Remembering the worst ever U.S. industrial accident, 1947: 576 dead at Texas City

April 16, 2014

April 16 marks the 67th anniversary of the Texas City Disaster.

It’s a day Texans, and all Americans should note.  It’s an event we need to remember, because every point of the disaster is something we forget at our very great peril.  Thinking such a disaster could not happen again, and failing to train for these same conditions, contributed to the disaster last year in West, Texas.

67 years ago, in the harbor at Texas City, a large cargo ship being loaded with tons of ammonium nitrate caught fire and exploded, setting fire to other nearby ships, one of which exploded, devastating much of the town. In all, 576 people died in Texas City on April 16 and 17, 1947.

View of Texas City from across the bay, in Galveston, April 16, 1947

View of Texas City from Galveston, across the bay, after the explosion of the French ship SS Grandchamp, April 16, 1947. Photo from International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1259

The incident also produced one of the most famous tort cases in U.S. history, Dalehite vs. United States, 346 U.S. 15 (1953). (Here is the Findlaw version, subscription may be required.)

The entire Texas City fire department was wiped out, 28 firefighters in all. The International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1259 has a website dedicated to the history of the disaster, with a collection of some powerful photographs.

More below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

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Yet another blow against warming “skeptics”: Virginia judge quashed Cuccinelli’s witch hunt

September 2, 2010

Vivian Paige pulled together early reports and the actual court documents:  A judge in Virginia quashed the subpeona issued by Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to the University of Virginia, in a rather blatant attempt to silence a famous scientist working on global warming, Michael Mann.

Rosalind Helderman explained in the Virginia Politics blog of the Washington Post:

Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. ruled that Cuccinelli can investigate whether fraud has occurred in university grants, as the attorney general had contended, but ruled that Cuccinelli’s subpoena failed to state a “reason to believe” that Mann had committed fraud.

The ruling is a major blow for Cuccinelli, a global warming skeptic who had maintained that he was investigating whether Mann committed fraud in seeking government money for research that showed that the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming. Mann, now at Penn State University, worked at U-Va. until 2005.

According to Peatross, the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, under which the civil investigative demand was issued, requires that the attorney general include an “objective basis” to believe that fraud has been committed. Peatross indicates that the attorney general must state the reason so that it can be reviewed by a court, which Cuccinelli failed to do.

Peatross set the subpoena aside without prejudice, meaning Cuccinelli could give the subpoena another try by rewriting the civil demand to better explain the conduct he wishes to investigate. But the judge seemed skeptical of Cuccinelli’s underlying claim about Mann, noting that Cuccinelli’s deputy maintained in a court hearing that the nature of Mann’s fraud was described in subsequent court papers in the case.

“The Court has read with care those pages and understands the controversy regarding Dr. Mann’s work on the issue of global warming. However, it is not clear what he did was misleading, false or fraudulent in obtaining funds from the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Peatross wrote.

Also, as suggested earlier here, the judge noted that Cuccinelli’s authority did not extend to four of the five grants questioned, because they were federal grants, not state grants.  (See here, too.)

Comments at Helderman’s article show the fault lines of division on global warming — purely political faultlines.

Since opponents of action against warming so frantically publicized stolen e-mails from researchers late last year, in official proceedings scientists have smacked down skeptics on almost every issue.

Which only means that scientists now sit in the position of Cassandra after Apollo’s curse.


Creationism crash covered

June 24, 2010

Judge Sam Sparks’ rebuke of the Institution for Creation Research (“Biblical.  Accurate.  Certain.”)  appeared in a number of venues, in addition to those I mentioned earlier (go see here); for the record, you ought to go see:

An ICR spokesperson sent the following statement via e-mail:

The Institute for Creation Research has received the ruling of Judge Sam Sparks from the U.S. District Court in Austin in the case ICR Graduate School v. Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board et al. The attorneys and leadership of ICR associated with this case are currently reviewing Judge Sparks’ ruling and we are weighing our options regarding future action in this matter.  In addition to other options, ICRGS has 30 days in which to file an appeal with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. ICR has no further comment at this time.


Institute for Creation Research loses bid to give creationism degrees in Texas

June 22, 2010

Remember the Institute for Creation Research?

Institute for Creation Research offices in Texas

Institute for Creation Research offices in Texas

This hoary old fundamentalist institution moved from California to Texas, hoping to take advantage of the generally fundie-friendly environment, and continue a practice of granting masters and doctorate degrees in science education to people who would get jobs in schools and teach creationism instead.  They had achieved that goal in California with a lawsuit the state regulators rather botched, and by setting up a special accreditation association that would give a pass to the teaching of non-science.

