Friday, June 30, 2006

Betraying Paradise

"Make no mistake about it. Oily congressmen -- including our own Jeff Miller (R-Chumukla) -- have betrayed Florida's Gulf Coast for cash."
The Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act which passed the Republican-dominated U.S. House of Representatives yesterday expressly opens the central and eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling. Here at Pensacola Beach, it means drilling rigs soon could be as close as 50 miles offshore -- and pipelines much closer.

Most of the rest of the U.S. coastline from Maine to California also is included. Other than some parts of coastal Alaska, the only areas exempted are "the central and western Gulf of Mexico" -- which are so befouled now that it's pointless to include them.

Far from saving money, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office originally estimated the legislation would cost the U.S. $11 billion over the next decade. That was assuming everything went well and future hurricanes don't cause massive oil leaks as they did last year.

The CBO estimate gave congressmen the re-election willies, so a handful met secretly and came up with post-midnight changes to the Act in the wee hours of Thursday morning. This ensured that virtually no one in Congress had time to read the bill before voting.

It was, as House Science Committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-New York) said, a "travesty" that gives "new meaning to the phrase 'oil slick.'"

Under the bill, it would take a statute passed by the state legislature (and approval of the governor) every five years to keep drilling rigs farther away behind a 100-mile limit. In the case of Florida, that would be the same state legislature that has repeatedly avoided meaningful hurricane insurance reform while finding plenty of time to interfere with brain-dead Terri Schaivo and her husband.

Tragically, Congress' action occurred just one day after the U.S. Minerals Management Service adopted new rules for Gulf drilling rigs appropriate only to Category 1 hurricanes. MMS virtually ignored the risks "that caused much of the destruction and resulting high oil and natural gas prices associated with Ivan, Katrina and Rita."

As Newhouse News Service reports, even
"drillers said the new federal rules were not tough enough to ensure that their equipment would stay put during the kind of storms that have churned through the Gulf in recent times."

Make no mistake about it. Oily congressmen -- including our own Jeff Miller (R-Chumukla) -- have betrayed Florida's Gulf Coast for cash. First, there is the outlandish bribe of promised revenue sharing, slipped in at the last moment to buy a few more votes. More fundamentally, you can be sure those voting for drilling rigs were thinking of their personal fortunes.

It will take awhile to show up, but it's as certain as anything in politics that the Judas's within the Florida delegation will be collecting more than 30 pieces of silver from Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, and the rest of the petroleum industry. Want verification? Just ask each of them to sign a pledge to deposit all the money they receive from the oil and gas industry into an escrow account to cover the costs of oil spill clean ups along Gulf coast beaches.

As the Sacramento Record reported last month, in the four years Republican congressman Richard Pombo has been chairman of the House Resources Committee he has collected $375,313 in campaign contributions from oil and gas drillers. Even more will be showing up in his next campaign finance report. Indeed, a year ago "federal records show his re-election campaign received $39,425 from the industry" on the very same day an oil-friendly bill of Polumbo's passed the Republican-dominated House.

What will it all mean for Pensacola Beach? You don't need to imagine. The evidence is right next door.

The Virginia Pilot took a look at Daupin Island, Ala., to see what might happen to Hampton Roads, Va., beaches if oil drillers get their way. What they saw was a paradise lost:
Oil drilling has wrought havoc on Alabama’s Dauphin Island. The beaches are filthy and noisy, the water murky and the horizon marred by drilling platforms. The ravages of the oil industry have rendered Dauphin Island a “paradise lost,” an example of what other states don’t want on their turf.
For those who enjoy the emerald green waters and sugar white sands of Pensacola Beach, yesterday's congressional action puts at risk more than tourism and coastal real estate values. As the Sierra Club has explained, human health also is endangered even by so-called "gas only" leases:
Once exploratory drilling commences, the toxic drilling discharges and other routine drilling impacts are similar for either oil or gas exploration and eventual oil or gas development. Drilling operations produce huge quantities of waste. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of drilling muds routinely discharge toxic metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium. Produced water contains dangerous levels of carcinogens and radioactive materials such as benzene, toluene and arsenic.
To be fair, this disastrous legislation didn't begin with Jeff Miller. He remains, as always, a bit player in Congress. The fundamental ground work was laid in 2001 when vice president Dick Cheney convened his still-secret "energy task force" (including Enron's now-convicted felon, "Kenny-boy" Lay). That's when the pressure started to "cave-in to industry interests."

Either Miller and the other Republicans in the Florida delegation don't have the spine to resist or they sold out their constituents. Either way, the only remianing hope now resides with Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez in the U.S. Senate.

Nelson has promised a filibuster. Martinez will be busy trying to dig in his heels against White House efforts to march him up to his grave.

Both Senator Nelson and Senator Martinez need to hear from you.

As for Miller, let him know what you think at the polls this November.

Amplification Dept.

From the same Chumuckla Cinco Bayou [see below] neck of the woods, Why Now? contemplates Mr. Miller's vote "to pour oil all over our beaches... ."

Independent Report is wondering, "If the federal government is so concerned over lost revenue, perhaps they could see fit to rescind some of the gross subsidies and tax breaks currently provided to oil companies."

Fla Politics notes that Governor Jeb Bush "welcomed" the congressional vote to allow drilling rigs within 50 miles of the state coast.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Same Difference?

Headline in the Casa Grande Valley News:

Headline on

Both news organs are talking about the same half-mile wide space rock. So, which is it, small or huge?

We think it must be a Jumbo Shrimp.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Glass Door

In Pensacola, what do they call a woman who was the selection committee's top-ranked choice in a national search for city Fire Chief and --
  • is a 20-year veteran female fire fighter from Gainsville
  • who
  • has a bachelor's degree from the University of West Florida, and
  • earned a master's degree in health administration from the University of Florida, and
  • was one of eight senior fire officials nationwide awarded a fellowship to attend a Harvard University program for state and local government executives in 2004, and
  • was a medical corpsman in the U.S. Army Reserves in charge of a combat support hospital emergency room, and
  • is District Chief of Gainsville Rescue, and
  • who was a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force Reserves coordinating warfare defense training for more than 400 personnel?
They call her "girl."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Election Icons

"Now that Barrier Island Girl is back with her camera,
maybe there's a deal to be done here."
Local congressional candidate Joe Roberts, who's running an uphill battle against incumbent congressional oil-drilling man Jeff Miller, is in the midst of updating his campaign web site. It's about time.

Some of the Joe Roberts links aren't working yet. Some that do just take you to a "coming soon" page, including the link to a promised "Joe's blog."

Now, that could become interesting. 6th District congressional candidate Dave Bruderly has been writing his "Politics and Sausage" blog for some months, now, and it's become increasingly interesting.

