Brazilian Mudslide The Latest Devastating Natural Disaster By A Landslide

Seems like nothing but bad, really bad, news for the last couple of years when it comes to what’s going on in our environment–megadroughts, wildfires, tsunamis, devastating hurricanes, and, just this month, a massive mudslide in Brazil. No, I’m not referring to the alcoholic concoction; I’m talking about dirt and water mixed together surging downhill to wreak destruction. Watch out below!

The day after Valentine’s Day was a real letdown in Petropolis, Brazil. First, down came the rain. A month’s worth of rain, more than ten inches, fell in a short three hour period–the heaviest rainfall the area had experienced since 1932. The torrential downpour gave rise to a dangerous mudslide. Dozens of hillside houses were destroyed. The flood raged down city streets sweeping away cars and buses in its path. Houses were buried in the mud, and lives were lost. Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro announced that at least 176 people had been killed with over a hundred more still missing. Reporters described the scene as looking like a war zone.

The location and history of Petropolis make it particularly vulnerable to the threat of mudslides. For those who never studied Brazilian geography (raising my own hand), pinpointing the Brazilian city on a map is an impossible task. But we’ve all certainly heard of Rio, the second largest city in Brazil and the site of the 2016 Summer Olympics. Petropolis is located in the valley of the Serra dos Orgaos mountains about 42 miles northeast of Rio. Its location near mountains means there are areas higher up from which mud can flow down on it.

Petropolis’ back story also contributes to its vulnerability to this type of natural disaster. The city’s name literally means “Peter’s City” to honor Pedro II, the last emperor of Brazil. Its proximity to Rio made it a favorite summer getaway for 19th century Brazilian royalty. Palaces were built there leading to the city’s nickname of the “Imperial City.” Today the area remains a popular tourist spot.

Following the rich to Petropolis were the poor. They couldn’t afford to build houses in town, so they haphazardly built on the nearby mountainside leading to deforestation and poor drainage. Although I’m not a city planner, even I could see that this type of growth set the area up for a natural disaster to happen.

And the February 15th mudslide wasn’t the first one to occur. One in 2011 caused over 900 deaths. So what did the city government do? Why it did a study and found that 18% of the city was at high risk of landslides. We all know, of course, that simply looking into a problem is not going to prevent anything, but sometimes people have to learn things the hard way. And the latest mudslide is certainly a hard way to learn that affirmative steps must be taken to prevent, or at least mitigate, future disasters.

But all this occurred in Brazil, you may say. What’s that got to do with us here in the U.S.? Well, quite a bit, actually. Mudslides can be extremely deadly (right, Petropolis?) and can occur in all fifty states. Thus, any American could be affected by this naturally occurring disaster. The West Coast, particularly California, is considered especially prone to mudslides since it experiences earthquakes, rainfall, and wildfires which contribute to them. Mudflows are common in the hills around Los Angeles where they have destroyed many hillside houses. People know mudslides may occur there, yet homes still continue to built in those locations. Are they tempting fate??

Given the potential to be affected by one, it behooves Americans to know something about mudslides. Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge might save your life of the lives of your loved ones. So let’s learn more about them.

Landslides are a serious geologic hazard involving a movement of a mass of rock, debris, or earth down a slope. Debris flows, a specific type of landslide, are typically referred to as mudslides or mudflows and are fairly common. These flows consist mainly of mud and water with fragments of rock and other debris. They are fast moving and behave like floods. Usually starting on steep hills or mountainsides, mudslides gain momentum the further they go, reaching up to 35 mph. Houses can be moved off their foundations and places buried within minutes due to incredibly strong currents.

Unusually heavy rains often trigger mudflows. Thus, these disasters tend to occur during the wetter seasons; nevertheless, mudslides can occur any time of the year and can strike without prior warning. (Sorry, no time to prepare a kit like you do for hurricanes.) They usually happen after water saturates the ground on a slope very quickly after a heavy rainfall.

