Friday, September 30, 2005

Shilling For A Shilling

Poker Championship

I have registered to play in the
Online Poker Blogger Championship!

This event is powered by PokerStars.

Registration code: 8488912

Whee.

posted by Gary @ 1:54 PM 0 comments links to this post

Bill Bennett, The Bilious Babbling Boob

Blame the "liberal media" for once again grabbing hold of a conservative's stupid statement and disseminating it to We The People, thereby bringing embarrassment raining down upon him. No matter how richly that embarrassment is deserved, those damn Libs should just keep those little indiscretions hidden under the rug, where they belong.

(Just like the Republicans did when Bill Clinton got caught with his fly unzipped. But I digress.)

Reagan's secretary of education Bill Bennett has a radio show. (I know, I was surprised as well.) And Bill The Boob made a rather ill-advised comment on his September 28th broadcast:

I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.

Now, to put his comment in context: His caller had hypothesized that the potential lost Social Security revenue from all aborted fetuses since Roe v. Wade was decided, would have kept the Social Security program fully funded. And Bennett was specifically addressing the theory in the book Freakonomics that the crime rate had fallen as the abortion demand had increased.

Still ... Bennett is a boob. No doubt about it. (And I mean no insult to all the lovely boobs out there. You know who you are, and discreet photos are always appreciated.)

The heck of it is, technically, Bennett is absolutely right. You could abort every black fetus in America, and your crime rate would go down. Similarly, you could abort every white fetus in America, and the crime rate would go down. You could abort every Hispanic fetus, same results. Asian fetuses? Same results.

For that matter, you could abort EVERY SINGLE FETUS conceived during the next twelve months, and the crime rate would eventually plummet. It stands to reason that, if you reduce the number of people being born, you will also reduce the number of people committing crimes. Heck, "ethnic cleansing" has been going on in the Middle East for many years now, and petty crime is down. Brutal murders by roving bands of religious fanatics may be on the rise, but petty crime is pretty low.

An inherently logical statement, however, does not necessarily make that statement rational. Or, for that matter, wise to inject into popular discourse.

But it is also not necessarily wise to try to grandstand on that display of ignorance to make your own political hay. That's why Democrats should not be screaming for Bennett to apologize. It would make a lot more sense to just let him twist in the wind, as Tom DeLay and Bill Frist and Michael Brown and, yes, even Dubya are doing.

Although they were foolish enough to have elected Dubya to a second term, the American people are not so stupid as to ignore the self-destructive hypocrisy of the "Family Values Party". By screaming about the GOP's mistakes from the top of Capitol Hill, the Dems only soil themselves with the ambient stench rising from the mess. Better to let Bill Bennett stink this one up all by himself.

posted by Gary @ 12:02 AM 1 comments links to this post

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

DeLay: GOTCHA!

I generally try to leave politics out of this blog. There are approximately three million blogs on the Web that deal with politics on a daily basis, and this isn't one of them. But today, I must allow myself to gloat just a bit.

An Austin grand jury has indicted Tom DeLay on a charge of criminal conspiracy. The (former) House Majority Leader (House rules require him to give up the leadership role while the indictment is pending) faces two years in prison for conspiracy to launder corporate political contributions.

Unlike most liberals, I'm not happy about DeLay's indictment because he's the ranking Republican in the House. I'm happy about it because Tom DeLay is a royal asshole-prick-moron-jerk who deserves all the bad karma life can throw at him.

Here is a partial list of Tommy Boy's stunts that I can name off the top of my head:

o When Houston's Metropolitan Transit Authority was seeking federal funds to build the initial phase of its new light-rail system, DeLay (whose district borders southwest Houston just outside the city limits) put language in the federal transportation bill that specifically prohibited Houston, and no other city, from using federal funds for light rail. This, after the voters of Houston had already approved a light-rail referendum at the polls.

o After the 2002 state elections gave control of the Texas Legislature to the Republicans, DeLay orchestrated the re-drawing of the state's districts for the House of Representatives. The districts were re-drawn to ensure that five Democrat congressmen would have to oppose strong Republicans for their seats. DeLay did this, even though the state had just been redistricted two years earlier according to the results of the 2000 Census.

o When the re-drawn map came up for a vote before the Texas Legislature, state Democrats fled Texas to break the quorum. DeLay asked the Justice Department and the FAA to track the Texas house speaker's private plane, so that Texas DPS officers could arrest the Democrats and bring them back to the Texas Capitol. (Fortunately, their jurisdiction ended at the state line, which is why the Dems spent the first special session in Oklahoma and the second one in New Mexico.)

o A year ago, when the possibility was first raised that DeLay could be indicted, the House Republican Conference approved a rule change that would have modified the rule requiring DeLay to give up his leadership post if the indictment came down. (Fortunately, the full House didn't go for this crap.)

o Tom DeLay was lighting up a cigar in a Washington, DC restaurant, and the waiter asked him to put it out. The waiter reminded DeLay that, being in a government building, no smoking was allowed. DeLay's response: "I am the government!"

Tom DeLay is not a nice person. And, partisan politics aside, it's nice to see a truly nasty man begin to finally get his.

I'll keep watching as his ship goes down. And gloating.

posted by Gary @ 1:58 PM 2 comments links to this post

Monday, September 26, 2005

Hurricane Haiku

Sweat dripping from brow

Raking leaves into a bag

Branches puncture bag.



Hefty makes weak bags

But it's all I have right now.

Raking never stops.



Limbs and leaves all o'er

Got to clean this big mess up

'Fore the lawn guys come.



Knowing them, they won't

Clean up the mess from Rita

Without charging more.



As big "blow jobs" go,

Rita was, shall I just say,

Unsatisfying.



But mostly, I'm glad

That nobody local died.

Especially us.



And glad we didn't

Have to depend upon that

Crappy gen'rator ...

posted by Gary @ 6:43 PM 1 comments links to this post

Mundane Musings On A Monday

It's hot here. VERY hot. You'd think the hurricane would have cooled things off a bit, but no.

Yesterday it got up to 101 degrees. With the 51 percent humidity (yep, Houston's mugginess factor is on the rise again), that meant it felt like 121.

