August 31, 2015

Ten years later – how the media covered Katrina

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

W. Joseph Campbell describes the media’s role in contributing to — and sometimes inventing — the persistent myths of what happened in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina made land-fall:

I call it the “myth of superlative reporting,” the notion that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s onslaught 10 years ago, journalists bravely held powerful officials accountable for their inept responses to a storm blamed for the deaths of 1,800 people.

Dan Rather, the former CBS News anchorman, gave voice to the “myth of superlative reporting,” describing Katrina coverage as “one of the quintessential great moments in television news,” ranking “right there with the Nixon/Kennedy debates, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate coverage, you name it.”

A quintessential great moment is was not.

The reporting of Katrina, as I wrote in my 2010 media-mythbusting book, Getting It Wrong, “was in important respects flawed and exaggerated. On crucial details, journalists erred badly, and got it wrong” in describing horrors the storm supposedly unleashed across New Orleans after making landfall east of the city on August 29, 2005.

Journalists reported snipers firing at medical personnel, I noted. They reported shots were fired at helicopters, halting evacuations from the Convention Center in New Orleans. They told of bodies being stacked like cordwood inside the Convention Center.

News reports also spoke of roving gangs that terrorized occupants of the Louisiana Superdome, where many people had taken shelter. The reports said children were victims of sexual assault, that one seven-year-old was raped and her throat was slit. They reported that sharks were plying the flooded streets of New Orleans.

None of those reports, as it turned out, was verified or substantiated.

“If anyone rioted,” said a bipartisan congressional report about Katrina, “it was the media.

“Many stories of rape, murder, and general lawlessness were at best unsubstantiated, at worst simply false.”

Erroneous and over-the-top reporting, I wrote in Getting It Wrong, “had the cumulative the effect of painting for America and the rest of the world a scene of surreal violence and terror, something straight out of Mad Max or Lord of the Flies.”

Here’s what I wrote ten years ago, based on the media reports coming out of Louisiana:


August 28, 2015

QotD: The unusually lucky 20th century, meteorologically speaking

Filed under: Environment, History, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… I read a lot of history and thus know a fair bit about how weather impact has been perceived by humans over time. It is a fact that the 20th century was an abnormally lucky hundred years, meteorologically speaking. The facts I managed to jam into tweets included (a) the superstorm that flooded 300 square miles of the Central Valley in California in the 1860s, (b) rainfall levels we’d consider drought conditions were normal in the U.S. Midwest before about 1905, and (c) storms of a violence we’d find hard to believe were commonly reported in the 1800s. I had specifically in mind something I learned from the book Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild, which relays eyewitness accounts of thunderstorms so intense that travelers had to steeple their hands over their noses in order to breathe air instead of water; but a sense that storms of really theatrical violence were once common comes through in many other histories.

We had a quiet century geophysically as well — no earthquakes even nearly as bad as the New Madrid event of 1812, which broke windows as far north as Montreal. And no solar storms to compare with the Carrington Event of 1859, which seriously damaged the then-nascent telegraph infrastructure and if it recurred today would knock out power and telecomms so badly that we’d be years recovering and casualties would number in the hundreds of thousands, possibly the millions.

(I’m concentrating on 19th-century reports because those tended to be well-documented, but earlier records tell us it was the 20th century calm that was unusual, not the 19th-century violence.)

The awkward truth is that there are very large forces in play in the biosphere, and when they wander out of the ranges we’re adapted to, we suffer and die a lot and there really isn’t a great deal we can do about it; we don’t operate at the required energy scales. For that matter, I can think of several astronomical catastrophes that could be lurking just outside our light-cone only to wipe out all multicellular life on Earth next week. Reality is like that.

Eric S. Raymond, “Heavy weather and bad juju”, Armed and Dangerous, 2011-02-03.

