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July 2005
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September 2005

why shit happens

Will Bunch wonders if what's happening to New Orleans was inevitable:

New Orleans had long known it was highly vulnerable to flooding and a direct hit from a hurricane. In fact, the federal government has been working with state and local officials in the region since the late 1960s on major hurricane and flood relief efforts. When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA.

Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subside.

Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.

Newhouse News Service, in an article posted late Tuesday night at The Times-Picayune Web site, reported: "No one can say they didn't see it coming. ... Now in the wake of one of the worst storms ever, serious questions are being asked about the lack of preparation."

In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain, according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness.

On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us." ...

The 2004 hurricane season was the worst in decades. In spite of that, the federal government came back this spring with the steepest reduction in hurricane and flood-control funding for New Orleans in history. Because of the proposed cuts, the Corps office there imposed a hiring freeze. Officials said that money targeted for the SELA project -- $10.4 million, down from $36.5 million -- was not enough to start any new jobs.

There was, at the same time, a growing recognition that more research was needed to see what New Orleans must do to protect itself from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane. But once again, the money was not there. As the Times-Picayune reported last Sept. 22:

"That second study would take about four years to complete and would cost about $4 million, said Army Corps of Engineers project manager Al Naomi. About $300,000 in federal money was proposed for the 2005 fiscal-year budget, and the state had agreed to match that amount. But the cost of the Iraq war forced the Bush administration to order the New Orleans district office not to begin any new studies, and the 2005 budget no longer includes the needed money, he said."

Fucking dickheads.


rio rip

I'm a few days behind on this, but:

Rio Brand Closes Doors

I was the first person I knew to buy an MP3 player ... it was a Diamond Rio 500, and it was a long time ago, although I don't remember anymore exactly when. It had 64MB, which means it didn't hold many songs. I'm on my second Rio Karma, the first one being replaced after the hard drive crashed ... it's got 20GB, it holds a lot of songs. I suppose the next MP3 player I get will have to be a different brand.


more expectations

It feels lamer than usual, writing here with all that is going on with the hurricane. But if I let more than a day go by, people wonder where I've been. So here's what I've been doing:

Gave my first lecture/discussion today in my AmLit class. Topic was the canon.

Watched a lot of teevee. Prison Break? Oz without dicks or cussing, not gonna watch it again. Entourage? Jeremy Piven rules. The Comeback? This show has zero buzz, got crappy reviews when it came out, and is that oddity, a sitcom that is rarely funny. Nonetheless, it continues to get better, and Lisa Kudrow's angry rendition of "I Will Survive" was the best thing I saw on teevee this week.

Oh, and I went to a couple of Giants games, but no one cares about that these days.


expectations

Expectations can be dangerous. If they are set too high, even a noble effort will seem like underachieving.

I took Neal to the Earthquakes match last night. He goes, oh, once every three years or so. It looked to be a memorable night, but the thing about sporting events is that you don't know how they will turn out until after you've seen them. You might know without attending it that a movie called Pterodactyl starring Coolio is bad, in which case you won't go see it. But a sporting event isn't known to be bad in advance, so you'll attend only to see a stinkeroo.

Well, Neal can perhaps pop in with a comment here, but I think the night went well. The Quakes beat the hated enemies from Los Angeles, 24000 people showed up, the crowd was insane, it was a good night. Neal's summary of soccer fans? He told me we're like Star Wars nerds only more thuggish.

Meanwhile, HBO started a new series tonight. In current times, that means something special. There are plenty of fine shows on other networks, and there are plenty of poor shows on HBO. Nonetheless, HBO has established a track record of excellence in adult television entertainment, so every new HBO series has a buzz that just doesn't happen when TNT or CBS (or, more appropriately, Showtime) announces their fall schedule.

One thing HBO does with its series is allow them time to develop. There are plenty of reasons for this, most notably because they don't have to cater to sponsors and aren't completely at the mercy of ratings ... they live on subscriptions ... they can assume that those of us paying extra for HBO will take the extra time if needed. HBO also makes complex shows, although in this they are not alone ... in these days of DVRs, on-demand viewing, and DVD box sets, many series are created under the assumption that each episode will be watched multiple times, allowing for more complicated narratives and characterizations.

Blah blah blah ... was Rome any good? After one episode, I'd put it somewhere between Deadwood and Carnivale, quality-wise ... I knew after one episode that Deadwood was gonna be a favorite, I couldn't even make it to the end of the first episode of Carnivale, and while Rome hasn't gotten my attention the way Deadwood did, I will be watching episode two. There was a lot of explication in episode one, which is to be expected. There was plenty of sex and violence ... the rumored male frontal nudity hasn't made an appearance yet, so the Oz Rating is still zero, but Polly Walker, by coincidence the only actor on the show I have heard of, and a favorite of mine from the mini-series State of Play, where I noticed she looked a lot like Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney, gets nekkid right away, which didn't exactly break my heart.

I'll leave it to other more knowledgeable people to figure out if Rome is historically accurate ... no one said "et tu, Brute" yet, and that's pretty much all I know about the story. It's not a bad start, and there's room to really involve the audience, so here's hoping the series finds it way to excellence. For now, it's better than Over There and worse than Battlestar Galactica.


boo

Where I'll be in a few hours:

The crowd will be bigger, meaning the boos could be louder for former Earthquakes star Landon Donovan.

But whatever happens tonight at Spartan Stadium, Donovan said "it can't be much worse than last time.''

The last time, June 25, was Donovan's first game at Spartan Stadium since joining the Los Angeles Galaxy. In a 3-0 loss to the Earthquakes, he was booed whenever he touched the ball. A piñata made in his image was decapitated. Signs reading, "Landon Judas Donovan'' and "Primadonovan Traitor'' were hung around the stadium.

