Friday, September 30, 2005


My folks will be spending $2500 this weekend on a new furnace. The high energy prices finally has them facing up to the fact that the expensive new furnace they bought a few years back was incompetently installed. It was sad. The last furnace was a top of the line energy efficient furnace as well. We knew something had to be wrong because the expensive new energy efficient furnace was less efficient than the old paleolithic furnace it replaced.

One of the most difficult aspects of living in Utah is the incompetent work force. Utahns tend to be so wrapped up in ward politics that they lapse on the things that they do for a living.

Anyway, I've been having flashbacks to the vast amount of potential I've seen wasted by shoddy Utah workmanship. Turns out that my car I owned had been in a major accident and has problems...lying to a gentile about such things is just fine. I worked for an aerospace firm that was able to trace planes falling out of the sky to records falsified by a local bishop in charge of quality control. I have a tooth that snapped in two recently from the incompetent work of a Utah Dentist.

In Way to Be Gordon B. Hinkley tells the world that the way you appear is far more important than the substance of what you do. Your first step in life is simply to appear righteous. Once you appear righteous, then the world is at your finger tips. Unfortunately, the counter culture plays much the same game ... the dominant theme being one's appearance over one's substance.

I am a substance type of guy myself. It seems to me that what you do is more important than simply the way you appear.

Getting quotes for yet another expensive new furnace, we find ourselves wondering how to separate appearance from substance. Unfortunately, when you get down to the brass tacks, the only way to deal with a low quality work force is to buy the top of the line material and hope the installer isn't pulling any typical Utah tricks like selling a refurbished model as new or doesn't break the thing during the installation process.

I worked with HVAC crew at the University of Santa Clara for several years. It was a scrubby crew that took great pride in their work. The things they did generally worked. They had tough questions like designing buildings so that you could cost effectively regulate the temperature of a tiny office next to a big classroom. And how to deal with the intense body heat of throngs of hormone laden students moving from classroom to classroom.

I know for a fact that there are substantive people in this world who very seriously study thermodynamics, air flow, material science and what not specifically to answer the question of how one can regulate the climate of human dwellings. Unfortunately, this community where I live seems to be dominated by those who focus on politics and appearance.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Airline Woes

It is strange. Just about all articles on Delta and other airline bankruptcy begin with deregulation. The Salt Lake Tribune blames the bankruptcy of Delta first and foremost on deregulation. The paper notes that the after degulation there was a brief time when Delta's fortunes soared and reached the valuation of six billion dollars a few months prior to 9/11.

The paper also makes minor notes about the 22% drop in traffic after 9/11 and massive new security costs. The paper even mentions the 66% increase in the cost of fuel that pushed the company over the brink.

But the blame, that ever delicious blame, falls squarely on deregulation.

The thing that stands out most in the Tribune's article is the massive number of mergers in the airline industry. The effect of mega-mergers is that they magnify economic effects. One of the least healthy trends we see in the economy is the mega merger of marginal companies. The basic idea is that the marginal companies must merge until they either gain economic dominance or they fail in a spectacular style.

The SEC almost always approves mergers of unhealthy companies. The problem is that this cycle can end up magnifying the harms that occur in a time of economic transition. This was seen quite clearly with Worldcom.

The final thing I noted about the collapse of Delta is that consumers really do prefer streamlined operations like JetBlue and Southwest. I've never flown Delta despite the fact that I live in a Delta hub city (SLC Air). I've always gotten better rates with other carries.
Businesses really do go through economic life cycles.

Anyway, the failure of Delta is laid squarely on deregulation. The post 9/11 drop in traffic, the massive new security costs, the rising cost of fuel and consumer preference are simply incidental.

I will continue to be a curmudgeon that reads papers skeptically. I will also continue to be an insensitive lout who thinks that businesses should fail and that our real problem is this game of marginal companies merging to the point that they create a crisis when they fail.

On the positive side of things, maybe Jetblue will expand in Utah ... that is until a better carrier replaces them.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


My new camera arrived in the mail yesterday. Wow! is it ever spiffy. I took the first pictures last night and will upload them shortly. Before I upload new pictures, I found I have a ton of work to do on my photo site.

