Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 29th, 2014

The fruits of denial

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Timothy Eagan writes in the NY Times:

DON’T tell me, please, that nobody saw one of the deadliest landslides in American history coming. Say a prayer or send a donation for a community buried under a mountain of mud along a great river in Washington State, the Stillaguamish. Praise the emergency workers still trying to find a pulse of life in a disaster that left 25 people dead and 90 missing.

But enough with the denial, the willful ignorance of cause and effect, the shock that one of the prettiest valleys on the planet could turn in a flash from quiet respite in the foothills of the North Cascades to a gravelly graveyard.

“This was a completely unforeseen slide,” said John Pennington, the emergency manager of Snohomish County. “It was considered very safe.” He said this on Monday, two days after the equivalent of three million dump truck loads of wet earth heaved down on the river near the tiny town of Oso. Unforeseen — except for 60 years’ worth of warnings, most notably a report in 1999 that outlined “the potential for a large catastrophic failure” on the very hillside that just suffered a large catastrophic failure.

It is human nature, if not the American way, to look potential disaster in the face and prefer to see a bright and shining lie. The “taming” of this continent, in five centuries and change, required a mighty mustering of cognitive dissonance. As a result, most of us live with the danger of wildfire, earthquake, tornado, flooding, drought, hurricane or yet-to-be-defined and climate-change-influenced superstorm. A legacy of settlement is the delusion that large-scale manipulation of the natural world can be done without consequence.

What happened when the earth moved on a quiet Saturday morning in the Stillaguamish Valley was foretold, in some ways, by the relationship that people have with that sylvan slice of the Pacific Northwest.

Almost 25 years ago, I went into one of the headwater streams of the Stillaguamish with Pat Stevenson, a biologist with the American Indian tribe that bears the same name as the river and claims an ancient link to that land. The rain was Noah-level that day — just as it’s been for most of this March.

We drove upriver, winding along the drainage of Deer Creek, one of the main tributaries of the Stillaguamish. We couldn’t see Whitehorse Mountain, the dreamy peak that towers over the valley, that day. We could barely see beyond our windshield wipers. At last, we arrived at an open wound near road’s end. I’d never witnessed anything like it: an active slide, sloughing mud and clay down into the formerly pristine creek. We watched huge sections of land peel and puddle — an ugly and terrifying new landscape under creation before our eyes.

Stevenson pointed uphill, to bare, saturated earth that was melting, like candle wax, into the main mudslide. Not long ago, this had been a thick forest of old growth timber. But after it was excessively logged, every standing tree removed, there was nothing to hold the land in place during heavy rains. A federal survey determined that nearly 50 percent of the entire basin above Deer Creek had been logged over a 30-year period. It didn’t take a degree in forestry to see how one event led to the other.

The Stilly, as locals call the river, is well known to those who chase fish with a fly rod, and to native people who have been living off its bounty for centuries. Zane Grey, the Western novelist, called it the finest fishing river in the world for steelhead, the big seagoing trout that can grow to 40 pounds. What Stevenson showed me that day in a November storm was how one human activity, logging, was destroying the source of joy and sustenance for others. When the crack and groan of an entire hillside in collapse happened a week ago Saturday, I thought instantly of Stevenson and that gloomy day at Deer Creek.

And, sure enough, logging above the area of the current landslide appears to have gone beyond the legal limits, into the area that slid, according to a report in The Seattle Times.

Yes, but who wants to listen to warnings by pesky scientists, to pay heed to predictions by environmental nags, or allow an intrusive government to limit private property rights? That’s how these issues get cast. And that’s why reports like the ones done on the Stillaguamish get shelved. The people living near Oso say nobody ever informed them of the past predictions. . .

Continue reading.


Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 6:37 pm

Trying an offline blog editor

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And this is the first post. Someone the native WordPress visual editor has developed a problem in how it filters out extraneous HTML, so I thought I’d go for something a little different.

We’re having a quiet day, semi-rainy, sleepy kitties, and good books. Things could be worse.

UPDATE: It worked. The one I’m trying: Ecto, which has a 21-day free-trial period.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 6:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

Project to Improve Poor Children’s Intellect Led to Better Health, Data Show

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The governmental policy implications are obvious, I think. Sabrina Tavernise writes in the NY Times:

In 1972, researchers in North Carolina started following two groups of babies from poor families. In the first group, the children were given full-time day care up to age 5 that included most of their daily meals, talking, games and other stimulating activities. The other group, aside from baby formula, got nothing. The scientists were testing whether the special treatment would lead to better cognitive abilities in the long run.

