31 August 2015

paranoid theory of the week :: were the new orleans levees bombed during hurricane katrina?

2005
there's been a great deal of coverage on the tenth anniversary of hurricane katrina this week, about what happened, the various administrative and governmental failings, what has been rebuilt, what damage remains and what has been done to keep such a thing from ever happening again. as fierce as the storm was, the greater problem was arguably the ineptness that preceded and followed it. a chronic lack of funding for upgrades to the city's protection system and a response protocol that was completely unprepared for a catastrophic failure in that system, saw thousands of people stranded in horrifying circumstances for weeks as the rest of the world stared in disbelief.

but as if that wasn't bad enough, rumours surfaced at the time that the disaster was not merely the result of administrative incompetence, but was exacerbated by a very deliberate plan to sacrifice the city's poorest and most vulnerable in order to save the wealthy and profitable areas. so ten years on, we're taking a look at whether or not the disaster of katrina's aftermath was more sinister than is believed.

the theory ::
the levees in new orleans were not breached, but were blown up in order to divert floodwaters into the poor, largely black areas of the city, away from wealthy neighbourhoods, popular tourist areas, and business districts and to force residents out of the flooded areas so that the valuable land could be seized by developers.

1927
the origins ::
eye witnesses at the time claimed they saw or heard the explosions, particularly around the 17th street levee.

the believers ::
it's unclear how many reports from eye and ear witnesses there were claiming to have heard an explosion at the time of the crucial breach, but suffice it to say, it appears to have been more than a handful. louis farrakhan, head of the nation of islam, was the earliest high profile supporter of the theory, claiming in 2005 that then new orleans mayor ray nagin told him that the levees had been deliberately blown up. [nagin denies this.] filmmaker spike lee, whose documentary when the levees broke chronicles the story of the storm, said in 2005 that the idea that there had been a deliberate effort to displace blacks from the city to be less far-fetched than people made it seem.

the bad guys ::
the american government and military, possibly haliburton, a frequent government subcontractor inextricably linked with then vice president dick cheney.

the evidence ::
well, let's start with the fact that the government had done it before. in 1927, much of mississippi, arkansas and louisiana was inundated with floodwaters after six months of inordinately heavy rain. hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, and it was a key factor in the decision of many to abandon the south for the more prosperous and meteorologic-ally safer north. this flood was worse than katrina in almost every measure: when adjusted for inflation and as a proportion of budget, the financial damage was much greater; the area affected was larger; the number of dead and displaced, proportional to population, were greater and the government response to the aftermath was worse.

the first levee breaches had occurred around christmas 1926 and continued. fed by spring floods charging from the north, the waters continued to rise and by april of 1927, it's safe to say that the powerful of the south were in full on panic mode. they had, for months, operated under the assumption [hope] that the floods could never reach the business capital of new orleans, but as the record rainfalls persisted and the gulf of mexico reached the point of capacity and blocked the progress of the water, it became obvious that they had been wrong. so on april 15, in order to save the city, the federal government blew up the levee at caernarvon, 13 miles south of new orleans, in order to relieve the pressure and stop the water from backing up right into the city.

2005
the area that was sacrificed was poor and rural. the vast majority, 75% of the population was black and while they were promised restitution for their losses, very little was actually done. temporary relief camps were as nightmarish as those constructed for katrina. in some cases, evacuees were moved to drier ground, but then left without food or water. some were unwilling to rescue black workers out of fear that they wouldn't return to their jobs. [blacks represented 95% of the crucial agricultural workforce.] and in a move of flagitious insensitivity, black men living in the camps were forced to earn their place by doing hard physical labour as part of the relief effort.

so when spike lee said that the idea that the government would sacrifice black people's property and lives in order to save white businesses wasn't far-fetched, he was being uncharacteristically understated. it is a historical fact that less than a century before katrina, the federal government had done exactly that.

of course, the actions of the great mississippi flood don't prove anything about katrina, but they do provide pretty compelling circumstantial evidence, just as prior crimes can be used in a court case to show character, but not to determine guilt or innocence.

