Zoning versus Hurricanes

An August 30 Bloomberg Businessweek article blames Houston’s lack of zoning for the severity of Hurricane Harvey’s impact. New York and New Orleans had zoning; they were inundated.

All three cities were flooded. Zoning or the lack of it wouldn’t have made much difference against topography. In Houston’s case a nearly flat bowl of semi-permeable at best land gets over fifty inches of rain.

All three cities had lots of people and businesses in the way of a flood. As American coastal cities swell in population, we will see more, worse examples. Whether zoned for it or not.

Bloomberg made a political, not an economic, meteorological nor geological point.

Could things be done differently? Sure, but hindsight is always 20/20. Neither New Orleans nor New York relocated.

My forecast: expect another of these every decade from now on.

In the face of a natural direct hit, we would do better helping each other. Not throwing bricks.

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Book Review: Doc by Mary Doria Russell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Doc by Mary Doria Russell

Four Stars

“The entire criminal code of the state of Kansas boils down to four words: Don’t kill the customers.”

Revising history in a pleasant, readable way. Russell looks deep into the facts behind the tall tales surrounding this Wild West icon and comes up with an engaging story of what John Henry “Doc” Holliday may have been at his best.

“Serious as a snake bite.”

Have read enough of Russell to appreciate how her voice and idioms vary with the time and place of her story. Well done.

“The law can relieve a man of guilt, but not of his remorse.”

Russell also gives insight into the southern state of mind after Reconstruction. A lingering legacy of Radical Republican punishment of the South after the Civil War plays out today.

“Being born is craps. How we live is poker. Mamma played a bad hand well.”

Read the end notes to discover a possible connection between Holliday and Gone with the Wind.

“Dear Lord, please, give him time! Please, Lord, let him finish!” “Now. Now. Now. Take me now.”

Book Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Five Stars

“Genius may have its limits but stupidity is not thus handicapped.”

Extraordinary writing. A rich blend of science fiction with philosophic inquiry. The casts (there are two stories, tangentially connected) are deeply and realistically developed to clash, promote, love and hate one another. A first-contact story of the best kind. Humor.

“None of you will ever know what it was like and I promise you: you don’t want to know.”

Folded timeline irritates at first, but is gradually revealed to be Continue reading

Book Review: A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell (Five Stars)

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Book Review: A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell

Five Stars

“Hand in hand, they sit … all life’s sorrows but one behind them.”

Russell scores again with entertaining historical fiction which teaches without being didactic. Remote northwest Italy may seem an unlikely locale for high drama, but Russell brings war, the holocaust and heroism into a human focus and an immediacy which engages the reader. Fine writing.

“Never underestimate how soothing it is to have someone to blame. If Jews didn’t exist, someone would have to invent us.”

Russell thoroughly researched this, including many eye witness interviews. It shows. Good stuff. Yes, we know, war is hell. But, except for the Nazis, here almost everyone has got a conscience, and it hurts.

“Feeble as a good intention, he …”

Lots of contrary-to-stereotype characterizations. Carabinieri as good guys. Catholic and Jewish clergy cooperating. Remote mountain types sheltering strangers, at the risk to their home and family. Being a “good guy” does not guarantee a good end.

The world is filled with unreasonable hate. What’s wrong with unreasonable love?”

Something Russell does astonishingly well is address issues of faith. Here as well as Dreamers of the Day, she presents the full gamut of faith and non-faith with a sympathy which is unusual in contemporary literature.

“Hell exists. Any combat soldier can tell you that. So, heaven’s real, too! Logic, ja?”

 

Happy Solar Eclipse Day

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Today many millions of you will see a total eclipse. For many it’ll be the only total solar eclipse you ever see. Enjoy.

The younger among you will have the opportunity to see three total solar eclipses over the next thirty years. Enjoy.

While solar eclipses happen every eighteen months, supposedly total eclipses repeat for a given spot on earth average only every 375 years. We’re about to blow that theory out of the water. The 2017, 2024 and 2045 eclipses will give Americans lots of opportunities to see an eclipse. Since the 2024 north-south route bisects the other two (which are essentially parallel east-west), folks in two areas may see two eclipses without leaving home. Enjoy.

If you happen to be in the eclipsed area, don’t just look at the sun. (Don’t look at the sun at all without special eye protection.) Look around. As the eclipse gathers and fades the light will change. It’s like sunrise or sunset, but will look significantly different. Enjoy.

