Friday, June 02, 2006

Like Making a Giant Mudpie

Today's Advocate has (oh, here's something sort of unrelated, but remarkable nonetheless--a letter to the editor that's really good)--anyway, today's local paper has a sort of catchall story that begins with scientific recommendations to build what would be essentially spillways off the main Mississippi River channel--which, with proper, careful planning--could become a major component of coastal restoration:

The 120 million tons of Mississippi River sediment lost to the Gulf of Mexico annually could be redirected into southeastern Louisiana’s rapidly vanishing coastal wetlands by diverting the river between Myrtle Grove and Venice in lower Plaquemines Parish, a group of scientists recommended Thursday, the first day of the 2006 hurricane season.

The three dozen local, national and international scientists, who met in April in New Orleans and toured the coast, said such a bold plan is needed to rebuild, replenish and sustain coastal Louisiana — the first line of defense against killer hurricanes such as Katrina.

The scientists are not advocating diverting the entire river, but instead creating one or more channels off it...

The scientists suggest creating a new river channel or channels between Myrtle Grove and Venice, which would redirect the main flow of sediment and fresh water from the river closer to shore and the upper continental shelf. Tides and waves would transport the sediment toward the shore and rework them into a mosaic of wetlands, shallow bays and barrier islands, they say.

[University of New Orleans earth and environmental sciences professor Denise] Reed said diverting the river to capture the sediment that falls uselessly off the continental shelf into the deep Gulf waters will be costly and time-consuming, but it is vital.

“There are no quick fixes,” King Milling, chairman of the America’s WETLAND Campaign to Save Coastal Louisiana, said at the news conference hosted by the campaign.

“The important thing is we start taking this sediment loss seriously,” Reed said.

The report continues:

Earlier in the day, America’s WETLAND and the “Women of the Storm” group co-sponsored a rally-style event at New Orleans City Park’s Tad Gormley Stadium to dramatize the increased danger caused by the continuing loss of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands and to highlight which states have sent members of Congress to visit New Orleans since Katrina hit Aug. 29 — and the seven states that have not.

“No one has bothered to come in nine months — no one,” Anne Milling, wife of King Milling and founder of Women of the Storm, said of Indiana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Twenty-one states have not sent a U.S. senator to the storm-ravaged city, she said, and 19 have not sent a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“While we thank the members of Congress who have visited and gained an understanding of our plight, we remain shocked that 400 U.S. senators and representatives have not found the time to visit the site of the worst natural disaster ever to strike our nation,” Anne Milling said.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., spoke at City Park and said the “economic security” of the nation — both in terms of oil and gas and also fisheries — “begins right here at home” in southern Louisiana.

“We’ve got a lot to fight for,” she said. “Keep the message alive.”

(Maybe if we told Dennis Hastert that it WAS mudpie--delicious, and chocolaty--he and an army of literal fat cats would waddle down in such a hurry it'd register on the Richter scale...but, then again, they might eat through all of Plaquemines Parish)...

Gov. Kathleen Blanco told a small Tad Gormley crowd — including schoolchildren wearing orange life jackets and Women of the Storm members toting umbrellas the same color as the all-too-familiar blue FEMA roof tarps — that Thursday was “the most important June 1 in Louisiana history” because of what happened last year with hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“We are better prepared than ever before. Yes, Louisiana is ready,” the governor said. “But we don’t have a federal commitment to coastal restoration. We must have a restored coastline.”

Blanco pledged to follow through on her promise to block an Aug. 16 oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf in an attempt to get Louisiana a larger share of offshore oil and gas revenue — money that would be used to fund the state’s coastal restoration work.

“I definitely mean business,” she said. “Some may view this as an idle threat. They shouldn’t. I will stand firm. I will not back down.”

Sidney Coffee, executive assistant to the governor for coastal activities and chair of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said at the hotel news conference that the state’s dispute with the U.S. Minerals Management Service lease sale will “likely be a protracted legal situation.”

