Wednesday, August 31, 2005

New Orleans airport reopens for relief flights, Evacuees to be moved to Houston TX, Bleak reality takes hold

The latest: Water levels appear to have equalised on the levee breach at Lake Pontchartrain, so no more water will flood into the city except at high tide. Special sandbags are being brought in to plug the gap, and then pumping can start.

However, the situation in both the city and region remains dire. Residents who have been sheltering in the city’s Superdome are preparing to be moved to Houston, TX, as officials there get ready for their arrival. Bush has cut short his holiday to return to Washington — seen by many as window-dressing.

Conditions on the coast in general mirror those in the city: widespread flooding which will take months to fully assess and solve; an unknown amount of survivors / deaths; dwindling or non-existent food and water supplies; no way to dispose of waste and sewage; physical devastation of structures. Essentially, a wasteland until rebuilding efforts can be planned and started.

The best sources for updates: Times-Picayune’s Newsblog, WWLTV's Katrina Updates page, Google News top stories, The Irish Trojan’s Blog.

Update 1>

Continuous image gallery updates on the Times-Picayune’s general site.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Katrina: At least 55 killed in one county alone, New Orleans levees breached, water rising, looting, martial law declared

So, Katrina becomes a tropical storm and then a tropical depression, fading away to the northeast. The French Quarter of New Orleans seems safe.

But a couple of hours ago, news arrived that a levee separating Lake Pontchartrain from the city had been breached:

Failed pumps and at least two breaches in levees sent water from Lake Pontchartrain coursing through the streets in the Big Easy, which sits mostly below sea level.

In downtown New Orleans, streets that were relatively clear in the hours after the storm now are filled with water.

Canal Street is literally a canal and officials say water is lapping at the edge of the French Quarter.

The water is fouled with gasoline, debris and floating islands of red ants.

Residents were urged to avoid drinking the water in New Orleans.

Hemmed in by other levees elsewhere, the water has nowhere to go but into the city, and with pumps underwater and out of action it will continue to rise until it equalises with the level of the lake. Areas of the city are already under 10 feet of water, and this will rise as lake water pours in. (If you search Google Maps for “New Orleans”, zoom in and switch to photo view you will see just how much water the city has to absorb from the lake.)

Nobody is going to be allowed back into the city until at least a week passes, and even then only with identification. Looters have already started their goulish work: martial law has been declared and police have orders to shoot on sight.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has been dispatched to the city because of fears that breached gas and oil lines may be contaminating the water. With no division between sewer water, river water and utility water, the problem will be compounded. The fact that bodies continue to be seen floating in the water simply adds to the suffering and the mounting death toll for the storm as a whole.

Further east, alone the Gulf Coast, Mississippi has suffered, if anything, even more than Louisiana. When the hurricane hit, its eye passed over the coastal areas of Gulfport and Biloxi — it is in Biloxi that most of the official death toll for the storm as a whole has been counted. In addition, Biloxi is a major gambling venue and the state of Mississippi will lose an average of $500,000 for each day that the casinos are closed.

Get further updates via Google News, WWLTV, NOLA, WDSU, and Wikipedia’s Hurricane Katrina page (constantly edited). Updated image galleries of the damage are here and here, as well as photos posted to flickr from members of the public in all areas.

Update 1

Scary stuff on this blog. The water looks to be rising apace.

Update 2

The levee breaks, blogged in detail, with ‘before and after’ images. An excellent post. Also, constant interesting updates here, at WWL’s blog, and at the Times-Picayune’s updates page.

Update 3

The death toll has risen to a total of 126 direct deaths from the hurricane, of which 100 are in Harrison county. In New Orleans, looting is widespread, efforts are being made to plug the levee breaks (although this is more a question of levee structure than hoping to stop an already disastrous influx of water) and the city is now 80% underwater. All along the coast, rescue efforts continue, but bodies are being left where they are in favour of bringing the living to safety.

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The 'that' that was essential

More than a few common grammatical errors, explained.

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Hurricane gone, recovery begins


The updates from the Hurricane Center grow quiet, and the winds die down in the French Quarter. People breathe easier and think of returning, but New Orleans has taken a battering, with large expanses under water. The Mayor is advising that people don’t return for at least a week, but fear of looting has already drawn some people back.

