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Thursday, September 29, 2005

I Love This

From here:

Isn't it fair to say the mechanics of file sharing are incredibly dull? There's so little at stake in the transfer of data between nodes that the value of what's being transferred is often obscured. The inchoate fury of musicians who feel they've been ripped off comes in stark contrast to the attitude of most people who use P2P networks, a kind of puzzled ennui. How could anything so banal be illegal? While there are "chat" facilities in Soulseek and Limewire's software how often does one actually use them? And what kind of exchanges are people having on these inline channels? Not much in the way of the life-changing dialogue one suspects. The internet is only so great.

With all this in mind I put on my best smile and set off down Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon handing out free CDs. Motivated as much by self-promotion as fear of litigation, everything I gave away was "my stuff". I included a movie I'd made a long time ago, a comic I'd drawn, a few radio shows I'd done, and some vintage mixes. Even though we couldn't resist taking a detour past the Sony BMG headquarters for a photo opportunity on the way home, I'm basically sceptical of pro file-sharing rhetoric ( Is it really alright to give away other people's music for free?

This was great fun. Shoppers immediately grasped the conceptual angle. Lithe French tourists hugged me, whole Asian families gathered round to have their portrait taken, cabbies stopped to collect a disc, radical hipsters raised a salute and small children pointed and giggled. Though the temperature slightly dropped as we entered trendy Soho, people were still smiling. Giving away the CDs was easier than I'd anticipated, and once the crowd got the idea everyone piled in. Quite what they'll make of the contents I don't know, but people are open-minded enough aren't they?

Rapper D2i of Black Mobb Entertainment, who sells his mix-tapes on Oxford Street much in the way I was doling mine out, was the only person who voiced concern. My giving away CDs was bad for his business he volunteered. However once I'd assured him that this was definitely a one-off stunt, we became firm friends united in the knowledge that hitting the street as cold-calling ambassadors for our own tiny visions takes a certain amount of chutzpah.

|| RPH || 7:50 PM || |

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Out of Curiosity

Are Americans the only people who cut their food with their fork in their left hand before switching to eat with the fork in the right hand? That's one thing that has always puzzled me, because Europeans cut and eat with the fork in their left hand.

|| RPH || 5:58 PM || |

Glasgow Murder City?

Over the weekend this caught my eye:

Scotland has the second highest murder rate in western Europe and Scots are more than three times more likely to be murdered than people in England and Wales, according to a study by the World Health Organisation.

The study, based on the latest crime figures from 21 western European countries, finds that only Finland has a higher murder rate than Scotland.

Scotland's homicide rate is 2.33 deaths for every 100,000 people each year, compared with 0.7 in England and Wales. In Spain it is 1.02, and in Italy 0.96. Germany has western Europe's lowest murder rate: 0.68 per 100,000 people...

Almost half of murders in Scotland are committed by people under the influence of drink or drugs - particularly in Glasgow, which, despite its successful effort to shed its hardman image in the city centre, is still plagued with violence in its east end and hinterland estates.

Scotland's second city is in fact the murder capital of Europe, with about 70 killings each year. Much of the violence is caused by gangs vying to control the city's drugs trade.

But a culture of young men carrying knives also plays a part.

Official figures show that serious crime in the city has risen heavily: murders increased by 19% from 70 in 2003 to 83 in 2004. Attempted murders rose by a third in the same period, from 343 to 459.

This news follows on from last week's revelation that, according to the United Nations, Scotland is the most violent country in the developed world.

A UNITED Nations report has labelled Scotland the most violent country in the developed world, with people three times more likely to be assaulted than in America.

England and Wales recorded the second highest number of violent assaults while Northern Ireland recorded the fewest.

The study, based on telephone interviews with victims of crime in 21 countries, found that more than 2,000 Scots were attacked every week, almost ten times the official police figures. They include non-sexual crimes of violence and serious assaults.

Violent crime has doubled in Scotland over the past 20 years and levels, per head of population, are now comparable with cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg and Tbilisi.

