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Warning From Beirut

Like everyone else, I was and am horrified by the explosion in Beirut, particularly so since a friend of my son’s lives there now. The good news (rare thing at the moment) is that she has since marked herself “safe” on Facebook.


But the horrors have not ended yet. It is incredibly important that we help the city and its tortured people as soon as possible. And, more…


We need to keep the city in our thoughts for another reason. To wit, it is a warning of things that could come.





Background: I do have a small personal connection to the city. I said that my son’s friend lives in Beirut now. What I did not mention is that she wanted him to move there with her some years ago. She is Lebanese and has family there. Today, she is a successful filmmaker in the city.


When I heard about her suggestion, I was terrified. Even at the time, Americans were not particularly safe in the city. Fortunately, my son was tempted, but eventually declined. So, safe…


But the fact that he might have been there was instructive. We are none of us immune to violence and horror. And thus we must support one another.


For we can never know when we…or someone we love…will be at risk.


*


As an aside, if you want to help the people of Lebanon, The Washington Post ran a story on places to donate. You can see the article here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/08/06/heres-how-help-beirut/





I gather from the news reports that the cause of the disaster was an abandoned cargo of 2750 tons of ammonium nitrate. Somehow, it ignited, and the result was an explosion of vast and deadly power. I’ve heard guesses that the explosive force was at least 1.2 K tonnes, meaning it came in at the lower range of nuclear weapons.


I hesitate even to say that because ill-informed people will automatically assume that if the explosion had such power, then it must have really been a suit-case or tactical nuke deployed by some nefarious actor. In fact, of course, there is no evidence of such a thing. The deaths and casualties being reported in the news are entirely consistent with a conventional, albeit very large chemical explosive. I have seen nothing, for instance, about flash burns, secondary fires, or cases of radiation poisoning. And, besides, you don’t need a nuclear weapon to get a big explosion. Torch nearly three thousand tons of any explosive, and you’re bound to get a rather majestic bang.


But what concerns me is that at least some people will believe that a nuclear weapon was, in fact, employed in the city. And the horrible thing about rumors is that they tend to spread faster than real news, and they have horrible consequences.


Like people looking for revenge, even when an offense has not been committed.







*


Which, of course, is not to say that someone might have known about the stockpile of ammonium nitrate, and then somehow set it off. But, for the moment, Occam’s Razor suggests that it was, in fact, an accident, and I shall provisionally go with that.


*


But that something was an “accident” does not mean no one was responsible, and there is also something dangerous here.


To wit, I saw a report that officials in the Beirut port authority have been arrested for their negligence in handing the dangerous cargo. However, I’ve also seen reports that port authority people had been desperately hounding the government for six years to move the ammonium nitrate or at least store it properly. The government did nothing.


But how easy and convenient it would be if the Great and the Powerful could now find someone…anyone…to arrest. And thereby shift the blame from themselves.


Even though they are directly guilty of many, many deaths, and much suffering.


*


One amusing thing. There is even a petition going around calling on France to resume control of its former colony, Lebanon, on the grounds that the country’s own rulers have proved corrupt and incompetent. So far, 50,000 people have signed it.


Of course, nothing will come of it. Even if it wanted to—and it doesn’t—France is not going to reclaim Lebanon—if for no other reason than it barely has the resources to properly govern itself, much less another country as well.


But it is still a powerful rebuke of the country’s leadership. It is a way of speaking Truth to Power that cannot be misheard.



*


I said that Beirut was a warning of things to come. Here’s why. When the blast came, thousands of people were injured and hundreds of people died. That was as of press time. Heaven only knows how much higher those numbers will go.


But, after the explosion, the injured naturally headed to area hospitals…


And found chaos. The hospitals were understaffed (some had lost people in the explosion), the facilities were overwhelmed by the sheer number of the wounded, and …oh, yes…they were already full of Covid-19 patients.


The blast came, in other words, at the worst possible time. It was a health care crisis in the midst of another health care crisis.


And frankly, we in the west…the United States in particular…are setting ourselves up for exactly the same sort of disaster. With our decades of cost-cutting, ever more draconian insurance company requirements, fanatically enforced austerity policies, and on and on…we have significantly reduced our capacity to respond to sickness and injury.


We have begun to see the results that already. Think of how we were scrambling to find masks and ventilators and PPE and test kits when the pandemic broke. And, oh, by the way, we’re still scrambling to some degree. We’re just not talking about it as much.


Now, envision the following: In the midst of this pandemic, which has already crippled our medical infrastructure, some terrorist organization launches a major attack on multiple American targets—another 9/11, in other words. Or several of them.


Ask yourself what happens then…





As of the time I’m writing this (10 August, 2020), the BBC is reporting that Lebanon’s current government has resigned en toto.


Which is probably a good thing. Maybe…just maybe…this will prove a turning point for Lebanon. It could all go sour, of course, but maybe this will lead the kind of changes that the Lebanese people have wanted for so long. Maybe they will get the strong, centralized, honest government they have been demanding.


Maybe.





And here is the rub…


If we are lucky, very lucky, indeed…


We will soon get the same.


But without the horror of a disaster to get it.


*


Until next time…


Onward and upward.


mjt



***


Special Note: I’ve decided that from now on I’ll try to post once a week. In particular, after some wise advice from a friend (and a quick glance at some Kissmetrics data), I’ve decided to post regularly on Mondays from now on, if possible around 11 a.m. Eastern.


So, see you on Monday.


Cheers

~m


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