What's terrific about political candidate blogs is that the format virtually requires a candidate to abandon the stock "prepared speech" approach and start expressing himself regularly about a wide variety of public issues in a personal way.

We've been following Bruderly for some time. By now, we feel as if we know him better than our own congressman -- or the guy who would like to unseat him, Joe Roberts.

Maybe "Joe's Blog" will change all that.

The one thing that did catch our eye on Roberts' new web site is the snazzy graphic in the upper left corner. It's a short animated slide show that flips through five familiar American icons against a subtle American flag background.

We didn't go to the bother of re-animating the graphic, but you can see the single slides above: the Statue of Liberty, the Capitol Building, a pristine beach scene showing "waves of grain" (if that's what sea oats are), and the water tower at Casino Beach.

The water tower? Well, why not? It's just as familiar to locals as the graphitti bridge under the 17th Avenue viaduct -- and a bit more sightly, too.

The thing is, Joe needs more icons to tell his story. Five just isn't enough. Only two from the beach is pitiful.

Now that Barrier Island Girl is back with her camera, maybe there's a deal to be done here. Joe might give her a forum to show a photo a week illustrating whatever it is Barrier Island Girl and her friends are concerned about -- world peace, national health care, save the dolphins, oil drilling, the ballooning federal deficit, etc. etc.

If it can be told through a camera lens, Barrier Island Girl can snap it for him -- and make it stunningly beautiful.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Remembering Clifford

50 years ago today: Clifford Brown (Oct 30, 1930-June 26, 1956)


"Clifford Brown:The life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter (Oxford Uiversity Press 2001) by Prof. Nick Catalano

Various articles

Mind Reading

Reuters News, June 26, 2006:
An "emotionally aware" computer being developed by British and American scientists will be able to read an individual's thoughts by analyzing a combination of facial movements that represent underlying feelings.
1984 by George Orwell:
In Oceania at the present day, Science, in the old sense, has almost ceased to exist. In Newspeak there is no word for 'Science'. The empirical method of thought, on which all the scientific achievements of the past were founded, is opposed to the most fundamental principles of Ingsoc. And even technological progress only happens when its products can in some way be used for the diminution of human liberty. * * * But in matters of vital importance -- meaning, in effect, war and police espionage -- the empirical approach is still encouraged, or at least tolerated. The two aims of the Party are to conquer the whole surface of the earth and to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought. There are therefore two great problems which the Party is concerned to solve. One is how to discover, against his will, what another human being is thinking, and the other is how to kill several hundred million people in a few seconds without giving warning beforehand.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Climate Crisis: Seeing Is Believing

"Our children, grandchildren, and many more generations will bear the consequences of choices that we make in the next few years."
-- Dr. James E. Hansen, Goddard Space Institute
Jim Hansen, Columbia University professor and Director of NASA's Goddard Space Institute, has written a compellingly personal article in the current on-line version of the New York Review of Books.

He begins his review of two new books and the film, An Inconvenient Truth, by using easy-to-understand examples from what ordinary people see every day to explain why, when it comes to the climate crisis, "Our children, grandchildren, and many more generations will bear the consequences of choices that we make in the next few years."

Below is just a small taste. The full article is worth the read if you happen to be living on planet Earth.
Animals and plants are adapted to specific climate zones, and they can survive only when they are in those zones. Indeed, scientists often define climate zones by the vegetation and animal life that they support. Gardeners and bird watchers are well aware of this, and their handbooks contain maps of the zones in which a tree or flower can survive and the range of each bird species.

Those maps will have to be redrawn.

* * *
Recently after appearing on television to discuss climate change, I received an e-mail from a man in northeast Arkansas: "I enjoyed your report on Sixty Minutes and commend your strength. I would like to tell you of an observation I have made. It is the armadillo. I had not seen one of these animals my entire life, until the last ten years. I drive the same forty-mile trip on the same road every day and have slowly watched these critters advance further north every year and they are not stopping. Every year they move several miles."

* * *
Studies of more than one thousand species of plants, animals, and insects, including butterfly ranges charted by members of the public, found an average migration rate toward the North and South Poles of about four miles per decade in the second half of the twentieth century. That is not fast enough. During the past thirty years the lines marking the regions in which a given average temperature prevails ("isotherms") have been moving poleward at a rate of about thirty-five miles per decade. That is the size of a county in Iowa. Each decade the range of a given species is moving one row of counties northward.

* * * But now the movement is inexorably toward the poles and totals more than a hundred miles over the past several decades. If emissions of greenhouse gases continue to increase at the current rate—"business as usual"—then the rate of isotherm movement will double in this century to at least seventy miles per decade. If we continue on this path, a large fraction of the species on Earth, as many as 50 percent or more, may become extinct.
There's much more to Dr. Hansen's article than a persuasive description of the crisis we face and the dire consequences if we keep ignoring it. As Digby points out, Hansen is one of the scientists the Bush administration has been trying to muzzle. In the case of NASA, the administration appointed a callow, right-wing whacko college dropout to censor public papers and statements, including those of Dr. Hansen.

That whacko is gone now, but not the administration's blatant bowdlerizing of science. So it should be no surprise that in introducing Dr. Hansen's article the New York Review felt compelled to carry the article over the byline of "Jim Hansen" rather than the more formal, and correct, "Dr. James E. Hansen." And, it adds an author's note which to our recollection is unprecedented for this most worthy of forums for the discussion of serious ideas:
"His opinions are expressed here, he writes, 'as personal views under the protection of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.'"
One of those "personal views" in the latter half of Hansen's article happens to be about the scandalous failure of American journalists to cover the climate crisis with intellectual honesty. Again, the lesson is 'seeing is believing.'

About climate change, he writes --
The public is understandably confused or uninterested.

I used to spread the blame uniformly until, when I was about to appear on public television, the producer informed me that the program "must" also include a "contrarian" who would take issue with claims of global warming. Presenting such a view, he told me, was a common practice in commercial television as well as radio and newspapers.

Supporters of public TV or advertisers, with their own special interests, require "balance" as a price for their continued financial support. * * * As a result, even when the scientific evidence is clear, technical nit-picking by contrarians leaves the public with the false impression that there is still great scientific uncertainty about the reality and causes of climate change.
In Hansen's view the integrity (or lack of it) in press coverage, like elections, does have consequences. Speaking of his own despair over whether we have the capacity to elect "politicians with the courage to explain to the public what is needed," he recites his own long, and at times wary, relationship with Al Gore going back nearly two decades.

The short of it, Hansen confesses, is that he was a doubter and Gore turned out to "prescient" about the climate crisis. "For decades he has maintained that the Earth was teetering in the balance, even when doing so subjected him to ridicule from other politicians and cost him votes."

With hindsight, Hansen now realizes, "the man that I met in the 1980s at scientific roundtable discussions [is] passionate and knowledgeable, true to the message he has delivered for years."