Here’s why: As the sun sets or rises it passes through more of the atmosphere, shifting the observed colors toward the red. During an eclipse, there’s no such shift. The colors stay true, but saturate. It’ll look like an over-Photoshopped pictures. It’ll look like magic.

Enjoy.

Book Review: Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell

Five Stars

“To be enjoyed, life must be shared.”

Historical fiction at its best: opens the past as can only be done by fiction; while connecting to the reader’s present in ways that are both entertaining and informative. Neatly melds modern opinion with history. Compare this with James Michener’s Caravans, telling in 1963 how the world was going to lose Afghanistan.

“America, I recalled, were notorious colonial troublemakers.” “As the Arabs promise to be,” Lawrence said quietly.

All of the narrowness and prejudices one would expect of a 1920s American abroad–like Mark Twain’s 1869 Innocents Abroad, but Russell’s protagonist is open to Continue reading

Book Review: Split Infinity by Piers Anthony (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Split Infinity (Apprentice Adept #1) by Piers Anthony

Three Stars

“If you think you’re conscious, you must be conscious. That’s what consciousness is all about. The feedback is self-awareness.”

Great story telling and contrasting fantasy and science fiction environments, but Anthony doesn’t get a bye for his antediluvian portrayal of gender relations. Even though it was written in the 80s, it’s borderline offensive. His protagonist’s supposed moral uprightness is severely undercut by his treatment of females. Costuming sex as freely given doesn’t excuse his attitude.

“You often don’t have to fight, if you just look as if you’d like to.”

The extended sections of game play slows to the story. The whole game matrix concept rings false: an artificial construct, like quidditch, to pump up the protagonist.

“You are a rational creature, beneath your superficial programming; under my programming I am an irrational animal.”

Quibbles: Published in 1980, totally misses the coming revolution in microelectronics and communications, which renders the story a quaint artifact of a former age. “Two days off his feet” after running a marathon? He’d be a cripple for months. Daily challenge games? After marathons? How’s that fair?

“Murder is not the proper solution to problems.”

Like many series openers, this is larger world, team and goal building. No incentive to read more of the series.

“Know thyself.”

I Lied Today

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I lied today. About my age.

As I waited to get a haircut, the other men bragged about how old they were. The oldest was 87, and the youngest, but me, was 81.

I told them I was 71. Which I am … almost. They complemented me on looking younger. I felt bad.

What possessed me to do that? Felt like a child saying he was almost seven.

Not a bad feeling–not the fib–the childishness.

 

Washington Reports on Climate Change

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The recently leaked climate report is undoubtedly those people’s best effort to make the case for the inevitability and impact of global warming, but for those who know how Washington produces such reports it’s less than convincing.

First, everyone working on it was a true believer. No skeptics, deniers, or even neutral folks need apply.

Second, even though it was touted as a multi-year, multi-administration effort, it’s still the report of one side.

Third, when asked a question in Washington, the question implies the answer. We called it “gaming the system.” It’s the way things are done inside the Beltway.

Finally, have all those folks sworn off flying? Parked their gas guzzlers? Charge their Prius’ only from solar panels? Live in zero-carbon condos? Grow their own food? Heck, no. They’re hypocrites just like you, me, and Al Gore.

That is not to say that the weather isn’t getting warmer, nor that human activity didn’t contribute to it, nor that the impact won’t be huge this century. It’s just to agree with Benjamin Disraeli that the worst kind of liars are statisticians.

Book Review: Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price

Four Stars

“To them, to kill in revenge was a duty; to forgive the killing of a kinsman sin.”

Excellent science-historical fiction mashup. Avoids the time travel paradox by having travelers visit a past in a world a few dimensions away from our earth, but recognizably similar.

“… always worrying about someone getting hurt, as if people could keep from getting hurt.”

Changes point of view often–paragraph by paragraph–but with sufficient clues to keep the reader oriented. Deep into the minds and emotions of all the principle characters (who vary enough to reflect vastly different mores and experiences), to the point that we understand the motivation and worldview of those we might normally consider villains. Female lead has near-terminal conscience and indecision problems, which makes her the perfect lens into the story.

“Lovers divided by family and feud made good stories, but in life it was nothing but misery.”

Excellent immersion into medieval culture: not just sights and sounds, but smells and taste …. And all that filth. Music and folk tales deepen our cultural engagement. A skilled archer misses; hooray!

“It was like the music stopped and I had no chair.”

Quibble: Land Rovers haven’t had hub caps for decades.

If I had but a swan’s wings

Far over hills and sea I’d fly–

To my true love’s arms I’d fall at last

And in her arms I’d gladly die.