Friday, September 30, 2005

Baseball can be exciting at the end of the season!

Going into this weekend we have the opportunity to see the Boston Red Sox beat the Yankees to get a playoff spot as the winners in the American League East. They could also fail to beat them and end up as the American league Wild Card. It is a little confusing. From Yahoo sports we have.

If the teams finish in a dead heat after Sunday, a one-game playoff to determine the division champion will be played at Yankee Stadium on Monday.

Both teams are also still very much alive for the wild card. The Yankees also lead Cleveland by one game. The Indians will conclude the regular season with three against the AL Central champion Chicago White Sox.

If the Red Sox, Yankees and Indians finish tied, New York will play Boston on Monday, with the loser heading to Cleveland for a one-game playoff to determine the wild card.

I think this means that the Red Sox have to win the three games to play for the division championship on Monday. The rest is still slightly confusing.

In another race, the Phillies have not quite stopped playing baseball yet. If they win their last three games against Washington, and Houston loses three to the Cubs, then the Phillies make it as the National League Wild Card. It seems like they are in a precarious position and shouldn't have let it get this far, but they are not out yet.

Although it does seem like you have to be a math professor to understand these combinations, I think that I can put it more sipmply. In summary - cheer for the Red Sox to beat the Yankees, as always. Cheer for Philadelphia to win their games as always, and cheer for the Cubs to win their games, as always. It isn't really that hard to remember.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Calvin reforms his ways, praying and not pissing

I saw this sticker on a car today showing Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) praying in front of a cross instead of pissing on a car brand. Apparently these have been out a while but this is the first time I have seen one.

It seems a little ridiculous to suddenly have Calvin praying instead of pissing, but maybe this has a deep meaning about redemption and how that path is open to all of us, even Calvin. It is still a little creepy, even more than the car fish. One shouldn't have to advertise ones Christianity with a sign. In fact the radical message of Christianity is if you act like a Christian that is all the sign that others will need to see to know you are one. No stickers required.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The news covers the news covers the news ...

I do love it when the media gets self-referential. Now the LA Times has a story about the toll that Hurricane Katrina took on media accuracy covering the story from the NOLA Times-Picayune story I discussed yesterday about the Louisiana Superdome not being "killing floor".

Apparently it is news when the LA times reporters buy a bunch of newspapers and read those stories and then talk about how they were unsubstantiated rumors. From the article -

The New York Times repeated some of the reports of violence and unrest, but the newspaper usually was more careful to note that the information could not be verified.

The tabloid Ottawa Sun reported unverified accounts of "a man seeking help gunned down by a National Guard soldier" and "a young man run down and then shot by a New Orleans police officer."

London's Evening Standard invoked the future-world fantasy film "Mad Max" to describe the scene and threw in a "Lord of the Flies" allusion for good measure.
I think it is standard to throw in Mad Max and the Lord of the Flies allusions when referring to the world coming to and end and a breakdown of civilization.

It is all well and good to get the "truth" out now but perhaps it is now a little bit after the fact. As I have already mentioned, the press has a responsibility to check their facts before they publish not just repeat rumors. Perhaps we are going back to the good old days of yellow journalism and muckraking; fact checking be damned. Can we continue to rely on the Fourth Estate to fulfill its traditional responsibility to inform in our democracy?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Louisiana Super Dome and Convention Center not the killing floor they would have you believe.

Everybody loves a good rumor. I think we even spread the most awful ones because of a morbid fascination or as a way of thanking goodness that it is not us in the story. The press however has a responsibility to seek out the truth and investigate. They cannot and should not just repeat the rumors they heard.

No bigger rumors came out than the horrible things that were occurring in the New Orleans Super Dome and at the Convention Center. Hundreds of deaths, rapes, shootings, so bad that the FEMA folks didn't know how they were going to handle the bodies. Well it seems that the Times-Picayune at has busted open these myths, probably out of hometown pride as much as actually trying to report the truth. The headline reads "Rumors of death greatly exaggerated" and lists 6 dead at the SuperDome and 4 dead at the convention center, out of the thousands of people that were forced to take refuge in these places.

