Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Christopher Hitchen's take on the recent anti-war protests at Slate.


Saudi women told Karen Hughes that they were satisfied with the role of women in Saudi Arabia. Obviously this was a hand-picked audience.

"The general image of the Arab woman is that she isn't happy," one audience member said. "Well, we're all pretty happy." The room, full of students, faculty members and some professionals, resounded with applause.

Ms. Hughes, the under secretary of state for public diplomacy, is on her first trip to the Middle East. She seemed clearly taken aback as the women told her that just because they were not allowed to vote or drive that did not mean they were treated unfairly or imprisoned in their own homes.

"We're not in any way barred from talking to the other sex," said Dr. Nada Jambi, a public health professor. "It's not an absolute wall."

"There is more male chauvinism in my profession in Europe and America than in my country," said Dr. Siddiqa Kamal, an obstetrician and gynecologist who runs her own hospital.

"I don't want to drive a car," she said. "I worked hard for my medical degree. Why do I need a driver's license?"

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Glenn Renolds discusses the serious gender inbalance at American universities. For every 135 women in attending college, there are 100 men.


From the Los Angeles Times,0,5492806,full.story?coll=la-home-headlines

The New Orleans Times-Picayune on Monday described inflated body counts, unverified "rapes," and unconfirmed sniper attacks as among examples of "scores of myths about the dome and Convention Center treated as fact by evacuees, the media and even some of New Orleans' top officials.

"Indeed, Mayor C. Ray Nagin told a national television audience on "Oprah" three weeks ago of people "in that frickin' Superdome for five days watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people."Journalists and officials who have reviewed the Katrina disaster blamed the inaccurate reporting in large measure on the breakdown of telephone service, which prevented dissemination of accurate reports to those most in need of the information. Race may have also played a factor.

The wild rumors filled the vacuum and seemed to gain credence with each retelling — that an infant's body had been found in a trash can, that sharks from Lake Pontchartrain were swimming through the business district, that hundreds of bodies had been stacked in the Superdome basement.


I wish I could have been there to watch. In looking through pictures of the signs of protesters, the following two have to been among the strangest.

Friday, September 23, 2005


New York Times

Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said Thursday that he had been warning the Bush administration in recent days that Iraq was hurtling toward disintegration, a development that he said could drag the region into war.

"There is no dynamic now pulling the nation together," he said in a meeting with reporters at the Saudi Embassy here. "All the dynamics are pulling the country apart." He said he was so concerned that he was carrying this message "to everyone who will listen" in the Bush administration.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Historian Immanuel Wallerstein critique of Bush's response to Katrina is at One issue he raises is whether the federal government's response to the hurricane is a sign of the coming collapse of America.

But it is the image of the U.S. that will be the most affected. When El Salvador has to offer troops to help restore order in New Orleans because U.S. troops were so scarce and so slow in arriving, Iran cannot be quaking in its boots about a possible U.S. invasion. When Sweden has its relief planes sitting on the tarmac in Sweden for a week because it cannot get an answer from the U.S. government as to whether to send them, they are not going to be reassured about the ability of the U.S. to handle more serious geopolitical matters. And when conservative U.S. television commentators talk of the U.S. looking like a Third World country, Third World countries may begin to think that maybe there is a grain of truth in the description.



The New York Times is raising serious questions about the world's ability to deal with a flu pandemic.

However, there have been some alarming developments. In recent months, the virus has been detected in mammals that have never previously been infected, including tigers, leopards and domestic cats. This spread suggests that the virus is mutating and could eventually emerge in a form that is readily transmittable among humans, leading to a full-blown pandemic. In fact, according to government officials, a few cases of human-to-human spread of A(H5N1) have already occurred.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005



Most Americans (and the press) seem completely oblivious to the dangers of the bird flu epidemic in Asia. It has the potential of being worse than the bubonic plague of the Middle Ages or the World War I flu epidemic. I have heard that up to 50% of the people who come down with it will die--the world has seen nothing like this in modern times. Evidently there are some treatment possibilities, but it takes time to develop and manufacture vaccines.