Forty-two years later, the researchers found something that they had not expected to see: The group that got care was far healthier, with sharply lower rates of high blood pressure and obesity, and higher levels of so-called good cholesterol.

The study, which was published in the journal Science on Thursday, is part of a growing body of scientific evidence that hardship in early childhood has lifelong health implications. But it goes further than outlining the problem, offering evidence that a particular policy might prevent it.

“This tells us that adversity matters and it does affect adult health,” said James Heckman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago who led the data analysis. “But it also shows us that we can do something about it, that poverty is not just a hopeless condition.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 4:12 pm

Why the environmental fight is lost

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The outcome of the war on the environment is now obvious, and the environment loses. The reason is simple: you can go time after time after time defending the environment, and yet if just one time you lose—as in this article—and you have lost forever. Eventually, they’ll get a win, and when they do, a bit more environment is destroyed. And the natural environment is limited—and growing smaller annually through the process described: the occasional yet inevitable failure on some issue.

That, of course, is quite apart from the major devastation of climate change—but some in Congress, in a spectacular example of burying-head-in-sand, are determined to put an end to any discussion of that issue.

UPDATE: See also this article in Salon.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 1:15 pm

Permanently Temporary: The Truth About Temp Work in America

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Things in the US are not good, and yet the government cannot take effective (Keynesian) action. The government is blocked from acting in the general welfare—I’m speaking of the dynamics of the current Congress and the one immediately preceding—and the amount of economic suffering and hardship continues to increase. In the past, this combination has not worked out well in the long run.

Take a look at this article by Michael Grabell in the Pacific Standard.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 12:59 pm

Is the conviction of bin Laden’s son-in-law a triumph?

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Amy Davidsen has yet another thought-provoking article in the New Yorker. She’s worth following.

Eric Holder, the Attorney General, sounded very proud on Wednesday, after a jury in a lower Manhattan courtroom convicted Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, on three charges of terrorism and conspiracy. “This verdict is a major milestone in the government’s unrelenting efforts to pursue justice against those involved with the September 11 attacks,” Holder said in a statement. He said he could imagine “no more fitting outcome,” and was especially glad to have “proven that proceedings such as these can safely occur in the city I am proud to call home.”

In principle, this is all quite right. Abu Ghaith was arrested a year ago, indicted, and put on trial in open court. The public got to see the evidence against him, including images of him sitting next to bin Laden the day after 9/11, and of a speech from October 9, 2001, in which he said, “The Americans must know that the storm of airplanes will not stop, God willing, and there are thousands of young people who are as keen about death as Americans are about life.” Abu Ghaith took the stand in his own defense, describing the moment, in a cave in Afghanistan, when bin Laden told him that the World Trade Center had been leveled. He says he did not know about that particular plan beforehand, and prosecutors did not allege that he did. But they also persuaded a jury that he was not, as he argued, merely standing around, talking religion—that he had, as Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, put it, a “position in Al Qaeda’s homicidal hierarchy”—and was involved enough in Al Qaeda’s plans for the future to merit a conspiracy conviction. The jurors reached their verdict on the second day of deliberations. This is how terrorism trials work; this is what the Southern District of New York has accomplished dozens of times.

There was, though, one witness the defense wanted to testify but couldn’t bring to Manhattan: Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, who says he masterminded the attack. The problem wasn’t that he’s in a cave somewhere; K.S.M., as he’s known, was captured in September, 2002. He has been detained at Guantánamo since 2006, and before that was held in various secret prisons. Unlike Abu Ghaith, on whom he now has an extra decade in American detention, he has not yet been convicted.

And that is the reality from which Holder’s statement is strangely detached. He went on to say: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 12:53 pm

Useful background reading regarding the Hobby Lobby lawsuit

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Nina Martin of ProPubica has compiled an excellent set of annotated links. Check out the article at Pacific Standard. Interesting how a corporation believes that it has the right to decide medical questions between a woman and her doctor, overriding the doctor’s authority (and mission). And it’s the corporation, not the owners, who would pay for contraception: a distinction whose utility is more appreciated in the other direction, in which it is the corporation, not the owners, who is held liable, fined, and otherwise punished for breaking the law. In that case, the owners are quick to draw a sharp distinction between owner and corporation. Well, that sharp distinction cuts both ways.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 12:44 pm

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