Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Handmaid's Tale. By Geniusofdespair

Photoshop Original! I am getting good.
Canadian Margaret Atwood wrote the book Handmaid's Tale in 1985. Hardly plausible then. However, now? Seems so likely. Touched a nerve. I recommend it. The Emmy award winning series is worth the watch.

 I bought it and watched the entire season on my phone during the hurricane aftermath. It is a very intimate series and I thought the way I viewed it was just perfect. I used headphones and had the Iphone resting on my chest.  Cinematographer Colin Watkinson should be put on a pedestal. It is poetic and austere. Elisabeth Moss is amazing in the series. Better than Game of Thrones? I liked it better. But then after 7 seasons Throne's plot can get worn. Same can be said of the Walking Dead's 7 seasons.

Restoring democracy and turning the tide on climate change: in the U.S., it's not too late to learn from our mistakes ... by gimleteye

This letter from US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) explains it all for you:

To the Editor:

Re “It’s Not Too Late to Learn From Our Mistakes,” by Nicholas Kristof (column, Sept. 3):

The answer to why Congress doesn’t act on climate change is simple political hydraulics.

The Supreme Court let unlimited money into politics. The fossil fuel industry has unlimited money and, according to the International Monetary Fund, a multi-hundred-billion-dollar subsidy to protect. The fossil fuel industry used its unlimited money (and related threats) to capture the Republican Party. Climate change then became “partisan” and untouchable.

It’s actually not that complicated.

The Supreme Court’s Republican appointees got in the habit of doing what they were told by the forces that appointed them (which include the fossil fuel industry, which asked for the Citizens United decision), and in a fateful combination of obedience and political ignorance, they wrecked our politics.

Before Citizens United there were multiple bipartisan climate bills every year; afterward, none.

SHELDON WHITEHOUSE
NEWPORT, R.I.

The writer, a Democrat, is a United States senator from Rhode Island.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Everything Upside Down: Life Imitates Art ... by gimleteye

@realDonaldTrump nonchalantly swinging into an imaginary inferno
Players nonchalantly golfing near a real inferno

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hurricane Aftermath: At least 2 more Hurricanes on their way. By Geniusofdespair


Not enough fenders to save this Cat in Coconut Grove. A man was found dead in the seaweed not too far from this boat.

First let me announce the Toxic Puzzle will be rescheduled because of Hurricane Irma. I was looking forward to going tomorrow.

I had planned an event on Marco Island for September 8th. That obviously didn't happen since the hurricane made landfall on Marco Island. I had the stress of talking to all the people to cancel their flight and hotel the last minute. Plus I was saddled with the further stress of non-stop TV Hurricane coverage. I became physically ill. On Thursday before the hurricane, I was to leave for New York. We made the reservation on Tuesday. It was cutting it close, flights were being cancelled right and left as I sat at the airport. They couldn't get flight crews. We were almost scrapped because of the two hour limit on the tarmac. Spent 5 days in New York coughing (stress didn't help). Had soup most of the time.

I got back to no air conditioning and I had bronchitis pretty bad. I had gone to the doctor before I left but the inhalers and antibiotics didn't help. It has been almost three weeks. I am on predisone now and a second course of antibiotics.

When I returned on Tuesday I had no electric, so no AC. The fumes from the generator for the building were coming right in my windows so I had to keep them closed. By Wednesday I felt so sick I booked a flight to Tampa on Spirit at 5 pm as I had a friend there. I took a Lyft to Ft. Lauderdale. The flight was at 10 pm and it was cancelled, I turned around and came home.  Miracle: My Electric was working when I got back. Everything in the Grove was closed Thursday except Greenstreet.

Couldn't get my new prescriptions filled too easily as drugstores were closed. Found one after much searching.

My stupid boat is okay. The Marina is not. I was hoping for the insurance. We lost a lot of trees near me...and part of our seawall. The city of Miami Marina is expected to be without power for up to 6 months. There are a lot of people living aboard their boats at this Marina.

At least a dozen trees were destroyed.

Walkway around Island ends where seawall was destroyed.

