The Year of Moving Forward

The Year of Moving Forward
At our 4 person wedding reception in DC

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Hands on...Concord

This morning Bobby and I took part in a volunteer effort to assist victims of the tornado in Concord, AL. Concord had not gotten a lot of attention, but they probably will now. It was reported that at least 3 people were found alive today, having survived in their basement, trapped after the storm. Fox News had a reporter in Concord today, as did Canadian TV and others. That turned out to be a false report, but there is still hope.

The house we were working at had a basement, and the owner's family was there looking through debris. They said that 8 people rode out the storm in the basement, and all are OK. That is almost miraculous, considering this is the house today.

But we peered down into the basement and could see the way that they got out after the storm.

But imagine huddling in the basement of a substantial brick house, and it crashing down above you. Fear.

Then cautiously emerging, in the dark, or near dark, to find every home and almost every tree in the neighborhood gone. Then, having to walk out among twisted and downed trees, power lines, vehicles and house parts.

But they were alive. A woman who lived across the street was not so fortunate, we were told.

I looked at the house on Google Earth, and while I won't reveal its exact location out of privacy, it reminded me of the home I grew up in, fully brick, two car garage. It was not a home you would expect to come down easily.

Today was the first day that residents were able to return in this area. It was very emotional, to say the least, for people to come into the area, and see this.

Notice this is a Hoover police vehicle. Multiple agencies are contributing to the effort. Thanks to all.

What you are seeing here is after partial recovery. The streets have been cleared and some of the rubble pushed to the side.

But at the house we worked at alongside family members, we searched and salvaged what we could. Some baby and children's clothes, a few Christmas ornaments, some handmade by one of the children, and a few pictures. At least they have those things.

We talked with a crew from Canadian TV. The reporter was a bit miffed at the (other) media, for focusing on The Wedding, rather than this, the greatest natural disaster since Katrina, he said. Of course, I didn't see a story by him (yet) on their web site, or I would have linked to it. But he did say he hoped "we" (meaning Canadians, I assume) would not forget the disaster. I told him I hoped we (Americans) would not either.

Many of the people we talked with were affiliated with Concord Highland Baptist Church. The church was heavily damaged, but we helped the minister of music retrieve some of his audio equipment.

Up the street a bit was Steve's Grocery. One of the owners, Ernie Mundi, Jr., died in the storm. He was also a realtor in Hoover, former owner of the Baskin-Robbins in Bessemer, and a bus driver for the Hoover School system. He had a family.

The people of Concord, at least those we talked to, still have their faith and their love of country.

This is not the only American flag we saw.

And let me say this right here. At a time of tragedy there is no place for airing differences of opinion or to let petty things come between a person and those that need help. This is about America, its people and doing what is right.

Here are a couple of more shots of the total devastation of a neighborhood.

There will be plenty of opportunity to volunteer to help our neighbors in the coming weeks. This recovery will not take place over the next few days. It will take months. Hands on Birmingham is coordinating much of the volunteer effort. Please visit their web site and sign up, and click on tornado relief to see what the opportunities are. Visit often, as new opportunities will be added daily as the EMA concludes search efforts and changes to recovery efforts.

This is one of the "free food" stations (as the sign said) where residents were waiting to enter the area this morning. So many people who would find and have to quickly accept that their stuff is gone. What they knew in their heart is confirmed.

And life goes on.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Now we ask why?

Anyone who watched the events of yesterday will agree that this was one massive storm that chewed its way across our state. Because of better technology, including tower cameras that recorded the wicked looking tornado in Cullman and the mile wide tornado that devastated Tuscaloosa and parts of Birmingham many people watched in horror as they realized the debris they were seeing in the air were pieces of homes and businesses and who knows what else.

Watch the Cullman tornado, which some people describes as a "demon, reaching down." Watch the entire thing. Evil.

One thing that had people on edge, but probably saved many lives in the Bessemer and Birmingham area, is that as we watched the tornado tearing up Tuscaloosa, we knew that we were in its path. We knew to prepare. Again, watch the entire video.

So why did this happen?

Here are some descriptions from the ABC33/40 weather blog prior to these storms. (I've put in bold the most important phrases as they relate to this discussion).

