Global heating made this possible and made it worse

October 28, 2019

Wildfire burns a home in California. NowThis image.

NowThis runs compelling video on FaceBook, but just try to find that video on their YouTube channel or website to share.

This one will have to do. It makes the point.

California’s wildfires, growing steadily worse, rapidly, demonstrate problems of global heating/climate change that we need to solve, but which offer lots of bad arguments for Do Nothings and Climate Dismissives.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell, explained in this video: Rain patterns changed. California now gets massive rains in the spring, which drive overgrowth of grasses, quick-growing shrubs and other fire-prone plants.

Then the rains stop. Hotter summers and autumns dry out the new growth, creating explosive fuel for a fire.

So when a fire starts, it’s difficult-to-impossible to control.

Do Nothings argue that rain totals haven’t dropped, or maybe have increased, so drought fears are not warranted — though the summer without rain drives soil water levels into drought.

Then, they argue that the problem is environmentalists won’t let foresters clean understory dry wood and other fuels to prevent fires. That’s a whole cloth fabrication — reality is that federal budget cuts over the past 20 years leave the U.S. Forest Service unable to do significant brush clearing.

Then, Do Nothings argue that the problem is Caliornians build too many homes, and too many homes in near-wild areas.

In short, it’s always the fault of a “librul Californian,” with no causation left over for global warming.

I found the video I want on Facebook, and you may be able to view it there (even if you are not a member).

Look at the video and please understand, much of that destruction is preventable. Fires will probably continue to get worse, with the fire season now running 12 months of the year in California.

We can fix it. We need to act soon.

NowThis explain at their site:

Plagued by historically harsh winds, California has been hit with an onslaught of wildfires—the newest of which has broken out near the famed Getty Museum in Los Angeles. It joins several other fires burning across the state, including the Oak Fire in Calabasas, the Tick Fire in Southern California and the massive Kincade Fire in Northern California. 
 
Last night, the Kincade Fire was still burning out of control in its fifth day, dropping from 10% containment to 5% due to hurricane-force winds and dry conditions that have allowed it to spread and made it difficult to control. There have been 200,000 evacuations in Sonoma County because of the fire, and it is expected to burn for another week and a half with no rain in the forecast.

Los Angeles near the Getty Center looks like Mordor right now. pic.twitter.com/ET6f1gkmre— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) December 6, 2017

The Getty Fire began early Monday, prompting police to ask thousands of people to evacuate, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, LeBron James, and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s parents. About 25,000 live in the LA evacuation zone, which covers a swath of high-priced real estate. A fire in December 2017 lit up the same area and forced drivers into a horrifying, apocalyptic-looking morning commute.
 
Governor Gavin Newsom secured Fire Management Assistance Grants to help fight the flames and announced a $75 million program to alleviate the fires’ impact on citizens. In an emergency declaration made Sunday, he urgent people not to ignore warnings, saying, , “It is critical that people in evacuation zones heed the warnings from officials and first responders, and have the local and state resources they need as we fight these fires.” 
At least 3,400 first responders and personnel are fighting the wildfires.
 
Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) the state’s biggest utility provider, shut off power to more than a million residents to try to curb further fire risks, but has received criticism for the lack of notice given. In a statement released Sunday, PG&E said more shut offs may come later in the week. In May, Cal Fire found PG&E was responsible for the Camp Fire, which left 85 dead and destroyed nearly 14,000 homes in 2018. It was the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history. PG&E had admitted it’s equipment was “likely” culpable.
 
The people hit hardest by California’s fires are those who are already vulnerable: homeless populations, the elderly, low-income populations without access to emergency preparations. The LA Times reported that a housekeeper and gardener showed up in the midst of ash and fire to their clients’ homes for work without realizing the homeowners had already evacuated.


Something broke in America this week

April 13, 2019

Photograph of the diorama of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 at the Chicago History Museum. Much of America feels like that night in Chicago.http://larchivista.blogspot.com/2011/08/chicago-history-museum-and-old-town.html

It’s a Twitter thread from David Rothkopf. It’s not hopeful, but it’s important to read and digest.

Rothkopf is CEO of the Rothkopf Group, a high-level consulting firm on international and world problems, based in Alexandria, Virginia.

Rothkopf continued his Tweet thread (I won’t post all the Tweets here, just the main content):

The Attorney General sneered at the Congress and placed himself imperiously above its questions. He continued to arrogate onto himself what portions of the Mueller Report–paid for by the people, essentially in its totality to the Congress to do its duty–we would see.

