Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina: Mayor Nagin of New Orleans not in charge

Just read a transcript of Mayor Nagin's interview with the desperate SOS they keep talking about all over the news. Well, he certainly is no Rudy Giuliani - unfortunately for the people of New Orleans, he is not much of a leader either.

I have tons of sympathy (and a little empathy from living in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew) for the people there and the terrible situation - but when even the Mayor is just wasting his energy complaining and waiting for someone else to do something. Of course his hands are tied and his resources are limited and strained, but one would think they would have a better idea of how to handle this given that they have known about this potential for disaster for decades. But I have no tolerance for a leader who pleads helplessness. At the very least he should be creating a plan from which he can make specific requests for aid rather than just saying get someone here to figure it out.

NAGIN: ....And I don't know whose problem it is. I don't know whether it's the governor's problem. I don't know whether it's the president's problem, but somebody needs to get their ass on a plane and sit down, the two of them, and figure this out right now.

WWL: What can we do here?

NAGIN: Keep talking about it.

WWL: We'll do that. What else can we do?

NAGIN: Organize people to write letters and make calls to their congressmen, to the president, to the governor. Flood their doggone offices with requests to do something. This is ridiculous.

Call me insensitive if you wish (though I am not in the least) but if the people who know the city best and are on the ground now cant communicate what needs to be done clearly, it is a failure of leadership at the local level which is causing the real problems here. I can not even fathom that they would use their best communication vehicles (media interviews) to such ends rather than rallying his people to create and enact better solutions.

BTW - this conversation about what was not done yesterday and continuing to focus on laying blame and pointing fingers is what will ultimately kill even more people - but remember who started it (not me). Worse, it has the potential to spiral desperately out of control until all of the US is merely embroiled in debate on whos fault it is, who did not do this or that and why the White House got us involved in Iraq.

Let's be clear here, we can make all the correlations to the disaster relief effort and Iraq we want once we are done dealing with the problems at hand - but this is an ongoing disaster - roads are not accessible, crazy crackheads and gang memers are shooting at rescuers, NOLA is not the only place in the area that is affected, people who are being rescued are refusing help, the communications networks are down and quite simply Rome was not built in a day - it takes a bit of time to coordinate resources and get them distributed appropriately - without the local folks taking responsibility for this, it is no wonder things have been screwed up so far. Hopefully now this has changed for the better.

I am praying that it will continue to get better and more people need not die senseless deaths that could have been prevented - hopefully you will do the same...

Katrina: Ideas towards recovery and preparedness

Two fairly big juicy ideas came up today that I think are important enough to do that I would like to seek the support of others to establish properly.

1 - Create a blog/wiki/social network site focused on ideas for rescure, recovery, prevention - as the FEMA chief said, "no ideas are too crazy, everything is on the table" - if Insytes was launched it would be the perfect forum for this, but since it is not I need to find the best platform for doing this at zero to no cost - which do you reccomend?

2 - One further such idea here is to create an onlie system that would allow people to establish safe houses where they could go in the event of a disaster - 20 miles away, 50 miles, 100 miles. 250 miles, 500 miles, 1000 miles. Households would volunteer their living space to a far off family and in exchange have a safe place for themselves - a modern version of a telephone tree to be called up in the event of disaster. Ideally everyone would participate, but we need only moderate adoption levels to make it a success. With the global climate change we are experiencing, it may be more of a necessity than I would like to think.


The StarFish Project proposed by Rabbi Marc Gellman is definitely a worthwhile proposition - each church or place of worship can just start doing this now though, there is no need to have an organizing committee to get it going...

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Katrina: Big Picture in Brief

The politics of hate in this country has me incensed, especially in such a time of coming together, but I wanted to address some of the other aspects of the bigger picture with brief commentary, ratns and ideas.

Leadership: We have not seen much of it yet. NOLA has no Rudy Giuliani, but then again the conditions on the ground are absolutely atrocious and the media is focusing on the worst aspects instead of the rays of light (as always it would seem, won't this ever change) What we really need is local leadership within the neighborhoods (though perhaps all those natural leaders were able to get out, so only a certain segment of the population is left behind).

Volunteers: I am sure lots of people from all over the world will go to the area to volunteer in some fashion. I even discussed doing this myself but realized there was not much I could do. When I see the terrible conditions in the Superdome, it makes me wonder why those in the situation dont contribute to the solution. Yes I understand most are in shock and/or infirmed, but I have seen plenty of relatively young men and women hauling off very heavy bags of loot and plenty more just standing or sitting around the stadium. It would be really great to see the people affected pitching in to help alleviate the problem - but perhaps it is too early for people to begin to self organize. Or perhaps many of these people are too reliant on governmental hand outs to think about what they could do to contribute.

