to get confirmation of who lived in the residence, but (sadly) nobody he talked to knew who lived there. However, after about 10 minutes the police were apparently satisfied that the suspect was actually the resident of the house, and I presume that they let him go.

So, to sum up, I just tried to get my neighbor arrested for breaking into his own house.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Daily Show nails it

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has started covering the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Full video segments can currently be found on their most recent videos page; three excellent ones are "Inarguable Failure", "Beleaguered Bush", and "Bush's Timeline" (the last of which is just a bit more humorous than my similar post).

As a side note, Pharyngula reports that next week The Daily Show will be devoted to covering the Evolution vs. Creation debate.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Department chair Radagast?

Our prior department chair has taken a relatively unexpected leave of absence, so my department is now holding an election (on very short notice) to choose a new department chair. There's been a lot of discussion in the past few weeks about who should be nominated to run for the position, and last week I began noticing that everyone kept looking my direction when talking about the election.

And now it's official: I've been nominated to be the next department chair. I'm pretty surprised; I do get along with most people, and have been involved with most everyone in the department in my prior role as chair of a major committee, but long term readers will recall that I've only worked at this campus for a few years, and I don't even have tenure. There are certainly many more senior members of the department who are qualified for the position.

After having read Jill's recent experiences of becoming department chair, and talking to other chairs, I'm not sure if I'm excited about this. On one hand I think I can help, and am honored that my peers think highly enough of me to nominate me for this, but on the other hand it would be a huge time commitment and another distraction from teaching.

Nothing is certain at this point, but the rumor on the street is that there won't be anyone else on the ballot. Yikes!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Doing everything possible to help Katrina victims ...

[Updated September 11 at 2am with two new articles; updated September 6 at 11pm with four new articles]

Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard - on Meet the Press:
"... We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water, trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn't need them. This was a week ago. FEMA--we had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard said, 'Come get the fuel right away.' When we got there with our trucks, they got a word. 'FEMA says don't give you the fuel.'" (link, link)
The Orlando Sentinel reports:
"As a flooded New Orleans sinks further into despair, up to 500 Florida airboat pilots have volunteered to rescue Hurricane Katrina victims, transport relief workers and ferry supplies. ...

"On standby since Monday, the pilots -- many from Central Florida -- have spent thousands of their own dollars stocking their boats and swamp buggies with food, water, medical supplies and fuel.

"But the Federal Emergency Management Agency will not authorize the airboaters to enter New Orleans. Without that permission, they would be subject to arrest and would not receive security and support services."
The Chicago Sun-Times reports:
"A visibly angry Mayor Daley said the city had offered emergency, medical and technical help to the federal government as early as Sunday to assist people in the areas stricken by Hurricane Katrina, but as of Friday, the only things the feds said they wanted was a single tank truck." (link)
AP writer Sharon Theimer:
"Several states ready and willing to send National Guard troops to the rescue in New Orleans didn't get the go-ahead until days after the storm struck — a delay nearly certain to be investigated by Congress.

"New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson offered Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco help from his state's National Guard last Sunday, the day before Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. Blanco accepted, but paperwork needed to get the troops en route didn't come from Washington until late Thursday."
U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (Louisiana):
"I understand that the U.S. Forest Service had water-tanker aircraft available to help douse the fires raging on our riverfront, but FEMA has yet to accept the aid. When Amtrak offered trains to evacuate significant numbers of victims – far more efficiently than buses – FEMA again dragged its feet. Offers of medicine, communications equipment and other desperately needed items continue to flow in, only to be ignored by the agency." (link, link, link)
From (echoing Landrieu's statement above):
"The Forest Service has offered fixed plane aircraft used to fight forest fires to help extinguish blazes in New Orleans, according to two congressional sources. But the sources said the planes, which can pour large amounts of water on fires, remained grounded in Missouri Friday because the Department of Homeland Security hasn’t authorized their use." (link)
From a letter written by Jason Robideaux:
"We were pulling a large (24ft) shallow draft aluminum boat that can safely carry 12 passengers and had ramp access which would allow the elderly and infirm to have easier access to the boat ...

