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The Decline and Fall of an American Empire

12:06 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Abandoned church - Lars K. Christensen/flickr creative commons

The American Empire was not like other historical empires, for from the very first it has been made up of various different ethnic and cultural groups. Initially French and Spanish. Then Dutch and British. With other nationalities coming later. Irish and German and Russian and (in my case) Finnish.

Like all other empires though it was doomed to fall at some point. History as well as statistics tell us so. As Chris Hedges points out here – citing such figures in the the field as anthropologist Joseph Tainter in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” Charles L. Redman in “Human Impact on Ancient Environments” and Ronald Wright in “A Short History of Progress”.

“There is a pattern in the past of civilization after civilization wearing out its welcome from nature, overexploiting its environment, overexpanding, overpopulating,” Wright said when I reached him by phone at his home in British Columbia, Canada. “They tend to collapse quite soon after they reach their period of greatest magnificence and prosperity. That pattern holds good for a lot of societies, among them the Romans, the ancient Maya and the Sumerians of what is now southern Iraq. There are many other examples, including smaller-scale societies such as Easter Island. The very things that cause societies to prosper in the short run, especially new ways to exploit the environment such as the invention of irrigation, lead to disaster in the long run because of unforeseen complications. This is what I called in ‘A Short History of Progress’ the ‘progress trap.’ We have set in motion an industrial machine of such complexity and such dependence on expansion that we do not know how to make do with less or move to a steady state in terms of our demands on nature. We have failed to control human numbers. They have tripled in my lifetime. And the problem is made much worse by the widening gap between rich and poor, the upward concentration of wealth, which ensures there can never be enough to go around. The number of people in dire poverty today—about 2 billion—is greater than the world’s entire population in the early 1900s. That’s not progress.”

Hedges essay deals with what he calls the Myth of Human Progress but I see it as very key to empire itself. That the bigger myth is that of a single American culture. We see evidence of it especially today with the fracturing of even the right wing movement. That what has bound people together was not some American history but rather a myth of American history built around some mythical culture.

Dmitri Orlov brings this up in this interview he did lat last year on Businessmatters radio. You can download and listen to it here. One of the things he (Orlov) brings up is the lack of community and the collapse of community standard,s as it were, in especially those areas that were hit hardest by Sandy last year. This is not surprising since community was weak at best even in those more upscale areas that were hit and was organized almost entirely around economic status and materialistic values. So when those were destroyed, so were the symbols of the “community”.

Communities as we here knew them in the past were organized almost entirely around some ethnic or cultural group. Sometimes religious but mostly ethnicity and culture of those who live there. The Italian or German or Irish or Chinese or etc. sections of nearly every metro area. This was also the case in the rural areas. The farmers were of similar cultural groups.

But as these people had children, fewer and fewer of these children would cling onto the cultural heritage of the parents and grandparents. Because of this the sense of community began to be lost or at best was some superficial aspect, such as their financial status or the suburban area or car they drove. It has no real roots. It was manufactured and sold by the media. The generic white anglo saxon male dominated family. Leave it to Beaver. My Three Sons. The Brady Bunch. Etc. And it was based almost completely on some personal self-centered agenda rather than the greater good. A product of Madison Ave. and Hollywood.

Orlov in this interview and his previous entries on his blog likes to compare the ex-Soviet Union with the US but I think he misses a key point. That is that the Soviet Union was make up of ethnic and cultural Russians for a large part. It was Russians fighting for other Russians during WWII, which is why they won it. This deep clan or tribal bond. Very like a family bond that America really does not have.

Which is why nearly all the war propaganda was about either fighting against something or some one. IE Nazis or Japs or Commies. Or for some vague ideal. Freedom. liberty…etc. Rarely – if ever – for America. That attitude or belief in always helping your fellows has never really existed in this country outside of one’s ethnic/cultural enclave. The superficial suburban groups never had it since it was based almost entirely on material standing. And once one lost this, one was out, so by definition there would be no help.

So with this economic grouping quickly falling by the wayside as the downturn accelerates, what we are seeing with the gun nutz and tea party right wing is a last desperate attempt to maintain some kind of cultural identity where none actually exists.

It’s this lack of any real cultural identity that the Washington/Wall Street cartel is taking advantage of and to an extent trying desperately to preserve. It’s also why the coming collapse of the American Empire will not look like those in the past as there is little to bond us together in it except mutual hardship.

Whether this will eventually bring people together as a whole and when this will occur is anybody’s guess. I am sure there will be more and more communities formed on an isolated and small scale, but a larger unification is at this time doubtful. It would take a great deal of time. This culture of personal gain and benefit over the greater good will be difficult at best to overcome.

Sandy: Tuesday morning catch up

4:59 am in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Sandy Flooding

Flooding at the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel

It has been quite a night especially for those on the Atlantic Seaboard.

Atlantic City NJ is under water and  the boardwalk has been mostly destroyed.

Lower Manhattan is in the dark from 39th street south do to a substation explosion and fire.

