Friday, September 30, 2005

This Is Why American Kids Can't Compete

We aren't keeping up with the latest trends in digital quantity!

Don't let that innocent face fool you; it hides a ruthless competitor who can type 20% more letters that you!

“Serenity” Preaches to the Converted

Joss Whedon’s new film, “Serenity,” must overcome unique challenges in spreading the word to the “Firefly” agnostic such as this reviewer. “Firefly” is accepted gospel to those who worshipped at its altar since that series briefly walked the TV landscape before it was unceremoniously dispatched. The nonbelieving “Serenity” viewer, on the other hand, must receive the message and all of its historical underpinnings within the brief span of the film. “Firefly” disciples may greet “Serenity” with great adulation as the return of their beloved world, reborn larger than life on the movie screen. To reach the unconverted, however, “Serenity” must withstand greater scrutiny of plot and, particularly, character. “Serenity” is no Billy Graham at bringing new believers into the fold. However, like the many effective evangelists, the movie is attractive, friendly, and leads the curious to consider examining those “Firefly” underpinnings.

Here is the tract you receive when you pass through the doors:
Joss Whedon, the Oscar® - and Emmy - nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE, ANGEL and FIREFLY, now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity. The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family –squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal.

Here is what you get when you have taken your spot in the unfamiliar pew:

Joss Whedon populates his mongrelized science fiction-western world with a population carefully painted from the diversity palette. Mal (Nathan Fillion), the leader of the pack, wields a six-shooter laser gun slung from a hip holster, lacking only a woven poncho and tired gaucho hat to pass for a spaghetti western anti-hero. He is joined by Zoe (Gina Torres), the cannon-toting Cuban woman who is married to Wash (Alan Tudyk), the nutty, Mentos-white pilot; Kaylee (Jewel Staite), the lovelorn, daft but cute-when-she-wipes-off-the-grease chief mechanic; Jayne (Adam Baldwin), the oafish gunman with a heart of gold; and Inara (Morena Baccarin), the captain's sometime flame, imbued with the power to cause him to stammer and grovel like a hormonal 13 year old.

This tossed salad of “OC”-friendly archetypes is tasked with mercenary, future day Robin Hood raids on outposts of the all-powerful Alliance. Our happy band’s lives are complicated by the presence of square-jawed Simon (Sean Maher), the sensitive-man doctor, and his waifish sister River (Summer Glau), a tortured teen of indeterminate race who apparently holds a dangerous secret within her fevered head. The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor, who could be Wayne Brady’s long lost brother), the Inspector Javert to River’s Valjean, plays the villain with gusto, showing off a talent for the dramatic … pause … that is utterly Shatnerian, and yet not out of place in this mildly campy romp.

The opening sequence of the movie sets up the girl-in-danger, rebels-running-from-the-law trope well, with clever changes of scene and narrative paths that may not be what they seem. Our heroes then bounce around the universe running from The Operative and his minions, their lives and livelihoods threatened by the mere presence of River among them. Thanks in part to the deus ex machina powers of Mr. Universe (David Krumholtz), the Serenity crew slowly learns more about the torment afflicting River. They are motivated to do so by her stunning display of combat prowess, which reveals that she will take down anyone who might stand in her way of reaching … something. Instead of abandoning the crazy, weaponized girl and her mopey brother, the crew stay together to solve the mystery of River, bound by an amorphous sense of common cause against … something.

Motivation is the weakest element of the film. Other than a rushed expositional voiceover at the beginning of the film, the only contact the audience has with the Alliance is The Operative, who admits that he is only a mercenary acting on the Alliance’s behalf. Mal once fought on the side of the Alliance, but now operates in the shadows at its edges, stealing from it. The leaders of the Alliance are unseen and not heard, yet we know they send amoral soldiers of fortune to carry out their plans, schemes that we are simply left to assume are nefarious. The Alliance governs (rules?) the universe, yet they chase the rebels with warships that unaccountably belch out oil smoke like a poorly tuned 1967 Plymouth Fury. (The Alliance clearly views the Kyoto treaty with disdain.) Does the film pack an allegorical punch against current events? The viewer might be led there, but the Alliance is never developed enough as a character in the movie to support either that notion or the determination of the characters to carry out their respective missions.

