John Furie Zacharias
having a bad day in a strange place
Thunderstorms Anywhere

Thunderstorms in the Imajica



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Monday, September 19, 2005
SUV crack and other price-gouging




With Katrina's evil twin Rita churning through the Gulf of Mexico, it's only common sense that gas prices will rise again.  Offshore oil rigs are in the path of hurricane Rita.  And like Katrina, refinery and distribution of energy products will be affected.

My image above shows the rise in national gas price averages and the components of cost in percentiles.  The 2005 figure of $2.29 was only current as of July 2005, and doesn't represent any data post hurricane Katrina, when gas prices spun out of control in some regions.  If you want to understand what normal factors play a role in the price of gasoline, read this gas price primer from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE).

If you see local gas stations with ridiculously high gasoline prices, report that price-gouging activity using this DoE Gas Price Watch form.  Check this form now to see what information you will need to provide while scribbling down some notes on the dash board of your car.

I know that in Florida price-gouging is legally defined as a price increase of "gross disparity" above normal retail prices 30 days before an emergency, like a  hurricane.  Check your own state's attorney general office for more information about filing price-gouging complaints for any other consumer items, such as portable power generators, or even hotel room rates for evacuees.

Even after hurricane Rita passes through the Gulf and eventually turns into a gentle sprinkle for Jesus' vegetable garden in Grand Rapids, Michigan, gas prices may eventually rise to $4-5 per gallon, this time next year.  It wouldn't surprise me to see that increase in gas prices in the jittery commodity markets simply in anticipation of hurricane season next year.

The corporations that control various components of the price of gasoline are not making capital investments to lower the price of gasoline, and I don't expect that they will.  There is a concept called Peak Oil.  Why invest or spend billions of corporate dollars to build even one more refinery when the supply is on the downslope?

If the easily attainable supplies of crude oil are waning, the only other market factor affecting the price is on the demand side.  You, the consumer, have to save and conserve however you can.  It may even mean a lifestyle change for you during the next 5 or 10 years, whether you like it or not.

In the meantime, there are simple things you can do to conserve your personal fuel consumption and save yourself a few bucks along the way.  Making sure your tires are properly inflated on that SUV can save you 10%.  Plan ahead and combine errands.  Go grocery shopping with your neighbor.  Carpool and drive the diamond lane while waving at the lonely idiots stranded in normal traffic.

Personally, I ride a mountain bike with a basket in the front to my local grocery store.  I wear a backpack.  Every time I buy groceries in this manner, I remind myself that this is a small inconvenience for me, when brave men and women in the military are being killed in Iraq, not for WMDs, but for oil.  Conserve fuel -- save a soldier's life.

While I realize most families can't ride a bike to buy their groceries or run their errands, there are practical alternatives for millions of families in the U.S. instead of driving that SUV to the grocery store for a forgotten gallon of milk or loaf of bread.  You people are smart.  You simply need to start thinking about it, even if your reason is just $5.00/gallon gasoline.








[Headphones] :: Evil Stevie: Activate! - JfZ


Sunday, September 18, 2005
Tribeca Film, the Emmys and more storms


The Tribeca Film Festival was founded in 2002 by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff as a response to the attacks on the World Trade Center.  Now in its fourth year, the Festival's mission is to create platforms for filmmakers to reach the best possible audience for their work.  If you are a filmmaker, you only have until November 14 to submit your narrative, documentary feature, or short online to be considered for the 2006 festival taking place April 25th through May 7th, in New York City.  If you're not a filmmaker, but just an avid fan of film, you can view some cool shorts and rate them, like I have been doing.

You also get entered into a sweepstakes in which the grand prize is a $1000 and a comped flight to NYC for the festival.  I'm a big fan of the flash shorts over on AtomFilms, so I have been checking out a few shorts in the competition on Amazon.  If you want to "watch and win", go do it now.  Your participation in the film ratings ends this Friday, September 23rd.  After that, the top five films will be introduced on October 3rd, and you can then help select who should win the filmmaker's prize of $50,000 from American Express, in November.  Better yet -- don't check it out.  When I win the film rater's grand prize, I'll be sure to take many pix in NYC and blog about it for you.