It’s encouragingly easy to start thinking of rebuilding, and New Orleanians have a ‘fuck you’ determination about them, which is why some stayed. Tragically, some of them are dead — there were reports of bodies floating in the water when I looked last night — and because the levees which guard the city are now holding all that water in, there is still a lot to watch for, plan for, and prevent: some of the city’s pumps are underwater so don’t work; the water has nowhere to go; and it is polluted with sewage.

A powerful storm surge pushed huge waves ahead of the hurricane, flooding much of St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, just as Betsy [did] 40 years ago. But this time the flooding was more extensive, spreading upriver as well to cover parts of the Bywater, Marigny and Treme neighborhoods.

With the power out throughout the area and fierce winds raging throughout the day, officials barely began Monday to assess the full damage of the monstrous storm, which was expected to leave thousands homeless and many more coping with damage from the wind and water.

Meantime, five miles to the west, engineers worked to close a breach along the New Orleans side of the 17th Street Canal.

Huge drainage pumps ordinarily can drive millions of gallons of rainwater uphill through the canal, as it takes water from the low-lying city into Lake Pontchartrain. But the breach turned the canal into a major threat. Lake water flowed back through the breach, hemorrhaging into Lakeview and beyond.

Across Lake Pontchartrain and closer to the site of Katrina’s landfall, thousands of homes in Slidell flooded. From the Interstate 10 overpass at Slidell’s Old Spanish Trail, the only visible structure from the dense commercial intersection was a boat bobbing on the waves.

For myself, I’d quite like to visit one day, and I hope Café du Monde is still OK. Here’s a gallery of the damage; the WWLTV website, which has detailed news for all areas of the city; a Yahoo! News photo gallery; the flickr gallery.

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Hurricane Katrina's effects

Shamelessly lifted wholesale from the Associated Press because it’s late night here and I don’t really have the energy to do another webwide sweep tonight. More tomorrow.

Monday August 29, 2005 11:16 PM

By The Associated Press

Hurricane Katrina’s effects, at a glance:


-After hitting Florida last week, Katrina strengthened to a Category 5 storm over the Gulf of Mexico but weakened slightly and came ashore early Monday as a Category 4 storm with wind of 145 mph.

-Near Lake Ponchartrain, entire neighborhoods of one-story homes were flooded up to the rooflines. Up to 20 feet of water was standing in one poor neighborhood on New Orleans’ east side.

-An estimated 40,000 homes were flooded in St. Bernard Parish just east of New Orleans.

-The highest winds in New Orleans were estimated at about 100 mph.

-Evacuations: New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered the entire city of 485,000 to evacuate. For those who couldn't, the city opened 10 shelters, including the Superdome. The mayor estimated that 80 percent of the city's residents had left.

-Some 370,000 customers in southeast Louisiana were estimated to be without power, but the number could end up much higher as authorities assess the damage.

-About 9,000 spent the night at the Superdome arena. Power failed at around 5 a.m. Monday, and three hours later the wind tore away metal and left two holes in the roof, one 15 to 20 feet long. Officials said the holes were not dangerous.


-Winds hit 135 mph as the storm pounded the Mississippi coast. Gulfport Fire Chief Pat Sullivan called it “a devastating hit.” A 22-foot storm surge recorded in Bay St. Louis. Gulfport Memorial Hospital in Biloxi experienced major damage.

- At 5 p.m. EDT, Katrina was about 30 miles northwest of Laurel, Miss., and moving north at 18 mph. It was a weak Category 1 hurricane with maximum gusts near 75 mph. Forecasters said the storm may spawn tornadoes around the South.

-Evacuations: Residents all along the Mississippi Gulf Coast headed inland Sunday. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said Monday that about 8,500 people were in 79 shelters. American Red Cross shelters were filled to capacity.

-Several of Mississippi’s beachfront casinos were flooded, but the scope of the damage was not immediately known.

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Monday, August 29, 2005

Katrina Latest

New Orleans is still being lashed by 125 mph winds as the hurricane moves inland, but St Bernard Paris in the city is under water which is rising: foolhardy residents who stayed have been forced into their attics as the first floors of their houses were inundated.

Elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, the storm flung boats onto land in Mississippi, lashed street lamps and flooded roads in Alabama, and swamped highway bridges in the Florida Panhandle. At least a half-million people were without power from Louisiana to Florida's Panhandle, including 370,000 in southeastern Louisiana and 116,400 in Alabama, mostly in the Mobile area.

At New Orleans’ Superdome, home to 9,000 storm refugees, the wind peeled pieces of metal from the golden roof, leaving two holes that let water drip in. People inside were moved out of the way. Others stayed and watched as sheets of metal flapped and rumbled loudly 19 stories above the floor.

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Hurricane Katrina 8AM CDT Public Advisory

WTNT32 KNHC 291254
8 AM CDT MON AUG 29 2005






Well, it’s finally hit. Eastwards of the centre of New Orleans, which is better than expected, but only just eastwards.

The significant development is that earlier today UK time, and in the middle of the night New Orleans time, the western quadrant of the hurricane had an influx of dry air which changed the characteristics of the eyewall, making that side of the storm very slightly weaker. It has been downgraded to a Category 4 storm.

Keep yourself updated with the latest reports from the Hurricane Center.

Things are happening all over the area as I type. New report: a levee has been breached at the Industrial Canal at Tennessee Street.


St. Bernard Parish spokesman Larry Ingargiola says the parish's two shelters at Chalmette High and St. Bernard High are suffering major damage. He said Chalmette High shelter is losing its roof, and St. Bernard High has plenty of broken windows and glass. He estimates 300-plus refugees at the two sites.

Entergy says 317,000 customers were without power as of 6 a.m. Cleco reported 40,000 without power in St. Tammany Parish.

Air conditioning out at Louisiana Superdome due to power outages.

St. Bernard Parish officials say most of the parish has no power.

Get quick updates via Google News, CNN, Metafilter threads (#1 and #2) and keep track of where the reports are coming from on Google Maps.

Current time in New Orleans.

Update 1

From a livejournal (linked to from this one, which is an excellent summary):

0513 am: in old apt. rainy windy, still power. worst is yet to come. yet try sleep. very well sheltered for now. zzz...

0643 am: power out now. things going thud outside.

0643 am: building next door collapsed. this may go soon wall missing big cracks. fun trip love you

Oh god. :o( The latest from CNN is that parts of New Orleans are under 6 feet of water after some of the pumps that service the city stopped working. The Lower 9th Ward of the city was affected after 3 pumps failed. Weather Service reports ‘total structural failure’ in some areas of the city.

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

New Orleans could be disaster area

I know this isn’t entirely UK news, but Hurricane Katrina is due to hit the city of New Orleans (which is coastal, and sits behind levees as it is 1 to 20 feet (av. 6) below sea level) within the next 24 hours.

Wikipedia says: “New Orleans is a major port city due to its location near the Gulf of Mexico and along the Mississippi River, making it a hub for goods which travel to and from Latin America. The petroleum industry is also of great importance to the New Orleans economy; many oil rigs are located in the Gulf.”

Wikipedia’s latest update also says: “The National Weather Service’s ships as of 8 AM EDT, August 28th, 2005, indicate that the system is rapidly expanding and will impact the area of New Orleans, LA at a Category five strength with maximum winds of at least 176 mph (283 km/h) sometime on August 29, 2005.”

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale is a scale classifying hurricanes by wind intensity, much as earthquakes are classified on the Richter Scale. A Category 5 storm is the highest on the scale:

Winds greater than 155 mph (135 kt or 249 km/hr). Storm surge generally greater than 18 ft above normal. Complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings. Some complete building failures with small utility buildings blown over or away. All shrubs, trees, and signs blown down. Complete destruction of mobile homes. Severe and extensive window and door damage. Low-lying escape routes are cut by rising water 3-5 hours before arrival of the center of the hurricane. Major damage to lower floors of all structures located less than 15 ft above sea level and within 500 yards of the shoreline. Massive evacuation of residential areas on low ground within 5-10 miles (8-16 km) of the shoreline may be required.

