Thank You Army Corp of Engineers

If you’ve been following the news from New England you are aware that a major flood event is in progress. This morning the NECN weatherman Matt Noyes said that this was the worst flooding we’ve had since the floods of August 1955. This got me thinking about the West Hill Dam in Uxbridge and how we southern New Englanders should all thank the Army Corps of Engineers. They built the dam specifically to prevent the devastation and loss of life that happened in 1955. Looking at the records since then I feel that this dam has been a resounding success. Since its completion in 1961 the floods on the Blackstone have been controlled to less than 16 feet at Woonsocket as opposed to the nearly 22 foot record from 1955. Predictions from the NWS are for 18 feet in Woonsocket for this current flood, well below the extremely dangerous 22 feet that caused so much loss of life. UPDATE 3/30 22:30 Forecast has been lowered to 14 feet @ Woonsocket

The main reason we are so much safer now is the Army CoE’s excellent design and operation of the West Hill Dam. As you can see in this graph, yesterday afternoon they closed the gates of the dam stopping the entire West River from adding to the Blackstone’s flood level.


This activation of the dam is going to change the look of the dam area from what we usually see in this Google Maps satellite view.

To what is in this photo from the West Hill Dam web site.


More information:

USGS WaterWatch — Maps and graphs of current water resources conditions

Worcester Telegram & Gazette’s Weather notebook – Rivers rise as rain falls

A professional chemist doing for profit chemistry is not a hobbyist

Earlier this week Greg Laden posted an intriguing article, Home Chemistry Hobbyist Shut Down in Massachusetts. He had picked up on this story via a post at the MAKE magazine Blog, Home science under attack. Both of the blogs where basing their commentary on this one article from the August 9th edition of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Let me start by summarizing the story as reported by two local newspapers, see the links below for the full text of the seven newspaper articles I found.

On the afternoon of August 5th 2008 the Marlborough Massachusetts Fire Department responded to a call of a fire in a two story house on Fremont Street. When they arrived they found a fire in a window air conditioner of a second floor bedroom and the lone occupant of the house at the time, homeowner Victor Deeb, had safely gotten out. The firemen put the fire out in about a minute but by that time there was more than a thousand dollars worth of smoke damage to the bedroom.  [updated 8/18 with information from Mr. Deeb’s comment] If this had happened to me I would have turned off the power to the air conditioner and put the fire out with a fire extinguisher avoiding the major smoke damage from waiting for the fire department to arrive. Since Mr. Deeb is a 71 year old who uses a cane to get around it is perfectly understandable why he called the fire department instead. [Mr. Deeb was trying to use a fire extinguisher on the fire when a passing Policeman saw the smoke and called the fire department.] (Photo of Mr. Deeb speaking to Police after the fire was put out, from The MetroWest Daily News)

The firefighters then followed standard procedures and checked that all the spaces in the house had been ventilated to remove the smoke and prevent further damage. When they went down into the basement they discovered a chemical R&D laboratory containing more than 100 unlabeled containers of chemicals [Mr. Deeb seems to dispute this]. The chemicals where in assorted containers from quart size up to 20 gallon drums some on shelves and some just sitting on the basement floor. Fire department officials attempted to find permits issued to Mr. Deeb for the storage of large quantities of chemicals but where unable to find any permits. The fire department then contacted the state fire marshal’s office who in turn called in the state bomb squad. If Mr. Deeb had obtained permits for possessing large quantities of chemicals they could have avoided the bomb squad but without the permits they had to take the safe approach and treat this as a potentially dangerous situation in a residential neighborhood. At no time did the authorities claim that Mr. Deeb was making weapons or drugs they simply had no way to know what was in the containers and without permits they could not simply take Mr. Deeb’s word for it that these unlabeled chemicals were not dangerous.

The Fire Department advised Mr. Deeb that this situation would take many hours to clear up so he should find a place to stay for a while. Mr. Deeb took the advise of the fire department and left with his family. Over the next two days the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and local authorities, with the cooperation of Mr. Deeb, removed over 1,500 containers of chemicals none of which turned out to be a biological or radioactive risk. Mr. Deeb and his family were allowed to return to their home on August 8th after the laboratory was safely dismantled and taken away. A hazardous materials cleanup company was contracted by MA DEP to test and then properly dispose of the chemicals. The Marlborough Department of Public Works is running tests to make sure none of the chemicals seeped into the town sewer system. While Mr. Deeb has likely violated numerous state and local safety regulations and laws, as of Saturday the 9th no citations had yet been issued.