March 19, 2015

The latest snowstorm in the Maritimes may have been the proverbial straw

Filed under: Cancon — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:52

If the reports from Nova Scotia are typical, the new ice age may have already started in the Maritime provinces:

February 16, 2015

Ontario Southland Railway plow chase

Filed under: Cancon, Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Published on 12 Feb 2015

On February 3, Ontario Southland operated their first plow of the season from Salford south to Tillsonburg, then west to St. Thomas. This was also the first time a pair of F units have been used in plow duty on the railroad.

H/T to Laura Spring for the link.

February 8, 2015

An ordinary February day on the railway in New Brunswick

Filed under: Cancon, Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

EPIC CATCH!!! Dashing Thru the Snow – CN Train 406 West at Salisbury, NB (Feb 3, 2015)

I’m not even sure how many locomotives this train had …

Railfanning Post Blizzard of 2015 Storm #3.

Canadian National Railway locomotive 2304 (ES44DC) plows through huge snow drifts and gives me a big ass snow shower as it leads the daily CN manifest train 406 West (Moncton, NB to Saint John, NB) at Salisbury, New Brunswick.

I’m not sure how the train crew can even see with all that snow on the locomotive’s nose!

Southern New Brunswick was hit with three major blizzards in less than a week, and there is more snow in the forecast.

Filmed at 3:05pm, Tuesday February 3, 2015 at mile 11 of the CN Sussex Subdivision.

H/T to Roger Henry for the link.

February 5, 2015

QotD: “Can We All Shut Up About the Weather for a While?”

Filed under: Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Can we shut up about weather for a while, especially weather that is totally in keeping with the seasons in which it’s taking place? It’s only 2015, but it seems like we get storms of the century about every three to six months. Our parents famously walked three miles (uphill both ways, mind you) in sub-zero and scorching temperatures in shoes made of detergent-box cardboard while also mining coal and smoking unfiltered cigarettes by the carton. And here we are, snug in our all-wheel-drive vehicles and Gore-Tex weather wear, demanding work and school be canceled on a 40% likelihood of snow flurries.

Summer has heat waves, winter has snowstorms, get over it. Ever since The Weather Channel first went live in 1982, Americans have been in love with “weather porn,” those swirling animated displays of pixels that change from green to yellow to orange to red to blue while moving rightward across your TV, computer, or smartphone screens. We stand transfixed like 12-year-old boys looking at a centerfold for the first time as reporters dressed like the Gorton’s Fisherman stand in the rain and tell us… it’s raining. Or, worse yet, that it’s not raining, snowing, sleeting, or hailing.

Part of the weather hype is driven by hysteria over global warming, which means that weather — once delivered by genial weirdos like Willard Scott and David Letterman — is as big a deal as the latest American misadventure in the Middle East (for the record, I believe that climate change is taking place, that human activity is part of the cause, and that the best way to deal with it is to remediate its effects rather than simply pull the plug on human progress).

As one Twitter wag put it in response to the non-blizzard of the moment, “Remember: no snow = global warming, lots of snow = global warming, less snow than you thought = global warming.” The important thing being, of course, that we always feel bad about ourselves no matter what’s happening.

Nick Gillespie, “Can We All Shut Up About the Weather for a While?”, Time, 2015-01-27.

October 15, 2014

60 years after Hurricane Hazel

Filed under: Cancon, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:08

John Stall marks the 60th anniversary of the devastation caused by Hurricane Hazel in Toronto:

On Oct. 15, 1954, the hurricane made landfall near Myrtle Beach, S.C. and ravaged islands in the Caribbean and Bahamas.

The effects of the hurricane pounded Toronto with winds topping 110 km/h, washing out bridges and homes.

Around 285 millimetres of rain fell in 48 hours, causing the Humber River to breach its banks, leading to destruction in the Toronto area. Bodies were also carried away as far away as Rochester, N.Y.

In Toronto, more than 30 people died on Raymore Drive — a street that runs parallel to the Humber River, just south of Lawrence Avenue, alone.

