The Grim Milestone of Blogs "I find the language and rhetoric coming from America too confrontational" - Prince Charles "Nuts" - Gen McAuliffe America: Saving idiots from themselves since WWI

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Wild tiger facing extinction?

Tigers killed off for ceremonial costumes
This year alarm bells sounded in India when it emerged that one of the country's most prestigious reserves, Sariska in Rajasthan, had been completely emptied of tigers by poachers.

Hearing rumours that the new Tibetan trend for skins was behind the rapid increase in poaching, a team from the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency went to Tibet and the Sichuan and Gansu provinces in China.

What they found surpassed even their worst nightmares.

In New Delhi yesterday, Belinda Wright, of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, who was part of the undercover team, said the time for scaremongering was over.

"This is it. The end is now in sight for the Indian tiger. The sheer quantities of skins for sale is beyond belief. As the Sariska scandal so clearly showed, the Indian tiger is now being systematically wiped out."

At horse festivals in Tibet and Sichuan, dancers, riders and spectators wandered about, openly wearing the traditional chuba, generously trimmed with tiger and leopard skin, while organisers and local officials joined in.

Traders said demand for the skins was coming from the newly monied classes who had made small fortunes from selling a local caterpillar fungus (Cordyceps sinensis) used in Chinese medicine.

Demand for the fungus has rocketed since two Chinese Olympic athletes attributed their success to its stamina-building powers. A rare mushroom is also fetching high prices, according to local people.

The skins are smuggled along well-established Nepali trading routes into Tibet where they are sold openly in shops in the capital, Lhasa. Using hidden cameras Ms Wright, who has devoted the last 35 years to saving the Indian tiger, toured the centre of old Lhasa posing as a buyer.

She said: "In 10 shops we found 24 tiger skin chubas, most of them decorated with great swathes of skin, and all openly displayed for sale.

"In 20 other shops we recorded 54 leopard skin chubas. The dealers categorically told us that they had come from India. When we asked we were shown three fresh tiger skins and seven fresh leopard skins in four different locations - again, all from India."

Wildlife experts accuse the Indian and Chinese governments of seriously underestimating the scale of the problem and, through a mixture of corruption and bureaucratic inertia, failing to address it.

According to Indian government census figures there are 3,624 wild tigers left in India but that figure is now widely acknowledged to be a gross over-estimate. Some wildlife campaigners put the figure as low as 2,000.

The Indian government has recently set up a new Tiger Taskforce to try to staunch the flow of big cat losses but, the experts say, the commercial poaching interests are better funded and more determined than the state.

Perhaps most depressing of all for the investigators was the apparent lack of concern among Tibetans wearing the tiger and leopard skin chubas, many of whom had clearly not stopped to consider the implication for tiger populations.

Federation of Fly Fishers for Florida Forestation

Federation of Fly Fishers Launches Florida Mangrove Recovery Initiative
When Hurricane Charley churned ashore in Southwest Florida last summer, it clear-cut vast stretches of the mangrove forest in J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, on Sanibel Island.

Mangroves play the most vital role in tropical ecosystems, and an estimated 85 percent of mangrove forests in Florida have been destroyed by humans. Fallen, decaying mangrove leaves provide the nutrients that feed an estuary’s most basic organisms. The roots provide an essential sanctuary for most of Florida’s inshore and offshore gamefish and water-filtering shellfish, as well as nesting habitat for many species of birds. Though damaged mangrove plants can recover over time from hurricane winds, damage to the Refuge’s mangrove forest was so severe in places that a jump-start was needed.

That jump-start is being provided by a volunteer group headed by Capt. Pete Greenan and local members of the Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF), Boy Scout troops, members of the Sanibel Fly Fishers and Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers and others, working in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

According to Refuge manager Rob Jess, the consequences of mangrove damage are already mounting. Limbs and trunks of uprooted trees have clogged parts of the impoundment, so beginning in April, volunteers cleared a vital tidal creek to restore tidal flow into impounded areas for the regeneration of mangroves, and to encourage the return of migratory birds. Work is also under way to clear debris from around young mangroves, to allow water to flow freely and encourage the plants to grow at an accelerated pace.

Charley crashed into OIA last year on August 13th.

