All the King’s Hagiographies

Huey Long, the Kingfish of Louisiana, is oft cited with admiration by Southern liberals as that Wascawy Wibewuw who Got Things Done…something like the hard left today admires Hugo Chavez. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, no right-wing schill, might have referred to him more as a Hitler with a Heart of Gold. The history of the American left is filled with admiration for the next strongman who talks a progressive line and disillusionment that each strongman turns out to be yet another dictator or wannabe dictator. The old admiration lingers, though, because there’s always something to point to, like Cuba’s literacy rate, Stalin’s modernization, or Long’s roads and bridges. So there’s a tendency to tell stories that elide the nastier parts and focus on the Good Works.

Enter Willie Stark, Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize-winning version of Long in All the King’s Men that falls short of a hagiography in his thesis that everybody is corrupt at heart. An even less charitable take won an Oscar for the 1949 film of the same name. Unlike Long, Stark is not a lawyer with a penchant for taking a piece of corporate wrongdoing settlements and slowly building his popularity, but a self-described “hick” vaulted to office after fighting and losing a crony bid to build a school, whose fire escape collapses and kills three white children. He immediately becomes governor, but lets his zeal for doing the right thing by any means necessary and his sexual appetites prove his undoing–somehow missing Long’s siphoning of state funds, employee salaries, contracts awarded to cronies in exchange for ad space in his own paper, and false front businesses to profit directly from his regulation of industry. Apparently, Steven Zaillian thought that wasn’t kind enough and decided to do his own take.

My friend Mindy had passes to see the new version, so I went last night. Continue on if you want my take on Zaillian’s take. Spoilers abound.

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Two Birds, One Stone – Wind Power Producing Hydrogen

Wind power has been uneconomical compared to coal or hydro. Yet if newer slow-turn turbines are used and they are placed out of major bird migration routes, these former endangered-bird-choppers can be environmentally responsible power generators, producing no greenhouse gasses like coal, not destroying thousands of acres of habitat like dams or solar power, and not having a dangerous waste element like nuclear power.

Hydrogen is a really clean way of storing energy for use–nearly as efficient as oil. You can power cars and trucks from it. One problem is that you can either produce it from chemical reactions with fossil fuels–producing greenhouse gasses–or you can use energy to electrolyze hydrogen–and that usually requires some environmentally harmful energy source.

But, as Wired’s Autopia relays, General Motors has figured out that producing hydrogen via electrolosis powered by wind solves a couple of problems. The power need not be as cheap as coal if it is producing hydrogen instead of powering lights. The hydrogen can be made without creating the kind of problem it’s meant to solve–greenhouse gasses and other pollution.

One additional thing they didn’t mention is, as long as you build transportation infrastructure, you can place these hydrogen-producing wind farms in the kind of godforsaken places that don’t have a ton of wildlife (or people, a fatal flaw when producing energy for municipal consumption). As long as it has a source of water (or you can pump it in), you can produce hydrogen which can power the vehicles to transport the rest of the hydrogen for use in our cars.

We do it with oil wells, after all, so why not wind farms producing something other than straight electricity?

For those worried about peak oil, another piece of the solution to the question of “what next?” may have just fallen into place.

Kershaw County Finally Becomes Famous

Oops. Not for a good thing.

I lived there for 12 years, and lived for 8 more in the next county over during college and grad school. I’m the same age as this guy. There, but for lack of inbreeding…

Who am I talking about?

Investigators arrested Vinson Filyaw in Richland County about 24 hours after rescuing Elizabeth Shoaf, who had sent a text message to her mother on Filyaw’s phone while he was asleep, said Sheriff Steve McCaskill in neighboring Kershaw County.

Shoaf had been missing for 10 days and was rescued Saturday from a booby-trapped bunker 15 feet underground.

Canadians Backing Away from SWAT?

Last night I went to a Reason happy hour and got to meet Radley Balko, who has just published a study on the overuse of SWAT teams. Small towns with a few thousand people will have a SWAT team and an armored personnel carrier…and use them to do early-morning no-knock raids on nonviolent drug suspects–when they hit the right apartment.

SWAT teams were originated in Los Angeles by the (in)famous police chief Darryl Gates. They were conceived for situations where criminals or terrorists had large arsenals, had barricaded themselves, or had hostages.

So it was timely that this morning I read about Canada having re-evaluated their use of SWAT for the purpose it was originally intended in this CNN piece on the Montreal college shootings:

Police credited aggressive new procedures with stopping the gunman, who died in a shootout with police.

Montreal Police Chief Yvan Delorme said the lessons learned from other mass shootings had taught police to try to stop such assaults as quickly as possible.

“Before our technique was to establish a perimeter around the place and wait for the SWAT team. Now the first police officers go right inside. The way they acted saved lives,” he said.

So, while US small towns are sending in SWAT teams to bust teenagers who score a little weed, Canada is backing off them for their original intended purpose.

Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the whole SWAT concept.

Clean Bill of Health for Monster ‘Tiel

So I had a message on my voicemail when I got home–Squeak’s bloodwork came back earlier than I was expecting, and he has his highest calcium yet, and everything else looks good. We’ll double-check in six months, but barring further evidence of distress, he’s Vet-Certified Cockatiel.

Of course, last night he weighed in at 116 grams. The vet said as long as he doesn’t actually get fat (you can still feel his keel bone), the weight is not too much of a concern. He’s now fully on the other of the two healthiest brands of pelleted diet, so he’s keeping all this weight himself.

So presuming he doesn’t break his perch, we’re good to go.

Thanks to everybody who wished him well–something worked. While I still don’t know what it was, it seems to be over for now.

I’ll try to rant about something suitably libertarian soon.