Longing for Normalcy


Today is lovely. Two zebra butterflies flit in air, looking for the Lantana. Anoles of all sizes crouch, race, square-off, crisscross my path. The air is warm, not muggy. Sun shines. My coffee is perfect. The cat lets me holds her heavy, thick-furred self – for 30 seconds. I have no worries. I wonder: is tomorrow recycle day or next week? I want to write poetry.

And then.

I log-in.

The world is a shit basket. The president is a dangerous fool. A hydrogen bomb detonated. Houston is flooded. Fires ravage southern California. In Jamaica, a gay athlete is murdered in his home.

On and on it goes, has gone. For two years now, I’ve been in the fight of my life. That’s how it feels. And in some reality, this is truth. These words – kleptocracy, active measures, fascism, authoritarianism, collusion, treason – frame my consciousness. They invade my privacy. There is no solace, no escape, no hiatus.

I long for the small things. I want to celebrate the morning bloom of plumbago, gripe about the traffic jam, find joy in simple milestones, mourn inevitability. Instead my mind is flooded with the direst of human suffering, the most extreme worry. This is an assault on all of us, on what makes us functional, empathetic, intelligent, far-sighted humans.

This should not be an endurance test. Our everyday lives should not be immersed in such anger and horror. We should not have to shout “Resist!” and utter obscenities and wish for the death of a certain person. This is our topsy-turvy world. This is our mess.




The Texas Chemical Plant Cluster

If you listened to this morning’s pre-dawn press conference about the Arkema plant in Crosby, you may have heard an important question. A member of the press asked if local officials were monitoring the status of other chemical plants in the area. The answer was surprising – in a word, No. That kind of survey is the responsibility of the manufacturers, not county, state or federal agencies.

Of the dozen plants manufacturing chemicals in the SE Texas area hit by Harvey, only two (Arkema, Exxon) have posted advisories related to storm damage. Hopefully, this is a good sign.

The fire at the Arkema plant is just one instance of the dangerous volatility of these firm’s chemical agents. These can be broadly listed under the umbrella of dangerous or hazardous materials. They – and countless others – represent a modern man-made danger.

The extent of their potential for harm prompted a multinational Emergency Response Guidebook in 2016 which itemizes hundreds of these compounds and synthetics. This guide is chocked full of information including a database and a section on Reactivity. So for example, there is a detailed explanation of all the possible results when the temperature-controlled organic peroxide at Arkema is spilled, heated or exposed to other materials. Here’s an excerpt:

FIRE INVOLVING TANKS OR CAR/TRAILER LOADS: Fight fire from maximum distance or use unmanned hose holders or monitor nozzles. Cool containers with flooding quantities of water until well after fire is out. BEWARE OF POSSIBLE CONTAINER EXPLOSION. ALWAYS stay away from tanks engulfed in fire. For massive fire, use unmanned hose holders or monitor nozzles; if this is impossible, withdraw from area and let fire burn. (ERG, 2016)

Imagine a plume of degraded organic peroxide emanating from the Arkema plant traveling the dozen or so miles to the ExxonMobil complex in Baytown. Imagine that polymers have been released at the Exxon site. The repercussions to this kind of mix would take a crew of chemists to comprehend and hazmat teams to contain. This hypothetical may seem far-fetched but it is a possibility facing the weary residents of Texas. Let’s hope it remains a hypothetical.

Here are the firms with chemical plants clustered south and west of Houston with web links and status of advisories:

Harvey Brings New Threat with Chemical Plant


8-31-2017. Crosby, Texas.  SCREEN GRAB – KHOU-11

The fire chief called them “pops.” The company said they were “explosions.”

Semantics aside, there was an event this morning at the French-owned Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas.

This is the latest in the long trail of misfortune striking SE Texas in the wake of Harvey though it was not unexpected.

The French firm manufactures organic peroxides at its Crosby plant. Two days ago, it warned that the plant was without power and multiple attempts to refrigerate these chemicals had failed. The plant was totally evacuated.

Arkema was coordinating efforts with the US Department of Homeland Security and Texas state officials to establish a command post and monitor the state of these chemicals, which had been transferred to nine diesel-powered container trucks.

Yesterday, the situation appeared more severe. Crosby residents within a 1.5 mile radius were evacuated in a planned safety zone. This notice from the Harris County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) detailed the situation:

Then around midnight, the inevitable occurred. The chemicals in one of the box vans heated up and according to Harris County police chief Gonzalez, popping noises followed by a “fire” erupted along with black smoke. According to KHOU, a local TV station, fifteen law enforcement personnel in the area were affected and hospitalized. All but two have been released.

Bob Royall, the assistant fire chief for emergency operations, described the incident as “popping noises” followed by fire and smoke. He stated that three of the trailers housing the chemicals had lost refrigeration and “similar decomposition” should be expected.

While Harris county officials are assuring residents that all is going as anticipated and there is no widespread threat, a public notice from Arkema is less positive in nature (highlights added). It mentions “other flammable raw materials” on the site and a broad disclaimer as far as impacts on property.