What's next after Harvey and Irma??

Channel 6

I am one of the lucky ones. Mostly, because I now rent.

There are still people in South Dade without power. Schools are closed, grocery store shelves are sparse. I went to Crust last night, near the river. (Don't go there, I don't want you ruining my chances of getting a reservation.) Had my first full meal in 3 weeks.

Many people are staying out of town till the electric comes on at their home.  But those same people are expected to vote. The Governor would not move the election date for the State Senate seat 40. Early voting began yesterday. Vote for Annette Taddeo.

Early voting:


Finally, What is our nitwit president tweeting today:

Rocket Man? OMG.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Elections Dept. Won't Budge on Important Election Date. By Geniusofdespair

ANNETTE TADDEO - State Senate District 40

In spite of hurricane Irma disrupting life in South Dade, a special election to replace former State Senator Frank Artiles will be held as planned on Sept. 26. Rick Scott rejected a request by Democrats to hold the election for two weeks to give people time to get back to their routine. Our election supervisor Christina White said she is ready, even if the voters aren't. She should tour the district. People are still without power, drug stores and food markets are just opening and people have to replace all the food in their refrigerator. Are they really thinking about the election?

I know voting is the last thing on your mind right now but if you live in Senate District 40 vote for Annette Taddeo, who did NOT TAKE BIG SUGAR CAMPAIGN DONATIONS!

Early voting starts tomorrow.

Need to know more about Annette? Watch this video! I found it very inspiring.




Thursday, September 14, 2017

Dexter Filkins explains it all for you

Elegy for the Sunshine State
The New Yorker
By Dexter Filkins
September 10, 2017

If you grow up in Florida, you watch the natural world around you disappear. It’s just a fact you live with. The verdant, miles-long stretch of dune and palm, rustling to the beat of the waves? Paved over. The brackish stream that flows from ocean to intercoastal, giving life to manatees, alligators, and tarpon? Turned into a parking lot. The swath of live oak trees, the Spanish moss clinging to their branches like the mists from a Faulkner novel? It’s an apartment complex called Whispering Pines.

It doesn't matter when you moved to Florida. Ever since the nineteen-sixties, the stream of people pouring into the state has been relentless: an average of eight hundred newcomers a day. All of them need places to live. Where I grew up, in Cape Canaveral, the destruction of nature happened so fast that it was often disorienting; passing a stretch of woods for perhaps the eight-hundredth time, I would stare at the backhoes and cranes and wonder what had occupied that space only a week before. On a few occasions, my teen-age friends and I got so angry that we scaled the fences of construction sites and moved the survey points that were marking the spot for the next foundation—the next pour of cement. We failed, of course, to stop what the builders were building, or even to slow it down. The joke among us was that every housing development in Florida was named to memorialize the ecosystem it replaced: Crystal Cove, Mahogany Bay, The Bluffs. For about a year, I lived in an apartment complex, paved from end to end, called “In the Pines.”

It’s useful to remember this now, as Hurricane Irma lays waste to much of Florida: the destruction of the state has been unfolding for decades, and, for the most part, it wasn’t done by nature. It was done by us. In the nineteen-nineties, I covered the Miami-Dade county commissioners as a reporter for the Miami Herald. Miami is a vibrant, tumultuous city, remade every few years by the energy of its new arrivals. But, in the time I worked there, one thing never changed: the enthusiasm with which the elected commissioners greeted every new housing or commercial development unveiled before them. It was a kind of sad ritual: A new housing development would come up for a vote, and an earnest member of the county’s planning-and-zoning staff would warn about the development’s impact on the quality of the schools, on the phlegmatic pace of rush-hour traffic, on the erosion of beaches. Almost always, the pleas were ignored; the economy of modern Florida is a kind of Ponzi scheme, where tomorrow’s growth pays for today’s needs, and real estate is the largest employer. It was a confidence game, and the commissioners were only too happy to go along.

