Monthly Archives: January 2007

The Lessons Of Katrina

As we approach the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it’s well known that vast areas of the Gulf Coast remain much as they were when the waters receded. What isn’t well known is the extent to which private charity and volunteer organizations have stepped in where the government has failed:

PEARLINGTON, Miss. — The two-by-fours inside the walls of George and Margaret Ladner’s new home are inscribed with biblical verses, each written by one of the Alabama schoolchildren who raised money to buy the lumber.

The framing work on the house was done by a Christian from Pennsylvania, the exterior planking was put up by people from Texarkana, Tex., and a group from Destin, Fla., worked on other details.

“This home was built by the hands of God,” Margaret Ladner, 75, said from the couch of her new living room last week.

In this small rural community, as in much of the hurricane-ravaged Mississippi Gulf Coast, this kind of motley charity effort accounts for the vast bulk of what halting progress has been made in the immense task of rebuilding.

While the national debate over the recovery has focused on the billions expected in federal aid and insurance, those sources have so far provided little for places such as Pearlington, and charity efforts have constituted more than 80 percent of the home rebuilding completed so far, local and charity officials said.

Fewer than one in five families here are back in their homes, but nearly all of them have relied to some extent on charity groups. The waves of volunteers typically come down for a week or two, work during the day and at night sleep on cots and bunks set up in places such as the old school library and huts on the community’s football field.

“Without the volunteers and the donations, we’d still be in the mud,” said Rocky Pullman, a tugboat captain who represents the Pearlington area on the Hancock County Commission.

But what, you might ask about the billions of dollars in aid from Washington that was supposed to rebuild New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast ? Not surprisingly, it’s tied up in bureaucracy:

The reason for the charity’s dominant role in the rebuilding is that little, if any, of the $3.2 billion in federal aid for Mississippi homeowners has reached anyone here — it is tied up for now at the state level. As for insurance, most residents of this rural community lacked any form of flood policy. People say there just hadn’t been a flood in recent memory, and of those who did have coverage, most had too little.


The $3.2 billion in federal aid disbursed by the Mississippi program has largely been untouchable by people in Pearlington.

The program’s first phase doles out money to people who were flooded but did not live in the federally designated flood zone.

Most people in Pearlington live in the flood zone and must wait for the second phase to begin. Under its guidelines, families of low and moderate income will be eligible for as much as $100,000, less any insurance and FEMA rebuilding payments they have received.

By the time that happens, though, one wonders if the Federal Government will even be needed in Pearlington.

Old Media vs. New Media

(Cross posted here at Fearless Philosophy for Free Minds)

A rather interesting comment was posted in response to a minor point I made about the new media vs. the old media in a post I wrote entitled The Scales of Justice Need Rebalancing. I thought the comment raised some interesting questions that deserved to be answered in a post of its own as opposed to a response to the response on the original post.

My original point had to do with the MSM’s (the old media’s) incomplete, sloppy, and biased coverage of the so-called Duke Rape Case and how bloggers and talk radio (the new media) managed to turn the tide against the narrative the MSM was trying to establish. The MSM basically convicted the lacrosse players before they had their day in court. When it comes to accusations of rape or sexual assault, all too often the MSM automatically presumes that women never lie about these sorts of things, therefore; the men who are accused of the act are guilty. Very few in the MSM were even open to the possibility that Crystal Magnum (the stripper who accused the lacrosse players) was lying; few wanted to hear the other side of the story or even ask some very basic questions.

The following is the statement I made in the original post:

Thanks in-part to talk radio, bloggers, and others in the alternative media asking questions the MSM failed to ask, everything seems to be swinging in the defendants’ favor.

William L. Anderson of made a much stronger case for the way the new media exposed the unethical and quite possibly criminal behavior of the District Attorney Michael Nifong. Anderson’s main point is that had it not been for the new alternative media, the other side of the story might not have come to light and Nifong could have gotten away with his framing of the young men in question.

This time, the new media got it right but was this good investigative reporting or just luck? The person who commented on my post who identifies herself as VRB believes it to be the latter:

I found the bloggers to be just as bad as MSN [the MSM?], they just happened to wind up on the right side. They did all their best to vilify the alleged victim before all the facts were in. They looked for every snippet of so called evidence to prove their point. Most seem to be saying if you are a whore you can’t possibly be raped and rapist aren’t smart enough to drug or use a condom. Of course all their arguments were so high minded how dare anyone questioned their motives. I think that bloggers are beginning to think the power they have, gives them truth. They just got lucky, so I wouldn’t pat them on the back. Bloggers are not any more pure than the rest of society.