When the secret of River is revealed, it sheds only dim light on the horrors presaged by the dark setup. The Alliance’s plan to solidify its hold on the universe seems oddly benign, particularly because the crime that is revealed appears to have been confined to one location and consigned to the dustbin of government projects that didn’t quite work as planned. River’s apparent psychic powers notwithstanding, the magnitude of the threat she represents to the Alliance is not made sufficiently clear to explain her treatment at the hands of the Alliance or the intensity of their attempt to recapture her. In the end, the movie’s attempt to make a statement about “truth” rings hollow in the absence of context; i.e., the “lie.”

Structurally, then, the movie is a tent with a broken center pole that causes the whole enterprise to collapse confusingly upon itself. That does not prevent much fun from happening under the big top in the meantime. The effects are imaginative, the sets (particularly the interior of the Serenity) are well-designed, the action is predicable but well-staged, and the actors are given fun, oddball dialog to chew on. With a strange mix of old West drawl and occasional Elizabethan formality, Whedon clearly enjoyed crafting the spoken words. Humor frequently leavens (or undercuts) the implied dread that attempts to set a serious tone. On the whole, the movie plays like the brightly-lit, snappy, ironic television show that spawned it. The token romantic moments are almost intentionally cloying (causing even the faithful Whedon disciple next to me at the screening to cringe in embarrassment), the characters are stock and unsubtle, and drama is indicated by volume of explosion and mode of music rather than created by the story, but “Serenity” is a fun time nonetheless.

“Serenity” may not be enough for the nonbeliever to see the light, but it is charismatic enough to lead the curious to come back for more.

The Coolest Aviation Website Yet

I've linked to all sorts of aviation sites in the past, showing airport information, flight status and other nuggets that appeal to airplane nuts like me. I've now found the best one of them all. It tracks airplanes in real time in the vicinity of the Burbank airport. If you want to frighten yourself, back the magnification out so that you see the whole LA area. Is that enough airborne activity for ya?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Fire Central

In addition to the large and mostly uncontrolled Topanga Fire, it appears that a new fire has started above Burbank. It is a crystal clear day in our end of the Valley, and we could see from our office windows a fire beginning within the past hour in the hills near The Castaway restaurant. The fire began about 400 yards to the east of the building, and appeared to be at the edge of the DeBell Golf Course, perhaps right at the entrace to the Wildwood Canyon park. The fire stayed in one place for a while, but it has now started its inexorable march up the steep mountain ridge and canyons. This kind of fire broke out in 2002 and spread to the hills above our house. The terrain is very steep (see the link to Wildwood Canyon for great pictures of the area) and fires are difficult to manage. If the winds come up this evening again, it's going to be a long night.

UPDATE, 5:45 pm: The Burbank fire has not spread dramatically yet, but it is still going. Flames are visible from across the Valley. Also, an onshore flow has been developing over the past couple of hours, which has pushed the smoke from the Topanga fire back into the Valley; it has spread across the top of the Valley to just north of Burbank. That onshore flow reverses the direction of the strong Santa Anas. This is a good development for temperature, humidity and control of the fire, as it should push the flames back against areas that have already been consumed. Unfortuately, the northerly flow will push the Burbank fire right up the hill.

UPDATE, Sept. 30, 8:30 am: I guess I was right:
A fire in the Wildwood Canyon wilderness area of Burbank was considered nearly contained early Thursday after burning about 10 acres, a Burbank Police Department sergeant said.

No structures were threatened and there were no injuries, authorities said.

The fire broke out at 4:25 p.m., and two hours into the firefighting effort, the blaze was burning in a 5-mile-wide area of canyons a couple of miles east of Burbank Airport between Wildwood and Stough canyons, said Capt. Ron Bell of the Burbank Fire Department.

UPDATE, Sept. 30, 3:20 pm: The Burbank fire is still going, with sufficient vigor to require the use of two Canadian firefighting airplanes. I last saw those same airplanes a couple of years ago during the horrendous fires that hit the San Bernardino mountains (as well as the San Diego area). They would fly by the building on the way to the ocean to fill up with water, they fly past the building again to dump their payloads. All day long.