Coffee said the state needs a “steady stream of revenue” to shore up its coast.

Plaquemines Parish President Benny Rousselle, who attended the Tad Gormley rally, said that his parish is the New Orleans area’s first line of defense against storm surge and that a greater share of offshore oil and gas revenue would help the state battle the surge by bolstering the coast.

“We think we ought to be treated fairly,” he said. “We could in fact handle our own problems a lot better.”

Ed Renwick, a Loyola University New Orleans associate political science professor, who polled 600 voters statewide between May 1 and May 10, said 90 percent of those surveyed agree that Blanco should play hardball with the federal government on the revenue-sharing issue.

“Louisianians finally found something they can agree on,” he said at the America’s WETLAND news conference.

Count me in with the 90 percent. Hell, I think anyone arguing against Gulf Coast reconstruction ought to be required to pay an extra dollar a gallon. Give 'em a taste of what they're advocating.

And, finally: Hopefully I'll be a little better about posting next week. Usually I try to time my cyclical writer's blocks around travel/vacation...this year, with increased expenses, vacation has to wait for a while. Oh well--it was a good trade, under the circumstances. But I'll see if I can up my production just a bit till then...
"Slightly Better Than Saddam" Is Pretty Much All We Can Say Now

The Compassionate Conservative Program for Mesopotamia.

I'll assume you've seen the stories about Haditha. Now stories are surfacing about another massacre in Ishaqi. And a couple of days ago it was reported that a pregnant woman was killed in Samarra (the full-term fetus was also pronounced dead).

Greg Peters has a few thoughts on Haditha specifically, but might as well be speaking generally about the depths to which Iraq has been FUBAR'ed thanks to the mix and match of hubris and muleheadedness on the part of the national leadership. In allowing the situation to turn to--AT BEST--Saddam Lite, or, more often, chaos/anarchy and/or sectarian civil strife, they've undercut pretty much every notion previously held by the region about the United States, from the perception that this nation had respect for the rule of law to even the grudging acceptance of our military might.

Way to go, neocons.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

ACOE: Actually, We DIDN'T Accomplish the Mission

But anyone paying attention would know that already:

A contrite U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took responsibility Thursday for the flooding of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina and said the levees failed because they were built in a disjointed fashion using outdated data.

"This is the first time that the Corps has had to stand up and say, `We've had a catastrophic failure,'" Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the Corps chief, said as the agency issued a 6,000-page-plus report on the disaster on Day 1 of the new hurricane season.

The Corps said it will use the lessons it has learned to build better flood defenses.

"Words alone will not restore trust in the Corps," Strock said, adding that the Corps is committed "to fulfilling our important responsibilities."

OK, I'll give Strock a bit of credit: in an era when it takes three years for Shrubleroy to sorta, kind of apologize for being a tactless uber-ditz ("bring 'em on"), it's mildly refreshing to see someone take responsibility. And I hope this admission puts to rest once and for all the Rove-inspired shitstorm of blame heaped on state and local officials. For years, if not decades, politicians representating the Gret Stet, at ALL levels, urged Congress to take action, to no avail.

Had the federal government honored its commitment, 1500 people wouldn't have been killed. Yes, the city would've been smacked by the storm (even the glancing blow caused plenty of wind damage), but it wouldn't have been the catastrophe it turned out to be...

In particular, after 9/11, it seems as if the feds couldn't be bothered with anything that didn't involve neat-o toys and other trinkets to counter the big, bad terrorist wolf...though now it's becoming even MORE evident that the program was just a hack/pork barrel money grab anyway (sidenote: speaking of tactless, Senator Schumer sure didn't help the Democratic Party yesterday when he dismissed all Georgians as "peanut farmers." What a dumbass). But I digress.

You can read the full ACOE report here.

But, they say it's about 6,000 pages or so long AND in .pdf format. Since I'm at home today, and have been holding off for some time on a computer upgrade, I think I'll, one, wait till tomorrow to take a look, and, two, in all honesty, probably just read the summary.