This Saturday’s (8/16) Worcester Telegram & Gazette article has more details about the incident. The FBI showed up to take a look and there were thirty-five 20 gallon drums of chemicals that the hazmat contractor had to take for analysis and disposal. His laboratory was a mess with flammable chemicals stored next to the home’s furnace. By his own admission Mr. Deeb is a retired chemist who was very clearly running a for profit chemical R&D laboratory out of his basement in a residential neighborhood. He is considering suing the city for taking down his lab because he thinks his civil rights have been violated.

IMO, the fire department and other city and state officials did absolutely nothing wrong. They certainly did not violate Mr. Deeb’s civil rights because there is no civil right to possess and improperly store large quantities of regulated chemicals in your home. The officials had every right to enter his lab without a search warrant because they were called to the home by him [there] to put out a fire.

Mr. Deeb may be a very good chemist in fact judging by the number of patents he appears on it is almost a certainty. He has clearly been running a business from his home at least since 11/1/98. However he clearly does not understand laboratory safety rules, you must always properly label and store chemicals. Flammable chemicals like the acetone he had must be stored in fire proof cabinets not sitting on the floor or shelf and/or near a furnace. Mr. Deeb could not handle a small fire without the assistance of the fire department so obviously he couldn’t be trusted to handle a laboratory fire. He appears to not understand the need for permits and zoning clearance for commercial chemical research laboratories.

The reaction on the Internet is so far over the top I’m astounded. It seems that most of the people commenting on this story have made no effort to read the articles and are simply jumping to totally absurd conclusions based on preconceived notions. Here’s a list of my responses to the wild commentary and claims that are spreading across the Internet.

  1. Mr. Deebs was not a hobbyist, he freely admits this was a for profit R&D laboratory. Even without his admission the fact that he had hundreds of containers of chemicals including 35 twenty gallon drums puts him way beyond the hobbyist level.
  2. The government did not target Mr. Deeb in any way, they came to his aid when he called [put out a fire] and found him violating safety and zoning regulations.
  3. No government agency is going to come to your house because you gave your child a home chemistry set for Christmas.
  4. Having retail containers of household chemicals is not equivalent to having large quantities of industrial chemicals.
  5. The City Government of Marlborough Massachusetts is in no way comparable to the Nazi’s. Oh and it’s spelled Marlborough not Marlboro, that’s a brand of cigarettes.
  6. Thomas Edison did not set up laboratories in residential neighborhoods, he knew what he was doing could be hazardous so his laboratories where in private compounds and/or industrial districts.
  7. The police did not raid Mr. Deeb’s home, they did not kick down his door.
  8. Doing scientific research on a home computer is in no way even remotely equivalent to running an R&D laboratory with large quantities of chemicals.
  9. There was no fourth amendment violation, see number two above.
  10. That he has not yet been charged is not proof he didn’t break laws.
  11. This incident will not lead to the government burning our books.
  12. Mr. Deeb is not even remotely like a terrorist, any mention of 9/11 is absolutely ridiculous.
  13. Football is in no danger of being banned.
  14. Marlborough Massachusetts is not a police state.
  15. This is not equivalent to the two Steve’s founding Apple Computer in a garage, Woz is far too intelligent to improperly label and store large quantities of industrial chemicals.
  16. Ditto for Hewlett and Packard.
  17. Practicing putting in your living room, baking cookies for church, scrap booking and doing transcriptions are not even remotely similar to what Mr. Deeb did.
  18. The citizens of Massachusetts have rights, in fact we have some rights most other states do not grant to their citizens. e.g. Marrying the person you want to.
  19. This is not like outlawing innovation.
  20. Mr. Deeb did NOT take proper laboratory safety precautions, unlabeled and improperly stored containers is very bad.
  21. Building your own PC and running Linux on it are not going to get you into the trouble Mr. Deeb is in.
  22. The safety of Mr. Deeb’s neighbors IS the responsibility of the government.
  23. Mr. Deeb was not picked on because he was racially profiled as being of Middle Eastern descent.
  24. A hobbyist darkroom in your home is not equivalent to a R&D laboratory. A commercial darkroom on the other hand is regulated in similar ways to a R&D chemical lab.
  25. There were dangerous chemicals in Mr. Deeb’s laboratory by his own admission there was acetone. What the government officials have said is there where no biological or radiological hazards and no exceptionally explosive chemicals.
  26. Mr. Deeb did not give the fire fighters an inventory of the chemicals in his laboratory. Either he did not have an inventory or he wanted them to have to call in the bomb squad and hazmat teams, I’m guessing he didn’t have an inventory list.
  27. Making beer in your basement for personal use is not like a commercial research chemical laboratory.