This is not particularly surprising to me, having lived in Edinburgh for several years. I've never seen anywhere near as many fights in either London or New York as I did when I was in Edinburgh, and Edinburgh is considerably more genteel than Glasgow. But I must say, the 'Glasgow Murder Capital of Western Europe' stat set my antennae stirring. It seems that the press has gone along with this story without checking their facts; or at the very least the whole story is not being told. This report fails to make the distinction between the city of Glasgow and the Strathclyde Police force. In addition to the city of Glasgow, Strathclyde Police are responsible for a large area of western Scotland. Of the 2.2 million people who live in the Strathclyde zone, only about 580,000 live in Glasgow itself, and only 797,000 live in the four main Glasgow divisions (Glasgow Central and West, Glasgow East, Glasgow North and East Dunbartonshire, and Glasgow South and East Renfrewshire), or about 36% of the total population in Strathclyde Police's boundaries.

Why does this matter? Well, because the number of murders presented here is for all of Strathclyde, not just the city of Glasgow. Generally speaking, Glasgow accounts for about half of the murders committed in Strathclyde in any given year (see page 4 of the linked pdf). Since I can't seem to find any statistics breaking out 2004's murder totals by where they were committed within Strathclyde, it seems fair to assume that probably about 40-45 of the 83 murders mentioned in the Guardian report were committed in Glasgow itself. Annoyingly, nowhere can I find any numbers on how many murders are committed in the immediate Glasgow area (the city and the suburban areas covered by the four Glasgow divisions), so it is hard to tell how much or how little this affects things overall.

Even so, it is clear that Glasgow's murder rate is substantially higher than London's. The most recent statistics from the Metropolitan Police (which cover's the 32 boroughs of Greater London) show that London had 221 murders between April 2004 and March 2005 (the Met publishes its data by financial years). Since London's population is (according to the last census) 7,172,000, this means that London had a murder rate of 3.08 murders per 100,000 people last year. Glasgow, in contrast, has only 577,869 people, so, assuming that Glasgow's percentage of the Strathclyde total was within a fairly normal range, then Glasgow should have had a murder rate somewhere between 6.92 murders per 100,000 people (if there were 40 murders) and 7.79 murders per 100,000 people (if there were 45 murders). Indeed, it could be higher, if the rise in murders between 2003 and 2004 occurred disproportionately within the city of Glasgow. Hell, even if you expand it out to the whole Strathclyde Police area, those 83 murders give a murder rate of 3.77 murders per 100,000 people, which is still above London's rate.

One thing that I find quite remarkable about all this is that, even after finagling Strathclyde's figures down into those from Glasgow, the city still had a higher murder rate than New York City in 2004...without guns! Obviously New York's crime rate has dropped precipitously since the end of the crack wars, but this is still a pretty remarkable statistic. Shooting someone is by far the easiest way to kill them, and guns are key to America's huge number of annual homicides. You need one rough city to manage to beat out somewhere like New York without guns playing much of a role.

|| RPH || 1:47 AM || |

Saturday, September 24, 2005


Ah, heavy metal.

|| RPH || 11:33 PM || |

Friday, September 23, 2005


One of the more absurd crime sagas in New York City history now seems to have been resolved:

In the annals of New York City crime, few undertakings were more ill-advised, foolhardy and just plain dangerous than the one that prosecutors say was chosen by Thomas and Rose Marie Uva, a young married couple from Queens.

The Uvas set out more than a dozen years ago to solve their financial difficulties in a most unusual fashion: walking into mob social clubs with an Uzi submachine gun and separating the Mafiosi within from their ill-gotten gains.

The crime spree was predictably short-lived. They were killed in 1992 in one of the more public executions in the recent history of organized crime in New York. On Christmas Eve, in broad daylight on a busy Queens thoroughfare, they were each shot several times in the head as they sat in a car at a traffic light. Ms. Uva, the authorities said, had more than $1,000 in her wallet; investigators said they believed the couple might have been out for some last-minute Christmas shopping.

No one had been charged in the case until yesterday, when F.B.I. agents and police detectives arrested a man, whom they accused of being a captain in the Gambino crime family, on charges that he was part of the hit team that killed the couple.

The man, Dominick Pizzonia, who prosecutors say was known as Skinny Dom, was charged with racketeering conspiracy, including the two murders...

