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Baton Rouge . . . disaster area

I spoke to my mom for a little while this evening and got an update on where things stand in Baton Rouge or at least in her corner of it.  A summery for those of you interested in Baton Rouge:

  • The news keeps talking about how mild things were in New Orleans, but the only time you hear about Baton Rouge is in passing.  For example, I’ve heard at least two NO evacuees mention that things are better in NO than in the shelters in BR.  That is, in part, what’s driving the exodus back south.
  • While the winds weren’t as bad in BR as they were in NO, they were (near) record winds for the city.  BR has more trees and they haven’t experienced winds like this, so there were a lot of trees that fell down.
  • The local power company is estimating six to eight weeks before they get power to everywhere in the city.  There are major grids in the city that don’t have power and then once those major sections are restored, they will still have to restore to the local homes/offices.
  • My parents did find a plumber to get the water line fixed.  They are on the waiting list for a tree guy that can cut up a tree trunk as large as the one that fell in their yard (3′?) – it’s not really a do it yourself job.
  • Almost every yard in my parents’ neighbourhood has a tree down.
  • Most of the houses have experienced some damage.
  • Probably 20% of the houses have trees through the roofs.
  • There are a large number of cars that were struck by falling trees.
  • Many of the power poles on the main road outside of the neighbourhood are down.  In the neighbourhood, there are few intact sections of power line more than 3 to 4 houses long.  Entergy will probably have to replace many poles and string a lot of new line.
  • There is a curfew in effect.  The National Guard did fire shots (in the air?) when some people tried to break into a FEMA trailer full of tarps.
  • Good news: there is fuel in many gas stations.  Bad news: there’s no power to pump it with.  Stations with fuel and power have long lines, in some cases backing up down the road.
  • My parents underestimated the amount of gasoline their generator requires (about 5 gallons a day) and are trying to find more 5 gallon cans.
  • It’s still raining and there’s little power, so some underpasses are flooding.
  • The humidity is very high.  To the point where my parents’ wood floors are damp and are occasionally collecting puddles.  Oh, and the mosquitoes are breeding, so the health authorities are warning people about West Nile.
  • There aren’t too many stores open, those that are open can’t accept credit cards (no phone lines) and so are requiring cash.

Taken as a whole, it reminds you of a post-apocalyptic distopian movie with people stocking up on water, fuel, food, guns, cash and gold.  Maybe Mad Max, The Stand or The Postman.  I suppose a comparison to Water World would be in poor taste…

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notes from a Cramer mini-reunion

Just got back from a mini-reunion of Cramers in Tennessee.  This was all of my uncles and cousins on my father’s side with the exception of my sister who has a three-week old baby at home.  To answer the obvious question, no.  No one lives in Tennessee, it’s just a more or less central place.  We came in from Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Washington D.C. and New Jersey.

A few notes:

  • Tell your friends before you leave town for a week.  I forgot to do that and on Wednesday when we were driving home, I got a phone call asking if things were okay.  Sorry about that folks, and I appreciate the concern.
  • Never debate my uncles about anything.  It’s not that you’ll necessarily lose – it just isn’t worth it.  Example, on the first night we were there, we were sitting around talking and sampling some whiskey my cousin brought.  At some point, we get on the topic of Woodrow Wilson.  One uncle admits to being fond of Wilson, his twin says that he was the first fascist and a Nazi.  Huh?  After going around quite a bit, discussing Wilson’s flirting with eugenics (not too uncommon at the time), we get to the point where Wilson is also being accused of treason for undermining (iirc) Taft; which then gets to Nancy Pelosi being accused of treason for undermining Bush.  At that point I noted that neither of these cases met the constitutional definition of treason.  Uncle #2 (the one making fascist and treason accusations) didn’t realize that the constitution defined treason (sigh).  He then further admitted that he didn’t really know that much about Wilson either, he hadn’t even read a book on Wilson; but he had read a review of a book on Wilson.  This became the punchline of many jokes later in the trip.
  • The family either a) drinks more or b) talks more about drinking than it did when Grandma Cramer was alive.  Some of this may be that almost all of the cousins are over 21 now.  Some of it may just be that Grandma Cramer didn’t approve of drinking alcohol and everyone kept it under wraps when she was around.
  • Whitewater rafting is still a blast.  We rafted the middle section of the Ocoee river which I haven’t done in maybe 20 years.  Of course, it’s been about 13 years since we’ve done any rafting at all.  We managed not to lose anyone from the boat this time, in spite of my father’s best efforts at drowning us while we were surfing a rapid 🙂
  • It was great to see all of the cousins again.  I didn’t see Matthew since he was only there the first day and we didn’t get in until the second, but other than that, I saw folks that I haven’t seen in more than five years.  It’s funny how people with so many different political and social views, located in entirely different parts of the country who haven’t seen each other in years can be so similar.  Chalk up another win for nature as opposed to nurture.
  • Finally, the drive each way was a little more than six hours for us.  That was among the shorter drives, but I’m really getting too old for long car trips.  Next time, maybe we’ll fly into Knoxville and drive the hour from there.

