Dodged the Bullet?

Maybe not.

When Katrina weakened a bit before landfall and moved a bit farther east of New Orleans, it looked like the city had dodged the worst-case scenario. However, this morning we're watching rising waters on television as levees have been breached and water floods into New Orleans from Lake Pontchartrain. The video of housefires burning out of control with no way for the fire department to put them out, of rescuers chopping holes in roofs to rescue people forced to their attics by rising water, of water spreading everywhere as far as the eye can see... It's sobering. The damage to coastal Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama is catastrophic. Today would be a good day to make a donation to the reputable charity of your choice that will be providing help to the many hundreds of thousands of people affected by this disaster. American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, whatever's your style...


New Orleans: The New Atlantis?

There's a certain sick fascination with watching a slow-moving inevitable disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina has become. It's now a strong Category 5 storm with 175 mph sustained winds and gusts over 200 mph, and it's heading straight toward the Crescent City. Of course, as huge as this storm is, it's going to cause catastrophic damage in a huge swathe of the Gulf Coast. It's the size of last year's Hurricane Ivan, with an intensity similar to 1969's catastrophic Hurricane Camille. It wouldn't have taken a storm of this magnitude to destroy New Orleans, which lies well below sea level and only exists because of a system of levees and pumps which keep the city from being flooded on a normal day. Tomorrow is not going to be a normal day. It may be the worst natural disaster our nation has ever seen, and as slow as the evacuation from the city has been, there will likely be huge loss of life, as well as unprecedented destruction of property. New Orleans itself may end up under 20-30 feet of water. This will make Hurricane Andrew and last year's Florida hurricanes look like nothing by comparison.

Katrina has really become a monster. The central pressure is down to 907 millibars, making it one of the strongest hurricanes in recorded history. Hurricane force winds extend out over 100 miles from the center, so when it hits, the wind is going to blow at hurricane force for several hours. The destruction we will see afterward is likely to be unbelievable. This would be a good time to say a prayer for our neighbors in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. They're in for a rough ride.

The Hand of Providence or Plain Dumb Luck

That's what apparently protected us Thursday night. On Thursday morning, the forecast track for then-Tropical Storm Katrina was right over the top of us. Then, after she hit Fort Lauderdale, the storm tracked southwest instead, through Monroe County and the Everglades, and exited in Florida Bay after just seven hours overland. Instead of getting 50 mile per hour winds and several inches of rain, we got 20 mile per hour winds and almost no rain at all, since almost all of the rain was in the southern half of the storm. For us, Katrina was a non-event, except for all of the schoolkids and others who got Friday off.

It was strange, because normally hurricanes move west and north. They don't normally take that kind of a southwesterly turn. As the hurricane forecasters noted, if they had predicted it to happen, they would have been wrong 100 times and right once. Well, this was the once, and those of us in Southwest Florida are grateful for our good fortune. I went into the break room a couple of times on Thursday night and looked at the satellite imagery as the eye of the storm crossed Monroe County, which is mostly uninhabited swampland. The storm paralleled Alligator Alley (I-75 running east-west between Naples and Miami), and all of the rain was falling south of I-75.

Since the storm was only over land for about seven hours, and much of that time was over the warm, swampy Everglades, it didn't weaken much. Once it was back out over the water, I knew that it would strengthen again rapidly. Our only concern was that it might make some kind of crazy hook and come back and nail us, but that didn't happen. My prediction at work on Thursday night was that it would miss us completely, continue west and then turn north and whack the Florida panhandle as a Category 3 or 4 storm. I knew that the gulf water was about 90 degrees, and that would be like tossing a match into a puddle of gasoline in terms of how the storm would strengthen. It looks like my prediction was off only on how far west the strike would be. It does not look good for the people of New Orleans and southeastern Louisiana. This may be the disastrous hurricane that they've always feared would happen. And given how important that area is to our gasoline supply, prepare for the price at the pump to go up even more, very soon.


Going Out With A Bang Twice

You might have seen the story over the weekend about the Hunter S. Thompson memorial service/fireworks display on Saturday night in Aspen, Colorado. The gonzo journalist's ashes were blown up at the peak of the fireworks, so he went out with a bang, again. The first time, of course, was his shotgun suicide six months ago. The event was timed to be exactly six months to the day from his death. Why not a year to the day? Well, do you really think they wanted to be outside at night in February in Aspen? An August night was certainly more pleasant.

While I didn't agree with some of what he wrote, I thought his death was untimely and tragic. It's hard to know whether he would have liked his grand finale, or whether he would have gone all gonzo on the celebrities sipping champagne as he took his final journey. Maybe both.


