Saturday, October 29, 2005

Hurricane Wilma

We got knocked offline, literally, for 48 hours, beginning with the arrival of the first tropical storm gusts of Hurricane Wilma, about 2:30 a.m., October 24. I'm watching satellite images of the storm approaching the Gulf coast and then zap--we're blinked back to the pre-electrical age, to conjure images of candle making and whale slaughter. But what was the nature of the hurricane that brought more devastation to Miami-Dade County than anything since Andrew blasted ashore in '92--and Andrew was a tightly wound category 5--the highest--monster? The early analyses and reassessments underscore the difficulty we have measuring, much less reconstructing events, even, or maybe especially, those we have lived through.

Initial reports were of a hurricane that contrary to expectations--meaning to notoriously unreliable models--ramped up to Category 3 status before landfall near Naples, Florida, and lost little power on its rapid crossing of the peninsula, blasting the Southeast coast with winds of 120 to 125 mph. The University of Wisconsin's Tropical Cyclone site, in the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS), reflects that assessment in its excellent storm track map.

But several days later, University of Miami researcher, Sharanya Majundar, concluded that Wilma was primarily a Category 1 storm that crossed Florida with 85 mph winds, about what Katrina carried on its run in the opposite direction a month earlier. The October 29 Miami Herald (registration required) carried a good story on the issue, proposing that microbursts could have abounded or that coming in across the Everglades, the storm picked up debris with which to batter buildings and vegetation. For now, there is debate without resolution.

Although officialdom seems to have embraced the lower classification, no one who experienced the storm--at least among the people I've talked to--believes that Wilma was Category 1, the same as Katrina when it crossed Florida. Wilma wind gusts in the range 0f 120 to 125 mph were recorded in Broward County and on Miami Beach. That's Category 3. But those were gusts, and, indeed, from my unscientific perspective the pulsating quality of these winds was what was remarkable, especially after the elongatedd eye passed far enough to the west of Miami Beach that we had no calm.

Instead, the wind shifted in the blink of an eye from the southeast to southwest and turned explosively concussive, percussive. Blowing at its sustained rate of 85 mph--or whatever--enough to bend the palms double, their fronds whiplashing air and ground and any object within reach--the wind would seem to pause, take a breath as it were, then boom. A wall of wind would burst forth, driving the frenzied palms supine, snaping tree limbs, uprooting banyans that had escaped Katrina. The house would vibrate and emit a deep, rolling rumble, like far distant thunder. After five minutes or so, that onslaught would pause, meaning the wind speed would collapse back to its base of 85 mph for a momentary inhalation before exploding again. I don't have official records, but by my calculation, that pattern repeated itself continuously for an hour to an hour and a half, and it was brutal--to plants, buildings, people and critters, physically and psychologically--after especially after the prolonged onslaught, the softening up, as it were, from the southeast.

The westerlies might have benefitted imperial Spain by blowing the treasure fleets from the New World to the Old, but from my experience the west wind is an ill wind for the Southeast coast of Florida, bringing hot, humid weather, if not storms.

Perhaps, Wilma seems all the more intense because it passed by day--Katrina passed through at night, as did Andrew (largely). We watched and, like people through time, we might have overestimated the power of what we observed, but I have to use the qualifier because, as I said, all the people I talked to after the storm--those who were here--said, yes, this Wilma was powerful, worse than they expected, considerably worse than Katrina, just look at the destruction. Yet, they always added, Andrew was much worse. I add that by way of illustrating that people are quite capable of judging relative strength, even if they lack precise data.

By any measure Wilma was a brutal storm, especially those winds that hit us on Miami Beach from the southwest. That said, except for considerable damage to our vegetation--three trees gone and two more in need of righting, if we can stand them back up, along with some loosened roof tiles, we were lucky. Our 1925 house stood up to another hurricane--the 1926 storm that flooded Miami Beach and Andrew, and now Wilma, the most destructive among them.

I'd rather it didn't have to do so. After two hurricanes and two near misses that produced prolonged tropical storm force winds this year, most people I know are hurricane weary, and there is still a month to go in the season. That's right, a month was added to the traditional season because global warming keeps the tropics hot.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Dog Story

Rising from the mire of depressing news is the tale of Laurel, Maryland, lawyer and Army captain John E. Smathers who for 18 months devoted himself to finding and flying to this country, a little pariah dog he'd adopted in Iraq. Ruben Castaneda tells the story in today's Washington Post.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Spy Games

If I were going to write a rank spy novel that was so outlandish, it could only be based on real people and events, I would have as my morally and ethically challenged agent a reporter for the "paper of record." I thought the conspiracy crowd would invent that plot line in the wake of Judith Miller's bizarre account of the principles and facts that led her to spend 85 days in jail for refusing to testify about conversations she had with Cheney operative Scooter Libby over another CIA agent, who happened to be married to a former ambassador and part-time Company contractor, who was exposing as fake one of their chief justifications for invading Iraq--that Saddam was trying build a thremonuclear weapon. But I've not seen that the conspiracy crowd wants to go near this one.

Eric Alterman , a respected and rational writer, called Miller, "the Manchurian reporter.' That's close. I always figured that she went to jail not to protect a source for a Valerie "Flame" article she never wrote--and how can anyone believe she doesn't remember who gave her the name?--this is the same woman who had a fit after Robert Novak "scooped" her in outing "Valerie Plame"--rather she sat in a cage for 85 days so she wouldn't have to reveal the prime sources for her bogus WMD reports for the New York Times. Those sources would invevitably reveal the depths of her connection to the Bushies and blow her cover, if she had a cover to blow.