I was halfway through the process of tranferserring to a new server when I got involved in another person's project. I discovered that portions of the site were lost in the translation; So, I need to do some major reprogramming.

Anyway, I just created a gallery for Tooele, Utah. The picture to the right was taken with the old Kodak camera.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


The UPS system says that my new camera is in Salt Lake. It showed up last night, but will spend the weekend in the UPS store. The camera was smart. It took a route north of the storm. It visited Doraville, Ga; Nashville, Tn; Louisville, Ky; Indianapolis; Hodgkins, Il and finally Salt Lake City.

Watching the evacuation of Galveston, Houston, etc., I can't help but wonder what would be entailed in making structures that could withstand category V storms. As our population expands and the price of fuel rises, evacuations will become more difficult.

The standard wood frame structures most of us live in couldn't handle the storm. I think it would be possible to make some extremely beautiful storm proof structures from steel and concrete.

Another interesting area to explore would be the process of zoning for geologic change. New Orleans is in a distributary. As such it goes through rapid geological changes.

Math history books claim that one of the driving forces in the development of geometry in ancient Egypt was the annual flooding of the rich Nile delta. Each flood year, people would have to resurvey and redetermine what areas they owned. The floods in New Orleans moved things. It will be interesting to see how the city handles the resurveying of the city.

There are many interesting opportunities here. Let's say a whole neighborhood was devastated. We have an opportunity to elevate that neighborhood...the houses in the hood may not end up in the same place.

Some people have suggested turning NO into a land of canals like Venice.

There's lots of opportunity of innovating design...unfortunately, I suspect that the rebuilding effort will be dominated by politics and lawsuits and that innovation will be stifled.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Rinse Cycle

Looks like New Orleans will be going through the rinse cycle.

That might actually be good for the city. A new flood would dilute the toxic sludge on the city streets. Mother nature likes cleaning up after herself.

Looking at all the satellite photos of storms: It is amazing how storms manage to fill the whole gulf. I guess it is actually the gulf that makes the storm. I am now wondering about the extent to which the whole geology of the United States was defined by a continuous stream of hurricanes. Just imagine millions of storms the size of Rita and Katrina battering the coast through geologic time. These storms could be a prime factor in the distintive shape of the Gulf of Mexico.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Halloween Links

For some odd reason, my community directories get a ton of Halloween traffic. I like web traffic. This year, I decided to throw a little bit of effort into collecting local Halloween Links. Many of the Haunted houses are between cities. So I've decided to have just two directories: Denver Halloween has the houses along the Front Range. Salt Lake Halloween has links along the Wasatch Front. I list Costume Stores on my ecommerce site.

Personally, I think the local thrift store is the best place to get the material for costumes.

Hmmm, perhaps I will dress up as Katrina this year. I would need a fan ... a bucket of water ... now what should I do for the toxic goo ???

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Shipping Notification

I just got the shipping notification, my camera started its cross country trek in Doraville, Ga and is now enjoying the music of Nashville, Tn. I hope it is taking pictures.

On to important national events: Apparently some of FEMA disaster relief credit cards have been used for things like designer handbags or at strip clubs. I can understand being upset about the handbags...but come on...these are folk from New Orleans where people are accostumed to exposed breasts. It is only natural that storm refugees would seek places that remind them of home.

I guess one of the effects of the world where we all get reduced to charity is this micromanagement spending. What people do with their disaster relief funds is really none of our business.

The other big national news is the Congressional investigations into the price spikes in oil. Guess what? The recent reconsolidation of the oil industry has revived the oil monopolies. Like, duh? It also turns out that many of the efforts to control gas formulations have led to single suppliers in markets. It is strange how regulation often leads to markets dominated by one supplier.