But when they got to Texas, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) had a couple of alert people who blew the whistle on the process of getting a permit to grant degrees.  Real scientists and science educators were brought in to evaluate ICR’s programs.  They said the programs were not scientific and do not deserve to be accredited.

THECB stuck to the rulesICR threatened a lawsuit.  THECB stood fast.

ICR sued.

And then God intervened. At God’s instructions ICR filed legal papers so bizarre that they would, by themselves, expose ICR as a wacko group.  ICR’s loss came on the merits of their case, which were nil — it was summary judgment against ICR.  Summary judgment means that, even with all the evidence decided in favor of the losing party, that party loses on the basis of the law.

The court took note of just how bizarre were the papers ICR filed.  Frosting on the cake of embarrassment.

Judge Sam Sparks, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, stopped short of admonishing ICR for the briefs, and instead sifted the briefs to find judiciable claims — an act that will probably prevent ICR from getting a friendly hearing in any appeal.  Sparks wrote:

Having addressed this primary issue, the Court will proceed to address each of ICRGS’s causes of action in turn, to the extent it is able to understand them. It appears that although the Court has twice required Plaintiff to re-plead and set forth a short and plain statement of the relief requested, Plaintiff is entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering, and full of irrelevant information.

Whom God destroys, He first makes mad.

Sparks ruled ICR has no free exercise right to grant non-science degrees, no free speech right, and no due process claim to grant them, either.  ICR lost on every count of their complaint.

More:

_______________

Cartoon on ICR suit against Texas, Babble.com

From Babble.com (Do you know who is the cartoonist?)


Stupid math tricks: Judge’s innumeracy screws defendant

June 4, 2010

Had difficulty with fractions in third grade, did you?

 

Fractions, shown on a cake  - 1/4 and 1/2

Which is larger, 1/4, or 1/2?

Nothing like the judge in this story, I’m sure.  From the depths of Europe, Zeno details how a judge’s seeming infacility with numbers took an injustice against a petitioner in his court, and made it worse.

It’s the sort of error you’d expect of a third-grade kid who hasn’t watched enough “Sesame Street.”  Which of these fractions is larger?  1/5, or 1/6?

Is the judge really that dumb, or is this an elaborate, sarcastic hoax on the petitioner?

Math teachers, can you use this to show the importance of learning math well enough to do simple math functions mentally, without paper and calculator?

While you’re at Zeno’s place, Halfway There, look around. Zeno writes well, has good stories to tell, and you could learn a lot about a lot of things — you know, just by observing.


Climate change: We’ll see you in court

May 21, 2010

Contemplation of Justice, statue by James Earle Fraser at the U.S. Supreme Court (exterior) - photo by Steve Petteway

Contemplation of Justice, statue by James Earle Fraser at the U.S. Supreme Court (exterior) - photo by Steve Petteway

From a press release from Gardere and Wynn:

Gardere’s Faulk And Gray Tapped To Represent Business, Industry In Climate Change Amicus Briefs

Gardere Wynne Sewell attorneys Richard O. Faulk and John S. Gray have been retained to write amicus curiae briefs to federal appellate courts and the U.S. Supreme Court in relation to public nuisance lawsuits regarding global climate change.

(I-Newswire) May 13, 2010 – HOUSTON – Richard O. Faulk and John S. Gray, co-chairs of Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP’s Climate Change Task Force, have been retained to write amicus curiae briefs to federal appellate courts and the U.S. Supreme Court in relation to public nuisance lawsuits regarding global climate change.

Mr. Faulk and Mr. Gray, partners in Gardere’s Houston office, will represent a group of organizations that include the American Chemistry Council, The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, The American Coatings Association, and the Public Nuisance Fairness Coalition.

The first brief was filed in the 5th Circuit on Friday, May 7, in the case of Comer v. Murphy Oil. In that case, a group of property owners sued utility, mining, oil and chemical companies claiming their CO2 emissions ultimately caused the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Comer had originally been dismissed at the trial level because the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue particular defendants for the effects of global warming, among other reasons.

A panel of the 5th Circuit reversed the dismissal, but on February 26 the court granted an en banc rehearing. The court is now weighing a number of procedural concerns caused by a number of judicial recusals, and has not set a final date for oral arguments.

“Despite the current procedural wrangling, the 5th circuit’s initial decision to reconsider the panel’s ruling remains a major blow to climate change and public nuisance litigation,” Faulk said. “Although the final decision, the panel’s original decision now has no value. Clearly, a significant number of the court’s judges believe the case deserves a closer look, and plaintiffs are surely not comforted by that development. Indeed, since no judge on the original panel dissented, the en banc court’s decision to reconsider suggests a serious interest in changing the result.”