My favorite story from the article talks about the truck the FEMA doctor brought in -

Following days of internationally reported killings, rapes and gang violence inside the Dome, the doctor from FEMA - Beron doesn't remember his name - came prepared for a grisly scene: He brought a refrigerated 18-wheeler and three doctors to process bodies.

"I've got a report of 200 bodies in the Dome," Beron recalls the doctor saying.

The real total was six, Beron said.

Of those, four died of natural causes, one overdosed and another jumped to his death in an apparent suicide, said Beron, who personally oversaw the turning over of bodies from a Dome freezer, where they lay atop melting bags of ice.

I guess even the government people believed the rumors. It also appears that the authorities tried to answer as many calls for help as they could but that it sometimes caused difficulties. For instance -

Compass said rumors had often crippled authorities' response to reported lawlessness, sending badly needed resources to respond to situations that turned out not to exist.

There is some good news in all of this. The people that were stuck in these places didn't become the animals the press would have you believe. They mostly toughed out an unpleasant situation, and the helped each other when needed, as in the example below -

On the deck outside the Dome on Sept. 1, the day before buses arrived, preachers took it upon themselves to lead the agitated crowd in prayer and song.

"Everybody needs to help the soldiers," Baldwin recalled one of them saying. "We're all family here."

About 15 others joined the medical operation, as people collapsed from heat and exhaustion every few minutes, Baldwin said.

"Some of these guys look like thugs, with pants hanging down around their asses," he said. "But they were working their asses off, grabbing litters and running with people to the (New Orleans) Arena" next door, which housed the medical operation.

The rest of the article has similar stories. I am glad that the truth is getting out. These stories of the victims turning around and helping their neighbors sounds a lot more like the America I live in than the wild stories from right after Hurricane Katrina went through.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Verizon gets free advertising on me! No deal!

When I blog from my mobile phone (a Treo 600) I can send a picture and some text and quickly comment on some event for my readers. I love this property of my phone, it is probably more important than being able to make phone calls.

For the first time ever I got a message with the post that says

"This message was sent using PIX-FLIX Messaging service from Verizon Wireless!
etc. etc. "

It is very long and I don't care to repeat it. It is aggravating because it really disrupted the post and has never appeared before. I am already paying for the service and I pay for each message so why do I have to advertise for Verizon at the same time! I have just been told that this is a system wide message and cannot be removed on individual accounts, so now I don't know what I will do to blog from my phone. More news to follow on this later. This person had the same issue with "Pay Verizon for the priviledge of advertising Verizon!" way back in March. It doesn't appear that he got an answer either.

Why do I always have the feeling that any company I am purchasing a service from is still screwing me in the end!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Baseball been bery good to me.

I am certainly not a sports freak by any measure, but I do wake up and notice the baseball standings this time of the year to get ready for the playoffs.

Normally the Phillies stop playing baseball in August and blow whatever chances they have for the playoffs. Today they are only one game behind Houston, so I hope they keep playing and make it. I wouldn't mind cheering for my home town team again in the playoffs.

More concerning is the situation in the American League East. I should first explain that when it comes to sports teams I am more of a hater than lover. I know - don't be a hater - but I can't help it. For instance everyone hates the Dallas Cowboys in football. Everyone hates the Atlanta Braves in baseball. I hate all the New York teams but mostly I hate the Yankees. With the Yankees in first instead of the Boston Red Sox, I am worried that I will have to listen to playoff games with the Yankees uness the Red Sox overtake the Yankees' one game lead.

Boo Yankees!
Go Red Sox
Go Phillies!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Conservation of energy and the impracticality of Amtrak

This Saturday I am going to New York City to the New Yorker Festival. I am looking forward to a literary weekend and possibly a good lunch. I tried to see if I could take the train and save some gas and save on parking and generally be a good citizen.

All of that good idea came crashing down when the economics come into play. There are two of us going so the 2 round trip tickets on Amtrak from Wilmington to New York Penn Station come to ~$250. This seemed like a lot of money, but I did first compare it to what it would cost for us to drive. Parking is $18, gas is $30, tolls are $15 and since the IRS gives $.41/mile (168 miles one way) I thought that I should include that as an estimate for the use of the car. The total is ~$200 though I am not sure I should include the gas if I used the per mile method ($170 without gas).

