Thursday, September 29, 2005

Disney Film Uncovers Union Terrorist Conspiracy?

Today's most idiotic news story: Flight attendants outraged over Jodie Foster film:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Labor unions representing most of the nation's 90,000 flight attendants have urged their members to boycott a new Jodie Foster film that portrays a flight attendant and a U.S. air marshal as terrorists...

The Walt Disney Co. film, which was the No. 1 release at the North American box office last weekend, stars Foster as an airline passenger who awakens from an in-flight nap to find her young daughter missing. It turns out that one of the flight attendants aboard is involved in a terrorist plot hatched by the plane's air marshal.

This is what we call a "twist." Nobody expects flight attendants and air marshals to be terrorists. I haven't seen Flightplan, and don't currently plan to, but how are you supposed to have anything but cookie-cutter villains in movies anymore? When made into a movie, The Sum of All Fears was rewritten to eliminate the involvement of Arab terrorists, replacing them with a bizarre neo-Nazi conspiracy. (Do we need to start referring to Al Qaida as der St├╝tzpunkt to avoid making it sound too Arabic too?)
An AFA spokeswoman in Washington said the unions worry that moviegoers will take away impressions that will make it more difficult for flight attendants to "earn the trust and respect of passengers."
That's awfully defensive for a union representing what I thought was an honorable profession. Maybe the filmmakers are on to something?

These hypersensitive union thugs could focus on more pressing concerns, like how their actual members will be affected by energy costs and airline bankruptcies, but instead they're whining about portrayals in the movies. We should be thankful the American Bar Association doesn't take that approach.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

New Zealand: Australia's Canada

New evidence has turned up that New Zealand really is Australia's Canada. My original theory, based on geography and populations reaches this conclusion: Canada and New Zealand are both free to pursue ridiculously pacifist foreign policies (e.g., refusing to participate in missile defense or banning nuclear-powered vessels) because in the end they will both be protected by their bigger, stronger neighbors.

New Zealand has taken this a step further, apparently selling it's air force. Check out this account of the Prime Minister's election night activities:

Bit by bit, the gap between the Nationals and Labour started narrowing. But as she kept one eye on the TV screen, Clark would have had to divert some of her attention to another problem. Her security advisers told her that a rogue aircraft was flying around the dark skies over Auckland.

The pilot was threatening to do a September 11 on the city's landmark Sky Tower... The security advisers debated whether Clark should decamp to a secret location; maybe the pilot would try to assassinate her by doing a kamikaze dive into her house instead of the Sky Tower. What must have been particularly alarming for Clark was that there was not a lot she could do about the plane. At its last cabinet meeting just that week, Clark's Government had finalised the sale of the only New Zealand planes capable of firing a gun, a squadron of Skyhawk fighters.

Clark had decided some time ago that New Zealand faced no external threat, so the Skyhawks could be dispensed with and she could concentrate on her pacifist, anti-nuclear strategy. The Skyhawks were mothballed months ago. Short of calling the Royal Australian Air Force to come to her rescue and scramble a couple of fighters, which do have guns, to cross the Tasman, there was no way she could intercept, let alone force down or shoot down, the plane.

As a strategic analyst at the University of Auckland, Paul Buchanan, observed, once an aircraft planning a terror act was 3m above New Zealand soil, the Government could only watch and wait.

What a great way to take responsibility for your nation's defense - sell your weapons and call the neighbors.

Luckily for Auckland:

As things turned out, everything was all right on the night. The pilot did not have jihad on his mind but his wife, who had left him.

A flying instructor had strolled into a local airport to steal a plane, fired up the engine of a Piper Cherokee Warrior and taken out his marital angst above the city. He left the Sky Tower, which was evacuated, alone, instead crash-landing in the water off a beach, where he was saved from drowning and captured by onlookers.

No doubt New Zealand will also be protected by missile defense systems developed by the U.S. and Australia. It's easy to be a pacifist when a cop lives next door, but as recent events have shown, that might not be enough.

Friday, September 23, 2005

It's Hard to Understand a Constitution If You Don't Have One

A BBC article criticizes the nomination of John Roberts as Chief Justice because he just might agree with recent Court majorities:

This is a story about a Princess and a frog, about a kiss and a betrayal. But it's not a fable...