"We then specifically asked the DWF agent that we (and other citizens in the flotillia) be allowed to go to the hospitals and help evacuate the sick and the doctors and nurses stranded there. We offered to bring these people back to Lafayette, in our own vehicles, in order to ensure that they received proper and prompt medical care.

"The DWF agent did not want to hear this and ordered us home. We complied with the DWF agent's orders, turned around and headed back to Lafayette along with half of the flotillia.
" (link, link, link)
From a story on MSNBC:
"A Russian official said the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency had rejected a Russian offer to dispatch rescue teams and other aid." (link)
A news report quoted by DailyKOS:
"Department of Homeland Security as well as other U.S. agencies were contacted by the Canadian government requesting permission to provide help. Despite this contact, Canada has not been allowed to fly supplies and personnel to the areas hit by Katrina." (link)
From CNN:
"Cuban President Fidel Castro told more than 1,500 doctors Sunday night that American officials had made "absolutely no response" to his offer to send them to the U.S. Gulf Coast to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Castro, a longtime adversary of the United States, initially offered to send 1,100 doctors and at least 26 tons of supplies and equipment ..."
From Stars & Stripes:
"Authorities are avoiding airdropping provisions into New Orleans — the traditional way of supplying disaster victims — out of fear of sparking riots, a state official said.

"While the military has used helicopters to drop provisions to some stranded in New Orleans, authorities have not launched the massive supply airdrops seen in Afghanistan at the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom.

"Several C-130 Hercules aircraft are stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base, but authorities have not ordered them to drop supplies to flood victims, Arkansas Air National Guard officials said."
From the Red Cross website:
"Why is the Red Cross not in New Orleans?

"Acess to New Orleans is controlled by the National Guard and local authorities and while we are in constant contact with them, we simply cannot enter New Orleans against their orders.

"The state Homeland Security Department had requested--and continues to request--that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city."
From a BBC interview with Lieutenant Commander Sean Kelly (via a DU thread, with a copy of the interview here (mpg), and possibly coming on crooksandliars soon):
"NorthCom started planning before the storm even hit. We were ready for the storm when it hit Florida because, as you remember, it crossed the bottom part of Florida, and then we were plaining, you know, once it was pointed towards the Gulf Coast. So what we did was we activated what we call defense coordinating officers to work with the state to say okay, what do you think you'll need, and we set up staging bases that could be started. We had the USS Baton sailing almost behind the hurricane so that after the hurricane made landfall it's search and rescue helicopters would be available almost immediately. So we had things ready. The only caveat is, we have to wait until the President authorizes us to do so. The laws of the United States say that the military can't just act in this fashion, we have to wait for the President to give us permission."
From an AP story by Marilynn Marchione:
"Volunteer physicians are pouring in to care for the sick, but red tape is keeping hundreds of others from caring for Hurricane Katrina survivors while health problems escalate.

"Among the doctors stymied from helping out are 100 surgeons and paramedics in a state-of-the-art mobile hospital marooned in rural Mississippi. ...

"The North Carolina mobile hospital stranded in Mississippi was developed with millions of tax dollars through the Office of Homeland Security after 9-11. With capacity for 113 beds, it is designed to handle disasters and mass casualties. ...

"It travels in a convoy that includes two 53-foot trailers, which as of Sunday afternoon was parked on a gravel lot 70 miles north of New Orleans because Louisiana officials for several days would not let them deploy to the flooded city, Rich said.

"Yet plans to use the facility and its 100 health professionals were hatched days before Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, doctors in the caravan said."
(link, link)
From an article in the Las Vegas Sun:
"Shortly before they were set to leave for Hurricane Katrina-battered states, a group of about 100 law enforcement officers from across Nevada was told to stay put by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"FEMA officials put the contingent on hold on Sunday afternoon for between one and three days until its mission can be determined, Nevada Highway Patrol spokesman Kevin Honea said."
From an article in the Chicago Tribune:
"While federal and state emergency planners scramble to get more military relief to Gulf Coast communities stricken by Hurricane Katrina, a massive naval goodwill station has been cruising offshore, underused and waiting for a larger role in the effort.