The robberies had stunned the world of organized crime: gangland figures were incredulous over the brazen assaults on the normally inviolate establishments where they played cards, sipped coffee and schemed, according to several law enforcement officials.

There were at least four robberies, and as the crime spree stretched over several months, the mob initially seemed unable to stop it. Perhaps belaboring the obvious, one former high-ranking mob figure, who became a government witness several years ago, said, "It's embarrassing if wise guys get held up."

I'd never heard of this story before reading this article, but it's pretty astonishing, isn't it? I mean, how foolish do you have to be to try and rob the mob, even if they are a shadow of their former self? That's just asking to be killed. In the history of New York criminality, the Uvas have to be right up there in terms of absolute idiocy.

For more background information, see Joseph Capeci's 'Gang Land' column from the January 12th, 1993 Daily News.

|| RPH || 5:13 PM || |

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Palestinian Genocide?

One of the stories that has been rumbling away all week in the British press has been the controversy over Britain's official Holocaust Memorial Day, January 27th (the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz). Some Muslim groups have been complaining that it is, as they put it, 'unfairly exclusionary' to only focus on Jewish suffering. They would like, instead, for there to be a 'Genocide Memorial Day'. Here's an excerpt from an article the Times published on Sunday:

ADVISERS appointed by Tony Blair after the London bombings are proposing to scrap the Jewish Holocaust Memorial Day because it is regarded as offensive to Muslims.

They want to replace it with a Genocide Day that would recognise the mass murder of Muslims in Palestine, Chechnya and Bosnia as well as people of other faiths.

The draft proposals have been prepared by committees appointed by Blair to tackle extremism. He has promised to respond to the plans, but the threat to the Holocaust Day has provoked a fierce backlash from the Jewish community.

Holocaust Day was established by Blair in 2001 after a sustained campaign by Jewish leaders to create a lasting memorial to the 6m victims of Hitler. It is marked each year on January 27.

A member of one of the committees, made up of Muslims, said it gave the impression that “western lives have more value than non-western lives”. That perception needed to be changed. “One way of doing that is if the government were to sponsor a national Genocide Memorial Day.

“The very name Holocaust Memorial Day sounds too exclusive to many young Muslims. It sends out the wrong signals: that the lives of one people are to be remembered more than others. It’s a grievance that extremists are able to exploit.”

The recommendation, drawn up by four committees including those dealing with imams and mosques, and Islamaphobia and policing, has the backing of Sir Iqbal Sacranie, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain.

He said: “The message of the Holocaust was ‘never again’, and for that message to have practical effect on the world community it has to be inclusive. We can never have double standards in terms of human life. Muslims feel hurt and excluded that their lives are not equally valuable to those lives lost in the Holocaust time.”

Ibrahim Hewitt, chairman of the charity Interpal, said: “There are 500 Palestinian towns and villages that have been wiped out over the years. That’s pretty genocidal to me.”

I have a few thoughts on this. The main one, really, has to be: Palestinian genocide? What the hell are you smoking, Ibrahim Hewitt?

I don't have any personal stake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so I tend to avoid writing about it, but as a trained historian it drives me utterly around the bend to see people make such baldly historically incorrect statements to bolster their political case; hopefully the government will not go along with such foolishness. This idea, that 'Israel is treating the Palestinians in the same way that the Nazis treated the Jews', is one of the stupidest ideas to have taken hold of sections of public opinion in recent years. It's not surprising that Palestinian advocates have picked up on it, as they probably feel that it bolsters their case (although I'd argue more that it makes them look like morons), but why anyone else believes such nonsense is beyond me. It's so stupid that it isn't really worth debunking, but I sort of feel like it, so here we go.

Consider: The second article of the UN's Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as such:

"any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such:"

  • (a) Killing members of the group;

  • (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

  • (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

  • (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

  • (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
  • Let's ponder this list in light of Israeli actions. In terms of (a), well, the Israeli military has, in the course of fighting a number of conventional land wars and counter-insurgency campaigns, quite obviously killed a number of Palestinians over the last six decades, but have they killed with the intent of 'destroying the Palestinian people'? Can the IDF be considered similar to the einsatzgruppen or the interahamwe? Well, quite clearly not, and quite frankly anyone who thinks so is demented.