He shares this insight as much to indict the media for its part in perpetuating untruths as to give Gore a clap on the back. In the professer's words --
It makes one wonder whether the American public has not been deceived by the distorted images of him that have been presented by the press and television. Perhaps the country came close to having the leadership it needed to deal with a grave threat to the planet, but did not realize it.
That's a discouraging thought. But, as with the climate crisis itself, we may yet forge for ourselves a second chance -- and this time get it right.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Safer Than We Thought

These days, everyone in America is presumed guilty until proved innocent, of course. Even so, you have to admit the Justice Department's much-ballyhooed coordinated press conferences in Washington and Miami touting the indictment of "Brother Naz," "Brother Rot," and five other south Florida weirdos was way over the top.

The thing you have to know is that Florida is overflowing with crackpots, screwballs, fruitcakes, and assorted whackos. Gravity sucks them down here. Most fall all the way to Miami.

As Time Magazine describes it, these guys were "behaving more like a Hollywood B-movie version of terrorists than the real thing." According to the U.S. government's indictment --
  • The alleged terrorists needed shoes -- so they measured their feet and gave the FBI's undercover agent a list of shoe sizes, and the FBI filled the order (para 5, 6).
  • It looks like one of them had a junk car in such bad shape the FBI had to give him a lift to Islamorada so he could meet another "co-conspirator" (para. 8).
  • These yokels couldn't afford a digital camera -- so the FBI gave them one for free (para 17).
  • They didn't have wheels or the cash to rent them, so the FBI drove them around Miami to take photos of federal buildings (para 18-20).
  • When the in-camera storage capacity was exceeded after taking a handful of pictures (and we'll bet the defendants were eager to skedaddle so they could sell the thing) the FBI bought them a memory chip to increase the camera's capacity and take more pictures (para. 21).
Then there's this "allegation" about how the conspiracy was "furthered":
On or about May 24, 2006, Narseal Batiste [aka "Brother Naz"] told the [fake FBI] "al Quaeda representative" that he was experiencing delays because of various problems within his organization, but that he wanted to continue his mission and maintain his relationship with al Qaeda."
Hell, yes, he wanted to maintain that "relationship." Free boots? New digital cameras? Digital camera chips? Sure beats schlepping bottles of shampoo and hair grease on the streets of Miami.

FBI Deputy Director John Pistole told the international media at his Washington press conference, "Their goal was simple: Commit attacks against America."

Simple it may have been, but has it occurred to the FBI the real goal was to score some free shit off city suckers?

Even the FBI admits these guys were "more aspirational than operational." Carl Hiassen should sue the Justice Department for copyright infringement. It looks like they've stolen some of his best characters.

If the Attorney General of the United States and the Deputy Director of the FBI have nothing more important to do on the homeland security front than spend six months acting as agents provocateur and then hold two national press conferences about the arrest of seven pathetic, Bible-thumping Miami con artists trying to run a penny-ante scam, we should all relax: we must be a lot safer than we thought.

Why Not, Why Now?

On the weekends, our good blogger friend over at likes to post pictures of his favorite Florida vanity license plates.

There's a ton of them to pick from, with a portion of the proceeds, so says the State of Florida, going to public charities and causes -- some more worthy than others, no doubt. But have you ever wondered how much of the money you pay the Florida Department of Transportation for these "official unofficial" optional front license plates really reaches the intended good cause?

The answer is hinted at in the application requirements for organizations seeking to add their own plate to the list. It costs them $60,000 to apply (!) and $2 of the fee you pay is kept by the State for "processing."

So we want to ask Why Now, why not buy direct when you can?

Take the case of the 'Mock' Sea Turtle Plate now being offered by the laudable folk at Caribbean Conservation Corps, headquartered in Gainsville. It's every bit as unofficial as one issued by the Department of Transportation, and the charity gets to keep 100% of the money.

For those who live in a state or country that doesn't allow optional front license plates, you can adopt a turtle or give a gift of "turtle adoption" to someone else.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Earth on Fire

"The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science."
-- Email to Republican press secretaries from Bush political advisor Frank Lunz, 2002

"Voters believe there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate... ."
-- Memo to Republican candidates from Bush political advisor Frank Luntz, 2002
This afternoon the National Academy of Sciences' Board of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate released a pre-publication copy of its special report titled Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years. You can download a pdf copy of the entire 157-page draft report for free by going here and clicking on "Free PDFs" to register.

The bottom line:
"[R]ecent warmth [in the surface temperature of the Earth] is unprecedented for at least the last 400 years and potentially the last several millennia."
Over at the American Geophysical Union, a panel of 20 experts convened in January has just issued an equally important report, Hurricanes and the U.S. Gulf Coast: Science and Sustainable Rebuilding. The bottom line from the geophysists divides into two:
The U.S. Gulf Coast from south Texas to the panhandle of Florida is slowly being drowned at varying rates by waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
And --
There is a strong basis in both theory and observation for projecting continued longer and more severe hurricane seasons for the foreseeable future. The hurricane climatology of the past decade, with increasing numbers of more intense hurricanes, should be considered the new normal.
Indeed, USA Today is reporting an interview with two climate experts who say the research shows "global warming produced about half of the extra hurricane-fueled warmth in the North Atlantic in 2005, and natural cycles were a minor factor."

These two new reports should have Americans gathering at the gates of Congress and the White House demanding, What are you going to do about this?

Alas, that isn't going to happen, is it? Too many of us would rather be fooled by lies than face reality.

Jeff Miller's Gamble

Graphic courtesy of Skytruth

Is Pensacola's congressman, Jeff Miller, gambling with Northwest Florida beaches?

According to multiple news reports, he's undercutting fellow Florida congressmen and senators of both parties and plans to vote for a proposal that would allow oil and gas drilling within 50 miles of Pensacola Beach. As today's WaPo reports:
"Under the legislation, the buffer that now prevents drilling up to 100 miles out from the coastline would be shrunk back to 50 miles, though states could decide to allow drilling even closer to their shores."
It's a mystery why Miller would invite drilling rigs to set up so close to the world-famous sugar white sands of the Florida panhandle, particularly now when scientists are widely agreed that we have entered a multi-decadal period of increased hurricane activity.

Hurricanes are just one of the many things that could wash ruinous oil globs onto the white sands of Pensacola Beach, of course. But they are the most obviously-growing threat.

Just last month even the drilling-friendly U.S. Mineral Management Service confirmed substantial oil and gas pollution occurred as a result of hurricanes Rita (Cat. 4) and Katrina (Cat. 5). The storms caused at least one major oil spill and 6 lesser spills. At last count 457 under-sea pipelines were damaged or destroyed.