"The USS Bataan, a 844-foot ship designed to dispatch Marines in amphibious assaults, has helicopters, doctors, hospital beds, food and water. It also can make its own water, up to 100,000 gallons a day. And it just happened to be in the Gulf of Mexico when Katrina came roaring ashore.

"The Bataan rode out the storm and then followed it toward shore, awaiting relief orders. Helicopter pilots flying from its deck were some of the first to begin plucking stranded New Orleans residents.

"But now the Bataan's hospital facilities, including six operating rooms and beds for 600 patients, are empty. A good share of its 1,200 sailors could also go ashore to help with the relief effort, but they haven't been asked. The Bataan has been in the stricken region the longest of any military unit, but federal authorities have yet to fully utilize the ship. ...

"A 135-foot landing craft stored within the Bataan, the LCU-1656, was dispatched to steam up the 90 miles of Mississippi River to New Orleans. It took a crew of 16, including a doctor, and its deck was stacked with food and water. The craft carries enough food and fuel to remain self-sufficient for 10 days. ...

"Then the Bataan was ordered to move to the waters off Biloxi, Miss., and LCU-1656 was ordered to return. The landing craft was 40 miles from New Orleans, but it wouldn't be able to deliver its cargo."
From an article in the Door County Compass:
"Early on Friday morning Christie Weber watched the Mayor of New Orleans screaming on CNN, "We need buses to get these people out of here. Get off your ass and get down here."

"She picked up the phone and started calling local charter bus companies. By 6 AM she discovered that there was an abundance of vehicles ready and waiting to be deployed - if and when they were called upon. But, until now no one had called. All of the charter bus companies that Weber rang up had already signed on with FEMA several days earlier, and they were just waiting for a call back regarding financial reimbursement, a destination and an approved route. ...

"Next she decided to call the Governor's office in Louisiana instead of FEMA. They responded immediately with, "Please, God Bless You, YES!" and provided her with a route and a letter to Wisconsin Emergency Management requesting their assistance in staffing the buses with law enforcement officers."
From a story on Dallas News:
"The 83 members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Urban Search and Rescue team from Orange County, Calif., have been told to stay downtown at the Hyatt Regency Dallas at Reunion.

"Since Friday, they have been sitting tight at the luxury hotel with members of five other teams of specialists from California, Nevada and Washington state – about 500 people all diverted to Dallas on the way to the Gulf Coast.

"There they have watched television reports, itching to help the stranded victims of Katrina but ordered by FEMA officials to stay idle.

"'It's been horribly frustrating,' said Battalion Chief Marc Hawkins, noting that he understood the reasons the team had been asked to stay put. 'Keeping firefighters pent up like this is a chore.'

"On Sunday, the Orange County team learned where it would finally do the job it was trained to do. By the time the team arrives in Metairie, La., a full week will have passed since it was ordered to leave California.

"'We've been trying like hell to get out of here,' said Battalion Chief Hawkins, one of the Orange County task force leaders.

"The reason for the extended holdover? Team members were told that conditions were too chaotic in New Orleans, which has been plagued by violence and reports of gunfire aimed at rescuers, and the National Guard needed more time to restore order. In addition, problems getting supplies to the rescue crews already there, as well as victims, had not been worked out."
From a report on NBC4:
"A caravan of Loudoun County sheriff's deputies, loaded with supplies and volunteers willing to assist police in Louisiana in maintaining order, never made it out of Virginia after the sheriff said bureaucratic delays forced it to turn around early Friday. ...

"Loudoun Sheriff Stephen Simpson said he organized a troop of 22 volunteer deputies and six emergency medical technicians in response to a call for help that came from the sheriff in Jefferson Parish in suburban New Orleans.

"The deputies were equipped with food, water, gasoline and other supplies not only for themselves but also to replenish Jefferson Parish, Simpson said. The deputies had tents and were prepared for a stay of at least seven days.

"The Loudoun convoy had planned to depart at noon Thursday, but was delayed for nine hours seeking final approval from Virginia or Louisiana emergency officials. Not wanting to wait any longer, they departed Thursday night, hoping to get the paperwork cleared en route.