Center for Disease Control

Monday, September 19, 2005


From Scotland:

THE fast-food chain, Burger King, is withdrawing its ice-cream cones after the lid of the dessert offended a Muslim.

The man claimed the design resembled the Arabic inscription for Allah, and branded it sacrilegious, threatening a "jihad".

The chain is being forced to spend thousands of pounds redesigning the lid with backing from The Muslim Council of Britain. It apologised and said: "The design simply represents a spinning ice-cream cone."

The offending lid was spotted in a branch in Park Royal last week by business development manager Rashad Akhtar, 27, of High Wycombe.

He was not satisfied by the decision to withdraw the cones and has called on Muslims to boycott Burger King. He said: "This is my jihad. How can you say it is a spinning swirl? If you spin it one way to the right you are offending Muslims."

A Muslim Council spokesman said: "We commend the sensitive and prompt action that Burger King has taken."


Go to and find the safest place to live in the United States! I think I'll move to West Texas, or Wyoming, or maybe inland South Carolina. Actually Central East Texas looks like a pretty good place to be.

Actually so few people live in Wyoming probably no one would know if there was a natural disaster.


On the way in to school this morning I was listening to the NPR report on North Korea. North Korea is going back to the bargaining table. The U.S. and other countries are evidently using energy and other aid packages to keep North Korea from continuing its nuclear development. Evidently western countries are trying to do this with Iran and possibly other states. I haven't read all the details, but I am a bit concerned that the west thinks it can "bribe" countries into doing the right thing. Bribes always seem to have to grow as countries become more adept at manipulating the giver. When does a "payoff" as a reward become blackmail?

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Roberts can't be all bad. In fact he may turn out to be the best Supreme Court justice ever. His two favorite movies are: "North by Northwest" and "Dr. Zhivago."

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


I haven't been able to watch much of the hearing and the questionning that took place by the senators on the Judiciary Committee. When I need some information on legal issues in the news, I generally visit Ann Althouse's blog (law professor at the University of Wisconsin and liberal). Her comments don't reinforce the intelligence of the Democratic senators quizzing Roberts.

Questioning Roberts about standing doctrine, Leahy misses the entire point by not recognizing that injuries to the environment are enough to give a person standing. He blurs them into the same category as no injury at all. Roberts sincerely sorts through basic doctrine — this really is "hornbook law" — and doesn't make it excessively obvious that Leahy doesn't understand what he's trying to talk about. Leahy mumbles his way into another interruption talking about — what? — tennis star? Oh, Kenneth Starr. Oh, lord, I wish Leahy's turn was up!

Kennedy becomes extremely antagonistic to Roberts over various issues — you can refer to the transcript for the details — interrupting Roberts repeatedly and looking quite angry. Several times, Arlen Specter has to tell Kennedy to let Roberts finish. At one point, when Roberts is just beginning an answer, Kennedy seems to snap "Roberts" at him, with no "Judge" or "Mr." in front of the name, and we rewind several times to try to figure out if Kennedy was indeed that rude. I still don't know, due to Kennedy's irritating garbling. Kennedy might have some good points to get out, but his anger and rudeness thoroughly undercut his presentation.

Joe Biden begins by saying "Hey, Judge. How are ya?" Then, "Look, Judge, uh, I'm gonna try to cut through some stuff if I can." What are the chances that Roberts is fooled into thinking he's facing an amiable, jovial pal? Biden goes on at length playing with yesterday's baseball metaphor and really getting on my nerves. When will he get to a question? Finally, he gets to the question whether Roberts thinks there is a right of privacy in the Fourteenth Amendment. Good! Roberts: "I do, Senator."


There is an interesting analysis of the failed use of buses to evacuate thousands from New Orleans at In all of the recriminations, I hope that any committee or commission that researches the Katrina disaster will take into account the failures at all levels: local, state, and national. At this point I really haven't made up my mind, but I am concerned that the national press is too focused on FEMA's failures and is overlooking the role of local and state planning. It is important to have local and state agencies take some leadership in these disasters to avoid more centralized bureaucratic involvement, which does not seem to work well.