    Before straying too far back in time, let's look at recent events. The Muslim Council of Britain, perhaps the most important Muslim activist group in Britain, who have been pushing strongly for a revision to a genocide day, have previously characterized Israel's actions in response to the Second (or Al-Aqsa) Intifada as 'creeping genocide'. This is a serious charge. It is also complete nonsense. Whether you think Israel is a 'racist apartheid state' or a 'single beacon of democratic modernity in a sea of obscurantist autocracy', one thing is indisputable: its military has not been involved in anything that is even vaguely like genocide. Making the charge just devalues the term. According to the Palestine Red Crescent Society, since September 2000, Israeli security forces have been responsible for the deaths of 3,670 people in the Palestinian territories. This is unfortunate, a sad state of affairs, but it hardly stacks up against the butchery practiced by others elsewhere in the region in recent decades, let alone against the monstrous depredations perpetrated by Hitler's regime.

    Does Israel seek to 'destroy the Palestinian people'? Well, it has certainly taken a lot of land on the West Bank for settlements, yet Israeli government policy has repressed the wildest anti-Palestinian forces, such as the banned Kach Party, who advocated the 'transfer' (ie ethnic cleansing) of Palestinians to 'beyond the Jordan'. Israel has not done anything like demolish the Dome of the Rock to build the Third Temple.

    As far as points (d) and (e) go, no one, but no one, could say that Israel has pursued such policies. Consider the fertility rate in the occupied territories. As you can see, the Gaza Strip has a TFR of 5.91 children per woman, the West Bank has a TFR of 4.4 children per woman, while Israel itself has a TFR of only 2.44 children per woman. Whatever else this shows, it is quite clear that Israel has not undertaken any method "to prevent births within the group". Nor has Israel transferred Palestinian children to Jewish homes. It just hasn't happened.

    Israel may be many things, but it just isn't genocidal.

    || RPH || 9:45 AM || |

    Monday, September 12, 2005

    This Blew My Mind

    I was flicking through the weekend's papers earlier when, in the Guardian magazine for Saturday, I came across this:

    In truth, more than 75% of the heterosexuals diagnosed with HIV in the UK last year were infected abroad or by partners who were infected abroad, with 68% of them having been exposed to HIV in Africa. Although black Africans living in Britain represent barely 1% of the population, last year they accounted for 42% of new HIV diagnoses. If you are black, African and living here, you are 50 times more likely to be HIV positive than any other ethnic group. A close look at the figures reveals another disheartening fact. Last year more than 84% of those diagnosed with HIV in the UK, who had been infected in the UK, were still gay or bisexual men. Although they constitute 1% of the UK population, gay men account for 43% of those with HIV.

    A "gay epidemic" that everyone thought had been thwarted by the late 80s is back with a vengeance. What, then, of the so-called heterosexual epidemic that has led the government to commit millions to a health campaign? Incredibly, there are probably only 184 white, British, heterosexual men and women who have contracted HIV in the UK through having sex with someone from the same demographic group in the last 20 years. Professor Brian Gazzard, one of Britain's most senior HIV specialists and head of HIV research at Chelsea and Westminster hospital, London, says:

    "The chances of a white woman and a white man getting together on a Saturday night and infecting each other with HIV is tiny." Our own calculations reveal that that risk is approximately one in 300,000. HIV in the UK is black and it is gay.

    Dr Barry Evans, Britain's leading HIV epidemiologist at the government's Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, tells us:

    "The presentation of HIV figures has often been misleading. We have shied away from telling the explicit truth about those at greatest risk from the virus for fear of how it will be manipulated by racists and homophobes. I believe that this decision is wrong but I am not sure the government can handle or wants to handle a genuine debate about HIV in Britain."

    I was amazed by this; especially by the idea that, over the last twenty years, less than 200 people like me (white heterosexuals) had contracted HIV in Britain from having sex with white heterosexuals of the opposite gender. Dude, that's astonishing.