"By the time the group got to Harrisonburg -- several hours south of Loudoun County -- Simpson said Lousiana State Police told him shortly after midnight Friday that they didn't want any help and would likely be turned away if they arrived."
Note: The following four articles were added 11pm September 6.

From a Reuters story:
"Transport and other logistics problems are holding up some of the mass of humanitarian aid European countries have offered to the victims of hurricane Katrina, an EU official said on Tuesday. ...

"She said a Swedish plane laden with aid was waiting to take off but had not got U.S. approval to enter the United States.

"High-speed pumps offered by Germany had arrived but Helfferich said unspecified 'coordination problems' in the United States had prevented them from being deployed so far. ...

"Twenty-three European countries have offered help to the United States ranging from financial assistance to ready-to-eat meals, blankets, tents and disinfectant supplies.

"Helfferich said the United States had not agreed to take it all and Britain, which currently holds the presidency of the EU, was negotiating with U.S. authorities on what to deliver.

"The EU and NATO said on Sunday they had received official requests from the United States to provide emergency assistance for the victims of Katrina, days after it ravaged U.S. cities.

"The Commission said at the time that the request to it came after several days of discussions and insisted that the EU, which calls itself the world's biggest aid donor, could have acted sooner if asked."
From TriValleyCentral:
"Tom Dudelston, a funeral director with J. Warren Funeral Services in Casa Grande, had hoped to use vacation to help those who could not escape the blighted area. "I'm trying to go," Dudelston said around 1 p.m. Thursday. "But I have hit some complications I had not expected. I was trying to offer my services with some of my skills. It is kind of pending. I was going to do it to help. I am still hoping I can get in there. I won't know until later today. I have talked with an organization here in Arizona that helps in situations like this. I was hoping I could circumvent that and take care of myself and get in there."

"By 3:45 p.m. he had the news he didn't want to hear.

"'I am not going anywhere, I spoke with D-MORT, a group of funeral directors and embalmers, and I cannot go,' he said, his voice filled with disappointment.

"The Associated Press displays daily images in newspapers and on Web sites featuring the dead lying on the ground or seated in chairs, with no one to tend to them. 'USA Today talks about the body count and the things that are going on since it has been declared a national disaster area,' he explained. 'They won't let anyone in there. You have to be FEMA-certified and I am not,' he said."
From an AP story by Ted Bridis:
"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 workers to support rescuers in 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.

"Before then, FEMA had positioned smaller rescue and communications teams across the Gulf Coast. But officials acknowledged Tuesday the first department-wide appeal for help came only as the storm raged. ...

"... He [Brown] proposed sending 1,000 Homeland Security Department employees within 48 hours and 2,000 within seven days.

"Knocke said the 48-hour period suggested for the Homeland employees was to ensure they had adequate training. 'They were training to help the life-savers,' Knocke said. ...

"Meanwhile, the airline industry said the government's request for help evacuating storm victims didn't come until late Thursday afternoon. The president of the Air Transport Association, James May, said the Homeland Security Department called then to ask if the group could participate in an airlift for refugees."
From the Sun-Herald:
"Charlotte County Deputy Fire Chief Verne Riggall doesn't know exactly when he'll be called up, where he'll be stationed, or how long he'll be away.

"But he knows what he'll be doing: Working to restore order to the logistical nightmare of coordinating the massive recovery effort under way in a devastated six-county area of southern Mississippi.

"Riggall, the county's special-operations supervisor, is the commander of a 40-member Florida Division of Forestry team that will coordinate the transfer of ice, water, food, fuel and other disaster-response material at a logistical staging area to be set up at Stennis, Miss. ...

"'I see a lot more victims than any system can initially respond to,' Riggall said. 'It is much more gigantic than anticipated, I think, even though it was what the models said would happen.'

"Riggall said emergency managers typically order such materials as ice and water to be moved from warehouses to strategic locations some 72 hours before a major hurricane makes landfall.

"For example, Riggall said such material was moved from warehouses to Lake City, where he was sent to manage a logistical staging area, two days before Hurricane Dennis struck the Panhandle in July.