Galbraith tried to claim that government regulation was a countervailing force to big business. It seems to me that, more often than not, big government is a resonating force with big business. Regulatory efforts often have the effect of weeding out competition and replacement technologies ... making big business even bigger.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Insolvency, Here I Come

Ritz - Nikon - D70 Digital SLR Camera Body - 6.1MP
My 1999 breed Kodak D240 digital camera is showing its age. So, I decided to make the plunge and upgrade to a Digital SLR and purchased the Nikon D70 Digital SLR. I actually purchased a two lens package that includes a 28-80mm and 70-300mm lens.

I think it would be fun to do some wildflower photography, unfortunately all the super macro lenses get expensive. Likewise, the wideangle lenses and professional quality telephotos all seem to fall out of my price range.

I think I will have a super fun time with the camera. I snapped 10,227 pictures with the Kodak D240. The one big problem is that the capture element in my current camera is loose and crooked, making it hard to center the picture. The last set of picture I took tilted to the left. The pictures before that tilted to the right.

I ordered online through Ritz. The Ritz groups own Inkleys, Wolf Camera, Photo Alley, Camera World and a bunch of other sites. I expect it to take a week or two for the camera to show up in the mail.

Rather than babbling about international politics, I will start web posts on pictures.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

First Meal

Pundits are now ready to start the blame game with a vengeance.

One of the hardest parts of relief efforts is the large amount of waste that seems to occur with such efforts. Right after the disaster, relief supplies start moving around ... only a portion of the supplies get to the front lines of the efforts. Often supplies get stuck in limbo and the well meaning efforts of the people who put together the supplies appears lost.

I think the most exciting thing about donating to efforts or volunteering time is that satisfying feeling of being the one to provide the first warm meal after days of hardship. We all want to be part of the person who saves the puppy. We have horrors of being the person left on the loading dock.

Post disaster coordination can reduce the amount of waste, but the very nature of cataclysmic events is waste. That's what Katrina did. It wasted a whole bunch of stuff. The storm and flood wasted buildings, warehouses full of food, gas tanks, cars and even precious relief supplies.

One of the really strange things that starts happening in relief efforts is that different charitable groups start competing for victims. Charities want to show there donors high profile rescues. They want success. Politicians want to be the one seen kissing the baby or doling out the first meal. There are perceived political ramifications if the Red Cross relief supplies show up before the city supplies.

People do pay attention to the brand on the donated box. A great example of controversies on branding is the emblem of the International Red Cross Red Crescent. Some people view the cross in red cross to be a religious (in this case it is not). So, some nations have adopted the crescent. To some the crescent has religious symbology, to others it has socialistic undertones to other groups it is a national symbol, so the IRIC is having to adopt a third symbol.

Who gets which victims is also a matter of controversy. Just as we direct money to the charities we wish to support, we direct victims to those charities as well. Humans are very interesting creatures. There is political dynamics to the whole charity situation.

IMHO, the worst thing that can happen is political grandstanding in times of need. The most effective leaders are those that fade into the background and concentrate on coordination during the initial phase of relief.

As much as I hope that my donations went to providing first meals. I really suspect that the supplies purchased are sitting on a dock somewhere.

One charity that I want to support in the clean up effort is Volunteers of America. VoA is often the charity of last resort. They provide services to people with chemical dependencies, and development disorders that keep them from functioning in society. VoA helps the poorest of the poor. These are the people who were homeless in New Orleans, are homeless during the relief effort and are the ones that will be homeless after the rebuilding. I like this group as they often do the less glamourous drudge work.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


One of the items brought up by Lewis Gordon was the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789. The law states: ""The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States."

The Cato Institute claims that the law was passed to clarify jurisdiction in cases involving piracy and diplomats. Recent hopes are that the law can be twisted into a foundation for international tort law. Although the law would not allow American courts to try foreign entities, they could seek tort action against any US entity that did business with the foreign entity.

ACTA was little used until the 1980s when it was revived in the case Filartiga v. Pena-Irala which sought civil action against a former Paraguayan officer who tortured the claimants brother.

NOTE: In 1991 the US passed the Torture Victim Protection Act to address issues of torture, genocide, etc..

ACTA is a tort law used in cases of crimes committed by non-US citizens against non-US citizens in foreign land. The catch is that the perpetrator of the crime must be in US territory when sued. The law does not apply to foreign officials or diplomats. In Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, Pena-Irala was in the US when served with the suit.

