Dam, Sam!

Question of the Day: How complacent have California dam operators become under the ‘permanent drought’ of global warming?
found on the Interwebs

This is a story of bad reporting, bad management, and bad boondoggles.

Damage to the spillway keeps worsening at America’s tallest dam at Oroville, California. Dam operators opened the flood gates to keep the state’s second-largest reservoir from overflowing even more disastrously although they know that increasing the flow would erode a big part — perhaps the entire bottom half — of the spillway. That’s about “150 yards of concrete,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported February 10, “that will have to be painstakingly rebuilt during the dry months.” Repair costs, “state officials said, will likely top $100 million.”

Wait. What? 666 THOUSAND DOLLARS A YARD???

Oroville Dam-SpillwayLake Oroville was at 99% capacity by Friday with only 3.5 feet left to fill. The good news is that the larger spillway, made of reinforced concrete, was peeling downward and not threatening the integrity of the 770-foot-high dam itself.

Wait. What good news? 666 THOUSAND DOLLARS A YARD??? That’s even more than a Florida highway boondoggle!

“And Californians think they should run the country…” Rufus said.

That has to be stupid reporting. I reckon the hole is actually 150 yards long, not 150 cubic yards. Still, the equivalent of less than a tenth of a mile of Interstate highway repair (that’s about what we’re talking about here) ought not cost $100 million.

“What did they piss away on the 18-mile stretch?” Rufus asked.

Good question. The Florida Department of Transportation is famous here in the Keys for its decade-long, costly boondoggles.

The Stretch was a two-lane highway identified as U.S. 1. It carries 99% of the traffic between Florida City on the mainland and Key Largo and points west, all of it along the former right-of-way of the Key West leg of the Florida East Coast Railway. It was rebuilt to save lives and to facilitate the increased volume of traffic, particularly during hurricane evacuations.

It is now a two-lane highway divided by a concrete barrier that separates northbound and southbound lanes.

Construction took place in three stages which tied up the main entry to the Keys for years. The first ten miles, down at this end of the road, chewed us up from Key Largo to about mile marker 116. That cost $153,565,133. The second phase extended from mile marker 116 up to Florida City but the D.O.T. skipped a three-mile segment in the middle. No one knows why. Those five miles of paving took about three years, from 2008-2011 and cost $111,827,749. The middle three miles, from mile marker 121 to mile marker 124, was later in 2011 at a cost of $17,043,687. The “additional engineering and administrative costs” brought the total cost to $330 million for the entire project or more than $18.3 million per mile.

In the real world, a new six-lane Interstate highway costs about $7 million per mile in rural areas or $11-12 million per mile in urban areas.

Back to Oroville. That’s in California which is apparently even more expensive than Florida.

The Butte County sheriff issued evacuation orders yesterday for everyone living below the dam, some 188,000 people, because the crumbling emergency spillway could give way and unleash floodwaters onto rural communities along the Feather River.

Wait. What?

Didn’t they tell us the spillway was peeling downward and not threatening the integrity of the 770-foot-high dam itself?

The California Department of Water Resources said on Twitter at about 4:30 p.m. PST that the spillway next to the dam was “predicted to fail within the next hour.”

Wait. What?

Didn’t they tell us the spillway was peeling downward and not threatening the integrity of the 770-foot-high dam itself?

The damaged spillway remained standing several hours later; it’s still there.

There’s no word when evacuation order will be lifted.

“I figure the 188,000 people in Oroville, Yuba County, Butte County, Marysville and nearby communities probably voted for Trump,” Rufus said.

The water level has now dropped. The dam itself is fine.

 

Everything Is New Again!

I walk a couple of miles around South Puffin most mornings but yesterday was special.

“It’s a new year” and change was in the air. I expected transformation. I’d greet new people dressed in finery coming out of brand new homes. They would have handsome gardens and all their children would be above average.

It came as a surprise that I recognized every single house on my street. Every one.