A call to preserve mangrove forests
Another environmental service provided by the forests is that of soil retention. Mangrove forests stabilize shorelines by reducing the severity of waves, while their roots hold soil in place (Ibid 134). According to a study by Grasso and Schaeffer-Novelli, √íretaining sediment in headwater wetlands will lengthen the lifespan of downstream reservoirs and channels, and reduce the need for costly removal of accumulated sediment.√ď The function of stabilizing shorelines is closely related to a third environmental service, which is that of reducing the severity of tropical storms. Mangrove forests act as natural basins and reservoirs, and through their ability to store and release runoff, they can help to alleviate the damage caused by flooding, at a cost far less than creating man-made dams and reservoirs.

Cadaver Dog Max

cadaver dog Max
Cadaver dog Max, with Rhode Island Urban Search and Rescue, Rhode Island Task Force One, goes through a Hurricane Katrina destroyed home and debris field in search of possible bodies outside of Waveland, Miss.,

Waveland, Mississippi took the brunt of Katrina in terms of wind and water damage.
WAVELAND, Mississippi (AP) -- Hurricane Katrina seemed to take a particular vengeance out on Waveland, Mississippi.

The storm virtually took out Waveland, prompting state officials to say it took a harder hit from the wind and water than any other town along the coast.

Rescue workers there Wednesday found shell-shocked survivors scavenging what they could from homes and businesses that were completely washed away.

Mayan Hurricane Preparedness

The legacies of Atlantic tropical cyclones span many cultures and thousands of years. Early evidence of these storms predates extant weather records. Geologists believe that layers of sediment at the bottom of a lake in Alabama were brought there from the nearby Gulf of Mexico by storm surges associated with intense hurricanes that occurred as much as 3,000 years ago (Liu and Fearn 1993). Similarly, sediment cores from the Florida west coast indicate exceptional freshwater floods during strong hurricanes more than a thousand years ago (Davis et al. 1989).

Perhaps the first human record of Atlantic tropical cyclones appears in Mayan hieroglyphics (Konrad 1985). By customarily building their major settlements away from the hurricane-prone coastline, the Mayans practiced a method of disaster mitigation (Konrad 1985) that, if rigorously applied today, would reduce the potential for devastation along coastal areas (e.g., Pilkey et al. 1984; Sheets 1990).

Many storms left important marks on regional history. In 1609, a fleet of ships carrying settlers from England to Virginia was struck by a hurricane. Some of the ships were damaged and part of the fleet grounded at Bermuda (The Encyclopedia Americana 1994). The passengers became Bermuda's first inhabitants and their stories helped inspire Shakespeare's writing of The Tempest (Carpenter and Carpenter 1993).

In several incidents, tropical cyclones destroyed otherwise invincible colonial armadas (Millas 1968; Hughes 1987). The French lost their bid to control the Atlantic coast of North America when a 1565 hurricane dispersed their fleet, allowing the Spanish to capture France's Fort Caroline near present-day Jacksonville, Florida. In 1640, a hurricane partially destroyed a large Dutch fleet apparently poised to attack Havana. Another naval disaster occurred in 1666 to Lord Willoughby (the British Governor of Barbados) and his fleet of seventeen ships and nearly 2,000 troops. The fleet was caught in a hurricane near the Lesser Antilles. Only a few vessels were ever heard from again and the French captured some of the survivors. According to Sugg (1968), the 1640 and 1666 events secured, more or less, control of Cuba by the Spaniards and Guadeloupe by the French. More than two centuries later, commenting on the Spanish-American War, President McKinley declared that he feared a hurricane more than the Spanish Navy (Dunn 1971). McKinley's concern translated to a revamped United States hurricane warning service, forerunner of today's National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Michael Kinsley on Katrina and hindsight

The fetid aroma of hindsight

Of the hundreds of editorials written on Katrina, this is one of the few worth reading. Nothing written by the ideologues at the New York Times, or their total output, comes close.

.....Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu and other Louisiana politicians, for instance, have been flashing their foresight all over the tube. They say they asked repeatedly for more money so that the Army Corps of Engineers could strengthen the levees, but repeatedly the Bush administration actually cut the corps' budget instead.

The Corps of Engineers itself is feeling pretty smug. It has long wanted money to build levees that would even survive a Category 5 hurricane, let alone a measly Category 4 like Katrina.

