Deaths in the US

Mass shooting deaths in the US usually get a lot of publicity. The number of gun violence deaths for 2018 is currently 12,869 – Gun Violence Archive.

There is some media coverage of the California fire toll, but despite the large number of possible casualties – currently 76 deaths have been confirmed, over a thousand people are missing. Some may have just got the hell out of the inferno area, and remain unaccounted for, but the toll is certain to grow.

The Atlantic: A Deadly Tsunami of Fire

The Camp Fire now ranks among this century’s worst U.S. natural disasters, and the number of dead could still rise.

Seventy-six people are dead. At least 1,276 are missing. And more than 7 million have been confined to their homes, as a cloud of toxic, corrosive ash darkens their windows and creeps under their doors.

The Camp Fire—which is still burning across some 232 square miles of Northern California—now ranks among the worst natural disasters to hit the United States this century. Only a handful of hurricanes and a “super outbreak” of tornadoes in 2011 have killed more Americans. This fire has robbed more Californians of their lives than has any earthquake since 1933.

There are obviously many other deaths in the US. There was one last week that will go unnoticed by all but a small handful of people.

Last Tuesday morning when on my way to work I received a phone call advising of the death in Texas of my younger brother.  As he rarely communicated – I visited him there in 2003, and last heard from him in 2013 (he didn’t reply to a recent email which was normal for him), so this came as a shock.

But from what I have learned his health had not been good for some time. he had diabetes and was suffering from related conditions.

Apparently was trying to treat himself. At this stage I can only guess, but I presume that the US user pays health system had something to do with this.  He lived on his own, and because of poor health, including being on crutches, it’s likely he couldn’t afford for decent health care.

He had options, like coming back to New Zealand and getting help from family and our health system, but for some reason he struggled on his own in the US, and as a result died early. Texas, where everything is big – apart from health care for the poor. (Neighbours and people we have been dealing with over his death have been very helpful).

I haven’t seen much of Martin since I left home – he has mostly lived overseas, in Australia, the UK and for the last quarter of a century in Texas.  His death there is just one, and more insignificant than most in the US.  But it means something to me and other family.

Martin George
Ex-Kiwi with a drawl
20 July 1959-11 November 2018

 

 

Melania Trump – ‘just a jacket’

Melania Trump has increased the controversy over the treatment of children separated from their parents and effectively incarcerated after trying to cross the Mexico-US border (there are claims some arrived at the border without their parents).

Boarding a plane on her way to visit migrant kids in Texas Melania was snapped wearing a jacket with ‘I don’t really care, do u?’ emblazoned on the back.

Image:

Regardless of the reason for wearing this it was a public relations disaster waiting to happen, and so it transpired.

MSN: Social media cared about what Melania Trump wore on her way to visit migrant kids

The first lady was first photographed in the jacket — which the Daily Mail identified as a $39 jacket from fast fashion retailer Zara, though it appears to have previously sold out — boarding a plane in Maryland earlier Thursday. She was on her way to visit a shelter for migrant children, amid outrage over the Trump administration’s decision to separate thousands of children from their parents at the border. The practice was ended on Wednesday, but thousands of children have yet to be reunited with their parents.

Melania’s PR tried to play it down.

Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s director of communications, sought to calm the furor and blamed the media for stirring it up.

“It’s just a jacket. There’s no message. I hope we can talk about her important visit with children today rather than her wardrobe choice,” Grisham said, earning suspicion from some quarters that the wardrobe choice was purposefully designed to bait the media.

If it was designed to bait the media it worked, but not very well for the already widely criticised Trumps. Melania had been seen as the sensitive one with some social conscience, but that image has taken a hit.

It’s debatable whether it’s “just a jacket”. Grisham and the Trumps will be well aware of media interest in what Melania might wear.

Arriving back in Maryland, Mrs. Trump was captured on camera again. The jacket was back.

That suggests it may have been a deliberate attempt at media diversion. And the Donald added to the media attention.