I am sure FEMA is filled with bureaucratic rivalries which spill over into other agencies and in turn is impacted by power struggles in other agencies. I have seen reports that FEMA had troops into New Orleans quicker than they did in previous Florida hurricane disasters. If those reports are true, something did not happen at the state and local level in Louisiana which did happen in Florida.

Friday, September 09, 2005


The Wall Street Journal reports:

Press reports often cite the overall size of Oil for Food at $60 billion, but Mr. Volcker's report makes clear that the real figure was in excess of $100 billion. From this, Saddam was able to derive $10.2 billion from illicit transactions. But the important point is that he was able to steer 10 times that sum toward his preferred clients in the service of his political aims. None of this happened by accident. . . .

Thursday, September 08, 2005


Rumors have long circulated that Arafat had engaged in homosexual activity. It had been reported by Roumanian intelligence during the Ceausescu regime--evidently his room had been bugged. The issue of whether he had aids was also floating around for a number of years. Now Haaretz looks at his medical report the French prepared when he died It won't stop the charges or denials, but it is a very interesting account. Also check out


This article in Slate (a magazine with a liberal political orientation) is one of the best summaries I have seen sofar regarding the problems (political, economic, etc.) related to rebuilding New Orleans. The author also gives a little history of the growth of New Orleans.

For economic and "emotional" reasons, I expect New Orleans to be rebuilt. But it will not be the city it once was.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005



This is a partial email from a police officer in a major American city reacting to the situation in New Orleans.

First of all I want to address disaster preparedness plans. In the city that I work for we have plans for all sorts of situations that may arise. New Orleans had the same type of plans. Their plan called for the evacuation of the city for any hurricane of a category three or higher. The implementation of that plan was the responsibility of the mayor. They city recognized the fact that many people would not be able to get out of the city on their own. Those who can get out on their own were to be told to pack up and leave the city. They even made maps that were available to people this past spring (free of charge). The city plan then called for using all forms of transportation available to city government (city and school busses) to transport those without transportation out of the city to shelters. They even were to use special vans for those with medical needs. This evacuation was to occur before the hurricane came into the area. It was to start 72 hours before it made landfall. The nice thing about hurricanes is that, unlike earthquakes and tornadoes, you can see them coming. The mayor did not put this plan into motion. He ordered the city evacuated, but told the people they could go to the Superdome for shelter. The people had to get themselves there and were told to bring their own food. My next question is why, if they were going to put this many people in one location, did they not provide security? Where I work they would have had the police on overtime to put as many officers as possible to protect the people. That does not appear to have happened. Why, being the mayor did not activate the city plan for evacuating the city, does he get air time with the media blaming the federal government and George Bush for not taking care of his city. This is a matter of the local and state government failing its citizens from the beginning. Much of the media has also failed to report the fact the President Bush tried to get the mayor to declare a disaster so that he could start sending in federal help. The great thing about our government is that the states and cities have say in their local government. Everything is not run out of Washington. Their are laws that keep the President from just sending troops wherever he wants. They have to be requested by the Governor. This has not been shown by the media.

I am not saying that the federal government has handled everything with perfection. The question has been raised as to why the levee had not been strengthened before this occurred. The Army Corp of Engineers had requested more money, but they have not gotten it.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


An interesting perspective blaming local planning as opposed to FEMA for much of the mess in New Orleans.

Monday, September 05, 2005


From the Jerusalem Post.


A Rove conspiracy in the New Orleans mess!

Notice how Bush, et al., are shipping the mostly black remainder evacuees from New Orleans et environs to Texas? It practially amounts to gerrymandering of a sort. Since many, if not most, of the evacuees -- certainly mostly Democratic voters -- will remain in Texas, get jobs and homes, and never return to the Big Easy, Louisiana, a purple state (Clinton '92 and '96, Bush '00 and '04) becomes redder, and Texas, a huge very red state, gains yet more population while turning only slightly less red.

Is it possible these effects are the result of deliberate design on the part of the White House political office and, namely, one Karl Rove? Otherwise, why wouldn't they be evacuating people to Memphis in purple Tennessee? Or Little Rock in purple Arkansas?