I haven't watched too many shorts so far, but I was impressed with two of them. In the drama genre, I thought "Newspaper" was very succinct visually and told its story plainly without even having any sound or dialogue.  [Synopsis: A young boy wants his selfish father to acknowledge him. One morning, he wakes with a plan of action.]

In the comedy genre, I thought "The Price is Right" showed a lot of promise.  It made me laugh. While the last 30 seconds of it was a bit clumsy because it's hard to figure how to end a good comedy skit, the premise and the dialogue in the scenes were great.  [Synopsis: Adam paces left to right in anticipation. His roommates in the background are betting on The Price Is Right. The phone rings. It's an anonymous call for Adam. He is instructed to meet at a street corner where there, he'll receive a package upon saying the password. What was the password?]  So, there are my thumbnail reviews of the two films I gave a five-of-fives excellent rating.

If you are not a film buff, but are a couch potato

I watched the last half of the Emmys tonight.  It reminded me of the Emmy Awards show after 9-11, not only because Ellen DeGeneres was hosting but also because of the somber moments during the show, both scripted and spontaneous.  CBS.com promoted Habitat for Humanity throughout the live broadcast.  They also had an interesting segment about the recent turn-over in U.S. news journalism in which Tom Brockaw and Dan Rather took the stage and talked about their decades of work and about their dead peer Peter Jennings -- who is now transformed into a small Canadian boy yelping out headlines and selling newspapers on a turn-of-the-last-century street corner in the Twilight Zone.

Two of my personal favorites won an Emmy award.  Tony Shalhoub won an emmy award for his quirky comedy portrayal of Monk.  The best drama award for a show went to ABC's "Lost" which is a show that I was hooked on for the first half-dozen episodes, but I have missed watching recently.  Check the Emmys.com web site to see how your favorite actors or shows fared.


In Katrina-related news, I was interested to read this article on the Emmys.com site.  I had no idea that much business -- over $100 million -- was being done in the film/TV industry in Louisiana.  It's an interesting article.  Oh, if you don't want to follow my links, you can do what I do occasionally.  Just type in a web address.  Apparently, http://www.emmy.com/ is a domain name owned by a nice family in Topanga, CA.  They have some photos of their family online.  Heh.  Cool VW.

More storms on the horizon

I was heartened that the Emmy Awards continually pimped Habitat for Humanity.  Of course, when the show ended, my 11pm local news came on and I had to hear about Hurricane Phillipe and Tropical Storm Rita heading toward our way.  Apparently Phillipe might go north early and cut us all some slack, but Rita is already causing some concern for Florida.

Ahead of the storm, the tourists have been given a mandatory order to evacuate and the Florida Keys are under a state of emergency.  While this is a wise and prudent step for this area because there is only one way out of the Keys, the storm is projected (thus far) to skim the Keys and likely hit somewhere in Mexico, Texas or western Loiusiana sometime next week as a category 3 (or higher) hurricane.

Not to wish ill upon anyone else, but I hope hurricane Rita cuts New Orleans some slack while the recovery and rebuilding efforts continue.  Hurricane Rita will hit somewhere.  Count on that.  At the same time, I remember the jab-jab-punch fight with hurricanes last year, here in Florida, and it was disheartening and stressful for everyone.  You wanted to yell, "give us a break," at the sky during those two months last year.







[Headphones] :: I for an I - Ten Speed Indian


Saturday, September 17, 2005
Hurricane Katrina - Boo-Boo Kitty


During the 1997 Daytona Beach Bike Week, I met an airbrush artist who had registered the domain name PETA.COM and used it as a parody page to mock the terrorist funding organization called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).  So, for a few months, that .COM web site had "People Eating Tasty Animals" on it.