He asserted again that he was the final arbiter of whether obstruction of justice by the president had taken place. He even went so far as to imply that law enforcement authorities carrying out their duty to protect America were somehow “spying”, perhaps illicitly…



David Rothkopf @djrothkopf; his profiles says, ” Proud father of J & L, husband of C, CEO, The Rothkopf Group; host,Deep State Radio;, author of this & that.”

on the Trump campaign. (Ignoring that the reasons for the investigation in question were not only sound…but the core reason…that Russia had sought to aid the Trump campaign in the election had been proven again by Mueller.)

At the same time, the Secretary of the Treasury and the head of the IRS determined to violate a law that required in no uncertain terms for them to provide the president’s tax returns to the chairman of the House Ways and Means committee.

to those who break the law, encouraging a crime and abetting it. We learned that they considered an egregious abuse of power that would involve releasing illegal immigrants in sanctuary cities controlled by Democrats.

We saw the president complain that our military would not rough up immigrants. We saw him continue the charade of an emergency at our southern border which was an excuse for him illegally divert government resources to an unnecessary, racist, vanity project.

The president repeatedly called law enforcement officers who investigated him traitors, guilty of treason–a crime that carries with it the death penalty. We discovered that the president considered appointing his grossly unqualified daughter to be head of the World Bank.

It is the stuff of the world’s most dysfunctional governments. But rather than generating a response from within our system commensurate with the threat, nothing occurred. The GOP leaders in the Senate circled round the president and supported his abuses.

In so doing, they sent a message that they would never challenge him much less convict him of the myriad crimes he has committed. The checks and balances our system was built upon are gone. Worse, the courts are being packed with Trump cronies–often unqualified.

Agencies are being left to appointed caretakers some outside the normal chain of succession, many unconfirmed for their current posts by the Senate. Political opponents tip-toed around these crimes daring not to appear “too extreme.”

This is how democracies die. The rule of law is slowly strangled. The unthinkable becomes commonplace. The illegal becomes accepted–from violations of the emoluments clause to self-dealing to Federal election law crimes to serial sexual abuse.

What once was black and white blurs into grey. Right and wrong, old principles, enduring values, fade from memory. Authoritarians arrive in our midst not in tanks but in bad suits and worse haircuts.

I have long thought our system was better than this–more resilient. But candidly, I’m no longer sure. I remain hopeful…hopeful that the next election cycle can redress this manifold wrongs. But it will not be easy. It will be too close. Trump may be with us for six more yrs.

Why? Because we allowed ourselves to become inured to the unthinkable. We are dying the death of a thousand cuts. Right now, this week, the president and his band of thugs are winning. They have become unabashed in their attacks on the law.

They are daring someone to enforce it. But what if…what if the courts rule against them but they ignore it? What if the Treasury Secretary has violated a law and no one arrests him. What if the president steals and canoodles with enemies and he goes unpunished?

Their crimes will only grow more egregious and their ways will only grow more ingrained in our system. Their violations will in fact become the system itself. Corruption will be the norm-greater corruption,to be sure,since it it was corruption that got us here in the first place.

End of the Tweet thread from David Rothkopf

Here is how some others responded on Twitter.

What do you think? Comments are open.


Disasters in U.S. schools: March 18, 1937, New London, Texas, gas explosion

March 18, 2019

Most high school history students don’t know about it.  Most high school history students in Texas don’t know about it.

New London School, New London, Texas, before the 1937 disaster. Photo from the New London Museum

New London School, New London, Texas, before the 1937 disaster. Photo from the New London Museum

I wonder, sometimes, how many Texans remember at all.

I wonder, too, if there are lessons to be learned from the New London tragedy, while the nation debates what to do to prevent recurrences of school shootings.

No one in New London, Texas, bore ill-will towards children, or schools, or other New Londoners. Some good came of the disaster, but as we’ve seen, with animosity towards schools and school safety in Texas today, and a lackadaisical approach to dangerous substance control and accident prevention in West, Texas, and other places, lessons learned were not learned well.

The deadliest disaster ever to hit a public school in the U.S. struck on March 18, 1937, when a natural gas explosion destroyed the new school building at New London, Texas, killing about 300 people — 79 years ago today.

The remains of the London School after the exp...

The remains of the London School after the explosion of March 18, 1937. Mother Frances Hospital archives

Noise from the blast alerted the town, and many people in the oilfields for many miles.  Telephone and telegraph communication got word out.  Oil companies dismissed their employees, with their tools, to assist rescue and recovery efforts.  Notably, 20-year-old Walter Cronkite came to town to report the news for a wire service.