    As it goes, looking at these figures, if two fairly small groups of the population (black Africans and gay men) account for the lion's share of new HIV positive cases, the British government's launching of a massive new AIDS awareness campaign aimed at the population in general seems somewhat pointless. Well, maybe not pointless, but a misallocation of resources made, as Dr. Evans points out, of a misguided fear of the information playing into the hands of bigots. This is pretty silly, because bigots are going to find out the numbers anyway; this is, after all, the internet age. Just because we don't like the fact that something is true, and hope that people we don't like won't come across the information, does not mean it can be wished away.

    In this particular instance, instead of throwing tens of millions of pounds at a phantom problem (a national heterosexual AIDS epidemic that doesn't exist) it would be much more sensible for the government to redouble efforts to target safe sex and treatment information specifically at gay men and members of the various African communities, especially women, and especially migrants from East and Southern Africa, the worst-affected regions of the continent. Raising general AIDS awareness is a worthy goal as well, of course, but it is not the most pressing part of the issue.

    || RPH || 10:36 PM || |

    Sunday, September 11, 2005

    Four Years On

    Here's an account of September 11, 2001, by Bill Hewitt, the husband of my father's cousin Marian Helms, written in the form of a letter to their daughter Diana:

    At 8:48 in the morning that day, we were in our apartment in lower Manhattan, one third of a mile north from what was the World Trade Center complex. You and your mother were in the living room, and I was still in bed. I was awakened by a loud screaming outside that sounded like a plane or missile, then I heard a huge explosion coming from the direction of the World Trade Center. Your mom thought it was a sonic boom. I thought it might be what it turned out to be. I put my head out the window and saw the gash, fire, and smoke in the side of the north tower of the Trade Center. I knew it wasn't an accident. Not long after, while I was holding you, the second plane came screaming in followed by the explosion. In my remembering, you could tell that the engines were being revved up to full throttle as the planes came boring in for the kill.

    Your mom and I decided that I should go down to the scene to see if I could help. There were not very many people coming up the street as I was going down. The people were being evacuated to the east, south, and west. When I got to Vesey (the street bordering the complex on the north), I saw emergency vehicles off to my right, to the west, on West St., toward the Hudson River, and fire trucks to my left on Vesey itself. I went under the overpass that connected the main complex with 7 WTC. There was a lot of activity in the truck bays there, with people coming and going. I had worked for more than ten years for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The captain of the regional office's police detail came by heading into the building. He told me that the Pentagon had been hit.

    I was considering where to go and what to do when I heard a third screaming that sounded to me like another plane or some kind of missile coming in. I dove to the curb and pressed up against a concrete barrier waiting for some kind of impact - and, it crossed my mind, my death. No shock came. I got up and moved toward the river, to West St., where scores of emergency vehicles and personnel were deployed, and where people from the Trade Center and other offices were escaping to the north. The screaming I'd heard wasn't another jet or a missile. It was the sonic wave from the south tower collapsing, something I had no idea had happened. Suddenly a huge black-gray cloud with the debris and dust from the collapse of the south tower came roaring up the street, people running for their lives before it.

    || RPH || 9:51 PM || |

    Saturday, September 10, 2005

    A Few More Katrina Things

    For all the talk of 'civilization collapsing' in New Orleans, some people showed the traditional American can-do spirit. I'd guess more stories like this will come out in the weeks to come.

    Check out this photo diary of the lead-up to the storm and the first couple of days of the aftermath.

    This woman's story is just unimaginably harrowing.

    Tim Cavanaugh in Reason enumerates just how much federal pork Alaska has been receiving, money that could have been put to better use in Louisiana.

    || RPH || 6:32 PM || |

    Wednesday, September 07, 2005

    Absurd to the Point of Absurdity

    The BBC has just released a new report on Britain's foreign-born population that some people, including the esteemed John Bond are already trumpeting as a rebuttal to those who think Britain is being 'swamped' by foreigners. Whether or not Britain is being swamped is a matter best left to another time, but the problem with these numbers is that they are based around permanent residents and do not appear to include asylum seekers, foreign students or any sort of estimate of illegal immigrants. For instance, if you go to the countries of origin page of the report, there are some pretty fishy statistics for anyone who knows London well. Are there really only 2270 Albanians in the whole of the UK? This is absolute nonsense, as anyone who has spent any time in London over the past several years knows. There may only be that number of Albanian legal residents, but in London alone there are clearly far more Albanians actually living here than that number suggests.