As the National Research Council reminded us in its 2003 report, "Oil in the Sea," all available studies completed over the last two decades show --
"significant environmental damage... can be caused by spills of petroleum into the marine environment. No spill is entirely benign. Even a small spill at the wrong place, at the wrong time, can result in significant damage to individual organisms or entire populations."
Of course, it's all a matter of probabilities, like playing Russian Roulette. No doubt, Jeff Miller is gambling that he can vote for any damn thing he wants because conservative Republican constituents in the Panhandle will reelect him, regardless.

Maybe so, maybe not. Judging from the conservative friends we hear from, a lot of them are having second thoughts about the "preventive war" in Iraq Miller voted for.

How much less will they like it when they learn Miller is undercutting "preventive protection" for our beaches?

Dept. of Amplification

Late last week, the Palm Beach Post identified Jeff Miller as a prime actor in splitting the Florida congressional delegation, which "for a quarter century" had been unanimous in protecting Gulf shore communities from the petroleum drillers.
Linda Pierce, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said the Florida delegation's split has encouraged members from other states to push for more drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf, particularly in the potentially natural gas-rich eastern gulf.

"They have always had the strength of standing together," Pierce said of the Florida delegation. "I'm afraid that the chink in the armor is part of what is allowing this to be alive in Congress."

Oh, That 'Angry' New York Times

Someone on the Times' editorial board has been sipping at the same sarcasm stream so many 'angry' bloggers drink from:
"The House has a much more simple-minded solution: walling immigrants out and calling the rest felons. Like the baffled hominids of "2001: A Space Odyssey," they are poking at the Senate's big-picture approach with a leg bone.

"Their plan is to travel the country this summer holding public hearings on the Senate bill. That will probably just kill immigration reform for the year ... .

"But what the Republicans really want to do is take the Senate bill on a perp walk through the red states, relishing the catcalls denouncing it as "amnesty" and using the hearings to milk whatever anti-immigrant resentment they can find or drum up for the benefit of their candidates. Their motives couldn't be clearer.

* * *
"Given the topics that have preoccupied Congress lately, one wonders why the Republicans don't simply propose a catchall bill aimed at illegal gay liberal Mexican flag burners and be done with it."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Kentucky Fried Fletcher

Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher, a Republican, is engulfed in a growing scandal in which he pardons his criminal buddies in state government as fast as they are indicted -- actually faster.

According to the New York Times,
"14 ... members of his administration who have been indicted are charged with a total of 23 felonies and 60 misdemeanors for, among other things, criminal conspiracy and evidence tampering. In August 2005, Mr. Fletcher issued a blanket pardon protecting everyone in his administration but himself from prosecution."
Fletcher himself recently had his lawyer enter "not guilty" pleas for him to three political corruption charges.

Until today, the scandal has been covered mostly by a couple of forward-looking blogs like Talking Points Memo and The Bluegrass Report. But after today's exposure, some idiot running Kentucky's state computer network started blocking access to those two blogs for all state employees.

Now, Daily Kos, Atrios, Political Wire, the Swing State Project, and lesser known blogs like True or Better, Baby Fight, Intoxication, and, yes, even us we are joining in to help shine the light into this foul Kentucky cave. By tomrrow, it's all but certain there will be hundreds more.

Think we don't need Net Neutrality to guard against political and corporate favoritism in accessing the web? Think again.

Pensacola Primate

Henry VIII - The First Anglican

We don't pay much attention on this blog to fairy tales, myths, astrology, tarot cards, professional wrestling, or religious stuff. But we would be remiss if we didn't point out that the newly elected Archbishop of the American Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schori, was born in Pensacola on March 26, 1954.

Besides being the first woman in the 472 year history of the Anglican Church to rise so high, it seems she is from a family that values education:
Her father was an atomic physicist who became an astrophysicist and then went on to help invent a system to tag and code salmon. Her mother had a degree in comparative literature but later became a microbiologist. Her husband of 27 years, Richard M. Schori, is a retired theoretical mathematician. Her 24-year-old daughter, Katharine, is a pilot in the Air Force.
Bishop Schori herself has a Ph.D. in oceanography from the University of Oregon. The New York Times reports that she also "has been flying airplanes since college and took up rock climbing with her husband, a skilled mountaineer." She is fluent in both English and Spanish.

It seems, however, that in the eyes of some grumps, Bishop Schori is a "liberal" who dares to believe that "homosexuals were created by God," according to a Reuters report in the Washington Post. Naturally, this has conservative Episcopalians -- especially those who live in Texas, just as commanded by the Bible -- upset. Momentarily interrupting the Anglican recitation of Jesus' message of eternal love and redemption, they're threatening an outright schism of the church.

Hey, Christian fanatics have gone to war and killed each other over less.

To be sure, shortly after her birth Bishop Schori moved away from Pensacola. But that's sooo Pensacola, isn't it? Smart, highly educated, liberal, tolerant, successful -- and gone.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Words of One Syllable Dept.

New York Times, June 20:
Republicans defeated a Democratic measure calling for an investigation into waste and fraud in military contracts today as the Senate engaged in an emotional debate over the Iraq war.

By a 52-to-44 vote, the Senate rejected the proposal by Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, calling for a panel like the one led by Harry Truman when he was a Senator, which uncovered many abuses in military spending during World War II.
New York Times, June 20:
The Army Corps of Engineers said Monday that it had canceled a $99.1 million contract with Parsons, one of the largest companies working in Iraq, to build a prison north of Baghdad after the firm fell more than two years behind schedule, threatened to go millions of dollars over budget and essentially abandoned the construction site.

* * * [T]he prison, originally scheduled to be completed this month, appears to be the largest single rebuilding project canceled for failing to achieve its goals under the $45 billion American rebuilding program for Iraq. The corps said Parsons officials had recently estimated that it could not be completed before September 2008, and would cost an additional $13.5 million.
Washington Post, June 18:
Once Point Blank and the military agreed on what body armor to produce, Magee expected that the military might contract with several companies to make it, ensuring that all U.S. troops received them as soon as possible, he says. Instead, Point Blank won an exclusive contract to make the outer vests through "very effective lobbying," Magee says. * * * [I]t was a good deal for David Brooks, the chief executive and largest shareholder of Point Blank's parent company, DHB Industries Inc. His compensation went from $525,000 in 2001 to more than $70 million in 2004.
* * *
By initially hiring just Point Blank, and spreading body armor purchases from the company out over several years, the military created a bottleneck that kept many soldiers and Marines wearing outdated vests unnecessarily for years, Magee says.

See also: All Our Sons

Confronting Climate Change

Elections do have consequences. Yesterday, it looks like the two newest Supreme Court justices appointed by George W. Bush turned what was going to be a majority opinion upholding enforcement of the Clean Water Act into a polluted mess that will take years or even decades to iron out.

As the doyenne of the Supreme Court press corps, Linda Greenhouse, reports about Rapanos vs. United States, "it was plain that something went awry in the court's handling of its most high-profile environmental case in years."

