Category Archives: Weather

Improper Takings

One of the segments on the Texas Standard today caught my ear,


TEXAS STANDARD – FORT BEND COUNTY SUES US ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS OVER HARVEY-RELATED FLOODING

Texas Standard

[Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert] says the reservoir was built in such a way that overspill and flooding of private property was inevitable. “It should be quite obvious when the federal property ends at an elevation of 95 feet and the emergency spillway for the reservoir is at 107 feet, something’s wrong.”

I’m not sure how the host of the show was confused by the math in that statement, but doing the math you come to the answer of twelve feet of water being stored on private property when the reservoir is at 100% capacity. This fact should have been evident in the original designs of the reservoir, as I’m sure the County Judge knows. The original construction documents would have these measurements on them.

Anyone buying property behind the dam would have been advised that their property was located in a flood plain, could be subject to flooding if the reservoir was filled to capacity. There are many homes located in floodplains like this everywhere across Texas at least. Probably across the US if not the entire world. If this fact wasn’t disclosed to prospective buyers before they signed contracts, then there is quite a bit of liability there to go around. Not just the corps of engineers, but the county, the developers, the mortgage lenders, the realtors who sold the property, etc. I suspect that there are going to be a lot of lawsuits filed over this in the coming months. At least 3100 of them, possibly a multiple of that number depending on how wealthy the landowners are, and how many governmental bodies had jurisdiction over the property being sold.

I think the county is trying to avoid being sued themselves, that’s how I read this. It’s hard to get a lawsuit to stick against a county when that county is already engaged in a lawsuit against the governmental body, the Army Corps of Engineers, that is responsible for constructing a reservoir that was designed to store twelve feet of water on private land in the first place. Proving the county knew this fact beforehand should be a simple matter of discovery. So I’m not sure how well this defensive action will work, but I wish the county luck.

This entire mess is proof positive that you should take the time to read your contracts before signing them. Have an attorney read them over for you, at the very least. It blows my mind the number of people who just sign contracts without understanding the liability they are assuming in putting their signature on a document that they haven’t read. 

Puerto Rico: Trump’s Katrina

The catastrophe that was hurricane Irma’s impact on Puerto Rico has now been exacerbated by the catastrophe of American disdain for the brown-skinned, this disdain having taken the form of the sitting President of the United States. Readers of the blog will know my preferred tagline for him, but it bears repeating that he is the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) which is my shorthand for the accumulated ire of white America that he embodies, and an accurate descriptor of how he is seen by outside observers.

As of this past week, everyone can see the real OHM, the one I’ve been describing since last October. This is him, coldly calculating how to stir up his base and secure victory for the Republicans and through them, his re-election in 2020; all with the final goal of allowing him to continue to steal from American citizens as he has been doing since taking office last January twentieth. Targeting the free press,


from On The Media, Losing Power

Threatening to nationalize the NFL (socialized football) over a completely made up issue, players taking a knee in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick; who was excluded from playing football this year in retaliation for exercising his first amendment speech rights during the games last year, a subject I talked at length about in Disrespecting the Flag a few weeks ago.

He’s also gone into a full-court press promoting his latest version of Reaganomics, another piece I’ve been writing on but isn’t finished yet. At the same time as drumming up hatred for the press, for football players who have political opinions, and promoting giving himself a tax cut while claiming he isn’t doing that, the OHM is also stripping the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) of every dollar he can take away from it administratively, since the House of Representatives and the Senate will not cut their own throats at his insistence and pass legislation ending the ACA, more commonly known as Obamacare. They’ve gotten the feedback from their constituents. People are scared of losing their medical coverage, and with good reason. A reason that the OHM will make perfectly clear over the next few months, which is yet another article that I’m working on at the moment now that the other shoe on the subject of health care appears to have dropped. Too much bullshit in the air, not enough time to write the words to describe it before it lands on all our heads.

All of this is going on while people are dying in Puerto Rico for lack of supplies that the OHM and his Republicans allies in congress could fix if only they cared about the welfare of the citizens of the United States,


from On The Media, Losing Power

Puerto Rico is not a state, true, but Puerto Ricans are American citizens all the same. I know that the average white guy can’t tell the difference between Mexicans and Indians (natives of India, not the Americas. Stay with me here) even when they speak, but it is a demonstrable fact that Puerto Ricans are exactly the same kind of Americans as any redneck you could pull out of his truck in any Southern state. My apologies for lowering the social status of assorted brown-skinned people with that off-hand comparison.

Their status as American citizens is easily demonstrable because the law that made them citizens carries the same name, Jones Act, as the law that is being used to kill them with thirst, heat and hunger now, Jones Act. The first Jones Act, more properly known as the Jones–Shafroth Act (so much more illuminating with that name) set up the governmental authority that runs Puerto Rico to the current day. We made them citizens, we gave them government like ours, and we have controlled that island nation ever since.

We control it because of the second Jones Act, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, which forbids ships that are not American ships crewed with American crews from moving freight between two American ports, functionally making it impossible to get supplies from the mainland US to Puerto Rico now without breaking the law.

Planet Money Episode 524: Mr Jones’ Act

If you want to send a bunch of oranges by truck from Florida to Baltimore, no one cares who made the truck. Or if you want to fly computer chips across the country, it’s fine if the plane is made in France. But if you want send cargo by ship, there’s a law that the ship has to be American made. – Planet Money, Mr. Jones’ Act

The OHM did waive the Jones act requirements for ten days, but those ten days have come and gone. It takes a lot longer to purchase the goods, fill the ship and move it to Puerto Rico than a ten day waiver will allow for. It was a meaningless face-saving gesture that allows the OHM to point to something and pretend that he cares. He doesn’t care and neither does his supporters who have attacked me more than once for defending Puerto Rico on different social platforms. I can’t repeat the things that they’ve said about Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans largely because I delete their offensive comments when I can and block the speaker when I can’t.