Once, following the approval of a housing development on an especially sensitive stretch of land near the Everglades, the Herald ran a story titled “The End of Nature.” Some of the commissioners called to protest the story, but the headline made no difference; the development rose anyway. Florida’s current governor, Rick Scott, is an apostle of the game: Scott has prohibited state environmental officials from using the terms “climate change,” “global warming,’’ or “sustainability” in their official communications.

It’s an old story: Florida, land of dreams. Leave your life behind in the cold, gray north—or in the hot, humid tropics—and come to Florida and start anew. Or buy a condo and retire. Your taxes will be lower, your home bigger, and your walls a lot thinner. The newcomer to Florida typically settles as close to the beach as he or she can—that is, as close as he or she can afford. Across the state, the development is especially heavy on the barrier islands—the thin, narrow strips of land that lie just off the mainland. The construction in places like Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale has been so heavy that, from a distance, the islands look like overloaded ships, so top-heavy that they are about to tip over and crash into the water.

Living in Florida, you didn’t have to be a genius to realize that what was happening wasn’t sustainable—that Florida wasn’t meant to have so many people, all jammed together, so near the coasts. On a typical Sunday afternoon in Miami Beach—or Fort Lauderdale, or Palm Beach, or Fort Myers, or Naples, or Destin—the causeways were so jammed that it would sometimes take hours to get off the island. What if everyone had to get out in a hurry? Every year, the beach washed away a little more, and every month a new condo tower rose. Much of Florida, including its largest cities, rests on a foundation of limestone, a porous rock, and when the big tides come in the seawater flows underneath the ground and floods into the streets. There’s little point in building seawalls; the land is literally floating away.

There have always been hurricanes in Florida, of course, but they usually taunt, threaten, and go somewhere else. One catastrophic storm that did not turn away—Hurricane Andrew, in 1992—destroyed more than sixty thousand homes in Miami and the surrounding area. After the storm, the Herald did a fascinating investigation in which it compared the pattern of destruction to the ages of the neighborhoods. It turned out that whether a house in Miami survived had very little to do with the speed of the wind. What mattered was the age of the house: the older ones—those built before the nineteen-sixties, when Florida’s boom began, survived almost anything. The new ones crumpled like cereal boxes. Following the storm, Miami’s building code was toughened considerably.

As I write, Hurricane Irma is bearing down on Naples on Florida’s west coast. Some meteorologists are predicting a storm surge of eighteen to twenty feet along a three-hundred-mile stretch of coast from Naples to Cedar Key, which would devastate St. Petersburg and Tampa. Many of Florida’s big coastal cities, like Miami Beach, are nearly empty now. The millions of people who are streaming north to get away are not just a measure of Irma’s power but a symbol of that moment, which comes in every Ponzi scheme, when the bluff is called. Maybe it will be different next time.

Dexter Filkins joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2011.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Trump and Rick Scott: "Climate change is a hoax"

Los Angeles Times
Political commentary from David Horsey

Climate deniers play politics with looming natural disasters


Top of the Ticket cartoon (David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)
David Horsey

When the intensifying effect of climate change was brought into the news coverage of Hurricane Harvey, some conservatives objected. They said it was horrid that the “liberal media” was politicizing a disaster that had upended so many people’s lives. Now, the same complaints will probably be raised in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

Well, the climate change issue definitely has been politicized, but most of that exploitation for political purposes has been done by the fossil fuel industries, their mouthpieces in the right-wing media and their minions among Republican elected officials.

The dreadful force of Irma has slammed into Florida and one would think everyone could agree on some basic science. Warmer ocean temperatures have a multiplying effect on hurricanes that increases their energy and size. At the same time, the destructive potential of hurricane-propelled storm surges is made greater by the rise in sea level. This warmer, higher water is the direct result of a global climate that is getting hotter, year after year.

No, climate change is not the cause of hurricanes — nor wildfires, nor tornadoes — but, as scientists have predicted for some time now, swift alterations in our climate are magnifying the force of these natural events. In other words, there are worse disasters to come. That is not politics, that is science.