Summer Couldn't Leave Quietly

As is typical for September, it is preposterously hot here in SoCal. 90 degress at 11:30 pm kind of hot. Even in the peak of summer it is rare to maintain heat into the night because of the influence of the nearby ocean. Santa Ana conditions, however, change the game. The temperature records from yesterday show that when the winds picked up between 4:53 and 5:53 pm, the temperature increased sharply from 91 to 95, after temperatures had begun to decline for the day.

If you haven't had the pleasure, you really must experience the Santa Ana winds once in your life. Sudden, unseasonable heat, negligible humidity, stirred-up dust, and ashes from the inevitable fires all provide a delightful scouring for your eyes and throat. It's your early autumn exfoliation and tanning solution, right on time.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Stupid Media Tricks

“News,” at it is currently conveyed in this media-saturated, ratings-driven culture, apparently is no longer composed of who, what, where, when and why. Along the way, television added another component: drama. “If it bleeds, it leads,” is not a pithy joke, it is a mission statement.

Last night’s unscheduled landing of a JetBlue airliner with malfunctioning front gear provided an opportunity for talking heads and their associates to do their worst. The local television and radio stations interrupted regular programming (no great loss there) for hours as the stricken Airbus circled off the Los Angeles coastline. The dull visuals allowed uninformed anchorpeople too much time to shoot their mouths off. The lust for a spectacular crash was palpable. One local radio host’s insistence on a tragic outcome was utterly revolting. Her voice took on a hard edge as she questioned a pilot, express surprise to the point of outrage that the airplane would not become a Flaming Cartwheel O’ Death. The pilot explained that the worst that would happen is that the nose gear, stuck ninety degrees to the longitudinal axis of the aircraft, would first burn through the tires (“that is the black, rubber part”), and that the wheels (“that’s the metal part” – the pilot clearly understood what he was dealing with) would simply drag down the runway, and that it was highly unlikely that the strut would collapse. Sceptical, and expressing the thought that she needed to explore a “worst case scenario,” she asked about the chances that the wheel might snap off, the nose strut would catch on the runway …

[…in my car, I’m pleading with her not to go there. Please, please don’t say this …]

… and the plane would FLIP OVER?

[Gah! She said it! I actually laughed out loud in my car.]

The pilot did not allow the reverberations of her triumphant, “gotcha” tone fade away before responding, “Zero. Absolutely zero chance.”

That would have been bad enough, but the anchor then challenged the pilot, countering with a curt, petulant “why not?” The pilot patiently explained the physics of the event – all of the energy is horizontal, not vertical, etc. I imagine he was also either stifling laughter or rolling his eyes to the ceiling, or both.

There was misinformation and rampant speculation all over the airwaves and internet in the hour leading up to the landing. CNN’s story said that the Airbus was circling off the California coast to dump fuel, when in fact the airplane did not have that capability. The pilot had to fly for three hours to burn off the fuel; if it could have dumped fuel, it would have landed hours before. I heard second hand that a national anchor stated that the airplane was heading back to Burbank for an emergency landing. I’ve written about SoCal airfields before. There is absolutely no possibility that an airliner would attempt an emergency landing at an airfield whose main runway is among the shortest anywhere in the area, and half the length of the runway eventually used for the landing.

The aviation experts, on the other hand, were uniformly excellent. Characteristic of pilots, they expressed calm and useful information. One grumpy old man pilot gruffly set one set of anchors straight in detail about how straightforward and non-dangerous the landing would be. The anchors thanked him and wished that his words could be conveyed to the passengers. (Little did we know that the passengers could hear some of the commentary.) Another pilot explained how the tires and wheels would scrape away, and that hydraulic fluid would probably catch fire, but that it would not be a major concern. All of the experts stated that the pilot would have been trained for this sort of thing. As it turns out, they were exactly right, and the pilot did a masterful job of bringing the airplane down softly, holding the nose aloft as long as possible, and brought that baby down right on the center line. He also did not order an emergency evacuation, which, as several of the experts pointed out before the landing, would be the likely, and probably only, cause of injury.

What the networks received was a well-packaged, well-timed, flaming-but-safe drama in the air, lovingly lit by the late afternoon Los Angeles sun. They made the most of it.

Don Henley’s scathing critique of the media (Los Angeles news in particular), 25 years old by now, has never stopped being true:
"The bubbleheaded bleach blonde
Comes on at five.
She’ll tell you ‘bout the plane crash
With a gleam in her eye.
It’s interesting when people die.
Give us dirty laundy.”

