The Blue Raccoon

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

For The Want of Rivets The Great Ship Was Lost
Mis-allocation of resources cause disasters: news and notes
[Additional material added, April 20, 2008]

The Titanic, via the Associated Press/New York Times.

This morning, as survivor Jack Thayer described, the world "woke with a start" to realize that the largest moving object ever made by the hands of man had struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and plummeted two and a half miles deep beneath the frigid North Atlantic. The wreck resulted in the deaths of some 1,500 people. Or, as The Onion said in its headlines of "Our Dumb Century" : "World's Largest Metaphor Strikes Iceberg, Sinks."

And the Titanic just keeps producing Thoughts For Our Epoch; as in, how making do with shoddy workmanship and inferior materials in order to complete a project often leads to the effort's failure when that lack of care meets with an unforeseen event.

Item from the New York Times:

"...While some ships of the time were built entirely with steel rivets, the Titanic used a mix of steel and iron rivets. In the bow, where the Titanic hit the iceberg, weaker iron rivets were used.

In the book "What Really Sank the Titanic," the researchers Jennifer Hooper McCarty and Tim Foecke argue that the rivets were the Achilles' heel of the Titanic and that the problem was worsened by poor manufacturing; high variability, because of the large number of suppliers; and a rush to complete the ship."

Or; in computer programming terms, garbage in, garbage out. The question isn't what did builders Harland & Wolff know and when did they know it; but knowing what they knew, did The Man-agement just hope nobody would ever find out? After all, this was toward the bow. What could happen?

After all, her second sister, the Olympic became known as "Old Reliable" and served her line, passengers and crew quite well for 26 more years. She never struck a berg, either.

From the story by William J. Broad:

"Researchers have discovered that the builder of the Titanic struggled for years to obtain enough good rivets and riveters and ultimately settled on faulty materials that doomed the ship, which sank 96 years ago Tuesday.

The builder’s own archives, two scientists say, harbor evidence of a deadly mix of low quality rivets and lofty ambition as the builder labored to construct the three biggest ships in the world at once — the Titanic and two sisters, the Olympic and the Britannic.

Now, historians say new evidence uncovered in the archive of the builder, Harland and Wolff, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, settles the argument and finally solves the riddle of one of the most famous sinkings of all time. The company says the findings are deeply flawed.

Each of the great ships under construction required three million rivets that acted like glue to hold everything together. In a new book, the scientists say the shortages peaked during the Titanic’s construction.

“The board was in crisis mode,” one of the authors, Jennifer Hooper McCarty, who studied the archives, said in an interview. “It was constant stress. Every meeting it was, ‘There’s problems with the rivets and we need to hire more people.’ ”

Apart from the archives, the team gleaned clues from 48 rivets recovered from the hulk of the Titanic, modern tests and computer simulations. They also compared metal from the Titanic with other metals from the same era, and looked at documentation about what engineers and shipbuilders of that era considered state of the art."

If you're a Titaniac, you know this charge has been zinging about the Titaniosphere for years; that the vaunted Harland & Wolff construction cheaped out on the very basic component of their huge ship and, when sufficiently mismanaged to get it wrapped around an iceberg on a cold April night, those bad rivets burst out of the ship's seams like machine gun bullets.

These unearthed records, and scientific tests, have proved--to the satisfaction of the book publishers, anyway--that the ship was undone, yes, by nature, but also corporate avariciousness and neglect in detail.

Speaking of disasters that could have been averted, I direct you to this piece in The Guardian by George Monbiot about how the rise in fuel prices, causing an increase in food costs, is assuring that millions of people who are balanced on the edge of subsistence, will go hungry, and probably starve. You can read the dreary forecast here.

As usual, the problem isn't that there's not enough food, but that allocation is beyond criminal, its genocidal.

"Never mind the economic crisis. Focus for a moment on a more urgent threat: the great food recession that is sweeping the world faster than the credit crunch. You have probably seen the figures by now: the price of rice has risen by three-quarters over the past year, that of wheat by 130%. There are food crises in 37 countries. One hundred million people, according to the World Bank, could be pushed into deeper poverty by the high prices.

But I bet that you have missed the most telling statistic. At 2.1bn tonnes, the global grain harvest broke all records last year - it beat the previous year's by almost 5%. The crisis, in other words, has begun before world food supplies are hit by climate change. If hunger can strike now, what will happen if harvests decline?

There is plenty of food. It is just not reaching human stomachs. Of the 2.13bn tonnes likely to be consumed this year, only 1.01bn, according to the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation, will feed people."