Now, in a similar way, the watch dog group, Center for Consumer Freedom had their anti-PETA billboard tagged (shown above) after punking the 25th Anniversary PETA gala.  But, there is another twist.  Here is a copy of the CCF press release:
From ConsumerFreedom.com
Sep 15, 2005

When we unveiled a www.PetaKillsAnimals.com billboard two blocks from the Hollywood 25th-Anniversary Gala of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) last weekend, we didn't expect to make any new friends in the radical animal-rights community. But we still held out the hope that the hoodlum wing of the movement would at least keep everything legal. Imagine our shock yesterday when we learned that our billboard had been vandalized ("tagged") with spray paint.

In a highly original maneuver, the perpetrators crossed out the word "Kills" and sprayed the word "Saves" in its place. Unfortunately for them, the Center for Consumer Freedom also owns the Internet domain "PetaSavesAnimals.com" -- which redirects to PetaKillsAnimals.com. Oops.

Sadly, no amount of black spray paint will cover up the 12,473 dogs and cats PETA has chosen to kill instead of adopting them out to loving families. Next month, when two PETA employees face 62 animal-cruelty felonies in a North Carolina courtroom, we'll be there to help the public absorb a new acronym for PETA: "People Executing Tame Animals."

Before you fire off that "You animal-hating cruel bastard" hate mail, follow some of the links in this entry concerning PETA, or realize the ugly facts of things -- like Earth Day being thought up by a drug-crazed, convicted killer.  I love my Skiddy and I like my spot on the food chain, thank you.

If you really want to help animals and pets in the Hurricane Katrina disaster zone, give your support to an organization with its boots on the ground and not its head up its ass.  Noah's Wish needs your support.  Also, you can check out the great work that Petfinder and Pets911 is doing.







[Headphones] :: Crazy - Aenonima


Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Hurricane Katrina - Anne Rice's New Orleans


The other night when NBC aired its live "Concert for Hurricane Relief," I watched with amusement as rapper Kanye West surprised everyone by going on a mini-rant that ended when he blurted out, "George Bush doesn't care about black people!"  That little live nugget was cut from the taped program broadcast in the TV markets further west, but it did throw a bit of racial gasoline in the growing blame-game bonfire.  I was trying to avoid the distraction of finger pointing while researching web sites to include in the entries I did write.

I hope they were helpful for some.  I left the topics of who to blame, why to blame, and what not for a later time.  But, I did create a Blogdrive poll for you on the left side panel today.  Feel free to vote and vent there, or here.

Another thing upon which I initially tried to avoid wasting my energy was chasing down some of the many stories of incompetence and horror.  It was a difficult enough task for me to track down and verify all the humanitarian outreach and hopeful news surrounding the rescue, recovery, and relief efforts being made by heroic members of the Coast Guard, or the private sector, or individual groups of people.

At the same time, hurricane Katrina did seem to blow the ugly lid off of historic animosities in our country with regards to race and class.  Some people, like Kanye West, expressed his views on these issues bluntly and abruptly.  Others expressed similar views, but were more subtle about it.

One of the more poignant and articulate Katrina OpEds was in the NY Times entitled "WHAT do people really know about New Orleans?" by famed author Anne Rice:
Do they take away with them an awareness that it has always been not only a great white metropolis but also a great black city, a city where African-Americans have come together again and again to form the strongest African-American culture in the land?

The first literary magazine ever published in Louisiana was the work of black men, French-speaking poets and writers who brought together their work in three issues of a little book called L'Album Littéraire. That was in the 1840's, and by that time the city had a prosperous class of free black artisans, sculptors, businessmen, property owners, skilled laborers in all fields. Thousands of slaves lived on their own in the city, too, making a living at various jobs, and sending home a few dollars to their owners in the country at the end of the month.

This is not to diminish the horror of the slave market in the middle of the famous St. Louis Hotel, or the injustice of the slave labor on plantations from one end of the state to the other. It is merely to say that it was never all "have or have not" in this strange and beautiful city.

Later in the 19th century, as the Irish immigrants poured in by the thousands, filling the holds of ships that had emptied their cargoes of cotton in Liverpool, and as the German and Italian immigrants soon followed, a vital and complex culture emerged. Huge churches went up to serve the great faith of the city's European-born Catholics; convents and schools and orphanages were built for the newly arrived and the struggling; the city expanded in all directions with new neighborhoods of large, graceful houses, or areas of more humble cottages, even the smallest of which, with their floor-length shutters and deep-pitched roofs, possessed an undeniable Caribbean charm.