At least two tunnels and 6 subway lines have been flooded.

Most of lower Manhattan is still flooded.

NYU Hospital has had to be evacuated do to generator failure and flooding in the basement.

A massive 6 alarm fire has destroyed 50 homes in Queens in the Breezy Point area. Though one of their reporters has been tweeting it’s more like 100 – three full blocks.

A crane broke loose from a high rise construction in midtown and has been just hanging there. A large area around it has been evacuated.

Record flood tide recorded at the Battery Park area of 13.8 feet.

A tanker runs aground on Staten Island.

Two boys are killed when a tree struck their house in Westchester County.

Obama declares the tri-state area a major disaster.

And the HMS Bounty has sunk.

Photo by EliPongo under Creative Commons license

Possible Impacts of Hurricane Sandy on the NYC Area

8:06 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Waves hit Seawall - flickr/ocmdhotels

I lived in Florida on the Southwest coast in Naples from 1964 to 1970 and in Central Florida from 1973 until 2011 and had been through too many hurricanes to count in that time. The first being Hurricane Cleo.

I have to say I have been fascinated with these occurrences of nature since then. Tracking them by hand and listening to Dr. Neil Frank from the Hurricane Center in Miami as he explained what was going on and why. Even becoming pretty fair at predicting the possible tracks of more than a few of them.

I saw the effects of these storms up close. We moved to Naples after Hurricane Donna had gone up the coast. Saw the remnants of the original Naples Pier – nothing but pilings poking up out of the gulf. And the slabs of houses that got washed away. Had a friend who worked at the local radio station which was some miles inland and he told me of having to put the transmitter and other equipment up on blocks to keep the water out and the station on the air.

Saw old houses and buildings that had collapsed, trees torn up and the quintessential board through the palm tree. Even in central Florida I was through a number of Hurricanes and other tropical systems and saw the kind of damage they can do under the right circumstances.

But this is New York City we are talking about and it has it own set of problems to deal with concerning the approach of a Hurricane.

The biggest threat will be from the storm surge. Though Sandy is only a Category 1 storm with maximum winds of 75 mph now – and some intensification still possible – it has a large wind field and is a large – in area – storm. Reports from buoys and ships and recon aircraft already show that it has a large storm surge associated with it. If you look at this storm surge map you can see it will be very high and likely inundate the lower part of Manhattan. From Battery Park south and possibly even a bit north. The surge could be from 6-12 feet above sea level and with a high tide at around the same time as Sandy hits the coast just south of NYC, could mean extensive flooding as Dr. Masters points out.

This afternoon’s 3:30 pm EDT H*Wind analysis from NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division put the destructive potential of Sandy’s winds at a modest 2.8 on a scale of 0 to 6. However, the destructive potential of the storm surge was record high: 5.8 on a scale of 0 to 6. This is a higher destructive potential than any hurricane observed since 1969, including Category 5 storms like Katrina, Rita, Wilma, Camille, and Andrew. The previous highest destructive potential for storm surge was 5.6 on a scale of 0 to 6, set during Hurricane Isabel of 2003. Sandy is now forecast to bring a near-record storm surge of 6 – 11 feet to Northern New Jersey and Long Island Sound, including the New York City Harbor. This storm surge has the potential to cause many billions of dollars in damage if it hits near high tide at 9 pm EDT on Monday.

Dr. Masters put the chances of the NYC subway system flooding at 50/50. Personally I think 60/40 is closer to the mark. The system is multi leveled with a number of old and abandoned tunnels that have just been left there. Plenty of area for high water to intrude. Also a storm surge is not just rising water but also the waves that accompany it driven by the wind and they themselves can reach 5 to 8 feet or more. Long Island sound and the entry to the Hudson river can act like a funnel forcing the water up as well. The rising water with the palisades on one side would have no where else to go.

But the transport aspect is not in my opinion the biggest problem. New York City’s utilities also run underground in tunnels. Sometimes along side the subway tunnels, or under streets or buildings with access for the workers at street level. These too would flood under the same conditions. The water and electric and communications cables and connections are underground as well. Telephone punch downs and fiber terminations would all be exposed to salt water which would begin to corrode them. All of these would have to be replaced before they could be judged usable again. Though the cables themselves are usually packed with grease, the terminations themselves are exposed. And it would not take long for the salt water to corrode them. Even after the water is drained, the remaining salt and moisture – combined with air exposure – would damage these connection. The distribution transformers and high voltage connections and even cable would need to be replaced.

So Dr. Masters and others estimates of damage into the billions of dollars is likely on the mark. Not to mention the lengthy disruption this would cause. Possibly months.

But this has all been covered many times by experts who have said repeatedly that NYC is ill prepared for such a situation. In the past hurricanes and tropical storms making their way up the coast like Sandy and Irene before were rare occurrence. Now with the climate changing, they could become increasingly common. With the ocean temps rising and remaining very warm late into the season, having at least one major storm impacting the area every year would not be unheard of.

Ignoring the consequences of our actions or denying them – produces other consequences.