The US and the world have forgotten about Puerto Rico, ravaged by two successive hurricanes and a month later still largely without power and running water. They have forgotten but the fact that this suffering goes on largely unreported says more about Americans and their leader than any of us are comfortable admitting. We are happy to profit off the sick, the suffering of other people. Puerto Rico’s largest problem is the fact that the government there was lead down the same golden path as Greece was, with one major difference. Greece was allowed to re-negotiate their debts and will probably be given another chance to do it again. Puerto Rico is being held to account for every dollar they borrowed by greedy Wall Street bankers, and the OHM is more than happy to side with Wall Street when there is money to be directly stolen from poor, suffering brown-skinned people.

Pundits asked each other for eight years is this Obama’s Katrina? And each time it was shown that they were wrong. They were wrong because, as many flaws as there were in the Bush II (W) administration, W was capable of learning where he messed up, and Obama continued the progress that W had started with FEMA and the federal government writ large. Disaster after disaster, Obama and the federal government got better at coping with the problems, which is the way it should be.

After an earthquake shattered Haiti’s capital on Jan. 12, 2010, the U.S. military mobilized as if it were going to war.

Before dawn the next morning, an Army unit was airborne, on its way to seize control of the main airport in Port-au-Prince. Within two days, the Pentagon had 8,000 American troops en route. Within two weeks, 33 U.S. military ships and 22,000 troops had arrived. More than 300 military helicopters buzzed overhead, delivering millions of pounds of food and water.

No two disasters are alike. Each delivers customized violence that cannot be fully anticipated. But as criticism of the federal government’s initial response to the crisis in Puerto Rico continued to mount Thursday, the mission to Haiti — an island nation several hundred miles from the U.S. mainland — stands as an example of how quickly relief efforts can be mobilized.

Washington Post Video

By contrast, eight days after Hurricane Maria ripped across neighboring Puerto Rico, just 4,400 service members were participating in federal operations to assist the devastated island, an Army general told reporters Thursday. In addition, about 1,000 Coast Guard members were aiding the efforts. About 40 U.S. military helicopters were helping to deliver food and water to the 3.4 million residents of the U.S. territory, along with 10 Coast Guard helicopters.

Leaders of the humanitarian mission in Haiti said in interviews that they were dismayed by the relative lack of urgency and military muscle in the initial federal response to Puerto Rico’s catastrophe. – The Washington Post U.S. response in Puerto Rico pales next to actions after Haiti quake

The Breach: How and Why Trump Is Screwing Over Puerto Rico

When the OHM took office, all the progress enacted by Bush II and then Obama on disaster relief through FEMA and other agencies stopped. Stopped cold and then went into reverse. With his gutting of the executive offices under his control, and his unwillingness to take the job of president seriously outside of  his weekend golf game where all the deals happen, there is no one left to take the helm. At least W didn’t brag about how good he did post-Katrina. Didn’t chastise the poor and destitute of New Orleans for asking for relief. The OHM dares to insult and scorn anybody and anything, and Republican boot-lickers in the House and Senate are all too eager to let him do whatever he wants.

If you vote for a Republican in the next election you will be supporting this hateful process, this lack of progress, too. Food for thought.


Since I wrote this article there have been several podcasts that I’ve listened to that deal with the continuing issues in Puerto Rico. I’m going to append them here, as well as any informative news articles I run across dealing with the subject.

LatinoUSA, Surviving the Storm


On The Media, After the Storm

One hundred days later, More Puerto Ricans have done without power, subsequent to hurricane Maria, for longer than any other storm in US history since the introduction of electricity into the US.

Rhodium Group

The outages have proved deadly, with people unable to use lifesaving medical equipment like dialysis machines, and they’ve contributed to Puerto Rico’s official death toll of 64.

As we’ve reported here at Vox, the actual number of fatalities is likely much higher, a development that has prompted lawmakers to ask for an audit. BuzzFeed also reported that there have been more than 900 cremations across the island since the hurricane without medical examination.

And electricity may not be restored fully in Puerto Rico and the USVI until May, since emergency managers are still reeling from the devastation across the United States in 2017, spreading thin reconstruction supplies like utility poles and power lines across all disaster areas spanning from California to Florida. Vox. com

In the podcast The1A, Months After Maria, it was reported the official death toll from the hurricane remains at 64; however, statistical analysis reveals that about a thousand additional deaths occurred due to the continuing power outages on the island since the hurricane struck. This was also reported in depth on LatinoUSA,

LatinoUSA, The Death Count

The Two-Way, FEMA To End Food And Water Aid For Puerto Rico

In a sign that FEMA believes the immediate humanitarian emergency has subsided, on Jan. 31 it will, in its own words, “officially shut off” the mission it says has provided more than 30 million gallons of potable water and nearly 60 million meals across the island in the four months since the hurricane. The agency will turn its remaining food and water supplies over to the Puerto Rican government to finish distributing.

Some on the island believe it’s too soon to end these deliveries given that a third of residents still lack electricity and, in some places, running water, but FEMA says its internal analytics suggest only about 1 percent of islanders still need emergency food and water. The agency believes that is a small enough number for the Puerto Rican government and nonprofit groups to handle.


PBS NewsHour: Displaced Puerto Ricans, now living in hotels, may soon lose housing


PBS NewsHour, As thousands of students leave Puerto Rico, hundreds of its schools to remain closed

Global Warming Versus Global Greening

Climate science. Climate science features highly in my laundry list of reasons for why I no longer consider myself a libertarian. You couldn’t swing a dead cat in libertarian gatherings without hitting a conspiracy fantasist or a climate denier when I left the Libertarian Party in 2008.

I find the phrase knows just enough to be dangerous to be quite apt when it comes to most things climate science. This applies even more strongly to those within the scientific fields than it does to the man on the street who is just trying to get by in life working three jobs and sharing an apartment with 3 other people.

The video (and transcript) below were shared by a friend the other day. I tuned out of watching the video when I realized that the article beneath it was just a transcript of the video presentation. The fact that my friend didn’t believe in anthropogenic climate change the last time I checked influenced my dismissal of the video as Not. Real. Science. There was also the looming risk of being sucked into another conspiracy fantasy to factor into the weight I would give any data found within the article.