This reponse, by Rashers101, though, drives the dismal point harder home:

Rashers101 April 15, 2008 12:59 AM

2.8 billion people - nearly half of the world's population - live on $2 a day or less. When you are living on $2 a day, most of your income is spent on food - not processed chicken dinners and frozen pizzas, but the basics: flour, corn, rice. This is what keeps you and your family alive.
When you spend $1.50 a day out of your $2 income on basic food, you don't have much wriggle-room. So when food prices go up by 75%, or 130%, its not a matter of cutting back in other areas. Instead it means that you and your children will eat less, and go to bed hungry at night.

2.8 billion people - nearly half of the world's population - have been put in this situation during the last year.

If you've ever gone on a strict diet, or fasted for a day for religious reasons, you might have an inclinling of an idea of what hunger is like. But you know nothing of days and weeks and months of hunger - you can't even really conceive of it.
Haitians use the expression "grangou klowox" or "eating bleach", to describe the daily hunger pains they face as a result of rising food prices, because of the burning feeling in their stomachs.

That's why they riot.

Fear of inflation, fear of a house-price collapse, fear of interest rate increases - these are notihing when compared to fear of hunger, and it is that fear that is rapidly spreading around the world as prices rise.

And why are prices rising?

Because you drive and fly.

A big impetus behind rising basic food prices is the rise in the price of oil due to supply scarcity (and a lot of oil goes into mechanised agriculture) combined with a widespread swich of agricultural land to the biofuel crops that are more valuable than food crops.

In other words, as we reach and pass peak oil, oil prices are inexhorably rising as people compete for the remaining oil production. On one side of that competition are the 15% of the world's people who drive and fly and waste beyond the wildest imagination of our ancestors. And on the other side are the 45% of the world's people who live from day to day on $2 or less.
On one side you have the shiney new Terminal 5, and on the other hungry children. On one side car trips to Tesco to buy food flown in from the other side of the world, and on the other the feeling of "eating bleach".

So next time you're filling up your petrol tank (one person's food for the year) or flying off for a weekend break (a year's food for a village?), spare a thought for some hungry person in Cote dIvore, or Haiti, or Mexico, or Egypt, because that's who's dinner your burning.

And get prepared to either harden your conscience or change your behaviour because, unfortunately, this is a story that is not going away.

Then there are these comments:

tomper2 April 15, 2008 1:24 AM
So, 78 million more people on the planet each year has nothing to do with it?

bannedbycastro April 15, 2008 1:31 AM
Could you please explain to my why I should give up eating beef so as to provide food for people who have large families and destroy their environment ?

If I am not allowed to decide what family size there should be in the third world, why should I ship food to them?

April 15, 2008 1:59 AM
If the West sacrifices to allow for cheap food for the world's poor, their number will just keep increasing. It would be better, in the long term, to provide free birth control, rather than cheap food.

harlan April 15, 2008 2:13 AM
What insipid rubbish Monbiot continues to spew. My mum has been a vegan for half her life-she is now 68, has a ruddy complexion, is active, fit and healthy, still full of life. Much of the world's population live largely vegan lives, albeit not of their own choice.

Eating animals for increasing numbers of newly rich Chinese, Indians and others is an aspiration to presumed higher status. Whatever we in the West attempt to do to cut our consumption will be dwarfed by these future inheritors of world power dominance.

If Monbiot took the trouble to learn more about how to balance various food-groups, if he was prepared to put the effort into preparing meals that incorporated many and varied vegetables, he would be able to live most healthily as a vegan.

Monbiot betrays a flaw that so many of us possess: what was once mankind's major purpose - to find food to sustain us - has become for us Westerners an incidental thing, taken for granted. Until Monbiot adjusts his values, his priorities, to take more account of this most fundamental component in human and animal life, his pretensions to saving the planet will continue to be little more than ignorant simplistic hypocrisy.

tv603 April 15, 2008 3:48 AM
"There was a thread on this a week or so ago. An economist (KatieL, I think) pointed out that something called Jevon's paradox would come into play when people stopped eating meat. When some people become vegetarians, this depresses the price of meat, enabling those who still eat meat to afford to consume more, and those who couldn't previously afford it to begin.

The world is densely populated with what I would call 'economic vegetarians': people who would like to eat meat but can't afford it, along with people who would eat more meat if it was cheaper. This is true of rich countries as well as poor countries. About twenty years ago a survey in the US asked what people would spend an extra $100 a month on if they suddenly received that amount as a pay rise.