the other evidence at our disposal is that of witnesses, who say that what they heard when the levees breaking, the sound was percussive, like a series of explosions, rather than the roar of a steady flow of water. and despite the position of the media that these were just rumours, witnesses went as far as to testify before congress to what they had heard. knowing that there was little chance that they would even be believed, it's difficult to imagine that there was an incentive for these people to lie, so it's a safe assumption that they spoke truthfully about their experiences.

you've undoubtedly noticed the tricky wording i used in that last sentence. and i used it because even the most honest and well-intentioned witnesses are notoriously problematic. our minds play tricks on us when we're under stress, when something happens quickly, when something happens while we're distracted and even when the conditions are right for us to process going on, reflecting on it too much can cause our memory to play tricks on us. mistakes are possible, which is why criminal trials rely more and more on forensic evidence [even if we're not quite at csi-level certainty yet].

1927
furthermore, there is the question of how confident witnesses could be about what they heard. very few of us know what an explosion or a bursting dam sounds like [which is a good thing]. it's possible that some of the witnesses who claimed to hear an explosion had some experience of the former, less likely the latter. we live in a world where we see catastrophes all the time in movies and on television, but they're nothing more than trickery, often quite different than the real thing. a car backfiring sounds considerably more like a gunshot in the movies than an actual gunshot, but unless you've heard both [possibly a few times], you're unlikely to be able to make the distinction.

when people say that what they heard was more like an explosion than a levee breaking, they're relying on their experience to tell them what those things should sound like. which raises the question: what does the rupture of a protective wall sound like? this wasn't a case where the waters simply spilled over the top of the wall. the wall burst from the force of the water behind it. the pressure built up until the structure was so taxed that it started to give and, unable to hold together any longer, it came crashing down, allowing the water to roar in after it. again, you're probably noticing my choice of words there: "crash" and "roar" and "burst". nature is in possession of awesome powers, but we're rarely given the opportunity to witness their full force, even as a simulation. we might think that the breach of a levee would sound like a great wave crashing on land, but when you consider the physics at work, it's not crazy to think that it could sound a lot like an explosion.

there is one important difference between the 1927 flood and the 2005 katrina flooding: in 1927, a predominantly poor, black area was sacrificed to protect the wealthy whites. in 2005, some wealthy white neighbourhoods sustained some of the heaviest damage. nor was the core of the city protected. if this was a planned operation, it was a near-complete failure. i know that might not seem like a stretch in light of what happened, but consider that this was something that had been successfully done before. it's hard to argue that the government in 2005 wouldn't have known how to accomplish their aims when the government of 1927 did.  

2005
investigations into the site of the breach revealed no evidence of explosions [which leave pretty significant evidence]. believers will argue that the investigations are merely the power structure acquitting itself of any wrongdoing and i'm not trying to discount that as a possibility. but consider that barely a year after katrina, the democrats won control of both houses of congress and had every reason to want to discredit george w. bush and his administration. revealing a secret operation, so awful in concept and so inept in execution would not merely have made him unpopular: it could have dealt a crushing blow to his entire party, galvanized the african american vote and effectively guaranteed that the democrats held on to power for decades. don't think of whether or not the democrats were more interested in the welfare of poor blacks than the republicans were: think in terms of what they had to gain for themselves.

the likelihood :: 1/10
i'm not willing to completely discount this one on the basis of historical precedent, but it's extremely unlikely. with no physical evidence and well-meaning but unreliable eye witness evidence, we have to determine that the breach of the levees in 2005 was exactly that: a breach and not a bombing.

but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be outraged and it doesn't mean that what happened wasn't criminal, or that it wasn't an example of racism and class-ism at its worst.

the failings of the federal response beggar belief and amidst the stream of remembrance happening, we should be asking hard questions about what has been done [the system built as a response to the 1927 flooding actually affected the flow of the mississippi in such a way that it's made flooding worse], how it has been maintained and how the rescue system has been improved to deal with a future failure in the levees. what happened in the wake of katrina wasn't the result of a sudden panic over a situation more serious than expected. it was the exposure of a deeply flawed system and the response- typified nowhere so much as in the case of patients at charity hospital watching as patients of a nearby private hospital were flown to safety via helicopter- revealed a mindset that some lives- white lives, wealthy lives- mattered more than others.

before i leave you, i want to go back to the idea that we should be asking serious questions about the current state of preparedness. the response i've heard from officials is that, yes, the revitalized levee system could withstand a storm the size of katrina without breaking down. that should not be comforting. hurricane katrina was a category three hurricane by the time it made landfall and most of us know that storms can go up to category five. even more disconcerting: katrina didn't directly hit new orleans, it only sideswiped it. so if katrina is the measuring stick for preparedness in the city, it's inadequate in two ways. this doesn't bode well.