Everyone has a bias. Especially people who disagree with science.

My friend insisted that I had to watch the video or at least read the transcript, so I bit the bullet and watched. I’m not making any promises on producing insights that would be accepted by anyone who would deny climate changes, the determinable causes of climate changing, but I’ll give it my best shot.

There is a transcript available at this link.

First off, if I had realized that the video was from the GWPF I would have been a little slower to dismiss it. I don’t write about climate change on this blog very much because, quite frankly, I’m one of the dangerous people. I know just enough about the subject to get myself into trouble and can be (demonstrably have been with other subjects) lead down rabbit holes unless I keep my guard up.

I was slow to buy in to the idea that climate change was a thing because of this, and for a brief time was in the same camp as several of my friends (and the late author Michael Crichton as another example) that climate change was some kind of conspiracy. It wasn’t until I ran across this argument presented on 350.org that I realized just how demonstrable AGW was,

Since the beginning of human civilization, our atmosphere contained about 275 ppm of carbon dioxide. That is the planet “on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.” Beginning in the 18th century, humans began to burn coal, gas, and oil to produce energy and goods. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere began to rise, at first slowly and now more quickly. Many of the activities we do every day like turning the lights on, cooking food, or heating our homes rely on energy sources that emit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. We’re taking millions of years worth of carbon, once stored beneath the earth as fossil fuels, and releasing it into the atmosphere.

Right now we’re at 400 ppm, and we’re adding 2 ppm of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. Unless we are able to rapidly turn that around and return to below 350 ppm this century, we risk triggering tipping points and irreversible impacts that could send climate change spinning truly beyond our control.

Ice cores demonstrate that throughout human history (several hundred thousand years in fact) CO2 levels have remained low. What CO2 was prior to human history is hard to determine. Hard to determine because discovering clues to that data in geologic strata is hard. However, as this study notes,

The carbon dioxide (CO2) content of the atmosphere has varied cyclically between ~180 and ~280 parts per million by volume over the past 800,000 years, closely coupled with temperature and sea level. For earlier periods in Earth’s history, the partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) is much less certain, and the relation between pCO2 and climate remains poorly constrained. We use boron/calcium ratios in foraminifera to estimate pCO2 during major climate transitions of the past 20 million years. During the Middle Miocene, when temperatures were ~3° to 6°C warmer and sea level was 25 to 40 meters higher than at present, pCO2 appears to have been similar to modern levels. Decreases in pCO2 were apparently synchronous with major episodes of glacial expansion during the Middle Miocene (~14 to 10 million years ago) and Late Pliocene (~3.3 to 2.4 million years ago).

I added bold to the important sentence in those findings. If you need help converting meters to feet, it’s about 3 feet to 1 meter. About floor 9 of a beachfront Miami condo for those still not getting the impact of sea level changes in our modern world. Manhattan will eventually be right on the water, which will mean it will take quite a trick to keep water out of those subways in the future.

In any case the speaker, Matt Ridley,  agrees with virtually everything the IPCC concludes are science. The one verifiably true thing aside from these concessions of agreement I heard by the 20 minute mark is that,

“We should take predictions of doom with a pinch of salt.”

Well, that is a no-brainer. I was reading books like ICE when I was in my teens. I was well aware that we were supposed to be caught up in a returning ice age by the time we got to 2000, according to the doom & gloom types, as the speaker goes into in the video (this is a myth, just FYI. A myth that I believed) I never bought into Al Gore’s propositions of global disaster from global warming; but the science is pretty solid as I noted above, and it is just the models which fail to predict outcomes in any meaningful way.

As far back as 2010 I was noting things like this,

Trees in the Eastern United States are growing faster than they have in the last two centuries in response to Earth’s warming climate, a new study finds.

For more than 20 years forest ecologist Geoffrey Parker, based at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center outside Washington, D.C., has tracked the growth of 55 stands of mixed hardwood forest plots in Maryland. 

Parker’s tree censuses over this period have revealed that these forested areas are packing on weight at a much faster rate than expected; on average, the forests are growing an additional 2 tons per acre annually. That works out to the equivalent of a tree with a diameter of 2 feet (0.6 m) sprouting up over a year.

And this in 2014,

Recent research has revealed that trees across the world continue to grow significantly faster than they did before the 1960s, but what’s the cause? Experts from Technische Universität München (TUM) provide evidence and speculation about this mysterious phenomenon in a recent study. 

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, details how the rate of tree growth, particularly in Central Europe, has increased by up to 70 percent over the last few decades. 

These findings were based on an analysis of long term data from experimental forest plots that have been in observation since 1870. The plots of forest were designed to serve as a representation for average soil and climate conditions throughout Central Europe.

I replied with this article in the thread,

Earlier this month, NASA scientists provided a visualization of a startling climate change trend — the Earth is getting greener, as viewed from space, especially in its rapidly warming northern regions. And this is presumably occurring as more carbon dioxide in the air, along with warmer temperatures and longer growing seasons, makes plants very, very happy.

Now, new research in Nature Climate Change not only reinforces the reality of this trend — which is already provoking debate about the overall climate consequences of a warming Arctic — but statistically attributes it to human causes, which largely means greenhouse gas emissions (albeit with a mix of other elements as well). 

The roughly three-decade greening trend itself is apparent, the study notes, in satellite images of “leaf area index” — defined as “the amount of leaf area per ground area,” as Robert Buitenwerf of Aaarhus University in Denmark explains in a commentary accompanying the study — across most of the northern hemisphere outside of the tropics, a region sometimes defined as the “extratropics.” Granted, there are a few patches in Alaska, Canada and Eurasia where greening has not been seen.

Before being pestered into watching the full video, commenting on the full transcript. The greening argument is old news for me. I’ve already looked into it. It is an interesting development. Its full impact is still unknown.

