Tuesday, January 31, 2006

State of the Union

Yes, I'm skipping various other activities tonight so that I can get home in time to watch the President's State of the Union. I know, I'm a total nerd. You probably didn't think Alex Keaton's character was real, did you? Glad to prove you wrong again.

I'm not expecting much from this year's speech. That way if it's good, I can be pleasantly surprised. I just have this crazy feeling that the terrorists are up to something. They may end up being the stars of tonight's show - although I hope that I'm wrong. Maybe I'm just obsessed because I watched A&E's Flight 93 last night, which got me pissed at Arabs all over again. And just when I thought I reached inner racial harmony, too!

Oh well, maybe the terrorists will get lost and visit Cindy Sheehan instead.

UPDATE: This made my night. Awesome.


Sheehan, who was invited to attend the speech by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D- Calif., was charged with demonstrating in the Capitol building, said Capitol Police Sgt. Kimberly Schneider. The charge was later changed to unlawful conduct, Schneider said. Both charges are misdemeanors.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Worthless Fortune Cookies

What ever happened to fortune cookies that actually have a fortune in them? I'm tired of eating at lackluster Chinese joints, having them push Costco fortune cookies as their own, only to excitedly break open my fortune cookie to reveal that, "You have a love for arts and music."


Give me a stinking break. A fortune cookie is not a palm reading. I don't need to know things about myself that aren't true. All the typist needed to do was add the word, "will" before "have." That way, it becomes a fortune. As it stands now, the cookies should be called "Psychotherapy in Cheap Cookie Cookies." One of my co-workers got one that said, "You are kind to animals."

Again, what?

If they can't be so kind as to lay out my personal future in cookie form, then why would I care about what lotto numbers they suggest on the back? They don't even say, "Here are your lotto numbers." They say, "Here are your suggested lotto numbers."

Worthless. Totally worthless.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Don't let the bedbugs bite!

This is ridiculous. I can't stand bugs, and now I have to worry about catching these things from the dirty freak sitting next to me on the Metro. As if worrying about terrorists and people with morning-breath weren't enough to deal with on the train.

According to CNN:

Bedbugs are back, and they're not just rearing their rust-colored heads in [Washington, DC]. Experts say they're spreading to other states and countries.
Just another thing to make me paranoid about living in this city. I mean, who actually gets these things and doesn't take the necessary steps for removing them? If you wake up with strange bites that can't be attributed to mosquitoes, call an exterminator. What, they's just flea bites you say? It's still nasty. Pony up the cash and call Terminix.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Last Batch of Katrina Damage Photos

Click on photos for larger, more detailed versions.

ABOVE: As you can see, the damage to homes in Pascagoula, MS was extreme.

ABOVE: This is the state of things in New Orleans. Cars still lay overturned in the streets, as entire neighborhoods with thousands of homes are left to rot, abandoned.

ABOVE: The wind and storm surge pushed debris up against these apartments in Pascagoula, MS a mile back from shore.

ABOVE: Because of the lack of police in New Orleans, the city is still being occupied by armed National Guard troops.

ABOVE: Boats still rest piled up on one another in New Orleans.

More Katrina Damage Photos...

Click on photos for larger, more detailed versions.

ABOVE: A Street in the Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans. As far as the eye can see, it's all abandoned.

ABOVE: The damage in Pascagoula, MS is so great, even simple things like this can't be repaired (and it's January!)

ABOVE: A wind-tossed car in Bayou La Batre, AL.

ABOVE: Cars left to rot in front of dead, abandoned homes. This particular home had markings indicating a body had been found inside.

ABOVE: Here is one of the holes used to residents to escape the rising floodwaters. New Orleans.

More Katrina Damage Pictures

Click on pictures for larger, more detailed views.

ABOVE: A large home in New Orleans, destroyed, its contents open for the world to see.

ABOVE: A home in New Orleans. Notice the brown water-line on the house.