The court was able to issue no real "majority" opinion. The structure and language of what became the court's official, though non-majority, decision has fingerprints all over it suggesting Justice Scalia originally intended it as his dissent. A lone concurring opinion by Justice Kennedy looks like it was drafted to be the majority opinion upholding the lower court decision enforcing the Clean Water Act. But something happened and he joined the Scalia faction, although only to vote for the same result of sending the case back to lower courts for more evidence (leading to years before the case can return to the Supreme Court, and much chaos for other cases in the meantime.)

Four other justices dissented from the result but agreed with several key points Justice Kennedy makes in his special opinion of one. As reporter Greenhouse writes:
The net effect of the most important Clean Water Act case to reach the court in recent years was thus neither the outright rollback of federal wetlands regulation that property rights advocates have long sought nor the reaffirmation of the Clean Water Act that environmental organizations had desired.

Instead, unless Congress amends the law or federal regulators change their rules, the likely outcome is more litigation in lower courts, with property owners, U.S. agencies and federal judges trying to figure out how to satisfy the standards sketched in Kennedy's solo opinion.
If you have the time and interest, all 104 pages of the various opinions can be accessed [in pdf format] on the court's web site here. As you will see there, more is at stake than just the Clean Water Act -- although in itself that is a weighty enough issue.

On the surface, the various justices appear to be debating dictionary definitions of words like "waterway," "adjacent," and "wetlands." But beneath these surfaces arguments there lies a deep philosophical fissure over the role the federal government constitutionally can, and scientifically should, play in regulating building, development, and pollution activities for environmentally sensitive areas of U.S. watersheds, lakes, streams, and coastal communities.

The legal issue insofar as the Constitution is concerned is as old as the Republic, as you can see by reading the venerable cases (and paying attention to the subsequent history) of Chisholm v. Georgia (1793) and Barron v. Baltimore (1833). The very conservative Scalia-Thomas axis, now buttressed by Justices Alito and Roberts, ideologically would prefer to strip the U.S. Congress of its power and leave such matters entirely up to states and local communities. They would do that, if they could, by ruling that Article I of the Constitution does not give Congress the power to regulate the nation's interior waterways.

The so-called liberal court faction, consisting of Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsberg, and Breyer would conclude, contrariwise, that Congress' Article I powers are sufficient to allow the federal government the authority necessary to regulate development and dumping activities where that authority is necessary to protect public watersheds and waterways.

Yesterday, Justice Kennedy split the difference by writing that under the Clean Water Act federal regulatory authorities need to show a "significant nexus" between wetlands "that are adjacent to or connected with a navigable body of water" in order to save the Clean Water Act. Accordingly, he said that federal regulations implementing the Clean Water Act need to be re-written to better define "categories of tributaries" that are "significant enough that wetlands adjacent to them are likely, in the majority of cases, to perform important functions for an aquatic system incorporating navigable waters."

The net effect of Kennedy's apparent change of mind is to leave America's wetlands in limbo for years to come while the Corps of Engineers contemplates new wetland regulations or Congress undertakes to pass new legislation.

Apart from the legal issues, it's not much of an over-generalization to say that the policy question comes down to this: Who do you trust to save you from global warming -- your local county commissioner, the U.S. Corps of Engineers, or scientific experts on the environment?

Ironically, in the same newspaper today, science writer Cornelia Dean has an important article discussing the "nexus" between climate change and coastal waterways. In "Next Victim: The Beaches," she offers evidence that --
Though most of the country's ocean beaches are eroding, few coastal jurisdictions consider sea level rise in their coastal planning, and still fewer incorporate the fact that the rise is accelerating. Instead, they are sticking with policies that geologists say may help them in the short term but will be untenable or even destructive in the future.
Exhibit A is the state of Florida, where local governments increasingly are allowing hardened "armoring" of Gulf Coast beaches:
Until May 1, when turtle nesting season forced them to stop, they were also pumping hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sand onto eroded beaches. Florida has relied on this approach for decades, but after the past few storm seasons, there has been an increase in applications for sea wall permits, many from Mr. Tomasello's clients.

* * *
Maintaining eroding beaches with artificial infusions of sand is difficult and costly, and as sea levels rise, it may become economically impractical or even impossible. "The combination of sea walls and rising sea level will accelerate the rate of land loss in front of those sea walls," said Peter Howd, an oceanographer who conducts shoreline research for the United States Geological Survey in St. Petersburg. "So people with a sea wall and a beach in front of it will end up with just a sea wall."

Many people "want to disagree" that global warming is a threat to the coast, said Daniel Trescott, a planner on the staff of the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, one of 11 such boards in the state. "But the first place you see these impacts is on the beach."

* * *
At present rates of sea level rise, Dr. Moore said, the computer model she is using "suggests the barriers can maintain themselves, if they are allowed to migrate." But if a sea wall or other infrastructure is in the way, the island is pinned down. Sand that would wash over is blocked as the island erodes. In time, rising water meets the wall and drowns the beach. Meanwhile, storm waves scour the wall's base and erode the underwater beach slope. "Eventually the sea wall collapses because the situation is so extreme."

Now the island is free to move, but it may be too late, she said. If water continues to rise, the island may just disintegrate.

To muddy the waters even more, it's probably true, as some of Dean 's sources say, that the U.S. Corps of Engineers, as the principal agency charged with enforcing the Clean Water Act, has been one of the chief proponents in the past of "beach armoring" and sand renourishment schemes. Asking them, as Justice Kennedy's opinion does, to rewrite wetlands regulations is rather like asking the foxes to write visiting rules for the hen house.

As Pensacola Beach residents will recall, six years ago it was the Corps of Engineers that ignored a near-record number of protest letters and authorized Portofino developers to destroy over 25% of the wetlands on its 40 acre condominium site at the eastern end of the beach -- wetlands of the kind that scientific studies show play a crucial role in muffling the destructive effects of hurricanes and preventing island erosion.

On the other hand, our Escambia county commissioners have been even worse when it comes to protecting the environment against well-heeled developers with lots of campaign contributions jingling in their pockets. They approved Portofino's plans to destroy the wetlands in the first instance. No one who pays attention trusts them to prevent destructive armoring of Pensacola Beach once politically powerful developers begin to demand it.

The Portofino struggle is over, now. But as Dean writes, "few coastal jurisdictions consider sea level rise in their coastal planning, and still fewer incorporate the fact that the rise is accelerating. Instead, they are sticking with policies that geologists say may help them in the short term but will be untenable or even destructive in the future."

So, if neither the Corps of Engineers nor local county politicians can be trusted to confront climate change, what is the solution? The 2003 Pew Ocean Commission Report titled, "America's Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change" points the way.