The storm claimed the lives of 81 people in southern Ontario and left thousands homeless.

Published on 7 Nov 2012

In October 1954 disaster struck the Humber Valley in Toronto when Hurricane Hazel came inland 960 km from the Carolina coast. Archival film footage and old photos reveal the tragedy unfolding as 10 metres of water came down the valley trapping people in their homes and cars and sweeping them down river. Emergency services were called in to help and volunteers perished as they were struck by a wall of water. Eighty-one people died, 4,000 families were left homeless and flooding rivers took out 20 bridges. Hazel changed the landscape forever leading to dams and water conservation, park and ravine management, and laws banning home building on flood plains.

June 22, 2014

“Draw Play” Dave on how Minnesota got the Super Bowl in 2018

Filed under: Business, Football, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:20

I probably don’t need to say that the Super Bowl is a big ticket item … that much must be clear even to people who don’t have any conscious awareness of the NFL. Part of the push for a new football stadium in Minnesota was the hope that the new stadium would allow Minneapolis/St. Paul to bid on (and hope to win) the competition to host the Super Bowl in the newly completed stadium. The NFL being what it is, this meant a lot of “sweeteners” had to be offered to entice the league up to the deep freeze of Minnesota in the middle of winter. (Full disclosure: I’ve never been to Minnesota in winter, so maybe I’m just being swayed by pro-winter propaganda, but I believe it gets a tad cooler in the land of the ten thousand frozen lakes than it does in, say, Miami.)

“Draw Play” Dave Rappoccio admits he’s a bit late to this story, but I rather liked it anyway:

Click to see the full cartoon

Click to see the full cartoon

Again, older news that I never got to, but deserved a joke.

Has anyone actually looked up the requirements for cities to host the Super Bowl? The NFL is shameless in how is screws cities over and I can’t believe cities sign up for it.

June 11, 2014

Winter damage to vineyards in Niagara and on the Bench

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:20

The first — and probably not the last — definite sign of how bad this winter was for the wineries comes from today’s newsletter from Featherstone, where Louise Engel says they’ve suffered severe damage to some of the vines:

Every season is an adventure in weather here in Niagara. Every year since we bought the vineyard fifteen years ago, Dave and I have looked at each other at some point during the grape growing season, sighed deeply, and said:

“Hmm … well, never seen that before.”

This past year we added ‘polar vortex’ to our table talk. However, we were optimistic that the vines would come through relatively unscathed from the punishing winter temperatures. Our optimism was misplaced. Both the Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc vines have been badly damaged and will need extensive re-planting.

The Gewürztraminer has been virtually wiped out. We are considering replanting that entire field with a hardier variety, like Riesling. The Riesling field that was planted in 1998 is sixteen, going on seventeen, and still thrives. So it may be so long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye Gewürztraminer.

Does this mean that prices will increase? No, it doesn’t. But if you are a fan of our Gewürztraminer, I suggest you climb ev’ry mountain to get here before it’s all gone. Forever.

If you’re not familiar with the Niagara Escarpment sub-appellations, Featherstone is in the Twenty Mile Bench: most of my favourite wineries are in this sub-appellation.

May 21, 2014

QotD: February in Minneapolis

Filed under: Football, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:17

It’s not surprising that the Wilfs, the Vikings and downtown Minneapolis business leaders want the Super Bowl in Minneapolis. Their pockets will be lined, and with more than fur.

The question is why the average Minnesotan would want the Super Bowl here in February.

We don’t invite friends and relatives to Minnesota in February. Why would we invite the world?

Especially the portion of the world that wields laptops and cameras?

You remember February, unless your therapist has helped you block it out. February is when we suffer from cabin fever and cold sores, when we lock ourselves indoors with a fire (whether we have a fireplace or not) and stare at screens until our skin matches the blue fluorescent glow emanating from the TV.

And those are the good days.