"I thought it was abysmal the way they treated him,'' Galaxy Coach Steve Sampson said of the fans that night.

"I was disappointed,'' Donovan said. "I don't mind people being passionate, but when they say rude and nasty things, I don't think that's right. I hope there's a little more respect.''

Instead, there could be more venom....

On top of that, the bad blood between these teams is boiling again. Wednesday, the Earthquakes and Galaxy drew a combined eight yellow cards in a relatively meaningless U.S. Open Cup match at Spartan Stadium....

"We all came back to the locker room furious,'' said Earthquakes defender Kelly Gray. "That emotion is sticking with us. It will definitely carry over.''

"We think they're spoiled,'' Earthquakes defender Eddie Robinson said of the Galaxy, which has its own soccer-specific stadium and training facilities. "They have everything going for them, and what do they have to show for it? They should be the best team in the league. Has that been the case? We want to prove that we don't have all that but deserve it.''


here comes rome

In the mid-70s, British television concocted one of the greatest series of all time, I, Claudius.

As the 20th century ended, HBO concocted one of the greatest series of all time, The Sopranos.

While there would seem to be little connection between a tale of ancient Rome and a tale of American mobsters, the connection was actually fairly obvious. I, Claudius featured one of the great villains ever, Livia ... let's put it this way, Caligula is another character in I, Claudius, and he can't hold an evil candle to Livia. Livia is the emperor's wife, and she'll do anything to advance her interests, including murder. The Sopranos featured one of the great villains ever, Livia ... let's put it this way, Tony Soprano is perhaps the most famous bad guy of our time, and he can't hold an evil candle to his mom, Livia. Livia's husband was the mob boss before Tony took the job, and she'll do anything to advance her interests, even ordering a hit on her own son.

The name "Livia" is not a coincidence, of course.

In the past few years, we've seen several movies about ancient times, probably because Gladiator was such a hit. Gladiator itself even featured Derek Jacobi, who played the titular character in I, Claudius. Now, HBO is offering Rome, its own version of these tales. Reviews are mixed, although my fave Tim Goodman gives it a rave. Most people think Rome will be compared to other HBO classics like The Sopranos, but for me, the real comparison will be to I, Claudius. If it doesn't quite match its predecessor, well, what does?


friday random ten

1. Lloyd Banks, "On Fire." A nice opener ... "We on fire, up in here, it's burning hot, we on fire" ... of course, there's the usual misogyny, which doesn't help.

2. Moby Grape, "Never." If you've never heard the story of Jimmy Page/Led Zeppelin and how he/they stole songs, here's an example for you. This song originally appeared on the "Grape Jam" bonus LP accompanying Moby Grape's second album. If you listen to it and you're a Zep fan, you'll notice certain, uh, similarities between "Never" and "Since I Been Loving You." The Led Zep song is better, for what it's worth, although "Never" is a fine bit of slow burning blues.

3. Captain Beefheart, "Diddy Wah Diddy." Perhaps the only Willie Dixon song recorded by Bo Diddley that Beefheart covered and Bruce Springsteen played in concert.

4. Dr. John, "Iko Iko." I love this version, and love to play bass along with the track.

5. Unknown, "Up Up and Away." Another classic from the 365 Days Project, this one comes from an anonymous cassette.

6. The Ass Ponys, "Peanut '93." "If I get my pecker sucked, It sure won’t be by him."

7. Celine Dion, "My Heart Will Go On." Jesus Fucking Christ, how did this fucking piece of shit end up on my hard drive? [Insert sound of Steven hitting fast forward button.]

8. The Frames, "Star Star." "I don't understand these people / Sayin' we're all asleep."

9. The Cure, "Pictures of You." For Charlie.

10. The Beatles, "Get Back." From the Get Back bootleg version of Let It Be. Excellent set closer.


fanzone

This will be old news to some of you, and nothing news to most of you, but I came across a great show on teevee tonight. It's called "FanZone" and as far as I can tell its from Sky Sports in England (it shows here on Fox Soccer Channel). I can't exactly speak as an expert, considering I've only seen like 15 minutes of one episode, but as far as I can tell, here's the concept:

You start with an English Premier League soccer match ... the one tonight was Chelsea-Arsenal, a highly-anticipated early-season match from last weekend. You get two fans, one for each team, stick them in a booth with a microphone, and let them commentate the match. That's it.

So, to take the example I just watched, you've got some guy in what is to my American ears an almost unintelligible accent yelling and screaming about Chelsea while the other guy yells and screams in an equally inscrutable accent about Arsenal. The two guys know their stuff ... imagine if you were asked to offer opinions about your favorite sports franchise, you'd probably have a lot of interesting information to pass on. They are also brutal ... to each other (slagging the other's team at every opportunity), to the referee (they reminded me of my brother Geoff), and best of all, to their own club (no one knows how to criticize a team better than its own fans).

In the match in question, which I'd actually already seen with "real" commentators, Chelsea had a 1-0 lead late in the match, and the Arsenal fan was going totally bonkers. Every time Arsenal had possession, he'd yell at the top of his lungs, exhorting them to get the ball forward, making passionate appeals to their club loyalty, running off an amazing, long streak of pleas that often made no sense ("HEART! PASSION! CHARISMA! FEELING! RUNRUNRUNRUN! GO FORWARD, YOU BLOODY IDIOT! HEART! PASSION! TOUCH YOUR SHIELD!"). All the while, the Chelsea fan is blathering away as well. It was the damnedest thing.

I have no idea if this show has a regular place on the Fox Soccer Channel lineup, but I'm gonna be looking for it.