Making the clickthrough worthwhile: Chemical explosions add more danger to Houston, a banana peel sparks a conversation on race at Ole Miss, and a Slate op-ed praises the socialist behavior Harvey has brought to Houston.
The Latest Catastrophe in Houston
Explosions at a Houston-area chemical plant have complicated rescue efforts and escalated the danger in a region already grappling with Hurricane Harvey:
When the hurricane blew in, workers at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Tex., faced the problem of keeping the plant’s volatile chemicals cold. The plant had 19.5 tons of organic peroxides of various strengths, all of them requiring refrigeration to prevent ignition.
But the power went out, and then the floodwaters came and knocked out the plant’s generators. A liquid nitrogen system faltered. In a last-ditch move, the workers transferred the chemicals to nine huge refrigerated trucks, each with its own generator, and moved the vehicles to a remote section of the plant.
That was doomed to fail, too. Six feet of water swamped the trucks, and the final 11 workers gave up. At 2 a.m. Tuesday, they called for a water evacuation and left the plant to its fate.
Early Thursday, two loud pops signaled an explosive combustion in one of the trucks, and a black plume of smoke spread from the plant, sending 15 police officers and paramedics to the hospital. All eight remaining vehicles are now likely to burn, said Robert W. Royall Jr., assistant chief of emergency operations for the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office.
We are “watching physics at work,” Arkema spokesman Jeff Carr said Thursday. “Probably a couple more tonight.”
Arkema isn’t the only plant to succumb to floodwaters, however. The failure of several Texas chemical plants in the wake of the storm has alerted plant managers and chemical-manufacturing organizations to the permeability of their backup systems. Bill Hoyle, a former senior investigator for the Chemical Safety Board, told the Washington Post that the explosions are “a wake-up call for an industry and their safety regulators who have not adequately taken action on lessons from Hurricane Katrina as well as the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.”
Just as Fukushima threatened the region with the devastating effects of nuclear fallout, Texan chemical plant explosions such as Arkema threaten to add fuel to an already uncontrollable fire in the form of hazardous petrochemicals:
The plant produced organic peroxides, which are used in a variety of products including pipes, plastics, acrylic paints, countertops and pharmaceuticals. A company spokesman estimated that 19.5 tons of chemicals were at the site. Small amounts can irritate the skin or damage corneas, and in larger amounts could cause liver damage, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). But the company spokesman said “the issue is a combustion event, not a chemical release.”
The Arkema emergency raises anew a host of concerns for chemical manufacturers. After the 1984 tragedy in Bhopal, India, in which a chemical leak from a Union Carbide plant killed more than 2,000 people and injured many thousands more, then-Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) pressed for legislation requiring chemical companies to describe their own worst-case scenarios.
Hopefully, our response to these disasters will eventually help make chemical plants safer, especially during floods.
Everyone’s Going Bananas
A banana stuck to a tree ended a fraternity retreat at the University of Mississippi early after three students told Greek life leaders that they were frightened and upset about the racial implications. From National Review’s Kat Timpf:
The leaders then shared their concerns with the rest of the camp, and one of the attendees, Ryan Swanson, admitted that he had placed the peel on the tree — explaining that he had actually not done so because he hates people of color and wants to intimidate them, but because he just couldn’t find a garbage can to put it in. But it didn’t end there: In fact, it prompted an entire day of “camp-wide conversation” about the racist “symbolism, intended or not” of the banana, a conversation that made some students feel so upset that they didn’t feel “safe” enough to stay, which ultimately led to the rest of the retreat being canceled altogether.
One of the “hurt, frightened” students claimed the peel reminded her of a display of bananas hanging from nooses at American University in May, directed at the school’s first female black president. As Kat points out, Swanson carelessly tossing his peel on the tree’s trunk is far different from hanging bananas from nooses.
The student, president of historically black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, even found something to complain about in the way the peel was discussed.
“I just don’t feel as though it was being facilitated in a constructive way,” McNeil told [the Daily Mississippian]. “At that point, we didn’t feel welcome; we didn’t feel safe,” McNeil continued. “If we didn’t feel wanted or safe at the camp, our best option was to leave.”
There are no reports of what exactly was said during the banana-peel-gate discussions that made some students so upset, but the school’s administration is reportedly working on a plan to help the students who are still coping.
Bananas were provided as a breakfast option during the retreat, which is probably how Swanson got ahold of one, so will they be removed from future retreats? And the school’s cafeterias?
Houston Doesn’t Show America at Its Best, Apparently
NRO’s Kyle Smith responds to an article by Katy Waldman for Slate, in which she laments the eventual recession of the progressive, socialist spirit of collectivism brought out by the Harvey disaster.
Underlying the piece is an old impulse of the Left dating back to Lenin and beyond: A wish to keep society in emergency mode because of the opportunities it opens up. Catastrophe tends to loosen up all that red tape that gets in the way of progressive action. Catastrophe leads to immediate mobilization. Catastrophe gives us spontaneous collectivism. Why can’t we have collectivism always and everywhere, not just in the Houston area when 50 inches of rain falls on it? Waldman is looking toward the aftermath of Harvey and fears that this disaster will be allowed, in the deathless words of Rahm Emanuel, to “go to waste”; i.e., it won’t lead to a major leftward turn for Texas or the U.S.
Waldman celebrates a suspended “norm” in Houston, where “something lovelier and more communal has been allowed to flourish in their place.” While Waldman — and many on the left – believe cooperation and community dies under capitalism, Smith uses a quote by F. A. Hayek to push back: Capitalism actually facilitates “the extended order of human cooperation.” Business owners want their customers to like them, they want their stores to be welcoming, and they provide good services to keep business flowing.
If it is cooperation Waldman wants, a centralized authority isn’t the answer. “‘Utopia’ means nowhere. It isn’t achievable. The conservatives in Texas understand this better than most.”
ADDENDA: Cy Young winner and MVP pitcher Justin Verlander was traded from the Detroit Tigers to the Houston Astros yesterday evening. Twitter users have unearthed a 2012 criticism of the pitcher from President Donald Trump, Tweeted the morning of the third AL Championship game, while the Tigers were up 2-0 in the series against the Yankees:
Verlander is great but very beatable. Does not have a good ERA in playoff games
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 16, 2012
Verlander’s ERA in that game was 1.08.
Have a good Labor Day weekend!