When it's too hot to go swimming, you KNOW it's too freaking hot. (Did anybody remember to remind God it's September?)

So now, we're getting heat advisories from the National Weather Service. Personally, I've heard quite enough from the NWS during the past week. Wonder if I could persuade them to take a couple of weeks' vacation, and to turn the air conditioning up before they go?

Not to fear. In a week I'll be arriving in Los Angeles, where it's currently a nice, comfortable 74 degrees. Since for the last week I've been "Hurricane Boy", I'm half-expecting an earthquake to hit while I'm there. That would dovetail nicely with the way this month has been for me so far.

(You think Mr. KABC would put me back on the radio to report on an earthquake?)

* * *

Okay, so I know that's not much of a blog entry. I'm decompressing. I used up all of my creativity during the hurricane. Bear with me until my stress level ramps back up. Knowing me, it shouldn't take long.

posted by Gary @ 1:21 PM 0 comments links to this post

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Hurricane Post Lucky #13: The Post-Mortem

God, what a mess.

Leaves all over the front yard, and covering the bottom of the pool. Our neighbors across the street have several tree limbs down in their front yard. (Silly us -- we foolishly paid a guy to thin out our tree a couple of weeks ago. The guy across the street gets Rita to do it for free.)

But, as far as the eye can see, absolutely no damage at all. Not to our house, or to any of our neighbors'.

We lost power here for a grand total of five seconds. Since I have a UPS on my computer, I didn't even have time to shut down before the power came back on. It was off just long enough to force us to reset every digital clock in the house. We have enough electronics here that at night, when all the lights are off, there is faint glowing coming from multiple points -- almost enough to navigate by once your eyes have adjusted to the darkness. Well, last night, all those glowing points were flashing.

Last night, I was too damn tired to care.

We've had the adrenaline pumping for three days, anticipating death and destruction and mayhem and broken windows and missing roofs and no showers and sweltering temperatures. The worst we suffered here? I was finally forced to clean out the garage so we could stash our cars in it. Our cars. Did you know two of them fit in a two-car garage just perfectly? Who knew?

A few hours of raking and scooping, and you'll never know anything ever happened in this neighborhood. I'll worry about those who lost everything later on. Right now, I'm just grateful that our lives haven't been seriously disrupted. I don't think a few hours of selfishness is inappropriate. I'm going to spend it holding my wife and telling her how much I love her.

But what the hell am I going to do with all of this ice I bought?

* * *

The gridlock is now heading toward Houston. Even though the mayor and governor have said "Don't come home yet, we haven't assessed the damage" (or, for that matter, figured out a re-population plan that would avoid the same problems the evacuation caused), people are heading to Houston. And the traffic jams have already begun.

There is no gasoline in Houston. There is no food. If you want a cold beer, you might be able to find a stray ice house that remained open throughout the storm, but that's about it. No pizza deliveries, no newspaper deliveries, no mail.

No mail?!?

Yep, it seems that old "Neither rain, nor snow, nor gloom of night" crap the Postal Service likes to quote doesn't say anything about hurricanes.

Since most of Houston was never under a mandatory evacuation order, officials can't deny residents of those areas the ability to come home whenever they want. But the big concern is how to get gasoline back into the city. Officials are not going to put the contraflow plan back into effect for returning traffic; they're saving those "outbound" lanes for gasoline tankers and emergency vehicles.

The problem is that once the tankers get here, they will be facing stations that are closed. The station owners and their employees may have evacuated. Coordinating this so that tankers and employees are there at the same time is going to be a mess that will take days to untangle.

Similarly, Southwest and Continental airlines won't be resuming flights in and out of Houston until tomorrow, because so many TSA baggage screeners had gone AWOL before the storm. Getting those baggage screeners back on the job (and handing them their asses on a platter) before resuming air travel is also going to be a challenge.

And my hands still smell like gasoline from messing with that damn generator a couple of days ago. It's the only gasoline smell you can find for 100 miles ...

* * *

I switched this blog over from my usual smart-assed comments to the hurricane story because, like so many other people, I was fascinated by the on-the-scene reports from those who were riding out Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in New Orleans. I thought I could do the same thing here. But certain conditions had been presumed: a working generator for when the power went out, lots of mayhem and destruction to report, and of course, national media coverage and mass adoration for my selflessness in bringing the story to you. (Hey, I got an ego too, yanno ...) None of those things happened.

From a dramatic perspective, this blog has been a total flop.

But I never expected the total success, either. I was a guest on L.A. radio, which is something I had never done before. Clearly, I was heard by dozens of people. I have received so many nice blog comments that I am genuinely touched and humbled. And I re-learned something I had long forgotten: how to write as well as I can speak. My strongest talent is extemporaneous speaking, but reducing those words to writing quickly was, for me, a lost skill. With this hurricane, I seem to have gotten it back. (Can a book deal be far behind?)

So, to April Winchell, Mr. KABC, everyone who read and enjoyed my dispatches, and most importantly, those of you who told me you did, I thank you. This has been a wonderful experience, and I wouldn't mind repeating it sometime (without the hurricane, of course).

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled rants and commentary about nothing much in particular ...

posted by Gary @ 12:58 PM 3 comments links to this post

Hurricane Post #12: Saturday, 12:30 am

Houston didn't dodge a bullet. We dodged a cannonball.

It's nearly 12:30 in the morning, and we never even felt particularly strong winds here. The rain is yet to come -- the eye of the hurricane hasn't yet come parallel to the city of Houston -- but the damaging storm surge and furious winds aren't likely to have an impact on us here.

What a letdown.

Don't get me wrong; I wasn't looking forward to broken windows and missing shingles and tattered gutters. Nor was I looking forward to comforting my wife through a night of howling winds and crashing thunder. But after days of preparing for the worst, and anticipating the worst, to find out that ... NOTHING HAPPENED ... is an incredibly anticlimactic way to end this vigil.

But make no mistake. We're going to hear a lot more about the effects of Hurricane Rita, because it is now predicted to make landfall (in about two hours) just east of Cameron, Louisiana. Cameron is not heavily populated by people. It is heavily-populated by petrochemical facilities, including Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminals and part of the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas are also heavy petrochemical centers. Those cities are expected to flood under a 20-foot storm surge. Cameron is expected to get a 15-foot surge. This isn't going to be good for any of us.