Investigation determined that a leak in a newly-installed tap into the waste gas pipe coming from nearby oil fields probably allowed natural gas to accumulate under the building.  A spark from a sander started a fire in gas-filled air, and that in turn exploded the cavern under the school.  School officials approved the tap to the waste gas line to save money.  (Hello, Flint, Michigan!) Natural gas is odorless.  One result of the disaster was a Texas law requiring all utility natural gas to be odorized with ethyl mercaptan.

Though the Great Depression still gripped the nation, wealth flowed in New London from oil extraction from nearby oil fields.  The  school district completed construction on a new building in 1939, just two years later — with a pink granite memorial cenotaph in front.

Today, disasters produce a wealth of litigation, tort suits trying to get money to make the injured whole, and to sting those at fault to change to prevent later disasters.  In 1937 official work cut off such lawsuits.

Three days after the explosion, inquiries were held to determine the cause of the disaster. The state of Texas and the Bureau of Mines sent experts to the scene. Hearings were conducted. From these investigations, researchers learned that until January 18, 1937, the school had received its gas from the United Gas Company. To save gas expenses of $300 a month, plumbers, with the knowledge and approval of the school board and superintendent, had tapped a residue gas line of Parade Gasoline Company. School officials saw nothing wrong because the use of “green” or “wet” gas was a frequent money-saving practice for homes, schools, and churches in the oilfield. The researchers concluded that gas had escaped from a faulty connection and accumulated beneath the building. Green gas has no smell; no one knew it was accumulating beneath the building, although on other days there had been evidence of leaking gas. No school officials were found liable.

These findings brought a hostile reaction from many parents. More than seventy lawsuits were filed for damages. Few cases came to trial, however, and those that did were dismissed by district judge Robert T. Brown for lack of evidence. Public pressure forced the resignation of the superintendent, who had lost a son in the explosion. The most important result of the disaster was the passage of a state odorization law, which required that distinctive malodorants be mixed in all gas for commercial and industrial use so that people could be warned by the smell. The thirty surviving seniors at New London finished their year in temporary buildings while a new school was built on nearly the same site. The builders focused primarily on safety and secondarily on their desire to inspire students to a higher education. A cenotaph of Texas pink granite, designed by Donald S. Nelson, architect, and Herring Coe, sculptor, was erected in front of the new school in 1939.  (Texas Handbook of History, Online, from the Texas State Historical Association)

Of about 500 students, more than 50% of them died.  Once the new school and memorial were built, and the law passed requiring utilities to odorize natural gas so leaks could be detected earlier, survivors and rescuers rather shut down telling the history.  A 1977 reunion of survivors was the first in 40 years.

New London School shortly after the March 18, 1937, explosion. Photo from the New London Museum.

New London School shortly after the March 18, 1937, explosion. Photo from the New London Museum.

Because of that scarring silence, the story slipped from the pages of most history books.

Trinity Mother Frances Hospital treated the victims; a 2012 film from the hospital offers one of the best short histories of the events available today.

New London, and the New London Museum, work to remember the dead and honor them.  Work continues on a film about the disaster, perhaps for release in 2013:

Now, more than 75 years later, the London Museum, across the highway from where the original school was destroyed, keeps alive the memory of much of a generation who died on that terrible day.

This video was produced by Michael Brown Productions of Arlington, TX as a prelude to a feature documentary on the explosion and its aftermath which is planned for
the spring of 2013.  . . .

www.newlondonschool.org/museum

What are the lessons of the New London Disaster?  We learned to remember safety, when dealing with natural gas.  A solution was found to alert people to the presence of otherwise-odorless, explosive gases, a solution now required by law throughout the U.S.  Natural gas explosions decreased in number, and in damages and deaths.  Wealthy schools districts, cutting corners, can create unintended, even disastrous and deadly consequences.  Quick rebuilding covers the wounds, but does not heal them.

Remembering history takes work; history not remembered through the work of witnesses, victims and survivors, is quickly forgotten — to the detriment of history, and to the pain of the witnesses, victims and survivors.

New, New London School and granite cenotaph memorial to the victims of the 1937 explosion

New, New London School and granite cenotaph memorial to the victims of the 1937 explosion. Photo from Texas Bob Travels.