Since Filartiga v. Pena-Irala there had been a desire to use ACTA in a host of environmental and civil rights suits. In the case Doe I v. Unocal, ACTA was used to bring a civil suit against Unocal. UNOCAL was a partner in a construction project in Myramar (Burma) in which the Myanmar military used slave labor. Arguably Unocal knew about the abuses and benefitted from them. (NOTE: It is estimated that 8 million people in Burma are working in forced labor [See Burma Report]. If you do business in Burma, it is likely that somewhere, somehow forced labor is involved.

In Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Shell, Shell was accused of complacency in acts taken by the Nigerian Government. In this case a Dutch company being sued simply has a presence in the US.

Recently, law firms were lining up to sue every American firm that did business in South Africa in the days of Apartheid for the abuses of apartheid.

Unfortunately, for the legal community that is, the devil incarnate (George W. Bush) has been working to plug several of the loopholes created by the new interpretation of this old law. The US business community applauds restricting the law because they feared ACTA would place an excessive burden on US companies that did business in foreign lands. Many sovereign nations were upset with ACTA since it the law was basically setting up US district courts as an uber legal system.

Lewis Gordon made Bush's actions sound like a major take away from the world environmental community. If you believe in the inherent goodness of lawyers then you could call curbing a law that would be used to try human rights and environmental cases a crime against humanity.

One could even call limiting the law a crime against humanity since it curtailed a legal avenue used by human rights lawyers. Personally, I agree that ACTA was open for abuse. International law should be established by treatise and not activist courts.

With the ACTA style of jurisdiction, plaintifs would simply shop around for a court sympathetic to their cause. There are 94 US District Courts. The plaintiff needs simply find the court most sympathetic to their cause and sue in that jurisdiction and sue for all the defendent is worth.

Of course, if the US were making widespread use of ACTA, then other nations would follow with their own version of ACTA. I could imagine a Cayman Island group or perhaps a nation such as Venezuela or Libya setting itself up to be the tort capital of the universe.

It looks to me that the new interpretation of this law is rife for abuse. The idea that US courts have uber-jurisdiction on tort cases is as imperialistic as the multinational firms that we are taught to loath.

On the positive the recent contortions of ACTA might help nudge the world closer to developing a workable international law. The great danger that we see in ACTA is that lawyers will wish to contort any international court into an ├╝ber-court. We saw this with the ICC which unilaterally changed the wording of its charter between the passage of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in 1998 and its ratification.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Defending the Defenders

On Sunday, Questioning Minds had a great program on a project called Defending the Defenders given by the founder and current project director Lewis Gordon. (I could not find a web site for the group).

Defending the Defenders seeks out high profile environmental cases in the third world then seeks pro bono legal representation from top US law firms. The program effectively gives representation to environmental causes while allowing law firms the ability to dabble in the revolutionary.

The multinational firms that are causing massive environmental and social degradation have troughs overflowing with legal talent. The firms are able to ride roughshod over indigenous tribes and small environmental firms. Modern multinationals seem to have a gift for removing the birth rights of third world tribes.

Defending the Defenders is a worthy project in that it provides a token amount of quality defense against these multinational firms. Hopefully they will be able to slow worsening environmental degradation in the third world.

Mr. Gordon gave a wonderful presentation that highlights interesting resources like the Goldman Prize. This prize recognizes six environmental heroes each year. I recommend reading the essays on the reward recipients.

As a lawyer, Mr. Gordon sees more lawsuits as the answer to environmental concerns. Personally, I wonder if our litigous society is not partially to blame for our present day woes. The system of confrontation used in the legal system seems to weed small businesses out of the picture and leave the worst politicians and multinational firms in control.

The underlying idea of revolutionary confrontation is that property ownership and industry are to blame for environmental degradation. Revolutionary intellectuals struggle to raise the people's conciousness. The peoples with raised conciousness then rally to support of a strong revolutionary leader. Together they struggle against property owners and industry. These efforts generally end up nationalizing the environmental resources.

