Sunday, August 28, 2016

Key West Fences

Some random pictures of  buildings that caught my eye walking Rusty early one morning. They were all taken between Virginia Street and United Street roughly between Bayview Park and Casa Marina. 
I noticed home many barricades the homes showed off between themselves and the street

This house had no fence or hedge on this side owning to the garage apparently but it showed  a lovely blank face to the world: 
A hedge above a fence:
A fence at the former May Sands school possibly being repaired:
A cement fence protecting an electrical substation:

A guardhouse indeed:

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Key West Life

On Tuesday Florida holds its primary election and I have to confess I suffer this election season rather than feel energized by it. Florida has become the poster child for gerrymandering with a majority of people registering as Democrats and both houses returning veto proof majorities of Republicans. The Democrat primaries are things of ugliness as the state party falls into disarray over the possibility of candidates actually facing the chance of election in the year Donald Trump weakens the national Republican Party. I guess we none of us are at our best when confronting the grim possibility of success. I am in two minds about voting at all, the first time casual corruption and social indifference has brought me this low. 
But I live in the Florida Keys and in this happy place elections mean not very much if like me you live in the county. Lots of names pop up, none of them too familiar and incumbents rule the roost so things will continue bumbling forward vision-free for a few more years I suppose. However two things stand out this year that cause me some heartburn locally. One is the hospital and the other is Mosquito Control. And both are producing some deeply weird and disturbing public stances. 
The newspaper reported on August 24th that a woman doctor at Lower Keys Medical Center filed a lawsuit against a male doctor who yelled and grabbed her one day in March while disagreeing over treatment options for a patient. She apparently decided to try to get him arrested for battery but responding officers declined in the grounds that four months had passed since the alleged neck grabbing incident. The newspaper reports she called police after her complaints to hospital authorities failed to yield results. And now this fiasco has gone public. Timing as they say is everything. 
 The reason I find this story of a workplace disagreement so compelling is because this dormant incident has been re-awakened at the exact same time that the hospital is in huge disarray and may see its contract with local authorities canceled. The CEO of the place was fired after it was revealed she notched profits up to an unheard of 32% of income a feat that merited abject praise from her for-profit bosses, but got her fired instead after local patients started a boycott of the hospital for its inhumane  treatment and billing practices. So in the news pages we learn of ineffective support of female staff while on the back page the hospital seeks understanding just as elections approach. 
Influential citizens want the contract with the Tennessee based health treatment system rescinded and they want a return to a locally owned community hospital. Which means elected leaders are shitting themselves as they face unremitting demands that they do something real. I've read quotations from local victims of this third world hospital expressing outrage that profit comes before patient welfare. A sentiment I have felt all my life and never expected to see it on everyone's lips suddenly, but when half the patient roster seems to be in court with instant final demands for payment from the Gauleiter of Lower Keys profit starts to look ugly. Wait long enough and every shade of human behavior will parade in front of you in this astonishing community. 
While the hospital's future may take a couple of election cycles to sort out Mosquito Control may face changes very soon.  A British company called Oxitec has a plan to release genetically modified mosquitoes on the secluded island of Key Haven just outside Key West as part of the struggle to contain Zika world wide. Unfortunately Key Haven is packed with wealthy white influential citizens who resent their opportunity to take one for the team and help eradicate the non-native disease bearing aedes egypti mosquito. It turns out the ranks of the wealthy on Key Haven are also loaded with conspiracy theorists of the sort who know that climate change is rubbish and everything they know about genetic engineering they learned at the movies. Check out this Facebook conversation by Never Again. 
Oh yes, bumper sticker politics will be making a return. Personally I'd be happy to see Oxitec loose the mutant mosquitoes in my neighborhood not least because after wondering what was going on it became apparent to me the opponents of Oxitec are a bunch of nutters. These are people who will happily pay thousands of dollars for dogs bred to exasperation but fear mosquitoes bred for impotence. Some of them worry impotent mosquitoes may one day bite their children rendering them impotent and the Zika outbreak in Brazil is the product of scientists tampering with nature for profit! Meanwhile they forget these same scientists eliminated yellow fever and polio and smallpox and gave us middle class First Worlders lives of ease and free from the permanent anxiety of sickness borne by insects. There's gratitude! Whooping cough anyone? Got plague? Need measles? Fear vaccinations?
I was listening to the radio in a recent drive to the mainland and the scientist interviewed said human brains are wired to see patterns and historically our Neanderthal ancestors were predisposed to believe the rustling in the underbrush was a threat because that was how the smart members of the tribe survived. Which has led us to be gullible in the modern era and to seek patterns where none exist. We like our universe to be well ordered, not chaotic. I find myself suddenly slipping further and further out of the norm in old age, like a space walking astronaut letting go of the tether preferring to spin off into outer space alone and unsupported. It's where my reluctance to vote is taking me. 
The line between seeking order in the universe and swallowing a conspiracy theory is suddenly razor thin in my view and thus it becomes easy to assume a hospital lawsuit is a way to pile pressure on our leaders to make difficult changes. But that theory at least carries no determine the outcome for the public at large. It may or may not be a coincidence and leave it at that. 
On the other hand some theories carry very real consequences. It's easy to assume Mosquito Control wants to wreck our white middle class DNA by offering lab space to a company that seeks to eradicate disease. So action is better than inaction, myth trumps facts, ignorance is no longer bliss it is a call to action. The entirely wrong action no doubt but action nonetheless. And I can't swallow that. I just can't. Next time you eat a hamburger you are eating cow DNA and that no more makes you a cow than getting bitten by a mosquito makes you a mosquito. But the planet is overburdened with people so I suppose selective self destruction may well be worthwhile. My only wish is that the idiots who deny climate change be the first to drown, that those who prefer chemical mosquito control to DNA mutants be the first to get yellow fever and let none of them be elected to office next Tuesday as so many primaries are essentially uncontested. Fat chance. So expect continued environmental degradation more diseases spreading and less rational discussion about how to deal with it. None of this is new, Shakespeare wrote about it centuries ago:

Friday, August 26, 2016

Burdines, Marathon

It's an oldie but goody, Burdines on the water in Marathon. I think of this place as the survivor, the place to go for lunch when my wife and I are feeling a bit nostalgic. 
It's a bar and gas station for boats, it sits on the waterway from open water to the Boot Key Harbor anchorage which is the destination for anyone living on a  boat looking for a cheap place to stop for a while.
You can see tons of boat at anchor or on city moorings crowded into the big oval of well protected water, probably the most secure anchorage in the Lower Keys. There's nowhere like Boot Key Harbor in Key West and I venture to say most boaters wouldn't mind if there were. Key West is a city of exposed anchorages and long dinghy rides to shore.
My wife and I found Burdines a couple of decades ago when we stopped off in Boot Key Harbor  for a while. As I recall we had been to the Bahamas and we were thinking Marathon might be a place to stay thanks to the convenience of the lagoon in the middle of the city. Burdines was a  convenient dinghy stoip on the way back for the ship's store where we bought stuff for our boat, and one is always "buying stuff  for the boat."
I walked the docks with Rusty as I waited for my wife to get her lunch break from work and I was reminded what a pretty place this is, even if the people who live on boats work hard to spread their homely clutter everywhere.
More on that later to help digest what is always a solid lunch at Burdines. We always order the same thing. I have been getting the same green chili cheeseburger and my wife gets the greasy Ruben. The sandwiches are invariably solid and delicious and too complicated to eat without a knife and fork. The shared basket of fries are salty and delicious and too much for two people. 
They make a delicious lemonade here or you can get a Red Stripe if you want the proper Caribbean flavor under the straw roof. We went for caffeine and had Pepsis which only come in cans, no draft here. Service is cheerful and prompt.
Oh and dogs are welcome. Rusty was perfectly behaved. He loves being a part of whatever is going on and he watched everything with his usual keen eye. They brought him water and he was polite enough to at least taste it.
The only sandwich I can think of that I eat with cutlery. If you want to go berserk you can eat a deep fried key lime pie which is a tortilla wrapped slice of key lime filling dunked in boiling oil. Delicious and appalling all at once. 
We took another walk my dog and I while my wife high tailed it back to work. I persuaded my wife to go sailing in 1998. We loaded the dogs and took off from San Francisco aiming for Panama. It was an excellent trip and we had a great time but sailing is part of my past now. I don't want to end up using my boat as cheap housing. It may be ingenious to have a vegetable garden on deck but it impedes the use of the boat for its proper purpose.
Living in a  marina is  a lot like living in a  trailer park, minimal privacy, shared shower blocks, low rent encouraging people to moulder on their boats. It's  romantic to call yourself a sailor but in my book you need to go sailing to be a sailor. A boat that doesn't move rots. Admiral Nelson said that so it must be true.
I know what's like to have your life spill out and as hard as I tried to keep my boat trim and ready to sail it always got away from me so when I see the elaborate shore side life I understand. Though in the Keys this is just one way to hang on to the tropical dream and keep it affordable.
And you know what, I still feel the attraction to the romance of sailing. Even now I can remember the thrill of planning the trip, casting off and setting out hoping for decent wind, but not too much, excitement but not too much and an interesting landfall at the end.  It's never like that,  and I know it, but I can still taste the day dream of the perfect passage.  
Besides Rusty would hate boat living and the sea. It's so much easier to be on land with the little tyke. 
The romance of the sea, pure bullshit and always seductive. I think I need to read more Conrad.
We first came to Burdines by dinghy but there was no dedicated dinghy dock back then ( it was snowing and uphill both ways in the good old days). 
There have been plans to develop the neighboring marina so they forced everyone out and the place has remained empty and is steadfastly deteriorating. Marathon has recently got several name brand chain hotels, Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt are all in town and selling out apparently. I expect these docks will become something expensive and nice in the fullness of time.
It's hot out here but there used to be boats side tied along here.
Don't forget to tip. You know the joke about Canadians and canoes? Canoes tip. We used to tell each other that ad nauseam when I was a boat captain. 
Desolate and decaying. The romance of the sea, it looks beautiful under the sun, the water rippling the rusty roof makes you think of some south pacific trading post...
Burdines fills me with nostalgia, memories of times past, when people I knew were docked here, the waitresses were middle aged women who made a life in Marathon and made me think of professional old time waitresses in cafes with rayon aprons and a cheery smile and a joke. They made life on the waterfront a community, and for a while it flourished at Burdines. They are gone, replaced by the usual Slavic imports living God knows where, who knows how many to a room, keeping the Keys working while the rest of us, the weak, beat an unwilling retreat to where life is more affordable.
Rusty is my survivor and his curiosity is insatiable, always checking stuff out, storing his experiences as a dog that's wanted and that has a place. He sniffed it all, as busy storing his memories of Burdines as I have been.
It's just a place to get a sandwich and look at the water. The past is another country, they do things differently there.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Reasoning With Hurricanes