April 27, 2011

Dr. Tim Coleman 9:31 AM

Sunshine will warm temperatures quickly this morning through the 70s, and it will reach the lower 80s by afternoon. However, the morning balloon data from NWS Birmingham showed very cold air aloft. And, even though dewpoints dropped to the upper 50s as the thunderstorms mixed up the atmosphere, they are already rising, and will rise throughout the day. As the sun continues to heat the atmosphere up, the 70 mph winds at 3,000 feet will start to get mixed with the surface layer winds, so gradient winds will get very gusty by late morning, probably 30 mph at times. And those winds will be out of the south, bringing in Gulf moisture (dewpoints in SW Alabama are in the 70s). Once we get warm, humid air back in place at the surface by noon or so, with cold air aloft, the air will be very unstable. CAPE values (atmospheric potential energy) will reach 3,000 to 5,000 J/kg, supporting strong updrafts and intense storms this afternoon.

The other problem is the wind shear. The main upper-level system will approach by late afternoon. Winds will increase in speed and change direction with height, creating spin about a horizontal axis. Storm updrafts will tilt this rotation into the vertical (like a spiraling football getting tipped at the line of scrimmage), producing rotating storms. The helicity, or a measure of this wind shear, will also be very high, between 300 and 600 m2/s2. It is rare to see this much wind shear in an almost summerlike environment with warm, humid air like this.

The combination of extreme instability (like we see on summer afternoons) and extreme wind shear (like we see often in winter) will create a very dangerous setup over Alabama this afternoon. The energy-helicity index (a combo of CAPE and wind shear) measures the overall tornado potential well. Anything over 2 means tornadoes are possible, and over 5 tornadoes are likely. On April 8, 1998, the EHI was around 6. Today, as you can see on the maps below for 3, 5, and 7 pm, we expect EHI values of 8-10 over much of north and central Alabama, some of the highest I’ve ever seen.

Bill Murray 11:00 am

I don’t think I have ever heard a tornado watch referred to as a long lead time, long duration, particularly dangerous situation tornado watch before. But I have now in the latest mesoscale discussion from SPC.
That sounds bad…and it is bad. It will be issued for much of North and Central Mississippi, possibly into West Central Alabama.

James Spann 1:29 pm

A major severe weather outbreak is likely anytime from now until midnight. See the high STP (Significant Tornado Parameter) values from the RUC at 1:00… remember, anything over 2 is very significant. These are about as high as they get.

So let's look at the possible reasons for this severe weather outbreak. Remember, I am one who does not like to use anecdotal evidence to prove a position, but I will use it to support one.

God did it. Nope. God does not micromanage our lives or the world around us. But God probably does like to see how we respond to crisis, and there is opportunity for good to come out of any situation, including this one.

Random event. For weather or any other measurable thing there is a range of values for normal occurrences and sometimes results fall outside of that range. Records will be broken. This could just be a huge event, an outlier, that will now be the record that someday will be broken.

Result of global warming. Hmmm. With climate change, experts agree that there will be more extreme weather events. This could mean more frequent snowstorms (oddly enough) and more powerful hurricanes (Katrina). But tornadoes?

According to a 2007 report NASA scientists have developed a weather model that predicts that really violent storms may become more common due to global warming. Read it.

Their model simulates the strength of updrafts in storms, and estimates how the strength will increase with a warming climate. They explain this in the article, then conclude with:

The central and eastern areas of the United States are especially prone to severe storms and thunderstorms that arise when strong updrafts combine with horizontal winds that become stronger at higher altitudes. This combination produces damaging horizontal and vertical winds and is a major source of weather-related casualties. In the warmer climate simulation there is a small class of the most extreme storms with both strong updrafts and strong horizontal winds at higher levels that occur more often, and thus the model suggests that the most violent severe storms and tornadoes may become more common with warming.

The prediction of stronger continental storms and more lightning in a warmer climate is a natural consequence of the tendency of land surfaces to warm more than oceans and for the freezing level to rise with warming to an altitude where lightning-producing updrafts are stronger. These features of global warming are common to all models, but this is the first climate model to explore the ramifications of the warming for thunderstorms.

So there is evidence that climate change, aka global warming, makes this type of monster storm more possible because it creates an atmosphere where updrafts are stronger and horizontal winds are stronger. Together that provides the recipe for disaster.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rolling into Bessemer

One line of storms has already rolled through, and more are on the way today.

That scene is a block from our house. Across 14th Street, near Davis Middle School, I came across this.

The weather should be better on Saturday for the BBQ and Blues Festival in Bessemer, sponsored by Bob Sykes BarBQ.

The event begins at noon and last into the evening. Here is an article from the Birmingham News about the event.