I’ve spoken to visitors who are forced to travel here during winter. They ask why we live here. They laugh at us. When Jerry Seinfeld did a show in downtown Minneapolis this winter, he referred to our skyways as “Habitrails.”

The rest of the country cannot fathom why we put ourselves through this, and let’s be honest: We can’t either when we’re in the throes of winter. We all just pile on layers and pray that, this year, summer will fall on a Saturday.

Jim Souhan, “We’re back on center stage, with frozen warts and all”, Star Tribune, 2014-05-21.

March 16, 2014

David Friedman responds to William Nordhaus on global warming costs

Filed under: Economics, Environment — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:40

At his blog, David Friedman links to a recent New York Review of Books article by William Nordhaus (itself a response to a Wall Street Journal article) which argues for economic action to address the impact of global warming:

His final, and possibly most important point, is based on his own research, which he complains that the WSJ article is misrepresenting. He starts with a correct point—that it is the difference between benefit and cost, not the ratio, that matters. He goes on to summarize his conclusion:

    My research shows that there are indeed substantial net benefits from acting now rather than waiting fifty years. A look at Table 5-1 in my study A Question of Balance (2008) shows that the cost of waiting fifty years to begin reducing CO2 emissions is $2.3 trillion in 2005 prices. If we bring that number to today’s economy and prices, the loss from waiting is $4.1 trillion. Wars have been started over smaller sums.

What he does not mention is that his $4.1 trillion is a cost summed over the entire globe and the rest of the century. Put in annual terms, that come to about $48 billion a year, a less impressive number. Current world GNP is about $85 trillion/year. So the net cost of waiting, on Nordhaus’s own numbers, is about one twentieth of one percent of world GNP. Not precisely a catastrophe.

I suggest a simple experiment. Let Nordhaus write a piece explicitly arguing that the net cost of waiting is about .06% of world GNP and see whether it is more popular with the supporters or the critics of his position. I predict that at least one supporter will accuse him of having sold out to big oil.


The future is very much too uncertain to have confidence in estimates of what will be happening fifty years from now — for an extended demonstration, see my Future Imperfect. If we follow Nordhaus’s current advice and tax carbon now in order to slow warming, it may turn out that the costs were unnecessary or even counterproductive. We may be spending money in order to make ourselves poorer, not richer.

I conclude, on the basis of Nordhaus’s own figures and without taking account of my past criticism of his calculations, that he has his conclusion backwards. The sensible strategy is to take no actions whose justification depends on the belief that increased CO2 produces large net costs until we have considerably better reason than we now do to believe it.

March 13, 2014

It’s not just your imagination – this is a truly terrible winter

Filed under: Cancon, Environment — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:46

In Maclean’s, Michael Friscolanti and Kate Lunau round-up the tales of cold weather misery from across the country:

From coast to coast, Canadians have done everything they can to survive this winter of discontent. The Old Man arrived early and never let go, unleashing a harsh brew of bone-chilling mornings, wicked gusts of wind and collective pleas for mercy. We learned a new scientific term — “polar vortex” — and felt it, firsthand, on our fingertips. It’s been so bleak that, as of early March, 92.2 per cent of the Great Lakes were covered in ice, the most since 1979. On March 1, Regina broke a 130-year-old record for that day’s temperature: -36° C, with a wind chill of -53° C. In Kenora, Ont., where all-time winter lows have wreaked havoc on its maze of underground pipes, the city is in the midst of a two-week boil-water advisory.

In Toronto, where the mercury also nosedived to the lowest point in two decades, the city surpassed its record for consecutive days with at least one centimetre of snow on the ground: 89, as of March 7, and counting. No town, though, amassed more white stuff than Stephenville, N.L. (population 7,800). The winter isn’t even over, and the seaside community has already been hammered with more than two metres (the same height, for the record, as Michael Jordan.) “In December, it snowed 26 days,” says Mayor Tom O’Brien. “The snow kept coming and coming. It wasn’t one big wallop.”