While man cannot control the amount of rainfall (at least yet), he can control other factors which contribute to the occurrence of mudslides. Construction and modification of the land–removal of vegetation and deforestation, for example–increase the risk of such a landslide as does climate change. Of course, common sense also plays a part. Building structures on slopes where such a risk is known and high is asking for trouble. Engaging in activities which harm our environment and cause climate change that produces natural disasters is also questionable behavior.

Don’t we have enough trouble and bad news around us? Let’s do what we can to avoid more by acting wisely to prevent mudslides and to keep ourselves out of harm’s way in locations where they are likely to occur. If a mudslide is to go down, let it be a delicious, chocolate one which won’t bury a house.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Does it surprise you all fifty U.S. states are at risk for mudslides? Just because you can build a structure somewhere, does that mean you should? Does your awareness of the threat of mudslides here in our country put the story about the mudslide in Brazil in a different light for you?

Koala Population Going Under Down Under–Adorable Animal Deemed Endangered

Quick! Name something that makes you think of Australia. Chances are you immediately thought of a cute koala. And rightfully so. Koalas are a worldwide symbol of Australia, the only continent on which they are native. But, if things keep going as they are now, the only koalas you will be able to see in Australia are stuffed souvenirs. Why? Koalas have just been declared an endangered species. Crikey!

Olympic news and updates on the situation in Ukraine overshadowed (OK, let’s just admit it, BURIED) news about the Australian government’s decision on how to label koalas. These uniquely Australian animals are now officially deemed an endangered species, a status meaning they are at high risk of extinction in the wild. In addition to making this official announcement on February 11th, the government has pledged to adopt a national recovery plan for the species. If Aussies are anything like Americans, news that their government is on it to come up with a plan will totally relieve any concerns about the situation–NOT!

Exactly what is the situation? According to the Australian Koala Foundation, which is presumably composed of humans and not koalas, koalas are in “rapid decline.” Less than 100,000 are estimated to be in the wild now. The animal’s declining numbers didn’t occur overnight, but it did occur rather quickly. The koala went from no listing at all to being declared endangered in a decade’s time. The species was first listed as “vulnerable” in 2012. Prior to then, the koala population decreased around 28% between 1984 to 2012. The 2021 population was pegged at between 32,065 and 57,920, down from 45,745 to 82,170 just three years prior.

What in the world, or more precisely Australia, is going on to cause this loss of koala population? As with most things, more than one factor has contributed to the problem. The leading threat to koalas is the loss of their habitat and food supply. Actually, the koalas’ food supply and home are one in the same. Eucalyptus trees provide them not only with food but with a home and shelter. The koalas adore munching on eucalyptus leaves. The tree-dwelling cuties are born with a curved spine which allows them to live in the crooks of eucalyptus trees; they can just reach out and grab some leaves from the comfort of home.

With the land-clearing which accompanies “progress,” comes increasing urbanization. Koalas can survive in urban areas as long as they have their eucalyptus trees, but the dangers to them are higher. They can be hurt or killed from collisions with vehicles. They are also prone to be victims of dog attacks.

Weather related woes haven’t been kind to the koalas. Can you say climate change? Prolonged drought from increased temperatures has decreased their water supply. Gotta have something to wash down those eucalyptus leaves! The dry conditions from the drought have led to devastating brushfires. An estimated 6,400 koalas were killed in the 2019-2020 wildfires with many others injured or facing loss of habitat as a result. The 2020 summer wildfires alone torched some 44 million acres.

In January, the Australian government pledged $50 million dollars to address the drop in the koala population. However, throwing money at a problem doesn’t always solve it. Koala lovers are advocating for stronger legal protection for the beloved marsupial. One targeted issue is that existing legislation protects koalas, i.e., prohibits killing or harming them, but it doesn’t address a big cause of the decline, i.e., habitat loss. Prohibiting or restricting development in habitat areas would attack a root cause of the current problem. While wrangling over legislation drags on, the koala remains in danger and endangered.