And of course, those levees around the city could hold the water in afterwards, making any flooding worse in final effect. :o(

More useful links: coverage. Satellite Imagery. National Hurricane Center’s RSS feed for Katrina. Hurricane Center homepage. Gulf of Mexico satellite image. Radio programme (transcript online) about the potential for disaster. Webcam coverage from New Orleans. Live TV coverage online (windows media). A local blogger writes. Google News for the US.

Fingers crossed for the people of the Gulf Coast.

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Saturday, August 27, 2005

Name = self?

A variety of famous authors are auctioning the chance for your name to appear in their respective next book.

Buyer should be aware that CELL is a violent piece of work, which comes complete with zombies set in motion by bad cell phone signals that destroy the human brain. Like cheap whiskey, it’s very nasty and extremely satisfying. Character can be male or female, but a buyer who wants to die must in this case be female. In any case, I’ll require physical description of auction winner, including any nickname (can be made up, I don’t give a rip).
—Stephen King

The money raised will go to the First Amendment Project, which is laudable, but what interests me more is why a person would want their name to appear as a character in the latest novel from Straub, Gaiman, Eggers, King, or Lethem.

It interests me because our conception of ourselves has grabbed my attention ever since I touched on human personality and personal identity as part of uni philosophy. Sure, we are intimately wedded to our names — they signify us all through our lives, but do they really signify our selves? I have been completely enveloped in the story and atmosphere of a few novels, but I have never experienced an extra thrill of excitement or suspense when a character bears my name.

That’s why this auction gets me thinking: do some readers out there imagine themselves moving through the story’s world when they read their name? Are they content to bear the omnipotent writer’s whim? Do they feel indignant when another character disparages ‘their’ character? Is reading really that close to acting?

In sum, I would feel disappointed in the end if I were one of the bidders: I would know that actually it wasn’t me who was in Stephen King’s book, but just a couple of proper nouns. It’s all for a worthwhile cause, but since one of my friends changed his name a couple of years back (first name and surname, from german to english), I just have an increased awareness that words aren’t everything. A saxophone by any other name would sound as sweet...

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Hard cover status, and other mistakes

I didn’t know that hardback books are no more expensive to produce than paperbacks, but as I have now found out, it is common knowledge in the trade. That makes me bridle for two reasons.

One: hard covers therefore signal a ‘big’ author preferred by the publisher; an ideal; ‘a good book’. So anything first published in paper covers will be considered a lesser species. This unjust dichotomy is hardly given redress by the re-appearance of the hardcover author in paperback a year later.

Two: reader satisfaction. I’m not talking about book fads like Harry Potter, or the latest example of The Book Everyone Must Read. I’m talking about the pleasure and longevity of the book as object. There is no earthly reason for most fiction — and 99% of poetry — not to have first publication in hard covers. Apart from shelf space. And, of course, how could I forget that the hard / soft status symbol makes many shoppers’ choice for them? Fill the tables in your local bookshop with hard covers, and then people would actually have to spend time and thought in reading and choosing. Which most don’t.

That little rantling over, poetry today is not dead, or dying, or ill, or on its last legs. It bears repeating. Now, go and buy some. Be daring! Make your next book purchase poetry, not prose. :o)

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Monday, August 22, 2005

What experiences do people have...?

First off, here is Camille Paglia talking about a book she has edited which presents and examines 43 of the world’s most enduring poems. But true to form, she isn’t actually talking about the book but flowing over questions like these:

...people who are interested in writing in this period of media and the web and so on, they find it very sustaining to go to a place to meet other people who are similarly interested in it. That’s the upside but the downside is that to be a good writer you can’t just study writing. You have to live, OK? That’s the problem. The best writers have drawn from actual experience, have had some experience. What experiences do people have any more?

Most people I have talked to over the years have assumed that to ‘have an Experience,’ travel is a prerequisite. I don’t believe so but I do believe that the sense of being open-eyed and open-minded in the strongest and most immediate sense is what is needed, and travel happens to impose that feeling almost automatically.

The other day, I was dragging my way through a tangle of brambles by an old canal in a forest near my home. As I emerged by a wooden bridge and an expansive meadow, I suddenly had a small quiet rush of impressions and memories. Things which had been alive in my life when I had been here before asserted themselves. It wasn’t just the past remembered: other things in my life were meshing together now.