28 August 2015

making faces :: inspired by summer meadows

the last few days, we've had a bit of a reprieve from the overwhelming heat of summer, and although it's scheduled to get toasty again, i'm currently experiencing that swell of excitement that comes with late summer: the refreshing breezes, the sweet scents of ferns and late summer flowers, mixed with dried grasses and those slightly past their prime trees, just about to start turning to the spectacular display of colour we'll experience in october.

before summer truly fades, there's that wonderful period where everything is alive and bursting with colour, which is how i usually think of august. let me offer you some examples:






 and in homage to those beautiful images of summer meadows, i thought i'd share with you a look that i did that was inspired by them. clearly, i needed some soft greens as a base and a warm, sunny, but somewhat hazy light to the skin. the lips, of course, were meant to mimic the pop of colour from the flowers in our imaginary face-meadow and come courtesy of rouge bunny rouge's new lipstick lineup.

rbr revamped all of their lipsticks earlier this year, with many of the shades moseying off into the sunset and fresh recruits joining the team. most noticeably, the "succulence of dew" semi-sheer line now has two bold, juicy new additions. in this look, you're seeing the juicy red "relish of heaven", a great neutral red [i think it will lean a little warmer or cooler depending on your undertone] with excellent colour payoff, but just a little translucency to it. the formula is indeed improved, with substantially more staying power. the colour fades to a lovely stain and while it won't survive a hearty meal, you'll have a decent dose of colour left behind after a couple of cocktails or a bowl of soup. if you want to reapply, i suggest removing any remaining colour and doing an entirely fresh coat, since there can be some minor feathering. it's not unexpected for such an emollient formula, nor is it the worst i've seen by a long stretch. for something with so much slip, it applies very evenly, which is a relief.

a little peek at my new bunnies

i'll be posting a review of the other shade that i picked up from the new line, the sweet fuchsia "jasmine-weighted air", in the near future and will include comparisons for both shades. for the moment, i'll just mention that semi-opaque reds aren't particularly common, so that alone gives this an edge in the uniqueness stakes against a massive poppy field.




here's what comprised the entire look

the base ::
nars all day luminous, weightless foundation "mont blanc"
nars radiant creamy concealer "vanilla"
mac paint pot "painterly"

the eyes ::
mac e/s "bright sunshine" [shimmery golden yellow]
rbr e/s "whispering ibis" [soft basil green]
armani eyes to kill e/s "gold hercule" [dirty grey-gold]*
rbr e/s "papyrus canary" [matte ecru]
urban decay 24/7 e/l "invasion" [dark green-teal]
dior new look mascara

the cheeks ::
rbr liquid bronzer "as if it were summer still" [shimmery golden brown]
nars blush "torrid" [warm light apricot]
hourglass ambient lighting powder "luminous light" [candlelit glow]

the lips ::
rbr succulence of dew l/s "relish of heaven" [juicy sour cherry red]


the nails [for once neat enough to post! and on theme!] :: 
essie "sew psyched" [deep sage green]
opi "my gecko does tricks" [translucent shimmery lime green]

*suggested alternate :: gold hercule = nars paramaribo [lighter shade] + nars vent glacé [darker shade] might get you close, but this is almost impossible to replicate.

anything in nature inspire you? after all, capturing the colours of nature and adorning ourselves with them is the very essence of cosmetics.

