Sensible coastal policies as the 21st century version of building codes?

Tragically, not likely.

Forbes says, "The U.S. insurance industry is estimating could cost its companies up to $25 billion in claims, which would make it the costliest storm in U.S. history."

Salon cites an MIT professor as saying the destruction is a result of us putting stuff in dangerous places (obviously):

"This natural fluctuation occurs in a social environment where there is a huge shift in demographic trends, and this makes a big difference in people's perception," Emanuel said. "In the 1940s and '50s, there were lots of hurricanes in Florida, but there weren't lots of people there. So now that we're having this upswing again, it's being perceived very differently" -- for the simple fact that there is a lot more stuff to be ruined."
Ultimately, Emanuel said, it's not a vengeful Mother Nature but man's politics that are to blame for the destruction. As long as people insist on erecting homes and businesses, aided by low insurance rates and business lobbyists, in vulnerable areas like the Gulf Coast, there's little scientists can do to prevent the havoc. "I like to say that there is no such thing as a 100 percent natural disaster," Emanuel said. "We have to put stuff in harm's way for there to be a disaster, and we're very good at doing that, and subsidizing people who continue to do it."

Paul plans a career in disaster management: "I’m provided with many interesting stories about planning and management, as well as information on humanitarian needs other people might not think about. For instance - what happens to the homeless, the carless, the disabled, when evacuation orders are issues?" - those 20% who were still there?

But people just aren't getting the point.

Not the citizens, "Sean Jeffries of New Orleans had already been evacuated from one French Quarter hotel when he was ordered out of a second hotel Tuesday because of rising water. The 37-year-old banker - who admitted to looting some food from a nearby supermarket - said the hotel guests were told they were being taken to a convention center, but from there, they didn't know. 'We're in the middle of a national tragedy,' he said as he popped purloined grapes in his mouth. 'But I know this city. We will be back. It may take awhile. But we will be back.'"

Not the local officials, "'We are looking at 12 to 16 weeks before people can come in,' Mayor Ray Nagin said on ABC's Good Morning America, 'and the other issue that's concerning me is have dead bodies in the water. At some point in time the dead bodies are going to start to create a serious disease issue.'"

And, no doubt, not the President, though, too his credit, he has yet to say anything foolish about rebuilding the cities.

Maybe we ought to take a lesson from this. Don't rebuild New Orleans. Or Gulfport. It's just a matter of time before they get hit again, and rebuilding will only endanger those future inhabitants' lives and livelihoods - and there seems to be something morally wrong about setting up another million people to have their homes knocked down around them.

The reason to build levees and pumping systems and so forth around New Orleans in the past was inertia - there was value in the existing city, and in proximity to it; vast amounts of personal, corporate, and civil capital were tied up in the existing homes, buildings, and infrastructure, so it made more sense to invest in shoring up the existing city in parallel to the marginal addition of new capital, than to abandon it and have to replace it in its entirety somewhere else.

But now we're offered a chance to make a choice that is rational, economically, environmentally, and humanitarianly. (Not a real word. Oh well.) The capital formerly frozen in the city has just been liquidated - pun unfortunate but unavoidable - and turned into $26bn (and counting) in private insurance and a massive amount of public aid and disaster relief. 80% of the city is flooded, with waters continuing to rise, meaning a huge number of buildings will be total losses. Bridges and roads are unsafe, and would need to be rebuilt. The gaps in the levees are widening. Why not take this unusual opportunity to move New Orleans out of harm's way? This is the best chance we've had in 300 years to reevaluate the cost/benefit of having a city right there, and rebuilding seems pretty clearly to be not worth it.

Let's just call New Orleans history, and do something a little more sensible than rebuild. Let's make rational use of our disaster relief money - and forbid anybody from using aid to rebuild there. Encourage them to go elsewhere, use public policy to encourage good behavior rather than making bad decisions seem better than they really are. It's not even as if this suggestion can be responded to with charges of tearing neighborhoods and social fabric apart - the neighborhoods are already gone.