Through this all, black culture never declined in Louisiana. In fact, New Orleans became home to blacks in a way, perhaps, that few other American cities have ever been. Dillard University and Xavier University became two of the most outstanding black colleges in America; and once the battles of desegregation had been won, black New Orleanians entered all levels of life, building a visible middle class that is absent in far too many Western and Northern American cities to this day.

The influence of blacks on the music of the city and the nation is too immense and too well known to be described. It was black musicians coming down to New Orleans for work who nicknamed the city "the Big Easy" because it was a place where they could always find a job. But it's not fair to the nature of New Orleans to think of jazz and the blues as the poor man's music, or the music of the oppressed.

Something else was going on in New Orleans. The living was good there. The clock ticked more slowly; people laughed more easily; people kissed; people loved; there was joy.

Which is why so many New Orleanians, black and white, never went north. They didn't want to leave a place where they felt at home in neighborhoods that dated back centuries; they didn't want to leave families whose rounds of weddings, births and funerals had become the fabric of their lives. They didn't want to leave a city where tolerance had always been able to outweigh prejudice, where patience had always been able to outweigh rage. They didn't want to leave a place that was theirs.

And so New Orleans prospered, slowly, unevenly, but surely - home to Protestants and Catholics, including the Irish parading through the old neighborhood on St. Patrick's Day as they hand out cabbages and potatoes and onions to the eager crowds; including the Italians, with their lavish St. Joseph's altars spread out with cakes and cookies in homes and restaurants and churches every March; including the uptown traditionalists who seek to preserve the peace and beauty of the Garden District; including the Germans with their clubs and traditions; including the black population playing an ever increasing role in the city's civic affairs.

Now nature has done what the Civil War couldn't do. Nature has done what the labor riots of the 1920's couldn't do. Nature had done what "modern life" with its relentless pursuit of efficiency couldn't do. It has done what racism couldn't do, and what segregation couldn't do either. Nature has laid the city waste - with a scope that brings to mind the end of Pompeii.

I share this history for a reason - and to answer questions that have arisen these last few days. Almost as soon as the cameras began panning over the rooftops, and the helicopters began chopping free those trapped in their attics, a chorus of voices rose. "Why didn't they leave?" people asked both on and off camera. "Why did they stay there when they knew a storm was coming?" One reporter even asked me, "Why do people live in such a place?"

Then as conditions became unbearable, the looters took to the streets. Windows were smashed, jewelry snatched, stores broken open, water and food and televisions carried out by fierce and uninhibited crowds.

Now the voices grew even louder. How could these thieves loot and pillage in a time of such crisis? How could people shoot one another? Because the faces of those drowning and the faces of those looting were largely black faces, race came into the picture. What kind of people are these, the people of New Orleans, who stay in a city about to be flooded, and then turn on one another?

Well, here's an answer. Thousands didn't leave New Orleans because they couldn't leave. They didn't have the money. They didn't have the vehicles. They didn't have any place to go. They are the poor, black and white, who dwell in any city in great numbers; and they did what they felt they could do - they huddled together in the strongest houses they could find. There was no way to up and leave and check into the nearest Ramada Inn.

What's more, thousands more who could have left stayed behind to help others. They went out in the helicopters and pulled the survivors off rooftops; they went through the flooded streets in their boats trying to gather those they could find. Meanwhile, city officials tried desperately to alleviate the worsening conditions in the Superdome, while makeshift shelters and hotels and hospitals struggled.

And where was everyone else during all this? Oh, help is coming, New Orleans was told. We are a rich country. Congress is acting. Someone will come to stop the looting and care for the refugees.

And it's true: eventually, help did come. But how many times did Gov. Kathleen Blanco have to say that the situation was desperate? How many times did Mayor Ray Nagin have to call for aid? Why did America ask a city cherished by millions and excoriated by some, but ignored by no one, to fight for its own life for so long? That's my question.