Still, I'm hoping to see a degree of, for lack of a better term, maturity in the Corps' recommendations. It'd be even nicer if the federal government would also show some maturity and do the right things.
If Paperwork/Bureaucracy=Floodwalls...

...we'd have Cat 5 protection already...

From Firedoglake:

...These are Americans.

There are real people, who work hard, try to play by the rules, and just want to put their lives back together caught in this endless morass of paperwork and exhaustion and loss of jobs and worry about their kids and this seemingly never-ending nightmare. I keep going back to an e-mail that I received from a regular reader:
…Well, six months ago, I hit the road trying to get my family out of the way of a big storm. Ended up 400 miles away from new orleans. My oldest son and I came back a couple of weeks later ready to try to start putting things back together and build. It was like running into a brick wall.

For the past six months, I’ve been banging my head against this wall, yelling and screaming..and it hurts.

The National Flood Insurance Program run by FEMA (pardon me while I scream) has sent my claim back to the adjustor twice for revisions that have no effect on the settlement amount and they still can’t tell me when I can expect a settlement of my claim. This was insurance that I paid for. I applied for disaster assistance and was promptly buried in paperwork, and now FEMA has sent me a letter telling me I was ineligible for diasater help because I have insurance. Meanwhile, my homeowner’s insurance, who wanted to use their own structural engineer instead of one of the two local engineers that I recommended, has finally agreed that my house leans due to wind rack from the hurricane winds. That only took them five months to figure out. Of course, it only took me and my neighbors about five minutes.

Now it’s just a question of how long it’s going to take to figure out how much this is all going to cost to remedy and how long it’s going to take for them to actually get the settlement check in the mail (if the mail is still working).

I also put in an application for an SBA Personal Disaster Loan. They finally sent someone to look at my house a month ago (that only took five months). The SBA field representative said he would have his report in within a couple of a days and a loan officer from the SBA would contact me within two weeks. After two weeks I called and I was told that a loan officer had not yet been assigned to my case. When I complained, they put my case on some type of "accelerated program", but I still don’t have a loan officer and was told that the reason for this was that they had to put so many people on the accelerated program that it slowed them down (*grin*)….

I weep for these folks, but more than that, I’m angry. Here’s another perspective from a Mississipian
As far as the eye can see … busted chairs; tables; washing machines; toilets; kitchen sinks; broken ceiling fans; smashed dishes; children’s toys; water-soaked, blurry, family photo albums; shoes of all kinds; torn, mud-splattered sheets; pillows; bloated mattresses; lamps; boards; cement blocks; and so much more, buried in mud, impaled in bushes, stuck in trees, scattered across miles and miles of landscape, lost to the wind and heat and mildew, and the inevitable march of decay. Fields of debris faded into shades of gray, leached of color. I see four wooden crosses nailed to a gate, the house down the lane a pile of rubble.
I see a small child, a little girl of maybe 4 years, sitting on a box in front of her family’s FEMA trailer, staring at nothing. I hear no neighbors talking over back fences, no neighbors, period, no children’s laughter or play, anywhere, no sounds of anything save the distant hum of a chainsaw or a truck engine straining to haul off broken pieces of what was once someone’s house. Otherwise, it is quiet. A place of broken dreams, missing friends, lost homes, lost lives.

It’s not just NOLA that is suffering: the rest of the Gulf Coast isn’t faring a whole lot better in terms of reconstruction efforts and federal assistance. If this is the best we can do with a hurricane, what in the hell are we going to do with a catastrophic biological, chemical or nuclear attack?

Sure, there is a personal responsibility component to all of this: you get your family out when there is a hurricane coming to the extent that you can do so. You make a decision to try and live somewhere safe, rather than putting your family in harm’s way to the extent that you can do so. You plan ahead with supplies and try to have an emergency escape plan, just in case, to the extent that you can do so. Most families do that — including the family that did everything right and is still struggling to stay on their feet in the New Orleans area that I linked to above.