Pundits insist on parsing “Make America Great Again” so it means something bad. In fact, on Face the Nation Sunday morning, the consensus was that the slogan specifically evokes racism and anti-feminism and classism and probably fascism.
Why is it so hard to look forward?
David Frum was so negative that he is the absolute embodiment of why I don’t read the Atlantic. He’s a “neoconservative” political commentator and senior editor at the Atlantic. A speech writer for Bush 43, he later wrote the first insider book about the Bush presidency. On Face the Nation, Mr. Frum called the current “crisis of democracy” something that hasn’t been seen since World War II. He was so virulently, consistently negative about Mr. Trump and a Trump presidency that even the Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg called him on his negativity.

The very people who wailed and gnashed their teeth over the Bush Administration are trotting out a similar litany again. Maybe one reason we need to make America great again is because these negative nellies are so afraid of change.

Here are some of the stories I’m hearing for 2017:

The president-elect doesn’t listen to anybody else.
Translation: “We need a president who will go along with the status quo.”
Reality: Mr. Trump tallied 1.4 million more votes than Ms. Clinton did in 49 states (only her huge disparity in California gave her a lead in the popular vote). He carried 32 states overall. She carried 18 and the D.C. He carried about 82% of all U.S. counties; she got the other 18%. That was a call for a significant shift. Voters deliberately chose a man who promised not to listen to the politicians.
The hope: Americans are already more hopeful that the country will be better in 2017 than it was in 2016 under Mr. Obama, according to a new AP-Times Square Alliance poll. People are looking forward to having more jobs and more money to spend.

The new administration has no substantive policies.
Translation: “We need to continue the Obama policies.”
Reality: The new mandate is to repair the damage done by years of political skulduggery on both sides of the aisle. More people than ever before fear and hate the federal government.
The hope: New policies will pare down every Federal department; reform the regulatory code; strengthen the U.S. military to discourage expansion by China, Russia, and terrorists; revamp all U.S. healthcare from the ground up and transform the VA; change the EPA from a fascist front to an environmental steward; establish school choice; create a working energy policy; do real science on climate matters; rewrite the 74,608-page federal tax code; and make us proud of our elected government.

The president-elect and most of the new administration have no political experience.
Translation: “We need a president who will go along with the expansion of big government.”
Reality: For more than a century, all “first world” countries have been rife with interest groups driving bigger government. The fundamental checks on such growth such as our allegiance to local control and a Constitution that limits the government’s role in economic life have been dissolved by Democrats and Republicans alike. Thank goodness that We the Overtaxed People finally elected someone with no political experience!
The hope: The classical liberal hopes that it may still be possible to stem the growth and return the “power to the people.”

The president-elect is morally outrageous!
Translation: “We need a president who is kind to women like Bill Clinton, or FDR, or LBJ, or Grover Cleveland, or James Buchanan.”
Reality: There’s no excuse for bad manners or illegal behavior but every recent election shows we not only accept it but approve of it from “good” politicians (the ones who confirm their supporters’ bias).
The hope: How about a resolution that we punish crimes and eliminate the Victorian prurience?

The president-elect is a rapacious businessman or a terrible financial manager. Or both!
Translation: “We need a president who knows nothing about business.”
Reality: We haven’t elected many politicians who have ever built anything whether it’s a house, a race car, a rocket ship, or a stent. Look where we are now.
The hope: This country was founded on citizen legislators and public servants. Maybe, just maybe, we can reinvigorate the idea of finding successful, capable people in other fields to “lend” their expertise to the government for a little while and then return to real life.

All the new appointments hate [science | women | foreign policy | the EPA | education | Obamacare].
Translation: “The new appointments will throw away all our hard-gains in newspaper science, affirmative action, and ‘free’ perpetual care.”
Reality: Newspaper science isn’t real. Fake trophies punish real accomplishment. And TANSTAAFL.
The hope: We can move the 46.3 million people in the labor force who were actually unemployed into productive jobs. We will value truth over political correctness and doublespeak. And we will task NASA to collect earthly data and return to the stars.

Plenty of people are trying to rewrite history right now but our best chance is to write a better story from today onward.