Then of course there are the definite, pointable-at experiences which take place as occasions: other people were there; perhaps you took photographs. But I really just wanted to link to Paglia’s words (which deal with the arts in general as a collective way of thinking and living, and which has sadly receded) in case you were interested.

Next up, another question that, unsurprisingly, continues to baffle us. I say unsurprisingly, because humans generally haven’t been brilliant at finding out about tiny complexities in systems which they have been studying in depth for only around 100 years. The question is: what makes people gay? Nature or nurture? Genes or hormones in the womb? Or none? Or all? Read the excellent article. Then, ask yourself: why does it matter whether or not you are born gay or straight?

The Family Research Council, a conservative Christian think tank in Washington, D.C., argues in its book Getting It Straight that finding people are born gay “would advance the idea that sexual orientation is an innate characteristic, like race; that homosexuals, like African-Americans, should be legally protected against ‘discrimination;’ and that disapproval of homosexuality should be as socially stigmatized as racism. However, it is not true.”
Those last pathetic words from the Family Research Council, of course, and not the writer of the wider article! Finally, did God create the world and everything in it in seven days? Or is God a fiction, evolution a certainty, and the new ‘theory’ of ‘Intelligent Design’ anything but a theory and simply the latest appearance of a desperate anti-secular charlatanism? The linked article is quite long which makes me think it could expire sometime, but it’s excellent so if you want a copy, tell me. That’s all for now.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

How to make a killing...

...go really badly wrong:

Shoot a man several times in the head in a tube-train when: you have not firmly identified him; he walks to a bus; he walks from the bus; he walks into the tube station; he does not vault the barrier; he stops to pick up a free paper; he sits down inside the train; he is not wearing a heavy coat but a t-shirt and a denim jacket; he is previously immobilised by one of your own officers.

This is, of course, about the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes by UK police. The IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) was the course of the leaked documents which lay bare this whole sordid mess. It is considering its evidence and so nobody from the police or 10 Downing Street wishes to comment. Strange, that. Bastards.

...on a few old iBooks:

Sell them off at $50 a pop, creating utter havoc when hundreds of waiting Americans stampede as you open the gates.

I wouldn’t risk facing, or engage in, injury or assault for an old iBook. But at the moment, I would for this. Bah. Coveting Messiaen CDs again.

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

I cannot believe...

...that people have started to turn to Google for relationship advice. But they have: yesterday, someone from America found my blog by doing a dearch for “am I too possessive of my boyfriend”.

Maybe the best way to find that out might be to ask the man, rather than asking Google. Just a thought, now. Not that I know anything about relationships, being a human and not a search engine.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

'Pugnacious and bellicose'... LOL

Apparently, rather a lot of crusty judges in this country think that extending the licensing laws so that bars can open later and people won’t all be forced to leave at the same time and clog up the streets would lead to binge-drinking and anarchy among the young.

*giggles* A guy called Charles Harris QC thinks that ‘a high proportion of British people become "pugnacious and bellicose" and "fight at the slightest provocation" after drinking’.

The BBC story goes on to say: ‘He also denied later opening times would lead to more “continental” drinking habits. “Continental-style drinking requires continental-style people — people who sit quietly chatting away at cafe tables.” He said British drinking involved “standing up, shouting at each other in crowded bars, trying to consume gallons of beer at a time”.’

Charles Harris, QC, obviously doesn’t go out to very many bars, has a massive tendency to generalise about that of which he knows nothing, and is given to using hilariously pompous phrases like ‘pugnacious and bellicose’ in a way which reminds me of this:

Act I, Scene II

The next day. Peter is watching television.

1st Pundit: The administration’s plan for peace in the Middle East is shallow and pedantic.
2nd Pundit: I agree, shallow and pedantic.
Peter: I agree, as well. Shallow and pedantic.

Act I, Scene III

Later that night at dinner.

Peter: Hmmmm
Lois: (concerned) Everything alright, Peter?
Peter: (lecturing) Well, Lois, since you asked, I find this meatloaf rather shallow and pedantic.