The Princess in our story is an honorary title I've bestowed on her for a grace and spirit superior to the rather sulky Princess of the fables. She's a young woman named Christy Brzonkala. She was a bubbly high-school basket player who enrolled at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in the expectation of qualifying for a sports career.

The frog is Bufo. To give him his full name, Bufo is Bufo microscaphus californicus who lives in southern California. Strictly speaking he's toad, but a very distinguished toad, his head crowned by a white v-shaped cross...

It was with rare creatures like Bufo in mind that the US Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973. Bufo has been proudly on the protected list since 1994 - that was the year Christy began her new life as a student at Virginia Tech.

It was with women like Christy in mind that the country's principal law-making body, Congress, spent four years listening to testimony from victims of rape and domestic violence, backed up by reports from law enforcement agencies, physicians, and federal and state officials.

In the U.S., "testimony" doesn't change the Constitution - amendments do. We continue:
So in 1994 Congress in its wisdom, with both political parties in support, made a new federal law, the Violence Against Women Act. It provided funds for enforcement.
In it's wisdom... that's nice... except Congress can't amend the Constitution merely by being "wise."

One night that very September, a few weeks after her 18th birthday, Christy was devastated. An innocent kiss turned into a brutal gang rape by Virginia Tech football players led by one Antonio Morrison.

When she pressed charges through the university's judicial system, the jocks on campus were hostile. Football matters such a lot in American colleges. There was no frog to retrieve her golden dreams.

Virginia Tech administrators considered the allegations of rape strongest against Morrison and suspended him for two terms. Morrison's family appealed, claiming he was being treated unfairly because he was black. The university's provost - a woman - decided his punishment was excessive. She allowed him back on campus and into the team.

This is where the article finally falls apart. Christy's response to a "brutal gang rape" was to go to the university's judicial system? That makes about as much sense as taking it to the League of Nations. University judicial systems have one primary purpose - to keep the criminal acts of students from the police. The writer does not address why (or if) criminal rape charges in the Commonwealth of Virginia (the appropriate authority) were not possible.

But more importantly, the author demonstrates a misunderstanding of the Constitution that sadly even many Americans share. Despite all the claims of the intent or wisdom of Congress, the Constitution restricts the power of the federal government by limiting it to enumerated powers. The most abused congressional power is the power to regulate interstate commerce. In both of these cases, claimed ties to interstate commerce are laughable. The tie to a Roberts decision is similarly absurd:

Bufo, like the Princess, was menaced by big guys. In his case, the big guy was a San Diego developer who wanted to get his hands on the soil from Bufo's breeding round. This would have been the end of Bufo and all his kind. The US Fish and Wildlife Service - Bufo's bodyguards if you will - stopped the developer. So the developer went to court. A three-judge panel in California ruled for Bufo and against the builder. For their authority, they relied on that commerce clause.

Step forward Judge Roberts - that pivotal nominee for the Supreme Court. Everyone has been trawling through his record to see how he might tip the balance of the Court...

Bufo, he said, ought not to have been protected by the interstate commerce clause, because "he is a hapless toad that for reasons of its own lives its entire life in California."

That's not quite what the Roberts opinion said, but it's close enough. The question is where Congress gets the power to protect/regulate a non-commercial animal with no interstate attributes. Similarly, no matter how sad Christy's case might be, where does Congress get the power to impose a federal criminal rape law on the entire nation? Federal criminal laws are normally based on clear federal jurisdiction, such as crimes occurring on federal property. Regardless of how "wise" a particular policy might be, Congress can only impose it through enumerated powers and cannot unilaterally amend the Constitution (compare to the British Parliament which recently abolished Double Jeopardy protections).

But then again, it's easier to whine than to actually read the Constitution.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

New Orleans "Mayor" Excludes Self from Recovery Efforts

Regarding rebuilding the war-torn underwater city of New Orleans, the Anti-Giuliani had this to say:
(AP) "I don't want anyone outside of New Orleans telling us how to plan this city," said New Orleans Mayor [and Dallas, Texas resident] Ray Nagin...
As you may recall:
(Fox News) New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin greeted President Bush when he arrived in Louisiana last night, and was at his side as he fielded questions on the Katrina relief efforts this morning. That quality time with the president, however, marks the mayor's first visit to the disaster area since Wednesday when Nagin pulled up stakes and moved his family to Dallas. The Dallas Morning News reports that Nagin has already bought a house in the city, and enrolled his daughter in school.
I guess that excludes you, "mayor."