EDIT, 2 September: I ought to clarify that I'm not serious about airlifting New Orleans wholesale to Detroit (original post continues below, in italics) - what I'm serious about is reconsidering before we build it back the way it was, since (as anybody currently in New Orleans could probably tell you) "the way it was" wasn't good enough. We should not rebuild on settling silt, below water level, behind aging and inadequate levies, and we ought to carefully consider whether the people of New Orleans can be best served by rebuilding the city where it was, or whether they would be better served by putting that money and energy into helping them relocate and find new homes and jobs now, starting to get their lives back together now, rather than months or years from now.

The most radical idea for finishing this call would be to suggest that I know of someplace we could put those million people displaced from New Orleans. Someplace that has the land and the infrastructure to handle a million more people than it already has. Someplace that could benefit from $26 billion of insurance-funded private investment and the public investment that would accompany it. Someplace that has never been hit by a natural disaster of any real significance - but that has been suffering for 50 years from a social disaster which has never been addressed with a fraction of the private and public aid that New Orleans will see.

Why rebuild New Orleans in the same place it is now, where it'll only get wiped out again in another 50 years, when we could use that money to rebuild both New Orleans and Detroit at the same time?

Jorvik's cheap eats (self-congratulatory)

Yesterday a discussion on the Jorvik e-mail list came to the conclusion that we're generally spending $2 - $2.50 per person for dinners, with most of the uncertainty coming in how quickly we're going through 25lb bags of rice and dried beans, cases of butter, and gallons of cooking oil.

Tonight I intend to do my part for cost-control by using only items already in the house (the bulk goods, farm share, leftover ingredients, and garden). My intended menu:

  • Zucchini & fresh herb fritters (some egg-including, some tofu-subbed)

  • Zucchini-swiss whole wheat muffins (egg-free, but the hunk of swiss doesn't have rennet info on it)
  • Marinated cucumber & tomato salad
  • Oven fries and kale chips
  • Green salad, pending existance of scraps of leftover lettuce to mix with the carrot greens, mustard greens, and other weird greens

I think the thing I like most about Jorvik is my ability to do this - walk into the kitchen at 11pm the night before and plan out a dinner that requires only ingredients on hand. (Or up to $5 worth of shopping, which I can do during lunch from work.) I also get some decent ego-boost from randomly selecting menus like the above out of our set of hippie/mennonite/food snob cookbooks, and executing them single-handedly in two hours or less, cleaning up half my own dishes in the process, and converting recipes on the fly to menus that our assortment of egg-free vegetarians up to red-blooded Texans will not complain about. Mostly. I am a dervish in the Jorvik kitchen.

If you live nearby and want to board, let me know; some small price monthly and co-cooking or solo cleaning once a week gets 2 tasty dinners a week. (Or, at least, that's the only boarding arrangement we've had yet. You also have to convince us you won't run screaming into the night when exposed to our dinner conversation.)

From pickles to paychecks...

The LazyWeb certainly delivered when I posted my ponderings on pickling - I've received at least a dozen pieces of advice, ranging from lefty East-Coast PhD students to Ann Arbor public officials. It worked well enough that I can implement step 2:

Lazy web, find me a job!

    Criteria, in rough order of importance

  1. Location: Ann Arbor/Ypsi/Washtenaw/UMich preferred locations/employers. Metropolitan Detroit (using Toledo, A2, Flint as the extent) works too, especially if you know somebody with whom I can carpool from A2 or with whom Cara can carpool back to EMU after we move to said job location. I'd prefer it to be someplace we'd consider living. (e.g. A2/Ypsi/Dearborn/Ferndale/Hamtramck/etc. You know, real places.
  2. Job Description: If they'll hire somebody with a Masters of Urban Planning and a Bachelors of Science in Engineering in Computer Engineering (thanks, UMich, for such a concise degree title), I'm there. I'd much prefer to use the first over the second. Local government, non-profit, real estate development (only the non-evil ones; find me a job at Toll Bros. and I will kick you), research, whatever.
  3. Terms: Starting between January and May; salaried; options to work 3/4 time, flex schedule, or partial telecommute preferred.


Now Orleans: environmentalism for public safety

Or, in this case, its absence...