Most of us are as uninformed about koalas themselves as we are about their recent designation as an endangered species. (Raising my hand to freely admit I was pretty clueless about koalas until now.) In the first place, koalas are not bears even though they are often referred to as “koala bears.”

Koalas are actually tree-dwelling, herbivorous (plant eating) marsupials. The word “marsupial” comes from the Latin word marsupium meaning “pouch.” Marsupials are mammals who are born incompletely developed and are generally carried and nurtured in a pouch on the mother’s belly. This definition perfectly describes a koala who is born the size of a jelly bean; the baby koala, called a joey, is then cared for in its mother’s pouch.

Koalas are found throughout coastal eastern and southeastern Australia. Interestingly, the koalas in the south are bigger than the koalas in the north. “Big,” of course, is a relative term with the average koala weighing only about 20 pounds.

These cuties are soft and cuddly, right? Nope. The koala has thick woolly fur which protects it from extremes in temperature, high or low. That fur, ranging from light gray to brown with patches of white, is coarse like sheep’s wool. Even if their fur was soft, a koala wouldn’t want to cuddle anyway. They are asocial animals who spend only about 15 minutes daily on social activities. They’d prefer to sleep than to socialize and spend 20 hours a day snoozing.

Koalas are special creatures. They are the only animal to have individual fingerprints like humans. Their large, leathery noses and large ears give them a highly developed sense of smell and a keen sense of hearing. And, to show that God cares, He gave koalas densely packed fur on their rump as a personal cushion for sitting on hard tree branches.

The looming koala catastrophe is scary, but not just for koalas. The factors contributing to their decline, such as habitat loss and perils produced by climate change, could easily lead to other species becoming endangered. Can man afford to let God’s creatures go under whether they’re found Down Under or not?

WONDER-ing Woman:

Had you heard that koalas are endangered? What steps should be taken to avoid extinction of koalas? What part does man play in the extinction of various species?

Bezos Versus The Bridge–Will De Hef Be Dismantled For Billionaire’s Superyacht?

It’s been humorously observed that men are just boys with bigger toys; by the same logic, billionaires are just rich men with the ability to supersize their big toys. Billionaire Jeff Bezos is the poster child for rich men with supersize toys as he awaits the completion of his $500 million superyacht which will require the dismantlement of a historic bridge to allow its passage to the sea. Suffice it to say that this plan has resulted in a boatload of controversy.

As the founder of Amazon, Bezos is certainly able to afford whatever toy floats his boat. According to Forbes, he is the third richest person in the world. His net worth, estimated at between $164 and $175 billion (give or take a billion), allows him to be a be a big spender on pleasure items. And the frivolous item currently holding his interest is a boat. Not just any boat, but a yacht. And not just any yacht, but a superyacht. And not just any superyacht, but the biggest superyacht of its kind in the world.

How big is big, you ask? Well, the adjective “big” is applicable in two ways. First, “big” can be used to describe the pricetag of Bezos’ toy. It’s a whopping $500 million. That’s a number containing eight zeroes and is the equivalent of half a billion dollars.

The second way in which Bezos’ under contruction toy is “big” is its size. A yacht is known for being a large watercraft to begin with, but yachts which are longer than 131 feet are referred to as superyachts. The Bezos boat blows that minimum for superyachts out of the water; it is a gigantic 417 feet long. And not only is the superyacht long, but it is tall as well. In fact, to no one’s surprise, his yacht will be the world’s tallest sailing yacht.

Bezos’ yacht, known as Y721, is being built in Alblasserdam, The Netherlands by Oceanco, a company that builds custom yachts. “Custom,” of course, signifies that the ship is built with plenty of luxury features per the purchaser’s specs. What features might Billionaire Bezos have in his custom category? While he undoubtedly has quite a few, he will also require a “support yacht” with a helicopter landing pad. You never know when a rush order from Amazon will need to be delivered, I suppose.