In other news, I'll just take my $4.5 million, thank you very much:
[The Heritage Foundation] has proposed that Congress reopen the $286.4 billion transportation bill enacted in July to remove some $25 billion in what it deems questionable projects, including a proposed $230 million bridge in Alaska from Ketchikan to an island with 50 residents.
I'd be happy to move to an island in Alaska for my share of that $230 million, and they don't even have to build me a bridge.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

An Underwater Convention in 2008?

From the New York Times:

BATON ROUGE, La., Sept. 9 - The New Orleans business establishment-in-exile has set up a beachhead in a government annex here, across the street from the state Capitol. From here, organizations like the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau have begun to plot the rebirth of the city.

In the cramped offices and hallways of this building, called the Capitol Annex, and continuing into the evening at bars and restaurants around Baton Rouge, New Orleans's business leaders and power brokers are concocting big plans, the most important being reopening the French Quarter within 90 days.

Also under discussion are plans to stage a scaled-down Mardi Gras at the end of February and to lobby for one of the 2008 presidential nominating conventions and perhaps the next available Super Bowl.

Great. Doesn't anyone remember how glad we were that the 2004 Republican convention wasn't in Florida? Tampa-St. Petersburg was one of the top choices before New York was chosen, but when it came time for the actual convention (during hurricane season) hurricane country was, not surprisingly, being battered by hurricanes.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

An Undeclared War Continues in Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Police shot and killed at least five people Sunday after gunmen opened fire on a group of contractors traveling across a bridge on their way to make repairs, authorities said.

Deputy Police Chief W.J. Riley said police shot at eight people carrying guns, killing five or six.

Fourteen contractors were traveling across the Danziger Bridge under police escort when they came under fire, said John Hall, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers.

They were on their way to launch barges into Lake Pontchartrain to help plug the breech in the 17th Street Canal, Hall said.

None of the contractors was killed, Hall said.

The bridge spans a canal connecting Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River.

No other details were immediately available.

This is hardly a surprise after med-evac helicopters started taking fire. What are the insurgents going to do next, decapitate hostages on television?

Friday, September 02, 2005

Ray Nagin is no Rudy Giuliani

(CNN) -- New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin blasted the slow pace of federal and state relief efforts in an expletive-laced interview with local radio station WWL-AM.

NAGIN: I'm like, "You got to be kidding me. This is a national disaster. Get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get their asses moving to New Orleans."

Nagin proves my point about do-nothing whiners:

(AP Photo
, "An aerial view of flooded school buses in a lot, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005, in New Orleans, LA.")

It has been estimated that the busses in this photo alone could have evacuated more than 26,000 people to the very welcoming city of Houston.

Observant Ovation to A Lady's Ruminations and the Drudge Report.

Update, Sept. 9: Mark Steyn writes:

Readers may recall my words from a week ago on the approaching Katrina: "We relish the opportunity to rise to the occasion. And on the whole we do. Oh, to be sure, there are always folks who panic or loot. But most people don't, and many are capable of extraordinary acts of hastily improvised heroism."

What the hell was I thinking? I should be fired for that. Well, someone should be fired. I say that in the spirit of the Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, the Anti-Giuliani, a Mayor Culpa who always knows where to point the finger...

To give the city credit, it has a lovely "Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan" for hurricanes. The only flaw in the plan is that the person charged with putting it into effect is the mayor. And he didn't...

Consider the signature image of the flood: an aerial shot of 255 school buses neatly parked at one city lot, their fuel tanks leaking gasoline into the urban lake... Instead of entrusting its most vulnerable citizens to the gang-infested faecal hell of the Superdome, New Orleans had more than enough municipal transport on hand to have got almost everyone out in a couple of runs last Sunday.