 

Trump Budget Could Cut Climate Funding for NASA

or Where I Think Government Should Spend Our Money

Let’s get something straight.
Climate Change is real.
Political Science is fake.

“Aides to the US president-elect, Donald Trump, … unveiled plans to remove the budget for climate change science currently used by NASA and other US federal agencies for projects such as examining Arctic changes, and to spend it instead on space exploration,” the Guardian reported.

“Shoot the messenger?” one correspondent asked. “Trump is cutting NASA’s arctic research because the agency brings inconvenient news.”

It’s interesting news and I’m halfway to liking it.

I like funding more deep space exploration. That and the development of colonization technologies is where NASA should spend its money now. Let the Commercial Spaceflight Federation members do the near Earth orbit stuff. And, it sends a message to the scientific community that we won’t fund all the “me too” studies any more. That’s all to the good. Still, I don’t like losing the NASA satellites monitoring temperature, ice, clouds, and other meteorological phenomena because the data itself is crucial.

“Mr Trump’s decisions will be based upon solid science, not politicized science.” Trump adviser Bob Walker said.

Yay!

Salon and other drum beaters call it “Politicizing climate change.”

Boo, hiss!

“Federal government scientists have been unnerved by Trump’s dismissal of climate science and are concerned that their work will be sidelined,” the Guardian reported.

Granted (heh), scientists who live from federal grant to federal grant like to know where their next meal will come from, but they make one important point.

NASA Launch from Cape CanaveralAnyone who has read history knows that the climate has changed many times in the last 4.543 billion years. Anyone who has read history knows that the climate changed a lot more before our first human ancestor developed speech and the ability to clear cut forests, a couple of million years ago. And, unfortunately, anyone who has read history knows that our climactic data from that time is woefully incomplete. We simply don’t have good, complete, contemporaneous data for planetary conditions two hundred years ago, let alone two million or two billion years ago.

Last week, we learned that “evidence suggests the Earth underwent an ice age so cold that ice sheets not only capped the polar latitudes, but may have extended all the way to sea level near the equator” around 700 million years ago but that during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum “the poles were free of ice caps, and palm trees and crocodiles lived above the Arctic Circle.”

We don’t have enough actual data from any of those times even to build trustworthy quantitative climate models.

That’s an inconvenient truth for the alarmists who have the hubris to sell you that the rising sea will cut off the land bridge across the modern day Bering Strait (but that their settled science will cure it if we humans just stop breathing, farting, heating, and start paying higher taxes).

Loss of contemporaneous data for planetary conditions today is also an inconvenient truth for the real scientists who know that having that data is the only way our human descendants two millennia from now will know what we experience today.

We need good data about today now and we will need that good data about today 200 years from now, too.

Where should our governments spend our money? Beyond the alphabetically obvious answer of public arts, public education, public infrastructure, and public security and social protection, man has some imperatives that are best handled together. Exploration tops the list.

Basic science and basic data gathering is one such area and is an arena that jumpstarts exploration as well as commercial applications. We don’t need a new detailed map of the human brain because brain mapping is already commercially viable and well funded by private business. We do need to cure cancer. The biomedical industrial complex treats profits from its high-budget care but has no financial incentive to find a cure. We don’t need to study the effects of cocaine on Japanese quail because that’s better done by the cartels. We do need to explore beyond the solar system and we do need to explore this little blue marble we live on.

Every program government funds can profit from the “commercialization” filter.

NASA has publicly archived all of its data received from spacecraft projects — that’s over 4TB of new earth science data every day. The available data includes the CEOS International Directory Network, Earth Plus, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS), Gateway to Astronaut Photography, Global Change Master Directory, Global Imagery Browse Service (GIBS), Goddard Institute for Space Studies Earth/Climate Change Data, Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center, LandSat 7 Datasets, NASA Earth Observatory, NASA Earth Observations, NASA’s HEASARC Web-based Tools, Ocean Color, Physical Oceanography DAAC, USGS/NASA Landsat Data on New Earth Explorer, Visible Earth, and more.

Global meteorological data. NASA may not be the best agency to interpret the findings but it is still the best agency to ferret it out for us. Pretty soon, we should examine that data for commercialization but, for today, it fits the basic data gathering filter and we need NASA to continue to record and store it.