The gargantuan yacht is projected to be completed this year. But the conclusion of the construction brings to a head a big problem. The superyacht has to make its way to the North Sea. The only passage to get to that waterbody requires going through Rotterdam, a city with a reputation for being the maritime capital of Europe. Unfortunately for Bezos and Y721, a historic bridge in Rotterdam blocks the superyacht’s route. While the middle section of that bridge can be raised to allow ships to pass underneath, Bezos’ ship is simply too tall to pass under the steel bridge. No problem. The bridge can just be dismantled, right?

This plan has not gone over well with many in Rotterdam. The 95 year old bridge, known to locals as De Hef (The Lift), has been a Dutch national monument since 2000. It was originally opened in 1927 as a railway bridge to allow trains to cross the Maas River. A three-year renovation of the bridge was completed in 2017, although the bridge no longer functions as railway crossing. Rotterdam officials promised residents the bridge would never be dismantled again after the renovation. But, if that’s what Bezos wants…Oops! Never say “never!”

Rotterdam officials are having to walk a tightrope. The city would require the shipbuilder to pay for the bridge to be dismantled so no tax dollars would be used. But if Bezos can afford a $500 million superyacht, certainly he can pay for the bridge project. A dismantling and reconstruction of the bridge would be an economic boon to the city by the jobs created for the construction project; thus such a project is attractive to government officials. But there’s their constituency to consider.

Locals, like elephants, have a long memory and have not forgotten their officials’ promise not to dismantle the bridge again. Emotions are running high on social media where Rotterdam residents are expressing their anger. A proposed plan is for them to pelt the superyacht with rotten eggs when it passes through. How many eggs would be required to actually make a mess on a yacht that size though?

A permit must be issued for the dismantling work to take place. As yet, no such permit has been requested. When sought, officials have to consider risks to the structure of the bridge as well as economic and environmental impact. While this careful consideration is all well and good, did no one think of the logistics of getting the superyacht to the sea prior to the start of the ship’s construction? Now seems like an awfully late point in the game to say, “Gee, how will we get Y721 through Rotterdam?”

With supersize toys apparently come supersize headaches. But Bezos has plenty of money to throw about to get this supersized dilemma solved to his satisfaction. As they say, money talks, and Bezo’s money can say “Do whatever is needed to get my ship to the sea.” Just a suggestion, but couldn’t heads be put together to come up with a better way to spend $500 million than on a pricey pleasure plaything?

WONDER-ing Woman:

Can you even imagine what $500 million is? If you had $500 million dollars to spend on whatever you wanted to, how would you spend it? What do you think drives conspicuous consumption?

Gargantuan Gambling Gains–Megamillion Winnings Lure Lottery Players

Winter weather got you down? One Southern California consumer who spent money at a Chevron is reveling in the cold; that cold is the cold hard cash represented by holding the one winning ticket drawn January 28th for the Mega Millions $426 million jackpot. While the typical lottery player’s bet won’t net a huge payout, it’s a good bet the average citizen knows little about lotteries.

What exactly is a lottery? It’s a form of gambling where numbers are drawn at random for prizes. Game partcipants purchase tickets bearing numbers they hope will match the numbers drawn. They want to truthfully be able to say, “That’s the ticket!” when they compare their numbers with the winning numbers.

While machines spitting out tickets with randomly selected numbers or numbers carefully picked by the purchaser may be modern, lotteries are not. According to historians, the first recorded evidence of a lottery is keno slips from China’s Han Dynasty, 205-187 B.C. Yup! Even then apparently everything was “Made in China.” The first known European lotteries were held in Rome where Emperor Augustus offered lottery tickets for sale as a means to cover needed repairs in the Eternal City. Lotteries were a source of revenue to fund the thirteen American colonies.