It seems that driving wins this simple cost benefit analysis for two people or more in the car. Never minding the fact that the car puts out more pollution than the train or the convenience factor of letting the conductor drive the train instead of me driving the car, it just doesn't seem worth it to take Amtrak. How can trains compete against driving for this distance of trip? It is no wonder that Amtrak is having such trouble increasing or keeping ridership, the cost to the consumer is too high.

I certainly do not advocate raising the price of the car travel to make the train trip more competitive. The highways we will drive on were subsidized with taxes and tolls and so is Amtrak. I am not sure that subsidizing Amtrak more is the solution to the problem but we can't let Amtrak fail or there will never be an alternative to driving. I am sure there are better analyses of this issue but for me the decision is clear. What is missing in my comparison that could possibly make the Amtrak solution more cost effective?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Fountains after dancing at Longwood Gardens

Saturday we continued our swing dance tour at Longwood Gardens by listening and dancing to Melissa Martin and the Mighty Swing Kings. You can find them at .

It was actually hotter in the tent than outside, so after swingin' we went over to the fountains to cool off. Peirre DuPont loved his fountains, they are world famous. We were careful to stand downwind to get the full spray. Here we are catching the spray and a rainbow. Unfortunately, after much searching of both ends we were unable to find any pots o' gold.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Plan your New Orleans Trip!

I heard on the radio today that the city government was letting some business owners back into parts of New Orleans this week. Aren't these the same people that were allegedly removing residents, that wouldn't evacuate, at gunpoint, just last week? Will they please make up their minds. I guess it can't be all that unhealthy in New Orleans for the business owners, but not healthy enough for the hard cases that didn't want to leave.

The mayor said that New orleans was beginning to recover "culturally" and then went on to discuss lower priority items like actually letting people back in and getting the power on and cleanup. What a strange set of priorities. The guy is probably the victim of a bad sound bite, but that is what radio is for.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Beating carnival games that I would never play.

Boing Boing has a short feature on beating carnival games linked from Retrocrush and Law Geek. Retrocrush even has extra comments from folks who have developed their own techniques for beating carnival games, as well as a hundred and one comments on carnie mullets. It is nice to see others as interested in casing the carnivals for winnable games as I am. It's too bad that we are so late in the season, though I doubt I would go out and try these particular games anyway.

The games they go after are the ones I would never play because they are impossible. Games like - popping the half filled balloons with a dart, shooting out the star with a crappy BB gun, tossing a ping-pong ball in the goldfish bowls, knock down the bottles, baseball toss and dime toss. Since I always assume I am being cheated at a carnival I usually avoid these games like the plague.

My proclivities at the carnivals run more toward Roller Bowler and Wack a' Mole. These games are games that can be won, because I have won them. Add in Skee-ball and you have my triumvirate of favorite carnival games.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The best garden in the world!

Longwood Gardens, near Philadelphia and near Wilmington, Delaware is one of the world's premiere horticultural gardens.

Saturday they were having a Dahlia show with flower specimens so perfect they should serve as the archetype for Dahlias everywhere. We also toured the water gardens and saw lotus flowers and lily pads the size of the great millstones of Copenhagen.

We were there Saturday to swing dance, as we will try to do for the next few Saturdays, but you can't go there without looking at the beautiful gardens. Dancing to a live swing band before or after stopping to smell the flowers is icing on the cake.

Longwood is yet another Dupont mansion. Pierre bought this farm and added world famous fountains, rare plants and gardening techniques. He even grew, and they still grow, tomatoes, oranges, pineapples and other produce indoors in the winter. The place is so well stocked and has such potential that I have added it to my apocalypse team.

Monday, September 12, 2005

A "Local" Nuclear Power Plant

On my flight back from Tennessee the other day, the plane necessarily took the southern route back to Philadelphia and I got some cool aerial shots of a nuclear power plant. Nuclear power plants are interesting because they are a curious combination of the simple and the complicated. Electricity generation is accomplished simply by heating steam and running it through a turbine connected to a generator. The complication comes in that the heat source is a radioactive pile that must be carefully controlled. It is a great application of technology from the beginning and the end of the industrial revolution in one package.

