Tuesday, October 28, 2003

The California Fires
Mike Davis, who writes about the inevitable conflicts between ecosystems and urbanization, has a few good thoughts regarding the latest Santa Ana firestorm on the West Coast:

"Just before Halloween, the pressure differential between the Colorado Plateau and Southern California begins to generate the infamous Santa Ana winds. A spark in their path becomes a blowtorch.

Exactly a decade ago, between Oct. 26 and Nov. 7, firestorms fanned by Santa Anas destroyed more than a thousand homes in Pasadena, Malibu, and Laguna Beach. In the last century, nearly half the great Southern California fires have occurred in October.

This time climate, ecology, and stupid urbanization have conspired to create the ingredients for one of the most perfect firestorms in history. Experts have seen it coming for months.

First of all, there is an extraordinary supply of perfectly cured, tinder-dry fuel. The weather year, 2001-02, was the driest in the history of Southern California. Here in San Diego we had only 3 inches of rain. (The average is about 11 inches). Then last winter it rained just hard enough to sprout dense thickets of new underbrush (a.k.a. fire starter), all of which have now been desiccated for months.

Meanwhile in the local mountains, an epic drought, which may be an expression of global warming, opened the way to a bark beetle infestation which has already killed or is killing 90% of Southern California's pine forests. Last month, scientists grimly told members of Congress at a special hearing at Lake Arrowhead that "it is too late to save the San Bernardino National Forest." Arrowhead and other famous mountain resorts, they predicted, would soon "look like any treeless suburb of Los Angeles."

These dead forests represent an almost apocalyptic hazard to more than 100,000 mountain and foothill residents, many of whom depend on a single, narrow road for their fire escape. Earlier this year, San Bernardino county officials, despairing of the ability to evacuate all their mountain hamlets by highway, proposed a bizarre last-ditch plan to huddle residents on boats in the middle of Arrowhead and Big Bear lakes.

Now the San Bernardinos are an inferno, along with tens of thousand acres of chaparral-covered hillsides in neighboring counties. As always during Halloween fire seasons, there is hysteria about arson. Invisible hands may have purposely ignited several of the current firestorms. Indeed, in Santa Ana weather like this, one maniac on a motorcycle with a cigarette lighter can burn down half the world.

This is a specter against which grand inquisitors and wars against terrorism are powerless to protect us. Moreover, many fire scientists dismiss "ignition" -- whether natural, accidental, or deliberate -- as a relatively trivial factor in their equations. They study wildfire as an inevitable result of the accumulation of fuel mass. Given fuel, "fire happens."

The best preventive measure, of course, is to return to the native-Californian practice of regular, small-scale burning of old brush and chaparral. This is now textbook policy, but the suburbanization of the fire terrain makes it almost impossible to implement it on any adequate scale. Homeowners despise the temporary pollution of "controlled burns" and local officials fear the legal consequences of escaped fires.

As a result, huge plantations of old, highly flammable brush accumulate along the peripheries and in the interstices of new, sprawled-out suburbs. Since the devastating 1993 fires, tens of thousands of new homes have pushed their way into the furthest recesses of Southern California's coastal and inland fire-belts. Each new homeowner, moreover, expects heroic levels of protection from underfunded county and state fire agencies.

Fire, as a result, is politically ironic. Right now, as I watch San Diego's wealthiest new suburb, Scripps Ranch, in flames, I recall the Schwarzenegger fund-raising parties hosted there a few weeks ago. This was an epicenter of the recent recall and gilded voices roared to the skies against the oppression of an out-of-control public sector. Now Arnold's wealthy supporters are screaming for fire engines, and "big government" is the only thing standing between their $3 million homes and the ash pile.

Halloween fires, of course, burn shacks as well as mansions, but Republicans tend to disproportionately concentrate themselves in the wrong altitudes and ecologies. Indeed it is striking to what extent the current fire map (Rancho Cucamonga, north Fontana, La Verne, Simi Valley, Vista, Ramona, Eucalyptus Hills, Scripps Ranch, and so on) recapitulates geographic patterns of heaviest voter support for the recall."

These problems are not unique to California. Indeed, much of this planet's vegetation is either dependant upon or tolerant of fire, and will burn. The issue is twofold: how to protect homes built within pyrogenic ecosystems, and how to manage the fuels surrounding homes. Prescribed fire goes a long way to mitigate willdfires' effects, but the public is not very tolerant of the byproduct of frequent fires: smoke. The great increase in the amount of chapparal vegetation on the California hillsides is primarily due to the change in fire frequency: frequent fires favor a more open, grassy ecosystem while the more recent past history of infrequent fires have resulted in a more scrubby, dense habitat prone to violent fire behaviors.

Monday, October 20, 2003

New Blog
Go and visit Ted Rall's new blog called Rallblog.....he's a cartoonist I've admired for a long time. If you're unfamiliar with his work, go check out his entire website....you won't be disappointed!