The Zen of Chocolate

If, like me, you are a connoisseur of chocolate, you know that there are gradations of quality. At the base of the chocolate pyramid, there is generic chocolate, your Hershey bars and so forth. At the apex, you find fine gourmet chocolate imported from small, otherwise insignificant European countries like Belgium and Switzerland, tasty and expensive. Somewhere in between, you find Dove chocolate, which is the high-end of the mass-produced chocolate market.

Our topic today is not just the chocolate in the Dove Promises, but the packaging as well. Each Dove Promise is wrapped in foil, with a little message on the inside. It's sort of like the chocolate version of a fortune cookie, and each morsel gives not just pleasure for the palate but a little psychological comfort as well. Reading the messages gives us an insight into who the Dove company thinks their customers are. We must assume that they have done exhaustive marketing research, after all. So what do the messages say?

Here are a few for your perusal. First, one that I like: "Don't think about it so much." This is good advice for just about everyone. Most of us worry and obsess about one thing or another, and sometimes not-thinking is the best kind of thinking. This is a very Zen concept.

Next: "Go against the grain." Aha! Dove chocolate fanciers obviously are supposed to be non-conformist rebels. If we were conformists, we'd eat Hershey bars. (Well, sometimes we do, but that's neither here nor there.)

"Smile. People will wonder what you've been up to." Not original, of course. I've heard it before. Perhaps Dove Promises eaters are a bit grumpy and need to smile more.

"Smile before bed. You'll sleep better." Again with the smiling? Yeah, we're damn grumpy people before we get our chocolate fix.

"Laugh uncontrollably -- it clears the mind." Uh-oh. Someone must have taken more than the recommended five-piece serving of chocolate. Serotonin levels must be off the charts...

"Age is nothing but a number." Hmmmm... While this is not gender-specific, women usually are more sensitive about their age than men.

"Buy yourself flowers." Hmmmm again. Maybe they meant, "After you finish binging on the entire bag of Dove Promises because your no-good boyfriend/husband is out playing poker with the boys and didn't even buy you any flowers, go out and buy them for yourself."

"It's definitely a bubble-bath day." Well, THAT gives the game away, doesn't it? It seems that Dove thinks that their customers are primarily thirtyish women with insufficiently attentive partners.

Or not. You make the call.


Hot Time

Sometimes you just know it's going to be a rough day at work.

My first clue last night was arriving at the time clock and learning that the air conditioning wasn't working properly. Apparently Florida Power and Light (FPL) had been doing some kind of power transfer and did something that bollixed up the local power grid at work and fried out two of the four big "chillers" that cool the building. The front of the building was hotter than the back; my machine is closer to the back than the front, so it was cooler there. It was still warmer than usual, and especially in the first hour or so, when I had to trudge back and forth from my machine to the front of the building in search of empty equipment. By the time I got everything in place an hour later, I was starting to overheat, so I went to the restroom and ran cold water over my forearms and splashed cold water on my face to cool off. I regretted very much wearing jeans instead of shorts. Hindsight's 20/20.

While printing out my labels for the trays, both of my printers ran out of labels. I normally print two sets at once, and oddly enough, both printers ran out on the same label, number 55. Very strange indeed.

Next, I started having problems with my machine. It took two hours to fix it. It turned out that not only had a diverter gate gone bad, but one of the light barriers also went on the fritz at the same time. Losing that much run time meant that we had to reorganize things a bit. Fortunately, our mail volume wasn't particularly heavy and we got both of our dispatches out on time. All's well that ends well.


This and That, #3

I'm watching the NASA channel right now, viewing the grainy analog image of the astronaut trying to repair the gap filler on the belly tiles of the space shuttle. On the one hand, it's cool to be able to watch it live in real time, but on the other hand, the video quality leaves something to be desired. I'm sure that 20 years from now I'll be complaining about the quality (and the lag time!) of the video coming from the Mars mission.

Yesterday, Fox News came up with their latest salacious teacher scandal, this one involving a 42-year-old woman teaching at a Catholic school in Albany, New York. The teacher, an attractive blonde, is married to a prominent banker and is the mother of four children, three daughters and a 17-year-old son who is a friend of some of the boys (plural) who were boinking his mother. This story is a bit more sordid than some of the other ones recently, since the teacher had repeated sexual encounters with the four 16- and 17-year-old boys at many places: On the football field at the school, in her house, in cars, etc. She even had sex with two of them at once while the others listened in on the telephone!

A few thoughts on this: First, where were these teachers when I was in school? Second, if I'd known the Catholic kids were having that much fun, I might have thought about converting. Finally, it might be a double standard, but these boys weren't "victims," they were "lucky," and they may never find another woman that wild in their entire lives, so I hope they savored every minute of it.