I don’t expect the Federal government (nor the state or local governments for that matter) to step in and make life perfect. But if they make promises, they ought to be expected to live up to them.

Everyone who thinks the Bush Administration has lived up to its end of the deal and kept all its promises, give a shout out. *crickets chirping*

I guess the wingnut "pundits," such as they are, decided that hurricane or natural disaster response is more indicative of a "mommy" party than a "daddy" one. Still--I wonder how badly they'd screw up if the disaster came as a surprise...

(oh--unrelated, but: a friend is visiting from out of town, so I'll be out and about this afternoon. Will try to post a little bit later this evening).

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

You Won't Stop a Storm Surge With a Bucket

Scout Prime puts into words something I've thus far been unable to express:

George Bush has stressed the role of volunteers in rebuilding New Orleans. He visited volunteers at various rebuilding sites in New Orleans on April 27 as part of promoting National Volunteer Week. At the time he stated, "If you are interested in helping the victims of Katrina, interested in helping them get back on their feet, come on down here."

Don’t pack your bags though. FEMA has announced that on June 1 it will be closing the last 4 camps that house and feed volunteers coming to Louisiana to aid in recovery. The move will likely shut down the volunteer work Bush was promoting...

The fact that the camps were originally to be closed April 10 but then extended to June 1 makes Bush’s call for volunteers to come to New Orleans at best questionable and at worst quite disingenuous. Beyond that, was volunteerism ever a practical plan for rebuilding the Gulf Coast anyway? I applaud the work done by volunteers and I know the people of New Orleans are grateful for their contribution. However given the enormity of the destruction and thus the task at hand wouldn’t it have been better to have a president stand in New Orleans wielding a Marshall Plan for reconstruction rather than a volunteer’s hammer? Just what IS the Plan for rebuilding?

I've asked that for months and at the end of February I went to New Orleans seeking answers. It took all of 3 hours to realize that if I was looking for answers, New Orleans was the last place to be. At that time, the sheer uncertainty of living there was overwhelming. Three months later it is no better.

I can't agree more with Scout's statement about the volunteers. People down here are forever grateful, and humbled, by folks traveling down--and continuing to come to the Gulf Coast--foregoing vacations, or indeed, basic things like indoor plumbing--to help in any way they can.

Unfortunately, it seems as if the administration in Washington thinks this alone will suffice. They make this claim on supposedly ideological grounds; however, the (pun intended) hurricane of dollar bills they're throwing at THEIR pet projects belies that claim. And they're hoping--or expecting--no one to notice.

By the way, I don't think the Gulf Coast is the ONLY area this country should invest in. Yes, it's the most pressing need right now...but an administration--or entire government--that didn't behave like a gang of kleptomaniacal teenagers might well be able to work out a prudent plan for the revitalization of the entire country...the Gulf Coast could well be a model. It'd certainly work out a HELL of a lot better than their present experiments in nation building.

Hmmm...the picture above has an eerie resemblence to a few things I posted a while back.

Could my, ahem, joke post be the inspiration? (and yes, that's also supposed to be a joke...).
HERE'S Something That'll Scare People into Evacuating

Your first responders for the next disaster.

Well, Blogger's finally working again...I think...or maybe I should say we'll see when I hit the publish button.

To be honest, all this week I've had a bit of writer's block, but today is definitely a case of Blogger working about as well as FEMA last August and September.

Anyway, The NY Times reports on the scare 'em strategem:

Convinced that tough tactics are needed, officials in hurricane-prone states are trumpeting dire warnings about the storm season that starts on Thursday, preaching self-reliance and prodding the public to prepare early and well.

Cities are circulating storm-preparation checklists, counties are holding hurricane expositions at shopping malls and states are dangling carrots like free home inspections and tax-free storm supplies in hopes of conquering complacency.