Are lotteries that big a deal? Well, in terms of dollars, the answer is a resounding yes. In Fiscal Year 2018, Americans spent $77.4 BILLION (that’s billion with a “b”) on lotteries. Wow! With Mega Million Jackpot tickets selling for $2 each, that’s billions of tickets being sold each year. Also, the jackpots can be ginormous. (Yes, “ginormous” is a real word and can be an accurate description.) The biggest single winning ticket ever was sold to a player in South Carolina; the jackpot for that October 23, 2018 drawing was an unbelievable $1.537 billion. That’s GINORMOUS!

Two major lottery games operate in the United States. They are the Mega Millions and Powerball lotteries. Mega Millions can be played in 45 states in addition to the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The five non-participating states are Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah. Nevada apparently has enough gambling already and doesn’t feel the need to offer more gambling options. Religious objections preclude Mega Millions play in Alabama and Utah.

Mega Millions holds two drawings per week, on Fridays and Tuesdays. These drawings take place at 11 p.m. EST, so if you do not win the jackpot, you have not only lost the chance to be set for life but also some time when you could have already been in bed peacefully sleeping.

The January 28th jackpot was more mega than usual because the jackpot hadn’t been won since an October 22nd drawing. The winning ticket for that drawing was a mere $108 million as compared to $426 million on January 28th. Actually, the January 28th drawing was advertised as having a jackpot of $421 million; however, consumers convinced they were going to win contributed to skyrocketing ticket sales and $5 million more for the jackpot. (Apparently there no supply chain issues in producing lottery tickets while shelves are often devoid of consumer products such as poultry, pasta, peanut butter, and other things more boring than lottery tickets.)

A lottery is mostly a game of luck. Do you consider yourself lucky? Would you have won the January 28th lottery? You would if you chose 3, 16, 25, 44, and 55 and then 13 for the Mega Ball. If not, you are in the company of a boatload of actual players who didn’t either.

Don’t be too sad, even if you had played the Mega Millions game for the January 28th jackpot, you were unlikely–make that VERY, VERY unlikely–to have won anyway. The odds of winning Mega Millions are an astronomical 302,575,350 to 1; people who are way better at math than I am calculated these odds based on a possible 300+million possible winning combinations. If you think you can beat the system by buying every possible number combination, be prepared to fork over $600 million. Uh, no. If you want to lower your sights and merely aim for a secondary prize by guessing the five main numbers, the odds drop to a “mere” 1 in 12,607,306.

It’s hard not to drool at the thought of hitting it big and being financially set for life. But is winning a lottery jackpot all it’s really cracked up to be? Nope. In the first place, no one will ever see the entire jackpot they won. Why? Uncle Sam. All lottery prizes are subject to income taxes. Secondly, even if won the entire jackpot, it’s easy come, easy go. Studies reveal 70% of lottery winners either lose or spend ALL of their winnings in five years or less. Then, they are pretty much back to where they started and can begin buying lottery tickets again.

How do elated winners receive their winnings? Two options are available. They can receive a lump sum payment–pre-tax, of course. But that amount is the present day value. The winner of the January 28th jackpot, for example, would receive “only” $293 million (pre-tax) of the $426 million jackpot for a lump sum payout. Alternatively, the winner could receive an annuity consisting of one immediate payment followed by 29 annual payments which increase by 5% over the previous payment. Bottom line? The winner better prepare to live 29 more years to see all the (pre-tax) money.

Although it may not be in a lottery, each of us gambles every day. We gamble with our health when we interact with others. (We could catch COVID!) We gamble with our life when we are driving our car. (We could be in an accident!) Being in an accident or catching COVID is way more likely than winning a huge lottery jackpot. Perhaps we should focus on staying healthy and alive rather than lining our pockets. You can bet I am.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Have you ever purchased a lottery ticket? If so, have you ever won? What could be done with the $80 billion dollars or so spent on gambling each year if not channeled to purchasing lottery tickets? If you were told the astronomical odds of winning the jackpot at the time of purchase, would you still purchase a lottery ticket?