The last major hurricane to strike the Keys was Wilma in 2005 and it was pretty awful. It resembled the devastation of Katrina earlier that year (K comes before W) in New Orleans with drowned cars and evacuations of people and pets but without the violence. The storm left its mark on those of us who lived through it, just as Georges did a few years earlier in 1998, with flooding albeit on a much smaller scale. 
Hurricanes are idiosyncratic, inasmuch as they all develop and move in their own ways following some general meteorological rules and people responding to storms tend to develop their own rules, superstitions and attitudes. I think the best way to approach hurricanes is to work out a plan and then stick to it, which is hard to do if you don't have experience of dealing with these storms. I also advise against taking advice as in the end you will either evacuate for no reason which is expensive and annoying or you will sit out a storm that frightens the bejeesus out of you and in either case you only want to blame yourself not some innocent opinionated barfly who just happened to spout uninformed opinions in your hearing.
I have sat through a dozen  hurricanes over the past two decades of varying intensity from near misses to direct awful hits and because I work in the 911 center I obviously don't evacuate. I also get to observe them from the safety of the armored glass (they tell us) atop the police station. I will say that compared to other natural disasters hurricanes seem to cause a lot less loss of life than you might expect from all the hype. Property damage is usually caused by flooding or localised tornado winds embedded in the main body of the hurricane but with minimal common sense you should be able to survive a hurricane unscathed. Your home or vehicles may not be so lucky. As I recall one person died in Wilma and that was from a cardiac condition brought on by stress. I always recommend evacuation, early and with decisiveness. Load your car your pets and your spouse (and the children if you are fond of them) and bug out. Enjoy a vacation in a hotel a decent distance away and let the chips fall where they may. You will have plenty of warning and lots of time to get out if you have a mind to leave. My wife takes the dog and drives north to see friends when schools are closed as she is a teacher and she likes to get out before the highway gets jammed with traffic.
Judging how severe a storm might be is extremely difficult for the professionals in the National Hurricane Center in Miami so if you choose to stay assuming it will only be a Category One (explained further down this page) you be surprised when it gets upgraded to a Category Three and things get quite scary. Below we see a picture from NOAA of flooding caused by Wilma in 2005. North Roosevelt Boulevard is marked by the line of coconut palms:
The first warning you get comes in the form of a map with symbols to show a tropical wave that may start swirling and become a depression and then a storm and then a hurricane. The NHC offers a five day "cone" in the form of a white balloon to show roughly where they think it will go, but it's not an exact science. I show an example below taken from a few years ago on this page: National Hurricane Center If you click on the link you will see whatever is actually happening now. I also have this link in my list of sites to the left of this essay on my webpage.