Donations: I hope that former President Bush and former President Clinton are able to do even better for the US then they did for the Tsunami relief effort. Given the number of scams that are sure to arise, it would be ideal if they, along with the planned network fundraiser, all focused on donating money to one charity - the red cross most likely or perhaps a unique fund just for this disaster. We are giving to the Red Cross. A more detailed list of what we can presume to be more reputable organizations can be found on Newsweek.

Insurance: Many of the people dont have insurance and even those that do might not have the coverage that helps for this type of situation. Regardless, many insurers will go out of business as a result of Katrina and we will all probably end up covering the bill with higher taxes. This is an area for major concern. Additionally there is the matter of insurance fraud - mostly coming from the middle class according to statistics and personal anecdotal evidence from dealing with Hurricane Andrew in Miami. Seems even the nice, church going folks in devastated communities want what they think is due to them - so the instinct to loot is perhaps more deeply seated than I would care to believe. Maybe a tip line (or web site) where people could anonymously post who might be comitting fraud so those cases could get a higher level of scrutiny?

Oil: Simply put the economy is fucked. The rising price of gasoline is sure to bring inflation to all sectors of the economy and I dont think the fed can pull it back with interest rate cuts (though they should do it anyway). The only real solution is to end our dependence on fossil fuels and create real economic incentives for the companies that pave the way into this ecologically friendly future. Perhaps an "X Prize" for practical cold fusion and another one for "Fuel Cells"

World View: I am sure many of the jihadists are celebrating now believing that America is being punished by God for what we have done. I am equally sure that we will hear some ultra-conservative catholic saying that the sinners in New Orleans are being punished by god, but that is a separate point. Honestly I am conflicted about the matter of how this event plays out on the world stage. On one hand, I say why don't more people come with aid given how much we give the world, and on the other I believe we should be able to take care of ourselves. But if we are all on this small blue marble together, the global community should respond with aid - perhaps it will come simply in the form of contributions by worldly awake people from around the world rather than governments. But however it comes, I know that we have little idea as to how to use it best at the moment other than getting those people out of the disaster area and securing them with food, shelter and medical aid. Regarrdless, what the world does or doesnt do, what it says or doesnt say means little to the people on the ground and should mean little to us in the short term, though it will be instructive in regards to how we will interact with them in the future.

Looting: Well I guess I am in the camp of the shoot them on sight folks, but that is my gut reaction to the images I see on TV. When I hear people say that this is their right to get such things because of how they have been oppressed all these years, I just cringe. Having grown up in a lower income area very near a South Miami ghetto, I do understand where this thinking is coming from, but it does not make it right. As the ethics guy reported on Newsweek It is one thing to raid a super market for water and food and batteries - another to cart off an entire rack of shirts from Wal-Mart or a stack of Nike's from Foot Locker. Perhaps if the looters were offered $100 per day or something reasonable to tackle some of the problems they have on the grounf we might be able to provide a better alternative for those seeking to profiteer. Regardless, I certainly hope that the video that is being shot is being stored and will be reviewed later to prosecute the looters. In this way, they can repay for their crimes and avarice by performing community service. (no room to send them all to jail)

Global Warming: As you might know, I am for Kyoto and firmly behind alternative energy strategies. But is Katrina our first real indication of the potential impact of global warming? In that I have been paying attention to the research, the weather reports and the melting of the polar ice caps for many years, I am pretty much convinced that Katrina, the Tsunami, the rise in earthquakes around the globe, the flooding in Europe etc.. all point to the fact that we are destroying Mother Earth (Gaia) and that Mother Earth is fighting back. To a certain degree, I think of the earth as a biological ecosystem that is fightting off a virus (humanity) that is harming it like a disease. Why dont the people in charge understand this and do something about it? The calls for discussion and action in this regards should be heeded and should begin in earnest as soon as we can.

New Orleans: I love the big easy. I finally got there for the first time this past spring to attend Jazz Fest. The vibe there was awesome, the French Quarter was beautiful and most of the people I met (in bars and at the Jazz Fest) were kind with tons of southern hospitality. But on the way from the hotel to the Jazz Fest fairgrounds, what I saw was disturbing - it felt like a land that time forgot. Old wooden shack like buildings that people called home. People just sitting around everywhere on sidewalks, front porches and in front of businesses. Outside the quarter, downtown and the garden district, it seemd like the Great Depression of 1929 never went away. It is going to be a tough long haul to revitalize this city and early indications concerning the attitude are so far not very good. But there are leaders there who will make a difference, and the city will rebuild - and I will definitely be going back...

Remote parts of the South: While most of the focus has been on NOLA, I am more concerned about the rest of the south. Whole towns have been destroyed. People have lost everything. The horror is beyond comprehension. With many such towns on the borderline of economic meltdown prior to Katrina, their receovery is in doubt. It will be near impossible to rebuild much of it - many who lived through it wont want to either due to the bad memories the towns hold for them now. It will be equally as hard for people to relocate, but that will happen and is probably already happening to a certain degree.