Most people said they would eat more steaks.

I live in India where about a third of the population (Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and scheduled-caste Hindus)have always eaten meat. The practice is now spreading among the upwardly mobile caste-Hindu population, many of who are shedding the traditional taboos on meat eating. I was genuinely shocked a few years ago when I walked into a five-star hotel in Chennai and saw a pig being barbecued by the swimming pool. Beside it, a long queue of well-fed, upper-middle-class Hindus were lining up to receive their portions. If a hundred million Hindus join the meat eaters in the next few years, they will more than compensate for westerners who reduce their consumption on moral grounds.

If 10% of westerners reduced their consumption of meat by a third, individually they would probably be a bit healthier. However, I don't think that their actions would reduce the amount of land and grain being allocated to meat producers. The meat they have denied themselves will end up in the stomachs of other people."

"Do be a good chap and try to forgive them for their incessant pain and misery." -- Jedmed, on Digg

Death On A Pale Horse --JMW Turner, ca. 1825-1830, via staroilpainting.

[Update: The New York Times, April 18, 2008: The Grey Lady rubs her eyes and realizes about half the world is starving and angry and rioting for results.]

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Hunger bashed in the front gate of Haiti’s presidential palace. Hunger poured onto the streets, burning tires and taking on soldiers and the police. Hunger sent the country’s prime minister packing.

Haiti’s hunger, that burn in the belly that so many here feel, has become fiercer than ever in recent days as global food prices spiral out of reach, spiking as much as 45 percent since the end of 2006 and turning Haitian staples like beans, corn and rice into closely guarded treasures.
Saint Louis Meriska’s children ate two spoonfuls of rice apiece as their only meal recently and then went without any food the following day. His eyes downcast, his own stomach empty, the unemployed father said forlornly, “They look at me and say, ‘Papa, I’m hungry,’ and I have to look away. It’s humiliating and it makes you angry.”
That anger is palpable across the globe. The food crisis is not only being felt among the poor but is also eroding the gains of the working and middle classes, sowing volatile levels of discontent and putting new pressures on fragile governments. More here.

These comments followed a posting of the piece on Democratic Underground:

cliffordu Fri Apr-18-08 03:27 AM
Response to Original message
1. I fully expect starvation on a global scale in the next five years.

I live in western Washington...80% of the honeybees are gone in places - just disappeared in the last two years....

I read they are down 25% nationwide.

If they go critical, 1/3 of all our food is history.

And then we're done.

The folks examining this problem don't have a clue as to how it's happening.
lissa Fri Apr-18-08 04:22 PM
Response to Reply #1
15. I agree.
Re: starvation. I'm expecting things to happen very quickly. I think by this summer, we're going to see things spiral out of control in many countries. And I think it's going to be massive. Add to that drought conditions in many countries. Also, water seems to be short in many places = an absolute disaster.

That's why we are stocking up as quickly as we can before prices go out of control.

Washington: your state is awesome. I'm sorry to hear about the honey bees. Washington is an amazing producer of an enormous amount of Agricultural products; in my opinion they are the best in the country. The wine coming out of the Grandview-Prosser area is turning into one of the best in the world.
I'm in Oregon, and I think WA has better products than even us.

In fact, I export WA state apples to other countries (the best in the world). If anything happens to our crop, we're toast.

More_liberal_than_mo Fri Apr-18-08 09:43 AM
Response to Original message
10. Results of over-population.

The future is here now. One of the worst aspects of Global Warming is that sudden changes in rain patterns disrupt the farming of staple crops. It takes many years to readjust to the new patterns and since us humans need a steady stable source of food we should be prepared for more of this.

I just read yesterday that the longest drought in Australia’s history has wiped out 98 per cent of its rice production.

Food crops are going to fail in areas of the world that have traditionally produced them. It will take decades for farmers to move production to northern parts of Canada and Russia, while millions starve. When people starve on a mass scale such as this there will be more wars. Competition for water and food will soon thin out the over-population of our planet. Earth simply can’t handle 6 billion people’s hunger during a world-wide climatic cycle change.
noMoreMyths Fri Apr-18-08 10:05 AM
Response to Original message
11. When you create a universal, one-size-fits-all world
You're going to end up with universal, one-size-fits-all world problems. In the quest for the most efficient single way of organizing life, when that one way no longer works, there is no place left to turn. Until things find a balance, but that process isn't going to be easy.