Potential Effects on Neighbors

The fires from the burning organic peroxides will emit thick black smoke.  The smoke might be irritating to the eyes, skin and lungs.  There are other flammable raw materials on site that could also catch fire, and Arkema and governmental authorities are monitoring the plant.   We will continue to provide health information as developments occur.   If you feel that you have been affected by any smoke from this incident, please contact your doctor or otherwise seek medical attention.

With respect to potential impacts on nearby property, that depends upon what happens at the site, which we can’t predict right now.  As we get more information, we will provide it.


Mandatory Evacuation Order in Ft. Bend County Will Be Modified

Very early this morning, the Army Corps of Engineers ordered mandatory evacuations for a huge swath of neighborhoods near the Barker Reservoir in Ft. Bend County, Texas. However, hours later, the scope of the evacuation is under question.

An interview on KHOU-11 with Alan Spears from the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) in Ft. Bend County is contradicting the original evacuation order. Spears said the order will be modified within the hour. He also stated that the order applied to homeowners who have already left, trying to prevent them from re-entering a subdivision.

To view the new, modified order when it is issued, go to the Ft. Bend County OEM website.

Neighborhoods listed in the original order are below.


  • CANYON GATE at Cinco Ranch – all sections
  • CINCO RANCH – following sections:
    • Bayou Park Estates
    • Cinco Forest
    • Equestrian Village
    • Fountain View
    • Greenway Village
    • Institutional Core
    • Southpark
    • Meadow Place
    • North Lake Village
    • Plaza Subdivision
    • West, Section 7
    • Willow Fork
  • GRAND LAKES – all sections
  • KELLIWOOD – following sections:
    • Courts
    • Fairways
    • Greens
    • Links
    • Park
    • Pointe
    • Terrace
  • WILLOW FORK – Greens, Section 1

Three Missiles and a Pardon: Timing Is Everything

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. PHOTO CREDIT: Korean Central News Agency, via Reuters

While most pundits pursue the theory that Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio is a deviously-timed event under cover of a major hurricane, there is a another reason for the timing of his Executive action.

Hours before Trump issued his pardon news broke that the North Korean regime had launched three missiles into the Sea of Japan. Reports varied on the range and the success of the projectiles.

However, what is definitive is the complete silence of Trump, who had raised the spectre of “fire and fury” raining down on North Korea should it dare to issue a threat or launch a missile. That ultimatum was less than a month ago.

Immediately after the latest launch, Yonhap, a South Korean news agency, said it may have included a ballistic missile.

Reports from South Korea’s military command identified them as short-range missiles and said that the “first and third missiles flew 150 miles before falling into the sea.” They also reported that the “second missile appears to have blown up almost immediately.”

The U.S. Pacific Command originally reported that two of the missiles blew up immediately. It later changed its version to match the one released by South Korea.

Meanwhile the North American Aerospace Command (NORAD) determined the missiles “did not pose a threat to North America.”

The terse statement from NORAD lessens the fear of a hit on the mainland. What it does not convey is the fact that those three missiles were entirely capable of reaching into South Korea where U.S. troops are stationed. So, even though the missiles did not pose a threat to North America or Guam or our ally, Japan, they certainly had the range to strike our military bases and South Korea.

According to a NY Times article, their range of 155 miles “would be far enough to reach major South Korean and American military bases, including those near the city of Pyeongtaek, about 60 miles south of Seoul.”

In other words, these missiles posed a credible threat to United States military forces.

As this news was coming out, Trump was boarding a helicopter for Camp David on yet another vacation with his spouse, youngest son and two grand kids. Just three days before at a fractious rally in Phoenix, he boasted that Kim Jong-un, the autocratic leader of the small nation, was “starting to respect us,” adding that perhaps his threat of fire and fury was not “strong enough.”

“And you see what’s going on in North Korea,” Trump said. “All of a sudden, I don’t know, who knows, but I can tell you, what I said, that’s not strong enough. Some people said it was too strong. It’s not strong enough.”

Trump’s impression that his fiery rhetoric gained him the respect of Kim Jong-un is not reciprocal. KNCA, the mouthpiece of Jong-un, demolished that with a personalized assault hours later. Trump’s Twitter posts, it wrote, are “weird articles of his ego-driven thoughts” and “spouts rubbish to make his assistants have a hard time.”

To punctuate that total lack of respect, Kim Jong-un released his three missiles.

In normal times, the aggression from North Korea is expected as a response to the U.S.-South Korean military drills now taking place. These are not normal times. We in the United States have a commander-in-chief who cannot resist boasting of his prowess – in any  shape and form – and whose official acts are determined by a policy of saving face and revenge.

This drive to beam in the spotlight and defuse any criticism is likely why Trump pardoned Arpaio when he did – after news broke of the missile launch. He needed to avert what would be front page, breaking news. Without the Arpaio pardon to steal the headlines, Americans would be glued to the destruction in Texas and the potential danger coming from Pyongyang. Even more upsetting for this president, the coverage would carry the full frontal ridicule and disrespect by Kim Jong-un.

In these most abnormal of times, Americans are faced with the president’s abhorrent pardon of a racist or his start of a catastrophic nuclear war. More importantly, what future measures will this egocentric man take to preserve his inflated persona? What happens when there is no Joe Arpaio? How will he strike out then? Who will he sacrifice?