After the revolution, we have the situation where the nationalized resources are in the hands of a strong leader. Absolute power works its magic of absolute corruption and the strong leader rapes the natural resources to maintain his absolute power.

It seems to me that the better path to follow would be to promote widespread property ownership. If there was widespread property ownership, then people would have much more direct control over the production of resources. Supporting widespread property ownership also solves the problem of the distribution of wealth.

In the 60s and 70s the environmentalists clearly had industry outgunned. Strategic lawsuits put a large number of small firms out of business. As I write, talking heads on the radio note that there has not been a construction of any new refineries in the US for over 30 years. Likewise efforts, such as the idea of putting flood gates on Lake Pontchartrain to damper hurricane storm surges, had been handedly beaten by environmentalists.

While I am supportive of all efforts to stave of development of wildlands in the western US. I can't help but worry that the environmental movement had gone overboard in preventing all development.

My personal experience has been that the strategic lawsuits employed by environmentalists have had the adverse affect of driving small businesses out of the market. They end up leaving the large businesses.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Grubbing for Cash

The grubbing for cash businessness isn't going all that well. August was worst than July. So far September looks like it will be worse than August. I pulled in $632 off 7535 clicks (data). The actual traffic to the sites increased. I just don't have any local support for the community directory concept.

So, the ugly reality is that I have to add even more grubbing for cash to the site. Since I have few local advertisers, I figure I would make fan stores with select products from national advertisers.

All of the stuff you see at the local University bookstore comes from the same national advertisers. The advertisers pay for the use of the brand. So I think the idea fits within the framework of a community directory. The branded sports gear market is actually good for small firms like Team on Top which is able to use team branding to sell their product to a national audience. Team on Top sells branded bicycle helmets and hard hats. Everybody need a hard hat. (Well, at least those with _real_ jobs.)

Saturday, September 10, 2005

It's Jim Crow All Over Again

Political events in Louisiana have people reading Robert Penn Warren's classic "All The Kings Men." My copy is hiding in one of boxes in storage. This book provides a great deal of insight in political machines.

I suspect that we will find political failures from start to finish in the New Orleans calamity. I can't help but wander to what extent the levees were used in games of political intrigue.

Last night, I watched a talking head on the news. One of the talking heads brought up the observation that New Orleans was 67% black, while many of the outlying towns hit by Katrina were majority white. George W. Bush got the water out of the these white towns, but let the water stay in New Orleans. Clearly, the US has not changed an iota since the days of Jim Crow.

Looking at the 2004 election map. New Oreans is the only island of blue in a sea of red. New Orleans voted 78% to 22% in favor of Kerry. Dagnabbit, these results make it clear why Bush filled New Orleans with water while Bush cleared waters out of other hurricane effect towns.

The gravity of it all is suspect.

There actually are many good complaints about the response to Katrina. Apparently groups like Fox News showed black looters and white rescuers. A "balanced" news agency would be going out of its way to show a more acceptable mix of white looters and black rescuers. News has many, many, many biases.

FEMA and rescuers did an okay job responding to a hurricane. They failed miserably responding to the flood.

Rescue efforts go well in small towns where the rescuers really dominate during the rescue. They fail in a climate of big city with big city political machines, big city press and big city politicians with big egos.

The one thing I really don't like is that the press applauded politicians who simply live on action and reaction, and belittled those who stepped back and took time to deliberate before action. Diliberation looks like inaction...however I think it is the most valuable of all action. VIPs that know when to step back are often more effective than those that immediately jump into the fray.

Anyway, I suspect that this interplay of different leadership styles, political motives and personalities that Katrina brought to light will generate a great deal of intriguing stories and music. While the human suffering is tragic, the colorful personalities of the area might add to the great literature of the south.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Rebuilding New Orleans

Rebuilding New Orleans is going to one of the most interesting civil projects of our life time.

Because so much was destroyed, so thoroughly, there is hope that the city will be wide open on the issue of reconstruction and might avoid the NIMBY feelings that dampen progress in most big cities.

Often areas of disaster turn into hubs of free market activity.