We live in a globalizing world built on very concentrated, cheap(economically, not environmentally), non-human energy. Most of the people alive today wouldn't be here if we only used our species fair share. Most of us are a burden on the ecological system, whether we consume massive amounts of resources or not. I know that I'm part of the problem. I don't have a car, and pretty much walk everywhere I go, but I still buy food that I had no physical link in getting, and my clothes are most likely the product of some 7 year old girl, whom I will never meet, in SE Asia.

It's a hell of a reality we've built. There is no simple answer either. We can't stop doing what we're doing, as that would kill billions voluntarily, but we can't continue to do what we've been doing, which is trying to have all 6.5 billion+ people have everything that everyone has access to. We want everything, but don't want to pay the price for it, which only ends up making the environmental problem worse.
more_liberal_than_mo Fri Apr-18-08 11:13 AM
Response to Reply #11
12. Well said!

We are trapped by our own devices. We have never gone through a major climatic change such as we are just now starting to experience. Even without climate change 6.5 billion people are way too many for the earth to support.

I just saw a report on ABC with the National Geographic channel / that the population of the USA which comprises only 5% of the world’s population use 25% of the world’s resources. That worked ok for a few decades while the rest of the world struggled just to feed itself. Now that India and China are literally taking over production of almost everything we use they now have the wealth to try and match our greed.

If we were able to maintain our current overuse of resources and they managed to match us it would take 4 earth sized planets to satisfy all of us. Ain’t gonna happen… we Americans are going to have to lower our standard of living and lower it fast to make room for the rest of the planet’s peoples. The alternatives are not pretty either,,,, war and famine.

Then there's these two polar opposite comments on Digg that summarize why there just isn't much movement on the global starvation issues, and why policy here is schizophrenic, and the fundamental reasons millions of innocents die daily:

"This is such a load of c***. Why is it people people living in villages feel it's their entitlement to produce five or more children when they have no running water, hygiene, medical care or economic base? Answer? It's everyone else's fault, particularly, America's. Let the religious groups who spawn this thinking pick up the tab. Parents that love their children don't intentionally plan miserable lives for them. Overpopulation is the root cause here, not a food shortage."

Hello? Do you really believe that these people have any clue as to what you are talking about? They are living hand-to-mouth because this is the world that they were born into and they possess no physical resources. You and I, however, have so much of everything that we are free to pontificate about topics like personal responsibility and social values while they starve to death. Do be a good chap and try to forgive them for their incessant pain and misery.
In the meantime I'll keep trying to forgive myself by writing useless crap like this.

Further in the Disasters Waiting To Happen--and I'm not speaking about the failing U.S. commercial aviation industry, which is heading the way of the Penn Central Railroad (the ENRON of its day) and CONRAIL that begat Amtrak which is funded with grudging cheapness by the government and bullied by CSX -- no, this latest sound and fury about what Barack said and what he meant to day and whether he's an elitist, which, of course, both Democrats are.

They both want to be one of those figures that come out of the Rathaus clock every four years, bang each other over the head, switch places, and the clock keeps ticking and nothing changes except for the rotating figures' entry and exit points.

But you got to get placed into that exalted tower, so everybody can see what time it is. [Image of the candidates via the LA Times and townhall clock, Land of Fairy Tales.]

Fact is, whoever goes in the out way this time around is inheriting a rasher of excrement.

From James Howard Kunstler:

" Barack Obama caught hell last week for daring to tell the truth about the ragged thing that the American spirit has become. He said that small-town Pennsylvania voters, bitter over their economic circumstances, “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them” to work out their negative emotions. He might have added that the Pope wears a funny hat (see for yourself this week), and that bears shit in the woods (something rural Pennsylvanians probably know). Nevertheless, in the manner lately prescribed for those who slip up and speak truthfully in public (and in contradiction to the reigning delusions), Obama was pressured to apologize for his statements.

The evermore loathsome and odious Hillary Clinton, co-owner of a $100 million personal wealth portfolio, seized the moment to remind voters what a normal, everyday gal she is -- who would never look down on the small-town folk of Pennsylvania the way her "elitist" opponent had -- forgetting, apparently, that the Clinton family's consigliere, James Carville, famously described the Keystone State as a kind of redneck sandwich with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia as the bread, and Alabama as the lunch meat in between.

As I mull over all this, I begin to think that Hillary is exactly what the USA deserves and, that should she manage to winkle away the nomination and get elected president, the outcome would be instructive and salutary. For one thing, she will be buried under an avalanche of political woe, beginning with the basic financial insolvency of everything in the nation except the Clinton family. Then she would proceed straight into an oil-and-gas clusterfuck that could take this society back to the eighteenth century economically.