GDP fell by 0.5 per cent in December, a dip triggered almost entirely by the pre-Christmas ice storms that rocked Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. Canadian retail stores reported their biggest one-month drop in a year. And in a spat that garnered significant headlines, the country’s two main railways — CP and CN — blamed “the harshest winter in 60 years” for their inability to ship millions of tonnes of grain sitting in bins across the Prairies.

Economists are fairly confident the gloomy numbers will eventually pass, like winter itself. By the second quarter, they say, the season’s losses will be almost entirely recouped, with the North American economy picking up significant steam on its road to recovery. But that rosy economic outlook glosses over a much frostier reality: This winter for the ages will cost Canadian cities untold millions in extra snow-clearing, pothole maintenance and other infrastructure repair bills that have yet to arrive. In this era of climate change — when scientists expect severe bouts of weather to become the rule rather than the exception — the past few months have provided a disturbing glimpse of the overwhelming costs to come.


In Toronto alone, the ice storm cost the public purse more than $100 million; throw in Hamilton and the rest of the GTA, and the liability climbs to $275 million. Point to any Canadian city these days, and it’s hard to find one that won’t be digging deeper into its pockets to pay for this brutal winter.

In Edmonton, potholes are already such an epidemic that the city is teaming up with the University of Alberta engineering department to figure out ways to make roads more robust in chilly conditions. (Last year, the City of Champions paid out a record $464,000 to motorists whose cars were damaged by craters.) In Chatham, Ont., one winter pothole went so deep, it revealed the city’s original yellow brick road. Down the highway in Windsor, councillors were forced to commit an extra $1 million to their snow-removal budget — by early January. And in Niagara Falls, the unbearable cold triggered 42 water-main breaks by the end of February, more than half the total of the entire year before.

March 11, 2014

“Orange army” to restore Cornwall rail line by early April

Filed under: Britain, Railways — Tags: — Nicholas @ 08:21

Remember the rather dramatic photos of the storm that hit the Cornish coast and took out part of the main railway line at Dawlish?

DAWLISH, UNITED KINGDOM – FEBRUARY 05: Railway workers inspect the main Exeter to Plymouth railway line that has been closed due to parts of it being washed away by the sea at Dawlish on February 5, 2014 in Devon, England. With high tides combined with gale force winds and further heavy rain, some parts of the UK are bracing themselves for more flooding. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

The effort to restore the sea wall and the railway line is going well, with a hoped-for re-opening date of 4 April:

Haberfield reckons there are two premier construction jobs in the world at the moment – the race to finish the football World Cup stadiums in Brazil and this one, the repairs to the train line that hugs the Devon coast at Dawlish after the devastation of the great storm of 4 and 5 February. “You’ll always be able to look back at this and say you were there and you helped fix it,” he says.

Haberfield is a member of the 1,000-strong “orange army” that has been working night and day to fix the hole, the 100-metre breach in a section of sea wall that supported the mainline track from London to the far south-west of Britain — and dozens of other less spectacular but nonetheless tricky breaks along a 3.7-mile stretch.

Network Rail (NR), the owner and operator of Britain’s railway infrastructure, has announced that it is expecting the line to re-open on 4 April — a huge relief to residents and business people whose lives have been disrupted by the break in the line and a vital boost for the region’s tourism industry before the Easter holidays.

The repair work to the line, which is costing around £15m, has been a triumph for imaginative thinking and teamwork. In the early days the first job was making sure that another Atlantic storm heading Devon’s way did not cause more damage to the main breach. One early idea was to rush in a rail-mounted concrete spraying machine that had been specially built to repair a tunnel in Devon and was standing idle. It shored up the sea wall, prevent further devastation and may have helped save houses that were teetering on the edge.

Another was the decision to drop a row of shipping containers in front of the seawall, each filled with 70 tonnes of rubble, to act as a temporary breakwater as more bad weather came in.