What I found most interesting in the talk was Matt Ridley’s note that most dire projections are based on RCP 8.5. I can agree with him on the lunacy of projecting based on this worst-case-scenario outcome. It just makes you look foolish when your predictions turn out to be so incredibly wrong.

Then he goes off the reservation and never returns.

No renewable energy subsidies? Fine. You first. Get the entirety of the rest of the fossil fuels industry to give up their subsidies and we’ll talk. Worse than being disinterested on the subject of Global Warming or Climate Change (which ever label you prefer) Matt Ridley is invested in coal. Lives and dies by demand for coal. I suggest, as I have about a dozen times, that we either remove subsidies from all ventures, or encourage all sound ventures with subsidies.

Sound ventures. That doesn’t me we subsidize ethanol, which I have never understood being considered a green product. However, creation of wind farms across the windier areas of the world, and solar cells on every rooftop that gets moderate sun are completely reasonable propositions and should be subsidized if other forms of energy production are subsidized.  I can generate electricity and to spare with solar cells on my roof, and that includes charging my electric car. That is a benefit to me and the planet in general.

He also never mentions that while sea level rise isn’t as bad as projected, any rise in sea levels produces larger disasters than we’ve seen in the past, as both hurricane Sandy and Katrina demonstrated. I’m still betting we are surfing through the ruins of Miami long before the arguments about climate change are settled, and I’m willing to bet the current residents of Miami would find that outcome pretty disastrous.

For what it’s worth, The next to last video loaded on the GWPF stream is the one I find most relevant.

This is the problem with modern science. Findings are reported as if they are science by most journalists, when the complete opposite is the case, as the short video goes into. Findings are not science. Findings are discoveries. Duplication of findings is science, the drudge work of science that far too few people show any interest in doing, to the detriment of us all.


With time comes addendum and additional information. After watching the GWPF feed for awhile and tracking the general tone of their reportage, I have to agree with the assessment of others who dismiss them as a nexus of science denial.  The name of the group itself screams of astroturfing and their latest video goes out of its way to defend Breitbart and their unapologetic science denial on the subject of global warming. I was really hoping for a group that I could rely on for reportage that wasn’t gloom and doom on the climate change front, but the GWPF doesn’t appear to be that group.

This episode of Inquiring Minds fits the hopeful bill pretty well.

Even in the face of the triumph of climate deniers and outright economic criminals (the looming election of the OHM) the astrobiologist David Grinspoon sounds a hopeful note for the future, pointing out that we are already moving in new directions climate-wise with or without our governments attempts to influence our behavior. 

Challenger 30 Years Later

“Everyone knows how they died, we want people to remember how they lived.” – June Scobee-Rodgers, widow of Challenger commander Dick Scobee

(author unknown)

At 10:40 am on January 28th 1986 the space shuttle Challenger was issued the command “go for throttle up” and the subsequent explosion ended space’s age of innocence. I remember where I was that day. Like most of our memories of those kinds of events, it is probably full of holes and exaggerations.  But I do remember it.  I also remember honoring the Challenger crew’s sacrifice with the crew of the (can you remember the name before you read it?) Columbia.  For quite some time my personal page at ranthonysteele.com had a memorial page for the Columbia and Challenger as a tribute to the sacrifice of both crews.

High Flight
(the pilot’s creed)

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth 
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; 
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds,
–and done a hundred things 
You have not dreamed of wheeled and soared and swung 
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there, 
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung 
My eager craft through footless falls of air… 
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue 
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace 
Where never lark, nor eer eagle flew– 
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod 
The high, untrespassed sanctity of space, 
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

John Gillespie Magee

The above was found in a particularly moving article by Nigel Rees (on another now dead website) describing how the poem came to prominence and caught the attention of Ronald Reagan (or one of his speechwriters) who later remembered it and uttered it in memoriam for the Challenger crew. It was the words of Columbia commander Rick Husband that caused me to go looking for the poem back in 2003, when he unknowingly forshadowed his impending death by observing;

It is today that we remember and honor the crews of Apollo 1 and Challenger. They made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives and service to their country and for all mankind 

Four days later, his shuttle burned up on re-entry.  I was awakened from an uneasy sleep that Saturday morning, by the ringing of the phone.  One of our fellow space enthusiast friends calling to tell us to turn on the news.  Columbia had been destroyed.

Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia, whose crews were all killed within the space of a week on the calendar, if over 36 years in elapsed time. That is the way it has been for ten years and more for me.  I’ve kept notations on my calendar since the Columbia disaster, so that I could remember these crews and their sacrifices on the anniversaries of their deaths.

Space.com

The space program means a lot to the Wife and I.  She’s become so heartbroken that we still don’t have a permanent lunar base for her to immigrate to that she refuses to discuss the subject of space in any other form than as a betrayal by the US government of the people of the nation, especially people like she and I who dreamed of going to space someday.  My balance issues convinced me long before I became disabled that I would never have made it to space anyway, so I don’t take the betrayal personally.  But it is hard to argue that we weren’t lied to when the ISS is a shadow of its promised size and scope, and that moon vacations still aren’t a thing we can experience.  Not to mention the complete abdication of NASA’s involvement in space as it pertains to getting supplies to and from the ISS, the reliance on Russia to transfer astronauts to and from the station via 1960’s Soyuz technology.  These are dark days for space enthusiasts when it comes to manned space missions.

So I was a little surprised that I hadn’t noted that today was Challenger day until listening to the BBC World News podcast. As I frequently do, I paused the program and went over to the browser on my phone and inquired about current articles on the Challenger disaster that might be worth sharing.

Top of the list was this piece over at Gawker. It is probably worth mentioning that I have a love/hate relationship with Gawker, the name of the website itself recalls miles of freeway made impassable by hundreds if not thousands of people who just have to look at automobile accidents. Maybe I’m weird, but I can still summon up images from my high school drivers education classes, so I don’t need a refresher on just how we lemmings die encased in steel on US freeways.