Every American living near a coast -- and that's now more than half of the nation's population -- needs to read the entire report. For that matter, it should be of interest to every fisherman, boater, beach tourist, and parent of a future American.

The Commission consisted of a bipartisan, independent group of experts appointed by Congress to assay the complex interaction and current state of our oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands. It was the first comprehensive study of its kind since the Stratton Commission in the 1960's, a landmark in its time inspired by public concern generated largely by Rachel Carson's books, Silent Spring and The Sea Around Us.

The Pew report has found a "crisis" of both public perspective and "failure of governance" at every level of government. It concludes that all governments at every level need to "exercise... authority with a broad sense of responsibility toward all citizens and their long-term interests," not short-term profits.

The study was placed in the hands of Congress three years ago. It makes a powerful argument that the public has a responsibility to "change our perspective and extend an ethic of stewardship and responsibility toward the oceans." Although the final report advances a great many specific solutions, all of them require that the public recognize "this is not a decision about us. It is about our children, and actions we must take to bequeath them thriving oceans and healthy coastlines."

The immediate consequence of the Supreme Court's decision in Rapanos vs. United States is that everyone will have to go back to the drawing boards. On this all the justices seem to agree. As Roberts said, "Lower courts and regulated entities will now have to feel their way on a case-by-case basis." And as Justice Stevens wrote from the other side, the one sure result is that the case "will have the effect of creating additional work for all concerned parties."

Forcing a re-thinking of the nation's wetlands policies is not necessarily a bad thing when, as almost every credible scientist will tell you, we have entered an era of radical climate change. The environment and multitudes of species that depend on healthy oceans and wetlands are under enormous stress. But, in the meantime what are we as ordinary citizens in a democracy to do?

How about starting here: Confront every candidate for Congress and every U.S. Senate candidate with this question: What do you propose to do to implement the recommendations of the Pew Ocean Commission Report?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Write Your Own Game

"A bad beginning makes a bad ending."
-- Euripides
Bleed Cubbie Blue has a classic. Write it yourself.

Friday, June 16, 2006


The sham congressional "debates" on the Iraq War led us to wonder just how many jingoists, knaves, and fools who voted for the Iraq War could have picked out an outline of that unfortunate place in a line-up of five or six other suspects?

Then we began to wonder, how much world geography do We, the People know? So we decided to test ourselves.

As a result, we are now proposing this Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
"(1) No congressman, senator, president, or American voter is allowed to provide any moral or material support for the U.S. military invasion of another country unless he or she first scores at least 100 points on the Lizard-Point GeoQuiz for the continent or geographical area proposed to be invaded.

"(2) Repeat testing shall be allowed, but only after asking nicely in the native tongue of the place to be invaded."

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A Four Bagger for Bush

Forget Alito, Roberts, Rumsfeld, and all the rest. The Bush administration has hit a home run with the appointment of Donald Hall as poet laureate.

He's the author of so many books that
no one can count them all
and so the papers give us what
they call "selected bibliographies."

The last time we looked there were
twenty-two books of prose,
four stage plays and eighteen
more of poetry plus
a dozen extra for the kids,
not counting countless anthologies.

He's been the poet laureate of New Hampshire and has won the 1989 National Book Critics Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry, the 1987 Lenore Marshall Award, the 1990 Robert Frost Medal winner from the Poetry Society of America, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the American Council for the Arts. His latest book of poetry is White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946-2006.

Thank goodness this appointment doesn't require Senate confirmation.

In honor of this four-bagger, we reproduce four short poems by Donald Hall which, as near as we can determine, are in the public domain.
Old Timer's Day, Fenway Park

When the tall puffy
figure wearing number
nine starts
late for the fly ball,
laboring forward
like a lame truckhorse
startled by a garter snake,
– this old fellow
whose body we remember
as sleek and nervous
as a filly’s –

and barely catches it
in his glove’s
tip, we rise
and applaud weeping:
On a green field
we observe the ruin
of even the bravest
body, as Odysseus
wept to glimpse
among the shades the shadow
of Achilles

* * *
To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.

If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.

Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.
* * *
Mannequin and Maker

When he had pasted her eyelashes --
curled her hair, tinted her lips,

modelled her breasts, and shaped
her thighs that established

a paradisal confluence
of pool and swelling mossy hill --

finally he fixed her moody
soul's deportment by attending

to his mirror, rendering feelings
line-by-line, duplicating urges,

glooms, humors, and satisfactions
with left for right throughout.
* * *

My Mother Said

My mother said, "Of course,
it may be nothing, but your father
has a spot on his lung."
That was all that was said: My father
at fifty-one could never
speak of dreadful things without tears.
When I started home,
I kissed his cheek, which was not our habit.
In a letter, my mother
asked me not to kiss him again
because it made him sad.
In two weeks, the exploratory
revealed an inoperable
The doctors never
told him; he never asked,
but read The Home Medical Guidebook.
Seven months later,
just after his fifty-second birthday
--his eyesight going,
his voice reduced to a whisper, three days
before he died--he said,
"If anything should happen to me..."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

'Slouching' Through Cedar Key - and More

T.S. Alberto, the first named tropical storm of the season, "brought rain, some sharp winds and foot-deep floods to northwest Florida on Tuesday, but U.S. forecasters said it no longer threatened to become the first hurricane of 2006." This, according to Reuters News Service.

The folks over at Hurricane City are inviting damage reports. And some of them already are focussing on a new projection model that has something popping up over Cuba and heading for Louisiana over the next several days.

If you want to scare yourself by seeing the same thing, click here, then scroll down and click "FWD" to start the java loop running. Keep your eye on Cuba and watch the blob appear, then Baryl north.

Oops. We mean "barrel" north.

This seems to be what National Hurricane Center's Tropical Discussion is referring to as of 1 pm this afternoon:

'Widespread Surge Event'

Florida state meteorologist Ben Nelson told the Tallassee Democrat that T.S. Alberto would bring a "widespread surge event" to the Big Bend area in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The High Springs Herald, near the expected landfall, reports "winds of 45-60 mph with gusts up to 75 mph" are expected. Schools are closed for the day.

On Pensacola Beach well to the west a few scattered squalls from the outermost storm band were brief but "churned up the roughest surf of the year," Michael Stewart reports.

The PNJ's Ben Twingley captured a dramatic view of the clouds over the beach Monday evening. To the left you can see a thumbnail, but visit the PNJ to get the full effect.

Disappointed that the storm surge will barely reach "8 to 10 feet above normal tide levels" at the worst, and Alberto does not look like it will kill hundreds or lay waste to the entire state of Florida, perverse world oil traders drove petroleum prices down below $70 a barrel.

Locally, it will be a red flag day on Pensacola Beach. But most effects of the first tropical storm of the year should dissipate by mid-afternoon, allowing for the scheduled Blues on the Beach performance by ETC at 7 p.m. at the Gulfside Pavillion.

