Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Heat Wave in France

Merde in France, and Blogorhée have been comparing the French response to the heatwave to what they, in their dreams, would be an American response. Blogorhée does mention the response of neighboring European countries, which was quite good.

They seem to have forgotten about the great heatwave of 1995 in Chicago, when over 700 people more than normal died over a four-day period. Erik Klinenberg wrote a book about the great heatwave, which he also wrote an article about in the Guardian While the article falsely claims that the press tried to minimize the scandal (pictures of overflowing morgues dominated the local media), the casualty rates are instructive, particularly when compared with the temperature at Midway Airport on Chicago's Southwest Side.

July 13: High 106, Low 81, Dew Point 78, Heat deaths unreported
July 14: High 103, Low 84, Dew Point 79, 116 heat-related deaths
July 15: High 99, Low 83, Dew Point 76, 277 heat-related deaths
July 16: High 93, Low 76, Dew Point 73, 159 heat-related deaths
July 17: High 88, Low 74, Dew Point 67, 114 heat-related deaths

Note that the worst casualties took place on the first day that the mercury stayed below 100 -- this is because heat tends to be a cumulative killer. Also, by Sunday, July 16 everybody knew that something was horribly wrong, and people were (finally!) contacting their friends and relatives in the city. The situation was made worse by a power outage that affected 200,000 Chicagoans (mostly on the north side) and people on the south side turning on the fire hydrants.

Yes, 13,600 dead in two weeks in France is quite bad, but Chicago was a far more lethal city that weekend in 1995.

There is a happy ending of sorts. Chicago has been notoriously paranoid about snowstorms since the Blizzard of 1979 brought down a mayor. Now, when the weather forecasters sound the alarm, snowplows parade down Lake Shore drive like tanks used to parade through Red Square. Heat waves now receive the same breathless attention from the city and the media.

Back to Paris. Yes, Parisians do not use that much air conditioning. In a city where the average August high temperature is 75 F, air conditioning can get a low priority. Instead of 75 F, Paris saw a week over 98 F with the worst heat topping out at 104 F.

Friday, August 22, 2003


Traveller d20 is out, and it looks pretty interesting if you're in the mood to digest a thick sourcebook...even if you don't like placing a 3-D universe onto a 2-D hexagonal grid.

Hmm...A hex grid lets you move in 6 directions (000, 060, 120, 180, 240, 300) while a rectilinear 3-D graph also lets you mone in six directions (I'll call them up, down, north, south, east, west.) Let's reorder the hex-grid directions (000, 180, 060, 240, 120, 300) so that opposite directions are adjacent. Go up, east, south, west, down, north and you wind up where you started. Go 000, 120, 240, 300, 180, 060...and you hit the origin on the third step and the sixth. Since we can find the distance between any two stars using the right ascension and the angle between the star and the equator (a tedious operation for humans but not for computers), a distance chart can be developed.

Factor in the brightness and mass of different stars, and you can assign different values for the available gravitiational sling or the potential for making energy from light -- hence a star like Sirius becomes much more strategic than one like our own Sun.

I suppose I should have added that I'm easily distracted. What's worse, I'm a consultant without current clients. Perhaps a forum where everybody places their goals, makes steps toward the goals, and encourages everyone else (occasionally delivering a seasonable kick in the pants).

Ideas are cheap but attractive. Ideas that are carried out are priceless. Hopefully the above helps.

Nov 23 edit:The gravitational sling hypothesis falls foul of Newton's laws of gravitation.

How far from the center of the Sun must one be to experience a gravitational force equal to that on Earth's surface?

The sun's mass is 880000 times that of earth. Thus the correct distance from the Sun's center of gravity is sqrt(880000) times that of the distance from Earth's surface to its center. (940)(4000) = 3.76 million miles. That poses the problem of how one keeps the spacecraft from vaporizing in an area of space that gets perhaps 80 times the solar radiation that Mercury suffers. (Not to mention the occasional solar flare...)


Thursday, August 21, 2003

The Obligatory Manifesto

I'll start with my nationalistic belief that the world would, in general, be a better place if run on American principles. It would certainly make for an improvement here in the United States. This is not an exacting standard since half of humanity lives in Communist China, India or the Middle East.

My second belief is that, at heart, America is in a perpetual state of struggle that some might even call jihad. Under Superior Jihad can be placed the extension of the franchise and equal rights to all citizens, which set off the Civil War, the Suffrage Movement and the Civil Rights revolution. Under Inferior Jihad would fall our wars with foreign powers, particularly the Spanish-American War, World War II, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

My third is that most of us on this planet are decent people. Perhaps it's Red Cross brainwashing...

My Most Patriotic Moment

During the first half of 2002, my church was involved in a nationwide scandal in which it was discovered that some of our priests sexually abused minors and important bishops covered it up in ways that had nothing to do with the confessional. Our non-Catholic neighbors didn't take this as a signal to crow; instead they talked about the need to monitor their own clergy and offered many gestures of sympathy. Most Catholics, while furious, insisted only that credibly-accused clergy be offered a fair trial, complete with presumption of innocence. As June approached, the laity, in groups like Voice of the Faithful, left off its squabbles over Church doctrine, demanding only that the Pope and the Bishops behave like Roman Catholics should. The media was supportive, without resorting to caricatures or thinly-veiled anti-Catholicism.

I was very happy and proud to be an American.

Why Yamaneko?

According to a Japanese folktale (as distorted by my memory), after death a cat's spirit goes to Yamaneko (Wildcat) Mountain. One cat had a cruel mistress, who in turn had a kind maid. After the cat died, the maid went to Yamaneko Mountain, where the gentle cat spirits showed her hospitality and gave her a valuable gold coin, then warned her to leave before nightfall. The maid returned to her employer, who was consumed with envy upon seeing the coin and marched to Yamaneko Mountain, demanding that the cat-spirits entertain her and give her a coin like her maid's. The cat-spirits did, then asked her to leave, but she would not. Instead, she laid down to sleep on a soft pile of leaves, where the vengeful cat-spirits devoured her.

My old roommate, a black cat named Nermal, was raised by a family of humans, and in that family was a young man who tortured him. Three incompatible humans later, my grandmother had him stay "for the weekend" in my apartment since he had morphed into two pounds of concentrated neurosis. At a funeral for one of Grandma's neighbors two years later, we heard about the SWAT team which had stationed sharpshooters around Nermal's old house while his tormentor's father pleaded with him to cooperate with the police, surrender, and face charges related to a killing.

Nermal's in a better place now -- four times as large with a feline roommate and a bottomless food dish. He's nice enough, even affectionate to humans he knows -- but while some cats have a pedigree, this one has a rap sheet. And, for some reason, I feel a perverse pride that it takes two men to help the vet hold him when he gets his shots.

And, "yamaneko" is Japanese for wildcat, and I am a Northwestern (Wildcats) fan.


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