Friday, October 17, 2003

Could it be......Satan????
You all remember Dana Carvey's "Church Lady" skit back a few years ago on SNL. And you all have heard Lt. General Boykin's recent bits about this war on terroism representing a grander fight with Satan himself. OK, now, I spent my early years in a Catholic grade school learning all the usual bits about the old guy with a beard who watches your every move (no, not Santa, but the similarities are eerie!), angels, Satan and all the other symbols. It's understandable that kids believe in these metaphors as actual beings, but I'm still amazed that most adults do too...so there is a real fellow with a pitchfork who lures you to the dark side, and we should be in an actual people-are-dying war to combat this allegory....watch out, I hear the Easter bunny is still pissed about the marshmallow peeps stealing his thunder.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

How Much for What???
Is it me or does anybody else think that Dubya's fund-raising is insane? He's got no primary opponent, and he's trying to raise $200 million bucks at his $2,000.00 a plate dinners......if you're the incumbent, and things really are going well and you're doing a fine job, why in the hell would you need any money at all? Wouldn't the proof of your wise decisions lie in the good fortunes of the folks you're presiding over? Just a thought.....

Friday, October 10, 2003

Trouble Down Under
The shit is hitting the fan, but from down under first......According to this piece, Australia's Prime Minister is being censured for his reasoning behind his Country's Iraq involvement:

"THE Senate today censured Prime Minister John Howard for misleading the people of Australia over the reasons for going to war with Iraq.

The Opposition, Greens and Australian Democrats voted together to defeat the government by 33 votes to 30.

The censure motion was initially proposed by Greens Senator Bob Brown but amended by Labor.

Senator Brown said Mr Howard was involved in an unprecedented deceit of the nation and deserved censure.

He said Mr Howard had declared that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and support of international terrorism threatened Australia and its people.

"It was under those those circumstances of imminent, direct, undeniable and lethal threat to the Australian people that Prime Minister Howard asked our defence forces to take part in the invasion of Iraq," he said.

"It has become abundantly clear that the prime minister was not just a bit wrong. He was totally wrong."


"Opposition Senate Leader John Faulkner said Mr Howard had been loose with the truth and deserved censure.

"He really ought to admit he misled the nation over the reason for taking Australia into the war with Iraq," he said.

"The bottom line is you do not announce your country is going to war, you don't announce that you are committing Australian defence Force personnel to a war zone using what are increasingly looking like false pretexts.

"That is not on. You have to be sure what you are doing is right and is being done for the right reasons. I say Mr Howard was not sure. He was very loose with the truth."

Democrats Senator Lyn Allison said few Australians would dispute that they had been lied to over the pre-emptive attack on Iraq.

"It's quite possible our prime minister and our minister for foreign affairs were also lied to. I accept that this is a strong possibility," she said.

"So keen were they to join the US on the world stage and strut their stuff that I believe this government didn't care."

Truth, War and Consequences.....
That's the title of an excellent Frontline piece that aired last night. You can catch this program on the PBS website as well........excellent field reporting, interviews and commentary are reasons Frontline is an example of how informative TV can be. The bits with Chalabi stumbling around his "proof" that Iraq and Al Qaeda exchanged money were priceless:

"But you, as far back as 1998, were arguing that there was a strong link between Al Qaeda--


But I never saw concrete evidence.

We gave the names of the people who we knew were doing the links. What is the kind of thing that you want? There were visits of Al Qaeda here and there was money that changed hands between them and--

What kind of money changed hands between--

Funds were given to Al Qaeda.


From Saddam ...


To Al Qaeda. …

... But you say you have actual evidence that there was money--

We have people who say they did it.

Do you have any documentary evidence of any kind?

Of what?

I was told ... that you had a document that states -- it was instructions from the intelligence office in Saddam's government to destroy--

Yes. There is such a document.

That is a document that you could show us?

Well, I've seen it. But I do not have it in my possession. They could show it to you, I think.

Who can show it to me?

Our intelligence people.

Your intelligence people?


So after this interview, we can--

I don't know if you can do it right now.

Well, I think its very important to make this -- this is something you've talked about since 1998, and I think it's a very important point. It's one of the points that drew America to this war.


Correct? So it's very important to establish the truth of it.


I mean, if there is such a document, it makes sense for you to share it, no?

I'm not saying no. No, I'm saying that I can't--

I'm somehow not getting the feeling that I'm going to see the document.

Well, you are erroneous.

OK. Great. I hope to see it.

Well, we expect to show it to you."

The narrator then says that those documents were never delivered to Frontline....

So, we could be in all of this mess due to bad (or at the very least dubious) information given to this Administration (which was already targeting Iraq as the first domino in the new Middle East) by a power-crazed exile.....

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Governor Arnold
Well, it's official....California has selected Arnold to turn that state around. Good luck to him, but what I can't figure out is the many double standards floating around: Republicans always bashed Clinton's womanizing, and yet ignore Arnold's actions (which were quite well-known even before he ran for office).....they chastized Hillary Clinton for standing by his man, and yet praise Maria for doing the same. Arnold is also pro-choice, speaks favorably of gay rights....not quite the Republican platform. Could it be they are willing to ignore these inconsistancies simply because Arnold is the more charasmatic candidtate? It's all about the power, after all.......

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