Shameless — Disaster Profiteering Act

In light of all of the other questionable activities post-Katrina, this is absolutely reprehensible (emphasis below added):

Project on Government Oversight – Big federal contractors have scored a major victory with yesterday’s news that House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) and Representative Kenny Marchant (R-TX) introduced legislation that will waive meaningful taxpayer protections and competition in contracting whenever Congress or the President declares a national emergency or there is a disaster. It is rumored that the legislation will be included in a manager’s amendment to the next Katrina relief bill. Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has donned the legislation (H.R. 3766) the “Disaster Profiteering Act.”

The Davis legislation would allow agency heads across the federal government to treat all purchases related to national emergencies as “commercial items,” meaning that contracts can be made under a no-bid process and that the government would not have the authority to audit purchases after they have been made. A second, unrelated provision deals with Katrina volunteers.

via Agonist

The only hope is that this ‘proposed’ legislation won’t actually pass.

Using ‘War’ to Sell More Arms To The World

Apparently the US and Britain are taking some flack for staging a huge arms exhibition in London and using the Iraq war as a sales point:

The spokesman said the invasion and occupation of Iraq had been “good news” for the major arms companies.

“It has allowed them to label their arms as battle-tested and provided them with promotional material for their missiles, bombs, fighter aircraft, artillery, tanks and armoured vehicles.

“They will be marketing their weapons to countries with the full support of the UK Government and the perverse promotional assistance provided by Iraq.”

I suppose there is nothing to keep this sort of thing from happening, but it does have that sort of perverse quality to it as if Louisville Slugger said ‘look at how well our baseball bats cracked skulls at the last riot’.

Not surprisingly, these same activities went on during previous hostilities in the Middle East.

More Katrina (Less Angry)

This article which appeared in National Geographic in October of 2004 raises some interesting questions for the ‘we couldn’t have known this was going to happen’ apologists that I pointed out in a previous posting. This quote from the article was particularly striking:

“The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist attack on New York City.”

I am glad that Colin Powell is out of office and can speak his mind about Katrina and it’s aftermath as well.

This is a pretty amazing slide show of the before, during and after of a photographer who was in New Orleans the entire time of the storm.

Katrina Aftermath Anger

After a week of listening to the coverage of Katrina (and the aftermath) there are some things that I just need to get off my chest:

As bad as it is, stop calling it ‘our tsunami’. There is a big difference between something that happen with little or no warning and something that happened with several days warning that some people either didn’t react to or couldn’t react to. Why does there have to be competition over whose natural disaster was worse? They are all horrible and provide an opportunity to see the best (and worst) in people.

In New Orleans, the situation rapidly turned into a Y2K-esque worst case scenario: no power, no water, no communications, armed mobs looting and pillaging with the government unable to respond. Except in this real life scenario, this was not the result of some errant computer software. This was a fatal combination of natural disaster and the worst side of humankind.

Before Katrina hit, it seems that there were those who couldn’t move because they didn’t have cars or some other means of getting around or out of the city because they are poor. This might have something to do with the fact that the poverty rate in the US has grown to 12.5% under the current administration. Apparently the poor are good enough to fight wars, but not worth rescuing or looking out for properly — sickening.

Another point that I am struggling with regarding the slow federal response is ‘because it is a very complicated situation that no one could have foreseen’. Then how do we account for the Hurricane Pam simulations that showed almost exactly what was going to happen? You might ask yourself how can the international press get camera crews, helicopters, ground transport, etc to freely go in to areas to broadcast (some might say, exploit) those impacted by this disaster, but the government doesn’t seem to be as resourceful. Nor does it seem that the press has enough integrity to try to bring in whatever aid they can while covering the events.

The National Guard, who typically play a crucial role in providing swift and effective assistance during natural disasters are hobbled by the fact that 40% of Mississippi’s and 35% of Louisiana’s National Guard are in Iraq.

This event seems to me to be an example of the current administrations domestic policy writ large: if you have money, you’re ok, you can evacuate (you can basically do whatever you want); if you don’t, then they really don’t give a damn about what happens to you. So you have a situation were the administration cut funding for levee enhancements/maintenance because of ‘the war’, but then turned around and provided a 31 billion USD handout to oil companies that are already making multi-billion dollar profits quarterly. Then you have gun toating idiots wrecking havoc, because we need more guns in this country, right NRA? I can already hear their twisted response, ‘well, if everyone had a gun, they could defend themselves against the bandits’ Right, we all know that the solution to cleaning up an oil slick is to pour more oil on it…

Thankfully, the situation seems to be improving. I just hope that this country learns a lesson from this disaster and is able to grow in a more positive direction.

One final note: it seems ironic to me that the Administration has been on TV and radio telling those who have Labor Day plans (which in the US is ‘a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.’) to stay home, and not have any inessential travel.