I am sure that there were bloggers out there who instinctively went the other direction without considering any evidence but there were others who were fair-minded and only wanted to get to the truth. I hadn’t weighed in on the issue up to now but when the story first broke, I was concerned that the MSM wasn’t telling the entire story. I cannot speak for others but I would never be one to say that it would have been impossible for the lacrosse players to have raped Crystal Magnum because she was a ‘whore’. I wasn’t there, nor was anyone who commented on the case other than Magnum, the other stripper, and those who were at the party. All any of us can do is ask questions and draw our own conclusions.

When those in the new media started asking the questions, we discovered problems with Magnum’s story (such as the timeline), statements from witnesses (the other stripper, Magnum’s cab driver, etc.), a lack of DNA and other forensic evidence to implicate the accused players (some of which was withheld by Nifong), a report that Magnum had made false rape charges in the past, and other reports that cast doubt on Magnum’s version of events. In the end, all Nifong had to go on was Magnum’s ever-changing statements.

As to the motives, veracity, and ‘high mindedness’ of bloggers in the new media I just have to say they come in all shapes and sizes and are by no means ‘any more pure than the rest of society.’ Some are not at all concerned about accuracy and shoot from the hip while others do their homework and rival the veracity of MSM reports. Bloggers come from a much more diverse array of backgrounds, opinions, and motivations. It’s quite proper to question the motives of anyone who presents information (whether in the old media or new media) and VRB is correct in saying that power does not in any way equal truth.

Having said that, those in the new media who did ask the questions and uncovered facts about the case where much of the MSM failed do deserve a ‘pat on the back’. To avoid embarrassment, the MSM had to start asking the questions that ordinary people with laptops were already asking. If not for the new media, who knows what would have happened in this case?

The only reason the new media is gaining influence is because the old media is no longer adequate. The old media has one agenda and is driven by that agenda. The old media is much easier to censor and control than the new media; this is why some powerful people want to bring the new media down with legal restrictions such as McCain-Feingold and the so-called fairness doctrine.

One of the things that drew me to blogging was when bloggers exposed the forged documents in Dan Rather’s story on George W. Bush’s National Guard service. At the time I didn’t even know what blogging was. I was already skeptical of much of how the MSM reported the news as if everything they reported was stone cold fact. But when this fraud was exposed, I became even more skeptical. There is usually more than one side of the story but all too often, the MSM only presents the side they like. Now the new media has filled some of the void.

There is one problem no one seems to address when it comes to media of all kinds: the media consumer. Yes, you and I are the main problem. Far too often, we do not think critically about the news and receive it passively.

As consumers of the news, we should ask the same questions journalists are supposed to ask: who, what, when, where, how, and why. These are very simple questions that are rarely explored. For example: Why does the minimum wage need to be raised? Who says it should be raised, politicians or economists? What are the positive and negative consequences of raising the minimum wage? When should it be raised? How should it be raised? How will it affect the economy?

Apply these questions to any problem or issue and you will find that these questions are often not answered in the news story. Always be prepared to question the answers.

Are Cars Killing America ?

In today’s Washington Post, Ted Balaker and Sam Staley of the Reason Foundation debunk five common myths constantly propounded by the environmentalist left in their never-ending quest to force us out of our cars:

1.Americans are addicted to driving.

Actually, Americans aren’t addicted to their cars any more than office workers are addicted to their computers. Both items are merely tools that allow people to accomplish tasks faster and more conveniently. The New York metropolitan area is home to the nation’s most extensive transit system, yet even there it takes transit riders about twice as long as drivers to get to work.


2.Public transit can reduce traffic congestion.

Transit has been on the slide for well more than half a century. Even though spending on public transportation has ballooned to more than seven times its 1960s levels, the percentage of people who use it to get to work fell 63 percent from 1960 to 2000 and now stands at just under 5 percent nationwide. Transit is also decreasing in Europe, down to 16 percent in 2000.


3.We can cut air pollution only if we stop driving.

Polls often show that Americans think that air quality is deteriorating. Yet air is getting much cleaner. We miss it because, while we see more people and more cars, we easily overlook the success of air-quality legislation and new technologies. In April 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency reported that 474 counties in 31 states violated the Clean Air Act. But that doesn’t mean that the air is dirtier. The widely publicized failing air-quality grades were a result of the EPA’s adoption of tougher standards.


4.We’re paving over America.

How much of the United States is developed? Twenty-five percent? Fifty? Seventy-five? How about 5.4 percent? That’s the Census Bureau’s figure. And even much of that is not exactly crowded: The bureau says that an area is “developed” when it has 30 or more people per square mile.


5.We can’t deal with global warming unless we stop driving.