We need that data so a future generation of researchers and scientists, unencumbered by politics and newspaper punditry, can build climate models that actually work.

 

News, Part I

I guess we won’t have my cuz to kick around for a while, eh.

A plurality of Canadians have given Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party the boot after nine years and elected Justin Trudeau to head a new Liberal government in Canadian federal elections held two weeks ago. Mr. Trudeau takes office November 4.

I didn’t learn that on Facebook. It was probably tweeted but even the curated Twitter feed is too congested to pick out that tidbit.

In fact, I don’t get my news from Twitter or Facebook. Here’s why.

Here’s what is trending this morning on Facebook:

• Clear Food: Report Finds Some Vegetarian Hot Dogs Contain Meat, Traces of Human DNA
• Maureen O’Hara: Actress Known for Role in ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ Film Dies at Age 95
• Vancouver Island: Whale Watching Boat Sinks With 27 on Board, Killing at Least 5
• Jimmy Morales: Former TV Comedian Elected President of Guatemala in Landslide Victory
• Chris Christie: Governor of New Jersey Kicked Off Amtrak Quiet Car for Talking on Phone
• Comet Lovejoy: Researcher Says Comet Is Producing Alcohol and Sugar
• Germaine Greer: Feminist Writer Says Transgender Women Are Not Women During ‘Newsnight’ Interview
• Florida Bear Hunt: Federal Agency Ends Hunt in Central Florida After 207 Bears Get Killed

Truth? I don’t care if Amtrak kicked Chris Christie off the quiet car any more than I care that American Airlines kicked Alec Baldwin off a plane for playing games on his own cellphone. It was boorish behavior but it wasn’t news.

“I am more inclined to follow it on the internet. TV news is too slanted. Reporters deliver the news with political slants to the left or right and they dilute the actual facts of the event,” wrote a Yahoo forum correspondent.

I’ve watched plenty of people click every link in the “Trending” column of their Facebook feed. That, of course, pleases Mr. Zuckerberg. But they made the same fundamental error as our Yahoo correspondent.

That Yahoo correspondent thinks that Internet news is less skewed and is more fact-checked than other sources. We “drink from the firehose” of “information overload” in the best of times. Probably better that our firehose be pumping something of substance.

This is news, as reported this morning in the NYTimes:

• Health Care Co-op Closings Narrow Consumers’ Choices
• Criminal Charges and $50 Million Fine Expected in Goldman-New York Fed Case
• Afghanistan and Pakistan Hit by Huge Earthquake
• Right-Wing Party Roars Back in Polish Elections
• Broadband: New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman Launching Probe Into Internet Speeds
• General Motors and the United Automobile Workers union [that owns 8.7% of GM stock, down from 17.5% in the 2009 car theft] reached a tentative agreement
• The Obama administration called for a testing cap so that no child spends more than 2 percent of classroom instruction time taking exams.

Every one of those stories has an impact on your life and mine.

The truth is that most news isn’t all that important when counted against your day-to-day life or mine. Facebook might argue that the “ambient engagement” and “community awareness” their Trending line offers provides the context we need to get through the day.

Really?

So, knowing that Germaine Greer thinks transgender women should use the men’s room helps me put food on the table?

I’m all for absorbing data by osmosis but the way we actually answer the questions of whether we can afford a new car this year or if it is safe to walk the street after dark rarely comes from the fake reports; it comes from the hard news of consumer prices, the Cleveland Clinic’s new mobile stroke unit, and what laws (if any) Congress passed last week.

News is more accessible than ever, but it’s up to us to find it. There’s more information in one daily NYTimes or Wall Street Journal than I can digest and the Internoodle just compounds the problem. The Interwebs deliver little but what you want to hear, not what you need to know.

Next week, we’ll look at the quality of the news instead of the quantity and the headlines.

As a side note, anyone who thinks hot dogs don’t contain stuff you don’t want to know about including traces of human and rat DNA, also believes their favorite politician told them the truth today.