Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Wait for it...
This post... is about poker.
There hasn't been a whole lot of it in my life lately, but last week I finally made it out to a weekly tournament series one of the local bars is hosting. Fifty six players get seated every week and the winner gets a prize. At the end the sixteen weekly winners and top forty point winners behind them get into a final freeroll and the winner gets a trip to AC and some spending money. Not too shabby for some free poker.
A few guys I play with also showed up but it was a pretty random gathering and I was unsure of what to expect. You start out with T950 and blinds at 25/50 for 45 minutes. I love the initial structure but it continued as follows: 50/100 (45 mins), 100/200 (45 mins), 200/400 (45 mins), 400/800 (30 mins), 800/1600 (30 mins), 1600/3200 (30 mins), etc. By the last few levels poker was over and it was a shoving match.
As seems to be the case in my tournament game as of late, good cards came early and awful cards came late. The first table I sat at, I didn't know anyone. I picked up 69 of spades in the big blind and saw the flop for "free", flopping an open end straight draw (OESD) and a flush draw. It checked around to me, I bet at it and got one caller. Same thing on the turn and I finally moved him off on the river after completely missing everything.
A couple hands later I picked up pocket fours in a four handed pot and flopped a four on a queen high board. I was first to act and led out, got raised and when the action moved back around to me, I reraised him. He moved all-in after thinking for a few minutes and when I called he turned over Q4 for top and bottom pair. Now I've basically doubled up in the first ten minutes. I picked up Kings the very next hand but only got action from a short stack who had just gotten demolished by pocket Kings a couple hands earlier, leaving her with only 200 in chips.
I have the big stack at the table but there's another player with enough chips for me to be wary of. I pick up K6 of spades in the cutoff and decide to try and bully the table a little when two people limp in in front of me, so I raise it up to T200. I get called by both limpers and the big blind, so I'm pretty much ready to pitch my hand after the flop when it comes down: 6... 6... K. Yahtzee! Big blind checks, first limper bets 300 and the second limper raises to 600. I try to decide what to do for a minute as I'm pretty sure I can get the raiser all-in with me but no clue what the other guys might do. I decide to reraise him all-in, they both fold and the raiser calls his final 800 in, turning over AK. He was none too pleased with my hand. He didn't get any miracle cards and went away on mega-tilt.
Little did I know how much he would help me because he basically went around the bar to all his friends still playing for the next thirty minutes telling everyone what a horrible player I was, staying in with a K6. Nothing important came my way for a while, but I was able to pick up pots here and there from players who I now know were thinking I was playing K6 every hand. In the middle levels I got my money in to knock shortstacks out three times, each time with the best hand, and each time I got rivered. So I basically stayed stagnant and all the money ended up on my table. The top four stacks out of about 26 remaining players were all at the same table. The last big hand of the night for me came with 10 people left when I got K6 of spades in the big blind. The small blind minimum raised to 3200, and with two other people in the pot also, I took a shot and called his raise, and they both did as well. The guy had been raising with some crazy hands all night trying to knock people out, so I certainly felt I could be ahead. The flop came out Q 10 6 with two spades and he immediately moved all-in for his remaining 2000 in chips. I called, the other two folded, and he turned over 45 offsuit... caught him in a stone cold bluff. K6 of spades was very, very good to me that night, and I took down my last big pot of the night.
I then went pretty much card dead as the blinds rocketed up. I managed my stack and made it to fourth before I finally got blinded into a bad situation and didn't get lucky. 4th out of 56 though, I'm not too disappointed. I felt like I played very well the entire night. I never made a single mistake which felt nice. I just didn't get cards when I needed them at the end, and the blind structure forced my hand in a couple situations where I probably wouldn't have played otherwise.
Hopefully tomorrow will go as well and I can post yet another poker related topic.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Hail to the Redskins!
And for the longest time it has appeared that the Skins have had all the talent except at the quarterback position.
As I discussed with a lot of my friends and family this week, I had a more optimistic view of things after Brunell replaced Ramsey. Is Brunell the same quarterback he was when he took the Jags to two AFC championship games? No. I don't expect that of him at 35. Does he still posses enough talent to take a team to the playoffs? Yes.