More:

Houston’s KHOU-TV produced a short feature on the explosion in 2007:

This is an encore post.
Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

40 years since the Big Thompson River disaster; do not forget

August 1, 2016

With 1000-year flooding having killed two in Ellicott City, Maryland, over the weekend, we should be reminded that delugic rains may increase with global warming.

And we should remember the Big Thompson River flood of July 31, 1976, and its victims.http://www.startribune.com/heating-up-this-week-raging-case-of-weather-amnesia/388762331/

Via the Paul Douglas on Weather blog at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (one of America’s great newspapers):

[Thunderhead that produced a slow-moving, and consquently more catastrophic deluge in the headwaters of the Big Thompson River, Colorado, on July 31, 1976.]

[Thunderhead that produced a slow-moving, and consquently more catastrophic deluge in the headwaters of the Big Thompson River, Colorado, on July 31, 1976.]

The Big Thompson Disaster: Reverberations of a Flash Flood, 40 Years Later. Dr. Jeff Masters has the post at WunderBlog: “What began as a celebratory Saturday in the mountains ended in tragedy 40 years ago this weekend, when a catastrophic flash flood ripped through the narrow Big Thompson Canyon of Colorado’s Front Range. A total of 144 people were killed on that Saturday evening, July 31, 1976–the eve of the 100th anniversary of Colorado’s statehood. On just about any summer weekend, the canyons northwest of Denver are packed with vacationers and day-trippers. With the state’s centennial falling on this particular weekend, the mood was especially festive, and the weather seemed no more threatening than on many other summer days. Forecasts through the day called for a 40% to 50% chance of showers and thunderstorms, but there was no particular concern about flood risk. Only a few hours later, critical gaps in weather data, communication, and public awareness had teamed up with a slow-moving deluge to create a true disaster–one that’s had a noteworthy influence on how we deal with flash floods today….”

Image credit: NOAA.

Hiking in the area recently, in a different canyon, I reflected on the tremendous changes in weather forecasting in the past 40 years. A lot of warnings about flash floods, and paths to climb up the canyon in emergencies. Plus, we had constant weather updates. Big Thompson was just one of several flood disasters in the 1970s, Masters notes. It’s worth reading his full post.

139 bodies were recovered from the flood, but many other bodies were never recovered. People died from injuries of being tossed about by the flood, and colliding with rocks and trees. Few died of drowning.

How do we prepare to survive and avoid such disasters in the future?

Save

Save


New London’s 1937 school disaster, remembered on Twitter today

March 18, 2016

Bridge City resident Richard Schur's mother, Luna Louise Hudson, was a student at the New London School when it exploded on March 18, 1937. Hudson had missed school that day because she couldn't find one of her shoes, but her brother, Elisha, died in the explosion. Photo taken Wednesday 3/9/16 Ryan Pelham/The Enterprise

Bridge City resident Richard Schur’s mother, Luna Louise Hudson, was a student at the New London School when it exploded on March 18, 1937. Hudson had missed school that day because she couldn’t find one of her shoes, but her brother, Elisha, died in the explosion. Photo taken Wednesday 3/9/16 Ryan Pelham/The Enterprise, Beaumont, Texas

Some do work to keep the history alive. Good on them.

Have we learned? How do we explain the explosion in West, Texas? How do we explain the general lack of attention to school facilities nationally?

Did we forget?


Forgotten disasters in U.S. schools: March 18, 1937, New London, Texas, gas explosion

March 18, 2016

Most high school history students don’t know about it.  Most high school history students in Texas don’t know about it.

New London School, New London, Texas, before the 1937 disaster. Photo from the New London Museum

New London School, New London, Texas, before the 1937 disaster. Photo from the New London Museum

I wonder, sometimes, how many Texans remember at all.

I wonder, too, if there are lessons to be learned from the New London tragedy, while the nation debates what to do to prevent recurrences of school shootings.

No one in New London, Texas, bore ill-will towards children, or schools, or other New Londoners. Some good came of the disaster, but as we’ve seen, with animosity towards schools and school safety in Texas today, and a lackadaisical approach to dangerous substance control and accident prevention in West, Texas, and other places, lessons learned were not learned well.

The deadliest disaster ever to hit a public school in the U.S. struck on March 18, 1937, when a natural gas explosion destroyed the new school building at New London, Texas, killing about 300 people — 79 years ago today.

The remains of the London School after the exp...

The remains of the London School after the explosion of March 18, 1937. Mother Frances Hospital archives

Noise from the blast alerted the town, and many people in the oilfields for many miles.  Telephone and telegraph communication got word out.  Oil companies dismissed their employees, with their tools, to assist rescue and recovery efforts.  Notably, 20-year-old Walter Cronkite came to town to report the news for a wire service.