A ruined shrimping boat in Bayou La Batre, Alabama.

This mansion in Pascagoula, MS looks only to have minor damage from a distance. But closer (below)...

Katrina Damage Pictures

Click on photos for larger, more detailed pictures.

ABOVE: This house, seemingly fine, is totally destroyed. Upon closer inspection, you can see the broken windows and water damage. Although the flag still hangs, this house was totally submerged at one point.

ABOVE: Another home in the lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. The cars probably floated to their current positions. Now, all is lost.

ABOVE: This house collapased on itself in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The storm surge pulled the load-bearing walls right out from underneath the home.

ABOVE: In Pascagoula, this is where the majority of residents now live. If they're not in a FEMA trailer park like this, they are in a trailer in what used to be their front yard.

ABOVE: The debris is evrywhere. It's in the trees, the streets, on fences. This debris was probably pushed back several blocks from where it originated by the winds and storm surge.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

My Gulf Trip, Last Day (Day 4)

Yesterday, my last day in New Orleans, had the deepest emotional impact of any other experience on the trip. Our day started calmly enough. We ate at Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter, a famous eatery known for its coffee and beignets (scone-like, donut-ish sin muffins). On any day before Katrina, breakfast lines averaged 30 minutes. We walked straight to the counter. The place was great, though.

After breakfast, we went to the 9th Ward of New Orleans. As most of you probably know from news reports, this was the hardest hit area. It differed greatly from what we experienced in Pascagoula where there was mainly wind damage. In New Orleans, while suffering extensive damage from 100+ mps winds, the main story is the flood damage. Driving into the 9th ward was like driving into a waking nightmare. The streets, utterly devoid of any human activity other than our small group, were littered with more debris than I have ever seen in my life. This area was the one under 10 feet of water.

Keep in mind that this is an entire section of the city, thousands of homes, that have been completely abandoned by their owners. There is nothing salvageable, nothing to be saved. The houses look intact, but upon closer inspection, the completeness of their destruction is apparent. The yards are littered with cars, television sets, washers and dryers. Dried out, spoiled food products are everywhere, along with their containers. Thick coats of mud covered everything from rooftops to abandoned SUVs and sports cars. It was as if the residents just disappeared and let the place deteriorate. The reality, which is worse, is that this all happened in a few short hours.

Holes were in almost every roof, visible proof that the occupants within had made desperate escapes. Each house was marked with a spray painted "X" which was filled with shorts numbers (number of occupants, date inspected, number of dead bodies found). There were many houses with red X's - bodies had been found.

We drove for blocks and blocks covering scores of square miles. All the houses were dead. Of course, electricity didn't work anywhere (and that still rings true for half the city). There was no need for traffic lights, because there was no traffic. We slowly made our way through the streets, snapping pictures of overturned cars, boarded up storefronts and abandoned houses. The infrastructure that once supported a human civilization had failed.

But this was not even the tip of the iceberg. We eventually made our way through middle class neighborhoods. It was the same story, only the abandoned houses were much bigger. Only about one house out of a hundred had someone working to repair it. Those represented the lucky people who had flood insurance. On each house was a brown line stained into the paint by mother nature. This represented the waterline. On some homes, it was only a few feet high (yet enough to render the entire house a complete loss), and on others passed the second story.

Every corner of this city, every single one, has a pile of debris. Some piles have been somewhat organized by the city or local residents. However, most debris remains scattered in intersections, yards, parks - it even hangs from the trees. Debris cleanup is probably the biggest obstacle the city faces. From one estimate given to us by an engineer, the City of New Orleans is now 43 YEARS behind in garbage removal. Seeing the amount of trash on the streets, I think this is a conservative estimate. Even in the good, working parts of the city, telephone poles lay in the gutter, stores have parking lots full of wall paneling, rotting carpets and broken signs. I don't see how the city can ever clean up. Where would they start?