The subject of the article was even more enraging than a freeway pile-up that keeps you from getting where you need to be until several hours late, though;

…after the disaster, over time, a different and more horrible story took shape: The Challenger made it through the spectacular eruption of its external fuel tank with its cabin more or less intact. Rather than being carried to Heaven in an instant, the crippled vessel kept sailing upward for another three miles before its momentum gave out, then plunged 12 miles to the ocean. The crew was, in all likelihood, conscious for the full two and a half minutes until it hit the water.

This particular bit of conspiratorial fantasy really isn’t news.  The briefest perusal of the wiki entry on the subject of the Challenger disaster will reveal that it has been premised that the astronauts survived the initial breakup. It isn’t even controversial anymore. There is little evidence either way on the subject, and knowing they survived (or that the crew of the just as tragic Columbia disaster survived) the initial breakup only to be killed later really doesn’t prove anything, or provide any great insight into either tragedy.

I remember picking up at least one supermarket tabloid in the months after Challenger went down that purported to have written transcripts of the last moments of the crew as preserved on the flight recorder.  That concoction was a total fantasy, beneath even the satirical minds of the writers of the Onion today; and the grisly nature of interest in the last moments of the life of a person about to die tragically is something that I’ve never had the stomach for.  That there would have been panic from trained military flyers even in the face of certain doom is very doubtful. As more than one pilot has mentioned to me over the years, the most common last words on flight recorders is oh, shit.  That is because trained pilots are too busy working the problem to realize that ultimate failure is about to kill them until the last moment. When it is too late to panic and have that panic recorded for posterity.

NASA image STS 107 launch
Some of the experiments survived

The pilots of Challenger and Columbia were both powerless to save themselves and their crews. That is the true nature of these tragedies.  The decisions that cost their lives were made by people above them in authority, people who were willing to risk the lives of others even when the engineers who designed those systems stood solidly against launching under the weather conditions present at the time.

Failure of the O-rings caused the Challenger disaster. It is doubtful that a parachute system or some other secondary contingency could have worked in the specific scenario the evolved in that launch. There was a way to decouple the shuttle from the tank and glide home, but that contingency failed with the explosion of the central fuel tank.

Ice and foam chunks damaged the leading edge of the wing of Columbia during its last launch.  There was no way to rescue the crew once they were in space without risking another crew flying under similar conditions, if the next shuttle could have even been made ready in time. Thinking back to the steely-eyed missile men who brought Apollo 13 back home, one wonders what they might have done if they had still been in charge when Columbia was in space.  Would they have risked an EVA to check the wing? Probably. Would they have found a way to get a rescue mission up to Columbia in time to get the crew off?  Maybe. Was there some way to seal the wing in space so it could survive re-entry? People familiar with the mission said no, still say no.

Hindsight is always 20/20. There would have been no need for a parachute contingency (and the added weight/cost) had NASA listened to its own engineers in 1986, because they recommended a scrub and were over-ruled on the subject.  A similar discussion occurred just prior to the launch of Columbia as well.

I have recommended this book several times on the blog, Deadly Decisions: How False Knowledge Sank the Titanic, Blew Up the Shuttle, and Led America into War.  If you really want to understand just how stupidly large human systems fail, read that book.  You will come away with a completely different view on history and on current events.  The failures of the shuttle missions in particular remain haunting to the American psyche in ways that so many of our other failures do not. Perhaps this is because they touch on the hopes and dreams of so many. Perhaps because they remain the most visible black marks on the aspirations of this country.

New York Daily News

Personally they represent the end of manned space exploration missions in my lifetime. That is what I think of most bitterly when I recall the aftermath of the Challenger disaster. I remember the teacher Christa McAuliffe and her brave, hopeful words.  Her energetic wave as she boarded the transport heading for the shuttle.  I remember thinking upon hearing of the shuttle’s destruction there goes my chance to get into space.  Because that is what it meant, what the tragedy still means to me to this day. The end of hope for a brighter future.  With that knowledge comes acceptance of our limitations as human animals and a greater understanding of just how fragile we creatures are. How fragile our home is.

We may be stuck on this rock for awhile yet, so we probably should figure out how to keep it safe for the time being. Try to avoid that next big thing heading our way.  What is it? Only the future knows.

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
– Hanlon’s Razor

Blizzard 2016

Tiny snowflakes fell like radioactive jewels. The streets were deserted. Electric lights were few. Cars were abandoned alongside the road. As I crossed the Beltway, I could see hungry zombies roaming the empty streets below.  

I was followed briefly by a State Trooper, but when he saw my Alaska plates he waved me on with a brave thumbs up. Godspeed, Northman!  

Andrews AFB was dark, the great warbirds frozen in rigor mortis on the ramps beneath a load of snow at least an 1/8th of an inch thick. 

– Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station

Watching Weather Channel coverage of winter storm Jonas today, myself.  Like Jim, I am amused by the panic that most people seem to be swallowed by when the weather becomes less than optimal outside.  He posted this video of Jimmy Buffett’s tribute to enduring cold weather as an afterthought;

Living in Austin for the last twenty years, I have learned to be cautious when the weather is anything other than warm and sunny. If it rains here I stay home. If it ices here, I stay home. These people are nuts on ice and water. If it clouds over and starts to rain, Austinites slide off the roads by the hundreds. Blows my mind.

There was a common joke that circulated back in the years I lived in San Angelo. “There are only three things in West Texas that can kill you; the weather, the animals, and West Texans on ice.” I remember riding shotgun in a friend’s car during a pretty impressive snowstorm, traveling back to Sweetwater from the TSTC campus that was just outside of town. The snow was packed across the road, with drifts on the sides of the road. This journey sticks in my mind because it had never occurred to me that some people did not know how to drive on slick surfaces before. I looked over at the speedometer and noticed he was doing 50+ on snow, no snow tires, chains, etc. I commented that he might want to slow down since it was slick. He applied some brakes (never apply brakes on slick surfaces) the car started to spin gently sideways. Brakes applied in full locked mode, we continued to spin until we were traveling backwards down the highway at 50 miles an hour. luckily we hit a snowbank and stopped before hitting anything else.  We did make it to our destination, eventually.