That’s a lame response, even by his standards.

I really don’t care if Trump tries to blame reporting on the media. Do you?

This was very insensitive, and  if it was deliberately provocative it was a a very stupid situation to be doing it in.

This later tweet doesn’t help.

Texas bomber blows himself up

After a spate of bombings in Austin Texas the police identified the suspect and approached him. It is reported he has detonated a bomb and killed himself.

Reuters: Texas bombing suspect kills self, reported to be unemployed man, 23

An unemployed 23-year-old man suspected of a three-week bombing campaign in Texas that killed two people and injured five others before blowing himself up on the side of a highway was identified by local media on Wednesday.

A series of bombings beginning on March 2 left Austin, a fast-growing city of 1 million people, on edge as the bomber moved from parcels left on doorsteps to one activated by a trip wire to at least two sent via FedEx.

By Sunday, bewildered investigators had publicly asked the serial bomber to reach out to them. By Tuesday they had identified a suspect, Texas Governor Greg Abbott told Fox News.

Police tracked him to a hotel about 20 miles (32 km) north of Austin and were following his vehicle when he pulled to the side of the road and detonated a device, killing himself, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley told reporters near the scene.

“We’ve known for a couple of days who the suspect likely was,” Abbott told Fox. “Law enforcement is at his house in Pflugerville where we are learning whether or not that was the location he was making his bombs.”

The governor added that the suspect is believed to have lived with two roommates, who are not currently considered suspects, and was not a military veteran.

Manley said the suspect was believed to be responsible for six bombs around Austin and in Schertz, near San Antonio, all but one of which detonated. He said the motivation for the bombings or whether the suspect had help was not yet known.

Residents of Austin will be relieved the bomber has been disabled, but…

Manley warned residents to be cautious since it was not clear whether any more bombs had been left around the city.

So unease for a while longer in Austin, but otherwise this will now probably quickly fade away as just another example of internal violence in the US, with the only difference this time being bombs instead of firearms being used.

Ingredients for life found in meteorites

Two meteorites that fell to Earth in 1998 have been analysed using modern methods and have been found to contain essential ingredients for life – water, amino acids, hydrocarbons and other organic matter.

CNN:  Ingredients for life found in meteorites that crashed to Earth

Although two 4.5-billion-year-old meteorites crashed to Earth in 1998, it’s taken until now to uncover some of their secrets.

The two meteorites, called Monahans and Zag, are the first discovered to contain the ingredients for life: liquid water, amino acids, hydrocarbons and other organic matter.

A chemical-makeup analysis of blue and purple salt and potassium crystals from the meteorites was published in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday.

Although it’s not exactly proof that life exists beyond Earth, the traces of water in the salt crystals could date to the earliest days of our solar system.

This indicates a probability there are ingredients for life elsewhere in our own solar system, but while the odds are strongly in favour that this could be replicated elsewhere in the Universe it is not proof beyond our tiny patch.

Before slamming into Earth — one near a youth basketball game in Texas in March 1998 and another near Morocco in August 1998 — the meteorites lived in our solar system’s asteroid belt for billions of years.

The salt crystals from the two meteorites are similar, and researchers believe that these two objects crossed paths at some point. But the salt crystals were not always part of the meteorites themselves. It’s possible that they came from volcanic activity that ejected water or ice, which happens on ocean worlds in our solar system, and attached to the meteorites through impact.

A blue crystal recovered from a meteorite that fell near Morocco in 1998.

“Our coordinated organic analysis of the salt crystals suggest that the organic matter originated from a water-rich, or previously water-rich parent body — an ocean world in the early solar system, possibly Ceres,” Queenie Chan, study author and postdoctoral research associate at The Open University in the UK, wrote in an email.

Chan said her team has saved some of the larger blue salt crystals for future analysis. They hope to discover more liquid water in the salt crystals and investigate the origin of the water itself. There are also other meteorite samples with well-preserved crystals that they want to test.