This nuclear plant is quite close to my home in Wilmington, you can see the cooling tower from a number of hills in the city as you are driving around. The Hope Creek and Salem Creek nuclear reactors share the same artificial island across the Delaware river in New Jersey. The plant is cool to look at from the Delaware side, and when you are driving to the beaches you are reminded they are there because of the sirens on the poles on the side of the roads which will sound in warning of there is ever a problem. I am pretty sure that my toaster and other appliances get at least some of their electricity from this plant. My pictures were pretty good, especially for a Treo out the window of plane, as the plane was flying quite low at the time. They are not as good as Google's aerial view of the Hope Creek and Salem Creek reactors, but of course, Google uses satellites.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Ribbons mutate further

This ribbon moves beyond just filling in the negative space in the ribbon magnet loop to blowing the design completely out of the lines. The ribbon becomes an afterthought around the cross.

I am sure that the design is supposed to be evocative of the Easter crosses one sees at most protestant churches at Easter time. Those crosses are intended to show an empty cross with purple cloth so they combine resurrection and kingship and empty tomb all in one symbol. This ribbon simply says "Support Peace".

I have been continuing my ribbon research in the hope of capturing the history and evolution of the ribbon magnet meme. There will be more to come later.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

More discussion of Hurricane Katrina

Sometimes it doesn't occur to me that anyone is actually reading The Honest Hypocrite, so I was pleasantly surprised to get some feedback on my discussion of Hurricane Katrina's victims.

Whirdly pointed out that the bad news about unpreparedness coming out of the Hurricane Katrina stories has been focused on "the institution's, foundation's and government's handling of the situation, not the contributions of individuals." I have heard many stories about the positive contributions and courage of individuals in this crisis. I had said earlier that the best of America was individuals finding a way to help other in need and anonymous said that the "best of America should be the institutions, foundations and government." My response is simply that when you look at our institutions, foundations and government you should see yourself staring back. Their failures are our failures because we are the ones that pick and make them. If we are to be a country with a government "of the people, by the people, for the people" then it is our personal responsibility to make good institutions, foundations and government.

The hierarchy of how to get things done in the United States has been and should remain - firstly individuals and individual action, then local governments (civic associations, school boards, town, village, city, county), then state government and then the federal government. Each one taking on what they can, especially based on the scale of the task. Too often we expect the federal government to be right there addressing issues that are best handled on a more local scale. Even with a multi-state disaster like Katrina, the solution should start bottom up not top down. Maybe that is one of the lessons of Katrina, helping individuals to help themselves during a disaster and not waiting for outside help that might not be as dependable. There will be much opportunity to exercise our twenty-twenty hindsight the focus now should be on ameliorating the disaster and helping the victims who need help.

Barak Obama gave a terrific speech so long ago at the Democratic National Convention where he talked about balancing the role of government and the responsibilities of citizens to each other. Leaving aside the politics of it, this balance is part of the shock we experience when we see Americans in tragedy and our desire to help vs. the true and healthy role of government.

He said -

"If there is a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it'’s not my child. If there'’s a senior citizen somewhere who can'’t pay for their prescription drugs, and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it'’s not my grandparent. If there'’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.

It is that fundamental belief, it is that fundamental belief, I am my brother'’s keeper, I am my sister'’s keeper that makes this country work. It'’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family."

but he also said about the people he met -

"they don'’t expect government to solve all their problems. They know they have to work hard to get ahead -— and they want to."

This is the abiding paradox in America, thrown into stark contrast by this natural disaster, a tragedy we want someone to fix and blame focused on the national government, but the plain fact that individuals must take responsibility as well. When the levee isn't improved it is all of our problem, when the funding is dropped for disaster recovery vs. national defense we must all engage in the discourse about our priorities. In a democracy the state is acting out your will.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Help the Hurrican Katrina Victims

A friend of mine from college lives in Dallas, Texas near where some of the refugees from New Orleans have been placed. His wife, god bless her, immediately went down to the shelter to find out what they needed and went to the store to buy essentials to contribute.

A notice went out on an e-mail list of all of these friends from school asking for help. I was glad for another opporunity to help that I knew was very directly connected to helping those impacted.