27 August 2015

world wide wednesdays :: the old trash and the sea

is there life after death? there is for your garbage. in fact, there's even kind of a garbage heaven, or haven, in our oceans oceans. the pacific is best known, but the atlantic and indian oceans have also staked their claim and despite the fact that we've known about them for years, there hasn't been much of anything done to address the problem. as a result, they're now taking on an eerie permanence and although we haven't yet colonised them for human settlement, it might not be that far behind. so today, here are some fun facts about the awesome islands of garbage that are sailing the open seas like pirates, picking up our discarded booty.

the first thing that warrants clarification is that these garbage islands aren't islands. and no, i don't mean they're actually peninsulas. but they're generally more like swamps, with an incredible concentration of plastic, much of it in pieces so small as to be invisible to the human eye. you could probably swim through sections of it and, assuming you didn't freeze to death, get swept away and drown in the rough seas, or get eaten by something large and scary, you might not even realise that you were in the midst of a huge dump. of course, you'd probably feel pretty sick afterward, because you'd doubtless swallow lots of plastic shrapnel. whether that would cause you any long term damage is unclear, but assume that it wouldn't be good for you. i have a feeling you're not going to be doing it anyway.

but in case you're feeling disappointed that there aren't massive islands of old diapers spinning around in the oceans, perhaps this will cheer you: there are islands within the garbage patches. the "great pacific garbage patch" now has a spiffy fifteen metre [fifty foot] island that boasts its own reefs, coastlines and marine life [largely mollusks and seaweed]. this was likely caused by the 2011 tsunami that hit japan and dragged much larger pieces of trash into the ocean. although it's taken time, eventually it all ends up in the garbage patch.

so how does the garbage know to find its way to the nearest hangout? well, it doesn't. we're not creating sentient garbage [yet]. the movement of currents in the world's oceans creates five major gyres, areas where the all converge and kind of spin around together, and when garbage ends up in the ocean [either because people put it there, or because it blows there from landfills or places where it's simply been dropped], the currents naturally spin it towards the gyres and leave it there. the oceans are much better at making sure all the trash ends up in the same place than we are, as it turns out.

one of the biggest problems cited by garbage patch scientists [they exist] is the effect of all this garbage on marine wildlife. bird carcasses are often found packed with the stuff, which they seem to eat and which fills them up, thus disguising the fact that they're starving to death from lack of nutrients. however, there may be a little more to it than that. because the animals that are examined are the dead ones, we don't know if it's possible that some animals eat the plastic and live [we know fish can, but it's not clear if they can in a trash-packed environment like the garbage patches]. while it's nice to think that our garbage isn't killing entire species, there's nothing reassuring about this idea, because it means either the animals don't absorb the plastics, which means they go straight out the back door and back into the ocean, or they do absorb them and all their chemicals, which means that those chemicals get spread through the entire food chain, where they could possibly case genetic mutations that could last forever. [side note :: the garbage also provides an easier method for some species, particularly insects, to move around, allowing them to travel long distances and see parts of the world where they've never been. and conquer them. invasive species have a way of upsetting ecosystems that are not used to dealing with them.]

a few years ago, scientists were somewhat relieved to find that the garbage patches seemed to be shrinking as the sun finally succeeded in breaking down the plastic bits through photo-degradation. [a term that sounds kind of naughty, but just means the changing of things through exposure to light.] i'm not exactly sure why they were so jazzed that the plastics were disappearing, since their chemical components would still be floating around, but any shrinkage has to be a good sign, right? [stop giggling, this is serious.]

well, it turns out that we don't have to debate how good or bad it is, because they were wrong. their results were based on trawling the oceans and seeing what turned up and, lo and behold, there were fewer pieces. and now i'd like to remind you of my earlier comment about many of the pieces being too small for the human eye to register. when subject to more accurate methods of testing, like analysing the density of the water from the air and testing its composition, it turns out there's way more garbage than was previously thought. although the tests were conducted on the "big boy patch" in the pacific, it's not unreasonable to assume that the same doesn't apply to its little brothers.

there's also the issue that the garbage goes much deeper than we originally thought: the relative strength of the currents in the gyre, as well as their density and temperature, means that some are forced beneath others and they seem to take their garbage right along with them. so the garbage builds up well beneath the surface as well as floating on top of it and it collects to form sold or semi-solid structures there as well.

the great gondwanalands of garbage will likely never wash up upon our shores, although they may send emissaries that break away from their orbit. in a way, that makes the problem worse, because most of us are never going to see the oceanic gyres [and we wouldn't be able to see the extent of the trashery even if we did] and this keeps us from thinking of what we should be doing to contain and control these mutants of our modern world. these aren't just things we can rush in and clean up with the world's toughest shop vac. but we need to find a way of removing them that's a lot less harmful than it was putting them there in the first place.

p.s. :: all of the images used are from the unesco-backed art project the garbage patch state, which was started to call attention to the problem of the patches. you can find out more about it here.