There are signs of life, however. While 400,000 residents have left the city (the biggest mass exodus of any American region since the Great depression), 125,000 remain. Those people are determined to make the city work. It may not be the same, but it will stay on the map. The city has a 5 year projection to increase population to 250,000 (still less than half the previous level). Some semblance of normalcy will return, eventually. But for now, the city has a cloud of doom in the air. And as for the 9th Ward and other hard hit areas, those 70,000 homes will have to be destroyed. Probably never to rise again.

New Orleans' Finest

Not too many of these guys around. But where they can't patrol, they have the National Guard (complete with Hummers and machine guns) to patrol for them.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Touring Ground Zero

Piles and piles of junk.

My Gulf Trip, Day 3

It's hard to sum up the things I saw today. After a while, you begin to forget some of the devastation you are seeing are the ruins of families and lives. We didn't have to pick out a special view this time. Every single street we saw for 50 miles looked like a complete urban war zone in Mississippi. Neighborhoods were gone.
We started off our day traveling from Mobile, Alabama to Pascagoula, Mississippi - right on the Gulf Coast. When we got there, we had trouble interpreting what we saw. Blocks after blocks of houses had trailers on the front lawns. At first glance, the houses looked pretty normal. But upon closer inspection, you could see that there was nothing inside. No walls, no furniture and no people. Instead, the families were each living in FEMA-issued trailers parked in front of the shells that used to be their homes. Block after block it was the same thing, until we got closer to the shore.
It will be hard for me to explain what we felt as we traveled the next few blocks. Gone were the yard trailers. In fact, nothing we saw in the next couple of blocks had yards at all. There were no houses, no shells. There were only piles of debris. Toilets, bathtubs and all kinds of crap were strung out everywhere. Where there were once large, beautiful homes only stood bare foundations. There weren't even any pipes remaining.
From what we were told, this area was first hit with 100+ mph winds, and then buried under 20 feet of storm surge (that's 20ft under seawater). A frame stood here and there, but there was nothing left but splinters everywhere else. Homes that had stood since the 1800's were now totally gone. Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), who is a Pascagoula native, lost his house in the storm. There only remained a lone flag in his yard. The other foundations were just eerie. Families who had once lived there had obviously gone back to pick up any pieces of value. There were only boards left with big spray painted names of the occupants, if anyone died and the name of the insurance company. A few families had put lawn chairs on the foundation, facing the Gulf. A few people were sitting in the chairs every once in a while. They wore sad expressions and never looked up. We didn't take pictures of them.
As we moved on, we saw a 2 mile, 4 lane concrete bridge pushed 30 feet off the foundations and toppled into the water. In fact, we saw 3 major bridges like this. Far away in the distance in Biloxi, we could see the giant river casinos leaning into the water, mostly submerged. This, with the bridge in the foreground reminded me most of what our country would look like if we ever had a major war. It was downright frightening.
As the sun went down, we made our way into New Orleans again. I'll tell you more about this tomorrow (Wednesday), but I just need to share one more thing. As we traveled along I-10 into the city, we went for 10 straight miles without seeing a single occupied home. The homes are right off the freeway and easy to see. There is no wall or barricade blocking the spectacle. What made it especially disturbing was how urban it was. This could be any city in the country. Think of any place you know, filled with thousands of homes (remember, it goes on for 10 miles). Now picture all of these homes smashed, cracked and windowless. This is what New Orleans looks like in the suburbs. There is no one left. 400,000 people are gone.
More on that later. Low-res phone pics below...

A tangled mess...

This picture, taken in Pascagoula, is of some random river. There were scores of boats - big yachts, in fact - drifting and crashing into each other. No one has bothered to clean it up. Too much other stuff to do.

Bridge to Biloxi

This is some of the worst damage in Mississippi. This bridge, normally a vital economic link between Pascagoula and Biloxi is completely destroyed. You can't tell in this crappy phone picture, but there are kids playing on some of the sections!