This is how the best stuff gets done in America - back channel networks of people who just want to help. Given the chance we can be very generous people. I will admit that I would never go to New Orleans to help with rescue or cleanup. Even if I had the skills I wouldn't have the stomach for it. I will gladly help those with the bravery and abilities to go. I hope that many others like myself find a way to help. This disaster has changed many lives. Simple human compassion demands that we assist in the ways we can.

A very small taste of Hurrican Katrina to make us remember

This past Sunday we had an impromptu outdoor mass because the power was out for the whole block where the church is. Granted the whole block is the church and rectory so it was our problem. Our pastor told us of the situation and the plans to fix it, though it will take money we would rather spend on the community.

It gave us a little perspective on the difficulties of those affected by Hurrican Katrina. We only had a little trouble to overcome, imagine the hardship down along the Gulf Coast. Of course, like Governer Haley Barbour of Mississippi, I slept in a warm bed last night and had a hot shower this morning, so our troubles are light.

The pastor allowed the power outage to seque into a discussion of the victims of Katrina and our responsibility to help them. There will need to be time to unnderstand why the nation was unprepared but the time to help is now. There was a special collection in Diocese of Wilmington specifically for Catholic Charities for this purpose.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Apocalypse Team not so silly now

I know that some of you out there pooh-poohed my Apocalypse Team idea a few posts back. The Apocalypse Team concept is an exercise in What-If's and preparedness.

Do you have a disaster plan in place? (Delaware Disaster Preparedness) If a hurricane is coming to Wilmington, De, what would you do? What if the power goes out for an extended period. What if gas prices go through the roof? What if the dead come back to life and try to eat you? I admit that these items have different probabilities and the effort of preparing and planning for each of them should reflect that. Still, thinking about the problems ahead of time will help you in the heat of the moment of the crisis. I have plans for some of these eventualities, but this crisis has prompted me to revisit these plans and update them.

I hope that the authorities or even the citizens themselves can restore order in the former city of New Orleans. I also hope that the helpless can get the assistance they need to get out of the city to shelters and safety. But, and here is where I will get beat up, the hurricane was a well predicted event, evacuation was ordered, the city of New Orleans is well known to be a 6 feet below sea level bowl on the Gulf of Mexico, etc, etc. I have every sympathy for those people who were unable to leave the city because of physical inability. The folks who refused the evacuation orders are now suffering with the consequences of there own choices. I would be walking out of New Orleans right now, not waiting for a bus.

This crisis isn't the same as the Tsunami last year. Those waves struck with either no warning or minutes of warning. Hurricanes are predicted days and sometimes weeks in advance. Be prepared should be our motto.

Be forewarned that this is a national and possibly international crisis. The Gulf Coast has a significant fraction of the refining capacity and oil delivery capacity for the entire United States. Additionally all of those refineries feed chemical plants that produce the raw materials for all of the products we consume. I think the impact of gasoline prices and transportation costs on everything we purchase will be a further burden on top of the lost capacity. Gas prices are only the tip of the iceberg, wait until consumers can't afford the fuel oil to heat their homes this winter. Charles Stross questions the real cost of Katrina including all of the lost production capacity, he also asks about gasoline and oil logistics, and gets to rant about the true beginning of the peak oil crisis every doomsayer has been so excited about.

I personally use Wilmington Gas Prices to keep up with the current prices in my area. It is voluntary and I encourage you to join one for your local city so that prices information is known far and wide. A knowledgeable consumer is a powerful consumer. Keep thinking about these issues and post your thoughts or plans.

Glenn Miller Orchestra Yesterday and Today

Earlier this week we were Swingin' to the oldies (with the oldies) dancing to the Glenn Miller Orchestra at Three Little Bakers Dinner Theatre.

The band is made up of these young good looking musicians that I am sure the ladies love. You can imagine that back in the day in the 40's the Glenn Miller Orchestra toured the country and the musicians probably got a lot of chicks because of their musical charisma. Now fast forward to the present. It's 60 years later, the Glenn Miller Orchestra has renewed itself and has a new crop of musicians touring the country. Unfortunately the exact same ladies (now 80) that threw themselves at the band are still doing it, but I don't think anybody in the band is catching them. I hope none of these new guys joined the Glenn Miller Orchestra to get girls. They may have missed their chance by half a century.