Of all the photography that’s come across my screen this hurricane/earthquake month, this is the one (from Agence France-Presse) that most made me gape. This is your forest on a Cat. 5; just wind, but as the energy in a fluid flow goes up with the square of velocity, the 150mph wind that devastated Dominica (an island with a long hard-luck reputation in the Caribbean) didn’t just peel up some sheetmetal roofs, didn’t just tip over some trees, didn’t just break windows: it tore all the leaves off every tree on the island, including the wind-adapted palms, and then shredded the whole trees and dumped them into a flooding river, which left the pieces knee-deep on the street it inundated.
Tomorrow morning, congress will be back at work, with a dozen working days to knock off a list of tasks that would be daunting even without an infantile, grievance-besotted, Russia-crazed president throwing sand in the works, and even if its own managers didn’t have a Freedom Caucus of know-nothing ideologues hanging on its ankles, and even if Trump hadn’t just tossed it the anvil of immigration reform. Â Wow.
But that’s not all; this month only (but continuing for weeks and months of political hassle), you also get Harvey recovery, and wait, if you order now, and also if you don’t, you get two or even three additional exciting climate/weather events ! Â “Disturbance 1” is chugging west from near Cabo Verde at 10 mph with (at this writing) an 80% chance of getting organized within five days; “Disturbance 2” is brewing up exactly where Harvey started as a little baby orange X in the southern Gulf.
Irma is shaping up to be a very interesting event, as it is now drawing a bead on the east coast of Florida, likely to sail over warm water south of the Bahamas, turn right, and run north along the coast as a 3 or a 4. Of course these projections have a wide error band, but for now, let us reflect on what Neil Frank, the former director of the National Hurricane Center spent his career warning us of about just this storm.
(1) Evacuation routes in this region mostly run north and south; roads going inland (and you have to go a ways inland to be ahead of the storm surge) are basically narrow streets that peter out quickly among the alligators. Â If the storm is following the shore north from about Miami, driving along the coast is not going to help you much.
(2) Almost no-one living on this coast has ever experienced a major hurricane and has no idea what to expect. Since the last one, there’s been significant sea level rise, increased paved area, land subsidence, and lot more people. There is no real high ground in Â south Florida. Whole streets in Miami flood now just from a high tide.
(3) From Boca Raton south is a miles-long row of high-rise condominium towers lined up along the beach like dominoes, many taller than the space between them. Â They are built on sand under (i) Florida building codes and (ii) Florida local government administration. The former are not as insouciant and optimistic as the rules that put Houston under water last week, but close; the latter is not as corrupt as Louisiana’s, but, um…my father had an expression “as crooked as a dog’s hind leg” …
Frank used to predict that the storm surge will wash the sand out from under some or many of these buildings and they will tip over, perhaps into the condo tower next door. If evacuation doesn’t work, there will still be people in them.
(The governor overseeing this mess will be the deeply odious, reactionary, willfully ignorant, climate denier Rick Scott, who’s idea of Christian charity is drug tests for welfare recipients, and of responsive government is allowing Floridians to be sure their children don’t learn anything they don’t know, like evolution.)
Irma is due (according to current model runs) about next weekend; the other two, too early to tell. Oh yeah, Russiagate continues to slowly fulminate, and North Korea…oy.
The writer Saki, back at the beginning of the last century, said “the Balkans create more history than can be consumed locally.” I think current times create more news than society, or anyone in it, has the bandwidth to cope with. Or that the remaining adults in government can react to usefully.
I’m slow to outrage, but I’ve had it with the lying, fake-news press and the deep state apparatchiks that want to keep America ungreat. The president has stepped down from the comfortable life he earned by his unmatched business skill to serve us in the corrupt swamp of politics, but does he get help? loyalty? He does not, and we had better hope he doesn’t give up on us and walk out the door in frustration.