Yet, climate change deniers from President Trump to Rush Limbaugh to Florida Gov. Rick Scott choose to believe that climate science is some kind of evil plot concocted by the Chinese or by a cabal of nefarious researchers in lab coats who are trying to subvert capitalism, Christianity and Mom’s apple pie. They choose to see things this way because propagandists backed by big corporations that profit immensely from maintaining the status quo have given them reasons to deny what is so apparent to leaders in every other country on the planet.

One of the reasons someone such as Scott chooses to think this way is that the special interests who bankroll his political career are pleased if he does. In Florida, the four biggest utilities — Duke Energy, Gulf Power, Florida Power & Light and Tampa Electric — have effectively blocked development of solar power in that sunny state by dumping millions of dollars into the campaigns of compliant politicians, including well over $1 million given to Scott.

Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Alex Jones and other opinionated entertainers on the right push the narrative that acting to mitigate the human causes of climate change by switching to alternative energy sources would bring the American economy crashing down. They conveniently ignore the fact that, while jobs in the withering coal industry are disappearing, employment in solar and wind enterprises is booming. Already, the number of people working in clean energy in California, alone, is as many as 10 times the totalnumber of coal mining jobs nationwide.

The vast majority of the world’s scientists are convinced that industrial activity and the emission of greenhouse gases are key drivers of the global temperature rise. Deniers contest that conclusion, but only the most extreme among them argue that climate change is not happening at all. While discounting the link to man-made sources of carbon pollution, even leading Republicans will acknowledge that seas are rising, the polar ice caps are melting, hurricanes are getting stronger and weather patterns are becoming more extreme. So, bickering over causality aside, is it not the duty of political leaders to take actions that will anticipate and mitigate future disasters?

The answer is an unqualified yes.

Nevertheless, even in Florida, where, in the not-too-distant future, beach communities will be inundated by the ocean, developers are allowed to continue building along doomed shorelines while the governor has ordered state officials and researchers not to use the terms global warming and climate change. And, in the nation’s capital, the Trump administration is very busy killing an array of federal programs that either gather scientific data about the global warming phenomenon or make plans to deal with the looming problems that the climate shift will bring.

That is what it means to politicize an issue.

David.Horsey@latimes.com

Follow me at @davidhorsey on Twitter

Conspiracies, Corruption and Climate

Paul Krugman SEPT. 11, 2017
New York Times

After the devastation wreaked by Harvey on Houston — devastation that was right in line with meteorologists’ predictions — you might have expected everyone to take heed when the same experts warned about the danger posed by Hurricane Irma. But you would have been wrong.

On Tuesday, Rush Limbaugh accused weather scientists of inventing Irma’s threat for political and financial reasons: “There is a desire to advance this climate change agenda, and hurricanes are one of the fastest and best ways to do it,” he declared, adding that “fear and panic” help sell batteries, bottled water, and TV advertising.

He evacuated his Palm Beach mansion soon afterward.

In a way, we should be grateful to Limbaugh for at least raising the subject of climate change and its relationship to hurricanes, if only because it’s a topic the Trump administration is trying desperately to avoid. For example, Scott Pruitt, the pollution- and polluter-friendly head of the Environmental Protection Agency, says that now is not the time to bring up the subject — that doing so is “insensitive” to the people of Florida. Needless to say, for people like Pruitt there will never be a good time to talk about climate.

So what should we learn from Limbaugh’s outburst? Well, he’s a terrible person — but we knew that already. The important point is that he’s not an outlier. True, there weren’t many other influential people specifically rejecting warnings about Irma, but denying science while attacking scientists as politically motivated and venal is standard operating procedure on the American right. When Donald Trump declared climate change a “hoax,” he was just being an ordinary Republican.

And thanks to Trump’s electoral victory, know-nothing, anti-science conservatives are now running the U.S. government. When you read news analyses claiming that Trump’s deal with Democrats to keep the government running for a few months has somehow made him a moderate independent, remember that it’s not just Pruitt: Almost every senior figurein the Trump administration dealing with the environment or energy is both an establishment Republican and a denier of climate change and of scientific evidence in general.

This is crazy talk. But it’s utterly mainstream on the modern right, among pundits — even anti-Trump pundits — and politicians alike.