When my more cycnical conversation partners asked what it was I thought made Brunell more serviceable than Ramsey I offered them the following: brains and legs. My brother made an offhand comment while we talked on his birthday about how Brunell's arm might fall off he was so old. After kindly reminding him that he was actually older than Brunell, I also offered that while it wasn't great, I didn't think his arm was that bad, either.
Ramsey has the undeniably stronger arm. But one year taking blitzes in Spurrier's offensive scheme broke him. Absolutely, unavoidably ruined him as a quarterback. I hope I'm wrong and that next year when he isn't with the Skins, he'll find a team and be successful (in the AFC). But Brunell can do two things that Ramsey can't: he can run himself out of trouble and he can make the smart decision. Ramsey always seemed panicked in the pocket and more often than not was launching an ill-advised pass that somehow ended up in a defender's hands instead of out of bounds.
Last night I saw something promising. I sat through fifty six minutes of misery. Fifty six minutes of sitting next to Cowboys fans and their celebrating and their taunting and their glee. Fifty six minutes of Skins' offensive penalty after penalty. Fifty six minutes of the Cowboys punter defying sheer physics and statistical probability by pinning the Skins deep inside the 10 yard line again and again and again. Fifty six minutes of horrible football that somehow the Redskins didn't let turn into a rout. And then it happened.
3rd and 27. The blitz is on and Brunell takes off for his life... running improbably for 10... 15... 25 yards.
4th and 2. Brunell drops back, lofts a soft pass to Thrash and it's a 20 yard 1st down.
4th and 15. Brunell drops back again, and suddenly rips a pass down the middle... I stand up in the middle of the bar and quietly whisper, "please God," and the ball falls between two defenders into Moss' hands and the Skins have scored.
I looked at my friends and told them that I was just satisfied that they could get the ball in the end zone. But with more than three minutes to go, and two timeouts, I held out some glimmer of hope that this incredible defense would hold once more and give the Skins a chance. And they did.
The Skins get the ball on their 30 yard line, 1st and ten. Brunell drops back to pass, and suddenly unleashes a bomb down the middle... I stand up in the middle of the bar and quietly whisper, "please God," and the ball threads between two Cowboy defenders into Moss' hands and he sprints into the end zone for a 70 yard touchdown. The Redskins have the lead.
A Bob Uecker-like call from Major League blares in my brain, "the Skins win it! the Skins win it! OH MY GOD, the Skins win it!!!"
But there's more than two minutes to go and I've seen this before. Patrick Crayton, Clint Longley... I've seen the Cowboys come away with enough improbable last second wins to think that this time will be no different. Hell, Dave Campo beat us, am I supposed to believe Bill Parcells can't cook up another flea flicker play to win?
And everytime it looked like the Cowboys had done it, fate intervened. A first down called back by a holding penalty. A pass just a yard shy of a first down until a missle called Sean Taylor blows up the receiver (forcing a fumble, despite what that referee may have believed) and an incomplete pass is called. A punt that stays in bounds and wastes 14 precious seconds off the Cowboys' dwindling chances. And a final perfect open field tackle, a yard shy of a first down, to end the game.
So this is what it feels like?
14-13 is a score with lore for me. But that's a story for another time. 14-13, I couldn't have dreamed it more perfectly.
Brunell saved it with some patience and some smarts, with his legs and with an arm that I may have been underestimating by the looks of it.
2-0. There's a lot of football left and 2-14 isn't out of the question.
After all those years of disappointment, Tom Boswell of the Post summed it up best I think.
"At game's end, Gibbs's face was beaming with joy, a sight seldom seen for
regular season games in his Hall of Fame heyday. Parcells seemed blanched as he
walked toward midfield, while Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wandered around the
field as if lost. Why, this was the night the Cowboys had devoted halftime to
inducting Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith into their sacred Ring of
Honor. How dare the Redskins spoil it?