Democrats refuse to vote for the Republican health care plan he clearly instructed Ryan and McConnell to pass; is this any way to treat your leader? They endlessly refuse to confirm appointments on the thin excuse that Trump hasn’t nominated anyone for them.Â How hard is it to pass a stack of confirmations with the names left blank for use as needed?Â Is this the kind of obedience we expect of our lawmakers?
Don’t even ask about Mueller.
Most outrageous recently, and the main reason I’ve just hit the wall, is the constant sabotage of Donald Vladimirovich’s ability to get marching orders from his daddy.Â Putin is better looking than Trump, his women are more beautiful and more accomplished, he’s more ruthless, he’s killed more people and enriched more of his gang members, and he’s stolen way more money.Â For our nation to take direction from such a leader is probably the greatest gift Trump can bestow–of course he’s gone in the tank to him; how else is he supposed to know what to do day by day?–but at every turn, some treasonous, small-minded reporters interfere with the normal channels by which orders from Moscow could flow. The secret link through the Russian Embassy Jared creatively tried to set up, the secret meeting at the G20 dinner, the meeting Don Jr., Kushner, and Manafort took with
1 2 3Â 4Â 5 Russian messengers last spring, the tireless efforts of Flynn, and more: one after the other essential tool of governance torn from workable secrecy and left to dessicate and shrivel in public sunlight. Selling the presidency to Putin was the greatest deal the Donald ever made, and we’re stepping all over it.
Trump cannot be Trump if he can’t get confidential instructions from Putin, period, end of story. This treasonous undermining of basic governance tools by the press, and the leaking deep state fifth column, has to stop.
TheÂ Guardian, usually a newspaper with a working conscience, kvells about a recent boxing match:
The good news is that it was a very entertaining fight on the big stage, which is all too rare for boxing of late.
Time to repost some reflections on this ‘sport’ from a few years ago, in case you do not follow boxing and would like to understand it.Â For those who donâ€™t know, boxing is an exercise that uses two remarkable devices in a very odd way. One of them is a servomanipulator of incredible versatility, delicacy and precision, a gadget that can play a violin or caress a cheek or fix a watch or carry a suitcase. The other is a computer with capacities we still havenâ€™t exhausted. Itâ€™s small enough to carry around at all times, and it can write a sonata for the violin, do rocket science and every other kind of science, and give advice to children. Try that with your laptop. Oh yeah; this computer is capable of loveâ€¦the real thing, not reciting a script.
Whatâ€™s truly amazing about boxing is how these wonders are used. You might think the computer could be hooked up to instruct the servo to make something incredibly cool, but you would be wrong. In boxing, the game is to take the servomechanism and use it like a hammer to whale on the computer until its little lights go out and it stops working. Usually the computer can be rebooted after this abuse, but it loses something every time and eventually winds up withÂ dementia pugilistica, mumbling and bumping into things, cadging free drinks in cheap bars. If this isnâ€™t substance abuse, I donâ€™t know what is. Itâ€™s right up there with using a big Rubens painting as a tarp over your woodpile, but especially blasphemous in its trashing of Godâ€™s most remarkable creations.
A century ago the guy swinging the servo had to be careful not to break it on the computer case, but not enough lights got put out for good business, so we now wrap it up in padding that allows super-destructive, full-force whacks, and everyone watching has a good chance of seeing some real damage.
Should this be legal? Probably; the boxers are grownups and have to be allowed to manage their own lives. What I canâ€™t understand is how this savagery can even be discussed by people who claim to be civilized, much less sold for money and treated like a sport. I know, people get hurt in all sorts of sports, but this is the one where the whole point is to hurt people, and not just arms and legs but the part that makes us human. Sure, thereâ€™s lots of cant about the science of defense and tactical blows to the body, but itâ€™s the KO that sells the tickets. See the camera linger over Rocky Balboaâ€™s bloody, blind, weaving face in the movie: sport? skill? Give me a break.