Why are U.S. conservatives so willing to disbelieve science and buy into tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories about scientists? Part of the answer is that they’re engaged in projection: That’s the way things work in their world.

Some disillusioned Republicans like to talk about a golden age of conservative thought, somewhere in the past. That golden age never existed; still, there was a time when some conservative intellectuals had interesting, independent ideas. But those days are long past: Today’s right-wing intellectual universe, such as it is, is dominated by hired guns who are essentially propagandists rather than researchers.

And right-wing politicians harass and persecute actual researchers whose conclusions they don’t like — an effort that has been vastly empowered now that Trump is in power. The Trump administration is disorganized on many fronts, but it is systematically purging climate science and climate scientists wherever it can.

So as I said, when people like Limbaugh imagine that liberals are engaged in a conspiracy to promote false ideas about climate and suppress the truth, it makes sense to them partly because that’s what their friends do.

But it also makes sense to them because conservatives have grown increasingly hostile to science in general. Surveys show a steady decline in conservatives’ trust in science since the 1970s, which is clearly politically motivated — it’s not as if science has stopped working.

It’s true that scientists have returned the favor, losing trust in conservatives: more than 80 percent of them now lean Democratic. But how can you expect scientists to support a party whose presidential candidates won’t even concede that the theory of evolution is right?

The bottom line is that we are now ruled by people who are completely alienated not just from the scientific community, but from the scientific idea — the notion that objective assessment of evidence is the way to understand the world. And this willful ignorance is deeply frightening. Indeed, it may end up destroying civilization.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

From Jim Morin, former Herald cartoonist from May, 1985 ... by gimleteye

Jim Morin, Miami Herald, May 1985
We've been here before. First, the stress of waiting for the storm. In Irma's case, MASSIVE. Second, the storm. IT FCOULD HAVE BEEN WORSE Third, the anxiety about life and property and struggling for news without the benefit of electricity. WHEN WILL THIS END?

The heat, the boredom, and the stress of waiting for electricity to return. Get the kids back to school! OK. Right now it sucks to be almost anywhere in South Florida, but it is a time for gratitude. Thankful for law and order. Thankful we are not the devastated Caribbean. There is light at the end of this tunnel.

Businesses are suffering. Millions will be without electricity for a number of days or weeks, but soon life will return to chaotic normal. The streets, the yards, and debris will be cleaned. The lights will go on. The lights on the interweb machines will blink again.

And soon Floridians will forget that only a few days before Irma hit, the storm was the strongest ever recorded in the Atlantic, for the longest duration, and but for the interference of Cuba, might have maintained strength straight into Miami.

Maybe it is too early to pose the only question that matters in relation to a future hurricane or disaster like sea-level rise: will we learn anything from this exercise, or, just meander down the same road we've always taken in South Florida? More growth, more development in low-lying lands, more justifications to move the Urban Development Boundary.

Based on the past and present behavior -- primarily from Tallahassee and Washington, DC -- the answer is "no". Katrina, Wilma, George. We can't actually learn anything because learning would require reaction and reaction would jeopardize the profit models that have turned democracy into a form of infotainment the Founding Fathers would not recognize.

That's why it is so hard for one political party to acknowledge how man-made climate change is adding fuel to our recent, immense hurricanes in the Atlantic and spreading the seeds of economic chaos around the globe.

Consider former Herald Jim Morin's cartoon from 1985 (above) before the Russia debt implosion. Before the dot com boom. Before the Greenspan-Bush era mortgage and bank blowup. Before the 2007 financial bubble. Before Katrina, Wilma, George and Irma.