Monday, June 12, 2006

NHC's Alberto Experiment

The National Hurricane Center is using T.S. Alberto as the first opportunity to try out for public consumption its 'experimental probabalistic' storm surge warning graphic.

Check it out by looking for the green spash along the coastline, then clicking on the green line for an even closer view, something like this:

Once you've checked it out, consider taking the NHC feedback poll on how you like it.

Reporting in for Alberto

Central Florida Hurricane Center (aka has a message board where those who live in or near the Big Bend area are reporting in on local storm conditions they observe.

Alberto Grows, Heading East

Excerpted from the NHC 1 PM (EDT) advisory:


The Pensacola area likely will escape all but windy weather and beach erosion from battering waves. The Mobile NOAA weather station has issued this advisory:

Bleeding Blue

With T.S. Alberto now heading for landfall well east of Pensacola, the Iraq war beginning to drift into Lebanon, and the Bush cabal holed up at Camp David supposedly to reassess strategy on Iraq , we think it's time to take a break and celebrate the end of "our long national nightmare": Yesterday, the Chicago Cubs snapped their long winless streak on WGN Cable TV.

You don't have to be a Cubs fan, or even follow baseball all that closely, to enjoy Al Yellon's daily posts on Bleed Cubbie Blue. Yellon is a lifelong Cubbie, a long-time season ticket holder, and without a doubt the most entertaining and perspicacious baseball writer this side of Roger Angell. Two years ago, he was awarded the much-coveted "Best Cub Blog" award, which in some quarters out-ranks the Pulitzer. You can read all about it right here.

Yellon is there at Wrigley Field, day and night ... win, lose or even draw. (Sure, a draw is almost impossible under the rules of baseball -- but if it can be done, the Cubs will find a way.) He generally shares his insights and those of the bleachers buddies around him within hours of the latest Cubs' foray onto the field of competition and into the aching hearts of Cubs fans around the globe.

Try following Bleed Cubbie Blue for a few days to see what we mean. It's like a soap opera. Once you get into it, you can't stop watching.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

T.S. Alberto Advisory

The latest discussion as of early Sunday evening from NHC:
And from WaPo:
The prospect of a wet storm without hurricane-force wind was welcomed by firefighters who have been battling wildfires for six weeks on Florida's east coast.

"A good soaking rain would do a lot to help stop the fires in our area," said Pat Kuehn, a spokeswoman for Volusia County Fire Services. "It has been a hard fire season. We've had several fires a week here."

Forecasters said the storm could make landfall early Tuesday in central or northern Florida.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Housing Boom Leaves Charities Landless

Pensacola News Journal reporter Derek Pivnick scores again today with a front page report about the limited supply of lots for building affordable housing by charities like Habitat for Humanity and redevelopment agencies like the Neighborhood Enterprise Foundation. In Escambia County, HFH has no more available lots. In Santa Rosa, there are just 20 left.

It looks like a national trend. Also today, the Washington Post is running a front page article on the same subject: "Donations Take the Hit As Housing Prices Rise.

Adolescent 'Alberto' Headed for Florida

NHC 5-Day Track
(as of 6 am Saturday)

Saturday morning, the AP brings news of the "first tropical depression of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season." By afternoon, the comparatively small storm is expected "to become the year's first named storm."

In which case it would be "Alberto." Although there is "a greater than normal amount of uncertainty" about where in Florida it's heading, the NHC doesn't expect it to become a hurricane.

Got it? Young, comparatively weak, not well organized, and hard to predict -- a typical adolescent. Someone that bears watching, but it won't tear down the house.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Shorter Greenwald

It's almost a literary crime to shorten any Glenn Greenwald essay, but if you're really in a rush then read this excerpt from "A New Low: The Senate Seeks to 'Pardon' the President for Past Lawbreaking":
[I]t is the entire Congress which has failed in its responsibilities to take a stand against this President's lawbreaking and abuses, and there is plenty of blame to go around in both parties. The reason the President has been allowed to exert precisely the type of unrestrained power which the Founders sought, first and foremost, to avoid, is because the Congress has allowed him to.

Katherine Harris Jumble

"He's not really going away, but he's going away."
-- Gerry Fritz, Communications Director
Katherine Harris campaign, June 9, 2006

Via yesterday's Raw Story edition, we learn that the usually reliable Roll Call scooped the latest crack-up involving Katherine Harris: the resignation of Fred Asbell.

Technically, Aspell wasn't a campaign worker. He's been chief of staff in her congressional office in Washington D.C. -- the fourth chief in as many years. Still, it seems passing strange Aspell would be leaving if he thought Harris had any realistic chance of becoming a U.S. senator -- unless, of course, he can't see any handwriting on the wall that would pay his bills next year.

Tampa Bay Online today quotes a Harris campaign spokesman as explaining that Aspell is "not really going away, but he's going away." That clears things up, right?

The implication is that while intending "to pursue opportunities in business consulting and development" from time to time Aspell will "also advise Harris on her campaign."

Advising Katherine? Really? Nah. If you buy that, we've got a $2,800 dinner bill we'd like you to pick up.

Testifying, maybe. Our hunch is Aspell knows there are some serious Justice Department subpoenas coming and he wants to put as much yardage as possible between his memory and Katherine's post-prandial conversations.

By the way, we're sticking to our prediction: Katherine Harris eventually will quit this campaign. Remember, you heard it here first -- back in March.

We hope we're wrong. Harris's multiple mishaps provide a rich and hugely entertaining mine of weirdness, as Stephen Elliott reminds us in this month's issue of the venerable Progressive Magazine out of Madison, Wisconsin.

Elliott was one of only two reporters who accepted an invitation a few weeks ago to join the Katherine Harris press "bus." You may recall him as the reporter who snapped those photos showing Katherine playing footsie with a blushing college kid.

Elliott's entertaining and, at points, sympathetic article about Katherine Harris has just been published. He offers several insights along with a vivid description of the footsie episode that will have readers breathing heavily. ("I saw her heel brush his naked foot * * * She lowered her hand to her knee and her skirt rode just slightly up her leg. It wasn’t an accident.")

But our favorite passage concerns Elliott's own puzzlement over a Harris campaign poster:
"The office seemed empty and ragtag, but that’s not unusual for a campaign office six months before an election. The thing that really caught my eye was a white sheet of paper tacked to the wall. It had seven words running vertically in large bold font, all of them left-justified except the last:


"The word WIN was centered, and I stared at that piece of paper trying to figure out what it meant.

"I thought the first letters of each word taken together would spell something, but all they spelled was Ildshew. Then I thought maybe WIN wasn’t part of the puzzle, since it was the only word centered, but that spelled Ildshe, which didn’t make any sense either. A google search of Ildshew brought back no results and Ildshe only one, buried in a sequence alignment and modeling software system.