But the main strategy, it seems, is to scare the multitudes of people who emergency officials say remain blasé even after last year's record-breaking storm season.

Now, maybe it's just me being cynical as time marches...a little faster on my clock than Oyster's (and why not stop by and wish him a happy birthday today?)...but I'm thinking the next region unfortunate to suffer the effects of a major storm--while certainly NOT being "lucky"--might benefit, albeit ever so slightly, from a desire on the part of Team Bush to "prove" they're not complete and utter boobs. Of course, it also helps that this is a special year, as it were: one divisible by the number two. And the "help" will almost certainly be contingent on whether the region is...or isn't...a "swing" state.

Still, if confronted by the picture above, I'd hightail it at the first sign of being potentially in harm's way. Thinking about Shrub handling an axe and telling the National Weather Center to "bring it on" would be plenty enough...without waiting around for Big Time to tell us that any storm is in its "last throes" as it reaches the Loop Current. Besides, Michael "the living skull" Chertoff and Turd Blossom would be blaming the victims regardless of what actually happened...

Oh, and speaking of things actually happening--The Gray Lady has another report about the effect of global warming on tropical cyclones/hurricanes that's well worth a read. And here's an interesting and somewhat related item: during an interglacial warm period some 55 million years ago, the Arctic was much warmer than scientists realized. But, nobody rides for free:

Skeptics of man-made causes of global warming have nothing to rejoice over, however. The researchers say their studies appearing in Thursday's issue of Nature also offer a peek at just how bad conditions can get.

"It probably was (a tropical paradise) but the mosquitoes were probably the size of your head," said Yale geology professor Mark Pagani, a study co-author.

Yeah, they're plenty big in the Gret Stet right now, but not that big.

On the other hand, if we could only get these giant mosquitoes to start buzzing in and around the White House...or the Capitol. Or both...

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Is it Really Asking Too Much to Request That Adults Be Put in Charge?

From Dependable Renegade, I see that Bubble-Boy was clueless about the Haditha massacre until reporters began asking questions:

President Bush learned of reports that U.S. Marines killed two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians only after reporters began asking questions, the White House said Tuesday.

Asked when Bush was first briefed about the events in Haditha, an insurgent stronghold in western Iraq, White House press secretary Tony Snow replied Tuesday: "When a Time reporter first made the call."

Geez. What a bunch of dimwits we've got: Boy-Shrub prances and preens on aircraft carriers, barks "bring 'em on," or "dead or alive," before finally offering a "sociopathic sort of contrition," according to this's the first anniversary of "last throes,"--and I don't have the slightest doubt that, come 2007, May 30th will coincide with the second anniversary, Mr. Cheney...unless you accept reality...hmmm...fat chance.

Let's see...come to think of it, Rummy's been exploring his own perpetual adolescence lately, having adamently denied saying "we know where they are" in reference to WMD--before long, I'l bet he's jutting out his lower lip and publicly pouting if asked about anything more controversial than the weather. You know, I wonder if he's bothered to consider casualty estimates over the next twelve months...because that sort of thing is part of his job (and makes you wonder why nobody's asked any questions: sure, it's awful to even consider such matters, but, guess what? People die in wars, and part of the ugly job of warfare, particularly at the top, is to make these kinds of judgements. Usually, they're made PRIOR to a conflict, and become an essential consideration, i.e., are the COSTS WORTH IT?).

I mean, either they really DO have a child or adoloscent mindset...which is scary enough...or, like Kenny Boy Lay and Jeff Skilling, they think somehow they can both play dumb and act smart.

Didn't work out all that well for the Enron twins...and I've got a feeling the individual members of Team Bush, whether or not they're hauled off into the clink (and, if you ask me, they oughta be), will be equally subject to scorn and ridicule. The problem, of course, is that they're not just dragging down a company, but a country.
Fanning Up a Shitstorm

From the "no good deed goes unpunished" department, it seems as if Ivor van Heerden's getting flak from LSU, for, well, doing his job:

After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Ivor van Heerden and his colleagues searched through homes in the city he calls the Cajun Atlantis, looking for battery-powered clocks.