* * *

My thanks to Mr. KABC for letting me be part of his show for a couple of evenings. I spent about ten minutes chatting with him and Dr. George Fishbeck on KABC Radio in L.A. tonight.

Dr. George and I have something significant in common. Neither of us knows who the heck the other of us is.

But Mr. K, I appreciate the forum. And if you're in L.A., my radio stint is probably over, but please don't let that make you a stranger to this blog!

I'll post again in the morning.

posted by Gary @ 12:33 AM 1 comments links to this post

Friday, September 23, 2005

Hurricane Post #11, Friday 11 p.m.

First, thanks to everybody who has added such thoughtful comments to this blog, and to my mirrored blog on Myspace.com. (You're not missing anything; the other one says exactly what this one does.) Without exception, your comments have been positive and encouraging, and I really appreciate it.

Second, I checked in with Mr. KABC about a half-hour ago. He has a guest in the first hour, so I'm probably going to come on in the second or third hour to tell him that not much is going on here. And it's not. (Lack of tragedy makes for very boring radio.)

We've had a very light, steady rain for the past hour or so. Winds are gusty but not too strong. Obviously, I still have power, and I still have a DSL connection. Rain on the west side of Houston is anticipated to be four inches or less tonight (when did "four inches of rain" become a blessing?), and although winds are probably going to kick up as Hurricane Rita makes landfall about 3 a.m., obviously we are going to get off extremely easily.

One bit of somewhat hurricane-related news is that a fire has sparked in Galveston's historic Strand district. The winds in Galveston are much stronger than they are up here in Houston, and the burning embers are flying all over the place, threatening other historic buildings. Developing story. Galveston is obviously going to fare a lot worse than Houston will.

Back after the update on KABC ...

posted by Gary @ 11:04 PM 1 comments links to this post

Hurricane Blog #10: Friday, 9:45 p.m.

We in Texas are lucky. But our neighbors in Louisiana, once again, are not.

It's beginning to look like Hurricane Rita is going to come ashore just east of the Beaumont-Port Arthur area, right on the Texas-Louisiana border. Remember, everything west of the eye of the hurricane is on the "weak side". But everything east of the eye is gonna get socked.

And right now, southwest Louisiana is getting socked.

From AP: Steve Rinard, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Lake Charles, said he could not keep count of the tornado warnings across southern Louisiana. "They were just popping up like firecrackers," he said.

Emergency vehicles with FEMA are already staging at Reliant Park -- the same place that, just a week ago, was still sheltering evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. Regional disaster assistance is going to be dispatched from there as soon as the eye crosses over us, at about 3 a.m.

Meanwhile, the fear of a storm surge was a bit overblown for us. Because we're on the west side of the storm, and the winds are blowing north-to-south, the Houston Ship Channel is actually experiencing a "reverse surge" -- pushing water down into Galveston Bay. This puts Galveston Island in an interesting, but very real danger: being swamped from the land side, rather than the Gulf side.

Galveston Island is a barrier island. These huge, glorified sandbars are ever-shifting, transient coastal features. They gradually build up from silt and sand deposited on the coast by inland rivers. Nature designs them to disappear as they absorb the pounding from the Gulf waters. Typically, sand and silt are washed off the leading edge of the island, but are re-deposited on the back side.

Well, beach erosion in Galveston has been a long-evolving story. It's some of the most-desired property in all of Texas, because 99 percent of the time, it's all beautiful beach and clean salt air. But as the beach erodes and the vegetation line moves, beach homes that were once well off the beach, are now on public state property.

And people who can afford beach homes can also afford to lobby elected officials quite successfully. Two years ago, officials spent millions of dollars to renourish "starving" beaches on the western end of Galveston Island, adding acres of shoreline. That summer, a minor hurricane, Claudette, made landfall down the Texas coast. Although the storm only produced about 45 mph winds in Galveston, it stripped away a third of the new beach. A University of Texas study estimates that most of west Galveston Island, where the lion's share of new development is taking place, loses 9 feet of coast a year.

So even though Hurricane Rita's full fury has missed us, it will be interesting to see how much of Galveston Island will be left when all this is said and done.

* * *

I'm expecting a call from Mr. KABC at about 10:30 p.m. Central time to set up another appearance on tonight's show. I believe I'm going to be on at 9 p.m. Pacific (11 p.m. Central). The live audio stream can be found here.

posted by Gary @ 9:50 PM 1 comments links to this post

Hurricane Blog #9: Friday, 8:15 p.m.

About an hour ago, the first drops of rain started to fall. As I write this, we're still getting a very light drizzle, with light gusts of winds. From here, not much of a hurricane so far.

On the Texas-Louisiana border, however, things are getting quite hectic. Heavy rain and winds are hitting Lake Charles, blowing east to west. Over us right now, the clouds are moving north-to-south, blowing out toward the Gulf. That's good news for us for two reasons:

(1) The outer arms of Rita are coming ashore in Louisiana, rotating counter-clockwise around the offshore eye, and by the time those arms brush up against Houston, the winds and rain are pretty much spent.

(2) The north-to-south winds gather up dry air from outside the hurricane path and drag it across us, absorbing quite a bit of the water and wind that is left in those spiraling arms.

My sister in Katy (25 miles due west of downtown Houston) has lost power. For the life of me, I can't figure out how -- the sky looks ugly, but the storm hasn't hit this side of town yet. At this point, we're just waiting to get this show on the road.

That's about all that's going to get on the road. I spoke with my mother in Nashville -- 850 miles away -- and the gas stations are sold out there as well. It appears there is no gasoline in this part of the country.

Meanwhile, by this morning, at least three people had already been arrested for looting. Three kids were rummaging through an evacuated middle school, looking for electronics.

Looters would be well-advised to remember that in Texas, many civilians are licensed to carry concealed weapons. Think about that before you try to break into that pawnshop ...

posted by Gary @ 8:26 PM 0 comments links to this post

Hurricane Blog #8: Friday, 5 p.m.

We're going to dodge this bullet. But we might get a bit splattered by the impact nonetheless.