Fight fans, you raise a troubling problem for a free society: what should we do about bad behavior that doesnâ€™t justify being made illegal? Our habit lately is to want to outlaw anything offensive or immoral, but this is a letoff. Boxing should have its lights put out by social disgrace, the way we taught each other that lighting a cigarette in someone elseâ€™s house or a bus is uncivilized and disgusting. The next time you think you want to watch a fight, think about your kids watching you at the moment the blood sprays and the brain slaps the inside of the skull. The next time you walk into a water-cooler conversation on the fine points of this sick behavior, try walking away the way youâ€™d leave a conversation about setting cats on fire.
Remember that Trump promise?Â Notice any winning happening?
Me neither, but I think I see the problem. It’s a typo: should be whining.Â Now everything makes sense, because whining is the pervasive, universal quality of all the discourse of Trump and his mouthpieces, reaching some sort of high point in today’s Sanders briefing , though Spicer almost pegged the meter in his very first briefing.Â Fake news, lying press, I can’t get a break, Joe and Mika are so mean to me, it’s all Obama’s fault, why aren’t you writing about my historic electoral victory, Russia hoax…so much whining! Including rallies that are a new type of collective mass unison whining: all together now, China! Coal! We don’t get no respect!
It does suck to be Donald, but not for the reasons he’d like to think. Anyway, the press is beginning to realize it has to call a lie a lie to properly present the story: I propose that reporters and commentators reflect on whine as the other word most underused, in proportion to its relevance and accuracy, in discourse about our current presidential farrago. Try it: easy to say, it’s a verb, everyone knows what it means, and it has the perfectly apropos connotations of infantile affect and ineffectuality.
Whiner, that’s our Donald all over.
The inferno in London is out, mainly because the entire flammable contents of the building have burned up. Â Fire hoses cannot deliver water to the upper floors of such buildings, and the ladders trucks can bring to the scene don’t reach nearly high enough.Â Many more deaths will be recorded–I expect a toll in the dozens–as the search for the missing continues. Police and fire brigades told people to stay in their flats and close their doors rather than escaping, and those people have been incinerated. As the structure of the building, whether concrete or steel framed, has certainly been compromised, possible collapseÂ will make it impossible to search for bodies for quite a while. [update 14/VII: they are using drones! Nature imitating art; theÂ Economist big drone wrapup was published last week.)
How is such a thing possible?Â Well, first we should note that dying in a fire is rare and getting more so in all industrialized countries: annual fire deaths per million in the US are only about 12, and remarkably, down by two-thirds since 1979. The UK is on a similar trend and about a third safer overall. We should also note, as more information about administrative and regulatory failures dribbles out, that this was housing for poor people.
The ways to avoid fire deaths are as follows:
- start fewer fires
- faster emergency response from fire brigades
- buildings that resist fire spread after ignition
- buildings that facilitate escape
- proper behavior by occupants
- better medical care for survivors
No. 1 is the biggie, and it has to do partly with electrical codes and enforcement, but progress in recent years has mainly to do with smoking, both less smoking overall and safer cigarettes. A third of residential fires used to be caused by cigarettes, usually dropped on upholstered furniture. Cigarettes used to be laced with enough saltpeter to keep them burning if not puffed on, so the tobacco company could sell another cigarette when one left in an ashtray consumed itself; at least in the US that’s no longer true. But fire can start in many ways; see 5. below.
No. 2 is occurring, because fewer fires mean engine and ladder companies are less busy, and because it’s politically difficult to close unnecessary fire stations. Nearly all engine and ladder sorties in the US now are actually medical calls.
No. 3 is a matter of codes and code enforcement: hour-ratings for partitions and doors, less flammable materials, UL listing for electrical components, etc. and honest, effective inspections to be sure that’s all happening. Otherwise known as job-killing regulatory government meddling in the free market, don’t you know. Here the US is disadvantaged by traditionally building with wood rather than masonry. It’s also a matter of the most reliable, proven, life- and building-saving technology, sprinkler systems; something the Grenfell Tower seems not to have had, even in the corridors and escape routes.