In the face of horrifying destruction, Dr. van Heerden, the deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, knew that small things helped tell the big story. The moment that the clocks' time stopped could show when the homes filled with water, data "vitally important to any good forensic study," as he puts it in his new book, "The Storm: What Went Wrong During Hurricane Katrina — The Inside Story From One Louisiana Scientist," published last week by Viking...

As a former chief of the state's office of coastal restoration efforts and a leader of the hurricane center, he had long been one of the state's best-known Cassandras on the coming crisis for New Orleans. In the months since the storm, as leader of the state's team of investigators of the disaster, he has helped reveal the flaws in design, construction and maintenance of the city's hurricane protection system that contributed to the destruction. Seeing the storm-ravaged homes and smelling the stench of death in them, he writes, "convinced me to try to get the federal government to own up to the fact that this city was flooded by the failure of its levees."

To many in Louisiana this outspokenness has made Dr. van Heerden a hero. But at his university it has gotten him called on the carpet for threatening the institution's relationship with the federal government and the research money that comes with that. Last November two vice chancellors at Lousiana State — Michael Ruffner, in charge of communications for the university, and Harold Silverman, who leads the office of research — brought him in for a meeting. As Dr. van Heerden recalled in an interview in Baton Rouge, La., the two administrators — one of whom controlled his position, which is nontenured — said that "they would prefer that I not talk to the press because it could hurt L.S.U.'s chances of getting federal funding in the future."

The administrators told him to work through the university's media relations department instead.

Dr. van Heerden regarded the meeting as a threat to his career. "I actually spoke to my wife about it that night," he remembered, "and said: 'Look, we need to recognize that I could lose my job. Are we prepared for that? Because I'm not going to stop.' "

The vice chancellors' directive lasted less than a week: after Dr. van Heerden channeled dozens of interview requests through the media office, the administrators dropped the new requirement.

E-mail messages about the incident obtained through a formal request to Louisana State University include an angry note to administrators from one of Dr. van Heerden's colleagues, Roy Dokka. Dr. Dokka, a geologist who is an expert on subsidence, the lowering of the ground's surface because of changes below, like the pumping of water or oil from underground reservoirs, is executive director of the Louisiana State University Center for Geoinformatics. His message said that during visits to Washington "I am asked how so-and-so's irresponsible behavior is tolerated."

His message concluded: "Academic freedom can be a shield to be stupid, but it is not a license to be irresponsible on public policy issues that involve lives and public safety. The university will remain in third-rate category unless the 'cowboys' are reighned in." (The word is misspelled, possibly a result of angry haste or carelessness.)

A message from Mr. Ruffner, the vice chancellor for communications, to Dr. van Heerden after their meeting stated that the university wanted to be in on helping with the recovery of Louisiana, "not in pointing blame."

In an interview Mr. Ruffner said Dr. van Heerden's training in environmental management did not qualify him to comment on engineering matters. "We don't see him as a viable source to be discussing the engineering aspect of the levees," he said. "I have an advanced degree in communications, but that doesn't qualify me to comment on the New York Philharmonic."

But, he added, as long as Dr. van Heerden does not claim to represent the views of the university, "he can say anything he wants."

Dr. Dokka said in an interview that he had written his heated warning to the university about "cowboys" after a visit to the Army Corps of Engineers headquarters in Washington not long after the storm. An official noticed Dr. Dokka's Louisiana State lapel pin. "He looks at it and says, 'What the hell is wrong with L.S.U.?' " Dr. Dokka recalled.

Dr. van Heerden pointed out that he had never claimed to be an engineer but said that he had worked closely with those with greater expertise in that discipline. He noted that the broad conclusion his team had come to — that the levees failed largely because of human error — were shared by every other major investigation of the issues, including the corps' own. "There's nothing we have put out there that hasn't been proved true by other teams," he said. And, he added, he suspects that his critics may not be as upset about what he might have gotten wrong as about what he has gotten right.