The Price of Petrol

Isn’t it so amazing that three weeks ago, AAA predicted that gas would be over three dollars a gallon by the end of the month. And, surprise! on August 31st my local is selling gas for $3.09 a gallon.

Oh, joy.

Name Popularity

I thought that this was a brilliant little java applet that allows you to examine the popularity of names over time. Not surprisingly, many of the biblical based names remain at a somewhat steady stream of popularity and that some names tend to come and go based upon television or movie characters having those names.

My name appears to have been most popular in the 30s and 40s and has been in decline since. Suits me.

It also demonstrates a frightening trend of late to have children named after product brands.

Elevator ‘Hacking’

This little tidbit seems to be making the rounds on the net:

The designers of some elevators include a hidden feature that is very handy if you’re in a hurry or it’s a busy time in the building (like check-out time in a hotel). While some elevators require a key, others can be put into “Express” mode by pressing the “Door Close” and “Floor” buttons at the same time. This sweeps the car to the floor of your choice and avoids stops at any other floor.

Elevators that have been tested and worked on:
Otis Elevators (All But The Ones Made In 1992),
Dover (Model Numbers: EL546 And ELOD862),
And Most Desert Elevators(All, But Model Numbers ELD5433 And ELF3655)

I might try this out the next time I am in a high rise building (which isn’t too often these days).

Via

Buying a Mobile Phone from Amazon

I had been mulling over a solution to carrying around both a Palm and a mobile phone to deal with my day to day. After returning from vaction, my phone was ripped off, so the pressure was on to try to find a converged replacement. After trying out the Treo 650 and Blackberry 7100, I decided against both of them and started to zero in on the Nokia 6682. Problem is, the 6682 isn’t readily available, but supposed to be released ‘any day now’ by Cingular.

After two weeks without a phone, I finally made up my mind to stop waiting for the Nokia 6682 to be available from Cingular and to just get the Nokia 6620 instead and ‘upgrade’ to the 6682 when and if it becomes available.

Searching high and low around the area quickly led to the conclusion that none of the Cingular stores around here have a very complete selection of phones and definately not the more feature rich units. I noticed on Amazon that they had the phone available and with the two rebates offered, I essentially made $25USD on the purchase of the phone. I ordered with Amazon and ponied up for the next day delivery as the item was listed on their site as ‘shipping within 24 hours’. The next day I get, not a delivery notice from Amazon, but an email telling me that there is a delay in processing my order. It turns out that it can take up to 48 hours for Amazon/Cingular to do the credit check — Amazon won’t ship until Cingular says your credit is good. So three days later my phone ships. The amazing thing was that it shipped at 3AM and I recieved it later that same day.

Activating the phone was another adventure which required no fewer than 8 phone calls to Amazon and Cingular to get the phone activated, the correct calling plan options established, voicemail initialized, etc. In spite of all of the calls required, Amazon and Cingular did an excellent job of quickly and politely dealing with each and every issue including staying on the phone with me as I went through the various activation steps. At one point, I was on the phone so long that my cordless phone’s battery died with no warning. About 30 minutes later the Cingular rep called me back to make sure that everything had been activated properly. Outstanding!

Since then I have been trying to find the time to familiarize myself with the phones features and software (and there are quite a few of them). More on that later.

Cellphones and Driving Don’t Mix

No surprises in this article on Wired. Driving while talking on a mobile phone is unsafe whether you are using a headset or not.

It is my firm belief that accidents caused while someone is talking on a cellphone should be treated as other driving impairments (DUI). Do it more that a few times and you lose your license.

In Case of Emergency

This is a simple but very effective way of helping yourself if you are in a bad state. The jist of the article is to add an entry (or entries) into your mobile phone contacts list under ICE (In Case of Emergency). That way a paramedic or hospital attendant would have a good chance of getting ahold of someone on your behalf if you were incapacitated. Multiple entries could be added for ICE2, ICE3, etc.

Senseless Acts

What a series of horrible and senseless events in London this morning. My thoughts go out to all those impacted by this barbarity.

And me scheduled for a business trip there in a few weeks…

On the pond

We have been planning a small pond in the front garden since shortly after we moved in 7+ years ago. Well, this was the weekend for it. The ground wasn’t too hard, so shifting all of the dirt wasn’t as challenging as it could be if we put it off until later in the summer when the soil is like concrete.

We got the dirt (and debris) out, the sand in, and the liner down. Then off to a nearby garden shop to buy some stone to edge with (and really to help keep the liner from shifting once the water went in). When it came time to fill, I was surprised that it took almost an hour to top it up. Nice start.

So all of that together was really ‘step one’. Next comes putting in the water plants, the waterfall, tidying up the edging and ultimately some goldfish. I’ll post some pictures as we are further along in the process.