There's something promising indeed. I endured fifty six minutes of a horrible attempt at sport to watch the Redskins play sixty minutes of football. I watched a team that refused to quit.
Hail to the Redskins.
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Hurricane, part two...
On to the timeline:
Friday, August 26th
-Katrina passes over south Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico, re-intensifying into a hurricane
-Gov. Blanco declares a state of emergency in Louisiana
Saturday, August 27th
-Katrina continues to intensify and move along its west/northwest track towards New Orleans
-Pres. Bush declares a state of emergency exists in Louisiana retroactive to the 26th, authorizing FEMA to coordinate all disaster relief efforts
-Mayor Nagin and Gov. Blanco leave a voluntary evacuation order in place overnight
Sunday, August 28th
-in the overnight hours, Katrina has jumped from a category two to a category five storm with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph and pressure of 902mb, on a direct path to New Orleans
-Mayor Nagin changes to a mandatory evacuation order for New Orleans in the early morning
Monday, August 29th
-Katrina begins its push onshore as a category four storm, but takes a slight jog to the east, moving the eye east of New Orleans, sparing the city the worst of the hurricane initially
-Pres. Bush declares a major disaster exists in the affected states, freeing up more federal resources to be deployed
-At some point late in the evening, the 17th street canal levee is breached and Lake Pontchartrain begins to flood the eastern part of New Orleans
Tuesday, August 30th
-Katrina has moved out of Mississippi by mid-morning but flooding from breached levees continues in New Orleans, most notable the 17th street canal levee
Wednesday, August 31st
-New Orleans is declared an incident of national signficance by the Department of Homeland Security, clearing the way for rapid deployment of all federal resources to the area
-Evacuation of the Superdome begins in the evening and continues into the overnight hours
-Water stops rising as levels inside that part of the city are now equal to Lake Pontchartrain
Thursday, September 1st
-After a brief interruption due to security concerns in the morning, the Superdome evacuation continues throughout the day
-Crews begin repairing the levee breach at the 17th street canal
Friday, September 2nd
-A large convoy enters New Orleans in the morning, fanning out to the Superdome and the beleaguered Convention Center
-the Superdome evacuation is larely completed as well as evacuation of the Convention Center in the single largest effort ever of its kind on American soil
My initial reaction to Gov. Blanco of Louisiana was not positive. In the press conferences prior to and directly after the hurricane, she seemed overwhelmed and leaning heavily on the directions of those around her. That first impression seems to be borne out by the stories that are starting to come out now. It is apparently at the suggestion of President Bush late on Saturday during a phone conversation that she finally decides to make evacuation mandatory.
When she declares a state of emergency in Louisiana on Friday and then turns to the federal government to activate their relief efforts, the state has not completed critical parts of its own emergency response plan. With the state under a voluntary evacuation, the following steps are required:
1. Activate EOC and prepare for 24-hour operations.
2. Put State Departments and the ARC on standby alert in accordance with OEP Implementing Procedures.
3. Put National Guard units on standby alert.
4. Call all nursing homes and other custodial care organizations in the risk areas to insure that they are prepared to evacuate their residents.
5. Alert FEMA of the situation and advise that the State may need Federal assistance.
6. Establish communications with risk area parish EOCs and test all communications means, including conference call procedures.
7. Prepare a proclamation of emergency for the State so that, when needed, State resources can be mobilized to support risk area evacuation and host area sheltering operations.
Furthermore, the local parishes are to prepare transportation services to be implemented as needed and announce the location of staging areas from which people lacking their own means of transportation will be evacuated. The state is required to aid the parishes with any of these principles that they cannot meet.
When the order is switched to mandatory, the following standards go into effect for the parishes:
1. Coordinate evacuation orders with State and other risk parishes.
2. Instruct persons living in designated evacuation zones to leave.
3. Impose traffic control to funnel persons to designated evacuation routes.
4. Designate staging areas and other facilities as last resort refuges. People at these locations who cannot be evacuated in time to avoid the storm will remain and take refuge in the designated buildings.
5. Assist persons with mobility limitations to find last resort refuge. Mobilize all transportation resources and request assistance from the state as needed.