Dr. van Heerden, 55, came from the Natal province of South Africa to Louisiana in 1977 to do coastal research. He began banging the drum about the hurricane threat in 1994. In 2000 he helped found the hurricane center, which the university says is the largest resource of hurricane experts in the world and which has become a respected multidisciplinary institution that studies storms, defenses against them and their effects on society.

After Katrina hit, Dr. van Heerden said, he and his colleagues at the hurricane center realized that "those people sitting on the roofs and standing in the water don't have a voice."

But, he said, the issue is far from over. "Nature's given us a second chance," he observed. "Katrina was the warning. Katrina showed us a lot of our weaknesses." Now is the time, he added, for dirt, concrete and steel. "We've got to hope and pray that before we get anything like another Katrina, that we've raised the levees, armored them and built the necessary floodgates," he said.

If the system is not just patched but thoroughly improved, he said, "A lot of people will be a lot more willing to come back."

"But right now," he concluded, "there's nothing for them to come back to."

A couple of things here: first, calling van Heerden a "Cassandra" is hugely insulting: the term implies a degree of panic that most decidely turned out NOT to be the case. Instead, his warnings were literally dead-on accurate.

Second, this isn't the first time van Heerden's dealt with flak. I recall a couple of years ago when Waste Management gave him the swiftboat treatment--and evidently others were a bit more sinister--because he opposed a planned expansion of the Woodside landfill in Livingston Parish.

Now, I'm not a scientist. But my money's on HIS views, as opposed to those trying to silence or otherwise stifle him. As far as I can tell, van Heerden's track record is solid and proven. I don't know much of anything about his employers at LSU, but I DO know enough not to trust Waste Management as far as I can throw a balled up piece of paper into a headwind. And, as deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center, I'd say he's doing EXACTLY what needs to be done: using language a non-scientist can understand, he's laying out the steps this country needs to take in order to protect a vital region--the UNITED STATES Gulf Coast. Is that too much to ask of the country?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

Sorry for not posting today. Yes, I enjoyed the holiday, and, probably like a lot of folks, took the time to relax a bit and take care of chores.

Still, this article sticks out for me, among all the other things I've read or come across:

Jacob Hobbs, 10, did not mince words about the death of his father.

"He was in a Humvee, driving at night on patrol, and a homemade bomb blew up on him so bad it killed his brain," Jacob said of his father, Staff Sgt. Brian Hobbs, 31, of the Army. "But he wasn't scratched up that much. And that's how he died."

Sitting across from Jacob in a circle at a grief camp over Memorial Day weekend, Taylor Downing, a 10-year-old with wavy red hair and a mouthful of braces, offered up her own detailed description. "My dad died four days after my birthday, on Oct. 28, 2004," Taylor said quietly of Specialist Stephen Paul Downing II. "He got shot by a sniper. It came in through here," she added, pointing to the front of her head, "and went out there," shifting her finger to the back of her head...

An estimated 1,600 children have lost a parent, almost all of them fathers, to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, nearly 150 of these children gathered at a hotel here in this Washington suburb for a yearly grief camp run by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a nonprofit group founded in 1994 that helps military families and friends cope with death and talk about their loss...

Burying a parent is never easy for a child, but losing a father in a violent way, in a far-off war, is fraught with a complexity all its own.

The children receive hugs from strangers who thank them for their father's courage; they fight to hold back tears in front of whole communities gathered to commemorate their fathers; they sometimes cringe when they hear loud noises, fret over knocks at the door and appear well-versed in the treachery of bombs.

And often the children say goodbye not just to their fathers but to their schools and homes, since families who live on a military base must move into the civilian world after a service member dies...

Many of these children are old enough to remember their fathers, but now the images are slipping away in fragments.