No. 4 involves a variety of features. Small things like an alarm system (have you checked the batteries in your smoke detectors lately?) and quick-release locks on the bars people in poor neighborhoods put on their first-floor windows matter. For larger buildings, it’s a matter of having two escape routes from every location, and one of these has to be protected from filling with the smoke that kills more people than heat and flame; an example is theÂ exterior fire escape we see on older buildings. I was appalled to read in the Guardian that 1970’s high-rise UK buildings of the Grenfell era hadÂ â€œone escape stair which is not designed for a mass evacuation, but is designed for a small number of people to get out whose individual flats are on fireâ€. No; two stairs, and one has to be open to the outdoors (sometimes an interior “fire court” open to the sky) at every landing. When I was working in architects’ offices in the 70s and 80s, this was completely standard practice. It still is. If you live in a high-rise, do you know how to get to your fire stairs in the dark? If not, practice.
Twenty-four stories is a long way to walk down in the dark, afraid, aroused in the middle of the night from a sound sleep, in pajamas or nothing, especially with terrified little children. I would not live above the twelfth floor of any building. I wonder if the people enjoying the view from high up in the fifty-story condo buildings popping up in New York think about this.
No. 5 includes some training (point the fire extinguisher at theÂ base of the flames) and occasional drills, not filling your apartment with unnecessary inflammable stuff (what doomed the partiers at the Ghost Ship in Oakland), not storing the gasoline can for your lawn mower in the same room as a water heater, staying in the kitchen when you have a frying pan on the burner, and so on. And do you know where your kitchen fire extinguisher is, and how to use it, and have you checked the pressure gauge?
Where fire comes to your house from outside, as in Mediterranean climate landscapes that burn regularly and will do so more with climate change, you have to maintain what we call “defensible space” in California, and stay on top of it as grass and brush try to grow into it.
The Japanese have a long history of living close together in wood and paper houses, and cooking indoors on open charcoal fires, but theirÂ fire death record is not much different from other industrialized countries: this is assuredly the result of learning to respect fire, and that hibachi. It’s also socially unacceptable to have a fire in Japan, an expert in fire safety told me a few years back: if you do, even a small one, you probably have to leave your home and move to another city. The FEMA study linked above notes, interestingly, that incendiary suicides inflate Japanese figures.
Every catastrophe has multiple ’causes’, so there will be lots to learn about this one as the facts come in. Whatever they are, they will include irresponsible, probably corrupt, behavior by people who should have known better.
[update 14/VI] Useful stuff is beginning to come in. Â Aside from the other terrible mistakes and oversights, Â it appears the exterior cladding, a Chinese aluminum/polyethylene sandwich, is so flammable that testing in Australia was suspended after the first sample practically blew up in the lab. Here’s an excellent post-incident report from a very similar fire in Australia. It has everything: Â ignition by cigarette, overcrowded units, cladding carrying the fire up the outside of the building…but also working alarms, sprinklers, and proper fire stairs for evacuation. Deaths and injuries: 0.
Berkeley’s Task Force on Intercollegiate Athletics (TFIA)Â has submitted its reportÂ on what to do about an enterprise that soaks up tens of millions of dollars of subsidy each year while the university as a whole is being asked to eat almost $200m of budget cuts (see the TFIA assignment below). It’s appropriate to thank the members for the time they spent on this project. I wish it were possible to recognize their efforts as consequential or useful, but no such luck.Â My expectations were modest, but this result dashes even my cautious hopes, and as I know several of the members to be smart people with the best intentions, it saddens me to say so. Eleven members, working for almost a year, have come up with five single-spaced pages of content (no, this is not the executive summary, and it is not a memo boiled down for Donald Trump), and one big table of financials uncritically assembled from IA’s annual NCAA P/L reports.
A bitter irony is the appendix listing (without links to access any of them) five previous TFIAs, from 1991,â€™92,â€™99,2000 and 2010. Isnâ€™t a standard definition of insanity â€œdoing the same thing again and again expecting a different resultâ€?