It now appears very likely that Hurricane Rita is going to make landfall to the east of Galveston Bay, over toward Beaumont and the Louisiana border. Good news for us.

Bad news for my wife's brother, who lives in Beaumont. And not good at all for the residents of Lake Charles, Louisiana, who are about 30 miles east of the Texas-Louisiana border. Lake Charles happens to be where a lot of the evacuees from Hurricane Katrina had found hotel rooms. Well, a good number of those hotels are on the lake ... right next to the casino riverboats docked beside them. And I think we all remember what the casino barges in Biloxi and Gulfport looked like after Katrina passed through.

We're now worrying more about flooding -- not from the storm surge, but from the rain produced by the hurricane. Rita is considered a "dry" hurricane, and as long as the storm keeps moving quickly, it probably won't dump more than 5-8 inches of water on us. Houston's bayou system can handle that amount of rainfall, with minimal flooding, and even with a small storm surge pushing back the other way.

But as I've mentioned before, hurricane guru Dr. Neil Frank sees high-pressure areas to the west and the east of the hurricane's projected track, each area alternating between strengthening and weakening. The hurricane will continue to move in the direction of the strongest high-pressure area, which means that the storm may well stall somewhere between the two areas. If that stall happens, it could happen anywhere between Galveston and Dallas. If it stalls, somebody is going to get 20-25 inches of rain.

And if that happens over Houston, it'll be Tropical Storm Allison all over again.

Last night on his radio show, Mr. KABC tole me that he didn't recall hearing about Allison in June 2001. Our understanding here in Houston was that this was very definitely a national news story. Please comment and tell me: does anybody remember Houston getting flooded a few months before 9/11? Or did I simply assume that the story was not as big as we thought it was?

Anyway, if the storm permits, I'm going to be back on with Mr. K tonight. Airtime is 9 pm Pacific time (11 pm Houston time). The live audio stream can be found here.

And speaking of live Internet streams, if you want to see video of the local coverage I prefer, go to khou.com. When you see just how un-photogenic Dr. Neil is, you'll know how good of a meteorologist he really is ...

Next report when the winds pick up.

posted by Gary @ 5:07 PM 1 comments links to this post

Hurricane Blog #7: Friday, 1 p.m.

The story just shifted back to New Orleans.

A patched levee failed in three places, and water is rising in the city's Ninth Ward once again. The good news is, nobody's there; the economically-depressed part of town was one where many evacuees couldn't get out on their own, which means they couldn't get back on their own. Certainly, the rising water isn't likely to do more damage to the Ninth Ward than has already been done ...

Meanwhile, in Texas: A bus evacuating residents of a Houston-area nursing home caught fire near Dallas, with as many as 24 dead. Early indications were that the bus, which had been on the road since yesterday, caught fire because of mechanical problems, possibly overheated brakes. Then passengers' oxygen tanks started exploding, turning the vehicle into an inferno.

The big story of Hurricane Rita is not likely to be the damage caused by the hurricane itself, but the traffic. It's time to admit it: The single largest mass evacuation of a region in American history is a resounding failure. There will be a lot of finger-pointing in the coming weeks, but such an operation required flawless cooperation between the City of Houston and Harris County officials (whom, in my opinion, did yeoman work), and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), the Texas Army National Guard, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), and (gulp) FEMA. The state and federal response has been marginal, considering the scope of the project, but it has not been adequate, and it has not been successful.

As I write this, buses are being dispatched to evacuate people from the FREEWAYS. Consider the irony of that for a second; people who had the means, the ability, and the desire to get out of the Texas Gulf Coast area, now have to be rescued from the evacuation routes.

We know that the contraflow plan (diverting outbound traffic to use inbound lanes as well) wasn't implemented soon enough. And we definitely know that there wasn't enough gasoline sent to the area to take care of the evacuees. When this event is investigated in a couple of months, I think they'll find that most of the stalled traffic on the escape routes was caused by cars running out of gas on the lanes of the freeways, and traffic moved so slowly that those vehicles couldn't get an opening to be pushed to the side of the road.

The outer cloudy bands of Hurricane Rita are now brushing up against Galveston, and the breezes outside my house are starting to gust. Dr. Neil Frank has noticed that the eastward drift of the eye of the hurricane seems to have stopped, which means that the eye of the hurricane is headed straight for Galveston Bay. If Rita remains a Category-4 hurricane, this would be the worst-case scenario envisioned by local experts. (Note: At 1:30, Rita was downgraded to a Category-3.)

The worst-case scenario would push the storm surge into Galveston Bay. This, in turn, would surge into the Houston Ship Channel, and into the network of bayous that usually drain water from the city into the Gulf. That means flooding, and lots of it. The good news is, the center of the hurricane appears to be weakening a bit, and the weaker it gets, the better.

We shouldn't get gale-force winds until after dinnertime tonight. The key for us here in Houston is that the hurricane makes landfall to our east. If it makes a hard left turn and comes ashore to the south of here, we're going to get the worst of it. And my plans to ride the storm out in relative safety and comfort will have gone horribly, terribly awry ...

posted by Gary @ 1:20 PM 1 comments links to this post

Hurricane Blog #6

I just spent a very pleasant hour with Mr. KABC on Southern California radio. (Boy, it felt good to be back on the air again, if only for a little while!) I didn't embarrass myself, and while I might not have been quite as glib as I try to be on here, I thought I did a fair job. Fair enough, in fact, that Mr. K invited me to be on the show again tomorrow night.

I pointed out that in 24 hours, we're likely to be riding out the height of the storm, and even if we can get a phone connection, it might be too noisy to have much of a conversation.

Mr. K: "Hmmm ... that would make for great radio."

Me: "Hey, anything I can do to help ..."

Nonetheless, Mr. K and I will try to make a connection for his show tomorrow night. If I'm not cowering in an interior closet, that is ...

* * *

I have been thinking about an indication that I gave during the radio show tonight, however, that I want to elaborate on.

Mr. KABC asked me a lot of questions about my personal situation. My personal situation during this hurricane is pretty good: we have food, we have water, we have shelter, and if the hurricane stays on track, we'll be on the "dry side" of the storm. I probably sounded pretty blasé about the whole thing.