Memphis, at 392 miles from New Orleans (add maybe 60 miles to that to detour around the diabled I-55 Lake Ponchartrain bridge), is only 41 (100-ish) miles further away than Houston (351) and a LOT closer than San Antonio, Austin and Dallas, which are each a good 500 miles away. Little Rock is about as close as are Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. I understand a lot of the people who self-evacuated went to Memphis and to Arkansas, among other areas. Kind of unnatural to send the remainder evaucuees ONLY to Texas (other than Baton Rouge and other Louisiana destinations).

I can understand not evacuating eastward to Fla and Alabama, given that the direct land routes are pretty much all severed. That is not true for eastern Tennesee and Arkansas. What gives?


I know there is a controversy brewing regarding the treatment of African-Americans in the recovery efforts in New Orleans.

However, what has impressed me is how little race has impacted the response of white folks living in East Texas. East Texas has had its share of racist activity and thought. The local Democratic Party delegates to the 1972 Democratic Convention were basically a group of Wallacites.

Whites in East Texas are giving generously in so many ways to help the evacuees who are largely African-American. I am sure somewhere there is an angry white racist, but what I have heard and seen is people giving money, hugs, living space, etc. irrespective of race.

I also happened to see the following news item which seems to support my observations. A black man said: In the last week, Joseph Brant lost his apartment, walked by scores of dead in the streets, traversed pools of toxic water and endured an arduous journey to escape the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in his hometown New Orleans. On Sunday, he was praising the Lord, saying the ordeal was a test that ended up dispelling his lifelong distrust of white people and setting his life on a new course. He said he hitched a ride on Friday in a van driven by a group of white folks. "Before this whole thing I had a complex about white people; this thing changed me forever," said Brant, 36, a truck driver who, like many of the refugees receiving public assistance in Houston, Texas, is black.

Friday, September 02, 2005


I don't want to minimize the human tragedies that New Orleans faces, but at some point the government, insurance companies, and people of New Orleans and Louisiana will face the issue of rebuilding. I have always had trouble with a city that is largely built below sea-level. To protect such a city from a category 5 hurricane appears formidable (at least to me)--will it ever be totally secure and if you spend money on rebuilding such a city, it will drain money from other human needs? How do voters, politicians, and governments make such tough decisions? I know the Dutch have made that decision since the 1950s.

Some of us received an email with a proposal from a retired engineer. I can't speak to its feasibility, but I did like the idea of raising New Orleans if it is to be rebuilt.

". . . If you agree with the thought - maybe you can forward it to the people making the decisions on just how to rebuild New Orleans.

Looking at the age old problem of New Orleans, being below sea level, and now it looks like most of it is destroyed. It occurred to me that there will never be a better time to really fix the problem they have had for so many years. It was never a question of "If" but "When" a Cat 3 or higher hurricane scored a direct hit on their city and caused the problem we are seeing now..

It will cost a lot of money - to solve the problem "Correctly" but we have no assurance that after any less expensive "Solution" is installed - that another hurricane will not come through and do the same thing as Katrina did.

One solution that would solve their problem;

1 - Have the insurance companies pay off all the owners (for those who actually had flood insurance) for the total loss of their buildings.

2 - The Army Corps of Engineers must step up to the plate and state the obvious; No one will be allowed to build anywhere in the current New Orleans area because it is in a flood plane! (I believe this was done a few years ago on the Ohio River where a small town kept being flooded out.)

3 - Bring in the bulldozers and level all the buildings in New Orleans which are below sea level.

4 - Assuming the New Orleans' people will insist on rebuilding in/near their beloved city. Bring in fill* and raise the level of the "Town" to above sea level.

* The obvious question is where do you get enough fill to raise NO elevation to above sea level. Bring in the barge pumps which the gulf beaches have used for years to pump sand from the gulf back onto the beaches. Use them to pump sand/silt/mud from the gulf bottom onto barges which can the towed. Open the gates and let the water fill the city so the barges can be floated into the city area and dumped....

Bill Thrasher Ph.D., PE