I grew up in Kansas, learned to drive in Kansas. In Kansas the snow starts falling in September and continues falling off and on until April. We had blizzards in Kansas like the one currently hitting the Eastern coast pretty much every year.  Somewhere around this house I have pictures of the Wichita County High School in the 50’s, snow drifts up to the second floor of the school. Learning to drive in Kansas involved driving in snow and ice conditions, pretty much constantly.  Following a snowplow through rural Kansas in order to get to a city with a commercial center was a pretty common occurrence.  I tell you all this so that it is clear, I’ve seen snow. I’ve driven in snow.

Sitting in traffic in my brand new car, small child strapped into the car seat behind me, I have watched while the vehicles around me literally bowl over other cars already visibly stuck on an icy overpass. Watched while people attempt to escape their cars on the bridge, only to slide headlong under the car because the surface is that slick.  That day I waited patiently for traffic to clear, idling my way home on back roads as soon as I could get away from the demolition derby that was occurring on the freeway. That is Austin when there is the slightest amount of precipitation on the roadways, much less when there is an actual freeze.

Snowman from the blizzard of 2010

There are times when I will venture forth in inclement weather here.  Specific events that I know will keep most people off the roads.  We had a snowstorm that actually stuck to the ground in Austin back in 1994ish. There was snow all over the roads across the city. With the snow visible I knew that most of Austin would roll back over and go to sleep, so it was probably safe for me to venture out and enjoy a relaxed drive to work for a change.

It was the most pleasant commute of my working life. The city was abandoned, as far as I could tell. Not a vehicle to be seen on the freeways, the side roads, anywhere. I just sipped my coffee and idled the 3 or 4 miles to work. The most troubling part of the trip was the steep downhill on 19th street to the Lamar Blvd. intersection. Knowing there would be no stopping on that hill, I just kept it in first gear and let gravity do all the work.  I did see several vehicles abandoned on the uphill side of the road (poor souls, I thought) then I turned right onto Lamar and idled into the office parking garage.

I got more work done in the 6 hours it took for the snow to melt and the rest of Austin to make it out to work than I probably did the rest of that week. The rest of the office marveled at the daring exhibited by venturing out on snowy roads. “How did you do it?” they asked. “Just another day’s commute where I grew up” I replied. Didn’t even have to follow a snowplow, so it was easy.

Treating Meniere’s & Its Symptoms

I get this sort of question a lot “what do you do to combat Menieres?” or “What symptoms do you have?” The latter is asked because not everyone diagnosed with Meniere’s actually has all the symptoms associated with the disease. The former is usually asked because; rather than there being no information available on the subject online, there is a lot of contradictory information from a myriad of sources. I’m going to make a concerted effort to cut through the noise and just tell you about the experience I have with Meniere’s and how I approach treatment.

Symptoms.

Let me tell you about my Meniere’s, since I haven’t done a thorough reporting of symptoms (ever) and really haven’t talked about the disease since I first started this blog in 2005.

Starting about 2002, I would be subject to regular bouts of rotational vertigo that came on quite suddenly. My first vertigo attack occurred as a single incident many years earlier, probably sometime in 1984. That instance I triggered myself by accident while trying to clear pressure in my left ear that I had just started noticing. I was sitting in a hot shower in an attempt to make the blockage in the ear pass, and when it finally did I found I was lying down in the shower and so dizzy that I couldn’t walk. I crawled to the bed and got in it, afraid that I might have done myself permanent damage, but woke up the next day feeling tired but no worse for wear overall. Best of all the ear pressure seemed to be gone, which lead to subsequent years of sitting in hot rooms including a sauna a few times, trying desperately to relieve the pressure in my head.

When I first started having subsequent and almost regular vertigo spells, they seemed to be related to allergies and those times of year (spring and fall) when my allergies had always bugged me, also accompanied by the annoying pressure in the ear. As time progressed the vertigo spells became more generalized and could be brought on by high pressure weather, or just turning my head the wrong way.  These bouts of vertigo seemed to last anywhere from 6 hours to a full day, and caused me to miss two days of work. Towards the end of my work life I was getting vertigo about once a week, making my average work week 3 days in length. This kind of attendance pattern does not produce enough work for most employers. I was definitely not working enough for an architecture environment. Consequently I was fired from my last job for being sick too much, even though I accepted the job with the stipulation that I was frequently ill.

Now that I am on disability and free to manage stress for myself, I’m lucky if I can go a month or two without vertigo which I consider a huge success.

The vertigo is just the most visible symptom of the disease.  Almost as debilitating is the constant tinnitus, which comes close to drowning out normal conversation and makes concentration very difficult.  The tinnitus never stops.  Sometimes it is loud, sometimes it is soft, and sometimes it causes the affected ear to amplify what little sound it hears, a condition known as hyperacusismaking even the smallest of sounds painful and sending me into a room by myself so that I can keep things as quiet as possible.

Then there is the pressure in the ear that I mentioned previously. Like the tinnitus this varies in discomfort, sometimes a nagging ache, other times a stabbing pain as if some fluid containing vessel in the ear is about to burst. The pressure in the ear is often a precursor to vertigo.  If I get a metallic taste in the mouth with a sudden surge of pressure, I hit the medication immediately.  Paying attention to how I’m feeling on any given day is how I’ve managed to keep the vertigo to a minimum through the years of disability. Which brings me to…

Treatment.


The Ear, Nose and Throat doctor (ENT) informed me in 2015 that the hearing in my affected ear (left ear) is about half of what it should be and is still getting worse.  That is apparently the point that most sufferers opt to have procedures done in order to alleviate symptoms. There are a couple of interventions available to me, but neither of them offer better than 60% chance of long-term relief, so I’m not jumping up and down to have any of them done. Gentamicin injection into the cochlea is the procedure he wanted me to do. This is not happening unless the vertigo gets worse. There is also a surgical procedure or two that will interrupt the signals from the affected ear. Those will make you completely deaf in one ear, and the Gentamicin can also make you deaf if not done properly. Too much risk for too little reward based on the situation I am currently in.