I want to emphasize, though, that this storm is nothing to be blasé about. People are going to lose their homes. People are going to die (one person already has). Billions of dollars in wind and water damage are going to occur. Please do not think that because I see this hurricane as a personal inconvenience, that I think it's going to be that way for everyone.

The truth is that I am going to be in the middle of this storm, and if I think of it in terms of its pure destructive potential, I'm going to be too paralyzed with fear to accomplish much of anything. Maybe I'm deluding myself (just like the New Orleanians did who ignored the mandatory evacuation order) into thinking that I can outlast Hurricane Rita through sheer force of will. But, when you get right down to it ... what choice do I have?

As I pointed out on the air, there comes a point of diminishing returns, where the inconvenience (I should have used the word "hardship") of staying becomes less than the inconvenience/hardship of leaving. That's why we're staying put. I have no desire to ride out this storm inside a car stranded on the side of a freeway somewhere.

I'm sure I will have more thoughts about this Friday morning. Sleep well. I'm sure going to try to.

posted by Gary @ 12:02 AM 2 comments links to this post

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hurricane Mini-Post

Greetings to those of you who are listening to me on KABC Radio in Los Angeles. Here are some links you will find very helpful if you want to watch streaming video of the news coverage here in Houston:

KHOU-TV (CBS): http://www.khou.com
KTRK-TV (ABC): http://www.abc13.com
KPRC-TV (NBC): http://click2houston.com

Also see the Houston Chronicle website: http://www.chron.com

More after the radio show ...

posted by Gary @ 10:23 PM 1 comments links to this post

Hurricane Blog #5

Ah Fame, thy quivering arrow is about to pierce my thorax ...

Tonight, this blog goes national. La Winchette pulled a couple of strings (or yanked a couple of chains, more likely) and as a result, I'm going to be on KABC Radio in Los Angeles tonight. I'll be on the "Ask Mr. KABC" show, featuring Mr. "Mr. KABC" KABC. For those of you in the Southland, it'll be the 9:00 PM hour, on 790 AM. For the rest of you, the live audio stream is here.

It figures that, 17 years after my last hurrah as a struggling broadcaster, I finally break into a major market. And it only took a natural disaster to make it happen. Life works in funny ways sometimes ...

(And Mr. K, I promise to lay off the sauce until the guest spot is finished.)

* * *

The generator is a no-go. It appears that this thing hasn't been used in 15 years, and the carburetor is clogged, the fuel line is brittle and breaking, and it's painted an ugly color. Fortunately, if the opportunity presents itself, I have a cigarette-lighter adapter for my laptop and a dial-up modem if the phone keeps working, so I may get to keep blogging for the duration of this thing.

Meanwhile, Rita continues to slip inexorably towards us, step by step, inch by inch. Isn't it nice to know that while I'll be sweltering in the misery of the worst storm to hit in years, you will still be able to read about my woes in the air-conditioned comfort of your own homes? (Assholes.)

The commute time is 16 hours to San Antonio (200 miles) and Dallas (250 miles), and 11 hours to Austin (160 miles). We have cast our lot with the strength of our house. And judging by some of the other crappy surprises we've found buried within the walls here, I wish I could be more optimistic. But we're all strapped in and waiting for this ride to start. Midday Friday, it will begin.

I'll see if I can get one more post done tonight, after my visit with Mr. KABC.

posted by Gary @ 7:51 PM 0 comments links to this post

Hurricane Post #4

Lost in all the discussion of possible disruption to the nation's gasoline supply due to Hurricane Rita, is the potential damage to the source of another, much more valuable natural resource.

Hurricane Rita could quite possibly disrupt the nation's supply of Tabasco Sauce.

Texas coastal map


Avery Island, Louisiana (click on the map) is not really an island. It's a salt dome about eight miles south-southwest of New Iberia, surrounded on all sides by bayous. Dr. Neil Frank (who knows more about hurricanes than just about any other man alive) predicts a 21 percent chance that Rita will make landfall near New Iberia.

The streets of Avery Island may run red with hot sauce. Oh, the humanity!

From the Tabasco website: "The next pepper crop is ensured by the McIlhenny [family] who personally select the best plants in the field during harvest. The pepper seeds from those select plants are treated and dried and then stored -- for use the following year -- both on the Island and in a local bank vault as a hedge against any disaster that might befall future crops."

Pepper seeds in a safe-deposit box. Chew on that for a moment. But it looks like they're gonna need 'em.

* * *

We're now getting reports of people, who are trapped in the freeway gridlock, suffering heatstroke. Interstate 10 is reported to be backed up solid from Houson all the way to San Antonio -- a 200-mile-long traffic jam.

We're quickly reaching the "point of no return", where if we're not in the process of evacuating, we're best advised to stay put, lest we end up having to ride out the storm on the freeway.

From MSNBC: "'We ended up going six miles in two hours and 45 minutes,' said [one lady], whose neighborhood is not expected to flood. 'It could be that if we ended up stranded in the middle of nowhere that we’d be in a worse position in a car dealing with hurricane-force winds than we would in our house.'"

I'm not fond of that prospect.

posted by Gary @ 3:09 PM 0 comments links to this post

Hurricane Blog #3

Okay, so much for my brilliant ideas.

Turns out that the alternate escape route I had come up with is good to a point, but because that's an evacuation route for the town of Victoria (further down the Texas coast), it's likely to be just as busy as all the other freeways. So, there's a very good chance we're going to have to ride this out.

There is no gasoline to be found in the City of Houston. Everything is sold out, and a large number of places (quickly reaching a majority) are closing up shop, even though landfall won't happen until Friday night. I would drive around to try to locate some gas, but that activity itself burns up precious gas, and if I don't find some I will have screwed myself.

There is some good news to report. A friend has an ancient gas generator, and we're going to test it out this afternoon. My neighbor has a gas can with about a quart of fuel in it -- just enough to see if the generator still works. If it does, we'll bring it over here, siphon gas out of my wife's car's tank to keep it running, and plug the refrigerator and a fan or (maybe) a window-unit AC into it. That leaves my vehicle full of gas so we can leave if the power doesn't come back on within a day or two.