The Haves and the Have Nots

It's official: Nokia has sold its one billionth cell phone. Perhaps emblematic of the "global village" the world is purported to be, the phone was sold in Nigeria.

In other seemingly unrelated news, nearly 160,000 people have died of AIDS so far this year in Nigeria.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Happy Birthday, Michael!

He's four years old today, and relentlessly enthusiastic about life. He's a charmer; he could sell sand to a bedouin. For now, though, he's content to do puzzles on the floor and whack things (including, but not limited to, his sister) with his light saber.

Joy personified!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

I'm Ready For My Closeup, Mr. DeMille

Google has unveiled a new search engine aimed exclusively at blogs. Now, finally, the world will have the swift, efficient access to thousands of bloggers' self-obsessed navel-gazing for which it has clamored for so long.

What, you didn't hear the clamor? I assure you, there has been clamoring.

Isn't it odd that when you say a word over and over, it begins to sound wrong? Like just now, when I used "clamor" in three different ways, it started to morph into a non-word jumble of letters and sounds...

That, folks, is classic, bloggerific navel-gazing. You're welcome.

Follow up: On a semi-serious note, I'm pleased to see that I dominate the first page of search results for "epilepsy surgery screening." For the purpose of facilitating an exchange of information and opinion among us mere diarists, Google's blog search may indeed prove to be very useful. Even if you're searching for "McDLT and Taco Bell." Go ahead. Try it.

Back to the Moon

A plan has been unveiled to return astronauts to the Moon by 2018. Interestingly, the proposal calls for the launch vehicles to consist of Shuttle engines and rockets. Whew! Without the sharp pencil types scrimping and saving like that, NASA might not have been able to hold the budget to $100 billion.

Charts and pretty pictures can be seen here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Here We Go Again

You may remember Michael Newdow, who challenged the Pledge of Allegiance as unconstitutional a few years ago. He found success in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2002, which reversed a California federal court's dismissal of the case (after a federal court in Florida in 1998 dismissed his case because his daughter [now a Christian] was not yet old enough to attend public school). The United States Supreme Court subsequently dismissed the case because he lacked standing to bring the suit on behalf of his daughter, of whom he did not have custody.

A federal judge in San Franciso has ruled today that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional for its inclusion of the phrase "under God." It appears that the plaintiffs in this case are represented by Michael Newdow. By representing children other than his own, he appears to have solved his standing problem. The judge ruled according to the existing 9th Circuit precedent, notwithstanding that Newdow's 2002 case was eventually tossed.

The U.S. Supreme Court will now undoubtedly be forced to address this issue, as the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals came to a different conclusion this summer, since one of the Court's roles is to resolve conflicts in law between circuits.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Confirmation Hearings

You have to have an interest in this stuff, because it can be pretty dry, but if you are looking for a rundown of the confirmation hearings for John Roberts, you could do far worse than to peruse SCOTUSblog. It has been running a remarkably detailed account of the Senate confirmation hearings (Day 1; Day 2; Day 3; Day 4), with a minimum of commentary (I believe that the commentator is also reporting for NPR). Contrary to the headline snippets I have seen on or other conventional news sites all day, the confirmation hearing involves a daunting array of legal issues, not just the headline-friendly abortion issue (which has actually accounted for a relatively limited portion of the questioning). Judge Roberts hasn't gone into the hearings cold, of course, but the sheer breadth of the range of issues is intimidating, and Roberts' ability to address them is impressive, and absolutely expected of someone seeking confirmation to the high court.

Even if a detailed discussion of the long term effects on privacy rights introduced by the Griswold case don't send a shiver up your spine, don't dismiss this proceeding entirely. This is only the 17th confirmation of a Chief Justice in the nation's history, and may be the last one of its kind for the next 20 or 30 years.

Monday, September 12, 2005

What Time Is It? Take 2

Just in case you have to calibrate your watch to UTC standards of accuracy, go here.


You may have heard that Los Angeles was subjected to a blackout for a couple of hours today, apparently due to the bungling of a Department of Water & Power employee or two. Whoops! My bad!