What's left of Senator Trent Lott's House

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Beachfront Condos

Looks like the aftermath of a nuclear war.

Mississippi Coast

There is simply nothing left here.


Damage in the Bayou

Monday, January 09, 2006

My Gulf Trip, Day 2

Today was much different from yesterday. Since we spent most of our day in Mobile, AL, we weren't able to see too much damage, We spent most of the morning meeting with public officials from around the region. We talked about some of the problems they've been facing and asked about what our association could do to help. Basically all of the people talked about how worthless FEMA has been. They said FEMA has been very nice, but there are so many forms and hoops they must go through they usually end up doing it themselves.

After the meetings, however, we took a car ride down to the Bayou. We passed Dauphin Island, which was closed because of the amount of damage there. 95 % of the homes on Dauphin Island are completely gone. The roads were too bad for crossing, so we just had to take the government's word on that statistic instead of seeing it for ourselves. However, in Bayou La Batre, our next stop, we saw a lot worse.
Bayou La Batre is the shrimping town featured in Forrest Gump. It's very southern, very poor and very run down. It does, however, boast one of the largest Vietnamese populations in the country. There were Vietnamese stores everywhere down there. Weird. The town itself looked so poor, we couldn't tell if the homes were damaged or if they were in normal condition. Going to the shore answered that question. There were boats hundreds of yards inland, strewn about people's yards. Stores were collapsed, roads were buckled and the trees were littered with debris.
We took a lot of pictures in Bayou La Batre before the sky opened up and the rain started to pour. Despite that, it was a humid 75 degrees and very nice. I posted a few phone pictures on the blog, but they didn't come out very well. I'll email the rest of the pictures later. That's all we ended up doing today, besides eating dinner at a very nice and very good seafood restaurant called Russo's. I had calamari, gumbo and mahi mahi. Good stuff.
More tomorrow... we head to Pascagoula and Biloxi, Mississippi.

My Gulf Trip, Day 1

For those of you who don't know, my work has sent me, along with its executive committee, to the Gulf states on a Hurricane Katrina fact-finding trip. Since our association represents first responders, emergency officials and clean-up crews around the country - we obviously have a great work to do in the Gulf and want to know what we can do to properly advocate for our priorities. Let me tell you a little bit about what I've seen so far.

I arrived today (Sunday) at 3:30pm in New Orleans. As the plane was landing, I was amazed to see blue tarps covering the roofs of almost every home for miles and miles. They're there because most of the houses have lost part, if not all of their roofs from the wind during Katrina. It was simply amazing to see this from the air.

After landing, the first thing I noticed was the smell. There is a hint of mildew in the air all around you - mixed with smoke from all of the fires being set to burn debris. It was surreal.
Since we are visiting the whole region, my boss and I picked up a Ford Excursion for our trip up to Mobile, AL (150 miles away). We hopped on the I-10 and headed east. Since that freeway heads right through one of the hardest hit areas, we could see everything. Entire neighborhoods were completely evacuated. Every single home we saw was without a roof, glass or doors. You could see visible flood lines on the paint as high as 12 feet on some homes. Huge trees were totally uprooted and sitting on top of homes, stores and gas stations. We saw a Dillards department store that looked like it was cracked in half. Gas stations had their entire carports knocked over, and trees littered the streets - everywhere.
I can't even begin to describe the debris. There were mountains of it. We could see trash and vegetation hanging from telephone wires - 30 feet high! Even on the freeway, there were still overturned cars with their windows blown out, covered with mud and completely stripped. Keep in mind the hurricane hit in August.
It finally got dark, and all we could see was darkness where neighborhoods should be. It was so crazy - it felt like a WWIII movie of nuclear devastation. I know you've seen it on the news - bit nothing prepares you for seeing it in person. It defies adequate description, and that's why we're here. Tomorrow we'll be headed to Bayou LaBatre, Alabama. On Tuesday, we visit Mississippi, then on to New Orleans for a meeting with FEMA on Wednesday. I'll be taking better pictures than those shown (posted are phone pictures), and will post them as soon as I can.