Investigation determined that a leak in a newly-installed tap into the waste gas pipe coming from nearby oil fields probably allowed natural gas to accumulate under the building.  A spark from a sander started a fire in gas-filled air, and that in turn exploded the cavern under the school.  School officials approved the tap to the waste gas line to save money.  (Hello, Flint, Michigan!) Natural gas is odorless.  One result of the disaster was a Texas law requiring all utility natural gas to be odorized with ethyl mercaptan.

Though the Great Depression still gripped the nation, wealth flowed in New London from oil extraction from nearby oil fields.  The  school district completed construction on a new building in 1939, just two years later — with a pink granite memorial cenotaph in front.

Today, disasters produce a wealth of litigation, tort suits trying to get money to make the injured whole, and to sting those at fault to change to prevent later disasters.  In 1937 official work cut off such lawsuits.

Three days after the explosion, inquiries were held to determine the cause of the disaster. The state of Texas and the Bureau of Mines sent experts to the scene. Hearings were conducted. From these investigations, researchers learned that until January 18, 1937, the school had received its gas from the United Gas Company. To save gas expenses of $300 a month, plumbers, with the knowledge and approval of the school board and superintendent, had tapped a residue gas line of Parade Gasoline Company. School officials saw nothing wrong because the use of “green” or “wet” gas was a frequent money-saving practice for homes, schools, and churches in the oilfield. The researchers concluded that gas had escaped from a faulty connection and accumulated beneath the building. Green gas has no smell; no one knew it was accumulating beneath the building, although on other days there had been evidence of leaking gas. No school officials were found liable.

These findings brought a hostile reaction from many parents. More than seventy lawsuits were filed for damages. Few cases came to trial, however, and those that did were dismissed by district judge Robert T. Brown for lack of evidence. Public pressure forced the resignation of the superintendent, who had lost a son in the explosion. The most important result of the disaster was the passage of a state odorization law, which required that distinctive malodorants be mixed in all gas for commercial and industrial use so that people could be warned by the smell. The thirty surviving seniors at New London finished their year in temporary buildings while a new school was built on nearly the same site. The builders focused primarily on safety and secondarily on their desire to inspire students to a higher education. A cenotaph of Texas pink granite, designed by Donald S. Nelson, architect, and Herring Coe, sculptor, was erected in front of the new school in 1939.  (Texas Handbook of History, Online, from the Texas State Historical Association)

Of about 500 students, more than 50% of them died.  Once the new school and memorial were built, and the law passed requiring utilities to odorize natural gas so leaks could be detected earlier, survivors and rescuers rather shut down telling the history.  A 1977 reunion of survivors was the first in 40 years.

New London School shortly after the March 18, 1937, explosion. Photo from the New London Museum.

New London School shortly after the March 18, 1937, explosion. Photo from the New London Museum.

Because of that scarring silence, the story slipped from the pages of most history books.

Trinity Mother Frances Hospital treated the victims; a 2012 film from the hospital offers one of the best short histories of the events available today.

New London, and the New London Museum, work to remember the dead and honor them.  Work continues on a film about the disaster, perhaps for release in 2013:

Now, more than 75 years later, the London Museum, across the highway from where the original school was destroyed, keeps alive the memory of much of a generation who died on that terrible day.

This video was produced by Michael Brown Productions of Arlington, TX as a prelude to a feature documentary on the explosion and its aftermath which is planned for
the spring of 2013.  . . .

www.newlondonschool.org/museum

What are the lessons of the New London Disaster?  We learned to remember safety, when dealing with natural gas.  A solution was found to alert people to the presence of otherwise-odorless, explosive gases, a solution now required by law throughout the U.S.  Natural gas explosions decreased in number, and in damages and deaths.  Wealthy schools districts, cutting corners, can create unintended, even disastrous and deadly consequences.  Quick rebuilding covers the wounds, but does not heal them.

Remembering history takes work; history not remembered through the work of witnesses, victims and survivors, is quickly forgotten — to the detriment of history, and to the pain of the witnesses, victims and survivors.

New, New London School and granite cenotaph memorial to the victims of the 1937 explosion

New, New London School and granite cenotaph memorial to the victims of the 1937 explosion. Photo from Texas Bob Travels.