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Oil makes you stupid. . . news at 11

I knew that there were a lot of chemicals that when ingested could make you stupid.  Drugs, sure.  Lead and mercury, definitely.  But apparently even thinking about oil makes people stupid.  Consider the following:

For weeks, republicans have been pushing the idea that either a) the Cubans are drilling in Cuban waters off the coast of Florida; or b) that the Chinese are drilling for oil in Cuban waters off the coast of Florida.  The only problem of course is that this is demonstrably false.

More recently, republicans have started talking up the idea that off shore drilling is much safer than it used to be, and that during hurricanes Rita and Katrina, there were no oil spills.  Except, um, that’s not really true either.

And then yesterday, Bush lifted the executive coastal drilling ban put in place by his father.  According to the NY Times, he said:

“With this action, the executive branch’s restrictions on this exploration have been cleared away,” he said Monday. “This means that the only thing standing between the American people and these vast oil resources is action from the U.S. Congress.”

And, yeah, in case you were wondering, this is also not true:

  1. Oil companies already have drilling rights and leases on large amounts of land that they are not currently drilling under.  Allowing them to drill off shore does not mean that they necessarily will
  2. Development of the drilling sites is 10 years away.  So the soonest the oil would have an effect on supply is 2018.
  3. The amount of oil that we are talking about is relatively small.  While there are a lot of estimates about the totals, the key is the daily amount.  Putting this into perspective, the world uses about 74 million barrels a day of oil (about 84 million barrels of oil plus oil equivalents).  The US uses a quarter of that – around 21 million barrels per day.  At it’s peak, most estimates I’ve seen are that off shore drilling plus drilling in the ANWR would generate about 250,000 barrels per day – a mere drop in the bucket.  If you consider the amount the US and the world are projected to use by 2018 (assuming unrestricted supply), you find that all of that drilling is estimated to reduce the price of oil by a few dollars per barrel.
  4. Finally, over the next 20 to 40 years, the US is (or more to the point, should be) committed to using less oil.  The current G8 targets are to cut CO2 emissions by 50% over the next 40 years.  That seems to imply that we need to be using much less oil than we are now – starting very soon.  Far be it from me to suggest that the selection of CO2 targets was disingenuous, so taking these folks at their word, we should skip the drilling and start working on the alternatives.

I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised that discussing oil brings out the stupid.  It’s a very touchy subject in the US.  I came across one good reason for this in Kevin Phillips’s two recent books: “American Theocracy” and “Bad Money.”  Phillips notes that in the same way that knowledge and use of coal was the key to the British empire and knowledge and use of wind was the key to the Dutch empire before that,  the key to US power is the knowledge and use of oil.  So any discussion of using less oil or not having enough oil, strikes directly at the heart of US power.

However, oil is a finite resource.  If the US wants to retain its power in the second half of the 21st century, we need learn to use other, renewable sources of energy, and the continued focus on maintaining cheap oil supplies are not going to help.