Heh. And don’t even get me started on the Conservative Shadow Home Secretary’s inability to stop himself from using the word ‘yob’ in connection with this issue...

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Music and life

If anyone is inclined to moan at me about how terrible it is that classical music isn’t valued enough today and is going to die in future, I’ll be pointing them to this site, in which a young professional musician argues more relevantly and cogently exactly why it matters that classical music is liberated from the chains of pessimism and catapulted into today.

I’m reminded of a heated argument I inadvertently started with a group of organists on a collective email list a few years back. They were nearly all older than 40, some as young as 30, the average age 55ish. I innocently asked why it was so bad to have a TV series dynamically explaining the organ and its music.

I got at least a few private emails back (from 50something church musicians, you understand) telling me, amongst other things, to ‘shut up’, ‘fuck off’, and ‘stop trying to ruin music’. Hmm. And then these same people cry crocodile tears over the future corpse of their so-called love. “And each man kills the thing he loves...”

The same can’t be said of the above musician.

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Baking without a recipe

And you thought this post was about bread? Tsk:

Recent anti-terror plans have made the government look in a “state of nerves”, a senior Labour MP has said.

John Denham, [speaking in his capacity as] chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, said ministers had initially produced a considered response to the London bombings [but he] said he was “very disturbed indeed” by recent events.

“The last few days really give the sense that the government has got into a real state of nerves,” he told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme.

“It is displaying a lack of confidence in its own strategy.

“I think they have got to get a grip on it very, very quickly, stop floating half-baked ideas and get back a proper cross-party consensus on the serious measures that have to be taken.”

I lifted so much wholesale from the BBC story there because it’s an important point. Closing mosques, and charging people with treason (which, by the way, still depends on the original Act of 1351!) is a very quick, unconsidered, panicky way to proceed. It also damages people’s civil liberties.

One hypothetical case to illustrate Tony Blair’s haste, and New Labour’s foolishness in rushing at this time: imagine a British citizen is a member of the IRA (before the ceasefire). Then imagine he gets charged with treason. (That never happened throughout the history of the Troubles.) Then imagine his local church gets closed because it’s in a militant nationalist area. (That never happened either.) Internment happened, but after a completely secret preliminary trial? Nope. That wasn’t on the books at all.

Tony Blair has got panicked and confused. Because New Labour is particularly nannying as a government, it interprets an attack on public transport as an attack on itself, and hence on the symbolism of the entire country, and hence on the sovereign state. Hence, treason. Wrong. Treason is a very specific crime against an entire country or something which legally embodies it — like Guy Fawkes trying to blow up Parliament, for example, or someone trying to murder the Queen. Even though Islamic fundamentalists wish to panic a country, they do not yet call for the violent abolition of the UK.

Now, if New Labour want to change some civil liberties for a few years and write into new statutes a provision that they must be renewed every few years through a parliamentary vote, then by all means let them get a cross-party consensus and do so.

But if there is no consensus, it must not legislate with knee-jerk reactions which have a chilling effect on people’s rights and freedoms and which actually don’t match the wrongdoings they are meant to stop.

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Espresso Porn

This, as you might have guessed, is an espresso in the making, viewed from below before it even starts to hit the cup.

From a wonderful, and entirely ‘me’ site called Espresso Porn, which I hadn’t seen before. Thanks to Moleskinerie for this shot-in-the-morning.

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Monday, August 08, 2005

Terrorism, and art

But obviously not the two at once. The 4 suspects who were arrested a while ago on charges of attempting to bomb the London transport system have appeared in court today, charged with various offences. A number of other people have been arrested and charged with failing to give out information.

There’s already been a debate as to whether a substantial risk of serious prejudice as to their guilt or innocence has been created by the rather ‘eager’ 24-hour news coverage of their arrests and so on. We’ll see what happens but just between you and I, I suspect that any jurors will automatically think they’re guilty before they’ve heard a thing from counsel for either side.