More:

Houston’s KHOU-TV produced a short feature on the explosion in 2007:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


August 24, 79 C.E.: Vesuvius spoke, with thunder

August 24, 2015

Much as the GOP Caucus and other climate-change deniers, Roman officials in Pompeii and Herculaneum refused to be alarmed at the ground shaking, and obvious eruptions from Mount Vesuvius, on August 24, 79 C.E.

In the past week we have earthquakes in California, Nepal, British Columbia, and other places. The old Earth keeps rumbling.

Oddly, we now pay more attention to earthquakes than to other things that can cause greater, rolling disasters.

Santayana’s Ghost wonders if we ever learn from history.

Vesuvius, asleep for now. National Geographic photo by Robert Clark

Vesuvius, asleep for now (2013). National Geographic photo by Robert Clark

More:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Maybe Texas can learn from this: What about when life sends you blizzards?

May 28, 2015

What do you do when life gives you blizzards? Image from film by FableVision

What do you do when life gives you blizzards? Image from film by FableVision

Another piece from Peter H. Reynolds and Fablevision, perhaps appropriate to Texas waking up near the end of Memorial Day week, with acute floods history and being cleaned up, but flood waters working their way down the major Texas rivers, ready to ravage even more communities.

Is the drought gone, yet?

When Life Gives You Blizzards, from FableVision:

Uploaded on Dec 23, 2010

A short animation by Peter H. Reynolds and FableVision about a boy who makes the best of a stormy situation. Directed by John Lechner, sound design by Tony Lechner.


August 24, 79 C.E.: Vesuvius had something to say

August 24, 2014

Much as the GOP Caucus and other climate-change deniers, Roman officials in Pompeii and Herculaneum refused to be alarmed at the ground shaking, and obvious eruptions from Mount Vesuvius, on August 24, 79 C.E.

This morning we awake to news of earthquakes in Chile and California. The old Earth keeps rumbling.

Oddly, we now pay more attention to earthquakes than to other things that can cause greater, rolling disasters.

Santayana’s Ghost wonders if we ever learn from history.

Vesuvius, asleep for now. National Geographic photo by Robert Clark

Vesuvius, asleep for now. National Geographic photo by Robert Clark


Birth of hydrogen phobia: May 6, 1937, the Hindenberg crash

May 6, 2014

May 6, 2014, is the 77th anniversary of the Hindenberg tragedy. Docking at its station in New Jersey, after crossing the Atlantic, a spark ignited the aluminum-based paint on the airship, and the entire craft exploded into flame.

35 people died on the airship, and one on the ground — did you know a few survived? The Associated Press interviewed a man who was 8-years old that day, and a passenger on the airship.

Werner Doehner, an 8-year-old passenger aboard the Hindenburg, saw chairs fall across the dining room door his father had walked through moments before the disaster. He would never see his father alive again.

“Just instantly, the whole place was on fire,” said Doehner, of Parachute, Colo., who is the last surviving passenger. “My mother threw me out the window. She threw my brother out. Then she threw me, but I hit something and bounced back. She caught me and threw me the second time out. My sister was just too heavy for her. My mother jumped out and fractured her pelvis. Regardless of that, she managed to walk.”

Hindenberg on fire

Hindenberg on fire, May 6, 1937.

The disaster erroneously condemned hydrogen in the public’s mind. Despite widespread use of hydrogen gas for cooking and some transportation during World War II (including in the U.S.), use of hydrogen as a fuel beyond that has always faced the hurdle of the “Hindenberg Syndrome,” the fear that the gas would explode.

Is the fear justified?  Fact is that gasoline is much more volatile, more explosive, and generally more dangerous, than hydrogen.  We move, and use, millions of gallons of gasoline in the U.S. every day, worldwide very hour, bound by laws enforcing strict liability, in relative safety.  Most people don’t think about the explosive power of the few gallons of gasoline stored under the rear seat of their car, where the children ride.

What other technologies do we fear irrationally?  What technologies do we irrationally fail to fear so much as we should?

This is mostly an encore post.


Remembering the worst ever U.S. industrial accident, 1947: 576 dead at Texas City

April 16, 2014

April 16 marks the 67th anniversary of the Texas City Disaster.

It’s a day Texans, and all Americans should note.  It’s an event we need to remember, because every point of the disaster is something we forget at our very great peril.  Thinking such a disaster could not happen again, and failing to train for these same conditions, contributed to the disaster last year in West, Texas.

67 years ago, in the harbor at Texas City, a large cargo ship being loaded with tons of ammonium nitrate caught fire and exploded, setting fire to other nearby ships, one of which exploded, devastating much of the town. In all, 576 people died in Texas City on April 16 and 17, 1947.