    You can see for yourself how off these BBC numbers are on the Home Office's 2004 asylum report. On page 25 there's a graph of removals and voluntary departures of failed asylum seekers from 1996 to 2004 which shows that, over those nine years, about 100,000 people have been deported or have willingly left Britain, including dependants. Skip ahead then to page 32, and you will see that, excluding dependants, in the same time period slightly under 500,000 asylum applications have been received, and that about 223,000 asylum applications have been granted. Weirdly enough, although the report provides raw numbers on how many people have been deported or have voluntarily left, it provides no such number for the amount of dependants of the 223,000 succesful asylum applicants. Now, on page 32 it does state that the removals and voluntary departures accounted for 80,000 applications, which gives, at least in terms of those who have left, about 0.25 dependants per asylum application (roughly 20,000 dependants on top of the 80,000 applications). Anyways, what the data does show is that, besides those who have been granted application and those who have left, there are 200,000 applicants who are basically phantoms, and with a rough guess that that includes 0.25 dependants, that's 250,000 people who are not in the data. This is not a minor number; it's about 0.4% of the overall population.

    Approach this BBC report with caution.

    || RPH || 6:42 PM || |

    Monday, September 05, 2005

    This Is Just Ridiculous

    From today's Guardian comes this story of an assault on a Christian village in the West Bank by their Muslim neighbors:

    The only brewery in the Palestinian territories escaped an attack yesterday by a mob that razed a dozen homes over an alleged affair between a Christian man whose family owns the beer factory and a Muslim woman from a neighbouring village who was then murdered by her own family.

    The attack on Taybeh, a wholly Christian village which gives its name to a popular Palestinian beer, came despite appeals from residents to their neighbours in Deir Jarir to refrain from violence while the body of the murdered 25-year-old woman, identified only as Haim, was disinterred for DNA tests to try to ascertain if she had sex with the accused man, Mahdi Abu Houria.

    "Because we were afraid of what would happen, we got permission from Abu Mazen [the Palestinian president] to dig her up from her grave and have DNA testing," said Maria Khoury, the wife of Taybeh's mayor who co-owns the brewery. "You can't just accuse someone without evidence. They buried without testing. We are very suspicious that this family raped their daughter and buried her and they want to find an excuse to destroy our village."

    The accused woman was murdered by her family last week in an "honour killing" after the alleged affair was made public. Palestinian women's groups say that women are sometimes killed after being raped by relatives who then attempt to shift responsibility for pregnancy to an innocent man.



    Taybeh Beer - I believe regular commenter Danny Pinkus has said that it's quite nice.

    Bernard Sabella, "Palestinian Christians: Challenges and Hopes"

    Al-Taybeh Magazine

    Steven Gertz, "Palestinian Christians, Strangers in a Familiar Land"

    || RPH || 2:26 PM || |

    Sunday, September 04, 2005

    More Katrina Stuff

    If you haven't seen the infamous MSNBC video of NOPD cops looting Wal-Mart the day after the storm, it can be seen here. "I'm doing my job".

    What's the dumbest article I've read about Katrina? This one.

    The Houston Chronicle has a blog about what is happening at the Astrodome.

    Bush stage-managing heart-warming photo ops? Surely not!

    Here's another old article laying out what people have known for some time: that a big storm would annihilate New Orleans.

    Paul Craig Roberts puts it as plainly as can be: "Why can't the U.S. government focus on America's needs and leave other countries alone?...Why are American helicopters blowing up Iraqi homes instead of saving American homes in New Orleans?"

    Bangladeshi blogger Rezwan has some thoughts about Katrina in relation to the flooding that so frequently affects his own country. Has some interesting links as well.

    || RPH || 11:47 PM || |

    What A Mess (Katrina Roundup)

    Sorry that I've been slow on the posts; I've been glued to the coverage of the aftermath of Katrina (stayed in on a Saturday night - pathetic!).

    It's quite clear that the scale of the disaster in New Orleans, in particular, has been helped along by a constellation of screw-ups at all levels, from the city to the state to the federal level. I've never been a fan of George Bush (which is an understatement) but Christ almighty I was ashamed to be an American when I saw him joking on tv about Trent Lott's house. It was just so so so awful.