Meanwhile, fury down in Cardiff as the Welsh Assembly Conservative leader predictably rants about the alleged misuse of taxpayers’ money on art for the new Assembly Building. I make no comment on the new building myself, because it doesn’t exist fully yet, but when you consider that the price of 4 works of art totals less than 1% of the total cost. Philistine.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Phi Delta Theta

Each chapter must have or have on order a complete set of ritual equipment. (An altar, the Bible, 2 swords, Pallas, 2 banners, flag, The Bond, 4 ritual books, a coffin, a skeleton, 6 spears, 12 masks, 12 hoodwinks, 2 lamps, 4 officer robes, 11 member robes)

How fascinating... that was from the Minimum Chapter Expectations & Standards Checklist (PDF) for Phi Delta Theta (their Code [PDF] is also interesting). Phi Delta Theta is a Greek Organisation (or Fraternity) founded in 1848.

Fraternities are called Greek Organisations because they are usually named by a dyad or triad of Greek letters. They are usually national organisations particular to the USA, with state chapters, and within those, houses attached to particular colleges. I was unaware that, far from being somehow forbidden underground movements, they actually hold substantial properties within college campuses — I suppose the legacy of having a long history and famous alumni!

The organisations seem very strange to a non-fraternity outsider — for example, many of them have secret signs, grips, whistles, ceremonies and the like, and although it’s often seen as bad form to haze rather than initiate their pledges, some do — but as the point is to fit in, I suppose they’re sane enough. Erm, well, perhaps... certainly hazing isn’t permitted in some fraternities, and there’s even a nationwide gay one. But you’re not allowed to date your brothers. Grr.

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A lovely wine shop, and other links

This is very much a first-thing, not-enough-coffee-yet posting, so don’t blame me if it’s disjointed. Because it will be.

First off, there’s a wonderful new wine shop in New York. Yes, New York. I don’t care that this is Belfast; I have the place down on my list for some future visit. It looks amazing in terms of its design (click on the link and then through to the photogallery, top right) and its unobtrusively computerised wine guides are the clincher: even if you have never visited before, the way you drink wine is your guide. Via Gothamist.

A railway of death in London. Shocking news that the Guantánamo military commissions are rigged. The unsettling story of Ted the Caver, for all you Descent aficionados. I suspect the movie may have nicked the idea from the site but can’t be sure.

Nice night photos of Cambridge - MetaFilter’s thread thereon.

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Monday, August 01, 2005

Parochial response to NI plans

If anyone is surprised by today’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that Army watchtowers in the province will be taken down, they should not be. If anyone is surprised by Ian Paisley’s response to it, they can be forgiven some incredulity, but not much.

While most residents of Northern Ireland, of whatever persuasion, will be happy that these eyesores are to disappear from the environment, Mr Paisley and his supporters seem to think they are excellent architecture — or perhaps excellent symbolism of a state architecture which they wish to cling to with their withering hands.

The three-stage plan, which is dependent on the verification and preservation of last week’s IRA undertakings (and which is an addition to annex 1 of the Joint Declaration, available here as a PDF) contains, among other things, the following proposals:

  • The vacation and closure of Forkhill Base; the removal of Tower Romeo 12 in South Armagh; and dismantling of the super sangar in Newtownhamilton. Work has already started and will be completed within a 6-month period.
  • The continuation of the review of the police estate with action taken as agreed with the Policing Board following consultation with District Commanders and local communities, including work to defortify some 24 police stations.
  • Progressive withdrawal of soldiers from sites where co-located with police in Armagh (Crossmaglen, Newtownhamilton, Middletown) and in Fermanagh and Tyrone.
  • The vacation, closure and disposal of all military sites to leave no more than 14 core sites.
  • The further reduction in Army and other service levels, including the disbandment of the operational brigade headquarters, to a permanent military garrison of no more than 5,000. The size of the longer-term garrison is likely to fluctuate in response to global demands on the army and its overall complement.
  • Repeal of counter terrorist legislation particular to Northern Ireland.
  • It is not, however, simply a case of a change of environment that Mr Paisley objects to. It is the reality that, since the province’s two largest parties are the DUP and Sinn Féin, if Ian Paisley became First Minister, his Deputy would be Gerry Adams. That is something that Mr Paisley, rightly or wrongly, cannot stomach. And so, with the DUP having the upper hand in negotiations to come, we will see a protracted and annoying period of stalling which will keep Northern Ireland from struggling free of its pathetically parochial fetters.

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