From Salon's news feed:

Experts have warned about New Orleans' vulnerability for years, chiefly because Louisiana has lost more than a million acres of coastal wetlands in the past seven decades. The vast patchwork of swamps and bayous south of the city serves as a buffer, partially absorbing the surge of water that a hurricane pushes ashore.
. . .
Before the levees were built, the river would top its banks during floods and wash through a maze of bayous and swamps, dropping fine-grained silt that nourished plants and kept the land just above sea level.

The levees "have literally starved our wetlands to death" by directing all of that precious silt out into the Gulf of Mexico, van Heerden said.

This will of course get twisted into people bashing environmentalists, "Those stupid environmentalists are claiming that people caused the hurricane - isn't that ridiculous?!" (Exactly as happened this winter when people started talking about how human activity destroyed the reefs that would have mitigated some of the tsunami's impact. Sigh.)

Rather than getting depressed about that that, I'll just let my jaw drop and sit here in awe at the scope of the hurricane. Yow. Good thing a decent part of the population has left the city, because there's not going to be much city there for long.

I have achieved Ann Arbor hipness.

Said the girls working at at Liberty Street Video this evening, "This is truly an excellent 666!" A refreshing change from the usual sneer of indie-video clerks!

The praise-worthy six:

  • Shallow Grave

  • The Last Supper
  • Apocalypse Now (NOT "redux")
  • Cannibal: The Musical
  • Until the End of the World (this one really tipped the scales in my favor)
  • The Avengers, disc one - this was a replacement for "Lonely Are the Brave" (an Edward Abbey adaptation), which the computer said was available, but was not to be found on the shelf.

I believe the key to achieving approval may lie in how many of your six picks are only available on VHS, a DVD release indicating that the film is not obscure enough to be admirable. In this case, only "Cannibal" was available on DVD, an excuseable modernity.

Meanwhile, if you're googling for information on where you can get keys copied on a Saturday evening, when the hardware stores are closed, I found that Village Corner cuts keys - unsurprisingly, since VC is pretty all-around wonderful.

Watched "Sin City"

Jorvik watched Sin City last night, and I have to say that Salon's review summed it up pretty well:

Did I mention that "Sin City" is sick as hell?

I thought it was horribly good, said as one of the rare cases when "horribly" actually means something, and isn't just used as an empty superlative. It did what it set out to do amazingly well.

iBook Drama

45 minutes on the phone with AppleCare later...

After describing the problem and running through all of the standard stuff with the standard support person, they transferred me to a "Product Specialist". Product Specialist says, first off, "So, it looks like you've had this same problem a couple of times now - can I put you on hold while I see if I can get you a new computer?" I say, "Okay." He eventually decides he can't, this time, since the first incident was too long ago, but since the last few have been close enough together, I received assurance that I would get a new rig if it happened again within a year of now, yea, even though my AppleCare coverage is expiring in 3.5 months, and that, in the meantime, he would put in an order for the technicians to replace all sorts of bits of my current box that might be vaguely related to this problem, in addition to the logic board that they've replaced all the previous times.

Michael's reaction, "They're bullshitting you." Perhaps. If so, they're awfully good at it - claiming to transfer me to somebody who might have the power to replace my laptop, without my asking, who then proceeds to play Minesweeper for five minutes while saying he's trying to get my case to fit the replacement criteria, is a masterful way of making the customer not complain too much. The general technique is simply to have the guy who initially answers the phone stonewall and deny any possibility of such thing, so I respect Apple's facade of good service. (Or maybe just their good service - if I had to pick a multinational corporation to like, Apple's at the top of the list.) And, in the meantime, as long as I have a computer that works - I'm happy with the current one - I don't particularly need a new computer, and can be happy that Apple is at least pretending to offer me superior service.


So the long form of this is that my laptop has fallen ill again - same problem (at least in symptoms) as the last three times it has needed repairs, that the machine appears in all ways perfectly fine - but for something in the hinge (no picture, and the laptop won't sleep/wake when the lid is closed/opened, as it is supposed to). As in the past, I expect AppleCare to come through and have the thing fixed and back to me by the end of the week, but I also think it's time to ask them for something more. I've been told that Apple has given new hardware to people after the third-same-problem, so it's worth a try, but I'd also be satisfied with an AppleCare extension, so that this doesn't happen again a week after my coverage runs out.