"My subsequent thought was that this paper didn’t actually have any added meaning. They were just buzz-words with no particular relation to each other, no different from cutting taxes while promising expanded services. It was like a joke left behind by one of the staff that walked out when it became obvious the campaign wouldn’t win. But then we were all driving and we stopped in a Starbucks and Katherine offered to buy me a coffee.

"I was invited to ride with her the short distance to the hotel. And when I climbed into the mobile home I saw the sign again, the same sign I had seen in her office: Ildshew. Idle wish?"

Can anyone help him out here? We Shild? She Wild? Lewdish?

What's the answer to this jumble?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Small Walls, Big Rooms

The county agency that governs Pensacola Beach is considering adopting a rule that would prohibit newly constructed or re-constructed homes from covering all of their pilings with break-away walls.

Instead, the Santa Rosa Island Authority would impose an arbitrary limit of "850 square feet of enclosed space below the base flood elevation," according to Derek Pivnick's clear and succinct report in today's PNJ:
"Debbie Norton, the authority's Environmental and Developmental Services manager, said with fewer break-away walls, debris on the island could have been reduced by about one-third after Hurricane Ivan. Debris pickup after hurricanes is a great expense to the county, she said."
Pivnick reports that Norton also claims "many beach homes had upper structure damage because their break-away walls didn't perform properly."

Island residents may be dubious about that latter claim unless Debbie can produce more eye witnesses than the property insurance industry has managed to find who can parse the sequence of structural destruction so many beach dwellings experienced during hurricanes Ivan and Dennis. Still,
even if the Island Authority is inventing more excuses than it needs, the issue is a serious one. It's an old theme that has bedeviled the agency for a decade: how to enforce flood plain rules that prohibit ground floor "living space" in post-FIRM houses.

Memorably, that issue almost boiled over a few years ago when one resident raised a stink about a neighbor's ground-floor garage having been converted to living space. The neighbor denied the assertion. The accuser then demanded that a new inspection be conducted. Someone else then proposed that the board arm SRIA staff with the power to conduct surprise compliance inspections all over the place. The idea was quickly dropped after residents association representatives pointed out there were serious constitutional objections to warrantless home searches by government employees.

In past years, some SRIA staff privately estimated that at least a third and as many as half of all elevated homes and townhouses on the island had installed (after final inspection) forbidden plumbing, electrical, and other amenities to expand the livable area. The SRIA's concern about such a possibility is legitimate since under NFIP regulations local governments are accountable for enforcing national flood plain construction rules.

For too many years the old SRIA deliberately blinkered itself to such violations when it came to certain businesses, including a free-standing bicycle rental shop. But then news reached the island that FEMA was sending out threatening letters to municipalities which it had reason to think were deliberately failing to enforce flood plain 'livable space' rules. The letters pointed out that FEMA could void all flood insurance policies in the community if local government neglected its enforcement responsibilities. That got the SRIA's attention.

Ironically, however, the agency's concern about preventing over-building to cut down on storm debris seems to stop at the hotel lobby. Pivnick also reports that the SRIA is contemplating charging a "
consideration fee" for commercial properties "that increase the number of hotel rooms or residential units from what was allowed on their original lease."

Until recently, county ordinances wisely imposed clear limits on so-called hotels that wanted to skirt the residential unit cap by converting short-term-stay hotel rooms into long-term condo units. Now, it looks like the SRIA is about to surrender on the issue entirely so long as the businesses pay "
$3,030 for each additional unit" they aren't supposed to have.

To summarize: Island residents likely soon will be told they can't hide their pilings behind too many break-away walls, but commercial hosteleries will be able to buy their way around the residential building caps. Thus does the transmogrification of Pensacola Beach from a residential island paradise to a honky tonk hotel district continue apace.

Re-Inventing al-Zarqawi

"For the past two years, U.S. military leaders have been using Iraqi media and other outlets in Baghdad to publicize Zarqawi's role in the insurgency. The documents explicitly list the "U.S. Home Audience" as one of the targets of a broader propaganda campaign."
Washington Post, April 10, 2006
If, like us, you've found today's coverage of a subject the media and its talking head guests know next nothing about -- terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his reported death -- vastly un-nourishing to the mind, you may want to read Mary Ann Weaver's in-depth article in this month's Atlantic Magazine.

The on-line article originally was titled "Inventing Al-Zarqawi." Oddly, however, earlier this morning it seems to have been re-titled, "The Short, Violent Life of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi."

The full article is available for free, at least for now. Here's your teaser:
"If you want to understand who Zarqawi is," a former Jordanian intelligence official had told me earlier, "you’ve got to understand the four major turning points in his life: his first trip to Afghanistan; then the prison years [from 1993 to 1999]; then his return to Afghanistan, when he really came into his own; and then Iraq." He thought for a moment. "And, of course, the creativity of the Americans."
Why do we get the feeling, now that al-Zarqawi is dead, that someone will have to invent another one?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Test of a Good Education

The graduating class at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois got Stephen Colbert's joke. Do you?
"But the best reason for me to come to speak at Knox College is that I attended Knox College. This is part of my personal history that you will rarely see reported. Partly because the press doesn't do the proper research. But mostly because it is not true! I just made it up, so this moment would be more poignant for all of us.

"How great would it be if I could actually come back here -- if I was coming back to my alma mater to be honored like this. I could share with you all my happy memories that I spent here in Galesburg, Illinois. Hanging out at the Seymour Hall, right?

"Seymour Hall? You know, all of us alumni, we remember being at Seymour Hall, playing those drinking games. We played a drinking game called Lincoln-Douglas. Great game. What you do is, you act out the Lincoln-Douglas debate and any time one of the guys mentions the Dred Scott decision, you have to chug a beer. Well, technically three-fifths of a beer. [groans from audience]

"You DO have a good education! I wasn't sure if anybody was going to get that joke."
Read the whole commencement address. It's worth it.

Pensacola 911

Florida state emergency officials have begun airing public service radio and TV ads that replay "frantic 911 calls from residents who were trapped in Pensacola-area homes during Hurricane Ivan in 2004." The ads are part of the state's "Get A Plan" hurricane preparedness campaign.

Among the audible calls are some of these, as transcribed by Southwest Florida's Herald-Tribune:
"Water is all over the house, our roof is completely caved in," one panicked woman says. Another says all her neighbors had evacuated and pleads, "Please, tell me what to do."
Typically, the 911 operators respond that there's nothing to be done until the storm passes.

The ads supposedly are being run by Florida commercial broadcasters as a public service. That generally means they'll be sandwiched in between infomercials around 3 to 4 a.m.

Apparently, the ads are running most frequently in central and south Florida. No one we know is keeping track of all the airings.

If anybody hears the ad, please let us know, would you? We'd like to know how far our recorded voice has carried.