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Musical fortune telling

From etselec and because it amused me, my fortune as told by a random selection of my music with interpretive accompaniment by yours truly:

1. How does the world see me?

Lightnin’ Hopkins – No Education

Ouch. Apparently the world sees me as an academic poseur. I guess I can live with that, but it’s a bit rough to see.

2. Will I have a happy life?

R.E.M. – Exhuming McCarthy

Hrm. I guess this means that I will be persecuted for my perceived communism by a raving lunatic. I’m not a big fan of persecution, but I suppose that being harassed by an idiot like McCarthy might be fun for a while. Of course, the downside is that I’ll be professionally ruined.

3. What do my friends really think of me?

Barenaked Ladies – Just a Toy

Is this fortune done yet? I’m guessing this suggests a clown. That’s very sad.

4. Do people secretly lust after me?

Steppenwolf – For Ladies Only

I think I’m going to take that as a “yes” and move on.

5. How can I make myself happy?

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes – All My Lovin

I guess that means to stay married, but with a punk beat. I can do that.

6. What should I do with my life?

John Lee Hooker – I Cover the Waterfront

Is this saying that I should go to sea? Maybe I can work with rdc at MOTE 🙂

7. Why must life be so full of pain?

The Pogues – Dirty Old Town

I think this says that life is full of pain because of the breakdown of community and the social safety net. We all have it in our capability to make other people happier and we choose not to.

8. How can I maximize my pleasure during sex?

They Might Be Giants – Which Describes How You’re Feeling All the Time

Bahahaaa! In Chasing Amy, there was a discussion of “constant information” during sex. I think we’ll go with that and move on.

9. Will I ever have children?

Men Without Hats – Intro: Eloise

Yes – and at least the first will be a girl named Eloise, poor girl.

10. Will I die happy?

XTC – Miniature Sun

Interpreting this involves knowing a little family history or maybe it’s family legend – those things are hard to keep straight. Shortly after the Civil War, the Union wanted someone to retrieve a load of dynamite from Pennsylvania in the winter. Since dynamite is unstable at cold temperatures, it would take an idiot. Enter a some of my great-uncles (or maybe great-great-uncles) who managed to get themselves blown up in the attempt. I take this to mean that I too will die in a ball of fire. So, does that mean happy? Probably, after all, I am an engineer 🙂

11. What is some good advice for me?

Blues Traveler – Gotta Get Mean

Boo. Hiss. I demand a new fortune that’s less cynical.

12. What is happiness?

Blues Traveler – Lost me there

Ha – that sounds about right. I’m really better with contentment than happiness and after all, I’m entering that time in my life when people are supposed to be less happy. Check back in 15 years or so and I’m supposed to be on the upswing of that one.

13. What’s my favourite fetish?

Steppenwolf – Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam

Okay, so not a pot smoker. Never been a drug taker. If I had to guess, it’s a reference to the promotion of civil liberties which is something of a fetish for me.

14. How will I be remembered?

Squirrel Nut Zippers – Low Down Man

Ouch. And we end the fortune the same way we began it with – insults to my character. I think I need a better (or maybe worse) random song selector, or maybe better music.

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minor updates

Just a couple of minor updates:

  1. my keyboard came in yesterday and it’s everything that I hoped it would be.   I feel sorry for the folk in my office suite.  It is a bit loud
  2. I cropped some of the photos using the original sized images, so all that’s left are captions and fixing the lens smudge

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Yellowstone 3

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Yellowstone 2

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Yellowstone 1

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I don’t know why I do it

I listened to the president’s speech tonight on the radio and then on the television when I got home.  I don’t know why I do it.  Listening to the president makes my ears want to explode, my eyes want to pop out of my head and my foot want to go through the television.

As near as I can tell, the “new way forward” is essentially what we claim we’ve been trying to do all along.  The only difference seems to be that this time we’ll succeed [insert eye roll here].  Why?  Not because we’re doing anything different, only because we’ll be sending 20,000 more targets, er troops, to the region.  Of course, 20,000 troops is no where near enough to help – we would need ten to twenty times that number.  20,000 is just enough to claim we’re trying something new, but likely not enough to actually accomplish anything.

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