Meanwhile, last week was my sister's birthday, so my family went up to East Lansing to visit and take her out to dinner. I spent part of the evening entertaining myself by running up and down parking structures to observe built form from the rooftops (Elise lives one block east of the back of the gerbil cage, for anybody looking for reference points, across a parking lot from the back door of Espresso Royale, where I availed myself of two minutes of terminal time to make the previous cryptic post). So that was 3pm to midnight on Saturday.

The rest of the weekend, spent laptopless and Caraless (she was at home, visiting her sister) involved my being manically/maniacally productive. (Too much coffee also helped.) I was a busy little urban homesteader, shredding several quarts of zucchini for freezing; canning, with Michael's help, four quarts of dill pickles and five of mustard pickles*; bottling my latest batch of homebrew (a honey-wheat) and planning the remaining two to be prepared for the wedding; weeding my garden; and transplanting some of the perennials from the garden into the flower planter ring around the tree in the front yard - things are choking each other out in back (I was too pessimistic about how well they'd grow when I planted), and I'd like to set it up so that Jorvik's future tenants will have a dozen or so varieties of perennial herbs growing safe from the mower, even if they don't notice. I also cleaned both kitchens and semi-cleaned one of the living rooms; bought and installed a rack for the back of my bike, so that next time I buy a case of Mason jars from Jack's Hardware, I'm not carrying it under one arm and riding my bike one-handed; and installed a neato collapsible basket hand-me-downed from Richard upon my having a rack to attach it to.

All this, and time to watch Men With Brooms, Dodgeball, and Say Anything - so now my terrible "You've never seen Say Anything?!" secret is no more.

Now, I'm using Cara's laptop to mount my computer as a firewire drive and copy everything through to Michael's ill-fated external hard drive so that I can send my box in to AppleCare, thoroughly backed up. Only a few more hours of copying to go.

Edit: Oops, forgot to add the footnote:

* The pickle-canning process ended up (after various pieces of advice from other bloggers and my grandmother) approximating the homebrew bottling process in sanitation level, though with the difference that you don't have to worry about the glassware being too hot to kill the yeast when you're working with cucumbers and not beer - put the glassware in the dishwasher on a short wash cycle with no detergent (residue interferes with head formation - snicker all you want) and the "extra-hot rinse" button on the dishwasher pressed. (On the previous dishwasher, there was no such setting, but there was a "heated dry" setting, which we used instead.) Bottles and mason jars + lids were run simultaneously, with the mason jars used first, while the bottles cooled to yeast-safe temperatures. The contents of the jars included boiling vinegar/brine in the dill case and boiling everything in the mustard case, so, all in all, I think we hit the level of "will keep for a year", which could be pushed to "will keep for several years" with whole-nine-yards water processing. I think, at this point, things will be eaten in a much shorter time frame; perhaps next year we'll get more ambitious.


In East Lansing.

Laptop broken.

That is all.

Pickling: to can or not to can?

Our CSA farm share tomorrow include "u-pick: cucumbers for pickling, $0.50 / lb". How can I resist?

But now, I have some conflicting sources on pickling. Some sources emphasize the need for canning in "sterilized glass jars" . . . others state that the pickling solution (or in some cases, e.g. kimchi, the good bacteria) kills the bad stuff, and don't discuss "sterilized glass jars" at all. Considering that pickles are as old as dirt, and that Wikipedia's "pickling" page is one of the sources that says the pickling solution inhibits the growth of bad stuff, I'm kind of inclined to believe that "sterilized glass jars" are moderately paranoid overkill. (There's also the fact that I'm not equipped with a supply of mason jars, etc, for proper canning, and had been assuming that pickling was one of the preservation methods that was an alternative to canning, and not one that required it - so I'm biased in favor of canning-free methods.)

Any relevant knowledge?