Folks, you absolutely would not believe how surreal this is. April might be able to share some thoughts about what L.A. was like during the riots, which is the only common experience I can think of that might compare to this one. Except, of course, that nobody's shooting at me. Yet.

The supermarkets have been absolutely jammed for two days. There are three close to my house, and two of them have closed for evacuation. I made the mistake of going to the third a while ago. Checkout lines are streaming halfway down the aisles. ATMs are empty and banks have closed. As goods and supplies become more scarce, the roads are getting quieter.

I guess this is what the 72-hour evacuation window that they're complaining New Orleans didn't get is supposed to feel like. I don't know that any city in world history has ever had more advance notice that a natural disaster is going to hit, or been better prepared for it, than Houston/Galveston is right now. I don't have any sense of impending doom ... but I'm anticipating one hell of an inconvenience.

Quick news update: The "contraflow" (lane reversal) on the major freeway to Dallas has opened. Now they're working on the contraflows to Austin. People who left home with a full tank of gas hours ago have now run out on the freeways, so the Texas Dept. of Transportation is dispatching tanker trucks filled with gas to set up at rest areas and fill up stranded motorists. This, of course, completely ignores the question of how the tankers are going to get to the rest stops in the first place. But it's a nice gesture nonetheless, and maybe it will help keep the traffic flowing and nerves calm.

After all, it's nearly 100 degrees in Houston right now, and you can't sit on a concrete freeway without air conditioning. Which burns gas, which empties the tank, which means you no longer have air conditioning. It's a wonder we haven't heard about people opening fire on each other on the highways yet.

When the first strong winds hit tomorrow night, I'll sign off. Until then, I'm aware that national news coverage of this storm is a bit spotty, so I'll keep blogging until then.

posted by Gary @ 1:40 PM 1 comments links to this post

Hurricane Blog #2

What a difference a day makes ...

Texas coastal map


Hurricane Rita is now projected to make landfall east of Houston, near Beaumont. (Click on map for a larger version.) This means that, rather than being in the nasty northeast quadrant of the hurricane, Houston is likely to end up on the "weak side" with lighter winds and a bit less rain.

Of course, a local TV meteorologist pointed out that "if you get hit by the weak side of a freight train, you're still gonna get hurt." Rita is still a Category 5 hurricane, even though it has weakened slightly. Forecasters think that it may weaken to a Category 3 by the time it makes landfall.

However, the real story here in Houston is the traffic. Lines at the airports are four hours long -- if you can even get to the airports. Because Galveston and all coastal areas have been evacuating through Houston's freeway system, gridlock on all highways are being reported, for up to 100 miles outside of town. The average speed is ONE MILE PER HOUR. And, with Houston stations quickly running out of gasoline, there is no place locally for people to refill their tanks. With evacuation taking so incredibly long, even people who filled their tanks up before hitting the road find themselves running out.

Texas is taking the unprecedented step of reversing traffic flow on the inbound lanes of most major freeways, so that all lanes will lead away from Houston, but the logistics of such a maneuver (mostly removing concrete barriers that divide traffic) are delaying its implementation.

Even though it looks like our house will be spared the worst of the wind and water, it's a certainty that the electricity will go out. Figures that yesterday, Houston set a new heat record. Pile the 200-percent humidity that the storm will bring on top of that, and I really don't look forward to sitting here without air conditioning.

So, we're still strongly considering evacuating. The problem now is, how the heck do we get out? We have a neighbor who is acting as "advance scout" for us, who will drive against traffic toward Corpus Christi, then to San Antonio, and finally to Austin. It's double the distance of a direct trip to Austin, but will probably take us less than one-third the time that a direct evacuation would cost us right now. Our neighbor will let us know how the traffic looks.

Might we have outsmarted the rest of the Texas Gulf Coast in finding a way out of here? Stay tuned ...

posted by Gary @ 11:08 AM 0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Hurricane Blog #1

A few of you might want to know what's going on with those of us here in Houston, so I've provided a bit of a "hurricane primer". Just in case you care. Which you probably don't, since you're in L.A. or Boston or somewhere that doesn't get hurricanes. But I don't live on a freakin' fault line, so I guess it all evens out ...

Texas coastal map

I've taken this Texas coastal map, based on The Weather Channel's projected path as of this afternoon, and added some landmarks that you might be hearing about on the news. (Click on it for a larger version.) Right now, the center of the projected path is Matagorda Bay, which is about 120 miles southwest of Houston. That means that if the eye of the hurricane makes landfall at Matagorda Bay, Houston is in the northeast quadrant of the storm -- and the northeast quadrant is the one that packs the most rain and wind.

Dr. Neil Frank is a local weathercaster, and formerly was the director of the National Hurricane Center, so when a hurricane is on the way, he's the one I listen to. He just told us that we could see 100-MPH winds as far north as Conroe (45 miles north of downtown Houston) and as far west as Katy (25 miles west of downtown).

I live five miles from downtown.

Our evacuation plan is that as of tomorrow afternoon, if the eye of the hurricane is still projected to hit Matagorda Bay or north of there, we're getting the heck out of Dodge.

Flooding is not going to be much of a concern more than 10-15 miles in from the coast, so we're not likely to see any flood damage. The wind is the dangerous part. Karen and I are half-hoping that the wind will take away our crappy old carport, so that the insurance company can buy us a sparkly new one. But, we shall see.

More later ...

posted by Gary @ 4:51 PM 0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Maybe Darwin Was Wrong

Here's a photo of a dumb guy.

Image: Florida surf

Joe McGee plays in the pounding surf as strengthening Hurricane Rita moves near Key West, Fla., Tuesday. ( J. Pat Carter / AP)


Joe McGee is a moron.

That surf-worn concrete pylon beside Mr. Moron says "Southernmost Point Continental U.S.A." I have stood beside that pylon. I have looked out over the Caribbean from atop that seawall.

And folks, when it's placid, and you can see that gently-lapping water sparkling in the afternoon sun ... trust me, you do not want that shit (literally) washing over you.

Key West has two of Florida's 10 most-polluted beaches, according to state data released by a national environmental group and reported here. "Higgs Beach and South Beach, near the Southernmost Point [italics mine], were unsafe for swimming 22 percent and 30 percent of the time, respectively, in 2004 due to high contents of animal waste matter, the Natural Resources Defense Council reported.