23 August 2015

paranoid theory of the week :: did the soviet army accidentally kill nine hikers in 1959?

stretching from the arctic islands of vaygach and novaya zembla down to the edge of kazakhstan, the ural mountains are the dividing line between europe and asia. it is one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, although its craggy peaks rise unexpectedly high above sea level for their age. despite the remoteness of the region, its wealth of mining resources gave rise to the industrial centre of yekaterineburg. in 1979, a military accident resulted in the release of anthrax spores that killed at least one hundred people, but many believe that this was the second accident in the region. the rumour was that twenty years earlier, nine people died during a secret weapons test that remains a protected secret to this day.

in late january 1959, a group of ten mountain climbers and skiers, most of them students in their early twenties, planned to make the ten kilometre trek from vizhai to otorten mountain. at the time, it was considered to be a hiking challenge of the highest level of difficulty, but even by those standards, the date of the team was shocking. a single lucky member became ill and had to abandon the expedition, while nine others died in the snows of kholat syakhl, known locally as "the mountain of the dead". [this is a misinterpretation of the mansi name, however, since the word for "dead" can also mean "barren" and refers in this case to the mountain being devoid of game and wildlife. so that's one myth of the story cut down already.]

the mystery of what happened to the nine victims remains unsolved, but one theory is that they died as a result of injuries sustained from a new form of weapon being tested by the soviet army. [other theories include that they were attacked by a yeti, or even by hostile extra-terrestrials.] it is the most compelling type of mystery: the vast majority of the facts are well-established and undisputed; the movements of the group are meticulously documented, save for the crucial period just before they died; there are elements of the case that are difficult to explain given what is known; and finally, there is no official explanation, even after more than fifty years.

so this week, we take a look at a possible reason for the deaths of nine people in an area now named after the leader of that expedition: the dyatlov pass.

happier times
the theory ::
the members of the dyatlov exhibition died as a result of exposure to weapons being tested in the vicinity.

the origin ::
it's not entirely clear who first voiced the theory, but because of the way in which the inquest into the deaths was conducted and the inability of any of the officials to explain certain evidence found on the scene, many people suspected a government cover-up almost immediately.

the believers ::
lots of people believe lots of different things about what happened at dyatlov pass. film director renny harlin, whose film devil's pass deals with the incident and its legacy, is one high profile believer that the government was at least connected to the deaths. yuri kuntsevich, whose fascination with the case dates from seeing the bodies at their funerals, started a foundation to lobby the government to reopen the investigation into the deaths and to reveal what they know [although he has not backed any specific theory as to what brought about their deaths].

the bad guys ::
the soviet government and military.

the evidence :: 
how is it possible that we know so much about this case and be left feeling like we know nothing? the mountaineers recorded the progress of their expedition in meticulous detail through diaries and photographs, but that doesn't help us make any more sense of what happened to them. the facts of the situation seem to conspire against any rational explanation, but that's part of what makes this such a great mystery.

skipping straight to the night of february 1/2, when our unfortunate heroes met their horrible end, it seems that bad weather had slowed the team's progress and taken them about a mile and a half off course. straight away, the behaviour of the team seems a little odd. away from their path and with night descending, they had no choice but to stop and set up their camp. however, they did so on the exposed mountain face, rather than the treed area a short distance away, which would have offered some protection against the elements. the group's lone surviving member has posited that, on the mountain face, the group had gained more altitude and that dyatlov, as group leader, was unwilling to sacrifice that, given that they were already somewhat behind schedule and that getting themselves back to their planned route was going to take even more time.

the team had their supper together and retired to their tent for the night, but a couple of hours later, in the black of night, something roused the team from their sleep. and that's where it gets weird.


it's clear that the team fled the tent in a state of panic: rather than exiting through the customary door flap, they slashed it open from the inside and ran off into the night without even bothering to put on their coats and boots. the footprints that were found leading away from the camp indicated that at least one member of the team ran off barefoot, while others were found in their underwear. these were experienced climbers and they had to know that rushing out into the frigid -15c air [with mountain winds making it feel even colder] was a death sentence, especially without proper clothing.