Here is the info about the event from Bob Sykes web site.

Here is Mikey Junior and the Stone Cold Blues Band, one of the headliners.

Also on tap to preform are Kenny Brown, The Pounders, Blackberry and Mr. Boo-Hoo and others. Blackberry and Mr. Boo Hoo are from France, but they have that Mississippi thing down.

Come to Bessemer on Saturday for good music and great food!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Potluck in the Garden

This is Earth Day and in celebration the Jonesboro Community Garden in Bessemer is having a Potluck dinner beginning at 5:00 on Saturday. This will also be an Easter Celebration. It's all about rebirth so the two make a good combination.

You are welcome to come, just bring a covered dish. You can get an idea about what others are bringing and get more information, and post what you will bring, on the Potluck in the Garden Facebook page (where these photos came from).

You will meet some great people who want to improve Bessemer, and are doing so. And there will be Easter Egg hunting for kids, and maybe volleyball for those who are interested.

Also you can pick up some helpful information about making Bessemer and your home a greener environment.

Come and join us and celebrate our Earth and Easter.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Clearing the air...or not

One of the purposes of this blog is to make Bessemer a better place by promoting things that will improve this community and pointing out things that will not. Of course, Bessemer is not an island, so often I write about things on a state level or national level that might influence Bessemer one way or another. That includes the environment and congress and...

Indulge me for a moment. Off the subject a bit, yesterday a rerun of Glee was shown, in which the cute new guy, Sam, was introduced to the group.

He was asked to perform a duet with Kurt, who is gay, and Finn advises him not to because he will get labeled as gay, even though he is not.

The same thing can happen in congress. Let's say a Democrat votes alongside the Republicans who proclaim that global warming is junk science. Then she stands to be labeled a contrarian, or someone who is ignoring science, and she certainly wouldn't want that.

Terri Sewell voted in favor of HR 910, the so called Energy Tax Prevention Act (which mentions "tax" zero times in the bill, by the way) which could have been called any number of things more accurately.

Jared Polis of Colorado submitted an amendment to change the title to "The Dirty Air Act of 2011." Gerry Connolly of Virginia was somewhat more industrious. He submitted eight amendments including "The Koch Brothers Appreciation Act," "The Protecting Americans from Polar Bears Act," and "The Head in the Sand Act."

Anyway, the bill's purpose is "To amend the Clean Air Act to prohibit the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from promulgating any regulation concerning, taking action relating to, or taking into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas to address climate change, and for other purposes.

The bill goes on to name water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and several other gases as "greenhouse gases."

In other words, the bill prohibits the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from protecting the environment.

In effect, the bill would gut the EPA in its attempts to guarantee clean air. Fortunately the Senate will not pass it.

I spoke with someone in Ms. Sewell's office at length about the bill. He told me they had spoken to people in the scientific community and the manufacturing community before deciding how to vote. I asked him to name the scientists, but as it turns out there weren't any, just the "science committee members." (Terri sits on the "Science, Space and Technology Committee, by the way). The committee, like all committees in the house, is chaired by and controlled by Republicans.

They could have spoken to some real scientists at EPA, where they could have learned this. Pay particular attention to figures 1 and 2. You can click on them to enlarge them.

He also made a statement that the gases listed were not the ones causing climate change. And that there are two sides to the issue. And that they wanted the facts from both sides.

  1. No credible scientist would say that carbon dioxide and methane do not contribute to climate change. Specifically, these gases do just that.
  2. There are not two truthful sides to the issue. The contrarians are only interested in profits for the big companies and not in protecting the environment.
  3. There are no facts on the other side regarding climate change, or, if there are some facts they are buried under fake headlines and crazy talk.
Ms. Sewell's office told me that she was concerned about jobs in the area. There is an assumption made that if the greenhouse gases are regulated that jobs would be lost. But maybe, just maybe, new job opportunities would open up with green technology being developed!!! And let's not get into how many jobs will be lost and lives affected if greenhouse gases are not regulated.

Air pollution and restrictive injunctions are not new to Birmingham and Jefferson County. This report tells of the 1971 use (the very first use) of the injunctive authority of the Federal Clean Air Act. Jefferson County is still feeling the effects, having been prevented from allowing certain manufacturing and industrial development because of our non-attainment status related to limitations on emissions.

Those were different pollutants, not greenhouse gases, but my point is that threats to our atmosphere need to be taken seriously, and that there are health risks, known and unknown, that are amplified when those threats are ignored.