"The pollution, even small traces of which can sicken people, often washes into the ocean at unsafe levels after rains." Rains like, oh I dunno ... like the Florida Keys are currently getting.

It's also a known fact that Key West's sewage system isn't the most reliable. When the system stumbles, that effluent has got to go somewhere, and the ocean surrounding the key seems like a likely bet (although clearly, not a safe one). Charles Osgood commented five years ago, "Sewage is leaking from faulty cesspits, septic tanks and sewer systems directly through the porous coral foundation of the islands and into the marine ecosystem. Tests have shown that the contents of a toilet flushed down a cesspit can show up in nearshore canals in a matter of hours."

By now, it's nightfall in Key West, and I'm sure Joe McGee is doubled over a toilet somewhere, hoping to flush either his system or the toilet bowl, whichever he can clear out first ...

posted by Gary @ 6:38 PM 0 comments links to this post

Monday, September 19, 2005

Hurricane Kat-Rita?

Here we go again. And now, rather than playing host to the evacuees from a Category 4 hurricane, it looks like I may be an evacuee myself.

Tropical Storm Rita is on track to nick the Florida Keys, strengthen into a hurricane, and head straight for the City of Houston. Estimated landfall is Saturday morning. And, trust me, if Rita stays on its current path, Karen and I won't be here.

Even though Houston is a city above sea level, and our home isn't in a flood-prone area, we have already arranged to stay at a friend's house outside Austin. So, if the storm hits Houston head-on, don't worry about me and mine. We'll be safe and dry in the city where I was born.

(Although I think I'm going to go buy a couple of cases of bottled water, just in case ...)

posted by Gary @ 8:27 PM 2 comments links to this post

Sunday, September 18, 2005

I'm Going To Be Afraid. Always.

Oh, my head ...

I was watching the Emmy Awards when I was exposed (... yep, "exposed" is the word) to a commercial that has set the women's movement back about thirty years.

The tag line: "Have a happy period. Always." And "Always", of course, is the brand name for the absorbent feminine hygiene soaker-upper.

On a wicked hunch, I typed "always.com" into my trusty, non-absorbent web browser. And yep, it's the Internet home of the aforementioned pads. And on that website, you'll find the answer to the question, "Why can't men understand women?"

Here is the opening screen to the United States version of the website:

This is the time of the month that chocolate was created for.

This is the time when no toe nail should go unpolished.

When the gym will get along just fine without you.

This is the time when, if something is even slightly annoying, the world should know about it.

And if you feel like crying, there is no inappropriate time or place.

It's your period.

You have the right to make it the best period it can possibly be. And we're here to help.


Okay, I'm afraid. This is everything I have come to fear from PMS-enhanced ladies, summed up in seven lines. And I don't care if it's accurate. Chocolate's fine, toenail painting is fine, slacking off from the gym is fine. But when such a woman finds something even slightly annoying, they all seem to seek me out to rant about it.

I'm frightened. Hold me. (But not if you're being, you know, "visited by your friend". And if you are, have a happy one. Always.)

posted by Gary @ 9:16 PM 2 comments links to this post

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Crickets Are Chirping ...

... inside my brain. I don't have a thought in my skull. Well, that's not strictly true, of course (although there are those who think I said it pretty accurately), but for the life of me, I can't think of anything significant to write about.

Notice I said "significant". I'm not going to write about mundane crap, nosiree. The three of you who read my rantings deserve to have your worlds ROCKED. But the stuff that I'm stewing over has either been done to death (Katrina, definitely no pun intended), beneath my dignity to acknowledge (Britney Spears and her new son, Damien), or of no consequence to anyone but me (What do you mean, AstroWorld is CLOSING?!? Assholes. So what if I never go there anymore? At least it was THERE, like a trusted and very expensive friend from childhood ... but I digress).

(By the way, is it just me, or does the bad age make-up on Six Flags' mascot "Mr. Six" make him look like Dana Carvey's turtle character from "The Master Of Disguise"?)

 


So, nothing really to report here. But the Dalai Lama told me that when I die, on my deathbed, I will receive total consciousness. So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.

posted by Gary @ 1:31 PM 0 comments links to this post

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Campbell's Chunky Toxic Soup

Here is more flora from the intestine of the international news. (Or is it fauna? Flora? I get them confused ...)

AND, OF COURSE, HALLIBURTON GOT THE CONTRACT

The Gulf emirate of Dubai will build a city of life-size replicas of seven wonders of the world at an estimated cost of $US1.5 billion ($1.94 billion) to house offices, shops and flats, a developer has said.

Three buildings will be modelled on structures that were part of the original list of the "Seven Wonders of the Ancient World" - the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Others will be replicas of more modern wonders - the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Great Wall of China, a statement said.

The Great Wall of China? Lifesize? I didn't know Dubai was big enough to house a 3,946-mile-long Great Wall. Nor did I realize that Dubai was being threatened by nomadic bands of Mongol hordes ...

MORE TALES OF THE MENTALLY UNHINGED

A Pennsylvania woman, Brenda Smith, upset over being bitten by a neighbor's dog in May, shot the daughter of the dog's owner and then took another neighbor hostage, police said.

Smith shot Jennifer Strohl, 20, after confronting her about the alleged poisoning of Smith's dog. Strohl's mother said Smith wore a long blond wig and ''goofy clothes'' during the incident. ''We all knew she was upset about the bite and she was bugging all the neighbors about my dogs, but I never thought she would end up doing this, that she was dangerous,'' the mother said.

According to the arrest affidavit, Smith told police that she never meant to shoot Strohl: ''I meant to shoot the dog, not the lady, but at least now I'll be able to get some sleep tonight.''

And in a related story, Smith has already been nominated to be the next head of FEMA ...

NONCONFORMITY IS VERBOTEN. PREPARE TO BE ASSIMILATED

Three Oklahoma honor students who say they have never been disciplined before were sent home from school for dying their hair purple, blue and red, respectively. The girls -- all freshmen and all straight-A students -- said they were not warned before being told they would not be allowed back in class until they changed their hair color. The absence is considered unexcused, according to a discipline report given to the students, which means they will not be allowed to make up any tests or assignments they missed, they said.