I know that New Orleans will win its fight in the end. I was born in the city and lived there for many years. It shaped who and what I am. Never have I experienced a place where people knew more about love, about family, about loyalty and about getting along than the people of New Orleans. It is perhaps their very gentleness that gives them their endurance.

They will rebuild as they have after storms of the past; and they will stay in New Orleans because it is where they have always lived, where their mothers and their fathers lived, where their churches were built by their ancestors, where their family graves carry names that go back 200 years. They will stay in New Orleans where they can enjoy a sweetness of family life that other communities lost long ago.

But to my country I want to say this: During this crisis you failed us. You looked down on us; you dismissed our victims; you dismissed us. You want our Jazz Fest, you want our Mardi Gras, you want our cooking and our music. Then when you saw us in real trouble, when you saw a tiny minority preying on the weak among us, you called us "Sin City," and turned your backs.

Well, we are a lot more than all that. And though we may seem the most exotic, the most atmospheric and, at times, the most downtrodden part of this land, we are still part of it. We are Americans. We are you.
On a personal note: there is no way I could follow what Anne Rice just wrote with anything.  I mean, c'mon.  It's Anne Rice.  But, I did leave you a gift, if you like CCR.

[Headphones] :: Born on the Bayou - CCR




Sunday, September 04, 2005
Hurricane Katrina - Where's Waldo?



When New Orleans officials issued a mandatory evacuation order, some speculated at the time that about eighty percent of the residents of The Big Easy had already fled ahead of Hurricane Katrina's arrival.  Now as rescue and recovery operations continue, the scale of the displaced evacuee situation is starting to be calculated.  It is estimated that up to one million people are scattered across the country because of Hurricane Katrina.

It's very good news that more Department of Defense (DoD) assets and personnel have arrived on scene.  In New Orleans, many tens of thousands of people have already been rescued and relocated to Red Cross shelters in nineteen states, but twenty thousand more people could still be hunkered down in individual homes and apartments.  Baton Rouge has instantly replaced New Orleans as the most populous city in Louisiana because of Katrina.  Officials in Texas alone report that they have received over 200,000 evacuees.

With about one million evacuess scattered to the wind in the chaotic environment caused by Katrina, finding loved ones is a problem that is now being addressed on a large scale.  While the news outlets poignantly report some feel-good, human interest stories of a few individual families being reunited to raise the mood of their viewers, other private and public organizations are creating real methods for people to reconnect with each other in the aftermath of Katrina.

If you evacuated before Katrina hit and you are somewhere safe, check these sites and register with the Red Cross so people looking for you will know you are okay.  If you are looking for neighbors, friends, and loved ones that may have been evacuated to a shelter, check the list often as the Red Cross is continually updating it.

Red Cross Family Links Registry  or call 1-877-568-3317

Here are some other helpful sites from various organizations in the area where you can read messages, leave messages, and simply get more information about specific areas affected by Hurricane Katrina:

NOLA.COM - Help, evacuee forums, photos and news for New Orleans.
WWL TV - Help, forums, photos, live stream and news for New Orleans.
CNN Safe List - Alphabetical listing with evacuee status.
NOKR.ORG - The National Next Of Kin Registry
WLBT.COM - News, forums, housing and helpful info for Mississippi.
Clarion Ledger - Great section for help and info for Gulf Coast residents.
Sun Herald - News, evacuee forums, helpful info for South Mississippi.

If you find some helpful info on other sites not listed here for the Where's Waldo evacuee situation, please leave a comment with the web address (URL) in the comment form.

Some of the web sites listed above have links concerning long term housing.  Here is an inital list of websites dealing with housing:

Craig's List - Katrina section
Hurricane Housing
Katrina Housing
Home Flood Forums
Open Your Home

If you have housing available or are looking for housing, check those websites.  If you find additional web sites with housing information, please leave a comment with the web address (URL).



I also wanted to mention something of urgent need for the evacuation centers.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has put a call out for medical professionals of all disciplines and relief workers to register and volunteer.  [Secure Volunteer Registration Form]

Also, Noah's Wish has updates and important information concerning pets left behind.








[Headphones] :: Evil Stevie: Activate! - JfZ


 
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