What we can do: Donate money to the Red Cross. Keep thinking and writing about all the solutions you have for different problems you identify, no matter how silly an idea seems, share it with the broader community - even if it only goes out to the 10 or so people who read your blog (as with mine). If the idea seeminlgy has merit, send it to the red cross, send it to FEMA, send it to the major news outlets.

What I see most clearly though is that we need to provide better continuing education, re-education and new skills training - not just to those displaced and affected by Katrina, but across the board. More cities should have programs putting homeless people to work as street cleaners during the day and educating them at night. More immediately we need to help those who want to relocate find a new place to live and a means to live a fulfilling life. The consequences of not doing so will be disastorous.

Perhaps in this terrible disaster, we cand find a silver lining - if indeed we rise to the occasion, we can turn this tragedy into a turning point for our society

Katrina: Politics of Hate Already Rising

I have more to share on this shortly, but wanted to dedicate a separate post to the politics of the situation. Looks like both the republicans and democrats are strategizing how this horrible disaster can benefit their parties. IMHO they are no better than the looters on the streets of NOLA, but then again I have come to not expect much from either of them.

Having just watched portions of the White House press conference with Scott McClellan, I was disgusted by some of the reporters questions. But it would seem the same such questions are cause for celebration and attack by those who just hate George Bush. The most offensive question I heard was regarding whether or not this disaster could have been averted if the war was not going on in Iraq. But the same question is apparently more fodder for the Bush haters as evidenced by KOS' response on the Daily Kos. Look, I am not a huge fan of Bush's, who could be given his administration's track record on everything from Kyoto to the handling of Iraq to his dealings with the international community, but this sort of questioning is simply ridiculous.

Could this disaster been averted if the LA flood project the reporter cited received the $60MM it requested instead of the $10MM it got - perhaps, but perhaps not. First, who doesn't want more money for their projects - almost everyone wanted more money than they got - but I think the real problem is the design of the bowl and levee system. Yes we need a vibrant port city and after visiting I just love New Orleans, but they built a major city below sea level! It is bound to happen. Maybe corruption would have skimmed off the important parts if they had the money. Or maybe they would have been in the middle of some major reconstruction work which would have been even more disastorous. Armchair quarterbacking is great insofar as it relates to matters of little import, but when the stakes are so high, why exert the energy for such a reason.

We can't focus on these matters - let our future history be the judge of such matters. But let us not judge any of this today. Let's learn from the mistakes and do better. Let's focus our effort on the here and now, engage in discussions that contribute to the solution and take actions that take care of the people who need our help.

All of you Bush haters are sure to find tons of fodder for your cannons arising from this terrible disaster - but perhaps some of you will find new solutions to some old problems and we can be all the better for it rather than being incensed by the lens through which you are viewing the news...

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

SnoCAP for HD

Been pondering a bunch of things lately and getting exposed to some new ideas (another contributor to the writing hiatus) and wanted to start sharing some of them with you - since these are very broad concepts it is difficult to be brief and completely clear, so I am hoping the comments on this one will help iron them out a bit.

One idea that particularly hit home for me was the idea of creating an REI like music service - where the artists, managers and consumers all have a stake that is formulaicly distributed to each based on creation/consumption patterns - the ecosystem itself would continue to invest in the development of the system that facilitates it and provides enjoyable, rich entertainment experiences both online and in person. It would seem SNOCAP is the closest to this sort of ideal ecosystem, though it could be argued that eMusic's focus on indies is also (I agree to a certain extent). But in this variation, there would be a real community with admittance requirements for professionals and accountable to all members via open governance and management. Uniquely this community system would provide the following functions: Facilitate collaboration between artists and producers, use BitTorrent like file sharing/distribution systems, enable fan clubs, offer a Pandora like radio station, charge as a subscription service like Yahoo's, includ the music of others according to the Creative Commons based license choice, enable the remixing by consumers who end up getting creator financial credits out of the system and all of those other pieces that we all know to be the real desirable experience of music lovers.

Perhaps Mark Cuban could do this for HD content. I just saw a performance of Pink Floyd from Live 8 which I absolutely would have paid for if I could have downloaded an HD version to watch on my home theatre - probably not a lot, so it may be more like an HD version of where a lot of the content is free with a subscription, but semi-professional reporter/creator's could track down compelling stories of the world and with some recognition and a higher value offering, people would be willing to pay a small premium directly to the creator. BTW - creator's in this sense includes the bedroom based Mac production studio of individual's as well as organized groups of people that may be students, general associates or part of a traditional television production company. Or perhaps Mark is already planning this and I just did not har that interview yet....

More to come - in briefer snippets over the coming weeks...