"Riggall said the transfer of aid material from warehouses to strategic locations for Katrina only started after the hurricane struck.

"'Why were the resources not already in Crestview, (Fla.), Atlanta or Austin?' he asked, referring to strategic locations for staging areas under a New Orleans hurricane response plan."
Note: The following two articles were added 2am September 11.

From the Washington Post:
"Offers of foreign aid worth tens of millions of dollars -- including a Swedish water purification system, a German cellular telephone network and two Canadian rescue ships -- have been delayed for days awaiting review by backlogged federal agencies, according to European diplomats and information collected by the State Department. ...

"In Germany, a massive telecommunication system and two technicians await the green light to fly to Louisiana, after its donors spent four days searching for someone willing to accept the gift.

"'FEMA? That was a lost case,' said Mirit Hemy, an executive with the Netherlands-based New Skies Satellite who made the phone calls. 'We got zero help, and we lost one week trying to get hold of them.'

"In Sweden, a transport plane loaded with a water purification system and a cellular network has been ready to take off for four days, while Swedish officials wait for flight clearance. Nearly a week after they were offered, four Canadian rescue vessels and two helicopters have been accepted but probably won't arrive from Halifax, Nova Scotia, until Saturday. The Canadians' offer of search-and-rescue divers has so far gone begging."
From a very long and thorough LA Times article:
"At the same time, bureaucracy rendered some active duty military units inside Louisiana powerless to help in the storm's immediate aftermath. At Ft. Polk in Leesville, a helicopter detachment waited on the tarmac from Monday until Wednesday for approval to fly rescue missions.

"'We were packed and ready to go,' said Chief Warrant Officer Clint Gessner, a helicopter pilot with the Ft. Polk unit. 'We never got the call. It's just a sad story, man.'

"As Gessner and his fellow pilots watched National Guard helicopters conduct search-and-rescue missions, he said the active duty pilots were unable to fly because commanders wouldn't sign off on their missions.

"'We could have been the first responders,' he said. 'It's easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.'

"The Pentagon also decided not to dispatch another unit based at Ft. Polk, a brigade of the Army's 10th Mountain Division, which has the mission of training units about to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan."
Assembled from many sources, including a few DU threads, as well as my own prior posts. Other blogs with similar lists / themes are DailyDissent, BellaCiao, and FemaFailures.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Escape for a select few

Orac found an article (published Saturday, September 3) that compares the experiences of two groups of people in the aftermath of Katrina:
At the Royal Sonesta Hotel in the French Quarter, dinner the last few nights has consisted of grilled tilapia, bow-tie noodles with tomato basil sauce, a T-bone steak and a nice red wine to wash it down.

It's being prepared by two of the Bourbon Street hotel's chefs, who are using propane grills to prepare meals for the 31 staff members who have stayed behind to protect the 500-room hotel in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"We're eating like kings," said Gary Davis, the hotel's electronic technician. "We've got to eat it all before it goes bad."

Less than a half mile away, at the New Orleans Convention Center, Sadique Jabbar's first meal yesterday was a bag of Cheetos someone gave her around 11 a.m.

"You know the only reason we've been fed?" Jabbar said. "Some men out of prison have been breaking into buildings, getting food for us and bringing it back here."
But the article goes on to show that the different experiences of the two groups extended far beyond food and drink:
At the Royal Sonesta, they were able to evacuate all the guests -- except for the two German tourists who wanted to stay -- by late Tuesday night. Wandfluh said he "moved heaven and Earth" to get two buses in from Houston, and the rest left in their own cars. During the guests' last dinner at the hotel, Wandfluh made sure there was live music. ...

At the Convention Center, there has been no escape. A few buses came in early Tuesday morning and were quickly overwhelmed. As of yesterday afternoon, no more buses had shown up.

What's more, the people say they have not been allowed to leave. If they try to walk up the ramp to the West Bank Expressway, they say police with guns shoo them back down. They are literally trapped.

"We got kinfolk who would come down here and get us, but the police won't let them in," Lavan McDonald said. "This is worse than the penitentiary. At least there, they give you a glass of water."
So the authorities let people leave the hotel, and even let contracted busses arrive to pick up the guests, but prevented people in the convention center from leaving, even if they had transportation out of the area? It's somehow better to keep people locked up with no food and water?