Well, it's Oklahoma. That explains it.

AND WITH THAT, NEVADA LOSES ITS BRAGGING RIGHTS

Although soliciting sexual favors on the street is illegal in Rhode Island, authorities say a loophole in state law allows prostitution behind closed doors — including in storefronts that advertise as massage parlors and spas just blocks from City Hall. "We don't have a law criminalizing prostitution indoors," said Providence Police Lt. Thomas Verdi, who leads the department's anti-prostitution efforts.

Two words: ROAD TRIP!!!

OH, JUST SHUT THE HELL UP ALREADY

Hip-hop star Kanye West is advising his white counterparts that they can only use certain slang terms when they're out of style for black people. The rapper - who recently charged that President Bush "doesn't care" about African Americans - believes that certain slang words should only be able to cross racial barriers when they're no longer in style for black people.

He says, "I think white people are allowed to say 'bling'. They are allowed to say old-school black slang, like 'hottie' and 'homie'. Actually, I do not think that (white people) are allowed to use slang until it is at least a year old. If you say a slang word too early, it's like you're trying to be black. So as long as the slang is a little played out, you're all good."

It's about darn time the African-American community had its own arbiter of language, I say. Kanye has appointed himself the William Safire of the inner city. Now, if someone would only answer just one question for me: WHO THE HELL IS KANYE WEST?

posted by Gary @ 3:45 PM 0 comments links to this post

Friday, September 09, 2005

Proud To Be A Texan



This cartoon makes me feel very proud of my city and my state. Thank you, Jim Borgman.

posted by Gary @ 3:37 PM 0 comments links to this post

Thursday, September 08, 2005

What Happens In Las Vegas ...

(In an effort to return to more lighthearted fare, regarding the latest on Katrina, I'll just refer you to Keith Olbermann's comments on our Gubmint's response to the disaster, here. I'll have more to say on the subject later, but for now, let's brighten the mood a little bit ...)

I'm home. And I believe I can say, without fear of contradiction, that five days in Las Vegas is plenty. (And this is coming from a former resident.)

It was quite the eventful weekend. Let's see ... we drank, attended a wedding, drank some more, watched the bride pass out in her mashed potatoes at the post-wedding dinner, tippled a bit, learned that the groom's daughter had picked up a limo driver and missed her flight home, imbibed a little, listened to the screaming from the adjacent hotel room where the daughter and the groom were having it out, sipped the fermented grape, paid WAY too damn much for a bowl of pasta, chugged a brew or two, and were accosted on the Strip by more timeshare saleswomen than by panhandlers and porn hustlers combined.

And oh yeah, we drank.

We're all familiar with the "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" tag line. Well, there's a huge billboard on Flamingo that reads, "What happened at the Palms ... never happened." Karen was desperate to climb up on the billboard and spray-paint "Including Britney Spears' first marriage", but cooler heads (mine) prevailed.

Karen hit a slot jackpot and she got so excited, people were convinced she was having a seizure. Now, you must understand that Karen is fascinated by small, shiny objects. She likes to watch the reels spin. She is, without question, the happiest slot player in the entire casino, even when she's losing. And let's face it, when a buxom blonde starts bouncing up and down and giggling, she's going to attract attention. And Karen can bounce and giggle for hours on end. So when she hit the jackpot (only $100, but on a penny slot machine, that's a big-un), she insisted on sitting there and watching her credits increment upwards. Ten thousand credits, one at a time. She could have hit a button, gotten her money instantly and continued playing, but not my wife; she sat there until every single penny had been electronically, slowly credited to her. I had long since given up and gone back to the poker room.

My significant event was that I won my way into my first-ever World Series of Poker event: the $500 buy-in No Limit Hold'em tournament. This was easily the biggest tourney I had ever played in. (And no, I didn't win. Nor did I get to meet poker babe Jennifer Tilly. But I spent a lot of time fantasizing about both those things.)

And then, there was the alcohol. But since we hardly left the hotel (a rarity for me, who usually tries to get away from the Strip as often as possible), we posed a risk to no one. Except for Karen, who got too excited playing slots and accidentally knocked a cocktail waitress into a bank of nickel machines, causing them to topple over and start a domino effect that took out half the slot machines in the casino.

Or, maybe she didn't. Remember, what happens in Vegas ... never happened. (Because you're too damn drunk to remember it.)

posted by Gary @ 2:04 PM 0 comments links to this post

Thursday, September 01, 2005

New Orleans: Anarchy Would Be An Improvement

I still can't bring myself to dish any humor right now. The news that rescuers in New Orleans are being SHOT AT -- not carjacked, not threatened, but SHOT AT for no reason -- is really pissing me off.

A medical evac helicopter tried to land at a Kenner-area hospital. There were over a hundred people waiting on the helipad, many with guns. The pilot refused to land. I don't blame him; he'd almost certainly have been skyjacked.

People who donated their boats to relief efforts have given up, because people were firing shots at them as they rescued stranded residents. People are "commandeering" (read: stealing) evacuation buses. Even military helicopters are being shot at.

(I apologize for having no links for these; I'm clicking from blog to blog and from news site to news site rather quickly.)

And my big question is: WHY? How can ANY rational human being justify shooting at rescuers? Demanding that they be rescued, sure, I can buy that. But just firing shots at rescuers for no reason?

Karen suggests that if the looters and criminals can maintain the lawlessness -- if they can keep the police and military from gaining control -- then the criminals remain in charge. (Not that there's anything left to be "in charge" of ...) But we're no longer talking about a disaster, or a "war zone", or lack of civilization. We're now talking about something we in the West have never seen before: a complete breakdown of social order.

I'm off to Las Vegas for a few days (a trip that cannot be cancelled at this late date). Maybe it will give me some distance from the disaster, and I can be a bit more entertaining when I get back. I certainly hope entertainment will be appropriate when I return.

posted by Gary @ 5:58 PM 4 comments links to this post

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Location: Houston, Texas

Why the heck wouldn't you want to read the toxic byproducts of my mental processes? It's not like you're too busy to waste a minute or two here, you know. You ARE just killing time by mindlessly surfing the web. Pop open a brewski and stay a while.




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