Complicating the atmosphere (in a good way) the Obama administration recently reversed a Bush policy that allowed more industrial pollution. Again, these are not greenhouse gases, but other pollutants. But it shows that we do have a president who cares about the environment (at least on this issue).

The ruling is a victory for cleaner air across Alabama and especially in areas such as heavily-polluted Birmingham and Jefferson County, which has failed to meet federal air quality standards for dangerous fine particulates for many years, according to Michael Churchman, executive director of the Alabama Environmental Council.

“What happened here is that some of Alabama’s polluters convinced regulators to relax a rule that had been on the books for 30 years – only after citizens sued to enforce that rule. Today, the EPA recognized that was the wrong decision,” Churchman said in reacting to the news locally. “Technology is used all over the country to better control emissions and should be required to operate continuously in Alabama.”

The Birmingham area has been failing to meet minimum federal air quality standards for fine particles (soot) for seven years. These airborne, microscopic solids and liquid droplets (made up of acids, organic chemicals, metals, and other matter) can lodge deeply in the lungs and bloodstream, aggravating a number of cardiopulmonary diseases.

“There is a demonstrated link between fine particle pollution and asthma in children,” said Tiffany Schauer, Executive Director of Our Children’s Earth Foundation. “Thanks to today’s action, every family in Alabama can breathe a little easier.”

So, as one whose life and livelihood has been dramatically affected by asthma, I would like to have a clean atmosphere. And as one who has studied climate change, I would like to have responsible politicians that take our environment seriously. This is not buyer's remorse, but I do hope that Terri learns from this experience, and that when environmental issues come up in the future, that she can show a little more concern.

Obama 2012 meeting in Bessemer

I'm going to fast forward past the president's speech today because regardless of what he says or how satisfied little ole me is with his vision and his budget proposal, more important is that he gets elected to a second term in 2012.

There is an organizational meeting of the Bessemer Cutoff - OFA Team on Thursday at 6:15 at the Bessemer Library.

I can't imagine Obama winning Alabama in 2012 (although I do believe in miracles). But in 2008, he carried Jefferson County, and I want to make sure he does the same in 2012. And I do expect him to carry more counties in the state than he did two years ago, because the Republicans and their potential candidates are making fools of themselves with their medicaid slashing budget proposals and their birther rhetoric.

There is a clear danger to our country in allowing Republicans to gain more power in Washington, and that includes the White House and Congress.

If you don't live in the Bessemer Cutoff, you can find an organizing event in your area of the state by going here. There are 5 groups in Jefferson County (they may not all be on the web site yet).

Obama won 13 Alabama counties in 2008.

Obama carried Jefferson, Sumter, Greene, Hale, Perry, Marengo, Dallas, Wilcox, Lowndes, Montgomery, Macon, Bullock and Russell counties in 2008. Let's add a few more counties; Mobile, Conecuh, Barbour, Chambers, Pickens...maybe even Tuscaloosa.

Here is how the Europeans are viewing the president entering the race.

Come join us Thursday night - 6:15 at the Bessemer Library. I may be a few minutes late, I have another meeting prior to this one that I have to attend.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Wrong, wrong, wrong

The budget being proposed by the Republicans is wrong. Wrong for America. Wrong for our people. Wrong for the future.

It seems all they care about is the wealthy. Yet they can't get enough of it. Republican congressman Sean Duffy can't seem to make it on his $174,000 a year salary.

I am not wealthy by American standards. Certainly not by his standard, I guess.

The Republican budget will never pass. The Senate will have nothing of it, and the President certainly would not sign it.

But it lets us know how they really feel.

At least 30,000 people are fasting as a way to bring attention to the fact that the Republican proposal will leave children hungry and veterans homeless.

On Sunday MSNBC aired A Stronger America - The Black Agenda. During the show host Ed Shultz and Rev. Al Sharpton and others reminded us several times of the disparities that people of color face in our country, and how so much has not changed in the last 40 years, since civil rights were enacted.

Princeton professor Cornell West pointed out that the budget of Paul Ryan is an escalation of intense class warfare against poor people and people of color.

Velma Hart pointed out that the budget presents a challenge to poor and working people.

While the unemployment rate in the nation is 8.8% overall, among blacks it is 15.5%. Even when unemployment dropped to around 4% during the Clinton administration, it was pointed out that unemployment for blacks was almost double that. The disparity has always existed.