Donate directly to Louisiana

While there are many charitable organizations accepting donations to help people recover from Hurricane Katrina, one of note is The Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation. This foundation was set up by the state of Louisiana to direct donations straight to "Louisiana charities, non-profit and governmental agencies, including clearinghouses like the Louisiana VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster)."

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Louisiana governor requested federal emergency assistance on Aug. 27

Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco sent a letter to George Bush on August 27th (two days before Katrina made landfall) requesting that Bush declare a state of emergency and provide federal assistance (link, link); Bush declared a state of emergency that day (link). Blanco's letter shows that she recognized the potential danger of the approaching storm:
"A State of Emergency has been issued for the State in order to support the evacuations of the coastal areas in accordance with our State Evacuation Plan and the remainder of the state to support the State Special Needs and Sheltering Plan.

"... I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments, and that supplementary Federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a disaster."
Yet a recent Washington Post article ("Many Evacuated, but Thousands Still Waiting: White House Shifts Blame to State and Local Officials") reports that the Bush administration is now trying to blame the Louisiana governor and the state and local governments for failing to be able to handle the storm's aftermath:
"As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said."
The article is dated Sunday Sept. 4, so the Saturday referred to is most likely Saturday, September 3. If so, this statement is clearly contradicted by Blanco's letter above. But the article goes on to show even more buck-passing by the Bush administration:
"Bush, who has been criticized, even by supporters, for the delayed response to the disaster, used his weekly radio address to put responsibility for the failure on lower levels of government. The magnitude of the crisis 'has created tremendous problems that have strained state and local capabilities,' he said. 'The result is that many of our citizens simply are not getting the help they need, especially in New Orleans.'"
"Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said one reason federal assets were not used more quickly was 'because our constitutional system really places the primary authority in each state with the governor.'"

[Update Sept. 4: Gov. Blanco sent a more detailed request for federal assistance on August 28th; it can be found here (as a PDF).]

[Update 2, Sept. 4: The Washington Post now has a notice at the top of the article correcting the error I pointed out (above) regarding when Gov. Blanco declared a state of emergency. "A Sept. 4 article on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina incorrectly said that Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) had not declared a state of emergency. She declared an emergency on Aug. 26."]

More outrage in the aftermath of Katrina

I'm staggered by what I'm reading about the US government's response to hurricane Katrina.

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (Louisiana):
"I understand that the U.S. Forest Service had water-tanker aircraft available to help douse the fires raging on our riverfront, but FEMA has yet to accept the aid. When Amtrak offered trains to evacuate significant numbers of victims – far more efficiently than buses – FEMA again dragged its feet. Offers of medicine, communications equipment and other desperately needed items continue to flow in, only to be ignored by the agency.

"But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment.
(link, link, link)
A reader of War and Piece:
"There was a striking dicrepancy between the CNN International report on the Bush visit to the New Orleans disaster zone, yesterday, and reports of the same event by German TV.

"ZDF News reported that the president's visit was a completely staged event. Their crew witnessed how the open air food distribution point Bush visited in front of the cameras was torn down immediately after the president and the herd of 'news people' had left and that others which were allegedly being set up were abandoned at the same time.

"The people in the area were once again left to fend for themselves, said ZDF."
The Orlando Sentinel reports:
"As a flooded New Orleans sinks further into despair, up to 500 Florida airboat pilots have volunteered to rescue Hurricane Katrina victims, transport relief workers and ferry supplies. ...

"On standby since Monday, the pilots -- many from Central Florida -- have spent thousands of their own dollars stocking their boats and swamp buggies with food, water, medical supplies and fuel.

"But the Federal Emergency Management Agency will not authorize the airboaters to enter New Orleans. Without that permission, they would be subject to arrest and would not receive security and support services."
The Chicago Sun-Times reports:
"A visibly angry Mayor Daley said the city had offered emergency, medical and technical help to the federal government as early as Sunday to assist people in the areas stricken by Hurricane Katrina, but as of Friday, the only things the feds said they wanted was a single tank truck." (link)
AP writer Sharon Theimer:
"Several states ready and willing to send National Guard troops to the rescue in New Orleans didn't get the go-ahead until days after the storm struck — a delay nearly certain to be investigated by Congress.