While the event passed without a great deal of inconvenience, it is the thoughts that pop into your head that leave a lasting impression. I was in a restaurant in Studio City when the lights went out. Thanks to patrons' cell phones, we very quickly learned that downtown Los Angeles as well as the Valley where we were had gone dark. Power outages are not uncommon on extraordinarily hot days, but they are never as widespread as what happened today. Plus, the temperatures are in the mid-seventies, so it seemed unlikely that demand had caused brownouts.

When the power did not return quickly, the awful thoughts started. As much as you try to fight it, you cannot help but become slightly untethered from reality, wondering if, while you sit munching on Chinese chicken salad, a smoldering crater is all that remains of some major installation somewhere else in the region. After yesterday's new threat tape specifically naming Los Angeles as a terrorist (oops, sorry; insurgent) target, the thought that the outage was not accidental was unavoidable.

Thankfully, of course, nothing like that came to pass. Notably, nothing like that has come to pass in four years. Our cities may remain free from attack by lunatics, but for those of us who live in big cities and work in large office towers, our psyches may never enjoy that freedom again. As a friend said this weekend, until four years ago, the fear of flying did not usually include fear of the person sitting next to you on the airplane.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Culinary Incorrectness

And now, another self-indulgent Andy Rooney moment:

Don't you just hate the way Taco Bell makes their tacos? I mean, the ingredients are acceptable, in their low cuisine way. But what about how they're put together? Look at this:

See anything wrong? Taco Bell's fast food rival McDonalds sure did. Remember the McDLT? It kept the "hot side hot and the cool side cool" through the magic of oversized styrofoam containers? (Click here for proof, and to see the low point of Jason Alexander's career. I defy you to watch it without hearing ironic George Costanza overtones. A word of caution: the Unintentional Comedy Meter runs into the red for this one.) McDonalds understood that temperature matters to the palate, and it kept the cool lettuce from wilting against the hot hamburger patty.

In contrast, in its basic tacos, Taco Bell has ineptly insisted upon jamming lettuce against the reheated meat substance (or, even worse in the case of the Supreme shown above, slops sour cream on the meat, followed by the lettuce). Meanwhile, marooned on top of the lettuce lies the cheese, the one element foodstuff in the ensemble that should get cozy with the meat. Melted cheese and crisp lettuce -- good. Limp lettuce and cold cheese that falls onto your lap -- bad. Come on, Taco Bell. Get it right.

Rest assured, any guests to our house on taco night will be duly served with properly constructed tacos. No tortured greenery or misapplied dairy products here.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Fantasy Baseball Regular Season Wrap-Up

In order to allow for fantasy playoffs, the fantasy league regular season is shorter than the real season. Our league's regular season ended Sunday. Who was the regular season champ, you ask? Why, that would be me!

After a couple of soft weeks during the summer where I even lost my lead for a short time, I finished strong. I ended up with an 18.5 game lead, which, when adjusted down to a 162 game schedule, would be the equivalent of an 8 game lead in the real world. Winning at a .603 clip, my team won the equivalent of 98 regular season games. Very solid. As well it should be, what with Albert Pujols, Derek Lee, David Ortiz, Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt on the team.

I have a bye this week in the first round of the playoffs. I hate fantasy playoffs, though. One bad week from a couple of my guys and I become the 116 game winning Seattle Mariners, or the Atlanta Braves of each of the last 13 years except one.

I experienced this with my fantasy football team last year: great regular season, complete flameout in the playoffs. That shouldn't be a problem this year, though; I don't think I'll be within shouting distance of the playoffs.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Ham Radio Comes Through Again

This is the story I've been waiting to hear. Amateur radio operators traditionally serve a crucial role in the initial assessment and recovery from natural disasters. My Dad, a ham radio operator for more than 40 years, has been part of a number of regional events that play out as fun competitions but are really disaster preparedness drills. Ham radio operators in New Orleans, and others around the country in touch with those in the eye of the storm, as it were, again provided virtually the only conduit for information in the first hours following Katrina's landfall.

Those who have been worried about the welfare of their loved ones have faced the same problem: an inability to communicate with people in the affected region. For all of our high-tech capabilities, sometimes it takes someone with a simple antenna and transmitter to provide the vital connection. Some of what these folks accomplished:

On Monday, Aug. 29, a call for help involving a combination of cell telephone calls and amateur radio led to the rescue of 15 people stranded by floodwaters on the roof of a house in New Orleans. Unable to get through an overloaded 911 system, one of those stranded called a relative in Baton Rouge. That person called another relative, who called the local American Red Cross.