    It's been a fucking shambles all the way down the line, but Bush's weirdly flip demeanour had me shouting in rage at the tv screen.

    I've not been particularly shocked by the chaos; New Orleans, from everything that I've read, has always been a very violent city. Here's an illustration for British readers, to give a bit of context:

    Population of New Orleans: 462,269
    Population of London: 7,172,000

    Homicides in New Orleans in 2004 as of mid-August: 265 (and 192 for 2005 through mid-August!)
    Homicides in London in the twelve months to July (put in rolling twelve month period for homicide): 182

    Murder rate per 100,000 residents for New Orleans, 2004: 57.33
    Murder rate per 100,000 residents for London, 12 months to July 2005: 2.54

    Going off of these statistics, before the disaster New Orleans had a murder rate 22.57 times higher than London's in normal times; so when you think back to all of the reports about marauding armed gangs and wonder "was it really that bad?" the answer is, well, yeah, or at least in parts, but not everywhere.

    Other stuff on Katrina that's worth a read:

    Interdictor - Live blog from a guy working for directNIC, an internet hosting service. Contains a wealth of information about the situation at ground level in New Orleans. Grim reading.

    Metroblogging New Orleans - Blog of a New Orleans resident, now a refugee (it's still really weird for me to think of Americans as refugees), has a variety of information, also includes this account of a rescue mission into New Orleans. Other first-person accounts can be seen here and here.

    Some people in Houston are worried about the welcome mat the city is laying out for refugees from New Orleans.

    Andrew Sullivan has lots of useful information. He's pissed. No wonder.

    I was pretty incensed when I saw this picture of what, on a quick estimate, must be well over a hundred school buses sitting in the water. Why the hell weren't they put into service to get people out of New Orleans? Shocking stuff. It's pretty clear that at every level, from the city to the state to the federal, things have been disastrously handled.

    You really should check out this video of Shepard Smith from Fox News going off at that blithering idiot Sean Hannity. Jack Schafer had a decent article on the rebellion of tv journalists against the usual constraints of the genre.

    People have been predicting what has come to pass for some time.

    This whole situation is just horrifying on almost any level I can think of. I have to stop linking now and go to bed as I'm so exasperated by the uselessness of the American government it is literally driving me insane.

    || RPH || 2:18 AM || |

    Thursday, September 01, 2005

    Bush and FEMA

    New Orleans. Jesus. What a mess.

    Some of you might be interested in this article from last year on the mess that Bush has made of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. A quote:

    From its first months in office, the Bush administration made it clear that emergency programs, like much of the federal government, were in for a major reorientation.

    At FEMA, President Bush appointed a close aide, Joe Allbaugh, to be the agency's new director. Allbaugh had served as then-Gov. Bush's chief of staff in Texas and as manager of his 2000 presidential campaign. Along with Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, Allbaugh was known as one part of Bush's "iron triangle" of professional handlers.

    Some FEMA veterans complained that Allbaugh had little experience in managing disasters, and the new administration's early initiatives did little to settle their concerns. The White House quickly launched a government-wide effort to privatize public services, including key elements of disaster management. Bush's first budget director, Mitch Daniels, spelled out the philosophy in remarks at an April 2001 conference: "The general idea--that the business of government is not to provide services, but to make sure that they are provided--seems self-evident to me," he said.

    In a May 15, 2001, appearance before a Senate appropriations subcommittee, Allbaugh signaled that the new, stripped-down approach would be applied at FEMA as well. "Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program and a disincentive to effective state and local risk management," he said. "Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level."

    As a result, says a disaster program administrator who insists on anonymity, "We have to compete for our jobs--we have to prove that we can do it cheaper than a contractor." And when it comes to handling disasters, the FEMA employee stresses, cheaper is not necessarily better, and the new outsourcing requirements sometimes slow the agency's operations.

    William Waugh, a disaster expert at Georgia State University who has written training programs for FEMA, warns that the rise of a "consultant culture" has not served emergency programs well. "It's part of a widespread problem of government contracting out capabilities," he says. "Pretty soon governments can't do things because they've given up those capabilities to the private sector. And private corporations don't necessarily maintain those capabilities."

    Via Kevin Drum

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