"New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson offered Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco help from his state's National Guard last Sunday, the day before Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. Blanco accepted, but paperwork needed to get the troops en route didn't come from Washington until late Thursday."

A historical comparison

From a letter on DU (slightly edited):
In September 1999, Hurricane Floyd -- a category 3 -- was bearing down the Carolinas and Virginia.

President Clinton was in Christchurch, New Zealand - meeting with President Jiang of China ... He made the proclamation that only Presidents can make and declare the areas affected by Floyd "Federal Disaster Areas" so the National Guard and Military can begin to mobilize. Then he cut short his meetings overseas and flew home to coordinate the rescue efforts. This all one day BEFORE a Cat-3 hit the coast. ...

How about [George W. Bush's] own father during Hurricane Andrew? Once again, President [HW] Bush (41) -- August, 1992 -- was in the midst of a brutal campaign for re-election. Yet, he cut off his campaigning the day before and went to Washington where he martialed the largest military operation on US soil in history. He sent in 7,000 National Guard and 22,000 regular military personnel, and all the gear to begin the clean up within hours after Andrew passed through Florida ...

In August of 1969 when Cat-5 Hurricane Camille hit roughly the same area as Katrina, President Nixon had already readied the National Guard and ordered all Gulf rescue vessels and equipment from Tampa and Houston to follow the hurricane in. There were over 1,000 regular military with two dozen helicopters to assist the Coast Guard and National Guard within hours after the skies cleared.
Here's a short summary of Bush's (and a few other high-ranking government officials') response to hurricane Katrina:
  • Prior to landfall, Bush is on vacation in Texas.
  • Monday, August 29 - Katrina makes landfall at 6:15am near New Orleans, after hitting Florida on August 25 (link). Bush celebrates John McCain's birthday in Arizona, and samples a birthday cake (link). Bush also gives a speech on Medicare's prescription drug program: "The president did not speak to reporters, who were hoping he might say something about Hurricane Katrina." (link) Donald Rumsfeld attends an evening Padres game in San Diego (link).
  • Tuesday, August 30 - Bush gives a speech on Iraq at a Naval Air Station in San Diego, and "cuts short" his visit to San Diego by one hour (link). Bush announces by mid-afternoon that he will return to Washington "tomorrow" (link, link). Condoleezza Rice shops for "several thousand dollars' worth of shoes" in New York (link).
  • Wednesday, August 31 - Bush "cuts short" his vacation, heads back to Washington, and "visits" the hurricane-affected region by flying over it in Air Force 1 on the way to Washington (link). Bush gives a speech outlining relief efforts, which includes many implications that relief has already arrived (e.g. "The National Guard has nearly 11,000 Guardsmen on state active duty," "FEMA is moving supplies and equipment into the hardest hit areas," and "HHS and CDC are working with local officials to identify operating hospital facilities so we can help them, help the nurses and doctors provide necessary medical care. They're distributing medical supplies ..." link); significant relief supplies do not arrive in New Orleans until Friday (link). Condoleezza Rice attends a Monty Python musical in the evening (link) at the same time international aid is being rejected (link).
  • Thursday, September 1 - Three days after the hurricane makes landfall, Bush says that "there's a lot of help coming" (link). Media reports make it clear that sufficient aid has not arrived (link, link, link). Bush also says, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." (link) New Mexico finally receives paperwork from Washington to send National Guard troops to Louisiana, even though New Mexico's Governor had offered the troops the day before the hurricane hit and "Bush had the legal authority to order the National Guard to the disaster area himself." (link)
  • Friday, September 2 - Significant aid finally arrives and is allowed into New Orleans (link). Bush states that "the results are not acceptable" and travels to affected areas in a trip that has been rumored since Tuesday (link, link). It is reported that the American Red Cross has been prevented from entering New Orleans by the National Guard and state Homeland Security Department (link, link).