Why didn't they? Well, the mayor didn't give the order. OK, but how about school board officials, or the fellows with the public schools transportation department, or the guy who runs that motor pool, or the individual bus drivers? If it ever occurred to any of them that these were potentially useful evacuation assets, they kept it to themselves.

So the first school bus to escape New Orleans and make it to safety in Texas was one that had been abandoned on a city street. A party of sodden citizens, ranging from the elderly to an eight-day-old baby, were desperate to get out, hopped aboard and got teenager Jabbor Gibson to drive them 13 hours non-stop to Houston. He'd never driven a bus before, and the authorities back in New Orleans may yet prosecute him. For rescuing people without a permit?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Move New Orleans

Assuming the U.S. doesn't withdraw from Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina's devastation and a budding insurgency, what is to be done next?

One suggestion that deserves more attention than it will probably get is moving the city to higher ground:
When the cost of restoring New Orleans to urban life is finally calculated, add to it the cost of maintaining it in its present location, then add the inevitable costs that will incur over the next 50 years as there are more hurricanes and Mississsippi River flooding, it makes sense to not bother. Other cities have moved when their old location proved untenable, why not New Orleans?
A BBC article has a useful map and cross section of New Orleans demonstrating that not only are large parts of the city below sea level, but the Mississippi River has been engineered to flow by the city 3 meters (10 feet) higher than sea level. This problem of geography is well known and was often pointed out during last year's hurricane season:
"[New Orleans] basically sits like a bowl, and most of the city is under sea level... so if we get a storm like Ivan to hit us directly" there could be 12 to 18 feet of water in the city, [New Orleans Mayor Ray] Nagin said.
Two posts at (here and here) explain the situation well.

If we could move the millenia-old temples at Abu Simbel, why not New Orleans?

Update, Sept. 2: Eric Zorn writes in the Chicago Tribune:

Do we invest again in the madness of what many refer to as a city in a bowl? Or do we spend all that money--federal tax money, insurance industry money and donations--on building New-New Orleans more safely inland?

Expect sentimental appeals to the history and traditions of the devastated city from those who want to rebuild it on the spot. But remember that along with great music and great food, New Orleans' history is one of defiance of the inevitable.

And its traditions, in the words of Blanche DuBois, one of its most famous fictional residents, include a dependence on the kindness of strangers.

This time, this stranger is opening his heart and his wallet. In return, he asks only that there not be a next time.

Update, Sept. 9: Poll: Most Say Abandon Flooded New Orleans

WASHINGTON (AP) - More than half the people in this country say the flooded areas of New Orleans lying below sea level should be abandoned and rebuilt on higher ground.

An AP-Ipsos poll found that 54 percent of Americans want the four-fifths of New Orleans that was flooded by Hurricane Katrina moved to a safer location.

Should the U.S. Withdraw from Louisiana?

From the BBC:

Looting and lawlessness is widespread in flood-stricken New Orleans as people made homeless by Hurricane Katrina grow increasingly desperate.

There are reports of shootings, carjackings and thefts across the city, where a full evacuation is under way.

Medical evacuations from the Superdome stadium have been disrupted after a gun shot was fired at a rescue helicopter.

President George W Bush, who will visit the disaster area on Friday, called for "zero tolerance" against law-breakers.

From Australia's Herald Sun:

"A National Guardsman was wounded by a gunshot. This happened outside the Superdome," Colonel Pete Schneider of the Louisiana National Guard said.

Col. Schneider said the Guardsman was being treated but was not in a life-threatening condition.

Officials also said that one shot was fired at a huge twin-rotored Chinook helicopter which has been taking part in an operation to move hurricane refugees out of the stadium to other cities...

Residents reported hundreds of looters on the streets, car-jackings, armed robberies and even shots fired at helicopters evacuating patients from local hospitals.

Media reports said one gang had commandeered a telephone company van to carry out robberies, while Fox News television said two men with AK-47 semi-automatic rifles had opened fire on a police station.