I know it’s hard to research stories but that doesn’t excuse people from the obligation to examine the evidence. I’m most disappointed that so many people jump right to parroting the poorly researched and quote mined work of others to justify their preconceived notions. Any of these people who have integrity should take the time to read the articles, Google Victor M. Deeb and then post updates to correct their bogus reporting.

I have found one well researched response on the net, Mike O’Risal’s post is a very good read. Having read a number of excellent posts and comments by Mike over the past year, today I’ve added his blog to my reader and blogroll. On top of his good writing I need to start reading him regularly because he lives in my county, Worcester (pronounced Woostah in my native Yankee accent).

I’m sorry that Mr. Deeb has lost his R&D laboratory and likely will close his business. However, he should have followed the rules for running a commercial laboratory and gotten the proper permits and zoning variances. He may be ignorant of the law but that is not a valid excuse especially when you are running a for profit business.

The MetroWest Daily News articles:

Worcester Telegram & Gazette articles:

Victor Deeb’s business:

Boston freaks out again

An MIT student wearing her electronic art hoody is arrested by the foolish authorities who don’t seem to know what a bomb looks like. After the Mooninite fiasco you’d think they would get a clue. I guess we’re all just going to have to try to think like idiots so that our pretty flashing art projects don’t get us hauled in by the brain dead authorities in Massachusetts. With this low of an intelligence level I have zero confidence that these bozo’s will be able to prevent an actual bomb plot if it happens in Boston.

For a good pictures and more details read the articles here and here.

Vaccinations in Massachusetts

I don’t often hear about pseudo science in my home state but today there’s a whopper. It is highlighted in this article from BostonNOW Avoiding vaccinations – Parents might be lying to avoid kids getting shots. The article is great and this quote from Pediatrician Dr. John Cohen is spot on with my opinion on the matter.

“You are withholding from them something easily available, well-studied and used for years that is going to prevent their getting an illness, It’s essentially abuse.”

Please, please, please, follow your M.D.’s advice and get your child vaccinated. We do not want to go back to the days before vaccinations when a high percentage of children died every year from diseases we have practically eliminated by vaccinating all children. Keep in mind this isn’t just about protecting individual children. Sometimes a vaccine will not protect an individual but by vaccinating over 90% of a population the diseases can’t easily spread to the ones for whom the vaccine isn’t directly effective. So by not vaccinating your child you are potentially putting other peoples children at risk as well as your own children.

In the comments to the BostonNow article, a man who wants to have you stop using evidence based medicine says.

“Skip your Vaccination! Lie if you have to! …”

“I believe one of the main reasons for the poor health of Bostonians is the immunizations they receive as a child. This major, first, near mandatory, naive step, creates a dependency on the medical establishment for future treatment of chronic diseases which makes them worse, not better. …”

David Snieckus
99 Crescent Street
Newton, MA 02466

Feel free to contact Mr. Snieckus by telephone, e-mail or letter, to tell him what you think about him, after all he publicly posted his contact information so, he must want to hear from everyone. He thinks the entire medical community is a giant conspiracy to make everyone sick and dependent on the medical community. He thinks we should stop spending money on evidence based medicine and instead give the money to guys like him.

Googling “David Snieckus” I found a letter to the editor of the The Newton TAB by Nigel Foster from a couple years ago.

Letter: Macrobiotics is ‘voodoo by another name’
from Nigel Foster Posted Wednesday, January 19, 2005 at The Newton TAB

I was saddened to learn that Newton policy director Jeremy Solomon and Mayor David Cohen might even “consider” promoting a macrobiotic diet as a way to reduce the city’s health care costs. Perhaps they are unaware that macrobiotic teachings are completely inappropriate as a guide for health policy? To put it bluntly: macrobiotics is an intellectually bankrupt combination of diet plan and cult religion that makes many false medical claims. It is voodoo by another name.