Of course, there is some much relief aid and government money involved that the political machines that controls the state and city might use the suffering of the people to soak the recconstruction efforts for all that it is worth.

If honest people get involved in rebuilding New Orleans, they have a very interesting project ahead. (This really is a big if).

The city is below sea level. The water in the streets proves that. Even if rebuit, there is a better than average chance that the city would be flooded again.

In my opinion, the goal of reconstruction should be to create designs that could withstand hurricane winds and flooding, without requiring the evacuation of the city. One and two story wood frame ranch houses won't do. The ideal construction would be five stories with expendable lower floors. The lower floors would be build of foundational materials such as thick concrete columns and coated steel beams. The building foundation should reach above sea level.

These buildings might have human waste disposal systems and water supplies that hold several weeks supply of water.

One cool idea is the elevated swimming pool. If you had swimming pools that were higher than the expected flood level, then the pools could be used as emergency water supplies.

The buildings might have human waste disposal systems that were not dependent on the sewer system (ie septic tanks). A basic john involves two things: A round seat and gravity. It would be simple to build emergency holding tanks that sit on the third floor with a seat that drops into the tank on the fifth floor.

There is a belief that a $3 billion dollar levee system could have protected New Orleans. Personally, I have doubts that the US government could build a three billion dollar levee for under ten billion. Even if Congress gave New Orleans the $10 billion dollars to build a $3 billion levee, there is very little guarantee that the people who construct the levee would do a sufficient job. The mantra of all government funded projects is that the worse you do the more you get.

In the off chance that New Orleans can get beyond its political corruption to allow innovative design, I think there is a good chance that the reconstructed New Orleans could become a magnificent center of creative design.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Black Ooze

One of the really scary things about the New Orleans flood is the black ooze in the streets. The components of this black ooze is under all of our modern American cities, just waiting for its chance to surface. We have a strange habit of turning the places we love into toxic death traps.

As for the ooze, I am a bit surprised that New Orleans is able to pump the toxic waste from New Orleans into Lake Pontchartrain without having to file an environmental impact statement. This is a major fishery with a diversity of species (USGS that will be ill affected for decades to come by the effluence.

George Bush no holds barred humanitarian relief efforts show an almost complete lack of environmental sensitivity.

Speaking of areas flooding, I was looking out toward the Great Salt Lake. It has been many years since it decided to act up. I can't help but wondering if Salt Lake will become haven for the fishes if global warming puts more water in Utah to make it bloom. I wonder if the people in this valley would abandon their Zion in times of flood or if they would demand super human efforts to drain the lake, or if we would build levees around the city that were doomed to fail.

So that people can get back into their homes, I think we should continue to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to continue their draining efforts. After which we should sue them and George Bush for the environmental mess.

Gilligan has left the island

Horrible news. The actor (Bob Denver) who played the icon of my generation passed away today.

This is a blow to my goals of achieving eternal youth. If everyone's favorite little buddy ages, then it will happen to all of us. You would think that the professor could have done something!

Speaking of aging, a friend Al Kessler will be on a KEUD Special on aging on Sept 8. I am not such what Mr. Kessler has to say about aging as he seems to have avoided doing it.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


One of the big culprits in the New Orleans floods was the degradation of wetlands south of New Orleans (story). The two big contibuting factors here are oil drilling in the swamp and the various levee projects that protect New Orleans from the Mississippi and keep shipping channels open.

The problem with the modern re-engineered delta is that the delta is a living system that requires replenishing silt from the Mississippi River to stay in tact. We can argue that the problem was man's interference with nature.

This argument falls apoart because, if left to its own devices, the Mississippi River would have changed course decades ago.

I contend that another big factor was the overall problems with the levee systems that came to light in the 1993 Mississippi floods. In this flood we found that the large number of levee projects in the Mississippi basin were increasing the magnitude of the floods. In the attempt to protect everyone from floods, the massive government funded levees were creating a situation where we were more at risk.

The 1993 flood really dampened the Federal Government's willingness to fund levee projects.

Added to this was the realization that federally funded levee projects had the strange tendency to encourage people to live in flood plains.