Draw your own conclusions and please, please vote accordingly in 2018.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Hurricane Irma

fun Video

Some of it is not Irma (a mountain) but Scotty's Marina is in it about 2:50. Most of it is Irma

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Strong piece in Politico by Mike Grunwald: "A Requiem For Florida: The Paradise That Should Never Have Been"

Mike ends his piece: " Most of us came here to escape reality, not to deal with it." He's right. We try to deal with reality, at Eye On Miami. Urban Development Boundary, anyone? ... Gimleteye


A Requiem for Florida, the Paradise That Should Never Have Been

As Hurricane Irma prepares to strike, it’s worth remembering that Mother Nature never intended us to live here.
By MICHAEL GRUNWALD September 08, 2017

ORLANDO, Fla.—The first Americans to spend much time in South Florida were the U.S. Army men who chased the Seminole Indians around the peninsula in the 1830s. And they hated it. Today, their letters read like Yelp reviews of an arsenic café, denouncing the region as a “hideous,” “loathsome,” “diabolical,” “God-abandoned” mosquito refuge.

“Florida is certainly the poorest country that ever two people quarreled for,” one Army surgeon wrote. “It was the most dreary and pandemonium-like region I ever visited, nothing but barren wastes.” An officer summarized it as “swampy, low, excessively hot, sickly and repulsive in all its features.” The future president Zachary Taylor, who commanded U.S. troops there for two years, groused that he wouldn’t trade a square foot of Michigan or Ohio for a square mile of Florida. The consensus among the soldiers was that the U.S. should just leave the area to the Indians and the mosquitoes; as one general put it, “I could not wish them all a worse place.” Or as one lieutenant complained: “Millions of money has been expended to gain this most barren, swampy, and good-for-nothing peninsula.”

Today, Florida’s southern thumb has been transformed into a subtropical paradise for millions of residents and tourists, a sprawling megalopolis dangling into the Gulf Stream that could sustain hundreds of billions of dollars in damage if Hurricane Irma makes a direct hit. So it’s easy to forget that South Florida was once America’s last frontier, generally dismissed as an uninhabitable and undesirable wasteland, almost completely unsettled well after the West was won. “How far, far out of the world it seems,” Iza Hardy wrote in an 1887 book called Oranges and Alligators: Sketches of South Florida. And Hardy ventured only as far south as Orlando, which is actually central Florida, nearly 250 miles north of Miami. Back then, only about 300 hardy pioneers lived in modern-day South Florida. Miami wasn’t even incorporated as a city until 1896. And even then an early visitor declared that if he owned Miami and hell, he would rent out Miami and live in hell.

There was really just one reason South Florida remained so unpleasant and so empty for so long: water. The region was simply too soggy and swampy for development. Its low-lying flatlands were too vulnerable to storms and floods. As a colorful governor with the colorful name of Napoleon Bonaparte Broward put it: “Water is the common enemy of the people of Florida.” So in the 20th century, Florida declared war on its common enemy, vowing to subdue Mother Nature, eventually making vast swaths of floodplains safe for the president to build golf courses and Vanilla Ice to flip houses and my kids to grow up in the sunshine. Water control—even more than air conditioning or bug spray or Social Security—enabled the spectacular growth of South Florida. It’s a pretty awesome place to live, now that so much of its swamp has been drained, much better than Boston or Brooklyn in the winter, and, for the obvious economic and political reasons, much better than Havana or Caracas all year long.

But Mother Nature still gets her say. Water control has ravaged the globally beloved Everglades and the rest of the South Florida ecosystem in ways that imperil our way of life as well as the local flora and fauna. And sometimes, as we’re about to be reminded, water can’t be controlled. Hurricanes routinely tore through South Florida even before hundreds of gleaming skyscrapers and thousands of red-roof subdivisions sprouted in their path. Our collective willingness not to dwell on that ugly inevitability has also enabled the region’s spectacular growth.

I was thinking about all this on Thursday while evacuating my family from our home in Miami to my mother-in-law’s home near Orlando, which, incidentally, one Seminole War veteran called “by far the poorest and most miserable region I ever beheld.” Our house is about 17 feet above sea level, which is practically Everest in South Florida terms, but we were still in a mandatory evacuation zone, because nothing in this part of the world is safe from a killer like Irma. Over the last century, we’ve built a weird but remarkable civilization down here in a weird and unsustainable way. This weekend, history’s bill might come due.