I’ve only had two surgeries in my life. When I was a small child I had my tonsils removed. It was a common practice back then (1973) for children having extreme allergic reaction and throat swelling. Most recently (2003) I had a procedure done that corrected a deviated septum and reduced the turbinates in the sinuses. Since allergies were so bad for me as a child, and allergies seemed to be a big trigger early on in the progression of my Meniere’s, it seemed like a logical step to see if fixing the breathing problems might not alleviate the Meniere’s symptoms. Sadly this has not turned out to be the case, but has apparently reduced my allergies and the number of sinus infections I have to suffer through.  I will never forget the first time I went swimming after the surgery and got water in my sinuses. Before the surgery it was a major struggle to get them to clear.  After the surgery I just tipped my head forward and the water ran out. “so that’s what working sinuses are like!” I exclaimed to the amusement of all present.

I have slight dizziness and disorientation almost constantly.  Disorientation brings on the brain fog on bad days, more pronounced after vertigo attacks. There are good days and bad days, but turning corners always carries the risk of colliding with objects I know are there and thought I would miss. The last symptom that I can tie to Meniere’s is a seriously vicious migraine headache.  In 2014 I was getting them about every 4 days, but a trip to the GP where I finally admitted the headaches were that frequent got me a daily script that has reduced the migraines to something I only enjoy during allergy seasons.

This is how I treat my Meniere’s disease.  Behaviorally, I avoid stress and allergens as often as I can. That means getting enough sleep first and foremost, since stress is directly related to the amount of sleep that you get versus how much you need. This is one of the hardest things to do in this culture, the US culture, justify getting a full night’s sleep.  Never mind a full night, I frequently can and do sleep for longer than 12 hours. I have found that 8 hours is more than enough if I can get them from 10 pm to 6 am, but the problem is getting to bed before midnight (as I’m sure most people will agree) and staying asleep for the full 8 hours.

Probably the single most beneficial thing I’ve done aside from sleeping more is to stop sleeping on a flat surface. I tried mounding pillows under my back on the suggestion of a touring musician who is a fellow sufferer, and that seemed to help. Then I tried wedging up the head of the bed up by about 6 inches, and that seemed to produce even better results. Unfortunately the wife hates the heads-up sleep position, so I begged an adjustable bed from a friend who had one in storage. I’ve been sleeping on that bed ever since, and I credit it with reducing most of the inner-ear pressure that I used to experience while trying to sleep.  If you don’t believe me, try it.  It really can help.

I walk everyday, or as close to everyday as I can manage, regular exercise (sadly) being another facet of stress reduction. Walking puts me afoul of my allergies for almost anything that grows, so I have to do some of it indoors on a treadmill. I prefer to be outside whenever I can manage it, so allergy medications are something I tend to take frequently.

There doesn’t appear to be any real treatments for the tinnitus. Mostly it is a matter of enduring the constant sound which does contribute to the brain fog, or masking the sound with other sounds. I find Rainymood, suggested by a redditer, works best for days when the tinnitus is incredibly annoying. Most other days I just endure the constant barrage. You can train yourself to ignore the sounds using various methods that you may or may not find useful. I’ve never stumbled across anything that worked for me, and there have been many promises made over the years that remain unfulfilled. I have the least to say about tinnitus, I think, because hearing loss and the accompanying tinnitus stole my enjoyment of music from me. When the songs stopped sounding good in my ears, I simply stopped listening to them. I think that has been one of the hardest things to cope with, almost as hard as not being able to work.

Dietary habits are a frequent topic with Menierians. I was already avoiding salt because of a hypertension diagnosis, and my hypertension medication contains a diuretic which was the first medication suggested by my ENT. Salt can increase blood pressure which increases stress. Stress is a major trigger. Caffeine is something I try to avoid because it disturbs my sleep, not just because it makes me dizzy. Caffeine can also increase stress. Anything dietary that causes stress can cause Meniere’s symptoms, so just avoiding things you think cause you stress can make your symptoms seem less noticeable. Don’t rock the boat and it won’t capsize. Easier said than done.

Medication. On top of the diuretic/hypertension medication mentioned previously, I take a variety of additional drugs both prescription and over the counter. If the affected ear is bothering me and I don’t have vertigo yet, I take Pseudoephedrine/Guaifenesin, this combination is usually effective at reducing ear pressure. If my allergies are acting up, I add Fexofenadine (most people prefer Loratadine. I find it dries the sinuses too much unless it is ragweed season; then the extra drying stops me from drowning) If the migraine is kicking in, I take prescription doses of Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen together. A daily prescription for Amitriptyline has removed my need of other painkillers almost completely in the last few years. I only take them now on the really bad days, days when I’ve done something stupid like carry 40 lbs. of dog food or gone for a walk on a high allergy day.

Vertigo treatment started with Meclizine (Dramamine) which is what I took in 2003 when I was first diagnosed. A few years ago I heard about Serc or Betahistine from Menierians in online forums. This is a drug commonly prescribed for dizziness and specifically prescribed for Meniere’s in the UK and a good portion of Europe. I was initially dubious that the drug would have any effect since it had been trialed in the US previously and found to be no better than placebo at preventing Meniere’s symptoms.

This summer (2017) my ENT’s office took on a new doctor and I was referred to her for my annual Meniere’s symptom review and prescription renewal. She suggested a trial of Betahistine during my first consultation with her. Not being one to reject any suggested treatment out of hand, a treatment that wasn’t damaging or potentially life threatening, I decided to give it a try. Betahistine is not available in the US from your ordinary pharmacy. It has to be compounded and consequently isn’t on the average health insurance formulary.  This makes it more expensive to take and harder to get, but at least it was legal for me to try it. As of this writing I have completed the 90 day trial of the drug and while I can’t say it is doing everything I hoped for, it is doing something. Whatever it’s doing, it’s doing it enough that I agreed to continue taking it daily for the next year, upping the frequency to three times a day. My head seems clearer, my concentration sharper. The tinnitus continues unabated but the ear pressure is less noticeable. I still get occasional bouts of vertigo but they seem to last for shorter durations.