The Ryan budget would cut 700,000 jobs, they said on the show. This report says the cuts to Medicaid alone will cost 2 million jobs. Republicans would love to see the unemployment rate go up during the Obama administration.

Education is another area where disparities exist. As it turns out, there is a correlation within zip codes between high incarceration rates and poor performing schools. Many factors may contribute to that, but among them is unfair sentencing leaving children without fathers at home, and a lack of equity in school funding. The Ryan budget would turn education back, reducing funding. More disparity.

I find it hard to understand how the American people put these people into office. Have you ever woke up after a drunken night and thought to yourself, "What was I thinking?"

America was drunk with anti-Obama Kool-Aid in 2010.

Now America is waking up, finally asking itself, "What was I thinking."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A rose story

Those of you in the Bessemer Historical Homeowners Association have heard this story, but since many who read this blog are not, I will repeat it here.

This past weekend we had a workday to Jonesboro Community Garden and among the new plantings were four Peggy Martin roses donated by the BHHA president.

I was told the roses had come from Petals from the Past. Being a friend of Jason Powell, who owns Petals, and knowing how he feels about antique roses, I decided to do some research on this one.

Come to find out, it's not an old rose, at least under this name. But Jason played an important role in its recent history.

The story

Peggy Martin was a resident of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana,when hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. Her house and gardens were covered with 20 feet of water, and she lost her parents in the flood as well. When she was able to return two weeks later, the only plants remaining in her garden were this climbing rose and a lily.

In 2003, Bill Welch, a landscape horticulturist at Texas A&M, had taken some cuttings from Peggy Martin's rose and rose enthusiasts, including Jason, took cuttings from his and propagated the rose. After the tragedy of Katrina it was decided to let this rose become a fundraiser for the Zone IX Horticulture Restoration Fund and it is now available commercially at select nurseries, with some of the proceeds going to the Greater Houston Community Foundation, with the purpose of assisting in the task of garden restoration projects in New Orleans, Beaumont and other Gulf Coast locations.

Peggy Martin rose from the garden of Bill Welch

"Since then, it has been introduced into commerce in the United States and has become a symbol among gardeners and rose lovers of a tenacious plant associated with a spirit of renewal and regrowth in the aftermath of a devastating blow of Nature against those living and gardening in the Gulf Coast area."

The Peggy Martin rose is available at Petals from the Past and other nurseries, listed on the web site.

The Jonesboro Community Garden is open to the public. Two couples have exchanged vows in the Garden, political campaign events have been held, and this year the Garden will host an Earth Day celebration this month with a potluck dinner and get together on April 23. I hear that an Easter Egg hunt may be part of the celebration.

Monday, April 4, 2011

I'm in

Barack Obama is the first candidate of either party to make it official.

I'm like Ed. I don't agree with everything Obama has done. In fact, some of my important issues got brushed aside while the president dealt with the mess he inherited.

I'm already convinced that Obama will be next to impossible to beat in 2012, and shared poll results in January to back me up.

But since January, as we have seen what the Republicans in congress want to do, it is absolutely necessary that Obama keeps the White House. And along with this, Democrats need to regain the house. But this is about the presidency.

There will be plenty of time to look at the issues (environment, energy, LGBT rights, wars, economy) over the next year and a half. But right now, it's just about the candidates.

Let's look at some of the competition, even though none of these potential candidates has made it official.

Donald Trump has only one issue - being top birther. In 2009 we all saw Obama's birth certificate and I wrote a newspaper column about it. Surely Trump does not really believe that Obama was not born in the United States. He needs to pay more attention to Bessemer Opinions.

Newt Gingrich has had too many wives and too many affairs.

Sarah Palin can see Alaska from her porch, (and Canada).

Michele Bachmann has made so many crazy statements and come up with so many goofy ideas that only the most far out Americans would ever want her to lead the country.

Mitt Romney is a Mormon and even though that in itself should not make a difference, Americans might be wary of a president that is against coffee and hot tea (among other things).

Mike Huckabee is a dominionist, and that alone should scare the wits out of you.

But even if the Republicans could come up with a decent conservative candidate, I think after seeing the agenda of the Republicans in congress that most Americans will reject their slash and burn type of government and will want to remain with the cool and calm Obama that has guided us through the storm.

So I'm in. Are you? Visit the Obama 2012 web site.

As I said before, this campaign season is going to be enjoyable and entertaining.