From the CBC:
"Hospitals are trying to evacuate," said Coast Guard Lt.-Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesan, a spokeswoman at the city emergency operations centre. "At every one of them, there are reports that as the helicopters come in people are shooting at them. There are people just taking potshots at police and at helicopters, telling them, 'You better come get my family.'"
From the City Journal:
Thousands of opportunistic vultures have looted stores all over the city, and shot in the head one police officer who tried to stop them. The New Orleans Times-Picayune has posted photos on its website of other police officers joining in the widespread theft from unattended stores. Looters have picked clean Wal-Mart’s gun department downtown.
Isn't it time for the left to start calling for a U.S. withdrawal from Louisiana? We could just change "New Orleans" to "New Baghdad" - but that might insult Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the whining begins:
...local officials said that had Washington heeded their warnings about the dire need for hurricane protection - including fortifying homes, building up levees and repairing barrier islands - the damage might not have been nearly as bad as it turned out to be.
"Washington" wouldn't let New Orleans, Orleans Parish, or the state of Louisiana do anything? Sorry guys, I can't find the federal duty to condemn and rebuild an entire American city on high ground anywhere in the Constitution. I also can't find the provision that abolished all levels of government in the state of Louisiana. Maybe the Supreme Court found that in the 14th Amendment too?

Interestingly enough, the local government has been less than helpful:

...the locals and outsiders who try to help New Orleans in the weeks and months to come will do so with no local institutional infrastructure to back them up. New Orleans has no real competent government or civil infrastructure - and no aggressive media or organized citizens’ groups to prod public officials in the right direction during what will be, in the best-case scenario, a painstaking path to normalcy.

...the city’s decline over the past three decades has left it impoverished and lacking the resources to build its economy from within. New Orleans can’t take care of itself even when it is not 80 percent underwater; what is it going to do now, as waters continue to cripple it, and thousands of looters systematically destroy what Katrina left unscathed?

The city’s government has long suffered from incompetence and corruption. Just weeks before Katrina, federal officials indicted associates of the former mayor, Marc Morial, for alleged kickbacks and contract fraud. Morial did nothing to attract diversified private investment to his impoverished city during the greatest economic boom of the modern era.

The current mayor, Ray Nagin, can’t help but be an improvement. A former cable executive, Nagin ran for office pledging to spur economic growth in New Orleans. He deserves our support now, but in his three years in office, he has made no perceptible progress in diversifying New Orleans’ economy. On television this week, the mayor has shown no clear inclination to take charge and direct post-Katrina rescue and recovery efforts for his population, as Mayor Giuliani did in New York on and after 9/11.

As some Bush-hating Canadians accidentally pointed out:
It has been known for decades that New Orleans, a seaport below sea level, was vulnerable to the great catastrophe that has occurred this week.
Did only President George W. Bush have those decades of knowledge? Every state has a different set of known recurring threats - local "leaders" need to stop whining and start dealing with them.

Update, Sept. 2: New Orleans vs. Houston:

Many years ago, an oilman in Houston pointed out to me that there was no inherent reason Houston should have emerged as the world capital of the petroleum business. New Orleans was already a major city with centuries of history, proximity to oil deposits, and huge transportation advantages when the Houston Ship Channel was dredged, making the then-small city of Houston into a major port. The discovery of the Humble oil field certainly helped Houston rise as an oil center, but the industry could just as easily have centered itself in New Orleans.

When I pressed my oilman informant for the reason Houston prevailed, he gave me a look of pity for my naivet├ę, and said, “Corruption.” Anyone making a fortune in New Orleans based on access to any kind of public resources would find himself coping with all sorts of hands extended for palm-greasing. Permits, taxes, fees, and outright bribes would be a never-ending nightmare. Houston, in contrast, was interested in growth, jobs, prosperity, and extending a welcoming hand to newcomers. New Orleans might be a great place to spend a pleasant weekend, but Houston is the place to build a business.

Today, metropolitan Houston houses roughly 4 times the population of pre-Katrina metropolitan New Orleans, despite the considerable advantage New Orleans has of capturing the shipping traffic of the Mississippi basin.

It is far from a coincidence that Houston is now absorbing refugees from New Orleans, and preparing to enroll the children of New Orleans in its own school system. Houston is a city built on the can-do spirit (space exploration, oil, medicine are shining examples of the human will to knowledge and improvement, and all have been immeasurably advanced by Houstonians). Houston officials have capably planned for their own possible severe hurricanes, and that disaster planning is now selflessly put at the disposal of their neighbors to the east.