“Our finding that the meteorites contain a wide diversity of organic compounds is exciting, but what made me jump up and down was that we were able to investigate the soluble — such as amino acids, the building blocks of life — and insoluble organic compounds contain within the tiny salt crystals which are only about 2 mm in size each, and which are the hosts to liquid water — another crucial ingredient for life to occur,” Chan said.

“These results pay off the amount of time and effort I spent in the laboratory trying to break the meteorite sample apart to ‘hand pick’ and collect the stunning blue salt crystals.”

It has taken nearly twenty years to get these results.

Technology had to catch up before researchers could even think about the in-depth analysis they wanted to carry out.

More could be discovered from these and other meteorites in the future.

Worst mass shooting in Texas history

The church shooting in a Texas church is described as the worst mass shooting in Texas history, which is very sad but also seems a bit odd given how Texas has been portrayed historically as a gun slinging wild west.

Worst mass shooting in Texas History claims 26 at a church near San Antonio

Latest details (as of 8:30 p.m.)

  • At least 26 people were killed at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs Sunday morning
  • The shooter was identified as Devin Kelley, 26.
  • Between 15-20 people were wounded.
  • The shooter was killed in Guadalupe County.
  • Police are reportedly searching for explosives at a home connected to the suspected shooter.
  • Most deadly mass shooting in Texas history.

Officials have identified the man who killed 26 people inside the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs as Devin Kelley, 26.

Authorities said Kelley, dressed in tactical gear, began the shooting spree outside the church. He then walked inside and continued shooting, before fleeing in a vehicle.

Authorities found him dead with a gunshot wound in neighboring Guadalupe County, officials said.

‘Creepy, crazy and weird’: Former classmates say Texas gunman was an ‘outcast’ who ‘preached his atheism’ online before killing 26 in the state’s worst ever mass shooting

The Texas church shooter who shot dead 26 people and injured 24 others was an ‘outcast’ who ‘preached his atheism’ online.

Former classmates say Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, who stormed First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in Texas and opened fire on Sunday, was ‘creepy’, ‘crazy’ and ‘weird’.

Kelley walked into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on Sunday, dressed in black, tactical gear with a ballistics belt and an assault rifle, and began shooting, according to local law enforcement sources.

Kelley of New Braunfels, a suburb of San Antonio, was shot by Stephen Willeford, 55, before he climbed in an SUV to flee the scene, a local resident told DailyMail.com.

This will no doubt spark another round of arguments over liberal US gun laws, for a while, until it fades away again as nothing happens.

This shooting is being reported as the fifth worst mass killing in recent US history.

Because the mass murderer was a white US citizen it is unlikely to result in calls for extreme vetting of crazy people and atheists, or bans on immigration from countries where there are crazy people or atheists.

Statista: Number of mass shootings in the United States between 1982 and 2017, by mass shooter’s race and ethnicity

USMassShootings

The US has a real problem with the use of firearms, shooting deaths generally and mass shootings, but seems unable to do much about it.

 

 

 

The cost of US hurricanes

The cost of US hurricanes can be huge. NOAA (National Centers for Environmental Information) estimates the economic impact of Hurricane Harvey at about $180 billion. Some comparisons:

  • Harvey (2017) $180B
  • Katrina (2005) 160B
  • Sandy (2012) $70B
  • Andrew (1992) $48B
  • Ike (2008) $35B

Of course inflation, increased population and increased industrialisation need to be taken into account. And this is just the US costs, hurricanes ending up hitting the US coast have often already wreaked havoc in the Carribean.

And the cost of Harvey is yet to be determined accurately. Five days ago an estimate was $108 billion – see Harvey is likely to be the second-most costly natural disaster in U.S. history.

And there’s more bad news – Hurricane Irma is growing in strength and heading for Florida, passing by a number of Caribbean islands on the way.