Sure, and if there were a Category 6 or a Category 473, there would be a dusty Corps of Engineers report in a filing cabinet somewhere, asking for money to protect against that one too. The Corps of Engineers has done many marvelous things. But it would cement over the Great Lakes and level Mt. Rainier if we would let it. Its warnings about natural disasters are like the warnings of that famous economist who has predicted 10 of the last five recessions.

Likewise, a senator may not be the best judge of the need for a vast federal construction project in her state. Landrieu's I-told-you-so's would be more impressive if the press release archive on her website didn't contain equally urgent calls to spend billions of dollars to build boats the Navy hasn't asked for in Louisiana shipyards, self-congratulations for having planted a billion dollars of "coastal impact assistance" for Louisiana in the energy bill (this is before the flood), and so on. Did she want flood control or did she want $10 million to have " America's largest river swamp" declared a "National Heritage Area"?

Obviously — obviously in hindsight, that is — we should have spent the money to strengthen the New Orleans levees. President Clinton should have done it. Presidents Bush the Elder and Reagan should have done it. As Tim Noah notes in Slate, warnings about the perilous New Orleans levees go back at least to Fanny Trollope in 1832. In fact, the one president who is pretty much in the clear on this is our current Bush — not because he did anything about the levees but because even if he had started something, it probably wouldn't have been finished yet.

Everybody is having a fine fit about our politicians, governments at every level and "institutions" (current vogue word) for failing us in this crisis and others. The TV news networks, which only a few months ago were piously suppressing emotional fireworks by their pundits, are now piously encouraging their news anchors to break out of the emotional straitjackets and express outrage. A Los Angeles Times colleague of mine, appearing on CNN last week to talk about Katrina, was told by a producer to "get angry." But just Google a phrase like "commission warns," or "urgent steps" or "our children's future" — or simply "crisis" — and you may develop a bit of sympathy for the people who stand accused today of ignoring the warnings about anything in particular. Far from complacent about potential perils, we suffer from peril gridlock.

Did all the attention and money devoted to protecting us from a terror attack after 9/11 leave us less prepared for a giant flood? Undoubtedly. And if the flood had come first, the opposite would be true. We, the citizens, would have demanded it, and then blamed the politicians and the "institutions" when it turned out to be a bad bet. There is no foresight. We fight the last war because hindsight is all we really have.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Second American Revolution, Socialism?

In the malaria swamps of the radical Left (no, not New Orleans, yet) it is common to hear cries for revolution, political assassinations, or callous disregard for the lives of others. It's easy to discount these ideas as the products of diseased minds, in part because they are the products of diseased minds in many cases. Even the KKK has toned down its rhetoric compared to people like Ward Churchill, Robert Jensen, Michael Moore, or Cindy Sheehan (the list is endless so I'll stop here). Unlike the KKK, which was bankrupted through litigation, the Left has yet to meet legal opposition, controls most of academia, has enormous sway in the mainstream media, and uses cries of "McCarthyism" to silence any honest criticism.

It's important to remember that the political landscape changed after Karl Marx became the most popular philosopher in history. Though political science and economics arguably peaked long before his writings, Marx's sway over the average person is probably greater now than it was before the Russian Revolution of 1917. In a recent poll, Karl Marx was voted the most popular philosopher in the UK.

In the United States, unlike Europe, politicians, pundits, and spokesmen twist words, distorting meanings like the wreckage of the World Trade Center, to avoid the label "socialist." This bastardization of the language has come to the point where the word "liberal" is often disputed by politicians or pundits who are obviously Marxists. In past centuries, "liberal" could be imperfectly analogized to modern libertarianism.

Before someone violates "Beagle's First Corollary to Godwin's Law: substitute McCarthy for Hitler" (a rule I coined years ago at the Straight Dope), I would like to state FOR THE RECORD it would be better if political affiliations and beliefs were honestly depicted as they are in Europe. I don't have subpoena power, police powers, or hold elected office. Abusing my authority is nearly impossible unless I were to hit one of my dogs. There should be a viable socialist party in the United States. The Congressional Black Caucus, Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi, Teddy "never loses at quarters" Kennedy, and John Kerry (the list is endless so I'll stop here) could be the founders of a new, honest "progressive" (read: socialist) party.

Many Democrats, even Republicans, hold Marxist beliefs about the role of government in society and the economy. A substantial number of these people are unaware how many ideas of the original Marxists are not only accepted, but long-standing government policies and programs.