6. Continue to update EAS and news media with evacuation information at two-hour intervals.
Following are the state's guidelines:
1. Continue 24-hour EOC operations.
2. Consult with risk area parishes to finalize mandatory 01/00 III-6 evacuation orders.
3. Implement mandatory evacuation traffic controls. Convert specified limited access routes to one-way outbound operations. Control main evacuation routes with State resources.
4. Direct the evacuation and shelter of persons having mobility limitations, including persons in nursing homes, hospitals, group homes and non-institutionalized persons.
5. Keep neighboring states informed of status and traffic control decisions.
6. Keep EAS evacuation and shelter information updated on a two-hour basis, or more frequently if information is available on a timelier basis.
7. Keep media informed and updated on evacuation and shelter information.
All of this information is directly out of the Louisiana state emergency response plans which can be found at the following links:
Louisiana State Emergency Operations Plan - 2005
Southeast Louisiana Hurricane Evacuation and Sheltering Plan
Southwest Louisiana Hurricane Evacuation and Sheltering Plan
I highlighted in red those directives which I found to be most significant to saving lives prior to a storm. The directive in blue is highlighted to illustrate another point on which the state failed to follow through on its responsibility. And the italicized directive in the first section also illustrates the failure of state follow through.
The picture that emerges out of these details is that the state started down its emergency response but then failed to act on its most important points. The government, at all levels, knew well in advance that if New Orleans needed to be evacuated, there would be nearly one hundred thousand residents who would lack the capability to evacuate by their own means. This is why the state had staging areas designated, so that these residents could travel to these areas where they could then get transportation out of the area to shelters elsewhere. The Superdome is one of these locations. However, by delaying a mandatory evacuation order, the governor cost the state about eighteen to twenty four hours more time that could have been used to get people out. What's even more amazing, is that with all those thousands of people standing outside the Superdome to get checked in to the shelter on Sunday, no one thought to just start pulling buses up and getting them out. Instead, the state put them into a corral where they could be as safe as possible, without providing food, water or other material. The Superdome was not meant to be a shelter, it was meant to be a last refuge. A place where the few who were not able to be evacuated in time could ride out the storm.
The pictures have started to show up in the general media. Photos of parish school buses underwater, photos of the city's transit buses in the depot underwater, and yet, no one has yet stepped forward to explain why these resources weren't used to get at least twenty or thirty thousand citizens out before the storm hit. Approximately five hundred and thirty five buses at last count that were left sitting, nearly half of which are located in a depot just one mile from the Superdome. I'd like to repeat that for you, nearly one half of which are located one mile from the Superdome. Hospitals were not evacuated prior to the storm, even though it is explicitly stated in the response plan that they should be among the first taken out of harm's way.
Now we can start to move onto FEMA. There seems to me a great misconception in the general public and in the media about what exactly it is FEMA does. It is not a federal organization that provides the material for assistance in times of disaster. Rather, FEMA is a coordinating agency that provides the link between the state and federal government to fulfill requests for materials that the state cannot provide itself. Further, FEMA helps the state to coordinate the resources it does have at its disposal and get them into the necessary areas while also bringing together organizations such as the American Red Cross with the state to provide aid.
Details are now beginning to emerge that once again, it was the lack of direction from the state of Louisiana that prevented some of the pre-coordinated response from getting to the people in the city of New Orleans. The American Red Cross has been, and continues to be, prevented from entering the city of New Orleans to provide aid. Some aid was provided to those residents stuck at the Superdome and Convention Center, however. But it seems that because the national guard, under the direction of the state, would not allow relief organizations into the city, vast amounts of prepositioned relief could not be brought to bear.
I do want to point out, though, that I am not completely excusing FEMA from any responsibility in the insane delays of getting help to people. FEMA is now a part of a broad new agency in the Department of Homeland Security. The creation of this department has added several new layers of beauracracy that only serve to slow down response in situations like this. Several instances of this have occurred in the post-Katrina aftermath. In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, FEMA officials delayed the release of needed ice and water from a warehouse because they had not yet received a phone call from the appropriate official in Washington.