Independent:  Hurricane Irma has become so strong it’s showing up as an earthquake on seismometers

Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands have declared a state of emergency

irma-5-sept.jpg

Washington Post: Catastrophic Hurricane Irma — now a Cat 5 — is on a collision course with Florida

Hurricane Irma is an “extremely dangerous” Category 5, barreling toward the northern Lesser Antilles and Southern Florida. It’s already the strongest hurricane ever recorded outside the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, and it’s likely to make landfall somewhere in Florida over the weekend.

If it does, the impact could be catastrophic.

The storm is life-threatening for the United States, including Puerto Rico, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba and the southeastern Bahamas. Hurricane warnings have been issued for the northern Leeward Islands, Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. A hurricane watch is in effect for Hispaniola and southeastern Bahamas.

With maximum winds of 185 mph, Irma is tied for the second strongest storm ever observed in the Atlantic. And in its Tuesday morning discussion, the National Hurricane Center said the storm is in an environment “ideal for some additional intensification.”

And inevitably these hurricanes raise a bigger storm, climate change debate.

As Irma looms, Harvey makes climate change clearly visible.

Hurricane Harvey is the biggest rain event in the nation’s history and could turn out to be one of the most destructive storms ever. Thousands of people are out of their homes, the death toll has been climbing, and people are still being rescued. The magnitude of Harvey shows the impact of climate change.

The Gulf of Mexico has increased in temperature because the planet is getting warmer, which made the storm catastrophic. Harvey is the symbol of what climate change impacts look like.

Harvey brewed in the Gulf of Mexico, but Irma is coming in off the Atlantic Ocean.

From WaPo six months ago: Gulf of Mexico waters are freakishly warm, which could mean explosive springtime storms

Water temperatures at the surface of the Gulf of Mexico and near South Florida are on fire. They spurred a historically warm winter from Houston to Miami and could fuel intense thunderstorms in the spring from the South to the Plains.

In the Gulf, the average sea surface temperature never fell below 73 degrees over the winter for the first time on record, reported Eric Berger of Ars Technica.

Galveston, Tex., has tied or broken an astonishing 33 record highs since Nov. 1, while neighboring Houston had its warmest winter on record.

The abnormally warm temperatures curled around the Gulf, helping Baton Rouge and New Orleans reach their warmest Februaries on record.

Meanwhile, a ribbon of toasty sea surface temperatures streamed north through the Straits of Florida supporting record-setting warmth over parts of the Florida peninsula.

The warm water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, in particular, could mean that thunderstorms that erupt over the southern and central United States are more severe this spring. Berger explained in his Ars Technica piece: “While the relationship is far from absolute, scientists have found that when the Gulf of Mexico tends to be warmer than normal, there is more energy for severe storms and tornadoes to form than when the Gulf is cooler.”

The implications of the warm water for hurricane season, June 1 to Nov. 30, are less clear.

The implications seem to be more clear now.

Storms, floods and climate change

Inevitably when there are large scale storms and floods the issue of climate change comes up. It’s difficult to attribute single weather events to large scale long term changes, but it’s easy to see an association.

If there is more heat in the oceans and if there is more heat in the atmosphere then storms are more likely, and more of them will be bigger.

There has been a lot of news coverage of hurricane Harvey in the US and the very heavy rains and widespread flooding in Texas. President Trump has said  ‘Nobody’s seen anything like this’ – he is prone to exaggerating but he could be right:

WP: Catastrophic flooding ‘beyond anything experienced’ in Houston and ‘expected to worsen’

“Catastrophic flooding in the Houston metropolitan area is expected to worsen,” the National Weather Service said Sunday. It added: “This event is unprecedented and all impacts are unknown and beyond anything experienced.”

But Texas isn’t the only place there have been floods recently.

FloodsGlobalWarming

South Asia floods: Mumbai building collapses as monsoon rains wreak havoc

Flooding across India, Nepal and Bangladesh leaves parts of cities underwater as storm moves on to Pakistan

Across the region more than 1,200 people are feared to have died and 40 million are estimated to have been affected by flooding in India, Nepal and Bangladesh.