A wise nation would have doubled its efforts to protect major urban areas (St. Louis and New Orleans) and left the rest to major flooding. Sadly, we don't live in a world of wise government, we live in a world of politicians.

As for the political circus. Looks like we are starting the great finger pointing game. Fortunately, we see expresidents united in efforts to help in the clean up: This is the Bush Clinton Katrina Fund. Habitat for Humanity is gearing up for a major house building effort.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Floating Casinos

The massive floating casinos outside Biloxi show another major design flaw. It turns out that hotels that could withstand category III and IV hurricane winds, were not able to withstand the force of a floating casino thrown against shore by a storm surge.

There is also indication that the floating casino industry drew a large number of people into an area that was susceptible to major damage by storms. Many of the people drawn to Biloxi by the casino culture could not afford to evacuate. (NOTE, I suspect that some of the poor were simply people who gambled everything away).

The casinos managed to magnify the effects a predictable natural event.

Pundits are pointing to the casinos as free enterprise run amuck. I think the floating casinos were the result of regulations to control gamble run amuck.

The floating casino industry came from laws passed in the 1990s designed to help revive the Riverboat industry and river fronts districts in several central states. While some of the first Riverboats pushed off from shore before opening tables, most floating casinos were simply anchored to docks.

The river boats did revitalize some river front districts. However, the idea that floating casinos are somehow okay brought gambling into all sorts of low lying districts. The floating casino industry brought development to riparian zones and beautiful beaches that would have been best left undeveloped. The net effect of the regulated industry was to bring folk out of the hills and into low lying districts that were prone to flooding.

It seems to me that bad laws tend to lead to bad results, even when the intentions behind the law were good.

Katrina was really the first sign of this nasty design flaw. Since flooding along rivers, and storms at sea are recurring events, I think the industry will continue to be a source of unnecessary suffering.

There seems to be some merit into using casinos to revitalize different areas. Overall, I think the idea of floating casinos will prove a bad idea. Hopefully, Mississippi will revisit the law before wasting the beach front of Biloxi with a new generation of floating casinos.

Patching Levees

The flooding of New Orleans brings up the question of how one can quickly patch a flooded canal.

The primary material used for patching levees is the sand bag. This really is an ideal material. You fill the bags with dirt then toss them into the breach.

The only problem with sand bags is that they require a large amount of sand near the breach.

This alert shows a picture of a helicopter moving filled sand bags to a levee breach. To get fill material apparently engineers are grinding up roads. I imagine that this is an incredibly expensive process. I understand the early efforts to patch the levees with helicopters failed because they couldn’t get the material to the canal fast enough.

The challenge in creating patches is getting fill material into the bags.

During levee breaches, the one material you have in excess is water. It would be interesting to design a levee patch with plastic tubes. You would fill the tubes with water and sink them in the breach. The tubes would have to be made with a plastic of an enormous tensile strength. After the plastic patch is in place, you can then set in a real repair...deflating the bags as you go.

Of course, the ultimate levee patching might simply be a portable conveyor system and designated areas with fill material.

Using helicopters to ferry sand bags is expensive and would not be fast enough to patch a growing breach.

Apparently the breached levees with engineered with an expected life time of 300 years. We seem to have proven that even overengineered levees can and will fail. The New Orleans flood shows that we need better patching technologies in place.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Intelligent Design Follow Up


I forgot to mention. The School Board rejected the request to teach Intelligent Design (Salt Lake Tribune). Yeah! there is some sanity in the world.

I guess the real fun will come when the Utah Legislature debates the request.


I wanted to find out information on the levee rebuilding efforts. As a result I've stumbled into hornet nests of Katrina related punditry.

Most punditry takes the "not enough" form. Pundits generally have the feeling that more people should be like them. There are many pundits saying "we are not socialistic enough", others say "we aren't self reliant enough". Several Utah blogs have moral that the world is not Mormon enough.

The general argument given by pundits is that if more people were just more like them then the world would be better off.