No effort of this magnitude can be served well by having so many layers of clearance to get through. Here is where I find my greatest fault with FEMA director Mike Brown and Secretary Mike Chertoff of Homeland Security. In situations such as these, it is the mark of clear leadership to cut through these kinds of delays and red tape to streamline the recovery effort. And only now, after so many days of missteps, are those streamlines beginning to be put into place. If the state and federal governments are at odds in working together, then a good leader will find the optimum solution to working around those impasses. It seems quite clear that those at the federal level are having as much trouble as the state officials in moving beyond the turf war and on to helping out the people.
I will address more in a third post to come...
Saturday, September 03, 2005
Hurricane, part one...
Like anything you discover at thirteen it does at some point begin to tail off as you grow up, but it always stuck in the back of my mind. Whenever hurricane season came around I would watch with avid fascination the development and results of these storms. My interest would be stoked again once I got to college and two smaller hurricanes affected even the Richmond area where I was in school. First Fran and then Bonnie, they came and it was my first experience with even the outskirts of one of these powerful storms. The longevity of the wind and rain were an experience unlike any thunderstorm I had ever experienced. It was only a few weeks after Bonnie that Hurricane Mitch roared through the Carribean and slammed into Central America. One of my best friends was from Honduras and the category five storm slammed into her country and brought devastation the likes of which we now witness here. I remember the efforts that were coordinated to send any kind of aid we could down there, and hearing the stories of washed out roads and missing friends that came in from her family down there afterwards. It was my first brush with the fringes of the human toll that these storms can take.
And for awhile, my contact with these storms, thankfully, was limited to the occasional television coverage. Then in 2003, Hurricane Isabel came ashore and roared well into Virginia as a category one hurricane. It was with a certain mixture of curiosity, excitement and fear that I waited along with my roommates for what would happen. We happened to catch a few lucky breaks. Our power lines were buried and we never lost power throughout the night but for a few brief interruptions here and there. We had alerted our landlord to some of the dangerously tall and dead trees that loomed over the house and had the worst one cut down. While we sat in the family room and watched the news coverage of the storm that night, we all at one point felt suddenly compelled to check outside. The winds had shifted no more than thirty minutes before that and as we peered outside, one of the other gigantic trees in the yard had finally given way and toppled over across our yard and the neighbors. But for thirty minutes or not having the foresight to get that one tree cut down, either one would have come crashing down into that family room where we all sat. Providence was all around us that day. We did have the water cutoff and it would remain off for several days following the storm. My parents and my brother and his family had lost power in their part of the city just eight miles to the south and it would remain off for even longer. Driving north with my brother in the days after the storm up to Washington, D.C. and then on to New Jersey, I was astonished by the destruction Isabel had wrought as it travelled up I-95. The trees knocked down, the flooding in Baltimore and Alexandria, the power off for as far as we had driven, stopping in towns up and down 95 trying to find a place to get a hot meal. Things that you imagine being simple, like a salad, you couldn't find because there was no water to wash the lettuce.
The scummy feeling of not having showered for days and not being able to enjoy any of the comforts of life that we take for granted every day is something I still remember. It would not be long before I would be reminded again of nature's inherent power. My parents purchased a home on the west coast of Florida, south of Tampa, in the spring of 2004. It was a house directly across the street from the same family with whom we had been vacationing in Ocean City back in 1991 when Bob loomed over the east coast. In the middle of August, Charley appeared and took direct aim at that area, veering instead at the last moment to the south and bringing great destruction to Punta Gorda and trailing across the state. We breathed a sigh of relief that our friends and the house had been largely spared. A week later the remnants of Hurricane Gaston, barely a tropical depression, moved slowly out of North Carolina into Virginia. I had just returned from Las Vegas and a friend's bachelor party about fifteen hours before when I saw the story about the storm coming toward Richmond. I knew it would be a lot of wind and rain and decided to leave work early so I wouldn't get caught in the traffic on my way home, downtown.