However, in the realm of individual freedoms, democracy, and civil rights, the Marxist-Communist ideals are far from being realized in the United States. In Belgium, where courts can destroy political parties for publishing true statements, publicly available government statistics, the reality is prosecution for Orwell's "thought crime." The next logical step for socialist-totalitarians (the two always converge at some point) is making such statistics unavailable or simply not keeping statistics, as France has chosen to do with regards to the 800+ "no-go zones" in majority Muslim areas. The Soviet Union was virtually "crime-free" if you're old enough to remember such things, excluding "counter-revolutionaries" of course.

As Europe drifts mindlessly towards the end of freedom of expression under the guise of fighting racism, it's important to remember the GREATEST WORK OF NON-FICTION WRITTEN DURING THE 1970's (please imagine "zarathustra" from 2001: A Space Odyssey):


Revel argued there were five necessary conditions for totalitarian socialism to overcome liberal, constitutional, democracy. I will quote them verbatim from "Chapter 2: The Five Conditions" and let you answer the question I posed in the title for yourself.

1. There must be a critique of the injustice existing in economic, social, and racial relationships.

2. There must be a critique of management, directed against the waste of material and human resources. This is related to the preceding critique, since it demonstrates that injustice results in inefficiency, and thus in counter-productivity and in the ruin of a nation's resources. It also calls into question the orientation of technological progress toward goals that are either useless or harmful to man.

3. There must be a critique of political power, directed against the source and principles as well as against its exercise, the conditons in which it is exercised, distributed, or monopolized, the localization of decision-making powers, the relationship between the consequences of these decisons for the people, and the difficulty (or the impossibility) for the people of participating in these decisions.

4. There must be a critique of the culture: of morality, religion, accepted beliefs, customs, philosophy, literature, art; of the ideological attitudes which underlie these things; of the function of culture and of intellectuals in society; and of the distribution of that culture (education, communication, information).

5. There must be a critique of the old civilization-as-sanction, or a vindication of individual freedom. This critique is aimed at the relations between society and the individual. In it, the individual is considered as as sensitive and original being, rather than as a citizen; and society is regarded as a means either of developing or distorting the proper worth of each individual. Such a critique measures, for example, the failure of a society to deal with poverty and the sterility of the human relations it establishes (brotherhood versus aggressiveness); with the uniformity of the human types it engenders (conformity); in general, with the restraints with which it burdens the people, and the obstacles which it places in the development of individual potential and self-identity. In this context, revolution is seen as the liberation of the creative personality and the awakening of personal initiative, as opposed to the "closed horizons," the climate of frustration and despair, which prevail in repressive societies.

The Five Conditions do not serve as a summary of Without Marx or Jesus. I'd recommend reading the entire book, or some reviews, to understand how the Five Conditions relate to Revel's thesis.

I bring up the Five Conditions for the reader to judge the American Socialist Revolution for herself.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Hurricane Survival Tips - Katrina - A Floridian Speaks

[Aside: OK, maybe I do read my comments. I was willing to say anything to end the spam attack. I'd kill a spammer with my bare hands just to make the prescription drug spam in my e-mail box go away. Lying is small potatos compared to homicide, however justified.]


As the blame game continues after days of intense partisan political combat, perhaps it's time to give Katrina a bit of historical context and try to learn some lessons unrelated to blaming forces of nature on a particular politician. Florida was hit by four hurricanes last year. We took the brunt of Charley (strong Cat I when he hit us) after he'd traveled over 100 miles of Florida. Frances was a rain grinder, slow-moving, but still dangerous.

1. The only sure way to survive a hurricane is to get out of its path.

2. Wind. There are many ways a hurricane can kill you. The most obvious characteristic of a hurricane is the wind speed. This is one useful measure of the strength of a hurricane, but rarely the cause of many fatalties. It is possible for the wind to propel an object like a sign, piece of a house, or awning straght into your head. This rarely occurs. More often the wind rips the roof off a house and things collapse on the occupants. Giant oak trees, seemingly a symbol of stability and strength, will fall during a Cat I storm. If the tree itself doesn't fall, the overhanging limbs will. OAK TREES KILL PEOPLE!

3. Rain. Hurricanes generate enormous rainfall. Slow-moving storms like Frances generate the most rain. Fast-moving storms like Charley drop less rain, at the cost of maintaining more wind speed as they race over land. Inland flooding kills a surprising number of people.