Were I inventing a "Judith Miller" and wanting her story to make sense--and right now it doesn't--I would make her a double player in the Great Game--first, as a card-carrying journalist and, second, as an agent of some obscure intelligence service, acting out of a sense of duty, a love for adventure, and overarching arrogance paired with extreme self doubt. The only way for this fictional agent, "Judith," to deal with her subpoena is, in fact, to resist until she can exact a promise that the prosecutor won't question her about her conversations with anyone but Libby--and that because Libby is basically irrelevant. Who seriously doubts that the chief bushbucker himself, along with his Dick, ordered the exposure of Valerie Plame--the Bush is all about petty vindictiveness? Why Fitzgerald took that deal is another question, especially in light of "Judith's" selective memory of sources names, but once he did accept it, she was home free. Or so she thought. She didn't consider that in order to protect her covert identity, she would have to discredit herself as a reporter, in large measure by portraying herself as a clueless ditz, who can't recall the name of the source for whom she spent 85 days in jail or much of anything else of substance. The irony there is that jail time as a martyr to the First Amendment was supposed to redeem her journalistic reputation after the WMD debacle. (It did for the Society of Professional Journalists.)

I say debacle, but from the standpoint of the Bushies, she performed to perfection, consistently placing complete bullshit about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction on the front page of the New York Times, which most memorably in the case of Saddam's nuclear dreams, the Bushies, most visibly Cheney and Rice, then used as "objective" evidence. Everyone knows how much they hate the Times, so no one would seriously believe that anyone at the Times would be working for them, would they?

I don't think that reality based Judith Miller is a secret agent for any national security agency. She would be more understandable if she were, because now we're left to believe that she is a lousy reporter who allowed herself to be duped repeatedly by her "sources" and made things up as she went along or out of hubris or a need for the attention of powerful men became a fellow traveler with the neocon Bushies. By all accounts, including her own, she is "Miss Run Amok," who has used her close personal relationship with New York Times's publisher Arthur Sulzberger. Jr., to do what she wanted within the Times.

The question is why he allowed her to do so, why Bill Keller allowed it? As by now, scores of people who have read Sunday's New York Times have observed--just, for example, see today's Financial Times--you don't want to let Judith Miller get her hands on....the wheel of your car, unless you're willing to sail off the cliff into a crowd of people.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

"Request for Domestic Covert Role Is Defended"

Right! That's the headline for Walter Pincus's article in today's Washington Post, detailing how the defense department wants to spy domestically in order to find people who might make good informants, and we're supposed to trust them not to abuse that "limited" authority and the Congress to make sure they don't. It's hard to know any longer whether to laugh, cry, or howl--the 50th anniversary of the first public reading of which was yesterday, 10/07. We're to trust the people who don't believe they have to follow international conventions against torture of prisoners, people who have slaughtered thousands in a war of aggression launched on the basis of trumped up "intelligence," people who regularly mislead and lie to recruits--the list goes on--not to mention a Congress which loudly approved the "war," condones the torture, and ignores every sort of incompetence and negligence? Right!

And speaking of that war, there's a growing, gnawing sense among people on the ground that the Bushbuckers' form of democracy in Iraq is fueling the "insurgency"--in quotes because we all should recognize by now that it's a civil war--and not creating the glorious model society they keep praising, according to today's Los Angeles Times. I wonder when the Bushbuckers will back a new strong man.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Harriet Miers +Torture + 9/11 + Just Say No!

Forget about Harriet Miers stands on a woman's right to control her own body or the right of men, women, cats, dogs, and all other living creatures to fornicate with and pledge undying love for whomever they please. She's not going to reveal her thoughts on those topics anyway. But do ask her about the torture of prisoners of war/terrorists/people the Bush and his Bushies dislike, and do ask her about that August 6, 2001, briefing at the ranch in Crawford, which she reportedly arranged. The Smoking Gun carried it when released back in April 2004, and Editor and Publisher referenced it on October 4, 2005. As a reminder, the briefing was titled "Bin Laden Determined To Strike in U.S." History, Dr. Condi Rice called it in her testimony before the 9/11 commission. But presidents don't get briefed during their vacations on "history," especially the ahistorical Bushbucker. And history does not say the FBI has some 70 investigations underway because it has identified “patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks.” So Miers should be asked why she deemed this little memo important enough to interrupt bushwhacking but then, apparently, let it slide, as did the chief bushucker himself. Did they need time, date, and flight numbers? Did the Bush nod off and take his minders with him to his dreamland?

Monday, October 03, 2005

New Orleans Renewed

The Washington Post reports today that more than a few people would like to see the lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans and perhaps other parts of the drowned city restored to bayou or, at least, not rebuilt, since they will surely flood again. That doubtless doesn't please those residents who want to return, nor should it. But it's typically American. New Orleans is an environmental, economic, social, and political disaster, to be sure. There are abudnant reasons to return the Misssissippi to its historic course and let the bayous replenish themselves and the lower Ninth Ward return to cypress swamp--with considerable help from us. There are also numerous--and excellent--reasons for rebuilding those poor neighborhoods. But rather than do both, Americans will engage in dualistic argument, reflecting our cultural divorcement from "nature."

There is no reason, except a lack of imagination, not to combine the two needs--to remake the Ninth Ward and New Orleans in general as an eco-Venice for the 21st century. That's right--bring the river and the wetlands into the city and design the city to accommodate itself and its citizens to nature, rather than bending nature to the needs of humans. To do that, first expropriate the slumlords and then sell the property back to the people who lived there, at a reduced rate. That's an ownership society! Replace the streets with canals and only allow electric or human power. Follow the Dutch model and build houses that can float on a flood. Alternative power; the latest sewage and water treatment. Since the former residents are now stakeholders, if they want to sell, they can.

What right do outsiders have to make suggestions and policies? Well, last I checked the federal government is picking up the tab for rebuilding, which gives us all a vote. What's needed is the "vision thing."