DAWLISH, UNITED KINGDOM – FEBRUARY 05: Waves crash against the seafront and the railway station that has been closed due to storm damage at Dawlish on February 5, 2014 in Devon, England. With high tides combined with gale force winds and further heavy rain, some parts of the UK are bracing themselves for more flooding. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

March 6, 2014

Ontario wineries facing severe losses to the vines this winter

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:20

In Decanter, Carolyn Evans Hammond says two of Ontario’s three wine-producing regions are experiencing damage to the vines as this long, cold winter continues:

Freezing temperatures across Ontario have damaged vines in the Canadian province’s vineyards, with some producers reporting bud loss of around 90%.
Niagara Peninsula Sub-Appellations
Producers in two of Ontario’s three wine appellations are already facing a smaller 2014 harvest after reporting severe bud loss in the past few weeks.

‘Our winery has 95 to 98% bud loss, so we won’t be getting grapes this year,’ says Tom O’Brien, owner of Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards in Lake Erie North Shore.

That appellation shows the most damage, with an average bud loss of 86 to 90% across all varieties, according to Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

Meanwhile, average bud loss in Niagara Peninsula ranges from 34% for Pinot Noir to 66% for Syrah, according to CCOVI with Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Franc faring better than Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot.

Due to the normally colder winters in Prince Edward County, most wineries bury the vines until spring, so the damage in that region will not be as bad as Lake Erie North Shore or Niagara/Beamsville.

February 23, 2014

Winter storms uncover a “Welsh Atlantis”

Filed under: Britain, Environment, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:54

A story in the Express about waves from recent storms having uncovered a previously unknown ancient forest on the shores of Cardigan Bay:

Gales stripped the sand from a beach at Borth in Ceredigion, West Wales, revealing the remains of a 6,000-year-old forest.

A picture of the same spot taken before the storms shows a strip of pristine sand.

The ancient oaks and pines date back to the Bronze Age.

They were discovered by Deanna Groom and Ross Cook from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales.

Miss Groom, a maritime archeologist said: “The site around Borth is one where if there’s a bad storm and it gets battered, you know there’s a good chance something will be uncovered as the peat gets washed away.

“It’s regularly monitored and that’s why we went to have a look there again now to see if anything new had emerged.”

The ancient remains are said by some to be the origins of the legend of Cantre’r Gwaelod, a mythical kingdom now submerged under the waters of Cardigan Bay.

It has been described as a “Welsh Atlantis” and has featured in folklore, literature and song.

H/T to Elizabeth for the link.

Update: Elizabeth also sent a link that shows that ancient oak stumps aren’t the only things being uncovered by the waves:

The latest hazard caused by this winter’s devastating storms and floods has been revealed by police — unexploded bombs.

The storms that have ravaged and reshaped parts of the British coastline have led to the discovery of wartime shells long-buried on beaches.

There are also fears that flooding along the Thames will erode riverbanks, leading to the discovery of bombs dropped on the area by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War.

Police say that high tides and huge waves have either exposed devices or brought them closer to the surface.

Further storms and flooding are expected today as a new front moves in from the Atlantic. The Met Office has issued three severe rain warnings and gusts of wind are expected to reach 70mph.

The Environment Agency also still has 48 severe flood warnings issued across the UK following what the Met Office has described as the wettest winter on record.

Now walkers are being urged not to touch unidentified metal objects but to alert police to their finds instead.

In South West England and West Wales, which bore the brunt of the storms, six devices have been handled by bomb disposal units in six weeks.

The Navy’s Southern Diving Group said it had received a 20 per cent increase in reports of unexploded bombs since January.

A 100lb Mk XIX Second World War British anti-submarine mine was found by surfers at Watwick Bay, Haverfordwest, while a rare First World War German mine surfaced on a beach near the popular Cornish resort of Newquay.

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