What should be done about global warming? The Kyoto Protocol seeks to get the world to agree to burn less fossil fuel and emit less carbon dioxide, and much of that involves driving less. But even disregarding the treaty’s economic costs, Kyoto’s environmental impact would be slight. Tom M.L. Wigley, chief scientist at the U.S. Center for Atmospheric Research, calculates that even if every nation met its obligation to reduce greenhouse gas, the Earth would be only .07 degrees centigrade cooler by 2050.

In other words, all of the empircal arguments against personal automobiles is pretty much a bunch of nonsense. Would recognizing this cause the environmentalist left to give up its anti-auto crusade and stop trying to get us all to take the train ? Frankly, I doubt it.

I’m convinced that the real reason that Americans like their cars, and the real reason that certain people hate them so much, is because of the degree of personal freedom it gives them. Rather than having to depend upon the schedule of a government-run mass transit system, they can go where they want, when they want. There are people out there for whom that degree of personal autonomy is a bad idea. They would rather see us all living in high-rises, near train stations that can take us where they decide our jobs and shopping malls should be. Even if automobiles were 100% friendly to the environment, they still wouldn’t like them.

Solving The Television Violence “Problem”

According to L. Brent Bozell III, long time advocate of government censorship of television, the so-called problem of television violence is worse than ever and the person at fault is Tony Soprano:

The latest landmark (or landfill) in the TV world is the arrival of HBO’s pay-cable mob drama “The Sopranos” on the basic-cable channel A&E, where now virtually anyone with cable can watch. How carefully is this show with mature-themed sex, violence and profanity vetted for general audiences? TV critics wailed that any snip is messing with the “artistic integrity,” but the Hollywood Reporter reassured fans that “a few judicious snips to a series can be made without snuffing its profane soul.”

The early word is that the makers of “The Sopranos” prepared their Mafia-milking cash cow for general audiences by double-shooting scenes with clothed strippers and lots of uses of the word “freaking.” Still, the eye-opening violence is pretty much left untouched. “Have no fear, mayhem fans,” cooed the TV critic of the San Diego Union-Tribune, since A&E is “letting them act like gangsters and talk like dorks.”

The “quality” controllers at A&E have told critics that extraordinarily grisly sequences, such as someone’s brains being splattered all over a wall, have been shortened by a second or two. Who says these networks don’t have standards?

The arrival of “The Sopranos” marks the ongoing trend, wherein ultra-violent, ultra-sexual programming made for pay-cable channels oozes into basic-cable syndication. It began with “Sex and the City” reruns on TBS and now includes “Six Feet Under” on Bravo. And with basic cable now sliding into the muck, it is dragging over-the-air broadcast TV with it. Reruns of the vile bad-cop drama “The Shield” have gravitated to the new CW network. All of television is sliding into the violence swamp.

Brent, there are those of us who watch shows like The Sopranos because it happens to be good drama. There are others of us who don’t watch it all. We call ourselves adults, and we’re generally capable of making informed decisions for ourselves. You obviously don’t care for Tony and the boys, so don’t watch them, but don’t deprive me, or anyone else, of the opportunity to watch something other than Mother Angelica on our basic cable channels.
» Read more

A Lame Defense Of The Drug War

John Hawkins writes in a column at Human Events and a post at his blog Right Wing News in defense of the War On Drugs. As is typical with defenders of the drug war, it doesn’t really amount to much of anything.

Just take a look at his opening paragraphs:

Libertarians often attack the war on drugs as a waste of tax dollars and an infringement on personal liberties. That is misguided thinking that comes from trying to apply unworkable theoretical concepts in the real world.

For example, you often hear advocates of drug legalization say that we’re never going to win the war on drugs and that it would free up space in our prisons if we simply legalized drugs. While it’s true that we may not ever win the war against drugs — i.e. never entirely eradicate the use of illegal drugs — we’re not ever going to win the war against murder, robbery and rape either. But our moral code rejects each of them, so none — including drugs — can be legalized if we still adhere to that code.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen this one from the drug warriors…..well, I’d have a heck of a lot of nickels.

There is a distinct difference, of course, between murder, robbery, and rape on the one hand, and using a currently illegal substance like marijuana or cocaine. Murder involves violating the right to life of another human being. Robbery is an intrusion on property rights. And rape is an assault, also a violation of another individuals rights. You can’t say the same thing, though, about an individuals use of (currently) illegal drugs. If my neighbor is smoking marijuana in the privacy of his own home, he has done nothing to harm me, my property, or my family. That being the case, the state has no business telling him he can’t do it.

Hawkins doesn’t end there though. The rest of his argument is addressed below the fold. » Read more

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