Mr. Faulk and Mr. Gray also plan to file amicus briefs in Native Village of Kivalina, Alaska v. ExxonMobil Corp., et al., which is pending in the 9th Circuit, and Connecticut v. American Electric Power, a 2nd Circuit decision in which a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court is expected to be filed. Both of those cases also involve the propriety of using public nuisance litigation to redress global climate change.

Mr. Faulk and Mr. Gray have authored many scholarly articles regarding public nuisance and climate change. One of their major papers, “Stormy Weather Ahead: The Legal Environment of Global Climate Change,” has been presented at conferences of the United States Chamber of Commerce, in media events at the Washington Legal Foundation, at various Professional Development seminars for lawyers, engineers, and businessmen. A complete collection of their articles is available at http://works.bepress.com/richard_faulk/subject_areas.html#Climate%20Change.

In addition, Mr. Faulk recently spoke on climate change lawsuits at the Judicial Symposium on The Expansion of Liability Under Public Nuisance on April 26 at the Searle Center on Law, Regulation, and Economic Growth, Northwestern University School of Law.

Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, an AmLaw 200 firm founded in 1909 and one of the Southwest’s largest full-service law firms, has offices in Austin, Dallas, Houston and Mexico City. Gardere provides legal services to private and public companies and individuals in areas of energy, hospitality, litigation, corporate, tax, government affairs, environmental, labor and employment, intellectual property and financial services.

Familiar with any of those cases?

Were denialists to have the facts, some of those legal cases would be the places that the facts emerge in useful-to-stop-climate-change-legislation fashion.

Want to make bets on whether those who desperately want (and maybe need) climate change denialists to be right, actually use the climate denialists’ studies?

Watch those cases.


Cuccinelli Witch Project

May 3, 2010

So, you didn’t think the opposition to global warming was political?  You thought “skeptics” were just out to make a scientific case?

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli - campaign photo

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli - campaign photo

As the Hook explains, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has ordered the University of Virginia to turn over all records they have of research done by Michael Mann while he was at the UVA (he left five years ago for Penn State). (Civil Investigative Demand, here)

It’s a fishing expedition, the very definition of a witch hunt.  Also, as I read the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act upon which Cuccinelli bases his actions [see comments — better source here], it’s probably outside the statute of limitations.

Research that Cuccinelli has targeted to investigate  includes work Mann did with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).  Cuccinelli probably lacks jurisdiction for much of the stuff he wants, trumped by those federal agencies.

Mann is the guy who put together the chart of all the different threads of research that show warming climate, commonly known as the “hockey stick” after Al Gore’s years of presentations on the chart and the movie, “Inconvenient Truths.”  Mann also is among those scientists in U.S. and England whose private e-mails were exposed in the breach of the e-mail servers at England’s Hadley Climate Research Unit.

Three different investigations have put Mann in the clear so far (Penn State’s .pdf of investigation results; response to Texas U.S. Rep. Joe Barton’s assault) — odd that stolen e-mails would produce doubts about the victims of the theft, but ethical standards in science research are indeed that high.  Caesar’s wife couldn’t be considered for research grants.

Why do I think the statute of limitations may apply?  Look at the law, linked above, the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act:

§ 8.01-216.9. Procedure; statute of limitations.

A subpoena requiring the attendance of a witness at a trial or hearing conducted under this article may be served at any place in the Commonwealth.

A civil action under § 8.01-216.4 or 8.01-216.5 may not be brought (i) more than six years after the date on which the violation is committed or (ii) more than three years after the date when facts material to the right of action are known or reasonably should have been known by the official of the Commonwealth charged with responsibility to act in the circumstances, but in that event no more than ten years after the date on which the violation is committed, whichever occurs last.

In any action brought under § 8.01-216.5, the Commonwealth shall be required to prove all essential elements of the cause of action, including damages, by a preponderance of the evidence.

Research at a major research institution like a big, public university involves many layers of regulation and bureaucratic checking.  Generally the university’s research office will require adherence to the school’s ethical code and all state laws up front, and then the auditors check the money flow and research activities through the project.  There is a final sign off at most schools, which would qualify as “the date when facts material to the right of action are known or reasonably should have been known by the official of the Commonwealth charged with responsibility to act in the circumstances.”

Cuccinelli is sending a clear signal to researchers that they are unwelcome in Virginia if their research doesn’t square with his politics — and his politics are weird. Watch to see what the response of the University is, especially if their delivery of documents doesn’t put this witch hunt to bed.

[Update notice:  The text of the law noting the statute of limitations was updated on May 5, to show application to § 801-216.4 as well as § 801-216.5]

Other sources to check:

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