Keeping an Eye on Hurricane Irene via Social Media and Open Data

Hurricane Irene August 26 NASA Satellite

A massive hurricane is swirling toward the eastern seaboard of the U.S. leaving 29 million people under a Hurricane warning on Friday night. Currently a category 2 storm, Hurricane Irene is forecast to straddle the coast before making landfall near New York City. Here in Southern California we don’t have many hurricane threats but then again it had been a while since the East Coast experienced a strong earthquake before this week. But in 1939 the only tropical storm to make landfall in California killed dozens at sea before coming ashore in Long Beach. 45 deaths were reported as a result of the flooding. And in 1858 a hurricane is said to have nearly made landfall off the San Diego coast, causing the 2011 equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars before turning back out to sea.

But in the 19th and even the 20th centuries we did not have the advanced warning and communications systems that we have today. Without even grazing land, Hurricane Irene is making history — New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that today was the first time in the city’s history that mandatory evacuations had been ordered. About a quarter-million residents, primarily on the low-lying edges of Manhattan were urged to abandon their homes. New York’s subway system will be shut down Saturday at noon due to the threat of flooding.

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Legislating Sexting: Another Rant Against the State

sexting in school california
Self-portrait of the author pretending to sext.

Life in Southern California comes with various aspects you can depend on for better and worse: Abundant sunshine, salacious celeb gossip, consistent traffic and government over-legislation.

While we can leave the future of foreskin up to city government (thanks San Francisco and Santa Monica), it appears that what our children can and cannot do with their mobile devices while in class will be determined not on a case-by-case basis or by school principals but in Sacramento — by the California State Legislature.

Senators unanimously passed a bill that would make sexting an infraction for which school officials could expel students.

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BP Has So Much Money to Lose. But Who Should Manage It?

JEFFERSON PARISH, La. – Jeff Phillips, Environmental Contaminants Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, rescues a Brown Pelican from the Barataria Bay in Grand Isle, La., June 4, 2010. State and federal wildlife services pulled approximately 60 Brown Pelicans, in the last two days, covered in oil from the Barataria Bay area. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ann Marie Gorden. Who do we trust when an exploitative company that makes more money than god claims to be fixing its mess, but is the king of an industry that has colluded with the government for years?

This seems to be one of the broadest and most frustrating takeaways of the crisis resulting from the ongoing Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Spill.

Under current law (Oil Pollution Act of 1990), a leaseholder for a deepwater port is liable for no more than $75 million per spill plus removal costs. Transocean, owner of the sunken drill ship, is liable for up to $350 million under the same law.

BP reported more than $6 BILLION in PROFIT for the first quarter 2010. That’s $60 million each day. Revenues from 2009 sales totaled $239 BILLION (about the same as Finland’s GDP). BP must pay.

But Obama and the government have only teased the idea of lifting the $75 million cap, much less seizing BP’s assets entirely.

BP claims to have already spent $1 billion on cleanup costs and small bundles of cash to the affected states. but BP itself estimates the total costs to be $6 billion. Then there are the mounting health concerns for humans and animals encountering the dispersants being used, as well as liability for obliterating the sea-based industries of the Gulf. Not to mention lawsuits already filed by the survivors and surviving families of the April 20 blast that led to the gusher. Credit Suisse recently estimated those costs at an additional $14 billion.

These numbers don’t mean very much. What matters is that some organization, public or private, must be left responsible for managing recovery funds. One that is independent of both BP and the U.S. Government. But who?

UPDATE: David Axelrod appeared on Meet the Press this morning and hinted at Obama leaning toward a fund managed by a third party. Another empty signal or the start of something? – Obama will demand BP establish escrow account to handle oil spill claims. Obama may ask for as much as $50 billion to start the fund when he addresses the nation Wednesday. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Photo via Deepwater Horizon Response‘s flickr (taken June 4, 2010, Jefferson Pa., Louisiana).