Vast swaths of land are underwater in the eastern part of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where more than 100 people have reportedly died, 3,097 villages are submerged and almost 3 million villagers have been affected by flooding, according to officials. Army personnel have joined rescuers to evacuate people from the area.

The storm reached Pakistan on Thursday, lashing the port city of Karachi, where at least 14 people have died, and streets have been submerged by water.

Sierra Leone mudslide and flood leaves more than 1,000 people dead

More than 1,000 people have died from the mudslide and flood that hit Sierra Leone’s capital nearly two weeks ago, a local leader and a minister have said during services honouring the disaster’s victims.

Thousands of people living in areas at risk during heavy rains have been evacuated.

Niger Reports 44 People Killed in Floods

At least 44 people have been killed in floods caused by torrential rains this season in Niger.

No single storm or flood can be directly linked to climate change, but an increasing number of increasingly severe floods could.

HOW CLIMATE CHANGE CONTRIBUTED TO MASSIVE FLOODS IN SOUTH ASIA

Heavy monsoon rains have caused disastrous floods and left millions displaced in South Asia. Like Harvey, climate change likely played a role.

“This is not normal,” Reaz Ahmed, the director-general of Bangladesh’s Department of Disaster Management, told CNN. “Floods this year were bigger and more intense than the previous years.”

Climate change appears to be intensifying the region’s monsoon rains. Rising sea surface temperatures in South Asia, for example, led to more moisture in the atmosphere, providing this year’s monsoon with its ammunition for torrential rainfall—much the same way abnormally high water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico intensified Harvey before it stalled over Texas.

Warmer air temperatures in high latitude regions of the globe have also increased glacier melt, which has, in turn, raised the Himalayan rivers’ water levels and heightened the risk of flooding.

Heavy Flooding and Global Warming: Is There a Connection?

Climate change increases the probability of some types of weather. Recent heavy rains and flooding in the Northeast, Midwest, and Great Plains are consistent with a warming planet, and such events are expected to become more common over time.

As average temperatures in regions across the country have gone up, more rain has fallen during the heaviest downpours. Very heavy precipitation events, defined as the heaviest one percent, now drop 67 percent more precipitation in the Northeast, 31 percent more in the Midwest and 15 percent more in the Great Plains, including the Dakotas, than they did 50 years ago.

This happens because warmer air holds more moisture.

Two things are inevitable, rain and climate debate.

‘St Leonards’ copyrighted?

An item in my suburban news sheet sounds ridiculous – a city called St Leonards on the USA got a copyright on the name and are now telling other St Leonards around the world they can no longer use the name, including my neighbouring suburb in Dunedin (and a suburb of Hastings).

The Rothesay News reports (not online):

As a result of legal action nearly 12,000 kilometres away the Dunedin City Council is to poll the residents of St Leonards on a potential name change.

Not only is the US State of Texas the second most populous state in the union it is also the home to the rapidly growing city of St Leonards which had the foresight 22 years ago to copyright the city’s name.

Senator Flora Poil who represents the city in Congress put a motion to the State Senate establishing the name as copyright protected back in 2012, and late last year the motion was accepted as law.

Law in Texas, not law in World.

During the past few months the city has officially notified 112 other St Leonards throughout the world that they will have to rename their villages, towns and cities by May 2018.

St. Leonards Roman Catholic Church in New England built by Italian immigrants in 1873 was recently renamed after Bostonians lost a recent case in the United States Court of Appeal.

This sounds ludicrous. And it is.

I’m not making this up, but maybe someone is. It’s in the April edition of Rothesay News – but April Fools tricks are usually confined to am on the 1st.

However I can’t find a St Leonards in Texas and I can’t find a Senator Flora Poil. So it looks like a month long spoof. Especially when you rearrange the letters of the Senator’s name.