This is a key point in understanding Meniere’s and its treatment; nearly all the procedures recommended by doctors are designed to stop the vertigo. The vertigo is thought to originate within the labyrinth of the inner ear, so most treatments are centered around that part of the body. From the most drastic to the least invasive, nearly all of the surgical treatments silence the affected ear, permanently. Some of the less invasive will leave you with some hearing in the ear, but their efficacy is highly questionable.

Reading through the treatment page on Meniere’s Disease Information Center website, it becomes very clear that most sufferers will try anything to stop the vertigo.  If you’ve ever been afflicted with a Drop Attack from rotational vertigo, and can imagine that sensation continuing for hours and days at a time, you would understand why sufferers are willing to try anything to make it stop.

If I have vertigo and it has already made me nauseous, I take Promethazine. If the vertigo doesn’t respond to the Meclizine (Which happens. Frequently) then I take Valium to let me sleep or Xanax to relieve the anxiety of the attack, which generally leads to sleep (all three require prescriptions in the US) Unconsciousness is a mercy when consciousness is a never-ending torment of spinning. Spinning without end.

Flying is the fun part. I have to be medicated to fly. I used to take Promethazine and Valium, but Xanax alone is sometimes enough of a treatment to keep the vertigo at bay.  I much prefer the Xanax because I don’t sleep, but I have to have supervision because it makes me a bit fearless, while not actually giving me better balance. Just an accident waiting to happen then, but at least I can sit through the flight without freaking out at every movement, getting queasy and vertiginous.

I have another secret weapon for managing flying. Cinnamon chewing gum.  I always travel with a pack of gum. I have always chewed gum while flying since I first went up in a Cessna with my dad as a child. If your ears bother you because of pressure, chew gum.  Far more useful than earplugs.

A word of caution. I make a lot of drug recommendations in this blog entry.  Having suggested drugs for various treatments, I really should also offer the following caution; these drugs all have different effects for different people, and this fact can not be overstressed. These medicines work for me and I’m thankful that they do. Treating Meniere’s means finding your triggers and then doing your best to avoid them. My triggers seem to be stress or allergy related. It will be a trial and error process finding what will work for you. Here’s hoping it takes less than a decade for you to find your feet again. It will happen, it just takes time. If you find that a drug I suggest doesn’t work for you, try a different one. Keep working at it till you find a solution that works for you and then stick to it. The important part is to not give up.

If you are reading this because you to have Meniere’s, then I am truly sorry.  I have often said that I wouldn’t wish this disease on my worst enemy.  Being disabled has made me question many of my assumptions.  Most of the things that I thought were real as a healthy person turned out to be delusion once I became chronically ill. Problems that I thought were paramount now seem trivial. Services I complained about paying for are now essential. Seeing life from this viewpoint has made me a better person, but there has to be easier ways of getting this insight. Ways that don’t rob you of hope, of purpose. What can feel like forever, from the inside.

I miss architecture and drafting nearly every day. Those were my purposes in life prior to this debilitating disease. More than a decade later, I still have dreams involving architecture. Admittedly, the last dream involved all my drafting tools being ruined because they had been piled in a trailer for ten years, but still the dreams persist. I have them almost nightly, reliving events from my productive past only to wake up to the reality I face now.

So if you are a fellow sufferer, please know you have my utmost support.  We all need people we can rely on now, because there are times when we really are helpless and won’t survive without them. While that has always been true of everybody, most people go through their lives never admitting this fact. Cherish those around you who are there when you need them. That is what it truly means to be human.

Edit history. This is a periodically updated post, completely different from most of the other posts on this blog. The content of this post will change as my experiences and treatment change. As of the addition of this, the edit history heading, I have made several periodic updates, most of those have been due to my personal dissatisfaction with cludgy wording, or meanings that I don’t think I made clear in my first attempt at documenting symptoms and treatment. I added the section about chewing gum. I added the section noting there were no known effective treatments for tinnitus. I think those were the most intensive change prior to this edit. However, this edit will alter several points of the post so I deemed it prudent to document what I’m about to change.

Today, August 6th, 2017.  I am doing my first major alteration of the content and intent of this post. I’m adding a few headers to separate information. I added the recollection of my first vertigo spell, having dredged that memory up from somewhere. I can still vividly picture the inside of that Abilene apartment, almost like a nightmare. Tinnitus stole my music was added. I have revised the section on dietary habits radically. I poo-pooed the obsession most Menierians have about watching their diets in the original version. There are scientifically valid reasons to restrict your diet, and I was wrong to discount this fact, so I altered the text to fit my current understanding. I am adding some verbiage about Betahistine (Serc) since I am now taking that drug and finding it effective. I changed Phenergan to Promethazine because that is the name the reference site uses. A general reorganization of information into coherent sections was a part of this edit as well as the specific changes mentioned. I hope the content is easier to absorb than it was before. Feedback welcome!

Calling in the Military

The story out of N’Orleans today: Governor Kathleen Blanco has activated National Guard personnel to patrol the city. Over the weekend several teens were killed in a drive-by shooting. If you check the stats in the story, there are more cops per resident in the city than there was pre-Katrina. I’m not sure why they would need the assistance of the National Guard, but apparently the Gov. thought it was appropriate to turn the city into a militarized zone over the whole deal.

After Katrina last year, many of the pundits were lamenting the ‘disneyfication’ of N’Orleans; in other words, corporations moving in and changing the character of the city to something more tourist-friendly. This was the justification for much of the outlay of (stolen by taxation) cash for rebuilding the city. Cash that has been subsequently stolen from the gov’t by criminals of less authority. Criminals that are now running rampant.

Personally, I think disneyfication would have been the better option.