I want to read about levees because the whole crisis is a result of a major enginerering failure. Our efforts to control nature led to the situation where a major city sank below sea level. The whole Mississippi Delta is dependent on the silt load from the Mississippi River. We've straightened the river and send the silt out to the sea.

The result of our engineering efforts are that the city sank and is below sea level.

(The Control of Nature by John McPhee is a an excellent collection of essays great engineering efforts to stop geological forces).

Sitting in my little mountain home, I see the plight of New Orleans as a chapter in our struggle to control nature. How do we absorb the shock of geological changes?

I think that people have been doing an admirable job working to handle the humanitarian crisis left in the wake of Katrina. The toll of death and disease is far below similar humanitarian crisises of the past.

Emergency response team were in place quickly after the crisis. The president released an immediate $10 billion in aid and is likely to release more after needs assessments. Americans, and people around the world, have opened their wallets, homes and other resources to relief efforts. I agree give generously to relief efforts.

As for the pontification. It seems to me that it should be about the future. The pundits should be addressing issues about rebuilding New Orleans. Maybe we should ask the question if we even should rebuild the city. If the area is still sinking then the next direct hit will be worse!

Can we design our city on the Delta so that it is more in harmony with nature?

If we build under sea level, how do we design a system to withstand category V hurricanes?

If we can't how can we build the levees so that we can rebuild them quickly?

Can we design levy patching techniques that would let us patch levees during storms?

These are the interesting questions.

People who have a bent to socialism will find confirmation for their beliefs. People who believe in the free market will find confirmations for their beliefs.

Pontificating on such issues does nothing but feed ideological divides. People want to talk about the Hurricane. The most interesting questions are about design and man against nature.

Friday, September 02, 2005


Amazon has a page for the Katrina relief effort by the Red Cross. It is a good way to donate to the Red Cross. I like the Amazon page as it shows totals collected.

The story of Katrina is overshadowing worsening conditions in Darfur. Right now the refuges are returning home, but there is no food waiting for them (farmers were not able to plant during the rainy season). Right now, the food shortage in Dafur is probably the largest international humanitarian crisis.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Question Will Be Decided Tomorrow at 8 AM

Looks like the Utah Board of Education will be deciding the issue of evolution tomorrow. The Board lists a statement on evolution on their (9/2 agenda).

Everyone is watching with bated breath.

The web site does not include the statement.

There is a good chance that the statement will simply say that biology classes should just teach science ... and will caution teachers to avoid philosophical or religious views on the subject.

After all, there are wards next to all of the public schools; so there is a chance for the general authority to monitor and correct all of the crazy ideas (like science) that kids might learn in school.

I really don't think there's a big crowd of Utahn's wanting the state to be a nexus of controversy on evolution. Salt Lake has several big biotech firms, and the new Intelligent Design ideas are coming from groups that are hostile to LDS teachings. There are, however, quite a few Mormons (eg) who've jumped on the Intelligent Design wagon...especially in light of DNA evidence that the Indians did not descend from a lost tribe of Isreal.

I consumed several hours reading through the different things being pushed as "Intelligent Design." It really makes me sad that people have to waste time on such idiocies. It seems to me that there should be no conflict between evolution and religion. Evolution is not antispiritual. In my opinions both religion and science share the search for the truth.

Unfortunately, reading different web sites make me fear that there are religions that throw truth aside in search of power and control. The danger of evolution isn't that it attacks spirituality, the danger is that it attacks claims from various religious groups that they see the hidden meaning and power structures behind existence.

Acutally many of the philosophical systems (like Evolutionary Psychology) can be as bad as religions in shorting an authentic search for truth to support their own political structures. Philosophies that claim knowledge of the hidden Platonic forms behind evolution are bad as any religion. This was one of the tricks of the Nazis, they created a fiction that the Aryans were evolving into a super race.

Atheistic Dictators have used evolution to justify their genocides (for the good of our nation's gene pool, we must make the race of my enemies extinct!)

Often dicators add the words "just as the Americans pushed the Indians to near extinction."

I hope the Board of Education makes a sane and sound statement about teaching science in science classes and the importantance of avoiding philosophy dressed up as science. We will see. I hope they publish the statement on their site.