I was living on the fifth floor of a restored warehouse at the time. I got home at about 2pm that day, and at 3:15pm the power went out. I watched out the window as the sky grew dark, and darker, almost impossibly so. And the rain started coming down, steady and droning against the top of the building over my apartment. It drummed on the roof as I waited, thinking sooner or later the power would come back on. Then the wind started blowing and then blowing harder. I could see out over part of the city from my window and as I watched the impossible seemed to be happening, the storm was getting stronger over land. The winds were howling and the rain was coming down in sheets and I started receiving calls from friends in other parts of town. One of them asked me about the flooding downtown that her brother was stuck in, and I, having not ventured out of my apartment yet, had no idea what was going on. I got off the phone and decided to head out to see what it was like. I opened the door to the stairwell and water was pouring down from the roof to the lobby. There was about an inch of water when I got to the first floor and headed outside. My building overlooked a canal off of the James River, and I-95 spanned over the river about a quarter mile away. Traffic was at a dead standstill, and the canal had spilled over out of its banks and there was about four feet of water on the road below. I walked a few blocks to the east and suddenly I could not go any further as there was what I would later find out twelve feet of water piling up at this end of the city. A flood wall had been erected to prevent the James from again flooding the city as had happened many times in Richmond's past. Only now, as water poured down from the hills surrounding this part of downtown, the flood wall was keeping the water in.
I went back to my apartment for a while and the realities of what a storm is really like started to hit home. During Isabel I had never gone through the uncertainty of being completely unaware of what is actually happening. In the dark, alone, listening as the wind whips across the roof of the building above me and wondering when is it going to stop. I called my parents who were visiting family in New Jersey to let them know I was okay because I was certain it would make the national news. They hadn't heard about it yet, but fifteen minutes later it was on the national news. Parts of downtown Richmond were under twelve to fifteen feet of water and throughout the area flooding was causing widespread panic and damage. People had been caught in the evening drive home and had been forced to abandon their cars on the roads and walk home in knee or waist deep water. The rains finally began to taper off around nine o'clock that night. I decided to try and get out and head to my parents' house just outside the city. I got in my car which I had for some reason not parked in the garage but on the street by the building, which meant that my car was not flooded in. Unfortunately, my part of the city was.
There had been fourteen inches of rain in around one hour at the height of the storm. All that water had runoff from the hills of the city that surround the Bottom and piled up. Emergency crews were launching boats to rescue people trapped in offices and restaurants. A mudslide had blocked four roads that led out of the area with about two to three feet of mud, a sinkhole had wiped out two more, and all the other roads were underwater. One road was clear the next day and I got out to my parents' house, along the way passing the destruction that the flood had wrought. Cars piled on top of cars piled on top of buildings. Trash and debris everywhere, some roads still impassable and dramatic stories of overnight rescues filled the news. People who had been trapped in their car by suddenly rising water or at home when a lake spilled over its banks and the courageous rescuers who plucked them from danger and delivered them safely.
And now I sit and watch the news of the last few days and my greatest fears of what might happen seem to be unfolding before my very eyes. When the storm was about a day from making landfall and was a part of many conversations I was having with friends, I was saying that I believed it would be a disaster that would prove worse than September 11th. In the shock of that day it's so hard to imagine anything could ever be more devastating. But when the death toll is finally released, I firmly expect casualties to be double or more of that day of tragedy. A major city has been lost to flooding, almost a million people are suddenly jobless and we face at least a temporary energy crisis of some kind. There are lots of fingers pointing and I'll probably get into that stuff in my next post, as politics runs up there in my top five topics of conversation, but I am still stuck thinking about all those people, and the fear they must have had as Katrina came ashore. Suddenly realizing that this storm was going to be completely unlike any they had been through before and now there was nothing they could do about it. I take the fears that I had during Isabel and Gaston and multiply them by about one thousand to try and start to process how it must have been for those on the Gulf coast.
My prayers and thoughts are with them all, I have already made one donation to the Red Cross and I encourage anyone else who hasn't yet to do so.
The Red Cross
Anything you can contribute will help.