This would have the positive effect of forcing the American public to look elsewhere for governance than the usual parties in Washington, D.C. It's time for a national purgative, anyway. In fact, it's way overdue. Are the Democratic and Republican parties anymore necessary than the Whigs? Neither of them can really articulate the problems we face (and when their honchos slip up and come close to the truth, they're persecuted for it)."

But it isn't just Pennsylvanians who are harboring some bitterness these days, as this response by Riddick to Kunstler's remarks indicate:

"The USA is in an inevitable and inexorable decline just as the new world order is in ascendancy. Brazil is booming and now has a bustling middle class, China is squirreling away all the energy it can scrounge and especially right in the US backyard of South America. So much for the Monroe Doctrine I guess, the US is pre-occupied chasing "terrorists" in deserts 6000 miles away. India is about to cement a massive new trade initiative with China that when combined will make their economies ultimately dwarf the west and japan.

And, of course, as the energy supplies dwindle, these rising powers are working feverishly to undermine US access to energy so they can maintain their growth. Hugo Chavez is even helping the cause by sending his heavy oil shipments to China now and away from Louisiana. CITGO is building 3 major heavy oil refineries in China as I write.

All this portents a really bad wind down for the good ol US of A. Our distracted leadership (latter term used only for reference not quality)spends billions upon billions in the deserts of Babylon and Afghanistan; a place that has sucked more previous empires dry then one can imagine. Our economic and soon political foes are out-foxing us around the globe and all we can do is cry "waa" when big bad Obama calls it like it really is. Yep, we do deserve Billary alright.

Look at your life right now folks, expensive gasoline, stagnant wages and employers that will fire you in a heartbeat if needed. Truly, if you are trying to remain amidst the clueless masses and perhaps hit the lotto then perhaps you would be more prudent building the pine box your family will be using for you in the not so distant future."

Happy Abraham Lincoln Assassination-Titanic Disaster-Tax Day!

Dr. Evil's Radar Installation
Though I've written about this many posts ago, in view of this horrific situation in the world, I thought this 2006 piece from Brad DeLong's blog Grasping Reality With Both Hands is as good as any an indication of the warped-beyond-understanding consensus reality that the U.S. operates under in these critical days:

Nuclear Armageddon-Prevention Blogging

His name is Stross. Charles Stross. And he writes about the X-band radar system:

Charlie's Diary: Paging Dr Evil (or, Who designs these things, anyway?): The Strategic Defense Initiative (aka "Star Wars" program) has, since Ronald Reagan announced it more than 20 years ago, cost the US government more than US $100Bn.... There are about ten interceptor missiles available, and the current goal of the project is to pop a cap in the ass of any rogue state that tries to destroy the United States by launching a single 1950s-vintage ICBM with a single warhead and no countermeasure capability.... However, there is one leetle weakness in the BMD program. To hit a missile with a missile requires fairly accurate radar -- it entails accurately tracking a target the size of a dustbin at a range of several thousand kilometres -- and so they've also developed an appropriate radar system. The sea-based X-band radar system... looks as if it sailed in out of a Bond movie: a $900M fifty thousand tonne offshore platform with a 1800 ton radar installation on top of it, it's designed to sit in the ocean near the Aleutian islands and spot incoming sub-orbital trash cans and guide the rocket interceptors into the target.

Unfortunately, there's a problem with it.... [A]ny budding Doctor Evil can ensure the success of his orbital mind control lasers or terrorist ICBMs by... sending... a 1950s vintage Whisky class diesel-electric submarine to poke a pointy stick through the eyes of the ballistic missile defense system. Which is, you will notice, not exactly mounted on a vessel that's capable of fighting off a bunch of Malacca Straits pirates.... I don't know about you, but I'm coming to the conclusion that the Pentagon subcontracted this job to the same guys that James Bond's enemies always hired to design their headquarters -- you know, the one with the prominently labelled SELF DESTRUCT button. (That would be Halliburton and Brown & Root, right?) I mean, what other explanation is there...?

I am told that the vulnerability of the X-band radar to pretty much anything with explosives, and the absence of two rotating carrier battle groups to protect it would be a serious defect in the system--if it worked, and if it couldn't be spoofed.

But I am also told that it doesn't work. And that it can be spoofed. So the vulnerability of the radar problem is only a third-order flaw in the system as it stands.

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

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