View of Texas City from across the bay, in Galveston, April 16, 1947

View of Texas City from Galveston, across the bay, after the explosion of the French ship SS Grandchamp, April 16, 1947. Photo from International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1259

The incident also produced one of the most famous tort cases in U.S. history, Dalehite vs. United States, 346 U.S. 15 (1953). (Here is the Findlaw version, subscription may be required.)

The entire Texas City fire department was wiped out, 28 firefighters in all. The International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1259 has a website dedicated to the history of the disaster, with a collection of some powerful photographs.

More below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »


October 22, 1913: Dawson mine disaster killed 263 in New Mexico

October 22, 2013

Albuqurque Journal photo and caption: Iron crosses dot the Dawson Cemetery in Colfax County, the site of a once bustling coal mining region. The Dawson mines produced millions of tons of coal in the first half of the 20th century, but also took the lives of many miners. On Oct. 22, 1913, 263 miners were killed in an explosion. On Feb. 8, 1923, another Dawson mine explosion killed 123 miners. (Journal File)

Albuquerque Journal photo and caption: Iron crosses dot the Dawson Cemetery in Colfax County, the site of a once bustling coal mining region. The Dawson mines produced millions of tons of coal in the first half of the 20th century, but also took the lives of many miners. On Oct. 22, 1913, 263 miners were killed in an explosion. On Feb. 8, 1923, another Dawson mine explosion killed 123 miners. (Journal File)

Who remembers, today?

In our recent history, a disaster in one small town or one company that killed 263 people would stand out.  But the Dawson, New Mexico, coal mine explosion of October 22, 1913, is mostly forgotten today.

100 years later, all ten of the town’s mines are closed, victim to increasing use of petroleum as fuel in the U.S.  The town itself is a ghost town, though once its schools produced scholars from children of immigrants, and state champions on the athletic fields.  A strike by miners in Colorado may have contributed to the explosion, as corporate executives tried to goose coal production in Dawson to cover shortfalls from mines closed by the strikes.  Unions then grew to major influence in American life, including increasing safety in coal mining.  But unions, today, hold waning influence generally.

Many or most of those who died didn’t speak English.  Instead, they spoke the languages of their native lands, Italy, Greece, Germany, and other European nations.  Despite its location in New Mexico, there were few Native Americans, or residents or immigrants of Hispanic origins.

Today’s anniversary should be a departure point for rich discussion of many threads in American history, the rise of industrialization, the changing industries of the cowboy frontier towns, the changing ownership of lands from Native Americans to big corporations, the changing nature of work and union influence, the dramatically different views of government and government regulation, the role of immigration and immigrants.

In your state’s standards, Common Core State Standards or not, can a teacher intrigue students with real history in any of those ways?

The Albuquerque Journal remembered the disaster in an article in Sunday’s edition:

The second-deadliest coal mining disaster in U.S. history occurred 100 years ago this week in a northern New Mexico town that no longer exists, save for the small cemetery bearing the remains of many of the 263 miners killed in a massive explosion on the afternoon of Oct. 22, 1913.

Though the town of Dawson and the Stag Canyon No. 2 coal mine are mere footnotes in history to most people, the men who died there a century ago – mostly Italian and Greek immigrants lured to the coal fields by decent-paying jobs and all the amenities a company town like Dawson could offer – are far from forgotten.

In ceremonies today at the Raton Museum, the miners killed in what has become known as the Dawson Mining Disaster will be remembered by descendents, historians and New Mexico’s Italian and Greek communities.

“I think it’s important to honor these men, and all immigrants who helped build America,” said Nicki Panagopoulos, a member of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Albuquerque.

A second disaster a decade later killed another 123 miners.

Who remembers? How should we study these events in our history classes?  Do we study such events at all?

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English: Main Street of Dawson, New Mexico. Ta...

Main Street of Dawson, New Mexico. Taken in 1916. Though once an active community of 9,000 residents supporting ten coal mines, it is now a ghost town, shut down by Phelps Dodge Corporation in 1950, and bulldozed. Wikipedia image


Earth on fire? No, just Idaho (and a lot not pictured)

August 23, 2013

Photo and press release from NASA’s Earth Observatory:

Image from the astronauts aboard the International Space Station, acquired August 18, 2013 -- 50 mm lens. Looking to the west, over Idaho.

Image from the astronauts aboard the International Space Station, acquired August 18, 2013 — 50 mm lens. Looking to the west, over Idaho. See photo below for labels of fire sites.