A quick glance through the macrobiotic literature should be enough to dispel any doubts. For example, in his book “Natural Healing through Macrobiotics”, author Michio Kushi claims that people can change their blood type by changing their diet (see page 109). He also claims that “Hemophilia is caused not by heredity but by improper diet.”, while admitting that medical science sees it the other way around (page 108). Other outrageous examples are easy to find in this delusional 200-page work.

Since Michio Kushi founded the Institute where David Snieckus learned about macrobiotics, I suggest that Mr. Solomon and Mayor Cohen exercise great caution when considering Mr. Snieckus’ claims. If Newton wants to lower its health costs it should promote a plan of diet and exercise that has been approved by accredited health professionals, and not by self-styled consultants with a vested financial interest.

Bravo Mr. Foster, thank you for taking a stand for reality based medicine, you know the kind that uses scientifically valid evidence instead of anecdotes about placebo effects.

I suggest that if you want to live a long life you should eat right, exercise more, get routine physical examines and, stay away from the likes of David Snieckus.

Thanks to Orac for pointing me to this story via a Mike the Mad Biologist post.

Crazy web sites

I’ve encountered a number of very weird web sites this week, not the good kind of weird either. Be careful if you visit them your IQ might plummet. 🙂 I’ve intentionally not linked the [crazy sites] because I don’t want to improve their search rankings. If any of the owners or supporters of the crazy sites wants my opinion, here it is, seek professional psychiatric help, sooner rather than later.

Barcodes are evil, as in Satan (echoing like the Church Ladies voice) – Warning: 666 Is Coming – [] and [].

These people think theocracy is good – Society for the Practical Establishment and Perpetuation of the TEN COMMANDMENTS – [].

Too crazy to describe – 11:11 O’Clock Explained – [].

Wow they have an professional organization – the American Society of Dowsers – [], and a local chapter in my area – Greater Boston Chapter of ASD – [].

On the way home from the office today I listened to this weeks The Infidel Guy Show a totally NOT crazy site and one of the fine “The Triad of Reason” podcasts. I’ve only been listening for a little while but so far I’ve liked the podcasts, in particular the Massimo Pigliucci interviews are excellent.

This weeks show is an interview with Glenn Borchardt [], Director (and possibly only member of) the Progressive Science Institute []. Glenn has written a book, “THE SCIENTIFIC WORLDVIEW, Beyond Newton and Einstein: Understanding the Universal Mechanism of Evolution”, that he talks about on this weeks The Infidel Guy Show.

I can’t find words to describe the craziness but, I did find another blogger, Damian Guerra, who found the words: Glenn Borchardt and the Scientific Worldview and, The Scientific Worldview .

Who's Joe Lab?

On the way home from the office today I was stuck in traffic behind a car with a bunch of bumper stickers and the unusual vanity license plate of “PRISMS”. Being curious about this I checked out the web site once I got home. It turns out the site is about Joe Labriola a highly decorated Marine who served two tours in Vietnam. He is currently serving a life sentence in Massachusetts and has published a book of his poetry entitled “Prisms of War”.

After reading everything on that web site tonight, I can only say that it certainly appears there may have been an injustice done to Joe Labriola . However, the site does not contain much in the way of evidence to back up the claims of injustice. If the 1973 trial transcript was posted in its entirety it would help but there is only one page available there. I searched around a bit with Google but there is very little at other spots on the net about Joe. There is one poem on a guys My Space page, and mentions in newsletters from two political groups, MIM Notes 1997 and, MASSRAIL 1999.

If any law students happen to read this post please check out his site, I think Joe’s case would make a good project for you. I can strongly recommend that everyone read the articles on many are very sad or troubling making them a tough read but they are all informative and thought provoking so I feel it is well worth the effort.

Hoax? I don't think so

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, the verb form of hoax is defined as “to trick into believing or accepting as genuine something false and often preposterous”. The noun form has two definitions “1 : an act intended to trick or dupe 2 : something accepted or established by fraud or fabrication”.

In Boston yesterday some advertising signs were finally noticed by officials after having been around town for weeks and the fools thought they were bombs. The media and public officials have been calling it a hoax but this is clearly incorrect. They were advertising signs not fake bombs designed to hoax the Boston city and Massachusetts state officials.

Frankly I’m amazed at the stupidity of the media and public officials. The first moment I saw one of the alleged bombs on TV (picture below) I recognized it as a lighted advertising sign. Since I happen to be an Adult Swim viewer (Moral Orel is fantastic!), I also noticed right away that it was an Aqua Teen Hunger Force character.