WARNING- WHAT FOLLOWS CONTAINS INFORMATION AND IMAGES THAT SOME MIGHT FIND UPSETTING

21 August 2015

imperfect ten

i'm starting this post with no real idea where it's going to go, or why it's here, but i couldn't very well let this day go without saying a little something.

what day you ask?

this day!


that poor bedraggled soul is indeed me, exactly how i looked ten years ago today when i returned home from a shopping expedition where i was nearly struck by lightning and washed away with the toronto tide, toweled myself off and thought: "yes, today will be the day that i start a blog".

and so it was.

many things have changed since that day. i live in a different city. i've said goodbye to the three cats who welcomed their soggy mother home on that day. i've welcomed five new ones who fulfill all of my maternal instincts and do not expect me to send them to university or bail them out on weekends. i've become a lot more conscious about health. i've connected with a lot of people in a lot of different areas of the world, who have enriched my life a great deal. most importantly, i met dom and it's because of him that i've been able to do a lot of other things. it's with his support and encouragement that i've been able to:

  • publish an anthology of short stories
  • write a film script
  • make a feature film from that script
  • make my own short films
  • start my own company
  • publish a first novel [with the aforementioned film script]

... and to prepare for more in the future.

when i started off, i was doing a lot of very short posts, very often. if i were starting such a thing now, it would likely go on tumblr, where brief, cryptic little epistles seem the norm.

if i'd been more confident going into the blog project, i would have started podcasting. given my somewhat lengthy spell in radio, i'm a little surprised that i didn't go with that angle, but writing has always been my go-to

if i were more serious about this, i'd move it off blogger and find a way to monetize, assuming that there were people who wanted to support a site about politics, beauty, paranoia, soccer, mental health, dreams, extremely weird music, movies, restaurants, insomnia and the process of writing, with a liberal smattering of fiction just to round things off. that's not all, of course, because there's lots of things that have shown up here but not become regular features. and there will be others.

borrowed with utmost reverence from the brilliant david firth's "salad fingers"

my efforts on the blog flagged for a few years, as i tried to adjust to the realities of social media encroaching on what i'd started doing. then i changed how i thought about things and started doing things like publishing bits of my writing, in various states of readiness, writing longer posts and establishing "subgroups" for topics that i wanted to return to again and again.

i'm always fascinated to see who ends up here and how they end up here and what posts get the greatest response. one of the things that makes me the happiest is that some of the posts that get the most views and reaction are ones that are longer than most experts would advise. what do they know?

i have, of course, thought about moving more like space off blogspot and into its own domain. i'm sure it'll happen eventually, i just haven't been able to make it a priority to this point. as you can see, i'm in this for the long haul.


in the hopes that it inspires some of you to do something that makes you as happy as doing this has made me, here's the complete list of things i've learned about writing a blog:

  • it's old-fashioned at this point and no one reads them. so you don't exist.
  • you have to pick one topic and stick to it, or else werewolves from another dimension will come and eat your soul. 
  • no one reads long blog posts, except when they do. 
  • you will feel the pain of every typo you catch on your blog until your dying breath, but you will still fail to catch them. 
  • even when you think people aren't listening or reading, they are.
  • if someone implies that if you were "serious" about writing, you'd be a professional journalist and not a blogger, feel free to remind them that fox news are professional journalists. also, feel free to smack them hard enough to knock them into this century. 
  • read up on the "rules" of writing for the internet audience. learn why those are the rules. then break them. make rules for yourself. break those too. break everything. then put it back together. 

tomorrow is the beginning of a new decade here on more like space, but chances are it's just going to be more business as usual. usual for here. for me. for us.
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