***

More than a half-century before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, a Spanish adventurer named Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed in North Florida, and began preparing for battle with French Lutherans who coveted the same territory. Then a hurricane destroyed the French fleet on the open seas. Menendez took this as a sign from God, and gleefully slaughtered the rest of the “evil and detestable Protestants” in an inlet he proudly named Matanzas, Spanish for “massacre.” He went on to create St. Augustine, America’s oldest permanent settlement, an enduring reminder that Florida’s history was forged by storms as well as blood.

Menendez dreamed of colonizing the whole peninsula, but he made no progress in the backwaters of southern Florida; as his nephew reported to the king in 1570, the entire region was “liable to overflow, and of no use.” And it stayed that way for the next few centuries. That’s because it was dominated by the Everglades, an inhospitable expanse of impenetrable sawgrass marshland, described in an 1845 Treasury Department report as “suitable only for the haunt of noxious vermin, or the resort of pestilential reptiles.” White men avoided it, because they viewed wetlands as wastelands. As late as 1897, five years after the historian Frederick Jackson Turner declared the closing of the Western frontier, an explorer named Hugh Willoughby embarked on a Lewis-and-Clark-style journey of discovery through the Everglades in a dugout canoe. “It may seem strange, in our days of Arctic and African exploration for the public to learn that in our very midst, in one of our Atlantic coast states, we have a tract of land 130 miles long and 70 miles wide that is as much unknown to the white man as the heart of Africa,” Willoughby wrote.

But white men began to realize that South Florida had real potential if they could figure out how to drain its “monstrous” swamp. Governor Broward vowed to dig a few canals and create an instant “Empire of the Everglades,” a winter garden that would grow food for the world and cities larger than Chicago. Swindlers sold swampland to suckers, turning Florida real estate into a land-by-the-gallon punchline. Pioneers flocked to long-forgotten marshy boom towns with names like Utopia and Hope City and Gladesview, buying lots that looked great in the dry season only to find that they still flooded regularly during the rainy season.

Meanwhile, the Standard Oil baron Henry Flagler built a railroad down the east coast, luring tourists to beachfront towns like Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, setting the stage for a wild 1920s land bubble that rivaled the 17th century Dutch tulip craze. Motor-mouthed “binder boys” in knickers known as “acreage trousers” mobbed the streets of Miami, harassing pedestrians to buy and sell lots that often changed hands three times a day. One entrepreneur bought and resold a contract for a $10,000 profit on a stroll down Flagler Street. The New York Times started a stand-alone Florida real estate section. “Nobody in Florida thinks of anything else in these days when the peninsula is jammed with visitors from end to end and side to side,” the Times reported. The insanity was immortalized by the Marx Brothers movie Cocoanuts, with Groucho capturing Florida’s sleazy new land ethic: “You can even get stucco! Oh boy, can you get stucco.”

Pretty soon, South Florida got stucco. In 1926, a few weeks after the Miami Herald urged its readers not to worry about hurricanes because “there is more risk to life from venturing across a busy street,” a Category 4 storm flattened Miami, killing 400 and abruptly ending the coastal boom.Then in 1928, another Category 4 storm blasted Lake Okeechobee through its flimsy dike, killing 2,500 and abruptly ending the Everglades boom. It was the second-deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history, and afterward Florida’s attorney general testified before Congress that much of the southern half of his state might be unsuited to human habitation: “I’ve heard it advocated that what the people ought to do is build a wall down there and keep the military there to keep people from coming in.”

Needless to say, nobody built a wall. But America finally did get serious about draining the swamp. The Army Corps of Engineers, the shock troops in the nation’s war on Mother Nature, built the most elaborate water management system of its day, 2,000 miles of levees and canals along with pumps so powerful some of the engines would have to be cannibalized from nuclear submarines. The engineers aimed to seize control of just about every drop of water that falls on South Florida, whisking it out to sea to prevent flooding in the flatlands. They made it possible for Americans to farm 400,000 acres of sugar fields in the northern Everglades, to visit Disney World at the headwaters of the Everglades, to drive on the Palmetto and Sawgrass Expressways where palmettos and sawgrass used to be. They made South Florida safe for a long boom that has occasionally paused but has never really stopped, bringing 8 million people to the Everglades watershed, pushing the state’s population from 27th in the nation before World War II to third in the nation today.