Did you know concrete was flexible?

This is a road we came across in Bayou LaBatre, a town particularly hard hit along the Alabama coast (you may remember this town from Forrest Gump, where he owned his shrimping boat).

The Gulf

The Gulf of Mexico/Mobile Bay as seen from Bayou LaBatre, AL. It was a bit overcast, but the weather was above 70 degrees. Not bad for January!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Visiting Battleground Katrina

Looks like my trip to New Orleans will be off to a loud and stinky start. I'm sitting in the back of the plane, next to the back door and the convergence of 3 bathrooms! Wow! It's like I'm there already.

Wonderful Sights

Living in DC is Awesome.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Cingular vs. Verizon and Why Cingular Will Win

CDMA, the wireless format that Verizon uses, is a dead-end technology. There are too many limitations associated with CDMA which keep major players like Motorola from investing a lot of R&D money, which is why Verizon has such horrible phones. Verizon needs to capitalize on features other than plain phone calls if they are to make any money, since that's where the cash cow is grazing these days. They had an early win last year with their EV-DO network and "VCast," but no one is biting because Verizon cripples their equipment (puts limits on their phones such as making Bluetooth virtually useless) in an attempt to force the consumer to use their pay services.

Cingular, on the other hand, started out by using the global wirless standard of GSM. That was slow to get started in the US but eventually became the dominant technology on this side of the Atlantic just as it had done in Europe. This is why Cingular always has the coolest phones and PDAs. Now, Cingular is rolling out HSDPA - a super fast wireless standard that will allow broadband internet speeds to your cellphones (think full motion TV, person to person video conferencing and networked game playing). This is a world first. No one else has anything even close to HSDPA.

Cingular's potential weakness, however, is letting the technology get ahead of profit-making. That's what happened to AOL. Once the internet was ubiquitous, people didn't see the need to pay $25 a month for a crappy portal with features you could find for free anywhere on the web. That's what could happen with this HSDPA. Phones allow you to do so much now, such as letting you add on secondary programs to do things Cingular offers for a fee, that users may eventually get smart and stop using the provider for content (which is why Verizon stubbornly sticks to making their customers use their services by crippling the technology).

Of course, the ace in the hole is airtime. No matter what feature you use, or how you do it, there is airtime involved. Cingular, with the 3mbps broadband achieved by HSDPA, could potentially slap cable companies in their faces. Imagine paying $75 a month and being able to take your laptop (with a Cingular aircard or BT enabled phone as tether) anywhere in the country and have high speed internet access and full motion quality TV on your computer (streamed, of course)! I think I would cancel my $50 Cox service pretty fast.

This, my friends, is why Cingular will win the wireless wars.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Pigs are flying, baby.

We're barely a week into 2006 and already we've seen a landmark legal ruling: It is now OK to MOON people in Maryland.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

An Open Letter to Washington DC Metro


I didn't wake up early today so that I could get a decent parking space in your overcrowded Metro station parking garage and then walk through the rain only to wait for 20 minutes on an overcrowded train platform to wait for a promised ride that never arrived.

I didn't plan on being 30 minutes late for work because I had to go back into your overcrowded garage so that I could get my car, sit in traffic and drive to work so that I could then pay $15 for parking 3 blocks from my office.

I don't appreciate being told over your loudspeakers that the "Orange Line is Running Late" when clearly it wasn't running at all. I don't appreciate telling my boss the reasons why I'm late only to have him say, "I never got any Metro alerts via email." That makes me look like a liar.

I think that your organization stinks.


PS - Please open additional stations along the Orange line that will only result in more sardine-like riding conditions on your overly-crowded-with-big-chairs trains. That would be money.