One other thing that irritates the shit out of me is the assignation of gender to storms. Just because it's called Irene doesn't mean it is  a sentient being. A storm is a collection of wind and humidity and that's all. The hurricane people decided to start naming the storm for simplicity's sake and that got them into trouble. They choose names from A to Z (and double AA etc in the event there are lots, as there have been in a  few years). The names come from their families or friends and lately they have been trying to acknowledge the existence of other cultures in hurricane affected zones so you will see Spanish and French names crop up alongside Polynesian names as well. They alternate between male and female and if a storm produces death or damage the name is never used again. But a hurricane is an "it" not a he or a she. Excessive familiarity will taste pretty  dry if you watch your home get knocked down by your new girlfriend. Rant over.

Hurricanes are measured on this international scale: 

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale

Climatology | Names | Wind Scale | Extremes | Models | Breakpoints

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 rating based on a hurricane's sustained wind speed. This scale estimates potential property damage. Hurricanes reaching Category 3 and higher are considered major hurricanes because of their potential for significant loss of life and damage. Category 1 and 2 storms are still dangerous, however, and require preventative measures. In the western North Pacific, the term "super typhoon" is used for tropical cyclones with sustained winds exceeding 150 mph.
CategorySustained WindsTypes of Damage Due to Hurricane Winds
174-95 mph
64-82 kt
119-153 km/h
Very dangerous winds will produce some damage: Well-constructed frame homes could have damage to roof, shingles, vinyl siding and gutters. Large branches of trees will snap and shallowly rooted trees may be toppled. Extensive damage to power lines and poles likely will result in power outages that could last a few to several days.
296-110 mph
83-95 kt
154-177 km/h
Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage:Well-constructed frame homes could sustain major roof and siding damage. Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last from several days to weeks.
111-129 mph
96-112 kt
178-208 km/h
Devastating damage will occur: Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.
130-156 mph
113-136 kt
209-251 km/h
Catastrophic damage will occur: Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
157 mph or higher
137 kt or higher
252 km/h or higher
Catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
Hurricanes' sustained winds do not reflect the force of tornado strength winds embedded in the swirling mass of vapor and this tornadoes can wreck your home and leave a neighbor almost unmolested. To prepare for the arrival of a hurricane you need to remove anything that could be uprooted and flung about like a missile in stronger winds than you have ever experienced in your life. 
So the question becomes what do you do? Well, you could choose to be hard core and throw a hurricane party and get drunk with friends as the winds build and act like you are the devil-may-care pirate of tourist myth. Or you could be like me, wondering if now is time to pull in the garden furniture and prepare for Disturbance 1  or whatever it's called, a system currently bringing rain and wind to the Northern Caribbean and Southern Bahamas. You may listen to the "never evacuate " crowd on their bar stools or you may prefer to stay and figure nowhere near as many will die as died in the recent Italian earthquake (nearly 200) nor will as many homes be destroyed as were burned in recent California wildfires and Louisiana floods (hundreds). 
We are now getting into the height of hurricane season when waters are hottest and winds are lightest giving swirling hurricanes the best chance to form and build. From now till the end of October is high season for hurricanes. I will say this: it's easy to be brave until you get up close to these things. As winds rise and seas start crashing you will realize you are losing all control over your life. When highway one is closed to inbound traffic evacuation picks up speed. When a mandatory evacuation is ordered the authorities are telling you that if you need help you won't get any. You are free to stay home but when winds reach 35 mph sustained police fire and rescue won't be dispatched to help you. Take that as your warning. Then they will announce Highway One bridges are too windy for safe travel and you are stuck. Planes have long since stopped flying, last minute evacuees have left it too late. Then you sit and wait and hope you have cut down all coconuts to prevent them becoming cannonballs. You have put up your hurricane shutters. You have food and water and pet food. 
You look around and hope all is secure. You got to stay with friends and you pass empty streets and houses barricaded as though abandoned.

A last dash for gas, and then the hunkering begins. Hunker down they say, and you do and then you learn what the sound of 135 mph winds do to your eardrums and rain pushed at windows like bullets. 

The weather reports as you hunker look like this, taken from a hurricane report a FEW YEARS AGO as an example:

And as I write we have a possible hurricane forming in the northern Caribbean quite likely bringing heavy rain this weekend and possibly even a hurricane though the odds at this point seem to indicate just a period of wind and rain for a couple of days. 

Let us presume that Disturbance 1 does take the 50% chance and decides to develop into a Category One hurricane. What to do? I dare say one will assume it will not develop into a major barn storming hurricane, say a Category Three and one stays put. This will be interesting. Most people in the Keys have never lived through a hurricane. Lots to think about suddenly.