The compounded misbehavior in Bozeman yesterday has to appall any decent observer, a complete breakdown of order and decency. Â We should note first the only participant who comes out of it with his reputation intact, Greg Gianforte, a Trump soldier who knows how to stay on message and follow his orders both specific (“Beat the s__t out of them!”) and general: hurt the weak [GG appears to have about a foot and twenty pounds on Jacobs], beat the press, and so on. If he gets to Washington he can surely be trusted to bravely smite the sick and the poor when the time comes.
Everything goes to pieces after that, though. A Fox News crew was present and truculently went completely insubordinate, telling the truth both in their dispatches and to the authorities with no consideration of the damage it would do to a notable Republican. With minions like this, Fox’s whole mission is at risk.
Then there’s the sheriff, who had everything he needed to arrest Jacobs for armedÂ [a recording device attested by all witnesses, and a direct question to a candidate] assault with intent to cause great political harm. Â Gianforte’s flack Scanlon spelled it out for him right away, with the magic words “liberal reporter.” But does he? He does not; he treacherously cites Gianforte, to whose campaign he had donated! No, it doesn’t redeem him that he smoothed out felony assault and battery into a misdemeanor.
Poor Gianforte; three Montana papers have unendorsed him.Â He followed the code of the West (“do unto others before they can do unto you“) and everyone walked away from him, just like the Â craven citizens inÂ High Noon.Â
It will not be possible to tell, or even firmly conjecture, what is really going on with Trump and the Russians for months. Pieces of the puzzle are raining down, faster than any can be carefully examined, each one a shocker that would have triggered incredulity in a sane age, not to mention Republican self-preservation distancing.Â It beggars belief that within six months of a historic electoral victory, the GOP’s “Si, se puede!” has already turned into “Sal si puedes!” with sharks circling the foundering ship.Â But here’s what makes sense to me tonight.
Trump is Putin’s stooge, end of story. It’s the only way to understand the consistency and doggedness of his self-destructive behavior in all things Russian or Russian-tainted. He’s handcuffed on a long-term and a more recent chain that he cannot break.Â He’s not an ideal stooge, because of his own ignorance and lack of self-control, but he’s what Putin has.
The first chain is a set of financial obligations going back to the time when no-one with a desk and a window would do business with him or lend him money because of his colossal business failures.Â The Russians, in various assortments and, it now appears, using the very pliant Deutsche Bank among other pipelines, loansharked him to get back in the game; they own him through their ability to ruin him, and his complete inability to think of himself as anything but a great tycoon. His tax returns will go a long way to confirming or refuting this. Maybe he just owes them money he can’t pay, maybe the actual financing was criminal and he can’t reveal the details, maybe both. Remember Chili Palmer’s prÃ©cis of the loan shark’s method: “in those cases, I’m the one inflicting the pain.”
The second leash on which Putin has Trump, snapped on over the last year, is that Trump knows that Putin knows everything the congressional investigators, Mueller, and the press want to know, and all of it is arrows aimed at Trump’s heart. If Trump doesn’t behave, Putin can save the gumshoes a lot of time by simply sharing some documents, memos, and audio, from the campaign and more recently, that will at least put Trump out of office and may well put him in jail. It is interesting to speculate how much of all this Trump has shared with his toadies, including his kids, and what nightmares they have about being disgraced and poor when it hits the fan; Madoff kept it all a secret from his family until the end.
It must be infuriating to Putin that when he has finally ensnared a conscience-free American president, his tool turns out to be such a tool. It’s not so easy to weaponize a loose cannon with radiantly incompetent lieutenants who can’t even fold their own parachutes,Â the attention span of a gnat, and a memory that can’t retain anything but the odd slight–a lame Trojan horse with glanders and bloat, who believes himself to be Pegasus. But I guess you go to war with the stooge you can capture.