But they made South Florida safe only most of the time, not all of the time. Now the Big One might be coming, with millions more people and structures in harm’s way than there were in 1926 or 1928. And Mother Nature looks pissed.

***

Last year, Florida’s “Treasure Coast,” about 100 miles north of Miami, made national news when its sparkling estuary was shrouded in toxic glop that looked like guacamole and smelled like a sewer. This was an economic as well as environmental disaster, shredding the fishing and tourism industries around the town of Stuart. And it’s not a huge stretch to think of it as the latest damage created by the 1928 hurricane. Water managers don’t want Lake Okeechobee’s dike to fail again now that there’s a civilization behind it, so they routinely blast filthy water from the lake into the fragile estuaries to the east and west. Sometimes, glop happens.

The problem, like most problems in South Florida, is a water problem. Half the Everglades has been drained or paved for agriculture and development, so in the rainy season, water managers have to dump excess water into estuaries and what’s left of the Everglades. Then it’s no longer available in the dry season, which is why South Florida now faces structural droughts that create wildfires in the Everglades and endanger the region’s drinking water, which happens to sit underneath the Everglades. Meanwhile, the Everglades itself—once reviled as a vile backwater, now revered as an ecological treasure—has all kinds of problems of its own, including 69 endangered species. In 2000, Congress approved the largest environmental restoration project in history to try to resuscitate the Everglades, an unprecedented effort to fix South Florida’s water problems for people and farms as well as nature. But 17 years later, virtually no progress has been made. It’s a real mess.

But the fundamental issue is that South Florida is an artificial civilization, engineered and air-conditioned to insulate its residents and tourists from the realities of its natural landscape. We call animal control when alligators wander into our backyards, and it doesn’t occur to us that we’ve wandered into the alligators’ backyard. Most residents of suburban communities carved out of Everglades swampland—Weston, Wellington, Miami Springs, Miami Lakes—are blissfully oblivious to the intricate water diversion strategies that their government officials use to keep them dry every day. Most South Floridians don’t think much about climate change, either, even though it’s creating more intense storms, even though the rising seas around Miami Beach now flood low-lying neighborhoods on sunny days during high tide. People tend not to think too much about existential threats to the places they live. They just live.

And they keep coming. Twenty-five years ago, Hurricane Andrew ripped through Miami’s southern exurbs, but the homes destroyed were quickly replaced, and most of us who live here now weren’t here then. So we weren’t really ready for Irma, even though at some level we knew it was possible. It’s conceivable that Irma will finally shut down our insatiable growth machine, but I wouldn’t bet on that. Our inclination towards collective amnesia is just too strong.

The thing is, it’s really nice here, except when it isn’t. Those Seminole War soldiers would be stunned to see how this worthless hellscape of swarming mosquitoes and sodden marshes has become a high-priced dreamscape of swimming pools and merengue and plastic surgery and Mar-a-Lago. It probably isn’t sustainable. But until it gets wiped out—and maybe even after—there’s still going to be a market for paradise. Most of us came here to escape reality, not to deal with it.

Friday, September 08, 2017

In New York City. By Geniusofdespair

Miami International Airport 8pm
The airport was in chaos yesterday. At 8pm a flight to New Orleans was cancelled just as it was supposed to depart -- no cabin crew. My flight was almost scrapped because we were 2 hours on the Tarmac. I did get out after about 10 hours at the Miami airport. Many flights were cancelled including many to New York. I look out my hotel window and can see the Chrysler building and the East River. I am spent. I can't get out of bed. I do not own a home in Florida anymore as I have been expecting doom, however, all my 'stuff' is in my rental.

After Wilma and Andrew real estate died. I expect the same with Irma. Good luck homeowners in plated subdivisions. Good luck to those living around the Lake. The sugar barons will be the first looking for relief after the hurricane. Stay safe friends. The rest of you, I hope karma doesn't get you.