Using that Red Cross chapter’s amateur radio station, Ben Joplin, WB5VST, was able to relay a request for help on the SATERN network via Russ Fillinger, W7LXR, in Oregon, and Rick Cain, W7KB, in Utah back to Louisiana, where emergency personnel were alerted. They rescued the 15 people and got them to a shelter.

Such rescues were repeated over and over again. Another ham was part of the mix that same Monday when he heard over the same Salvation Army emergency network of a family of five trapped in an attic in Diamond Head, La. The family used a cell phone to call out. Bob Rathbone, AG4ZG, in Tampa, says he checked the address on a map and determined it was in an area struck by a storm surge.

He called the Coast Guard search-and-rescue station in Clearwater, explained the situation and relayed the information. At this point, the Coast Guard office in New Orleans was out of commission. An hour later he received a return call from the South Haven Sheriff’s Department in Louisiana, which informed him a rescue operation was under way.

Another search-and-rescue operation involved two adults and a child stuck on a roof. The person was able to send a text message from a cell phone to a family member in Michigan. Once again, the Coast Guard handled the call.

Well done. So, before you complain about your neighbor's radio antenna, consider that it (and your seemingly geeky neighbor) might be your only lifeline in time of desperate need.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Requiem for a City

I'm glad I had the opportunity to experience New Orleans before it surrendered to the sea. It is going to be a long time before that city can be rebuilt into a fully functional community. It will never see the glory of its pre-Katrina days, though, with the loss of its historic mansions and graveyards. All that is left now is a port city with a economy based heavily (and precariously) on tourists and conventions. New Orleans had a delicate economy before Katrina; now, there will be little to support a community the size it once was.

The arrival of food and water today is a huge relief, but the question that is on everyone's mind is why it didn't arrive sooner. Perhaps this truck driver's comments will shed some light on the situation:

I run a trade association of tank truck carriers trying to assist in the relief efforts by transporting food and potable water. I'm in regular contact with many of the companies, and here are some "on the ground" facts:

1) Large trucks (80,000 lbs. gross weight) almost always have to use the Interstates. For trucks attempting to come in from outside the area, most of those roads (approaching the disaster area) are either closed or have bridges out. The so-called secondary roads may be somewhat passable, but their bridges (over rivers and streams) are not built to sustain such loads. Simply stated, you can't get there from here.

2) Trucks domicled in those areas (because that's where the companies traditionally serve customers) are still underwater, thus the equipment is not accessible;

3) Nobody in their right mind is going to take loads of gasoline and fuel oil into a city controlled by unfriendly folks carrying automatic weapons. A tank truck loaded with 8,000 gallons of gasoline can produce a very impressive fire;

4) Those local trucking companies can't contact their drivers. There's no power, thus (even) cellular is unavailable, and many of the drivers homes (in places like Kenner, Slidel, Metarie, etc) have been destroyed and families dispersed. I have one member with about 120 drivers and mechanics in that immediate area. To date, management has been able to contact 12. Those in the National Guard have been mobilized and are not available to drive.

5) Pumps -- needed to load the vehicles -- don't work because there's no power...

I suspected that mere access was the major problem; it's interesting to have at least some confirmation of that circumstance. Unfortunately, the worst of life brings out the worst in some people:

More than four days after Hurricane Katrina struck, the National Guard arrived in force Friday with food, water and weapons, churning through the floodwaters in a vast truck convoy that was met with both catcalls and cries of “Thank you, Jesus!” from the suffering multitudes.

“Lord, I thank you for getting us out of here,” Leschia Radford said at the New Orleans Convention Center as the military rolled in with orders to restore order and feed the hungry.

But 46-year-old Michael Levy said, “They should have been here days ago. I ain’t glad to see ’em” — words that brought shouts of “Hell, yeah!” from those around him. He added: “We’ve been sleeping on the ... ground like rats. I say burn this whole ... city down.”

I'd undoubtedly be frustrated, too, if I were in his shoes. I'm pretty sure, though, I wouldn't bite the hand that was literally feeding me or advocate further mayhem. It is this apparently widespread collective descent into the worst recesses of the human soul that saddens me more than anything.