4. Storm surge. Near the coast, storm surge is the most destructive force of a hurricane. It happens quickly, and can catch people before they are aware of the danger.

5. Power lines. Just as people emerge from their homes to assess the damage, thinking the worst is over, very often they are faced with downed power lines. These kill a surprising number of people. Sometimes the power lines look dead, yet carry enough current to electrocute the survivors of all the other elements of the storm.

6. Clean up. In Florida, some people died trying to saw and remove large limbs from their property. It's a bit like shoveling snow. Sometimes people have the endurance for it, sometimes not.

7. Tornados. Hurricanes spawn tornados, some more than others. THE NORTHEAST QUADRANT OF A HURRICANE SPAWNS THE MOST TORNADOS AND PACKS THE MOST WIND. This is why we see more wind damage to the East of New Orleans after Katrina. Just as Frances was leaving us last year, sitting in the dangerous Northeast quadrant, we received a tornado warning from our weather radio. I went outside and heard the terrifying sound of two bricks grinding together, the sound you hear when a tornado passes over. There was a tornado, but it was overhead in the clouds.

8. Flooding. Watching the aftermath of Katrina, there isn't much reason to discuss this. Ordinarily the first responders can get out from one to three days after a hurricane. When 80% of a major city sits below sea level, evacuation orders are late and ignored, the logisitcs in rescuing thousands of people is compounded manifold over the usual problems of downed trees, power lines, collapsed or moved buildings, and debris. Helicopters and flat-bottomed boats do not grow on trees near disasters.

9. A LACK OF PREPARATION. Nothing kills more people than poor planning. As I noted at the top, there are no guarantees when you choose to "ride it out."

Katrina is the first storm I can recall where the first responders were criticized for not being there the day of the disaster and the day after. Everyone who's been through a major storm knows the bare minimum of potable water and non-perishible food to have on hand should last at least a week. Bottled water is nice, but you can bottle your own tap water in any container available. Filling bathtubs with water, sinks, bottles, every glass in the house, old milk jugs, jars, aluminum cans, whatever, is critical to survival. This must be done BEFORE the storm pollutes the water supply.

I was shocked when two days after Katrina hit there were desperate pleas for water. This is inexcusable given the history of major hurricanes destroying transportaton infrastructure. Able-bodied people must make some basic preparations for storms if they choose to ride them out. First responders will be tied up with the infirm, sick, and disabled.

Ignoring the personalites involved, what went wrong during Katrina?

1. The mandatory evacuation was ordered about three days too late. By the 26th of August the entire Gulf Coast from East Texas to the Panhandle of Florda should have been under a mandatory evacuation.

2. The major arteries connecting New Orleans to the rest of the world were not shifted to one-way (out!) traffic. The Florida Keys always reverse the roads days before a major storm is predicted to hit.

3. There was no evacuation of the hospitals. Power never survives a major storm. Emergency power is sure to fail within a week or so. There are no guarantees power can be restored in months, much less weeks. After Charley some people were without power for months (again, a strong Cat I).

4. There were no provisons at the designated shelters. Port-a-pottys showed up as some of the last refugees were leaving the Superdome. Hurricane prone areas like New Orleans should at least have potable water and MRE's stored in bulk for such contingencies. Moreover, shelters should be well known, not picked at the last minute.

5. No evacuation help was provided to those without transportation. All the school buses in New Orleans sat in their parking lots and became flooded. The late evacuation, clogged highways, and ignorance of the official Louisiana policy on evacuations didn't help matters.

6. There must be law enforcement planning already in place before the storm hits. Police officers should have designated rally points at critical areas in the city, sufficient supplies, communications not dependent on existing infrastructure, and a plan of action.

7. Finally, the culture of always being missed by storms caused a general sense of "It won't happen to us." The last storm to hit New Orleans in force was Betsy in 1965. The worst attitude to have about a giant storm is thinking it won't hit you. Katrina's size alone should have terrified everyone along the Gulf Coast. She was no ordinary hurricane, more like a giant Pacific cyclone.

The politics of hurricane Katrina have overshadowed the realites of riding out hurricanes. YOU WILL BE ON YOUR OWN FOR DAYS IN THE BEST OF CIRCUMSTANCES. If you cannot prepare for three days of no food, water, medicine, or power, you MUST run from the storm.