Description of the photo:

Taken with a short lens (50 millimeters), this west-looking image from the International Space Station includes much of forested central Idaho. The oblique image highlights part of the largest single wilderness area in the contiguous United States, the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness.

Within this mountainous region (the dark areas are all wooded), several fires produced extensive smoke plumes. The densest smoke appeared to be generated by a combination of the Little Queens and Leggit fires (within the Salmon River Mountains [link added]). This image shows the common pattern of westerly winds carrying smoke in an easterly direction, as seen during the wildfire season of one year ago.

Named fires—most ignited by lightning—had burned 53,000 acres of forest south of the Salmon River by August 20, 2013; the number would be significantly higher if unnamed fires were included. The Gold Pan fire, north of the Salmon River, had burned 27,000 acres. For a sense of scale, Gold Pan lies about 125 miles (200 kilometers) north of the Little Queens fire.

Ten days before this image was taken, fires in central Idaho (near Boise) had been aggravated by southerly winds. Some of those fires began to burn in July, but were quelled and remain under observation for new flare-ups.

In the image above, smoke partly obscures the black lava flows of the Craters of the Moon National Monument [link added] (lower left). The Beaverhead Mountains [link added] mark the eastern boundary of Idaho with Montana.

Astronaut photograph ISS036-E-32853 was acquired on August 18, 2013, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 50 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 36 crew. It has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by M. Justin Wilkinson, Jacobs/JETS at NASA-JSC.

English: Salmon River Mountains, ID

Salmon River Mountains, Idaho, on the ground; notice the steep mountains on-the-ground firefighters must contend with. Wikipedia image

Instrument: ISS – Digital Camera

My older brother Dwight was a firefighter with the Bureau of Land Management in the early 1960s.  There were some huge fires then — but not so many, so large, all at once.  While we don’t have satellite photos to compare from way back then, this is just scary.  Those were scary on the ground, and smaller than these — and fewer.

Notice in the photo below, some of these huge fires are not even big enough to be named.  Wow.

Image from the International Space Station of Idaho fires, with names of larger fires overlayed.  August 23, 2013

Image from the International Space Station of Idaho fires, with names of larger fires overlayed. August 23, 2013

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Compare with NASA photo from a month ago; Idaho’s been hammered by fire in 2013:

Photo of Idaho from about July 20, 2013, showing then-active fires in the state -- north at top of photo. Notice Craters of the Moon National Monument, the dark area in the southeast section -- this area is obscured by new fires in the photos above.

Photo of Idaho from about July 20, 2013, showing then-active fires in the state — north at top of photo. Notice Craters of the Moon National Monument, the dark area in the southeast section — this area is obscured by new fires in the photos above. Idaho’s borders are barely visible in a thin, black line.  This photo from NASA/Goddard


President Obama, a man of grace and encouragement

May 27, 2013

Consoler and Encourager in Chief:

Note President Obama left at Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore, Oklahoma

Caption from Pete Souza‘s slide show: A message from President Barack Obama is seen on a Plaza Towers Elementary School sign, at Moore Fire Department Station #1 in Moore, Okla., May 26, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Pete Souza‘s work as White House photographer will ultimately make historians’ work much richer.  He’s got a great eye for a shot that needs to be snapped, and a great sense of art on the fly.  If you’re not a regular watcher of Souza’s work, you probably should be, especially if you’re teaching history.

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Texas no stranger to massive explosions and disasters

April 17, 2013

April 16 marked the 66th anniversary of the massive explosions of fertilizer on ships in the harbor of  Texas City, Texas — 576 people died in that 1947 disaster.

Last month marked the 76th anniversary of the massive natural gas explosion that destroyed the school in New London, Texas, killing about 300 people.

A few minutes ago, a disaster/rescue official in West, Texas, said he fears as many as 100 dead in the explosion of the fertilizer plant there, earlier this evening.  Another fertilizer tank may explode, and the town is being evacuated.

New London, Texas, school after the March 18, 1937, natural gas explosion that killed about 300 people.

New London, Texas, school after the March 18, 1937, natural gas explosion that killed about 300 people.

Texas City explosion, 1947

View of Texas City from Galveston, across the bay, after the explosion of the French ship SS Grandchamp, April 16, 1947. Photo from International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1259. 576 people died in that series of explosions.

The fertilizer tank that exploded contained several hundred times the amount of the same explosive used to destroy the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

How can any town ever prepare for that?

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