One memory few will ever forget is the moment they learned that their fathers would not come home. Paul R. Syverson IV, a 10-year-old with a blond crew cut and his father's face, saw a soldier at the door. "My mom saw him and started crying," said Paul, trying hard to stifle tears as he recounted how he was sent next door to play.

His father, Maj. Paul R. Syverson III, 32, a Green Beret, had been killed by a mortar round inside Camp Balad, Iraq — or as Paul put it, "He was eating breakfast, and he was shot by Iraqis."

Later, "I cried," he said. "I played with my soldiers. And then I went to the basement because my dad was a collector of 'Star Wars' stuff. I took those out, and I played with them."

Brooke Nyren, 9, whose father, Staff Sgt. Nathaniel J. Nyren, died in a vehicle accident in Iraq on Dec. 28, 2004, told her story in a writing assignment at the camp. When two Army men showed up at the door, "I was really scared," Brooke wrote. "The two Army men asked my mom, please can you put your daughter in a different room. So I went in my room. The only thing I was doing was praying."

"My hart was broken," she wrote.

The children's mothers say the deaths have had expected repercussions, like plummeting grades and mood swings. But they have also seen unexpected reactions. Madison Swisher, 8, who sleeps in her father's T-shirt, is afraid of loud noises; her dad died in Iraq from an improvised bomb. She and her younger brother talk a lot about bombs in general. They call the Iraqis the "bad guys" and are afraid the bad guys will arrive any minute.

Several mothers said they worried that their children's hero worship, a healthy balm in the beginning, could turn problematic if they tried to follow in their fathers' footsteps.

Teenagers, in particular, have trouble adjusting. Scott Rentschler, 14, was living on a military base in Germany when his father, Staff Sgt. George Rentschler, was killed in Iraq in 2004 by a rocket-propelled grenade. His life, Scott said, "is a roller coaster." Scott's grandmother, Lillian Rentschler, said that moving off a military base was difficult for him, and that society and schools make few allowances for children in their second year of grief.

"People think he should be all fixed up," Ms. Rentschler said.

The outpouring that families receive after a death is mostly comforting to them. But in time, it can verge on stifling, some parents said. Jenny Hobbs, 32, Jacob's mother, said that in their hometown, Mesa, Ariz., her three children were "embraced as heroes. It was cool to know them."

But there was a downside, Ms. Hobbs said, and ultimately she moved the family to Ohio. "The death is in the public eye," she said. "It is hard to let go. The war is still going on, and you are reminded of it. One reason I had to move is that it was hard to be normal."

Ms. Hobbs continued: "He was no longer ours and human. We needed him to be ours."

Parents and mentors say they try to help the children stay connected to their fathers and grieve in intimate ways, far from the public eye. They post photographs all over the house, make teddy bears out of their dads' shirts and encourage them to write letters.

Eddie Murphy, 10, whose father, Maj. Edward Murphy, 36, died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in April 2005, did just that one day at grief camp. "Summer is coming up," he wrote to his father. "It won't be the same without you. You won't believe it but I'm in Washington."

He signed off: "I love you. Hi to Heaven."

I've blogged before about this, so for those who've seen this before, another quick apology, but reading about kids losing parents in war really eats away at me. You see, I was very lucky: my own dad came home.

He wasn't in near the kind of danger U.S soldiers face on the ground in Afghanistan or Iraq, but he was a career officer in the United States Navy (Lt. Commander/Aviator), and served a seven month stint at Yankee Station in 1970. To a five year old, his absence was keenly felt, and it seemed like he was gone for a long, long time. You can't imagine the joy we kids felt--and I'll bet it was doubly so for my mom--when he got back.

It was awful enough when he unfortunately passed away in 2004, and I'm not exactly a kid anymore.

Comparing and contrasting the genuine pain these children will live with for the rest of their lives with the political games/lies of the people who pushed for war in Iraq...if there is a god, I sincerely hope said god damns the latter. All of them. Literally. For eternity.